This is a post I wrote almost three months ago. But I wasn’t very happy with it, and ended up letting it sit around as a draft. Every few weeks I would come back to it hoping to edit it into something I was happy with, and every week I gave up and moved on to other projects. Since there’s been little hard information about the final changes we’ll be seeing in 5.2, I forced myself to sit down and turn this blog post into something useful.
Mists has dramatically changed the way many of us approach our play time in World of Warcraft. Between dailies, reputation grinds, charms, multiple LFRs, challenge modes, item upgrades, and everything else, the game at level 90 feels vastly different from the way it did upon reaching level 85 in Cataclysm. In many ways, that’s a good thing. More content means you’ll rarely log on and realize you have nothing to do.
However, I want to look at something you won’t often see discussed on a theorycrafting blog: alternate characters, or “alts.” Mists has the distinction of being the most alt-unfriendly expansion to date, which is unfortunate for those of us that like to level and raid on multiple characters. And while Blizzard has done a number of things to help mitigate the problem, the central issue really hasn’t been addressed well enough. And that issue is the rate of accrual of valor points.
First, let’s make it clear that I’m coming at this from the perspective of a player that prioritizes their main. Each week, I’m going to do everything I feel that I need to in order to keep Theck “topped off” for raiding. That primarily means that I’m capping valor on Theck every week. Since I’m exalted with all of the relevant Mists factions, we can ignore them, but keep in mind that when I first wrote this article I was still doing Operation: Shieldwall dailies, and before that I was doing faction dailies to reach exalted reputation. If I didn’t already have a bankroll of over 1400 Lesser Charms of Good Fortune, I might still be doing dailies to keep up with those.
Furthermore, I’m the sort of player that really enjoys playing alts. Not just the process of leveling them through the content (in fact, that part has become increasingly tedious as quest progression has become more linear in Cataclysm and Mists), but gearing them and raiding on them. In Cataclysm it was common for me to be participating in a weekly alt raid in addition to our normal weekly raids, and the occasional “ghetto alt” raid on other off-nights. I really enjoy learning and mastering new classes, especially when it comes to raiding.
Both of those those factors color the way I experience and feel about the game. And I’ll be the first to admit that what would make the game better for me isn’t necessarily what makes the game better for everyone else. Nonetheless, I think it’s worth exploring the ramifications of the new valor point system on a player of my persuasion.
The “Valor Plateau”
In previous expansions, there was a distinct cycle to a player’s involvement throughout an expansion. When a new raid tier or patch arrived, it generally added new stuff to do, and most importantly new reasons to care about valor points. Generally, those reasons were valor point gear rewards, and for a long stretch of time that included tier items. A patch might also introduce new reputations to grind, or new dailies to do (or both), or other new “stuff” like quest lines, pets, or what have you.
And the response of a raider was predictable: you’d log in and do a bunch of that stuff on your main character for a few weeks. Valor accrual was the most important part of those activities – if you considered yourself a serious raider, you were making sure to cap your valor point income each week during that period to make sure you got your hands on that new gear as soon as possible. If you weren’t already clearing enough raid bosses to cap each week, you were out there running heroics to make up the difference.
However, a month or two into the tier, the situation became totally different. By that point, you had all of the valor gear you wanted, and it wasn’t as critical to reach the cap. If you got there just from raiding, great; if not, all you missed out on was a little extra gold from selling bind-on-equip valor gear on the auction house.
I’m not sure that anyone’s coined a term to describe this effect. Certainly, the game designers working on the game must have a technical term to describe this ebb-and-flow effect. But I don’t know what it is, and for lack of a better term, I’ve taken to calling it the “valor plateau.” The reasoning is pretty simple: there’s a certain valor threshold you need to reach to obtain all of the items you want, and after that point the importance of valor swiftly drops off. If you plotted “valor spent on character power” against time, you’d see a line that increases steadily in the first month of a patch and then suddenly flattened off – hence a “plateau.”
This phenomenon is mirrored in the game in other ways. Guilds push very hard to clear raid tiers early on, and strong guilds eventually get all of the bosses to a “farm” state, often reducing their raiding hours in response. Players grind reputation with a faction to get to exalted, and then put them aside until the next rep grind presents itself. There’s a distinct flurry of activity followed by a period of rest and respite.
But the new item upgrade system eliminates that cycle and replaces it with a constant player power treadmill. There’s no longer a point at which valor becomes irrelevant until the next tier, because you can continue upgrading your gear to prepare for the next raid tier. The system turns a temporary period of grinding into an eternal one.
