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by Published on 2013-06-10 10:49 PM

Gul'dan Emotes, Card Races Desktop Client - Services Activated and Beta Test Opt-in
Blizzard finally flipped the switch on the new desktop client and it is now available to people selected for the beta. A couple extra features have emerged:

  • You no longer have to log in to WoW, SC2, or D3, as clicking play will automatically log you in.
  • A list of your BattleTag and RealID friends is now shown in a small window in the client.
  • Chat is disabled for this phase of testing, but you will be able to chat with your BattleTag and RealID friends in the future. Launcher Update: Testers Wanted
Originally Posted by Blizzard (Blue Tracker / Official Forums)
We're continuing the®-related testing we mentioned previously. As part of this, we're now inviting beta testers to help test and refine a new desktop app for designed to improve the launcher experience for all Blizzard games and streamline the ability for players to get into their games.

If you’d like to help us with the testing, head to your Beta Profile and opt in to at least one of the game universe beta tests (if you haven’t done so already). We’ll be inviting players to the beta test in waves—if you’re selected, your account will be flagged automatically and you’ll receive an email with additional details.

For more information, check out the FAQ or visit the beta test forums.

Launcher Update Testing FAQ
Originally Posted by Blizzard (Blue Tracker)
When does the beta test begin? How do I opt-in?
The beta test is now underway. If you’d like a chance to participate, first make sure you’ve created a BattleTag, and then head to your Beta Profile Settings and opt in to any of the Warcraft, StarCraft, or Diablo beta tests. See the Beta Opt-In Instructions for a helpful walkthrough. If you have already opted in for a previous Blizzard beta, you don’t need to opt in a second time.

What platforms and languages are supported?
The desktop application is available for Windows and Mac in English, Spanish, Brazilian Portuguese, French, German, Italian, Russian, Polish, traditional Chinese, and Korean.

What regions can participate?
Players in the Americas and Oceania, Europe, Korea, and Taiwan can participate. Players in mainland China will not be able to participate in this beta test. We’ll have more information to share about our plans for the desktop app in mainland China in the future.

Is there a non-disclosure agreement?
There is not a nondisclosure agreement for this beta test. Those invited to play are free to take screenshots and discuss the app. Participants can give us feedback in the beta test forums.

How does game patching work through the desktop app?
When you’re logged in to the desktop app, it automatically downloads and installs updates for all supported games as they become available. You can patch one game at a time; the desktop app also allows you to pause the patching process for one game in order to patch another, if needed.

Which Blizzard games are supported in the desktop app?
The desktop app allows you to launch Diablo III, StarCraft II, and World of Warcraft. Classic Blizzard games such as Diablo II, StarCraft, and Warcraft III are not currently supported, though we’re looking into the possibility of adding support for these games in the future.

I want to use the game-specific launcher for one of my games. How do I do that?
During the beta, you can switch to the previous launcher by uninstalling the desktop app. As long as the desktop app is installed on your system, you will not be able to access World of Warcraft, StarCraft II, or Diablo III through their standard launchers.

Can I log in to the desktop app on multiple computers?
Yes, although the original login will expire if your account is logged in from another computer.

Can I still access the website in my browser?
Yes, the website will stay the same. The desktop app provides a quick, convenient way to access your Blizzard games and certain features of account management without opening a web browser.

Will everyone’s launchers eventually be updated to the desktop app?
Yes — in the future, every Blizzard gamer will need to use the desktop app to play their favorite Blizzard games. The desktop app will replace the individual game launchers for World of Warcraft, StarCraft II, and Diablo III, and will act as your gateway to accessing future Blizzard games.

We’ll let players know in advance when we plan to roll the app out to everyone.

I'm having an issue—how can I get help?
Check the Known Issues List or visit the desktop app beta forums to see if your issue is mentioned there. During the beta test, if you’re unable to resolve the issue and it’s preventing you from accessing your games, you can uninstall the beta client at any time to go back to using a game’s standard launcher.
by Published on 2013-06-09 10:37 PM

Reminder: 50% off of Character Services ends today!

