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Scripted PvP

17 November 2015 - 02:20 AM

I was originally going to post this article on Skill-capped. After some deliberation, I decided it would be better suited for AJ. I needed something meaningful for my 1000th post on this website. Even if you don't read this entire post, try and think about what you REALLY value in PvP. Consider what makes you happy and what makes you feel rewarded. The future of WoW PvP rests in the ability not to create balance, but instead to make the game into a rewarding and enjoyable experience.

I've mentioned countless times in threads and on social media that WoD PvP feels scripted. My attitude is not uncommon. Plenty of other players have also expressed feelings of redundancy in gameplay. Overall, enjoyment of PvP seems to be at an all time low. While quantification of player satisfaction is often difficult to guage, the drop in sub numbers--down to a point in which Blizzard will no longer report them--suggests that less and less people are enjoying World of Warcraft. The goal of this article is to show how the scripted feeling of PvP and the lack of rewarding gameplay has contributed to the growing sentiment that PvP is not nearly as fun as it used to be.

What IS the Script?

I should first explain what I mean by 'scripted.' In order to do this, consider how a script works. A script is a series of relationships between conditional statements. A conditional statement is a simple if, then relationship. Here is an example of how this 'scripted' PvP paradigm might play out in an arena match:

-If the enemy Mage uses Polymorph, then I will use Counterspell
-If the enemy Mage is Counterspelled on Polymorph, then I will use Polymorph.

While this may not seem damaging at first, consider the fact that nearly all of the important decisions we make during an arena game revolve around this algorithmic way of thinking. For every enemy action, there is an optimal player reaction that is determined by the 'script' of PvP. For every matchup, there is one optimal strategy. This makes winning feel significantly less rewarding and meaningful. The script makes arena wins feel less like an experience full of ingenuity and creativity and more like persistent, monotonous labor. If you know exactly how a game will play out, your experience will ultimately suffer.

As an aside, there is one thing that we often shake our fists at in PvP. Although we tend to hate RNG, it is the only thing that interferes with the normal operations of the script. Consider an arena game where two teams perfectly matched. They have exactly the same gear, play on the same latency, and have the exact same strategy. Assume that either team will try its absolute best to score a kill while preventing deaths of its own teammates. Under these conditions, what would determine the outcome of the match? It would have to be RNG! If one team gets a series of critical strikes or multistrikes at the right time, it will allow the match to deviate from its harmonious scripted balance. I should add that RNG (and specifically critical strikes) actually contribute to our enjoyment of the game. Oftentimes players will suggest removing crits from the game. Doing so would be damaging to our enjoyment of gameplay. While it may seem meaningless, scoring critical strikes is one of the most intrinsically satisfying elements of gameplay. We love seeing the big numbers. We are enamored by our own ability to deal damage that lights up as slightly bigger font on our screen. I am not kidding. Big numbers feel better, and in a game we are wanting to feel good.

Holinka's Pacing Argument

Recently, PvP developer Brian Holinka posted on Twitter that the average length of games during the World Championships was five and a half minutes. Loosely veiled behind this metric is the idea that PvP is improving because the duration of tournament games is getting shorter. It is true that spectators want shorter games. During Cataclysm and especially during Mists of Pandaria, many players argued that tournament matches were exhausting to watch. It was quite common in MoP to see two wizard cleaves battle it out for 10-15 minutes in a series that could potentially last five games. All in all this provided for a very boring viewer experience.
The problem with this argument is that the pacing does not matter if the match itself is painfully predictable. If you carefully watch the final series between SK-Gaming and Skill-Capped, you can see just how repetitive the game is during its 5.5 minute average duration. Every 30 seconds, Skill-Capped's RMD does the following things:

-Uses either Bash or Cheapshot on SK's Warrior
-Cyclones SK's Warrior
-Kidney Shots SK's Shaman (the kill target)
-Deep Freezes SK's Druid
-Polymorphs SK's Druid

While there is some degree of variance to how this setup is executed, the fact remains that every 30 seconds the RMD is doing exactly the same thing. So in a five minute game, you can expect the same exact thing to happen over and over and over until SK-Gaming makes a mistake or Skill-Capped falls to the attrition of dampening. And by all means, I'm not blaming either team for playing the way they do. For the most part there is no flexibility with either team's strat. I had the opportunity to talk to Healingstat (Skill-Capped's Druid) and I asked him why they never tried to kill SK's Warrior despite him sitting in Battle Stance for the majority of the game, sometimes without a PvP trinket. His reply was that they had played thousands of games against each other and that the 30-second setup strat on the Shaman is the only strat the consistently works. In other words, deviating from the script of going Shaman is utterly futile. There is no point in playing creatively because it does not win games. (I should add that I also heard that Boetar raged at Joefernandes for intervening a Blind because he "didn't know what to trinket." If there is anything that grossly reinforces the script, this is certainly it.)

