Improvements for guild perk system in Warlords

The guild leveling system was originally meant to be a reward for guilds. People who worked together got rewards. For the first ~6 months, this guild leveling system was awesome. After a year, or two, things went terribly wrong.

The level 25 elephant in the room.

However, in recent years, the guild leveling system, as well as the cash flow perk, has been discouraging people from making new guilds. This has been particularly problematic as it has directly contributed to the decline in the number of people willing to start new raiding guilds, and thus the decline of the raiding population that helped keep the social element of the game intact. Even for social guilds, people only trusted level 25 guilds to have their best interests in mind.

Instead, many people starting guilds have been doing it for the purpose of predatory behavior. That is, someone would start a guild and then spam invites to any new player who made a character on the server. Once people were in the guild, they would be abused for leveling purposes, and then kicked from the guild as soon as the guild hit level 25. Then, that guild could be sold to the highest bidder. Since people couldn’t start new raiding guilds unless they bought a level 25 guild, that created a market for people who abused new players for the purpose of leveling and selling guilds.

The cash flow perk was also problematic in that it earned money for the guild leader along the way, which then was not shared with the rest of the members in a predatory leveling guild. In most real guilds, this cash flow perk did not come anywhere near covering the costs associated with raiding and the repair feature. So, the cash flow perk was able to be abused by predatory guilds (e.g., to a single person who wasn’t giving anything back to the guild members), but wasn’t providing any substantial bonus to real guilds who were using the money (e.g., guild leadership that used the money to supply the guild with needed resources).

Since most new guilds were assumed to be predatory (even when someone actually had good intentions), most good players would not join a guild that was below level 25. This meant that as a new guild officer, you couldn’t recruit quality players, and you burned out of leadership before you even got started. Since all good guilds were level 25, the way to know that the guild was good was to refuse to join any guild that wasn’t at max level. Thus, the cycle of needing to buy level 25 guilds to show legitimacy has been a huge problem that Blizzard has largely ignored. That is, until today.

Social groups will always die and fade if given enough time. So, guilds were always going to fold after their leaders got tired. The leaders were always going to get tired. The problem with guild leveling is that it created a barrier for entry for new guilds and new leaders. That slowed down the creation of new guilds to a much slower speed than guilds were folding, and led to a cascade of other related problems that make guild leadership unappealing to new players. Prior to Cataclysm, there were always new guilds to replace the ones that went away, but that ended with the guild leveling barrier of entry.

The solution to the guild problem.

Blizzard has announced that they are removing the guild leveling system from the game. Every guild in the game will be treated as though they are level 25. If you are in a guild, you get all the benefits of being in the guild without having to level the guild.

They are also removing the problematic cash flow perk. Instead of guilds making money from the cash flow perk, they are putting epic BOEs back into raiding dungeons for guilds to be able to sell. This was the primary way my guild funded all of our repairs and materials prior to Siege of Orgrimmar removing epic BOEs.

Guilds will still have fun bonuses in Warlords.

With the worry about the changes, there are several important things to keep in mind:

  • There will still be the basic perks that came from being in a guild. Things that people really liked, they will still mostly get (though there will be fewer individual perks in the perk list – combining things reduces confusion and “bloat”). For level 25 guilds, nothing important really changes with what they announced.
  • There will still be guild achievements. With all the talk of removing the leveling system, achievements are still something really important that were of benefit to real guilds (and weren’t all that helpful to predatory guilds). Achievements have been updated for guilds continuously every expansion, and are the main ways that all the level 25 guilds differentiate themselves anyway.
  • Purchasing guild bank tabs is still going to require resources, thus there will still be plenty of opportunities to feel like your new guild is progressing in working together to accomplish goals.
  • Without the cash flow perk, it will be easier to get shared guild resources in ways that require working together and doing normal guild behavior (e.g., actually running instances or raids as a team).  Additionally, getting people to donate shared resources will be easier without people thinking the cash flow perk is actually doing something  (when in reality, it never was).
  • People who want to start new raiding or social guilds no longer have to give money to people selling pre-leveled guilds. Instead, we go back to the days when people who wanted to start a new guild had the resources available for them to do so. Thus, people can start new raid teams without being at such a huge disadvantage. The guild perks are now bonuses, rather than a system that punishes new players.
  • If people do only the dungeon and scenario guild challenges, your guild can get around 5,500 gold per week. This number increases if you do any of the other perks, with several thousand more gold available from the more difficult challenges (e.g., battlegrounds, challenge modes, and raids). Seeing as how my guild only got 600 from the cash flow perk (excluding guild challenges), convincing our guild members to complete the challenges is a better source of income than the cash flow perk ever was. You have to subtract your guild challenge total from the perk UI because the game adds those values together.