Blues Read Everything, Blue Posts, Loroese's Arcane Mines Guide

Malfurion Stormrage Emotes, Gameplay Tooltip Text

Flex Raiding Q&A
Ghostcrawler spent some of his weekend answering questions about Flex Raiding! Reading all of the tweets is worth it if you are interested in the feature, but here are some of the major points:

  • Flex difficulty support can be added to old raids in the future, but currently only raids from Patch 5.4 and beyond are planned to support it.
  • LFR is designed to clear the entire raid in one night, but flex raiding will be closer to normal raiding, getting one boss or so a week if you are the target audience.
  • A shared lockout with LFR or Normal doesn't work, as it would punish people who ran LFR or Normal and then want to do a Flex run with friends.
  • Scaling Normal or Heroic would be very challenging, as some bosses would be much easier on one group size than another.
  • Being able to use the regular loot system instead of Raid Finder style loot is an option for future patches, not Patch 5.4.
  • There is a chance the scaling may go down a little bit lower than 10, but that isn't a promise.

Originally Posted by Blizzard Entertainment
Hey! flexible raids - people may say it's a disappointment , but for me it's a great news, congratulations on the new feature!
"I am not the audience for this feature, therefore it sucks," is a very old argument. It happens. (Source)

I don't know Morello, but I agree with a lot of what he says.
In Vanilla and BC, just leveling, making alts, profs etc. were entertaining enough for a lot of players. A very few raided. (Source)
In LK, largely from Naxx 25, many players discovered raiding, and it was fun for them. (Source)
In Cat, we made 10s harder so that 10 and 25 could deliver the same ilevel. But this pushed some out of raiding. (Source)
We offered LFR to provide raiding back to those players. It worked reasonably well. But it doesn't quite feel like raiding. (Source)
Our hope is that Flex mode does feel like raiding. (Source)

New Flex raids, what about boss mechanics? Low sense of accomplishment in LFR, they feel oversimplified or easily ignored.
LFR is designed with the intent that you will finish in one night. We want Flex to be more traditional raiding. (Source)
By which I mean that you might only get one new boss a week or so (assuming you're the target audience). (Source)

Will Flex Raiding be something we can use for Throne of Thunder?
No, at least not initially. It wasn't designed with that in mind, but retrofitting isn't totally out of the question. (Source)

lots of noise to see signal. Will Flex be an option for T14 and T15? Or T16 only?
Only the new 5.4 raid initially. We may add other raids over time, but it's not a simple change to convert. (Source)

how will flex raids handle healer ratios? is 15man with 1 healer going to be as viable as 10man with 3?
Bring as many healers as you think you need. I would get 2-3 if you have 10 total as a good start. Maybe 1 more for every 5 total. (Source)

I like the idea of flex raiding. Curious how will the number of battle res scale with group size?
We will probably just make it 3, as in the 25 raids. Maybe no limit. We haven't decided yet. (Source)

Can't the the normal difficulty be replaced by new the Flexible Raid? I didn't see the need for them to coexist...
They are just different audiences. Civilization and Halo support many difficulty levels. It's a common solution to difficulty. (Source)
In those games however I'm usually only playing one difficulty at a time. Do you expect people will do that?
I often play new game+ when I finish with a game. It just depends on the audience. (Source)

if you put in Flex raiding, disable LFR for 5.4 please, we don't need them both.
LFR serves a valuable purpose, but it's ideally a back up plan, not the only way you experience WoW. (Source)
You say 'backup plan', but LFR's presence has undermined so many aspects of the game. Teams, community, concept of journey.
So don't run it if you don't like it? For other players it gave them a chance to raid that didn't exist for them before. (Source)
There is this myth that most LFR raiders were former N raiders. By and large this is not true. Most of them were not prior raiders. (Source)

I have to disagree. I would rather do Flex raid than LFR, since I cannot commit to normal raids. Friends>strangers
We would rather you do Flex. We think you'll have more fun. But disabling LFR isn't the right motivation in our minds. (Source)

to me LFR is to see the content and lore. Normal modes are for challenges and gear
LFR is also good for alts or on weeks when you can't make your raid or when you're between guilds. (Source)
But I would submit that it's a lot more fun to joke around with your friends that with random strangers. (Source)

