MMO-Champion - The Great Item Squish (or Not) of Pandaria
The Great Item Squish (or Not) of Pandaria
Originally Posted by Blizzard (Blue Tracker / Official Forums)
The lead designers were originally going to talk about this topic at BlizzCon, but it didn’t really match the content of the rest of our “Intro to Pandaria” presentation, and seeing as how we finished our 90-minute slot with 93 seconds remaining, there wouldn’t have been room for it anyway. But several of us did bring up the issue with players and media we talked to, and it even ended up in at least one FAQ, so we figured we’d go ahead and get the information out there. Note that unlike much of what we presented for the upcoming Mists of Pandaria expansion, this is not an announcement. It’s more of a problem we’d like to address, and a couple of ways we potentially might do so. Feedback is certainly appreciated.

Big Number Syndrome
Hey, our stats are growing exponentially. If you look at everything from the Strength on a weapon to the damage being done by a Fireball crit or the amount of health the Morchok boss has, they look downright absurd compared to the numbers for level 60 characters in the original shipping version of World of Warcraft. It’s not exactly a surprise that we were going to end up here, and we knew where we were going every step of the way, yet regardless, here we are.


Fig. 1. Item level vs. character level. Brown = vanilla. Green = BC. Blue = LK. Red = Cat.

The numbers grew so much primarily because we wanted rewards to be compelling. Upgrading from a chestpiece that has 50 Strength into one that has 51 Strength is undeniably a DPS increase for the appropriate user, but it’s not a very exciting reward. Such negligible increases can drive players to do some weird things, such as skipping over tiers of gear or entire levels of content. This is particularly relevant when we’re talking about a new expansion. We don’t want level-85 players to have a reasonable shot at level-90 dungeons and raids (or PvP opponents) just because that content is balanced for gear that isn’t much better than what the level-85 players have.

So we arrived at this point in a logical fashion, and we don’t really think we should have handled things any differently. However, it’s still a weird place to be, and it’s about to get weirder. These aren’t real items, in that we don’t know for sure what the item levels will be in patch 5.3 and patch 6.3 (if only we planned that far ahead!) but they are reasonable guesses, and you can see just how ridiculous the items look.


Fig. 2. A theoretical item from patch 5.3.


Fig. 3. A theoretical item from patch 6.3.

So what do we do about it? There are two general categories of solutions. The first is to make the numbers appear more manageable and the second is to actually change the numbers.

Mega Damage
The first solution could include changes like adding commas and the like to large numbers. We could also compress all of those 1000s to Ks and all of those 1,000,000s to Ms, much like we do with boss health today. Internally, we have been calling this the “Mega Damage solution” because instead of your Fireball hitting for 6,000,000 damage, it would hit for 6 MEGA DAMAGE (queue the Arcanite Ripper guitar solo).


Fig. 4. Mega Damage. Name/screenshot not to be taken seriously.

If we can make numbers such as floating combat text and boss health and item stats a little easier to read at a glance, then maybe we can endure numbers increasing exponentially for many digits to come. Now there are some very real computational limitations. PCs just can’t quickly perform math on very large numbers, so we’d have to solve all of those problems as well. Even today, tanks can hit the ten digit threat cap on some encounters.

Item Level Squish
The second solution actually involves compressing item levels, which is why we call it the “item level squish solution.” If we can lower stats on items, then we can lower every other number in the game as well, such as how much damage a Fireball does or how much health a gronn has. If you look at the item level curves, you can see that most of the growth occurs at the maximum character levels for the various expansions. This is because we keep rewarding more and more powerful gear to make the new raid tier and PvP season in an expansion reward significantly better gear than the previous one. However, those huge item level jumps don’t accomplish a lot once the character level has increased again. Very few players notice or care how much of an upgrade the Black Temple loot is over the Serpentshrine Cavern loot when their characters are level 80.

With that in mind, we could go back and compress the big item level increases that occur at level 60, 70, 80 and 85. The Mists of Pandaria gear would still grow exponentially from patch to patch, but the baselines would be a lot lower. Health could go from 150,000 back down to something like 20,000. The big risk of this approach is that players will log into the new expansion and feel nerfed… even if all the other numbers are compressed as well.

In other words, your Fireball will still do the same percentage damage to a player or a creature that it does today, but the number would be smaller. Logically, this seems like it would work, and it does. But it feels weird. When we tried this internally, everyone agreed that it just felt off throwing a spell for hundreds of damage when you are used to it doing thousands of damage.

I came up with an analogy -- even though I know logically that people drive on the left side of the street in the UK (we drive on the right side of the street in the US) and wouldn’t be surprised to see it, it would still feel really disorienting if I was driving in the UK and had to make a right-hand turn.