This is a change that should have positive impacts on the game. The guild level shackles were going to cause a huge problem when people needed to make new guilds in Warlords of Draenor. Now, those shackles have been removed – making way for an era of new guilds. While it may take a long time for the fear of predatory guilds to fade. It is normal for old guild leadership to burn out, but it’s not normal for potential new leaders to be scared away from trying. In time, trying to be a new guild leader may be seen as a positive thing in the community, instead of a negative. As old guild leaders burn out, lets hope that new people can now be encouraged to try to take up the mantle of leadership. It’s still a lot of work to be a leader, but without Bizzard tying our hands behind our backs, it’s now a function of the leader’s effort and skills at leading to make new guilds a success. Go forth and make friends.

Resto druid early alpha changes

With some pretty major changes to druids in the latest round of patch notes, I thought it might be helpful to take a look at some of the bigger changes, and analyze why I think things are in an okay place in terms of the beta development.

Enhanced or Changed Abilities

  • Lifebloom is now limited to a single stack, instead of having 3 total stacks. The base healing was increased to compensate. This frees up more time in the fight, and means that if Lifebloom actually blooms, it won’t be so bad.
  • Wild Mushroom no longer has a bloom effect. Instead, it just provides a short Efflorescence ground-targeted HOT and then goes away after the 30 second duration ends. This will now have a 30 sec cooldown (e.g., you want to plant it when people are unlikely to move for 30 sec), though it doesn’t currently have this cooldown on beta.
  • Wild Growth also still has a cast time on the current alpha build, but resto druids still maintain a fair amount of movement ability while healing overall.

Active Mana Regen – or not.

An earlier set of patch notes introduced the concept of active mana regen, where you would hit innervate and then stand around doing nothing (or just casting wrath) until the innervate finished. This “sit around and wait for mana” plan turned out to not be such a great model across all the healing classes. So, they’ve now removed innervate again.

We may not actually need active mana regen if they just make it such that normal spell usage will leave you in a good place in terms of your regen values. Standing around doing nothing for 6 seconds, or having to organize regen rotations for our raid, was also not entirely appealing.

Other Removed Abilities

  • Barkskin was removed, but now you have access to two charges of Survival Instincts, which is actually more potent. Survival Instincts is still shifting me into bear form when I use it in alpha, though this may not be intended. We also still have Ironbark.
  • Some hybrid bear/cat abilities were removed from resto druids, including: Faerie Fire, lacerate, maim, (mangle is now bear only – with shred no longer having a positional requirement for cat), maul, might of ursoc, rake, etc.
  • Removed crowd control: Hibernate, nature’s grasp,
  • This is in addition to the already planned removals of nourish and symbiosis

What are the remaining hybrid abilities?

  • In bear, you have: taunt, mangle, frenzied regen, stampeding roar, primal fury passive.
  • In cat, you have: Prowl, Shred (now the primary cat damage ability, though you can’t apply a bleed to increase its damage), ferocious bite (your only finisher now), primal fury passive, and dash.
  • Your primary caster damage is: wrath, moonfire, and hurricane.
  • The level 90 talents can still provide hybrid utility.
  • Travel form has merged the ground travel, water travel, and flight form all into one single button that is supposed to morph when you change environments (this is currently buggy, and likely to undergo change depending on whether or not the bugs can get worked out).

What is the primary healing toolset?

