Friday, November 4, 2011

Stat Inflation: The Consequences of the "Squish" and How to Avoid It

Ghostcrawler just released another blog post. This time it was concerned with stat inflation on gear. The stats on gear have been growing exponentially, players are now doing 15X the DPS they were doing at the end of BC. Item levels have virtually exploded, and Ghostcrawler was kind enough to provide us with a graph displaying the problem.

Ghostcrawler has proposed two solutions to this problem. The first would be pretty much hacking a couple zeros off everything. I'll call this the "Metric Solution", instead of 20,000 DPS, you're doing 20 kilodeeps. This is pretty much already being done by players, hell, we make it even shorter, it's just 20k DPS in the vernacular of the player.

The second solution proposed is a "squish" of item levels. Essentially readjusting every item in the game to work within a truncated scale, and adjusting every mob in the game based on the now reduced power of the player. The crab even blessed us with a graph showing how that ideal might look.

Personally, I find the fact that on the squish scale Sunwell items would be worse than Naxx40 gear, to be a hilarious example of why the proposed squish is a bad idea.

A lot of people blame the advent of Hard Modes in Wrath to be a major cause of the inflation. But that's not true. The problem has been a design flaw that's been Incorporated into the game since at least the leveling of Wrath. This is not a problem created by the Raiders, it is a problem created by the levelers. Progress between tiers in an expansion has been pretty even. That's not to say that it's been perfect, it could be tuned slightly better, but the overwhelming problem is in the jumps across the leveling between expansions. Molten Core T1 was ilevel 66, BWL T2 was 76, Naxx40 T3 was 92. That's an average of 13 ilevels between upgrades, and 26 ilevels across 3 tiers. T4 was ilevel 120, T5 was 133, T6 was 146 with some Sunwell peices reaching 154. Once again, 13 ilevels between upgrades with an 8 ilevel jump to Sunwell, which could be argued acted as a precursor to the idea of Hard Modes. This amounted to a 34 ilevel jump. Enter Wrath, and 25 man T7 was 213, T8 was 226, T9 25 normal was 245, T10 normal was 264. The gap between the first two tiers was again the standard 13 ilevels, the last two tiers took 19 point jumps, which was a tier and a half, and that could be attributed by the advent of hard modes proper. Going to the max of 284 for HLK25 gear, and 25 man raiders were looking at a gear span of 71 ilevels across 4 tiers. Come Cataclysm, the entry level raids were dropping 359 gear, and Deathwing Heroic looks to be dropping 404 gear, a 45 ilevel span across three tiers.

Combining the ilevel spans hit at the endgame, and you get 176 ilevels dedicated to the endgame which is the overwhelming majority of the time spent in the game. Less than half of the item levels in the game are dedicated to the content that players spend close to 90% of their game time playing.

The flaws in this line of thinking becomes apparent when you look at the ilevel distribution in Cataclysm gear. Players wearing HICC gear went from ilevel 277 in ICC to ilevel 359 in Normal T11. That's a 82 ilevel jump. That's a bigger jump than a player going from Naxx 10 to ICC 25H. Here's the rub though, people spent the better part of two years going from T7 to T10. They spent the better part of 3 days going from ICC 25H to T11 normals. Think about that for a moment. Blizzard took the statistical equivalent of the ENTIRE WRATH RAIDING PROGRESSION into the cataclysm leveling content. This creates several problems, not the least of which is stat inflation. Another design flaw apparent in the first graph is the launch point of Cataclysm. It picks up right where ICC heroic raiding left off. This creates several problems. People get upset about "Green becoming the new Purple", which has been a complaint since the inception of BC. Stat inflation becomes much more pronounced. The third is that the quality of the leveling experience for players who weren't raiding heavily at the end of the expansion drops off because they face a massive gulf in between the gear they were able to attain while leveling in the previous expansion, and the gear that the new expansion presumes you have. A friend of mine actually wrote a fairly prescient article for WoW insider detailing his struggles to level his rogue into Cataclysm content due to it not having the high levels of gear that his shaman main had.

This is what Blizzard needs to do to address the problem. They need to accept that high end raid gear will last until the level cap of the next expansion. The player who possesses 277 gear going into Cataclysm didn't care what kind of clown suit the designers had thrown together for levelers. They wanted to get into raiding, and quickly. Raiders took their T3 into Kara, they took their T6 into Naxx, but their T10 didn't make it out of Deepholme. I don't know what possessed the devs to break with the tried and true formula, but, like many things in Cataclysm, they took a gamble and they lost. What they need to do is to focus on keeping future expansions clean. Level 90 heroics shouldn't offer anything more than 6 ilevels higher than Heroic Deathwing gear, and T14 normals shouldn't be more than 20 ilevels higher. MoP quest rewards should begin in the vicinity of 333, and push up to the high 390s. That way players who are leveling characters clean through will find an undiminished leveling experience going from one expansion to the other, and Raiders find an undiminished experience going from one raid teir to the next. By following a strict formula for ilevel expansion across tiers and across expansions, they prevent the issues that have arisen from letting things get away from them. What Blizzard really needs, more than anything else, is self restraint.

1 comment:

  1. I'm new to Cataclysm after taking a year off at the end of WotLK. At the end of WotLK my prot warrior was in all ilevel 213-251 epics and could easily tank any heroic instance (with one exception) and most ten-man regular raids. My gear was fully gemmed with all the right glyphs and enchants.

    I logged in, re-speced for the new talent trees, ran some quests to remember where the keys were assigned, and logged into dungeon finder regular as a tank and was stunned. Cloth DPS had 3x the hitpoints I had. It was ridiculous that equipment has been so devalued. Decent equipment from the previous expansion should have lasted at least a couple of levels--instead, every single item I have was obsolete (or near obsolete) during the first regular instance run.

    My lock with all 251/264 gear replaced 1/3 of his gear over the course of 3 instances and is still level 80!