Fig. 5. Item level vs. character level before and after ‘squish’. Brown = vanilla. Green = BC. Blue = LK. Red = Cat

So Now What?
As I type this today, we haven’t decided on which if either solution we want to try. Maybe we’ll come up with yet another solution. Maybe it’s the kind of thing we can put off for another expansion so that players don’t have to adjust to the new talent system and a drastic item level compression at the same time. Or maybe it’s better just to pull the Band-Aid off fast and fix everything at once. Time will tell. I did, however, want to outline the problem lest any of you believe we don’t think there is a problem. There is. We’re just not sure of the best solution yet. If your answer is that stat budgets don’t have to grow so much in order for players to still want the gear, our experience says otherwise, and thus these proposed solutions exist. Your thoughts on the matter are valuable.

Greg “Ghostcrawler” Street is the lead systems designer for World of Warcraft. The last time he used “Fig. 5” in an article, it related fish predation to estuarine hydrocarbon contamination.
This article was originally published in forum thread: The Great Item Squish (or Not) of Pandaria started by Boubouille View original post
Comments 851 Comments
  1. Alenarien's Avatar
    Quote Originally Posted by Binki View Post
    Having to gather 10 people to do Tempest Keep instead of soloing it will be much more fun.
    Have fun sharing all that loot. I meanwhile will solo everything I can before this change so that when it comes, I won't have to depend on others ("others" having a notorious habit of being incompetent, ninjaing imbeciles) to get what I want.
  1. wakenbake's Avatar
    Quote Originally Posted by AvalonTLW View Post
    VANILLA? Are you F* joking?It is Classic!The classic days of WoW.F* everyone and their family who call it 'vanilla... vanilla.... Thats like calling [insert your favorite band name] for Justin Bieber. UGH!
    relax dude, vanilla means classic.
  1. Ramman's Avatar
    I forsee Blizzard stealing another idea of mine. See forums Ramman Velen Item melding published awhile ago.We will all go through a new dark portal and Vanilla WoW and Outland and Northrend will no longer be accessible. We will be in the new WoWverse where you have to be at least level 90 to experience it.Think about it, a game that you can only play if you level to 90 and then transistion through the NEW DARK PORTAL (new server duh). You would actually have to buy WoW with vanilla, BC, Wrath, Cata, and MoP. Then Buy the new Expac so that you could actually transition into the new realm from which you could never return to the old realm. Scaling would immediatly cease to be a problem, your toon would effectively be level 1, gear would no longer be color coded, etc. It would not only open up tons of business for Blizz but for all of the gold farmers, Addon engineers etc that live off of secondary means of the game. This is the greaest thing ever, if you want to play WoW you play on your alts but if you want to play WoW Invasion then you have to switch to your Level 90 + toon that is and must be your Main with of course his subscription to WoW Invasion services etc. I wonder if we will have a D3 AH or the older version like now or maybe something entirely new, like a barter driven AH posting board. Ooooh the possibilities.Tell me I'm wrong HEHEHEHEHEH
  1. ihazabucket's Avatar
    Well entry level health at around WotLK to Cata players leveling have around 20-50k health. Then when you hit 85 you would probably have close to 85k-90k health depending. I think if they were to "squish" they should squish back down to early Cata...not BC.
  1. styopa's Avatar
    They missed a huge opportunity for this in the Cataclysm.
    "It shook the world so hard, the magic fell off the items!"

    You log in after Cata, all your gear still looks great, but it's GRAY. And everything you can pick up in the world is now downscaled.

