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Emblem Bedlam

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There seems to be a growing trend over in Blizzard HQ -- to force players to socialize.

"Dear God no! Say it ain't so!"

Now that may sound very silly on paper, considering we are playing a Massively Multiplayer game, after all. How could socializing be harmful in an environment and game that revolves around it? Socializing isn't the culprit here: Forcing the player to socialize with random people is.

Think back to the first day of work at a new job in your past. Everything was a little awkward, you didn't know anybody, you might even have tried to talk about such inspiring topics as [Local Sports Team] or [Favorite Music/Band/Hipster Rock Group]. Yet it is a minor inconvenience -- something you're forced to do once in a great while to further yourself in your career, or at least to make money for hookers and blow.

But imagine if you lived in a Groundhog's Day-esque world where you and everyone around you woke up every morning to the same first-day-at-work scenario, every single day. You still remember doing this exact same crap the day before, and the week prior, and for months gone by, but no one else around you does. But you still need the money so you put up with the same conversations and soul-crushingly boring tasks day in and day out to get that 8 hours worth of Bennies.

This is not all that dissimilar to the current Frost Emblem scenario in a post-LFD world. Sure the logic of my example falls apart as you could Murray-style rob a Brinks truck and not have to go back to work, but as a loose interpretation, it fits well enough.

In essence, Blizzard has seemingly elected to forcibly socialize a large portion of it's level 80 player base into random group situations to earn that daily paycheck of Frost Emblems.

Why are forced groups for personal gain harmful?

Primarily, because it reinforces the negative aspects of the MM part of the MMO, rather than the positive. Sure, it's possible to get a good group, nice people that are thankful for a buff or a life-saving heal, ask if they can roll offspec for a drop, and provide a salutation upon leaving the group. However, finding 4 random people like that is very much the exception and not the rule.

In fact, I propose that the vast majority of LFD groups contain two types of people:

Silent Types, who could be very nice people or complete douchebags, but spend nearly the entirety of the dungeon completely silent. Primarily the reason for this is two-fold. First, the content is so trivial that communicating anything regarding the fights, mobs, encounters, tactics, etc. is pointless and at times, may even get you mocked ("this is XYZ zone bro, we don't need a strat lol"). Which brings us to the second reason for being silent: Past experience in LFD has taught people that, no matter what others say or do, silence is almost universally the best course of action. It prevents further conflict in most cases, and since the ultimate goal is to earn those precious Frost Emblems, Silent Types will put their head down and bear it in the name of self-progress.

The Gabber is the second common type in LFD. Generally a pretty poor performer by any measure, probably because this person spend all of their time talking (to him or herself consequently) about a random subject ("my arena team can't get 1600 lol", "i need ur armory link", "my alt did this place 17 times without a trinket drop rofl!"). However, since in most cases everyone else in the party is a Silent Type, even The Gabber eventually evolves into a Silent Type himself.

By and large, these are the types of people found in most random LFD groups. And this isn't just first-hand experience; others have shared the same experiences as well time and time again, even across Battlegroups and countries.

Therefore, I propose that in terms of a socializing tool, random LFD fails miserably. 80 or 90% of the time, a player will not remember his LFD group from the previous day at all, and certainly none of the players in it. He won't have made any friends or even basic social connections, because he will barely speak just like everyone else. He will put his head down and plow through, even if it's a terrible group and it takes 25 minutes and 3 wipes to clear, because all he thinks about is the reward at the end. That reward is a strong enough carrot that he's willing to put up with boredom and tedium day after day.

Now, this brings me to the next point about LFD that further solidifies the point that LFD reinforces the negative aspects of social gaming -- the Douchebag. These come in many forms, but they all have one thing in common: They create an environment of hostility, anger, and perhaps to newer players who are in the party trying to learn, even self-doubt. They may yell or bitch or whine or just sit half afk. This player, almost universally, will never contribute much to the group in terms of actual progression (some Douchebags are the tank or the healer or the best DPS, but that doesn't change the point). Instead, they only serve to contribute nothing, or in many cases, hinder the group in some way, even if just by way of mental draining on the tank who is being berated, who may second-guess the pulls from now on, and be slower to react.

So now we have the two most common random LFD scenarios: 80 - 90% are full-on Silent Type groups who interact socially in the most barren manner possible, and 10 - 20% where a Douchebag appears and ruins the experience for the rest of the party. In the first scenario, no one will remember anything about the party in a day or two, and in the second scenario, the only thing that will be remembered is the terrible aspects brought on by the Douchebag. Where am I missing the benefit to this forced socializing?

