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World of Warcraft Q&A with Ion Hazzikostas Recap

by - 3 years ago

The World of Warcraft community team, in this case led by community manager Lore, put together  their live Q&A session with Lead Game Designer Ion Hazzikostas regarding the upcoming Patch 6.2. This was a pretty important session for the team as not only has subscriptions been dropping very quickly, but the game has also had a lot of controversy surrounding it lately because of how they have handled flying (or the lack thereof) in the expansion. Not only that, but it has felt like the WoW team has been a lot less transparent than they have in the recent past as it seems the pendulum has shifted from being more open once they created the Warcraft Dev Twitter account that has been very under utilized.

However, that of course doesn’t mean the team hasn’t been listening to the community – just the communication back has been lackluster. I think this Q&A, along with the questions they picked, was a very good step in the right direction. Below are the questions, a short version of the answers and I added my 2 cents on some of them. You can watch the full Q&A VOD below

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Q: Curious about implementation of flying meta – later patch implementation a tech thing?

There are some bugs in the area if they were to allow flying that need to be fixed. They weren’t a priority at the time since they weren’t going to add flying yet. Now that they are going to the bugs need to be fixed. However, they did not want to delay Patch 6.2 to fix these bugs so it will come out in a smaller patch later to fix it. When that happens is when flying will become available.

My thoughts: This makes perfect sense really. There is no reason to delay a major patch for this when you can fix the bugs later and release it a bit later.

Q: Now that flying is coming back, how long will the three rep grinds attached to it take? And can they be done all at once?

Yes. They can all be done at the same time. The core faction reputation will probably take 3 weeks or so if you do the dailies every day.

Q: If the Pathfinder achievement model for flight access goes over well, do you guys see it as the model going forward?

Optimistic about it and see it as a blueprint for similar things going forward and being able to explore and unlock makes a lot of sense. Seems like something that can be applied in a lot of contexts.

Q: Why add flying in the last moment? Personally I like the game more without it. Why the sudden change of heart?

There was a lot of debate on the team to add flying or not – not everyone on the team wanted it but also not everyone on the team didn’t want it. Originally told players there might be flying in Warlords but no guarantee. When Patch 6.2 was closing in they felt they needed to make a decision and ultimately chose not to and communicated that to the players. Due to the feedback they had gotten from that announcement they changed their minds. A lot of it had to do with the word “never” being a very powerful word and what was ultimately got players upset. The reason why they never came out and said anything after the interview was because the team was still intently talking about the issue internally with allowing flying. At that point with the way the community was upset they couldn’t just say “we’re still talking about it” without the community taking it the wrong way.

My thoughts: They basically apologized for 1. stringing players along with thinking there would be flying. 2. Lack of communication and not being up front about it in the first place. These are both things that the WoW team desperately needs to continue improving on and this might be a big learning point for them. Also, as a community it’s good to remember that hey, there are discussions happening that we’re not privy to. Sometimes we need to be patient.

Q: Why are current reps all mob grinds? Can we get a more modern reputation system?

Won’t defend the mob grinds, not happy with them. They were added late to the Warlords development and used Garrison buildings to try and offset them. Going forward in Patch 6.2 there will be daily quests and turn ins that aren’t a total grind.

Q: Apexis dailies feel like they take forever and I just skip them everyday. Any chance to bring back normal dailies?

Dailies have a place and we did the thing we always do where the pendulum shifts back in another direction. We approached Warlords wanting a different direction that the old dailies from Mists of Pandaria which felt like too much. Was thinking this way had more flexibility and more freedom, but this removed story and context and the feeling of purpose. The reward structure was also a complete miss and failure. In 6.2 the value will be more directly apparent and the reward system will be better.

My thoughts: This is one of the many reasons why I basically quit playing WoW shortly after leveling up some characters to 100. The Apexis dailies made no sense to me. The dailies were missing and the rewards were terrible. It seemed like if you weren’t a raider there was nothing more for you to really do. Glad to see they acknowledge this problem.

Q: Draenor questing was a blast, but end game lacks world content. What’s your philosophy on this moving ahead?

Proud of our level up content. Should have done dailies differently. One of the mistakes we made was making sure Garrisons rewarded you accurately and wanting players to really care about their Garrisons so a lot of systems tied to their Garrisons instead of the outdoor world. We failed in making the outdoor world engaging because of it and it’s something we need to fix.

My thoughts: This is another reason why I quit playing WoW. Garrisons basically were a Facebook game where you log in, take care of stuff and log out. There was nothing enticing me to do anything else. Unfortunately I don’t see this getting fixed until the next expansion since Garrisons are so integrated in this expansion.

Q: I feel Warlords has been geared towards the simple one character play and those with alts are burning out with all the upkeep. Is this by design?

