WoW: Blizzard’s Epic Arms Race

mushroom cloudProbably one of the biggest concerns lately among WoW subscribers has been the rampant proliferation of epic weapons or “purple pixels” as a long time WoW friend of mine calls them. This issue has become one of the hottest forum topics at the official discussion forums. Long time WoW players are worried and rightly so. Blizzard has seen fit to abandon time honored item distribution models based on risk vs. reward, in favor of an incentive system that hands out epics like candy. It’s almost as if Blizzard is a virtual weapons dealer, recklessly supplying both sides in an escalating war. One wonders, like Dr. Strangelove have they’ve gone completely mad?

It’s one thing to talk about this problem and hear anecdotal stories from players. It’s another thing entirely when you see hard evidence that proves conclusively that Blizzard is literally handing out epics at an alarming and disproportionate rate. In the past week, I noticed a very interesting post on the official WoW discussion forums from a player named Guumm entitled “There are more epics then blues”. In it he basically claims that by doing a few simple searches at Wowhead a popular WoW database, one can easily see that there are more epics then blues from level 61-70. Yet when you search epics vs. blues from levels 50-60 you’ll notice there are far more blues then epics which seems entirely reasonable.

I did the search on Wowhead for myself and came up with similar results. I did a search of epics (purple), rares (blue) and uncommon (green) for both the original WoW (levels 1-60) and The Burning Crusade (levels 61-70).

 

Wowhead.com Search of WoW Levels 1-60 Items

  • 4660 uncommon items
  • 2609 rare items
  • 1426 epic items

WoW items 1 to 60

 

Wowhead.com Search of WoW Levels 61-70 Items

  • 1068 uncommon items
  • 1506 rare items
  • 2461 epic items

 WoW items 61-70

Any reasonable person would conclude that the current itemization for The Burning Crusade expansion levels 61-70 is out of whack. There are clearly more epics then blues. In fact the total number of epics almost equals the number of blues and greens combined.

If you look at the distribution percentiles of the original WoW they are consistent with what is normally found in most RPG’s and MMO’s. Epic (purple) are rarer then rare (blue) and rares are rarer then uncommon (green). 

Here are some pyramid graph representations of WoW item rarity that I have created:

World of Warcraft levels 1-60

The distribution of items according to rarity scheme created by Blizzard follows normal MMO and RPG conventions.

  • Epic items are very rare and hard to get as they are more powerful
  • Rare items are rare and a bit easier to obtain and moderately powerful
  • Uncommon items are not as rare and much easier to obtain and less powerful

 

WoW items 1 - 60 pyramid

World of Warcraft levels 61-70

The distribution of items is aberrant and problematic. This goes against established itemization and rarity paradigm’s found in other MMO’s and RPG’s. 

  • Epic items are the most common yet are more powerful
  • Rare items are rare yet moderately powerful
  • Uncommon items are extremely rare and the least powerful

WoW items 61 - 70 pyramid

The first thing we notice is that the pyramid has essentially been turned upside down. No game designer worth their salt would ever implement a bloated itemization scheme like the instable pyramid above. It’s laughable. It’s hard to fathom how Blizzard allowed it to happen with all of the talent that they’ve recruited.  They most certainly must have been aware of the numbers. How is it that it’s come down to the players to point out the absurdity of what’s going?

Meta Levels?

One possible explanation for the proliferation of epic items at the level cap is that Blizzard has created a meta level system that is a replacement for levels beyond the level cap and expressed through itemization. Meta levels are one way that a player can progress via itemization — in other words not all epics have equal weight or power. Yet Blizzard employed a similar meta level system in the original WoW with the introduction of advanced raiding content in Blackwing Lair, AQ20/40 and Naxxaramas and the ratio of epics to other item types is not overwhelmingly lopsided which is the case in the Burning Crusade itemization.

To be fair, it seems Blizzard is aware of their errors. Jeff “Tigole” Kaplan (the Blizzard designer that coined the term “welfare epics”) in an interview with Gamespy stated the following:

Jeffrey Kaplan:Yes, we’ve really thought a lot about the reward structure. We’ve learned a lot of lessons in Burning Crusade about what worked and what didn’t and how PvE and PvP itemization need to co-exist. [We’re] trying to address what we consider missteps in Burning Crusade in itemization in Wrath of the Lich King.

IGN: What were the missteps?

Jeffrey Kaplan:Not having the complete balance between PvP and PvE itemization. In the sheer quality of items you could get. An example would be the barrier to entry to doing something like Zul’Aman and the skill required to kill a boss there versus the barrier to entry to getting a pair of boots out of the honor system that are very high quality. Just not having enough levity there to balance out between the two. I also don’t think we rewarded PvE enough, meaning not enough items dropped in PvE instances.

Conclusion

While Kaplan’s admission is welcome news, the fact that epic gear will still be easier to obtain via PVP is a huge problem that has created a massive imbalance within WoW. Epic gear is no longer “epic” these days and it’s lost most of it’s prestige and status value. Everyone knows it now. Clearly Blizzard’s experimentation with PVP reward mechanics has damaged WoW’s reputation with traditional MMO players and RPG enthusiasts. However those people no longer are the focus of Blizzard. What we are really seeing here is the physical manifestation of a grand strategy to expand the demographical base of WoW in order to generate more subscriber revenue. One wonders how long they can keep watering down their MMO before they ultimately alienate their core subscribers. Blizzard is playing a dangerous and risky game.

 -Wolfshead

 

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