I certainly can't imagine any player that is willing to login to do the LFD every day for Frost Emblems would suddenly cancel their monthly subscription if that daily requirement vanished. I personally would be happy that a day could go by where I didn't feel that obligation to login. After all, we don't pay our subscription fees by the day, in piecemeal chunks determined by when we decide to login and logout, so unless Blizzard changes the LFD Frost Emblem reward from a Daily cap to a Monthly cap, I doubt sub cancellations are the factor here.

Now, this is not to say the LFD has never created a new friendship or found someone a new guild or even brought a joyous moment or three to someone's day. However, as mentioned, these experiences are rare for most people using the LFD system as a means of Frost Emblem acquisition, and human nature dictates we latch onto the bad experiences rather than the good (or mediocre) -- we will remember when the group was terrible and we did 45% of the damage, or when the Douchebag bitched out the tank and tried to Vanish-pull a pack of mobs onto us before leaving the party.

How did things get this way?

Not being a Blizzard employee, obviously I'll have to guess here, but I'm confident in the assumption that the LFD system was introduced as a test-bed for that sort of "random pairing" mechanic in the future. This assumption seems further solidified by the introduction of the Random Battleground feature and the announced-but-later-in-the-future LF Raid and LF Guild features. Blizzard found need for a more-streamlined system in which to include players into these group-oriented activities (such as Parties and Battleground) and we all know what a joke the previous LFG systems and mechanics were.

So a few very smart dudes over there came up with a way to allow virtually anyone across multiple servers join with anyone else in a very rapid auto-matchmaking system, and viola, LFD was born.

Two birds, one giant fucking boulder

Now, it's important to distinguish between my (and many others') issues with the implementation of some aspects of the LFD system and the system as a whole. LFD (and all it's future incarnations) are great tools and truth be told, probably one of the best features introduced into WoW since Dual Spec and Flying Mounts. My issue with the LFD is actually not the system itself, but the usage of outside rewards forcibly driving players to utilize it.

The main such reward is of course Emblems. Frost Emblems have become the new cocaine of the level 80 player base, and unlike Lady Gaga, this is one white lady we can't get enough of.

So once again, someone over at Blizzard decides that the most current Emblems need to be somewhat rare, but they must be obtainable by all manner of level 80 players, so instead of keeping them in raid environments only, "Hey, lets add two of them as a reward for using our new brainchild system, the LFD tool! This will encourage players to socialize with new people, making them new friends and relationships, which will encourage them to keep paying their sub fees, and even the most introverted will want their Frost Emblems, so they'll use the system too! Then at the next company-wide meeting, we can show how 17% of the player base is using our new LFD system and we'll get big raises and enough money for some real blow!"

Perhaps a cynical outlook on the situation, but it seems difficult to argue against it's basic premise. Obviously creating and solidifying relationships is the most important aspect of WoW that will keep players around longer than the actual game mechanics ever could. Ignoring the flaws in human nature and reality for a moment, on the surface the LFD tool seems to address those with an avenue to increase the number of new connections and relationships. However, it only deals with extremely trivial and outdated content (in the form of five-man zones) that many people have done countless times already, so they need a carrot to drive veteran players back, otherwise the LFD usage will only be for the occasional boredom of a player that wants a group but would not, in the past, have dealt with a server-only LFG/Trade channel spam to find one. Obviously Emblems (and to a lesser extent, extra gold) rewards are the quick answer.

And so here we are with the current climate of LFD. Most people that are doing it for Frost Emblems despise the necessity but in a game where character progression beats everything else, they put up with it once a day (plus once more for alts perhaps). A good number of people do it for Triumph Emblems to gear up fresh-80 characters or alts, but only as a means to an end (a particular set of gear, 4-piece 232, enough to get into raids, etc.) and then stop altogether on that character.

I'm not against the idea of 5-mans offering a level of self-contained gear progression, but that's the key -- it truly should be self-contained. If a player knows he wants to raid ICC but has no chance of performing up to par in his fresh-80 quest gearset, he should have an option to gear up and prepare, and LFD/Triumph drops allow that, which seems fine to me as there's a very real payoff to each LFD completed (5-9 Emblems), and even a modicum of dedication will earn that player a great deal of "good enough" gear in a matter of a week or two.

I'd eat my cake too, if you gave me a goddamn slice to begin with!

