September 14, 2011

The Nerfbat Is Not My Biggest Worry

This week, Blizzard announced that they would be nerfing Tier 12 content soon:
With the final showdown against Deathwing approaching, we’ve been keeping a close eye on players’ progress through the current Firelands raid content. Before patch 4.3 is released, we want groups who are working on Heroic-difficulty content to be able to get as close to Ragnaros as possible, and we want players who are tackling normal progression to be able to experience as many of the encounters as they can. To achieve these goals, we’ll be toning down the difficulty of both normal and Heroic raids through hotfixes in the coming weeks. In general, we plan to reduce health and damage of all raid bosses in both normal and Heroic Firelands by around the same percentage we brought difficulty down for the original Cataclysm raids when Rage of the Firelands (patch 4.2) was released.
We’re looking forward to seeing more groups of players face off against the firelord in the weeks ahead. However, before we make these changes, we want to give everyone a final shot at the bosses at their current difficulty level — so this is a heads up that we’re planning to apply the difficulty hotfixes beginning the week of September 19.
Stay tuned to the Patch 4.2 Hotfixes blog for these and other live updates to the game as they happen.
Surprisingly (to me as well) this really got my back up. So humour me while I try to get my thoughts out in a coherent way.

My guild started raiding during this expansion. We've always been late to start - Tier 11 in May, Tier 12 in July - but we've not regretted that for a moment. Raid nights are a social thing, a chance to do our best and down some bosses in the hopes of seeing all the content. We finished Tier 11 while progression guilds were starting Firelands but for each of the 5 bosses we downed post-nerf, we felt we could have cleared them without nerfs if we'd started sooner and had more time.

For Tier 12 we started late again as we were still finishing Tier 11, trying to get people head and shoulder tokens to gear up for Firelands. Our guild is 4/7 now, our last kill being Baleroc. That fight was beyond us the week before but we chained Zulroics, got whatever extra gear we could, fiddled with reforging and even made the leap to getting potions for everyone to pre-pot. Lower those eyebrows, progression raiders! Pre-potting was never necessary before! The next time we went to Baleroc we got him down. It took all of us to collectively push the limits of our gear and skill to get it but I honestly believe it was the best kill we've ever made. As a raid team we're starting to believe that we have what it takes to clear full, current raids and it's a great feeling.

None of us had foreseen nerfs while the content was still current though. We were sure that we could get to Ragnaros and kick his ass before Tier 13 hit. We have the dedication, skill, and patience but we just need a few more weeks of gear upgrades. Unless we get Alysrazor this week, we're left with the knowledge that those last three bosses will be post-nerf. I'm 100% sure that we could do it pre-nerf, if we had the rest of this tier to do it. Now we may never know.

Only Blizzard know how these hotfixes will be implemented. There's no clear statement to go on, only small clues:
"through hotfixes in the coming weeks"
which suggest a gradual change.

There's another option, in that case - one that doesn't involve nerfing bosses. Jasyla's post over at Cannot Be Tamed was a timely reminder that a previous method of making the raid content more accessible was introduced for Tier 10, the Icecrown Citadel raid. A 5% buff to player health, healing done and damage done was applied on March 2nd 2010, ramping up in 5% increments, with the final 30% buff coming into force on July 20th 2010. Admittedly, it's not likely that we have 5 months before 4.3 in which to mimic that idea but I honestly feel that this is a better solution than nerfing the bosses themselves. As Kurn says:
" a buff situation like the ICC buff, the onus is on the players to step it up"
I would prefer that. To kill the same boss as everyone else but to do it with a slight boost? Nothing wrong with that at all. It still requires you to have the skill and put the effort in. The element I like most about this method is that it would be optional. If you wanted to do the raid at full difficulty, you would simply turn it off. This solution seems perfect to me - a buff for players who were struggling (or had been too daunted to get started) and an option to do it a harder way for those who wanted to.

The biggest part of the nerf issue this expansion (in my humble opinion) is the lack of options. There's no way to do it un-nerfed if you wish to. You're forced to take those nerfs that you might not need and finish current content without knowing how far you could have got unaided. I don't understand why they opted for boss nerfs instead of players buffs during Cataclysm but it's highly likely I'm missing something, as I wasn't raiding back in Wrath. I do think that the lack of choice is really, really frustrating to a large group of the playerbase though, in a time when many of them have been playing for a number of years. At a time when other MMOs (I'm looking at you, Rift) are on the market and WoW isn't the only option of its genre anymore.

I understand accessibility, and I think it's great that people get to see content. At the same time I don't feel that this should come at the expense of those people who are already capable of seeing content as it is. Is it right to make it more fun for one group but less fun for another? I don't think it is. If Blizzard's goal is to get more people to Ragnaros is it really so crucial that this is done before the new raid even arrives? I don't think it is.