The seeing of the content is the real incentive to get people into raids. LFR accomplishes that at a far easier lvl
You can see the content on Youtube. Experiencing a challenge and getting loot are fun too. (Source)

thoughts on limiting lfr? Say 10/12 available bosses -> incentive to push normals, exclusivity for norm/hc.
Potentially. We all like exclusive content. You just can't let that come at the expense of content in general. (Source)

Now with FlexR getting implement, could you remove tier pieces from LFR? They should only be accessible in FlexR/N/H raids
We discussed that idea, but instead there will be items only available in F/N/H mode. (Source)
just tier or all items ?
We discussed limiting tier items but are more likely to limit some other kinds of items. (Source)
The concern is that LFR needs some rewards - we aren't trying to kill it or else we'd just disable it. (Source)

I know players complained about the game being hard, but the game was healthier back then. It was growing, it was exciting.
It was growing, but it's hard to point to raid difficulty as the reason why. (Source)
You could point to having fewer specs or no mass rez, but I don't think those are reasonable explanations. (Source)
Just because Y had characteristic X does not mean X caused Y. (Source)
But hopefully in your case, Flex will give you back some of what you're missing in LFR. (Source)

If you can see all the content without any effort, people opt for that. LFR is probably responsible for sub loss.
The fact is, WoW always lost lots of players. In the past, we tended to get as many or more new ones as we lost. Lately, less. (Source)
Also, an awful lot of players we lose never even make it to endgame content. (Source)
because your aiming your game at casual fans who join and leave. making same mistakes as nintendo
I don't know. Blizzard and Nintendo both seem to have models that work out pretty well for them.... (Source)
nintendo have had a massive sale flop of the WiiU, wouldn't say its worked out that well.
Sure, but overall their track record is great. I'm still a fan. (Source)
I feel like they want to offer a mainstream experience with a ton of depth. Sounds like an awesome philosophy. We use it too. (Source)
and yet the casual market put them out of the next-gen run. Microsoft announced the same with Xbox one - share prices dropped.
I'm an industry insider, and even I wouldn't predict who has lost or won the next gen game yet. (Source)
What is your plan for /flex raids in regards to past content and gear? How will it work with...let's say Firelands or Ulduar
Flex is only for the 5.4 raid initially. (Source)

Combining 10/25 lockouts so people didn't feel obligated to do both.. Now we'll have three lock outs? What changed your mind?
It's a lesser of two evils thing. We changed the ICC model, but in retrospect maybe that wasn't the right call. (Source)
In game design, there are rarely no brainers. Usually you are trading off pros vs cons. This is no exception. (Source)

Flex raid: why not a shared loot lockout with LfR, so people don't feel 'forced' to do 3 raid difficulties per week?
"Hey, GC can you join our flex raid?" "Oh, sorry dude, I ran LFR on Sunday." (Source)
Thats ridiculous. "Hey, GC can you join our Hc raid?" "Oh, sorry dude, I ran Normal on Sunday".
With a few exceptions, H in particular is designed for set rosters not grabbing random dudes. Flex is all about grabbing whoever. (Source)
Why not allow N/HC guilds to flex too so they can be sure they have a raid on raid day and don't need to bench backups
It would be almost impossible to balance N or H for a variable group of people. Flex mindset isn't about min-maxing. (Source)

With the Flex raids opening in wings, can you start with any wing? Attempt the last boss without having to kill the first?
Not sure yet. (Source)

Are you waiting to see how 5.4 flex raids go before deciding whether to give n/h some flex? Or have you already ruled out?
We can't realistically scale group size for N or H because there would be bosses much easier on one group size than another. (Source)
That risk exists for Flex too, but remember the target audience is raiders who don't min max things like group size. (Source)
H players in particular would probably do a lot of "need 12 for boss A and 22 for boss B." Think that is less likely in flex mode. (Source)