No not by design. Alts are more popular now than ever. It’s concerning though that players think multiple alts should serve a main character instead of being self serving. Looking into this issue and looking to reduce some pressure about maintaining alt garrisons. They might nerf getting gold from garrisons per – some sort of diminishing returns so players don’t feel like they have to log into all their characters every day to get all the gold they are getting from them.

Q: Have you learned about what didn’t work with Garrisons and why no one leaves them? 

Garrison rewards are too good. See previous answers. It’s good if you just have a few minutes and want to log in and do something. It’s not good if you have a couple hours and do your Garrison stuff and can’t think of anything else to do. Actively trying to shift rewards back to the outdoor world.

Q: There has been pretty extensive criticism of the “point click wait” gameplay of the Garrison, what differentiates the shipyard from being more of the same?

Wanted to add a new system instead of just adding followers. There will be fewer boats sent less frequently for greater rewards. Having to check back every 30 minutes to check on your followers does negatively affect gameplay though.

Q: Will future expansions have something like garrisons, too?

Garrisons are rooted to Draenor. The core gameplay is something they could carry forward. Will certainly not take on the same form of Garrisons in the future.

Q: There has been a truly massive decline in raiding guilds. Do you still feel that changing the raiding paradigm was a good idea?

Doesn’t agree that there is a massive decline in raiding guilds. There will always be hardcore raiding guilds that decline and others will come up and take their place. Casual raids are more popular. We are happy with where things are.

Q: Is mythic with it’s bonuses justified when such a small percentage does it?

Yes. We like the competition to show who is the best. It’s justified because tuning the mythic encounters aren’t that much of an effort on their part to do since all of the legwork is already done with building the raid in the first place.

Q: Why limit Timewalking to certain bonus time periods?

It makes timewalking a more condensed activity. If timewalking gives you better gear than new dungeons than why do the new dungeons at all if timewalking is more rewarding? On the flip side if timewalking is less rewarding than people will wonder why bother. Having it this way makes it rewarding and makes it a nostalgia trip as well by making it an activity that is only available certain days. Allows the world to be more meaningful without spilling over and clashing with other things.

Q: Dungeons in Warlords went obsolete pretty quickly. Are there plans to tackle this going forward so content doesn’t go to waste?

We regret how this launch cycle played out. Mythic dungeons should fix some of this as they are there to keep dungeons relevant. One of the reasons they got rid of valor is because it seemed weird to do content that was easier but got better rewards for finishing. With mythic it’s allowing the players to feel like they are doing something more relevant to get better rewards.

Q: So no new dungeons, but rehashed timewalking dungeons and adventure journal to highlight old content? Is that the plan going forward?

This doesn’t make us NOT add new stuff. These (timewalking) are not direct competition. Adventure journal is a totally different audience to help new players with leveling. Hellfire Citadel was prioritized over new dungeons. Timewalking was something that has been talked about for 3-4 years now and wasn’t going to take a whole lot of extra work to put in the patch. Timewalking did not take away from creating new dungeons.

My thoughts: Once again this goes back to priority. Would new dungeons be cool? Sure! But they’re also adding 13 new bosses from a new raid that takes up a lot of art resources. Would you really want to wait another 3-4 months for Patch 6.2?

Q: What place do you see Timewalker Dungeons as having when even LFR/Honor Gear is far better and easier to grab?

See it more as a good way to gear up your alt. Also gives you an extra bonus roll on your raid – so you get that bonus as well. More choices never hurt.

Q: Why are you nerfing demonolgy warlocks to the ground?

We have some concerns how demonolgy plays mechanically. It’s not super intuitive and has a very complicated heirarchy. Since it was a very high numbers we saw other specs moving more and more to demonolgy and we weren’t happy that players felt trapped to play – especially on a spec so complicated to play. You would go to Icy Veins and see a wall of text or go to Noxxic and be completely misled. Affliction and Destro are doing great – demonology is not the best anymore. Sorry. The fact that we saw people who enjoyed playing the other specs gravitate toward this because it was considered the best is the problem we were trying to fix.

My thoughts: Honestly I don’t get into the whole nerfing specs buzz or care. But that love for Icy Veins and slam against Noxxic was pretty epic.

Q: Do you feel that ability pruning went too far? Rotations feel simplistic, missing, and even difficult at times

I don’t feel it went far enough. That’s not to say there aren’t some places where we might have gone too far. If we made rotations when going up against a target dummy that are overly complicated, it leaves the game in a place for the average player to feel a little hopeless. We’d rather focus on improving the fantasy of playing your class and feeling awesome playing something like a fire mage. Some of this might be distinctive animations.

Q: How do you see throughput healers enjoying a game in the world still dominated by absorbs?

