Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Wintergrasp Instanced = Poor Judgement

Back in City of Heroes (CoH) Issues 7 and prior, there was no end game content to speak of.

Well, almost no end game to speak of.

What CoH had was
Hamidon. Hamidon was this outdoor raid boss that was essentially an ernormous cell complete with various 'mitochondria' (mini raid bosses) that performed various functions. Due to the ridiculous number of hit points, the regen rate and the mez resistance, Hamidon required nearly an entire zone (only level 47-50 allowed) of heroes to defeat, with the whole process taking a substantial amount of time. However, at the time, Hamidon loot was the best in the game so people would plan their evenings around these Hami-Raids. For many servers, Hamidon was not a feasible raid encounter for one Supergroup (Guild) to take down by themselves, and as such server wide raids were often scheduled for maximum participation.

The problem with the Hamidon encounter became clearly evident: Due to the high powered rewards from a relatively easy boss, everyone on the server that was eligible to participate in the fight would attempt to join in. This generated immense latency due to hundreds of players grouping up in the same location with the server processes grinding to a near halt as it slowly performed all of the necessary combat and reward calculations. On the Virtue server, the last 5 minutes of the Hami-Raid looked like a bunch of people standing around a dot as the server wasn't able to render Hamidon, any of the attacks that were being auto spammed, or even fellow Heroes a mere 10 yards away.

Why am I telling a tale of an old encounter from a different MMO?

Because the problems that plagued the Hamidon encounter from several years ago will continue to plague Wintergrasp even after its upcoming fix.

From the Blizzard Staff:

To provide players with a more transparent notification of when Wintergrasp battles occur, as well as better control zone population and stability, several changes have been made:
-Players now have the option to queue for Wintergrasp from a Wintergrasp Battlemaster in any capital city or by simply entering the Wintergrasp Zone.
-Queuing will begin 15 mins before each battle. If chosen, you will automatically be teleported to the zone.
-Any players in the zone who have not been chosen from the queue will be teleported out when the battle begins.
-The queue system remains active for the entire battle. As soon as a player leaves, a new one will be chosen from the queue.
-Trying to enter Wintergrasp during an active battle for which you have not been chosen will teleport you out. Please note that, as you are now able to fly over Wintergrasp, you will only be
teleported out if you try to land and join the battle.
-Level 80 players get higher priority in the queue than lower level players. In addition, a random selection of queued players will be taken from both the Battlemasters and the zone itself.
-The queue will accept 100 players from each faction, resulting in a maximum battle of 100 players at a time.

I believe that Blizzard will only be creating new problems with this patch and sadly, these are problems that will increase the apathy towards Wintergrasp and the possible world PvP opportunities it brings to the table.

Problem #1: People will be forced into non-participation as the queue is a random selection.
Tuesdays after resets are key for any players who are holding off on grinding Battlegrounds for Honor based rewards (Furious T1 weapons count as well) because they know they'll get 10k+ honor from completing the 3 basic Wintergrasp quests (Win Wintergrasp, Kill 10 of the opposite faction, Destroy/Protect 3 Siege Vehicles). Not everyone wants to nor can wait for the next Wintergrasp as many players have schedules, such as planned raids or real life obligations.

Granted, the argument can be made that the weekly quests can be done later, but aside from Algalon, this is the only other content in the game that doesn't guarantee participation. Strangely enough, this seems to go against Blizzard's motive to create content for widespread consumption. Unfortunately, this is going to create a lot of angst from people that set aside time on Tuesdays to 'get Wintergrasp done' only to be randomly prevented from participating. Consider that player that resides on a server with a very high population of his/her faction and doesn't randomly get selected for Wintergrasp twice in a row? What about missing out three times in a row?

Still not convinced? Let's draw a comparison to raiding. If you're short just 10 Badges of Heroism to be able to purchase a piece of badge gear and the game prevented you from joining a raid , you'd be pretty peeved right? Same deal. You could go do Battlegrounds for that 10k+ honor and you could go and grind PuG Heroics, but it's far more lucrative and consistent to Raid Naxx or participate in Wintergrasp.