  • Single target direct: Healing Touch (long cast time), Regrowth (high mana cost), Swiftmend (instant-cast, but has a cooldown and requires a HOT on the target), nature’s swiftness.
  • Single target HOTS: Lifebloom (1 stack, still limited to 1 target), Rejuvenation (mana cost similar to healing touch)
  • AOE HOTs: Wild Growth (1.5 sec cast time, 8 sec cooldown, short duration), Wild Mushroom (instant-cast, 30 sec cooldown and 30 sec duration, ground-targeted), Tranquility (channeled for 7 sec, 3 min cooldown), Genesis (high mana cost, emergency heal, consumes all your rejuvs and applies that HOT healing faster).
  • Passive effects: Living seed, omen of clarity
  • Other: level 15 talents, level 60 talents, level 90 talents, and level 100 talents all provide new healing spells or augments.

What is the primary utility?

  • Crowd control: roots, cyclone, choice of level 45 talents, and choice of level 75 talents.
  • Movement: Dash, travel form, level 15 talents, stampeding roar
  • Survivability: Ironbark (yourself or others) and survival instincts (yourself only)
  • Other spells: rebirth, revive, nature’s cure, Mark of the Wild, Teleport: Moonglade, and Track Humanoids can be toggled on and off in the tracking map selection.

There may also still be other abilities I haven’t covered besides those above. Overall, considering that the toolsets of all classes are shrinking in the next expansion, with few exceptions, the remaining spells should be ones you use relatively frequently. Additionally, they preserved enough of the bear and cat utility that you have buttons you can use to do cat or bear things if you really strongly have a desire to play hybrid at some point. Resto druids still seem to have a great healing toolset (though I’m not a big fan of genesis), and for early alpha - resto druids really feel like they are starting at a good design position.

Moonkin early alpha changes

What expansion would be complete without a complete re-design of Eclipse and moonkin’s toolset? With the start of Alpha for Warlords of Draenor, one of the biggest changes to druids has to be the brand-new Eclipse and Starsurge mechanics. While we don’t have a finalized set of changes in Alpha, we have enough of the bones of the rotation to have a good idea of how things feel overall.

A quick summary of major moonkin changes:

  • We have a new Eclipse. This is now a 40 second cycle, that cycles on a timer (no longer influenced by spell casts). This new cycle now is smoothed out, such that we no longer have rotating cycles of 0% benefit or 100% benefit from our mastery stat. Instead, at the zero point, we now gain partial benefit from mastery, that increases gradually to 100% as we go from 0 to 100 on a cycle.
  • Moonfire now changes to sunfire at the zero mid-point, but has a significantly increased duration, such that both DOTs can be up the majority of the time. Since our DOTs still snapshot Eclipse, you technically want to cast your DOTs at the 100% Eclipse point to benefit the most from your mastery.
  • We now want to use our cooldowns at the start of our rotation, especially celestial alignment, that allows us to start our DOTs together at the beginning of our rotation, to maximize DOT up-time.
  • Starsurge has been redesigned. It is no longer an instant cast in your rotation. Instead, the goal is to hard-cast starsurge, and starsurge now buffs either the next 2 starfires or the next 3 wraths (depending on when you cast starsurge in the Eclipse cycle phase). You get up to 3 starsurge charges, and shooting stars now gives you additional charges instead of making it instant-cast.
  • You cast wrath from the zero point when solar “procs”, and then cast starfire from the zero point when lunar procs (e.g., the mid-point).
  • When you end combat, Eclipse continues until you hit the zero mid-point, with Eclipse always going towards Lunar before Solar.
  • Starfall and Hurricane our are primary AOEs, and starfall was changed to reflect this (and you can’t use starfall in your single-target rotation as it shares charges with starsurge now). Starfall does arcane damage and hurricane does solar damage (with no more lunar damage equivalent of hurricane). Shrooms are no longer part of the AOE damage rotation, and are instead primarily used as a slow for pvp.
  • See the post by Cyous for more about how the Eclipse implementation will work.