    /facepalm at Blizzard. Your fans saw this coming in the TBC expansion.....you just noticed it now?
  1. MakeMeLaugh's Avatar
    lol, Your arcane blast crit for 69 TERA DAMAGE!
  1. Accaris's Avatar
    Quote Originally Posted by Alenarien View Post
    Have fun sharing all that loot. I meanwhile will solo everything I can before this change so that when it comes, I won't have to depend on others ("others" having a notorious habit of being incompetent, ninjaing imbeciles) to get what I want.
    I agree, imagine trying to run a hard Sunwell with Looking For Raid rejects. There's no major reward, therefore there's no motivation to succeed. It would be a nightmare, and I think I'd rather get a root canal.
  1. ultimar235's Avatar
    Quote Originally Posted by Baelic View Post
    Why not just stick to a more linear model of growth than exponential? You can still tweak it to give that same "omg powerful gear" feel, but without it going outof control.
    They explained why not in the post.
  1. wakenbake's Avatar
    Quote Originally Posted by Ramman View Post
    I forsee Blizzard stealing another idea of mine. See forums Ramman Velen Item melding published awhile ago.We will all go through a new dark portal and Vanilla WoW and Outland and Northrend will no longer be accessible. We will be in the new WoWverse where you have to be at least level 90 to experience it.Think about it, a game that you can only play if you level to 90 and then transistion through the NEW DARK PORTAL (new server duh). You would actually have to buy WoW with vanilla, BC, Wrath, Cata, and MoP. Then Buy the new Expac so that you could actually transition into the new realm from which you could never return to the old realm. Scaling would immediatly cease to be a problem, your toon would effectively be level 1, gear would no longer be color coded, etc. It would not only open up tons of business for Blizz but for all of the gold farmers, Addon engineers etc that live off of secondary means of the game. This is the greaest thing ever, if you want to play WoW you play on your alts but if you want to play WoW Invasion then you have to switch to your Level 90 + toon that is and must be your Main with of course his subscription to WoW Invasion services etc. I wonder if we will have a D3 AH or the older version like now or maybe something entirely new, like a barter driven AH posting board. Ooooh the possibilities.Tell me I'm wrong HEHEHEHEHEH
    I'd rather cauterize my ballsack with red hot butter knifes than play that.
  1. TheTrueM4gg0t's Avatar
    Quote Originally Posted by Alenarien View Post
    I won't have to depend on others ("others" having a notorious habit of being incompetent, ninjaing imbeciles) to get what I want.
    urgh... others... why do all those other people have to play my game anyway... :-D
    just meat up with friends / guildies and have fun
  1. Barreveler's Avatar
    Quote Originally Posted by tohyatvc View Post
    You've fundamentally misunderstood this problem and the solution.
    The reductions will NOT BE LINEAR. Level 70 mobs WILL be harder for you to kill at 85 than they are now. That's the whole point. This isn't just to reduce big numbers, this is to smooth out the game scaling, so older content isn't as trivial. The increases in power have NOT BEEN LINEAR. 0-60 is almost completely LINEAR, with the exception of T3 where we spiked up to ilvl 90 for some things.

    Since then we have spiked up insanely. It's these reductions that will be reduced, and your overall relative power will be reduced. Thinking it will be a flat 90% reduction is completely wrong. NO FLAT REDUCTIONS.
    No...the purpose IS to reduce the big numbers, not to make old content more difficult. If you believe otherwise you didn't read the OP. Old content becoming marginally more difficult may be an unavoidable side effect, but it's not the goal.

    Whether they choose to do it in a linear fashion, or by flattening the growth curve from Early BC -> Late BC -> Early LK - > Late LK -> Early Cata etc., the goal is still eliminating the problem of having "+3042 strength and +2034" crit on gear that leads to extraordinarily large numbers.

    If they reduce the ilevels proportionately, You're ignoring what has to happen behind the scenes to make that ilevel change work. All the mobs have to be proportionately reduced in health and multipliers have to be made to scale appropriately with the new gear levels.

    The net result is the same. For a given tier of content, everything will be reduced by a constant percentage. Maybe those percentages will be different from say, mid BC-heroics to Lich King Raids, but they would still be shooting for your health, the mobs health and your DPS to have roughly the same proportions as today.
  1. Holycheez's Avatar
    I have been thinking about this for a while and found it interesting that it came up in the news.

    Just as a side note i haven't played wow for 6 months because I found it got to the same old end-game boredom, a problem that was reflected in blizz losing subscribers a while back, don't get me wrong I still want to play WoW.

    Anyway, why is blizzard still flogging a dead horse?

    Does anyone else believe they need to stop thinking about expansions and go back to RTS for a continuation in story line before bringing out a 'WoW 2' with a new graphics engine to compete with the modern tech?

    I for one would love to see a 'Warcraft 4' followed by a remake of WoW.
  1. lightmgl's Avatar
    The only right answer is that there is no right answer. The wrong answer is definitely to let it keep inflating though. That will lead to engineering difficulties in the long run and poor game optimization.

    I can't really think of other games that have scaled up at the pace WoW does. Most of them just settle for the "you only get marginally stronger each xpac" mentality, and as Blizzard said it leads to being able to skip over large portions of gear and content which they clearly do not want either.

    They'll need to find a middle of the road solution and look for more indirect increases of power. I suppose the problems with those (such as procs, or items that enhance abilities) leads to a balancing nightmare. It gets kind of tedious when everything you are wearing has some sort of proc too.