I'm afraid flex-raid will make it even less attractive to graduate to real raiding. What would be the incentive for normals?
Do they need an incentive? We have a lot of players (not millions, but a lot) still struggling on Horridon. Flex is for them. (Source)
flex raids are for us? Your teams made the mistake, not ours. Normals don't need to be horridon hard.
We think Normal is serving its audience. Why deny them that? We can rename it Elite if the name bothers you. (Source)
It's not serving its audience. You've said so yourself that many are stuck on horridon.
Some are stuck on Horridon (and those are the audience for Flex). The success rate for Horridon overall is good. (Source)

A better question would be in time do you see "'flex" raid just replacing normals?
No, we like normals. We have a huge and diverse audience. We want to provide fun challenges for as many folks as we can. (Source)
What are your teams thoughts on how this will effect normals, their numbers and recruitment?
We expect people still wiping on Horridon at 8 weeks will shift to Flex instead. But, we predict most of the shift from LFR. (Source)

Also if your intent is to remove valor gear because flex raid is available I would caution you people do not like RNG
Some people just don't like raiding (even flex). We want to provide pathways for them to advance too. (Source)

What kind of difficulty level are we looking are for Flexible Raids? LFR tank and spanks or nearer to Normal?
Closer to Normal. We don't want the expectation to be that you clear it immediately, but we do want you to make progress. (Source)

Flexible Raids: Any concerns of burn out with three tiers of the same content? Note: Awesome idea, excited about seeing it.
Just pick the difficulty / size that best suits your interests. We don't think it works out well when we try to play game nanny. (Source)
The concern is valid, but when we try to save players from themselves it often backfires as often as it works. (Source)

No offense, but this new 'flex-raid' doesn't help when your realm has difficulty gathering even ten players.
Agreed, but it isn't intended to fix that problem. (Though you can invite friends from other realms.) (Source)

LOVE Flexible RAID idea. Just, PLEASE, don't use LFR loot for it. Use Normal Loot, to share gear between players
We don't yet have a solution for scaling no. of drops. We don't want you to hesitate to bring dude 15 because it means less loot. (Source)

Flex will use Personal Loot to avoid PUG drama, is it possible to let raid lead pick to use real loot system if just friends?
Not for 5.4 but if there is demand, we can look into adding the more traditional raid loot systems. (Source)
We don't currently have a system that lets a boss drop more loot that scales with size other than personal loot. (Source)
The problem is the scaling size. We don't want any pressure to not invite someone for fear of less loot. (Source)
This came up on EU forums (a couple of other posters suggested the same); thoughts?
It's not an unsolvable problem by any stretch but it's not a trivially solvable problem so it will likely have to wait. (Source)

Flexible raiding ticks a number of boxes. However, what does a group size of 11 or 12 mean for PoH and group bound spells?
Probably another good reason to kill that functionality of PoH... but not for 5.4. (Source)

Ji-Kun mount drop on Normal and Heroic mode, as far as I know. What about the new "Flexi-Raid" mode?
In general we want Flex to reward more cool stuff than LFR, Normal more than that and Heroic more than that. (Ji-Kun himself !flex) (Source)

new raid system sounds redundant - non25s can queue LFR, waste dev-time, leads to further cutting down LFR ilvl to squeeze in
There are a non-trivial number of players in more casual 10 raiding guilds who don't want to raid with strangers. (Source)

With Flex raiding, have you considered removing faction restriction for instanced PvE via battlenet? Are there Tech hurdles?
Mostly design hurdles. We like red vs. blue. (Source)

really love the flexible raid plan! Wish it scaled down below 10. 8 players would be great.
We *might* let it go a little lower, just so a late player can join you in progress rather than being replaced. #nopromises (Source)

Blue Tweets
Originally Posted by Blizzard Entertainment
What exactly is the Engineering "Sky Claw"? I've heard some blue talk about it not being released in 5.3 yet. Any explanation?
It was an Engineering mount that ended up having a lot of bugs. We're considering a different Engineering mount. (Source)

