Thursday, February 27, 2014

3.56. Conveniently Entitled

Mature joins a crew of guildies in defeating
the Devourer of Souls in heroic mode,
The Forge of Souls

Looking For Dread

A stream of yellow text dripped down the chat panel while gigantic chunks of the guild were cleaved from the game. Northrend was not looking well. Outside, the frozen wasteland was marred by instability and the virtual world continued to come crashing down. The first sign of trouble was a locked inventory. Buried inside the player's bags were precious items plucked from the land; any attempt to shift goods between the bag slots was met with failure, foreshadowing the server's imminent demise. Food, armor, potions...all commodities were afflicted with the immobilization curse, and no amount of clicking or dragging would free them. To my astonishment, Mature's items freely moved from spot to spot as I performed the server stability sanity test. I was not in the "outside world"; a dungeon instance shielded me from such travesties. Unbeknownst to the n00b, instance servers -- hardware dedicated to providing players access specifically to the dungeons of WoW -- remained separate from the hardware that powered the outside areas of the World. It was here in the Pit of Saron that the game played smoothly for my group and I. You wouldn't have guessed that WoW's infrastructure had just undergone a massive structural upheaval. While the guildies continued to struggle with logging in and staying connected, I blissfully moved from the Forge of Souls to this Pit, soon to make my way through the Halls of Reflection, and what horrors lie in wait.

Patch 3.3 came in with a literal bang. The majority of the explosion was most likely the cry of server blades collapsing under the pressure of the newest changes to the game. Looking for Dungeon, the muchly anticipated dungeon grouping functionality had finally surfaced. For years, anyone outside of a guild slaved over group formation to clear the likes of Scholomance and the Temple of Atal'Hakkar. In those days, dungeons were an investment of time most couldn't afford, so tacking on additional coordination logistics wiped them from the list of playable options to all but the truly masochistic. Blizzard's first attempt to lighten this burden resulted in the advent of Meeting Stones in The Burning Crusade. They were about as effective as a group of raiders in greens attempting Gruul: easing the summoning process didn't help when you had no one to summon. Back to the drawing board they went, emerging at last with LFD in 3.3. At the click of a button, we were in the instance -- no need to travel to the dungeon mouth (once discovered), and no need to summon. Not only did LFD service a huge group of previously precluded players, it expedited guild group formation. As our guild dined on this new feature, LFD paired us with many strangers of guilds we had never heard of. Some weren't even on the Deathwing-US server, as LFD pulled from the pool of our entire Nightfall battlegroup -- a luxury formerly reserved for the PvP crowd. 

The challenge of keeping complete strangers from screwing one another over was handled by LFD's risk / reward system. Wipes would empower the group with bonuses to health, healing and damage, and those players diligent enough to see it through gained fat bonuses of "Emblem of Triumph", which we could then spend at various reputation vendors for upgrades. This subsystem of plugging holes in raiding gear solved a very real problem that had plagued us in TBC and Vanilla: how does one gear out a new recruit for raiding when raiding itself is the only thing that produces gear? The evolution of LFD ended this age-old problem, and my job as both administrator and recruiter grew easier.

I stood firm on my advocation that everyone should get a chance to experience content, and LFD brought this to table in a grand feast. Not everyone saw it in the same light. Critics claimed it diminished the importance of world exploration. As time went on, LFD groups that wiped saw an increase in dropped players who were completely unable to find their way back to the instance:

"Dunno how to get back to the dungeon lol."

My biggest concern with LFD was anonymity. I joined those who supported LFD and made it a rule to randomly queue as much as possible with the intent of assisting those less fortunate than us. But with LFD came exposure to a wide variety of players no longer under our wing. I certainly dictated how our guildies should carry themselves, but random groups of anonymous players claimed no such loyalty. So while I lobbied for my guildies to approach LFD as an opportunity to "sell" the guild, spreading our influence across server boundaries, I knew that it could backfire. Influence can go both ways, subjecting my guildies to the wrong kinds of disparaging attitudes. The frustration generated by wiping alongside mouthbreathers was a plaque building up in our teams' arteries, unnecessary stress that could bleed into the progression team.