    Oh well, its gonna come down to one of the drawbacks eventually. Its just a giant tug of war between us feeling like we're getting stronger while having large enough steps to make the gear necessary.
  1. Paloro's Avatar
    My favorite expansion in this game was BC, mainly because I loved the "epicness" of all the raids and attunements. Each tier that you grew in BC your character was significantly stronger then it was previously. I know that it can be argued the same for every expansion however, putting the item level squish in place would most definately bring back the "significance" of an upgrade again. Will it be a shock to log in when MoP comes out and you don't have 150k hp on your boomkin? Sure it willI just don't want to see stats like the 5.3 chest that was proposed with a itlvl 600 and near 2,000 secondary stats
  1. akiho's Avatar
    Definitely squish it. The only issue I can see with this solution is the that ability to solo "Previous-Tier" content might be affected. Most BC bosses can be killed fairly easily with one or two players in less than a minute, at lvl 85. If the numbers are squished a bit to make the same fight take 1.5 minutes or even 2 minutes, while causing our health pool to halve from the damage comparatively, that isn't a big deal. The added challenge would make the older content more fun for people who like challenges. Farmers might complain a bit, if they aren't able to solo bosses, but I don't think this change will have a as much of an impact on soloing as is feared. It all depends on the depth of "squishing" Blizzard decides to employ. If our health at 85 goes from 140,000 to 70,000 and our DPS goes from 30K to 15K, (a dramatic 50% "nerf" which would exponentially decrease future inflation), I believe we will still be able to effectively solo BC bosses. Wrath bosses might be a different story, but they will be nerfed much harder than BC bosses by the change, so it might still be doable. (Personally, I feel that being able to solo things that five levels ago took a whole raid group is ludicrous, but I don't like things to be easy, so maybe I'm the weirdo in that sense).I do NOT like the MEGA number idea. I like the grassroots feel of WoW. I don't want to feel like I'm playing a futuristic pinball game when I am rolling through Elwynn forest. I still remember the feeling I had when I made my very first WoW character. It was very pastoral. I thought the starting area was so epic, and then to realize there was a "massive!" city just outside and so many other zones to explore...I think that somewhat overwhelming, (in a good way), challenge of just exploring the world is what hooks a lot of newbies. If I hit max level and am now in a carnival type atmosphere of MEGA CRITICAL SUPER DAMAGE, it's going to take away from the feeling that I've got anything more to do in the game, which is the same exact issue that I have with WoW currently, (hmm do I do ZA/ZG for the thousandth time, for no reason except to sell some bracers, or do I run around Stormwind for an hour...hmmm...maybe my gear could be tweaked by a few EP if I naggle over some reforging options a bit?). Making the characters feel a bit less powerful in relation to past content is not a bad thing, if it maintains the integrity of the numbers displayed on the screen without selling them out to WORDS. Besides, two weeks after release "The Big Squish" will feel normal just like every other change. Like it was never, ever any other way. Plus it will give us all a new anecdote: Remember when we went from having 20-30K health to having 120-130K health...in one expansion...yeah that was dumb. I'm glad it's not that way anymore!
  1. wakenbake's Avatar
    why don't they keep the same numbers but just add a new stat that you need to be able to damage bosses that slowly scales each tier?
  1. Skippert's Avatar
    Just squish the numbers. Sure, ofcourse and obviously everyone will feel nerfed at the start, just like the Blizzard devs, but honestly, how much time have they given it? An hour? In a week o so you'll get used to the new numbers. It makes sense, arcane mages doing 130.000dmg on arcane blasts, it's just silly. Just compress that stuff. Sure may take a few weeks to get used to SO WHAT.
  1. tuesday the paladin's Avatar
    Quote Originally Posted by maccaruso View Post
    Maybe someone could help me understand this. I see many people sayng lower tier content would be more challenging with the "squish" but Ghostcrawler stated:

    "In other words, your Fireball will still do the same percentage damage to a player or a creature that it does today, but the number would be smaller."

    If attacks are still doing the same percentage of damage to a player/creature that woiuld indicate the player/creature has been compressed in accordance. Making the gap of 60-70-80-85-90 just as wide but with smaller numbers.

    Edit: It also seems highly unlikely Blizzard would make older content become more challenging out of the blue. It would alienate a fair percentage of their player base.
    I'd imagine the ilvl reduction wouldn't be uniform across the board. Say 10% from 1-60 25% from 61-70 50% from 71-80 and 80% from 81-85. Your fireball may do 40% of a mobs hp at 85 before and after nerf but instead of one shotting the level 70 mob it may only deal 70% of the level 70 mobs health because they got nerfed less.
  1. Vesci's Avatar
    so he wrote all that to say, "we haven't fixed this yet, we may not fix this soon, we don't really have any clue what we are doing". great.

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