The game is less dominated by absorbs than in MoP. The problem is that disc priests is probably one that we need to scale back going forward. Not changing in 6.2. The problem is that if you have only one priest in your raid then it needs to be disc just due to the unique nature it brings. Other healers don’t feel like they are doing much when other absorb healers are present. This isn’t a great place for the spec to be.

 Q: While some changes are good, professions were really boring and constrained in Warlords. Any changes planned?

Garrisons constrained things and so did daily cooldowns. Once again, they are better out in the world. Will be fixed some in Patch 6.2.

Q: What’s the ideal Mythic fight length?

If a fight has the same mechanics start to finish then it should be 5 to 6 minutes. Cyclical fights with different phases are roughly 10 minutes long and classic end boss and fights with 4 phases are 10+ minutes. We’re pretty happy with how these have ended up. Mythic Margok being 15 minutes was probably too long, though. Maidens felt right but felt too slow early on.

Q: Why you are making everything so convenient and do you think things are too convenient?

We don’t want inconvenience and nuisance from stopping you from doing something. Adding teleportation around the world made it feel like less than a world. Matchmaking group finder is convenient but takes away social interaction. However, the new group finder is less than a hassle in trade chat spamming for 90 minutes but still convenient. Want to identify things that prevent players from playing the game the way they like. Doesn’t want a point where inconvenient becomes tedious.

Q: Do you feel artistic integrity arguments carry any weight after the twitter selfie patch?

They always carry weight. Twitter integration did not take away from other content or the creation of outdoor content. It was something that wasn’t a high priority feature, it was put together by some programmers as a side project that they decided to go ahead and add to the game. The SELFIE camera was a fun project from one designer and one programmer to add to the game and use that Twitter integration to make it happen – in fact they did it over some weekends.

Patch 6.1 was light on content and that was intended from the developers. It should have probably been called 6.0.* instead of 6.1 because of the expectations of a major patch. This was meant as more of a bug fix patch and some quality of life improvements. I apologize that we misled people in this way.

My thoughts: Ok, this makes a lot more sense now. I felt like 6.1 was a complete joke, the biggest that a major patch has been since Burning Crusades first “major” patch. However, apologizing for “misleading” your players in thinking this wasn’t a big patch could have been avoided by… oh, you know, not marketing it like a big patch. So Patch 6.2 is basically patch 6.1, which means it took the WoW team 7-8 months to deliver a major patch after the release of the game. If you want to find out why subscriber numbers are dipping, then you’ve found the issue. Adding in the fact that you market a major patch incorrectly just compounds on that.

I’m glad that it appears that they realize this and hopefully it doesn’t happen again. However, taking nearly a year and a half between Patch 5.3 to the release of the next expansion and then taking another 8 months to make another major patch is just unacceptable at this point. Sure, showing that your developers are passionate and working extra hours to put in a SELFIE camera is a feel good story and shows their passion – but where’s that passion to deliver content in a timely manner?

Q: Why are tier 18 PVE and PVP gear sets recolors of each other? 

The only thing that differentiated players in Mists of Pandaria was color. It wasn’t reasonable – they wanted more of the armor look to signify the tiers of skill rather than color. So color is used to signify where it came from. There are still 2 armor sets. It’s the same system we had in place in Burning Crusade.

My thoughts on the Q&A

This was needed. Ion Hazzikostas was pretty open in explaining reasoning behind certain design decisions and was apologetic for the ones that just didn’t work out. It’s pretty apparent that the think the way they implemented Garrisons were a mistake and that they need to add more outdoor content in the future. They also realize that going from super daily quests to no daily quests was a failure and that there should be some happy medium going forward. There was also a lot of communication failures to players that hopefully will be learned from in the future.

While it makes me optimistic about the future of WoW, that optimism isn’t until the next expansion. The problems in Warlords are too ingrained. Yeah, there will be some improvements in Patch 6.2 that address some of the issues and that will help. It’s nice that they are realizing what the issues are and actively trying to fix them, but it’s not going to overly fix the expansion – it’s more of just plugging holes in the leaky dam more than anything.

However, they know the leveling experience in Draenor was awesome and the end game was mediocre/poor. I see that being fixed in the next expansion. The biggest problem I feel they need to face that they did not even touch on is the amount of time that this content reaches players hands. 18 months from final patch to expansion release is unacceptable. 8 months for release to first major story advancement is unacceptable. I’m not asking for new content every month but I think a cycle of 3-4 months to keep content fresh is a reasonable goal – with a major expansion every 18 months.

I love WoW, but I feel like Warlords was a miss. I think the devs understand that absolutely. Now we just need to see that action taken.

posted in News
JR Cook

JR has been writing for fan sites since 2000 and has been doing Blizzard Exclusive fansites since 2003. He helped co-found BlizzPro in 2013. You can hear JR every week talk about Hearthstone on the Well Met Podcast published on iTunes.