Bring Back Reward

Of all the things that threaten WoW's ability to remain the most successful MMO of all time, its the fact that the game itself feels unrewarding. While I feel like the script has definitely contributed to this, there are numerous other examples in which gameplay itself does not feel like a rewarding experience. One instance of this is the conversion of many abilities into passive perks and set bonuses. Nature's Grasp was removed from the game and instead turned into a set bonus connected with use of Barkskin and Ironbark. Cold Blood was also pruned and converted into the four piece set bonus for Assassination Rogues. The real damage of pruning is that it left many of its removed abilities into mechanics attached to other spells. Two abilities became one. Two globals became one. Passives are not fun in virtue of being passive. You do not actually perform them--they just happen. Mages don't look at their Flameglow reducing damage and say, "Man, this is awesome!"

Another gross example of unrewarding gameplay is the conversion of many hardcasted damaging spells into instant cast burst abilities. Ice Nova is an ability that not only removes 50% of your root control, but also tunnel visions gameplay into managing two charges of a boring spell. Casted spells always feel better than instant casts. Hard casting involves risk and should result in high payoff. While I do think the class has some deep seeded balance and design problems, Destruction Warlocks are a perfect example of well-balanced risk/reward. Chaos Bolt is a long cast time that deals large damage. When it successfully lands, the Warlock feels like they have done something that required diligent effort. Compare this with the feeling of using two Ice Novas. There is little to no risk (outside of breaking CC). The ability is pressed and the damage is dealt. End of story.

The Hybrid Problem

While this has been an important point of discussion for ages, something needs to be done to address the strength and role of hybrid DPS in matchups. Hybrid healing was gutted for Balance Druids, Shadow Priests, and Elemental Shamans but still remains a problem for Feral Druids, Enhancement Shamans, and Retribution Paladins (perhaps WW Monks to an extend as well). These physical DPS classes are able to provide instant cast heals to themselves and their partners and are able to maintain high damage AND healing throughput over the course of a 3v3 match. There is no good reason that an Enhancement Shaman should be able to do 20k DPS in a game while also doing 10k HPS.

Some Nostalgia

Although he is one of the most controversial posters on this site, Bilian's PvP video continues to be one of my favorite PvP videos of all time. The RMP clips remind me of a time where gameplay was creative and each player made unique contributions to scoring kills.

Worst Posters of AJ

27 September 2015 - 08:28 AM

If anyone else has nominations, please post them below!

Down Goes Jahmilli

18 September 2015 - 04:30 AM

[US+EU] Best of Each Class

15 June 2015 - 08:33 PM

Who do you guys think are the best players currently? Please keep your lists US only or EU only, no mix and matching please.


Boomkin -
Resto -
Feral -



Windwalkerr -
Mistweaver -


Resto -
Enhancement -
Elemental -

Retribution -
Holy -

Disc -
Shadow -



WoD's Design Paradigm and the Warcraft Experience

06 June 2015 - 07:07 AM

Post on official forums: http://us.battle.net...c/18000131343#1 Please support this post if possible.

I haven't been keeping up with the forums recently, but it has been quite clear to me that there is a growing sentiment that WoW is less fun than it used to be. As someone who has played WoW for over eight years, this is something I have also felt as of late. I want to be very clear that I really like World of Warcraft. I have had someone of my fondest experiences and met some of my closest friends on this game. That being said, I am very concerned for the future of WoW. I certainly do not want to see the game I've loved for eight years die in a single expansion. The aim of this post is to try and illuminate what I think are the core problems of World of Warcraft's current design paradigm. By no means are any of these problems original ideas. I'm sure there are plenty of posts that have shared my exact feelings. My hope is that others may share some of these feelings and create conversations with both the developers and the community itself.

I. The lack of 'world' in World of Warcraft

Garrisons were originally an interesting novel addition to the WoW experience. They served the purpose of delivering an individual single player experience. While the intention of adding Garrisons might have been to allow for a more personal solo gameplay, I think the psychological effects of Garrisons have been quite damaging on the community. For one, they removed the need for many laborious activities to be done across Azeroth. Everything from gold farming to transmorgification can be done within the Garrison. While this may seem very convenient, it is also incredibly isolating. It is possible to be entirely self sustainable while never needing to leave your Garrison. A friend of mine has even leveled a character 90-100 by simply completing Garrison missions every day.