Unlike Triumph emblems, however, Frost Emblems are a different breed entirely. Here we have a reward that is, outside of LFD, entirely limited to raid-only acquisition scenarios. Yet again, for whatever reasons (probably a combination of wanting people to socialize, forcing veterans to play with newer players, and absolutely never limiting what Johnny McDeathgrip can acquire by being level 80), Blizzard has deemed it necessary to add this 2 per day allowance into the LFD.

What the flying fuck Blizzard? Why should people who are clearly focused on the raid aspects of the game be strong armed into experiencing the same random five-man dungeons? I'm not even the extreme case, but according to my stats, I've completed 400 Lich King 5-man dungeons on my main character alone. Add in doing them on alts, and we're talking 700 total times, spread out over what, 15ish zones? Nevermind that 3 of them weren't really available for most of that number, but even then that's an average of nearly 47 completed runs of every single fucking dungeon available that I've done. How many runs do you think it took me to learn them? How about until they were trivial? How many runs until they were downright boring? Certainly not 47, and probably not even 15 or 20. This is a retarded 'skill' to be sure, but as a tank, I can literally name every single pull of nearly every 5-man zone, down to the locations and mob types, from goddamn memory. How fucking sad is that?

And you want me to do it all over again? And not just once, but near countless times, every goddamn day? As a tank, with only one offspec, and as someone in a strong raiding guild who gets Frost emblems from ICC and Weekly Raid Quests, I still need 790 Frost Emblems to finish my DPS set, off pieces, as well as get the last few Armor Pieces for my primary tanking set. This is after doing the the random LFD every day since release, with maybe 3 or 4 days of exception, and doing ICC10/weekly/VoA through nearly every available boss as release schedule permitted, for further acquisition. With 24 a week from ICC10, 4 from VoA, 5 from the Raid Weekly, and say an average of 3 from the ICC10 Weekly (as some weeks you just have to skip it until Heroics are on farm), then 14 from LFD every day, that's a total weekly income of 50 Frost Emblems. That means, if I do everything perfect and play every single day, I still, after already doing so for weeks and weeks, have 16 weeks of random LFD every single day to look forward to before I'm done. Fan-fucking-tastic!

Now, I'm not completely blind to some ways to rig the LFD system if Frost is the only concern. Obviously running with Guildies helps ease the pain a bit, by turning a soul-crushingly-boring-as-this-is-the-48th-time-I've-fucking-done-it dungeon into a slightly faster soul-crushingly-boring-as-this-is-the-48th-time-I've-fucking-done-it dungeon, but that's like meeting your quota of punching yourself in the balls 100 times a day -- sure, you can have some friends help you, but it's the same retarded, painful activity, you've just slightly reduced the time spent in agony before you can begin the healing process.

However, that's neither a viable answer nor even a moderately promising solution -- not everyone has Guildmates they can run their LFD with every day, and even if they do, there's no guarantee you can be online the same time as they are, nor that they will be able/willing to assist you at the time you are available, and so on and so forth.

(What's the Story), Morning Glory?

Ultimately, Blizzard needs to come up with a solution that goes back to further separating those that want to focus on new(er) content (read: raids) with older content (dungeons). However, that's not to say they can't allow that cross-association they so desperately strive for, by giving raid-obtainable gear to the dungeon-crawlers via Frost Emblems or whatever equivalent. The key here is simple: Don't force raiders to obtain said Emblems in the same manner as the non-raiders. Blizzard, you love options for players, so produce one. I'll solve the problem for you in a few simple ways and sentences:

Option A

Frost Emblems (or "Raid Emblems", whatever is the equivalent at the time) are capped at a specific limit of acquisition per week. Using today's numbers, where 50 are possible for 10-man only players, and 79 are possible for 25-man & 10-man players, lets say 30 Emblems a week is the cap. Now, players can choose to do the LFD daily every day if they want for their 14, and maybe a VoA pug or two, plus a Raid Weekly, and come in at 23 or so, without setting foot in a true "raid zone" (save when the weekly IS said raid zone, but that's your own implementation choice by making the weekly raid quest a half-retard system where it can be a trivial zone everyone will do one week (Anub in Naxx) to Marrowgar that many will be unable to PuG the next).