Mature and co. defeat Scourgelord
Tyrannus in a heroic 5-Man dungeon,
Pit of Saron

Pleasing Everyone

As I made my way through the Pit of Saron alongside Goreden, Milkmeh, Pallysmeku and a freshly-returned Kelden, an item of great purple power fell out of the hands of a slain Ymirjar Flamebearer. A battered hilt told the story of an ancient sword once used to defend Quel'Thalas from the encroaching Scourge, eventually meeting its fate via the banshee scream of its undead former owner -- a vampiric undead blood elf we'd soon pay a visit to. The group decided to roll greed on the item; as luck would have it, the hilt fell into my own bags as the virtual dice rolled in my favor.  But, no sooner I claimed my own hilt, than the quest item appeared again, both to Milkmeh and later to Goreden. Not long after the servers regained their stabilty, Blizzard announced that the Battered Hilt's drop rate was too high upon reflection, and the infamous blade appeared less and less. When it did make itself seen, money hungry profiteers snatched the hilt up, turning it over to the auction house for a sizable profit.

Quel'Delar would be my primary weapon until such time that a more destructive, cursed axe revealed itself to me. But it wasn't due to the reason you think.


Jungard's freshly updated forum posts detailing Icecrown Citadel were polished and professional. After bringing over the high level summaries posted on, he had taken the liberty of kicking off an initial strategy discussion, a conversation both Omaric and Bretthew lept in to at their first opportunity. ICC was to be delivered in a staggered release over the course of the next several months. A total of four wings stood to be conquered, and we could expect to see a new wing each month. Each wing had its own "final" boss, marked by a limited number of attempts. Once all the wings had been unlocked, ICC would then provide a raid buff, not unlike the LFD buff granted to wipes mentioned earlier. Following a similar schedule which unlocked the wings, the raid wide buff would grow from 5% to 10%, then to 15%, eventually ending at a final 30% bonus to health, damage, and healing. This gated progression ensured that the most dedicated, focused, hardcore raiding guilds would burn through content early on, yet still offer a mechanism for casual guilds to eventually experience that content.

It was an extremely important design which, for the first time in WoW's history, truly gave both the casuals and the hardcores a chance to consume content at each's own respective pace. Building upon what they had learned with previous tiers, coupled with the Emblem of Triumph currency which adequately augmented gear for new and seasoned players alike, tier 10 stood to provide the widest level of accessibility to raiding that we had ever seen. At the same time, tier 10 retained the integrity of risk vs. reward, an important measurable incentive to both social gaming classes. 

So, is it any wonder that its criticism remained intact?

The hardcores pounded at the table, claiming the gating mechanism stifled their own schedules, and was merely a ploy to artificially extend the life of the instance. Cataclysm, the next expansion, was still far off in the distance, and Blizzard needed a way to keep players motivated and returning. The hardcores claimed this insulted their intelligence and was a blasphemous way to parade the cause of raiding to others not like-minded. That Blizzard could even consider a raid-wide buff to dilute raid difficulty only salted the wound.

As for the casuals, none were pleased at the decision to disallow Shadowfrost Shards from dropping in their 10-Man raids. The material components necessary in crafting Shadowmourne were limited only to those guilds which tackled the most challenging content in the game: the 25-Man raid. Their 10-Man cries and pleas fell on deaf ears, as Blizzard remained steadfast in the decision: legendary items demanded an appropriate level of risk vs. reward, and 10-Mans had been rolled in as a convenience to those unable to participate in large guilds. Much time had passed since the days of Sunwell Plateau and Black Temple, and memories had grown short. By now, convenience had been all but completely masked by the rise of entitlement. And although Blizzard refrained from changing their stance on Shadowmourne, not all ears at Blizzard were deaf to their plight. Behind the scenes, well away from the eyes in my guild, discussions were already well under way as to what a $14.99/month subscription should entitle one to.

Mature and a DoD group escape from the Lich King
in under six minutes, earning "We're Not Retreating;
We're Advancing in a Different Direction"
Halls of Reflection

Gambling With PvP

Descendants of Draenor neither joined in the casual crying nor the hardcore hate. Our attention was focused inward, assimilating all info relating to the first four bosses in the Citadel. And with the administrative noose relaxed more than ever, I was able to sink my teeth into the most recent round of applicants. Jemb was the first of these, a truly outrageous hunter with an affinity toward achievement whoring, a gaggle of exotic beasts following in his wake. His obsession bordered on addiction, but was tempered by raw efficiency in raids, and his green bar very quickly bubbled to the top of Recount. Before long, Jemb earned the right to see every raid rotation he asked for, and putting him in meant world-first quality ranged DPS.

