On The Nerfs To Current Content

Observant people watching Bluetracker recently will have seen one particular thread there over any other. A thread that began almost a month ago has become a lightning rod of controversy, and much of this centres around the fact that the feedback has been prolonged by a single Blue poster attempting to find some really good feedback in the thread. With almost 4000 posts, the debate has been long and shows no signs of stopping. This post is focused around the lessons that we need to draw from the thread; for the community, for the game and for the Devs.

I think that the discussion can be split up into several parts;

  1. The Issue Itself
  2. The Blue Response
  3. The Community Response

The Issue Itself

A little background; Blizzard has made a tradition of providing changes to current raid encounters after some period of time (although while they are still relevant) to make them easier. Sometimes they have taken the form of changes to mechanics, sometimes to boss health and damage, and sometimes to player power. The times the changes have been applied have varied, as well as the extent to which the changes have made progression easier. The major issue is that a number of people consider these changes (I’ll refer to them as “nerfs” from now on) to remove the challenge from the game to the point where they both remove all meaning from achieving a kill while they are active, but also retroactively remove all prestige from killing the bosses before anyone else. Let’s examine some of the problems that the community perceives.

Too Easy – Many people have stated that the nerfs make raiding “too easy” or “remove the challenge”. This is a valid point, and something that I have been upset about in the past. For those masochists like me who thrive on challenge (and eventual victory, eventual being the operative word), nerfs can seem insulting – “I don’t want or need nerfs” being a common line. On the other hand, many people do not thrive on challenge but rather experience – some people argue, correctly, that wiping on one boss for six months straight is not fun for most people. If those people want to go on and see the rest of the content and experience it, then they have every right to do so. People who are utterly struggling on a boss will find it not only disheartening, but unfun to the point where it can (and will) completely break a guild. I’ve seen it happen. Some kind of nerf is therefore eventually sensible, given that those people who love a challenge are likely to clear all the content sooner rather than later.

The discussion then turns to why should other people deserve to do the content if they aren’t of the skill level to complete it. I think that the reason is somewhat nuanced. While people should not necessarily have the right to as many kills as they want, they should have the right to a challenge appropriate to their skill. This is something that one does not necessarily get when raiding in the current three-tier model. A good example is my own raid team – we are far, far too good to be satisfied with normal modes. On the other hand, un-nerfed Heroic content presents a little too much in terms of time commitment and co-ordination for us to succeed. The happy middle ground of challenge/skill matching does actually lie in the current state of Dragon Soul Heroic content with the nerf applied. I believe that we are getting an appropriate challenge for our skill and commitment level, and I like it all the more for that.

Finally, this section of the discussion turns to why should you be guaranteed an appropriate challenge. Because – surely – if you’re “not good enough to do it” then “you don’t deserve to progress”. I think that this is a fallacy – games are designed (in modernity) to provide a compelling experience to the player by challenging them to the point where a victory means something, but not to the point that it will make it unfun. Remember that the very point of games it to make the story or interaction engaging by making it fun – hence if you are to make a raiding tier, it’s only sensible that you attempt to make it an appropriate challenge for as many people as possible.

Too Soon – Another major issue with nerfs is that they are invariably claimed to happen “too soon” after the content was introduced. This is an important, yet nuanced debate which is an area that Blizzard needs to consider more carefully (and have admitted as such). The particular issue being that, no matter when you introduce said nerfs, they will inevitably cut short progression for someone and make it too easy for them. This is likely to upset some division of people, no matter how you cut it.

I myself have been a victim of that – in tier twelve, my guild was excitedly progressing on Ragnaros 25 Normal (we weren’t server first, but we were up there in the top few) and doing extremely well. We were due to defeat him in a matter of nights – it was an appropriate challenge for us and we were happy with it like that. Unfortunately for us, the week we were about to kill him in was the week Blizzard enacted the first set of nerfs on that tier. We killed him with a sloppy, bodged, unsatisfying third attempt on the night the nerfs hit – we didn’t deserve the kill with the kind of play we made, but we could have upped our game that same night and played with the quality needed to kill him without it. I was gutted; robbed of my challenge, of my weeks of hard work, of my appropriate skill/challenge ratio. I was disgusted and upset to the point that it caused me to quit WoW for several months.

Hopefully that demonstrated the fact that I am not automatically for the nerfs because they make it easier for me – as a player – to get “purple pixels”. Hopefully, that will be enough to convince some people that my opinion is carefully considered; the nerfs were needed. Yes, they were – they were too soon, but they helped some people, they changed the skill/challenge ratio and for some (perhaps a lot of) people that was brilliant. It’s just that they were too soon.

However, how does one define “too soon”? Too soon for whom? How do we say who it is acceptable to upset, as the expense to making it much better for other people? I think that a major part of this section is tied in with the controllability of the nerfs (which I will arrive at later), but for the moment let us consider the system with a mandatory nerf such as the one I fell victim to in tier twelve.