Game feels a bit sterile. Feel like focus is too much on metrics and not compelling gameplay. Balanced around rewards, My 2c
Does it feel like that when you're playing or when you interact with the community (and us) on the Internet? (Source)
I'd say in-game largely. Professions good example. Realized at the end they all mostly give 320 stat gain.
But that sounds like you are focused on the rewards for professions not the fantasy or fun of crafting. That's why I asked. (Source)
Not like BC where I could craft myself Primalstrike because it was really good for me, pre-raids. (Er... 3/2.)
We did have a problem in BC that certain crafted pieces were so good that many players felt like they had to re-learn professions. (Source)
Wasn't that mostly with Drums of Battle? Exhaustion-style debuff could've fixed that. Don't remember ppl changing early in exp
I meant like Stormherald and Frozen Shadoweave. (Source)
Ah, I see. On the other hand, those items sure made those professions compelling, didn't they?
Absolutely. Everyone always recalls it as the glory days of professions (at least for raiders). (Source)
But I can't help but think players would complain today if they felt "forced" to go Blacksmith for a tier. (Source)

If you could steamline 3 of WoW's systems with a magic wand, which ones would they be? (e.g Rotations, Gem Options, Profs)
Professions, end-game gearing direction, ability bloat. (Source)
What are your thoughts on removing power perks from professions? IMO perks harm the fantasy without adding much
My personal opinion is they are pretty lame and encourage players to choose professions for the wrong reasons. (Source)
nobody complained when you removed helm enchant
Are you serious? I was actually amazed at the outrage. We thought we were doing players a favor. (Source)

Why the +Cooking set bonus on "Tradition of Cooking" when it does nothing?
You mean because it doesn't help with the Ways? It was intended as an alt item, not really a shortcut to Cooking. (Source)

what exclusive is there then? Ra-den isn't story relevant. we've never seen him or heard of him
That you initially don't know who he is or how he fits in is WHY he is story relevant. (Source)
Mogu. Titan. Old god. Sha. Mantid. All these things are connected. (Source)

League of Legends Lead Content Designer on WoW
LoL's Lead Content Designer made some interesting posts about WoW. You can join the discussion on the forums and see Ghostcrawler's response in the Flex Raiding tweets.
Originally Posted by Morello (Source)
It's a tricky topic, because our job is to make decisions based on what players not only want, but need. Let me explain that a bit.

Determining what players want is actually pretty simple - your most invested users tend to be very vocal and will put effort into making sure they're heard (ie; most forumers!) This is a good metric of understanding what players want, at least for high-engagement folks.

What players need is where players don't proclaim a desire for something, but it helps provide something they say they want. Many times, this is more than a single solution - it requires several steps of implementation to reach a result, or takes time to bake in many cases. Let me provide two example of want vs need, and why want cannot be the only driver for developers;

At Riot, we nerf champions. Nerfs are rarely wanted (and many times, unwanted). But, players want to have a fair experience with a variety of options. Additionally, a game without power caps and heavy power creep (something still happening faster than I'd like...) can disrupt the core game design focused around choices, decision-making, and strategy. To accomplish this, we need to nerf champions, even if players don't explicitly want us to.

To use your example, in the pattern of Burning Crusade and Wrath of the Lich King, the changes to easier raid content and more accessibility is actually informed by a want that a lot of players expressed - IE, raids were content that was exclusive from them and they wanted a piece. I respect the guys who make WoW (and its success is a testament), but this is a good example of where the developers should have recognized the core need of exclusivity and the right tuning of that, and steered away from players said they wanted. Personally, I think Burning Crusade is a sweet spot.

The above is a fantastic example of why we have to make tough choices and not always just do what players ask us to do - it's not always the right course of action.

The problem you're speaking to, in my opinion, is when developers think they always have that answer and that being a developer gives you divination into what that is. In my mind, game development isn't about having answers - it's the ways in which you find them.

Our interaction on here isn't just lip-service, it's so we can better optimize decisions around player wants - and explain what players need when they don't want it. This informs us a lot, but we make decisions based on a number of factors - player desires and feedback being one of them.

I hope this helps explain how I feel about this, and how the developer/player interaction looks to me.

One other thing to watch is "the game used to be good when the game was less mature, and it sucks now because of changes" thing. Many times, players just get tired of a game after 1000's of hours, and that's natural. I still think WoW is a cool game, I just can't wring any more enjoyment out of it.