Remaining problems:

  • Right now, we only have a 30 second (instead of 40 second) cycle for Eclipse in alpha, meaning that most of the changes are difficult to evaluate, given that the entire rotation is squished into less time (and we can see the fact that the hectic feeling rotation doesn’t allow for effective starsurge use in the 30 sec cycle). Additionally, sunfire is  is only lasting about 15 seconds, instead of the 30 seconds that moonfire lasts for me, which ends up feeling really confusing in the rotation (the astral showers passive is unintuitive at best).
  • Moonkin has a movement DPS problem. Given that the instant damage of moonfire and sunfire comprise our only source of movement DPS, you now have to decide whether the initial damage is worth using it while moving, or if losing the mastery from your DOT is such a big penalty that we now have zero spells we can cast while moving. Right now, the direct damage portion from moonfire and sunfire may actually be a bigger bonus than allowing for high mastery bonuses for the DOT. Thus, moonfire and sunfire have a confusing (and conflicting) role in our rotation. While movement was supposed to have been reduced, random un-named quest mobs are still requiring me to move every 10 seconds or so and are already interrupting my rotation, leading me to believe that resorting to moonfire/sunfire spam may actually be an effective raid DPS strategy (especially given that the frequent and nearly constant interrupts on some quest mobs outside of instances have prompted some people to abandon their super slow cast-time rotation entirely).
  • We will still be tempted to use DOT-cleave as an AOE strategy if we are forced to frequently move, as channeling Hurricane has always been a risky endeavor. Our AOE will also interact awkwardly with Eclipse, given that Hurricane no longer morphs to the arcane version, and starfall is now on a shared charge system with starsurge.
  • We currently don’t have functional glyphs, as all our old glyps were designed to interact with the old Eclipse strategy.
  • Our User Interface was primarily designed for the old style of Eclipse. Thus, there are not good indicators to let us know when to re-cast our DOTs (e.g., when the 100% Eclipse marker is, now that the sound and graphic procs at 0%), or when to cast starsurge, as described in the next point:
  • We get two different Empowerment buffs from Starsurge: One we get that buffs starfire only in Lunar Eclipse, and one we get that buffs sunfire only in solar Eclipse. If you cast starsurge too close to the zero mid-point, you will lose the benefit of these procs when you swap to the opposite damage type. Also, if you cast two starsurges in a row, the same empowerment buff doesn’t stack from multiple starsurge casts. So, you want to cast 1 starsurge followed by your starfires/wraths, before you cast a second starsurge. Since shooting stars randomly gives you additional procs (and you can have up to 3 starsurge charges at any time), mastering how starsurge fits into your rotation will require addons for tracking. We don’t have a good indicator to let us know how Starsurge is interacting with our rotation (e.g., to utilize starsurge you have to watch 4 different UI places: Your Eclipse bar to see whether or not you should cast starsurge (e.g., is Eclipse going to pass the zero point soon, negating your Empowerment buffs?), the buffs on the top right of your screen to see if you have empowerment charges remaining, the actual charges remaining on starsurge itsself, and the graphic that comes up for shooting star procs to let you know you got an extra charge. Thus, while the original starsurge was something we just hit when it came off cooldown, casting all three of your charges in a row is detrimental to your DPS and starsurge now becomes a serious “noob trap”.
  • Having starsurge serve as essentially a resource means that we should have a default UI element under the Eclipse bar that tracks Starsurge/starfall charges, to allow us to more clearly manage Starsurge as a resource, similar to the way that we manage Eclipse. Having those charges identified as a resource means that new players are likely to figure out sooner that starsurge shouldn’t just be cast down to zero, and minimizes the number of places we have to look on our screen to track the interaction between starsurge and our eclipse rotation. Additionally (or alternatively), the lunar/solar empowerment buffs should be better identified in the default UI in some way.
  • They are playing with the idea of instant-cast starsurge, which would definitely help both movement (e.g., PVP), and helping starsurge feel like it fits in the rotation better.

Conclusions:

Overall, I like the idea of the new Eclipse mechanic (the “ramp slowly up & down” version is close to something the community pitched earlier in the Eclipse development, when the periods of high and low damage became an obvious problem). It makes us less dependent on our gear for the Eclipse rotation, which was a contributing factor to my decision to stop playing moonkin in Mists of Pandaria.

I’m still not a huge fan of the starsurge changes at this point, as I feel it makes moonkin more difficult for new players to learn than the original Eclipse design (counter to the stated design goals). To experienced players, however, it still may not provide enough depth for mastery (e.g., I still feel quite strongly that moonkin are still difficult to learn, easy to master). However, this may be largely solved by the 40 sec Eclipse rotation coming “soon” (as opposed to the 30 sec version implemented in alpha now), and potentially with UI changes that make tracking starsurge more intuitive (e.g., playing with the default UI for moonkin feels like it works against your success). If my biggest complaints, however, are about an interface problem (which could be solved with addon support), then we’re starting off in an okay place.