While I am unable to find the original post, I think that the “bourgeoisie” analogy helps a lot here. The principle is this; raiding guilds can be broadly divided into a series of categories based on skill and time commitment. The top few guilds in the world are akin to Royalty – there are very few of them and they are the top-tier of the raiding society. Supposedly, everybody strives to be in that division (but many are fated never to see it). As you move down the tiers, lower skill/time commitment and higher numbers of players are found. If you were to divide the raiding playerbase into (approximately) seven tiers, half would be in the bottom two tiers. Those two tiers are the tiers who do not commit largely to raiding, but do it for a laugh.

The top four tiers are where you find the people who you are likely to upset with nerfs. I would suggest that Blizzard aims nerf timing to coincide just after a majority of kills in the middle tier – allowing those upper tiers the challenge they cravenly desire, while changing the skill/challenge ratio appropriately for those who struggle more. Furthermore, it would be a good idea to announce nerfs much longer in advance – this provides an extra challenge to people who are on the edge; can you manage it in time? Can you get that “prestige”? Surely the challenge is a good thing, since that is what players are protesting about. (Not good enough to get there in time for the nerfs? Well, didn’t deserve it then, did you?)

Control – A major issue about nerfs like these is that players feel that they are mandatory. Whether they are actually mandatory is both variable and debatable. Taking two separate examples, Tiers 12 and 13, we can see that there is actually a difference and that Blizzard is taking much of the furore on board when it considers the next set of nerfs. Tier twelve had the problem that the nerfs were applied automatically and there was no way to remove them. This was the main reason I personally felt insulted by those nerfs – it seemed like Blizzard was saying “you haven’t done this yet therefore you need this helping hand”. While this is somewhat intertwined with timing, I will here assume that these nerfs hit at an inopportune time for the player receiving them (because otherwise, why would you care?).

On the other hand, the tier thirteen version of the nerfs was different; it is possible to remove them and do the content on its original settings. This is a huge step along the road to a better nerf system; Blizzard has recognized that personal control over a nerf is important in how players feel about a nerf – especially with those who have reason to be upset about it. However, the current iteration of the nerf system is only optional in theory.

In practice, for many progression guilds it is essential to keep progression speed (and hence server rankings) high in order to attract better players. This means that if the nerfs are applied automatically, with only an option to turn it off, the option will rarely if ever be taken. We have entirely seen this with the current tier and iteration – nobody raids without the nerf active, even though this is optional.

I think that an alternative is to make the nerfs an opt-in rather than an opt-out. The reason for this is that instead of implicitly saying that “you need this, you can turn it off if you’re stubborn”, an opt-in system would be implicitly saying “you might want this, turn it on if it makes things more fun”. This alongside a short quest chain to enable the nerf would mean that guilds have slightly more of a meaningful choice about whether to use the nerf or not.

Finally for this section, it might also be a good idea for the nerf to only be active for a limited number of kills on bosses that the raid leader has not already killed – there is no need to nerf bosses which are already on farm, so it might be sensible to allow easier progression and then increase the challenge for a farm run. This might have the option of extension of the nerf using another quest line to make it permanent.

Finally, Prestige – This is a thorny issue.

Firstly, prestige is somewhat important for recruitment (as stated earlier) and hence it is useful to acknowledge those who can defeat bosses on their original difficulty. MMO Champion recently revealed an achievement in the upcoming tier of content which grants prestige to those who kill the T14 end boss without a nerf active. This is a huge step, and should do something for those people wanting recognition for killing the boss on its hardest setting.

I think that any other claim for “prestige” is rather juvenile. Prestige is irrelevant outside of who is good enough to make the hardest mode kills. Anything else is just people desperate for their own pride to be polished yet more; something that as a Brit I abhor above all else.

Lastly, I don’t think that people should feel threatened that less skilled players are getting kills that they got a long time ago. This is also rather juvenile – if you did it at the cutting edge, and you have an achievement to show for it – how does other people doing the same thing, months later and on an easier setting without the same level of recognition affect you? It doesn’t.

That’s enough for the moment. There is more to say about the Blue and community responses to these issues, but I’m writing this at work. Another day.

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About stoove

A physicist, researcher, and gamesman. Likes to think about the mathematics and mechanics behind all sorts of different things, and writing up the thoughts for you to read. A competent programmer, enjoys public speaking and mechanical keyboards. Has opinions which might even change from time to time.
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2 Responses to On The Nerfs To Current Content

  1. sarahkaym says:

    The exact same thing happened with Ragnaros in my guild! We were about to down him and then the nerfs came.
    I think a good time to nerf content is when a new patch comes out. That way people who want the cutting edge challenge are moving on anyway. That’s how they did it with T11, and it worked out great for my guild. Obviously this doesn’t work with the last patch of an expansion, though. LFR is another way to allow people to see the content more easily without nerfing the experience for the more hardcore players.

    • stoove says:

      Glad I wasn’t the only person who got frustrated by the T12 nerfs then! 🙂 Sometimes, I admit, you get annoyed with nerfs no matter when or how they happen

      However, you have to take into account the people, like my current guild, who don’t fit neatly into any single bin (i.e. “Casual”, “Normal”, or “Hardcore”) – these are the people who appreciate the nerfs. These are, in my opinion, a majority of players. Furthermore, the existence of the “in-between” people absolutely breaks the discrete levels model. This is the major argument **for** nerfs, and one I tried to make clear in my original post 🙂

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