And I don’t know if that’s a good thing, especially for players like me. There’s a lot of value in that period of rest and respite, and perhaps that’s been overlooked by the developers. Those periods let you recharge your batteries, take a break, and do something different. For someone like me, that could mean leveling or gearing an alt. Or it might just be extra time you can use to do other things – spending time with family, knocking out another game that you’ve been meaning to get to, doing some theorycrafting that you’ve been putting off, or any number of other things. No matter what, it’s a break from the focused power grind that occurs following a patch – a reward of downtime for your early efforts. And its an important part of preventing raider burnout.
Players will put up with a temporary grind because they know it’s temporary, especially when it coincides with things like new content which would be encouraging them to play more anyway. But once it becomes an obligation, something they need to do every week in perpetuity, it stops being as tolerable. It becomes something all of us have dreaded since we were kids: chores. Want to keep your character at peak performance? Gotta keep doing your chores, kiddo.
Now, it’s not exactly hard to cap valor. You get 640 points from a full clear of tier 14. The remaining 360 points can be made up with 4 LFRs, or 4 daily heroics and a daily scenario, 72 dailies, or any permutation of the above that adds up to 360. But that’s still on the order of 4 hours worth of effort in addition to whatever it takes you to clear T14. For my guild, that’s about 8 hours (less, really, since a large chunk of that would be heroic progression). So the expected time on Theck per week just based on valor alone is about 12 hours.
As you can imagine, that sort of cuts into the time for alts. Four hours isn’t a huge time commitment, but it’s still 4 fewer hours I can be spending leveling, gearing, or raiding on an alt. Four hours is an entire evening of alt raid, for example. And that’s for me, a player who easily spends 20 hours a week or more on this game. It only gets worse if you’re in a guild that raids more nights per week and/or clears fewer bosses.
But no matter what, it means that I play the game a little differently. In prior expansions, I may have logged in on Theck for 10 minutes a day to handle auctions, and then gone off and done something else on an alt. Now, I plan on spending an hour or more on Theck to knock out some valor points early in the week, which often precludes me from getting around to much else on an alt.
And woe unto you if you like to raid on two characters and want to cap valor on both. For the first few months I was trying to cap valor on my warlock as well, to prepare her for alt raids together. The Valor of the Ancients buff certainly helps with that, but even 50% increased valor gain isn’t enough to make it an easy process. I was actually doing something rather tricky lately to try and optimize my time expenditure.
Rather than capping Valor on Theck first, I would cap valor on my warlock first by running five LFRs and a number of heroics, scenarios, and daily quests. I make a mad dash to cap valor on the warlock between Tuesday and Friday. Then, when I raided on Friday and Saturday nights with Theck, I got to take advantage of the 50% valor bonus and turn that 640 valor points into 960 valor points, which is easily enough to cap on top of the few dailies I end up doing in the course of a week. But that only worked because our raid nights are so late in the week – if your raid nights are earlier or more scattered, you’re pretty much out of luck (though you might be able to reverse the process if all of your raid nights are early in the week).
You might think that I feel similarly about the reputation grinds in Mists, but in fact, I don’t. While the initial grind was pretty rough, it was mostly because of the sheer number of Golden Lotus and Klaxxi dailies. The Shado-Pan and August Celestial dailies were fine, and I think that if the Golden Lotus and Klaxxi dailies had been done similarly there wouldn’t have been much complaint at all. Four quests a day per faction isn’t unreasonable, even if you’re doing all four of those factions. But most importantly, all of those reputation grinds were temporary. Now that I’m done with them, I get to sit back and relax – the plateau effect is still there.
And once you’re doing the grinds on an alt, they’re incredibly tolerable – you can now be friendly with Shado-Pan and revered with Klaxxi just by questing an alt to 90. I decided to do the Cloud Serpent grind on my warlock, and was surprised to find that I could go from Neutral to halfway through Revered in the very first day of questing. It was surprisingly painless, and felt really good – I’d spent so much time doing those same quests on Theck, so it only felt right that I should be able to fast-forward through it on my alt. All in all, apart from the Golden Lotus fiasco, I think they’ve got reputation in a pretty good place for alts.
Putting The “Or” Back In “Valor”
It’s clear from the discussion above that the extra time invested in your main comes at the cost of time to spend on alts. If I have time to run 3 or 4 LFRs a week, and I need the valor, I’m going to be running them on Theck rather than an alt. And there’s a limit to how many times you can stand running LFR a week too – I’m going to be far less likely to hop into LFR again on an alt even if I do have the time. The same could be said of heroics, to some degree. There’s a level of attrition with many of the types of content you can participate in for valor points – they’re fun the first few times, but get tiring once you’ve done them too many times a week. The same might even be true of raiding, believe it or not!