Garrisons are a military base, not a house

Wildstar and World of Warcraft are both introducing “housing” systems into their content. Warcraft just released a post about how their garrisons will work. I wanted to take a minute to talk about how Warcraft isn’t actually introducing player “housing” into the game. Instead, the garrison feature is a military base. While I am more likely to stick with WOW due to my long-term investment, and I have issues with other aspects of Wildstar that make it less appealing to me, the one thing I do like is the Wildstar housing system. In that respect, Wildstar delivers a more traditional take on building your own aesthetic house. Blizzard, on the other hand, is allowing us to have some amount of choice in building our military base, but that choice is still largely limited compared to Wildstar’s full customization of your own plot of land.

Wildstar housing:

  • Starting from low levels (around level 14), you can build and customize your own house. You gain materials and items for your house from the early leveling experience thru max level.
  • If you want to build a house in a tree, you can have your very own treehouse.
  • There is a wide variety of enhancements for the decor, so that your house won’t likely look like someone else’s house. There are, however, general themes in terms of being related to various races, for example. So, houses will likely share some features with other houses, especially early in the content release.
  • Want to build your own bar? Sure, not a problem!
  • You can even customize the color of the sky if you really want. The important part is that your own house will feel unique because it’s unlikely that anyone else will have built the exact same thing. In this respect, you build a cosmetic house that serves the purpose of driving intrinsic motivation related to finding new treasures you can use to personalize your home.
  • You want guild housing? Well, you might actually get to decorate a house with your guild members, and hang your raid boss’ heads in a communal space.

World of Warcraft Garrisons

  • Starting at level 90, building a garrison is integrated into the leveling experience from 90 to 100.
  • In the various zones, you will be given options to choose from specific pre-fab buildings. There are three levels of each building, with the stables (for example), getting bigger and fancier as you level them up.
  • You can’t currently customize the look of any of the buildings. If you have a stables at level 3, it looks just like everyone else’s stables at level 3.
  • As you level, you will be prompted to pick 1 of 2 buildings that impacts your leveling experience in a particular zone (though recipes are available later on to pick up those buildings you skipped, if you change your mind!). This might be neat the second time you play an alt in the zones, since your building choices will impact your questing experiences – perhaps your alt will choose all the opposite buildings in every zone.
  • While completing the quests that give you access to building types is incredibly important for the leveling process if you want access to garrisons, you can also potentially skip this process and buy blueprints instead, meaning that on your 4th alt, you can still avoid the feeling of “chores”.
  • A focus of your garrison is on the people that inhabit your base, not on actually building and customizing the base. You will send your garrisons on missions, and you will basically serve as the commander to this army that you accumulate as you strengthen your base. They may make your world feel more populated, but your garrison won’t be your own personal retreat to hide from the world. While your base will feel populated, they won’t be populated with your guild members, since there is no guild housing.
  • These followers and rewards include content related to the extrinsic rewards of gaining access to crafting materials and bonuses that enhance your solo questing experiences. While garrisons may be fun, the point is to get things you need for completing other content. So, your crafting needs may shape some of the decisions you make related to your building plots.
  • A benefit of the garrisons is that there will likely be a great deal of content tied to this system, allowing for more solo play related to trying to defeat the Iron Horde.
  • Your final garrison can have up to 10 of the 21 buildings, meaning that most people will have roughly half of the available options once their garrison is complete. Thus, while you and your friend may have different choices you made along the way, the general aesthetics across a couple dozen garrisons (of the same faction) may have a really similar look and feel. You get to customize your garrison, but only to a certain point.

So, in the end, World of Warcraft isn’t really introducing housing, in the traditional sense. Instead, they are introducing military bases that allow you to have some form of customization. The garrison system is going to probably be a fun system; but if you want to build a house, you may have to look elsewhere. Maybe I can still keep my Lord of the Rings Online house for a while longer to have my own sense of home.

My hope is that they may eventually introduce more hooks for aesthetic customization in the World of Warcraft garrisons. Until then, I’ll enjoy building my military base, and wishing I could change the color of the wallpaper.