World of Warcraft, nerfed it for exceptionally terrible players and ruined quality of the game in by doing so because players who were bad, refused to accept that and get better.
No, that's the lens of your personal values - you believe your values of game-playing (skill mastery) is the reason all players should play the game. Many people play the same games for different reasons.

Or, sometimes, the changes are just bad. WoW was fun when you could have casual 25 man raids in WotLK. It stopped being fun in Cata when 25 man raids disappeared.

In SC2, the change to larger maps and ever increasing rush distances ruined it for me. I didn't like that a second Nexus/Hatchery/Command Center became the first building after supply structure/unit.

You could bury your head in the sand and insist that people left because they got bored or you could consider that your changes aren't universally loved.

Some changes are bad - and they can disengage players. I found Wrath of the Lich King less fun to raid than BC, but the reason I think it was a harmful direction was more what I think engages players overall - many of the things that do not engage me personally. "I quit WoW because there's not 40-man raids and now people other than me and my 39 friends can raid" is one of those things that would have low value, conversely.

The big difference in players get to think about their own experiences (and should!), where developers need to discover what groups of players need, what drives them, engages them and makes them feel rewarded.

WoW was bad. It is bad and it will continue to be bad. WoW had the simple blind luck to be in the right place at the right time.

The original concept was little more than Everquest with a few modifications. Quests were easier to find, enemies were better balanced for your level, and waiting for your life to regenerate took a lot less time. Aside from that the game was an ugly sack of fail. The raids were broken, literally, almost every raid was released in an unfinished and unbeatable state. We found out in AQ40 that this was done purposefully because Blizzard wasn't able to meet deadlines. I do not like to raid, I occasionally enjoy partying but by and by I like doing solo content or hunting for rare materials. So pretty much WoW has nothing for me because Riadrz want their super op weapon drop and god forbid you have allow a plebeian solo player farm mats to craft a weapon even 1/10th the quality of that thing. No, the items that are only 1/10th as good as Raid loot have materials that drop in Raids.

I hate WoW. I hate Blizzard. They took a fantasy universe I found to be brilliantly designed and destroyed it.

You don't like WoW (clearly!), but this is the attitude I'm saying is flatly incorrect. WoW is a well-crafted game that you do not happen to like. Our own personal tastes do not equate to what is good and bad in game development, only what our potential engagement is. And, to be frank, if you're not the audience, it has little impact on anyone else.

I don't like playing Halo. Halo is an extremely good game.

How could you think burning crusade was the "Sweet Spot". A majority of the players couldn't even get to 3/4's of those raids. Hardly anyone ever see's end game content. I mean, christ. Your mindset works for League of Legends just fine. I can't argue with the results. But I sure as hell can tell you that your mindset would of made WoW a worse game by far, and I would of left it after BC instead of sticking around for MoP. Do not go into the MMO Business again, as I think you were with Guild Wars right?
I'm saying I don't think raids should be inclusive, as the exclusivity of content creates a psychological trick in your brain that makes the game feel endless. Basically, my direction would be (and maybe incorrectly - I haven't tried!) that all content is not for everyone. If anything, League proves core gaming has a big audience, and you don't have to make things easy.

That's a fair assessment. I stopped playing Blizzard games when it became clear to me that my tastes were very different from the majority of their player base. I liked BC but never got to raid there. I liked it because even dungeons had progression with the keys and the hard Heroics. WotLK lost that in many ways, but the raids everyone could do became what Heroics were in BC for me. In Cata, there was little to no dungeon progression (it was even easier than WotLK) but raids were out of reach for me too. I spent 3 months playing as part of a guild in the hope to get into a raid group with no success. I canceled shortly after.
As a player, it was sort of the same for me.

Raids HAVE to be inclusive for the most part. Because that's the only major content in a MMO at max level on the PvE aspect of it. That's the only way to really "progress". How could you miss that? That's why there's heroic raids, so people who want challenging content can go and do that and feel exclusive. And even the new thing where there's a uber secret hard boss that is only unlocked in heroic mode.

I'm actually really startled you could miss something like that. I'm glad league of legends is a game where everyone can participate at max level.