But then, what, you may ask, is the solution? How do you provide enough content to satisfy the players who want lots of content for their mains and give raiders the restful period of the valor plateau at the same time? I don’t think there’s a simple answer to that question, but I do think there’s one thing that would help immensely: buff valor gains across the board. Instead of 40 points for a raid boss, double it to 80. Instead of 80 for the daily heroic, it could be 120-150. 80 instead of 40 for a daily scenario, and 10 instead of 5 for a daily quest. Make valor capping easier and you give players the versatility to do the content they want without reducing the amount of content available.
I don’t think that valor capping needs to be hard. Valor is a reward for doing stuff in-game, but it doesn’t need to take 12 hours a week just to cap it. Nor does it need to be the vehicle that gets players out into the world. Players who want to do the quest lines and dailies will do them anyway for the reputation and story rewards. Nothing shows that more clearly than the Operation: Shieldwall and Dominance Offensive quest lines in 5.1. For the first time in… well… ever in WoW, I was looking forward to heading off to do dailies, because I knew that in addition to a few monotonous dailies I’d get another chunk of story.
In fact, I’d argue that the entire system could have been streamlined a bit, and each set of dailies could have been built around part of the story. Instead of 5 meaningless dailies and one neat piece of story, I’d rather see the 5 dailies integrated into the story. They did this somewhat with the first step of the Alliance quest line – we have a mine, and we need to clear it out so that the Alliance can harvest ore. But I’d love to have seen it done with the other parts too. On a day where you get a new story chunk, you automatically get the dailies associated with that story. On other days, you might get quests you’ve already seen (“Hey, you were so helpful when we needed that cave cleared out the first time, would you mind going down there and cracking some more skulls so we can do some more digging?”).
But in any event, I’m getting sidetracked here. The main point is that valor can flow a little more freely without having a huge effect on participation. It’s certainly good that daily quests and other world activities give valor points, but that doesn’t mean valor income needs to be stingy to encourage people to do them. It still boggles my mind that you cannot cap via a full clear of the current tier’s content, especially with 16 bosses. Because even if I could cap valor just through raiding I would still be doing some dailies on Theck, either for achievements, reputation, or things like Ironpaw tokens and lesser charms. And perhaps more importantly, faster valor income from dailies would be a huge benefit to players who don’t raid regularly. I can’t imagine how painful it must be to cap valor primarily through dailies and scenarios.
I think you could make a good argument for lesser charms being more widely available too, for similar reasons. Right now, these charms funnel you into doing dailies because it’s the only source (at least until 5.2 rewards them through pet battles, but as someone who hasn’t even bothered to try pet battles yet, that’s not really helpful to me). Again, it seems counter to the goal of encouraging players to participate in the content they enjoy, though that design intent seems to have fallen by the wayside in a number of other ways in Mists as well. But what would break if you could get some of your lesser charms through raiding, heroics, or scenarios? In fact, it might even be a good way to add an incentive for 25-man raiding: give each boss a chance to drop 5-10 lesser charms, and make the drop rate or amount higher in the 25-man format. The benefit of spending more time on organization and logistics is that you need to spend less time grinding out your 90 lesser charms per week. (Note: remember, this was written before we knew about Thunderforged items).
Staving off Altageddon
In short: Mists has gone a long way to give us more content than ever, and while it’s great to have that much content, it has in almost all cases meant that players end up spending more time than in previous expansions to achieve the same goals. It’s increased the amount of time you’re expected to spend preparing for raids, and subsequently reduced the flexibility in playing alts.
We know that the item upgrades system will be taking a break for 5.2. But I sort of hope it doesn’t come back. Or rather, not in its current form. The constant valor-and-dailies treadmill hangs the constant threat of burnout over your raid team, and the item upgrade system is the taskmaster at the controls. I think it’s a decent system if valor is easy to acquire, such that it only takes a reasonable time investment. When it takes 12+ hours a week to cap on a single character, it’s just more trouble than it’s worth.
Note that I’m not even going to invoke the deadly “required” argument here, because that’s completely missing the point. Nothing in this game is strictly required, and the definition of “required” ends up being different for different players. You could spend days arguing over semantics without getting anywhere, and you’d have completely wasted your time doing so. Because none of it changes the facts, and it’s irrefutable that it takes more time to prepare for raiding in Mists than it has in any previous expansion save vanilla WoW.
And that extra time spent isn’t, in general, a good thing in my mind. It reduces the flexibility I have in how I choose to play the game, and gives me less time to do other things in-game that I do find fun. And I think in terms of aggregate statistics, it will end up leading to higher burnout rates for raiders. We may not see it yet, and I attribute part of that to the sheer quality of this raiding tier – it is an excellent tier of raiding all around, and my hat is off to the encounter design team for giving us the best tier of raiding since Ulduar. But I’m not sure that great encounters are enough to counter-balance the lack of a rest/relax period between tiers of content.