I'm a newer player, and no changes or nerfs to the game have ever made me think of quitting. The nerfs are not my main worry, although you'd be forgiven for thinking that if you've got this far. I read a lot of blogs, and the frustration, bewilderment and resentment radiates from posts by people who care a lot about this game. It seems that Blizzard is making unpopular decisions lately and it's hard to keep believing that they're for any other reason than keeping those subscriber numbers high.

I worry, because many of these recent decisions meant to increase accessibility are pushing away long-term players who bring a lot to the game and its community. These are the people I want to play this game with. This is the community I am happy to be making myself known in. As Oestrus said recently:
"We are losing people... We’re saying goodbye to friendships and memories and ties that we have formed with one another.  It’s more than just lost revenue and subscription numbers... These people have names and they have made contributions to the game and to the community."
If change after change drives these people away, people that write guides, theorycraft, share their advice and speak out for their class, the whole game will be poorer for it. Blizzard needs to find a way to improve the accessibility of content without taking some of the fun away for others and it needs to think about this sooner rather than later.


  1. It's ironic that you used that comment by O because it was in response to my guild ending it's raid days. We certainly didn't break down due to nerfs, quite the opposite. The same is true for ~5 other 25 man guilds on Zuljin that have stopped raiding in the past 3 months.

    That's why the nerfs are coming. Blizzard is responding by toning down really difficult content.

  2. Not really a raider but I have played on and off for about 2 years now and have seen quite a few changes.

    Although I can understand them, I feel that they take stuff away from the game as well. Take for example the hunter as that was my main up until starting my pally. The hunter has gone from having to pay for ammo and feed pets to not needing to. Now ok that makes it fairer in some respects to other classes, but that did make a difference to the game. It made that class stand out.

    Now its too easy in some ways along with ok you don't get control of your pet straight away but you start with one when I started you had to wait until level 10. It is all about making it easier for new players I think. Which I have no problem with but you do want to have a bit of a challenge.

    Great Blog Post by the way.

  3. @Borsk - I know (or at least it seems) that you were the catalyst for her post, but it was those words on their own that I wanted to highlight. I've read a few people saying that more changes like this could drive them away from the game, and those words summed up how I felt about that happening. I certainly didn't mean to insinuate that you left the game due to nerfs :) it's just my personal worry that these nerfs have sparked another ripple of non-positive feeling in the community.

    @Stueeey - Thank you!

  4. Fantastic post.

    What's weird is that our raid group is probably one of the main targets of these nerfs (partway through firelands wanting to kick Rags teeth in before 4.3) and yet we're still not happy about it. When your Yes we want to have Firelands wrapped up before 4.3 but we were getting there and we were becoming far better raiders as we went. This is something I think we're going to lose after the nerfs, we certainly didn't get any better when we finished up tier 11 post nerf.

    I imagine the reasoning behind the nerfs is that by 4.3 everyone who wants to be is done and dusted with Firelands and can jump straight into punching Deathwing in the face which is the entire point of the expansion. Which still doesn't really explain why the heroics modes are getting nerfed as well as i'm sure the next tier will be designed so that you can jump in without heroic mode gear.

  5. Hi Ara,

    I'm really flattered that you chose to use my little blurb for your post. That's awesome! Thank you for choosing something I wrote to add a little flavor to your already wonderful post.


    It's funny, I can't imagine coming back to the game because it's easier. One of the reasons I left the game was because I wanted real difficulty and I felt like some of the fights out now were just obnoxious. It almost felt Blizzard was overcompensating. If you make a fight hard enough the first time, you don't have to resort to "Heroic modes" and things of that nature.

    As I mentioned on a podcast that I was on once, I think the game needs less difficulty settings and not more. You have the incoming nerfs to Firelands, plus the new Raid Finder "training wheels" setting (WoWInsider's words, not mine). It's all becoming quite muddled and I don't really know where they're going with this.

  6. @Adriaria - I definitely agree that we've progressed more as a team in un-nerfed Firelands than we did in post-nerf Tier 11. In all honesty, we sit behind the curve and I don't see anything unusual about being 4/7 now, when we were late to start and late to finish the last tier. I think our whole raid team would rather try and reach Ragnaros without nerfs - we'll still go for it, but we'll be behind in Tier 13 in just the same way.
    I guess it's a pride thing, so there's an element of selfishness in it, but I'd love to have tried our best un-nerfed until the Tier became old.

    @Oestrus - You're welcome! It hit a chord with me when you posted it but I didn't have an articulate comment to offer.
    I don't have the raid experience to judge the way they've changed over time but it does seem to be getting more complicated in terms of difficulty. I'm curious but apprehensive to see how the "training wheels" setting affects the normal and heroic difficulty for existing raid groups.