You sure? The game has massive numbers even without accessible raid content - it was in a big period of growth during this time - many players who do not raid have plenty to keep them busy.

Since not everyone plays for mastery, and many play for achievement, over-time reward structures (dailies, rep grinds) engage the majority of the players. The minority still raids, but now it's lost the exclusivity. Are you sure your views are representative?

They may be - I don't have access to their data which could prove me wrong. I'm just checking to see if you're thinking about it from a holistic perspective or a personal one.

Keep Them busy?........Such as Dailies? Do you know how awful those things are? Dailies for everything these days......But yes, recently there's a huge amount of content that is not raiding, that you can certainly do. There's actually a staggering amount of things you can do in WoW that isn't raiding.

Yes, I believe my views are Representative. A much greater part of the minority raids now, I believe ghostcrawler threw a quote out there saying that the size of players seeing end game content was "staggering" now that LFR was out.

And there IS Exclusivity still in the form of heroic raids.

No one really has access to that sort of data except blizzard, but i distinctly remember ghostcrawler saying something similar to "Barely anyone has seen end game content, so we're coming out with Looking For Raid".

I mean, you're putting the bulk over your story and endgame content into raids, something (as you've said yourself) the minority of players will ever get to experience. Why limit that to such a small portion of the community? And also why bother making that content if only a small portion of the community could ever play it?

I think that's the decision-making process that has driven Blizzard - and clearly it is successful. I just think I'd value different design aspects of WoW if it were my decision to play up engagement over the long-term - a bit of less-is-more design.

Can you please teach Ghostcrawler how to properly balance the game then? Instead of throwing Hunter's under the bus like the "Redheaded Step Children Who Lives Behind The Staircase" that we are made to be.
I have a ton of sympathy and respect for Ghostcrawler; he's the face of an entire design team also. I don't think their balancing is really bad, either, I'm not in agreement with their overall high level design philosophy - not that it's bad, I just have a different conclusion. Within that philosophy, though, I think their balance methodology is really appropriate.

Innovation drives the gaming industry in one way or another, and WoW never innovated anything.

The 2 sided conflict of characters with different classes available (initially) had been done before in MMOs. Battlegrounds and CTF style combat had been done in other MMOs, Raid style content had be done before in MMOs. Crafting with almost identical systems existed in other MMOs before WoW. Seamless worlds existed prior.

Nothing World of Warcraft did was particularly unique or innovative. The main reason it became such a huge smash hit was because it was made by Blizzard. Being set in the Warcraft world made it instantly desirable to everyone that had played a Blizzard game, which was a LOT of people. They recruited their friends to play with them who pulled in friends, etc. And we get the legacy that is World of Warcraft.

Was it polished at the time excluding graphics? Sure, hell yeah. But to someone who has been playing the genre of games since Everquest, it was incredibly bland and uninspiring. Especially at launch.

Do I respect World of Warcraft? Of course I do. It's made gaming normal in every day life and an acceptable pastime. It made more money than you can imagine and brought my first and favorite genre of computer games to the masses. But it wasn't special. It wasn't particularly well crafted. It was just -VERY- well marketed.

But WoW redefined what MMO's are for an entire generation of gamers by using well-known methods to deliver the first "doesn't kick you in the balls over and over" theme park experience. While maybe it didn't invent gas powered engines, it certainly built the Model-T.

Innovation is a powerful thing to have, but it's not the only thing that defines a well-crafted game.

It's funny to me, personally, that you use World of Warcraft as an example and say that it lost "a ton" of players. I know personally I couldn't even stomach playing WoW before Wrath of the Lich King (and I bought Original when it released) because of how incredibly exclusionary the gameplay was if you were not in that top 5% . It really had nothing to do with time playing (I played JRPGs most of my young life, so I knew what it took to spend hundreds of hours on a game). I had no interest in committing 40 hours a week to preparing to play a game for 20 more hours that weekend. I feel THAT is what has been addressed by Blizzard, and save the nostalgics and the elitists (who I feel are similar to those on these forums who gripe about special skins not being so very special), no one has much of an issue with needing to do less mindless grinding to experience the actual purposes of the game.
Hardcore players, this feedback is not valuable. We know what happens if developers are too swayed here - you get new versions of an old game that has just enough difference to not pull you over (CS:GO, really the AWP cost being the same was important? No.), but not actually advance the series or genre in a meaningful way. Doing this disallows you to actually give the game any meaning - why does it exist, who is it for?