This also helps raiders, as 25-manners will not feel inclined to do the 10-man just for the Emblems, as each type of raider will be able to get 24 from their respective raid zone each week, plus another 6 from any combination of Weekly Raid Quest, ICC-Raid Quest, VoA, or LFD to fill in the gaps. No longer is LFD required (and yes, it is fucking required if you're a raider, don't even start that "you don't have to do it if you don't want to bullshit" -- everyone knows that's a farce if you're at all trying to stay current), but instead is optional.

The numbers here are all in the air, and would probably need to be adjusted over time based on the current raid-tier content availability (i.e. When only 4 ICC bosses were available, a 30 emblem cap may have been too high, forcing raiders into quite a few LFDs to reach the cap).

Option B

Make the Raid Weekly quest more difficult, but be an exclusive source of Raid Emblems as an optional path to the LFD every day.

As mentioned above, when the Raid Weekly hits on trivial content (Naxx, Sarth, usually Ulduar), nearly everyone that does the LFD for Raid Emblems also does the Raid Weekly for 5 more. Why then, do both these systems need to exist? The Raid Weekly is by no means a true raid in any basic sense, and instead is just a weak-ass extension of the LFD (except it combines twice the people and can't be done cross-server... yet). I'd propose that one of the options has to go if they remain in their current incarnation, because they serve the exact same purpose. You can take out the Raid Weekly and bump the LFD Raid Emblem income by 1 (or conversely lower the item costs slightly to account for the ~5 Raid Emblem loss every week). Or you can take out the LFD Raid Emblem reward and keep the Raid Weekly.

However, it seems clear Blizzard would choose to keep the LFD reward and drop the Raid Weekly, so again, the solution seems to be to keep the LFD Raid Emblem reward as it is, but turn the Raid Weekly into a much more difficult challenge (Heroic Anub, Heroic Marrowgar, Normal Yogg-Saron, whatever) that rewards the same number of Raid Emblems as a week's worth of LFD would. More importantly, the Raid Weekly and the LFD Raid Emblem rewards are shared -- meaning I can do the Raid Weekly for my 14 Emblems, or I can do the LFD every day for my 14, but doing both only gets me the same 14 total. If I think I won't do the Raid Weekly, and I do 3 days of LFD for 6 emblems, then suddenly find I can do the Weekly, I'm only rewarded up to the 14 Emblem cap for completing it (meaning 8 more Emblems).

Again, adjust costs or incomes accordingly. If dungeon-crawler-only players are meant to usually get 14 from LFD + 5 from the current Weekly, then up the LFD reward by 1, so they get 21 a week, and again, let the Raid Weekly also reward 21, and you pick one or the other.

Option C

Similar to the above, but make the current-tier Raid-zone Weekly (ICC-weekly in this case) perform the same function as the Raid Weekly in the above scenario. Raiders pick to do the LFD every day or the ICC-weekly, but doing both doesn't give anymore than just one or the other.

Option D

This is a pie-in-the-sky one because the trends indicate this will never happen, but the final option is simple: Go back to raid-gear is raid-gear and non-raid-gear is non-raid-gear. Tokens drop from raid bosses and don't require rewards from that ugh-not-this-fucking-zone-again dungeon to obtain. Dungeon-crawler-only players can earn rewards that are truly a tier below the raid rewards (and I'm serious, none of this same-fucking-iLevel-as-Heroic-10-man-or-Normal-25-man crap; that ruins the point). If players want to raid, they can gear up on stuff 6 or 9 or 13 iLevels below Normal 10-man drops, which will be plenty to conquer that content and earn them the chance at the iLevel Normal 10-man drops (after all, that is the gear level from the previous fucking zone, which properly geared players used to defeat it the first time around, see Heroic ToC 10 (245) to Normal ICC 10 (251)).

At any rate, I personally would love Option D the most, but I'm an Elitist Jerk in many senses, so I doubt it will happen. Rather, I think Option A, with a Raid Emblem-weekly cap is the most elegant and solves all the current issues while still allowing Blizzard to give the same insane iLevel gear to Johnny McDeathgrip that I earn by killing the FINAL FUCKING BOSS IN THE EXPANSION, but I digress, as that's an entirely different topic.

I also realize Blizzard has stated in Twitter or whatever the hell it was, that at least one of the guys over there felt Emblems were not implemented quite right, but they could've introduced any number of solutions by now rather than waiting until Cataclysm, yet they don't seem inclined to do so, so forgive me if I don't wait with baited breath for the uber solution.

Now, excuse me while I alt-tab back and see if my queue popped...


  1. Canariensis's Avatar
    Did you by chance post any of this in the Suggestions forums?


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