I also saw an increase in applicants more likely found skulking through the nether regions of Deathwing-US, those folks who chose to socialize with far shadier ilk. This translated into a surge of recruits whose prime function was PvP. Traditionally, this wasn't a group I poured buckets of faith into. Folks like Ben, and his brother Ouleg before him, were a crap shoot when it came time to field them in PvE. On the one hand, PvP focused players brought a set of extremely sharpened knives to the table; their skills at manipulating a virtual self online were unmatched...and with good reason. Morning, noon and night they thirsted for the blood of other players -- an opponent no scripted boss could match. But with their finely honed skills came with them all the other distasteful PvP baggage: inflated egos, a vocabulary tightly tuned to trash talk, and an apathy toward rules so thick you could cut it with a knife. Recruiting PvPers for the purposes of raid progression was like wielding the sun as a weapon: unmeasurable power at your fingertips could catapult your guild from mediocre to exceptional, but any attempts at utilizing such power usually ended with a catastrophic explosion.

I surveyed the apps, those who knew Anni, those who had jumped into a BG with Haribo, those who chummed up with Neps, and squeezed every last bit of energy it took to approve the app on my desk: Sentra. He played a warrior, spending the majority of his time bouncing between his arena ladder work, and camping noobs out in the world. Sentra looked to get his foot in the raiding door now that ICC "was a thing", but whatever he had written down on his app as a reason to apply to DoD, it held little weight. He, like so many PvPers with a taste for edged weapons, had only one thing on his mind: how fast can I wrap my fingers around Shadowmourne. I expressed to him that it would be a very long while before that opportunity arose; we had an overflowing core of melee, all ripe for adding Shadowmourne to their repertoire. He cared little about the wait, stating he had all the time in the world.

I asked for a second opinion.

"Yeah, he's fine," Neps assured me.

"You think everybody is fine!"

"Not Blain, he's a big meanie."

Hesitantly, I turned back to the app and fired off an approval email. My inner voice rung out.

You realize nothing good will come of this?

We're in a good place, I rationalized. If Ben can be shaped into someone responsible enough to text me when he's going to be late for raids, why couldn't Sentra?

You already know the answer to this. You're postponing the inevitable.

Perhaps, I thought, but I'll cross that bridge when I get there.

Neps offered a final thought, "You should check to see if he has an arena partner this season."

He had a great point. It might give me an opportunity to break the ice and get to know his side of things a bit clearer.

"I'm sure anyone would want a scrub like me that just happens to have a Shadowmourne."

"It is a nice weapon..." he fired back.

Yes. It will be.


Saerath said...

You are well versed in the art of cliffhangers, Mr. Holmes. Well played, sir...

Shawn Holmes said...


Thank you, sir! I hope that I'm delivering adequate resolutions to these cliffhangers as well. Having one without the other is like having a rogue tank a raid...

...They could probably do it, but everyone would just end up pissed off.

Anonymous said...

I remember that first evening of 3.3. Just five members of our guild were online, having sneaked into the Forge of Souls. Things were so screwy that half a dozen Seven-Fingered Claws dropped for us.

Saerath said...

I've read from the beginning and no complaints yet.

Fred said...

Jungard and I had planned out, well before the patch landed, how we were going to distribute them through the Staflex group. The goal was to get one for him, then me, and so forth. We had 4 hilts drop in the first 2 instances.

Shintar said...

Ooh, I remember those early days of ICC and just how screwy the servers were! As far as I recall, the instance servers were initially overwhelmed by the sheer amount of people running dungeons as well and odds were good that you'd get an error message for the first couple of minutes whenever you tried to zone into a dungeon or raid.

You actually made me look up the details of the Luck of the Draw buff because I could have sworn that it wasn't introduced until Cataclysm - however, you were right, it was part of the dungeon finder from the start.

I did find one minor mistake though: the incremental ICC buff maxed out at 30%, not 20. ;)

Shawn Holmes said...


Excellent catch! I've fixed the typo to reflect 30%.

A few people actually questioned Luck of the Draw, but it was indeed in place with LFD -- and Blizz continued to massage its implementation as time went on.

As for server stability, patch day (and week) was painful for many, many years. I essentially wrote off any progression work on patch week, due to server crashes and broken add-ons.