Smaller server sub-communities are often created in zones with lots of interaction. Durotar and Elwynn Forest are places where people would meet up with each other. They could duel, chit-chat, banter, gossip, etc. While these zones still exist, it is much more common to see many people on your friends list just sitting in their Garrison. It is the equivalent of locking yourself in your room while there is a wonderful party going on in your house. Stormshield and Warspear don't really feel like main cities. Instead there are just a waypoint between you and your Garrison.

II. Trivialized Rewards

I think this problem has its roots with the introduction of Justice Point gear during the Zul'Aman patch in BC. Rewards are given to players for completing the most trivial of tasks. Queue a BG? Get a reward. Complete a dungeon? Get a reward. Complete a garrison mission? Get a reward. Items and achievements are given for almost everything you do in WoW. These trivial tasks also trivialize the reward you receive.  I recently graduated from university. Even though my diploma is a fancy piece of paper, it symbolizes four years of work.  Imagine if all it took to receive a college diploma was to complete a ten question survey. Surely it would devalue the worth of the diploma itself. While it does make gearing characters a much faster process, spamming players with rewards is also something that I see as damaging. Giving players meaningful challenges is something that motivates them to play.

The trivializing of rewards is something that has also effected PvP. The prestige of PvP titles has been lost since the removal of Battlegroups. Rank one titles had more meaning when they were only given to a single team (barring the Season 8 fiasco and other ties throughout the arena seasons). Rank one titles seem to be passed out like hotcakes. Once again, this devalues the worth of the achievement and trivializes the effort involved in obtaining it.

III. Scripted PvP

I really appreciate the effort of Blizzard in barring bots from the game. That being said, I think these efforts were made too late and there is definitely more work to be done. Nonetheless, even if there is not a single bot in WoW, PvP seems to be rather scripted. What I mean by this is that every class and composition has its own script that determines the most optimal plays in a particular matchup. The better each player is at performing their script determines the outcome of the matchup. Mages are a class that I think characterize scripted gameplay. Every 30 seconds, Mages will use Blazing Speed, Blink, Deepfreeze, and Polymorph/Ring of Frost. It's a rinse and repeat algorithm.

The scripted feeling of PvP distorts the depth that each class is capable of achieving. Each class and composition is streamlined into playing a certain way. If you do not play by the script, you will fail. If you play by the script, you will succeed.

IV. Cooldowns being too strong or too weak

One of the biggest changes to class design since Vanilla was the increasing number of cooldowns with every expansion. While I do think cooldowns are interesting, there is an incredible imbalance of the strength of different cooldowns and their interactions with other abilities. Simply put, some cooldowns are disproportionately strong compared to others. One example of crazy powerful cooldown/ability interaction that is Bestial Wrath, Focus Fire, A Murder of Crows, and Barrage. These four abilities (all of which are cooldowns) dramatically increase the damage done by the BM hunter. The only class that can completely counter this combination of abilities is Rogue (they can Vanish to remove crows and Stun/Gouge/Blind to interrupt Barrage). Some offensive and defensive cooldowns are incredibly powerful, so much so that matchups revolve around the usage of these cooldowns and how well the other team answers with their own cooldowns. It's another form of the script. The most optimal reply to cooldown usage is often more cooldown usage. This cooldown matching doesn't really seem to add much to the depth of matchups. To me, games are infinitely more exciting when they are not determined by a single ability, but instead the consistent good use of an entire skill set.

V. Passive abilities

Controlling your character involves conscious use of movement keys and abilities. Casting a Chaos Bolt, running around with Sprint, and shifting into Bear Form all involve a physical interaction with you and your peripherals. Moving around and casting spells gives you a sense of robust autonomy and allows you to connect with your character. Another change in class design over the years has been the introduction of many passive abilities and perks. While these may benefit each individual class and spec, they really seem to distort this feeling of "I did that" when it comes to controlling your character. In PvP, one of the most complained about passive abilities is Saved by the Light. This ability, like other passives, does not require the user to perform anything (sure you can make the argument that it requires Beacon of Light on the target but that is beside the point). This trivializes the value of the ability itself. If a matchup is determined by a passive Seal of the Light proc, it is psychologically damaging to both the winning and losing team. The Paladin feels like they haven't really done anything-- their win cannot be attributed to the conscious and careful use of a spell. The team that loses is frustrated, knowing that the enemy team has won the matchup because the game had registered a target at x% HP and prevented the death of that target.  

Conclusion (TL;DR)

Much of the current design paradigm in WoW has had psychological damage on players, dampening their motivation to play the game. Overall the game feels less immersive, provides too many rewards, reinforces homogenized gameplay strategies, and revolves too much around powerful cooldowns and passive abilities. The game seems to be losing much of its spirit. Having a fun time in WoW involves joining a community, being creative with your spells, and having a sense of achievement.