Problem #2: Latency will still be a problem.
Latency occurs when many players congregate together and the server cannot handle all of the simultaneous actions by that many players in such a short amount of time. On my server, Tuesdays after resets can generally get 4-5 full raids of players Horde side. Tops. Granted, the Alliance side is far more populated and as such, they're likely at 7+ raids, however, at those numbers, when even half of the Wintergrasp population congregates at the gates of the Wintergrasp Fortress, the latency sets in. Even a late night Wintergrasp last night with barely 2 full raids on each side created some latency, because everyone sat around by the Fortress gates. That's 80% of the proposed population maximum.

Problem #3: Still no incentive to not camp the gate.
The implementation of the tower mechanics have pulled some people away from camping the front gate, but it's not enough. By camping the gate, players that are in a raid can: a) rank up faster than those assaulting/defending the southern workshops and b) obtain more kill honor, even at 1 honor/kill. It follows the Battleground Zerg Paradox: where players that zerg from node to node obtain more honor than those who defend nodes, thus forcing the defenders to zerg if they want a piece of the kill honor pie. Gate camping = latency and we're back at square one.

Problem #4: No way of dealing with AFK'ers.
Every Wintergrasp has its share of AFK'ers. You can find them on both factions hidden in alcoves around the Fortress front gate cannons just soaking up kill honor. Right now, there's no issue with them as the huge numbers of players on both sides generally reduce the impact of non-participators. However, with a possible cap on players in Wintergrasp, the impact of their inactivity may soon be felt.

All of these sticking points in Wintergrasp were prevalent in the old school Hami-Raids of CoH, even down to the 200 player cap on every zone. However, the problems persisted to the point that the developers completely revamped the encounter and limited the specific encounter zone to 50 players. The big difference with CoH is that when one zone is full, another identical zone can be spawned, effectively allowing for continuous consumption of content. Unfortunately, WoW doesn't utilize this technology, so we're looking at what amounts to a Battleground that can only be accessed by 100 players of your faction every 5 hours. 5 hours? Yep. Because, if you're like me, you really only care about cranking out that quick Offensive Wintergrasp win once a week.

So, do I have any suggestions to solve the problems that currently or will soon plague Wintergrasp?



The inherent design of Wintergrasp is far more suited to a Battleground than a PvP zone. Amusingly, the new Battleground (Isle of Conquest) seems more suited to a PvP zone than Wintergrasp.

However, my best suggestions to alleviate some of the server stress during the early week Wintergrasps would be as follows:

1) Allow for all of the quests to be completed independent of an offensive or defensive Wintergrasp battle. Better yet, allow them to be completed without any battle, so players don't feel the need to go to an Offensive Wintergrasp to have the best chance of completing the Victory in Wintergrasp or the Defend 3 Siege Vehicles quests. This will remove most of the people who are there just for the honor the current quests give.

2) Give a node defense honor bonus like what is proposed for Battlegrounds in 3.2.

3) Create teleporters at each Workshop that allow players to quickly travel from their faction controlled nodes to other faction controlled nodes to defend them from attackers. Create zone wide notifications when a node is about to be lost. Most defenders hate to mounting up to ride to a node only to have nothing show up. It's a waste of time and a waste of potential free honor while standing by the front gate. Do not allow teleportation to the Fortress from the various nodes.

4) Remove the destructable nature of the southern towers, turn them into capturable nodes a la EotS. If the offense faction controls towers, weaken the Fortress gates/walls for each tower. Think reverse Tenacity. If the defensive faction controls towers, speed up the timer. If there are no players near a tower, immediately set tower to neutral (middle point of the capture slider).

Will these suggestions fix all of Wintergrasp's problems? Probably not, but I believe that attempting creative fixes to adjust player gameplay expectations is a far better course of action than the anticipated implementation of a very heavy handed random queue system.