Now, developers have a responsibility here too; deconstruct why they're saying what they're saying. Many times, your hardcore fans want to ensure the new game has depth and skill. If you're changing how that's done, explain this process to your hardcore dudes. Don't pander or cave, just be upfront. If you're removing burden of knowledge/etc (things that most extremely hardcore gamers will latch on to as meaningful skill), be honest with it and try to evaluate that you're adding real skill mastery to your new game as well.

Your hardcore guys are valuable, but be careful to not let them rail your new game into total conservatism.

Weekly News Recap
Here is your chance to catch up if you missed a day of news this week!

by Published on 2013-06-08 09:03 AM

All Items Will Have a Use, Latency Issues with Whirlwind, Blue Posts, Blizzcon Art and Movie Contests

Rexxar Emotes, Blue Posts

Patch 5.4 Unannounced Features
Bashiok responded to a question about the unannounced feature today.

Flex Raiding Q&A
There are lots of discussions going about this new feature on the forums!
Originally Posted by Blizzard Entertainment
Can I run a Flex raid with 10 rogues and zero healers and zero tanks?
It doesn't change the mechanics of what raids are, it's a variable difficulty that scales on the number of people you have. You'll still need tanks, you'll still need healers, and you'll still need DPS; the fundamental archetypes of the game aren't changing.

If your guild or group of friends isn't attempting raids now outside of LFR, you might have some roles you're not filling, but you certainly could get to that point. Certainly expect people to be building PUGs and such, but that's not really the intended target. The immediately intended target of Flex is to allow the more casual guilds that are already making small attempts at Normal (and probably hit a brick wall early on in ToT) to more easily get weekly groups together to have fun and progress on content that's more suited for their pace. They want to see the content, want some challenge in progressing, but aren't so hardcore as to be sitting people out or demanding requirements of those playing. Jump in and play the game with friends, have fun, low stress, Flex.

I hope it helps with reviving the pugging scene I met a lot of friends that way.
Absolutely. Just the process of people putting groups together for things and having that need for some coordination in the content, you end up seeing the same people over and over, make friends, and that in no small part helps to build long-term in-game relationships and feeds into healthy guilds.

So if a 10 man raid group thats casually doing Normal modes decides to do a flex raid, its just plain easier. no doubts there.

But if they bring their 10 man, and then 5 more healer friends, how does it scale? Just plain scaling of the bosses HP? wouldn't it mean those 5 other healer friends are kind of dead weight?

If you're thinking strictly in terms of "what is optimal for us to complete this content efficiently" then Flex is probably not targeted at you.

Balancing will come out during the PTR though, I don't think we'll get into how it'll scale too much before then. It'll err on the side of the group, and ensuring they can meaningfully progress in a reasonable amount of time.

But only 25m casual groups or 10m groups with large rosters, right? A small, casual 10m group that ends up missing people on a given night won't really be able to take advantage of the flex system to "just raid anyway" with their friends, which I think is a shame.

I'd love to see a little more flex allowing for maybe 8-28 raiders or something, so that 25m groups can also take advantage of the new flex raids to not have to bench friends, and 10m groups can worry less about having their raid night cancelled because of one or two missing raiders.

Raid mechanics start to break down when you go much below 10 players. There are still assumptions of having 2 tanks and 2 healers, and some mechanics are not really able to scale with much fewer DPS. Raids are still going to be raids, and raids are designed with some 'givens' to ensure the mechanics can be interesting, complex, and challenging.

But unlike Normal and Heroic, you CAN invite BattleTag/RealID friends to a Flex raid of the current tier, and so if you're short you can fill it out with people you know, instead of spamming chat to pick up randoms.

The designers are discussing allowing you to at least enter the raid with 8+ people. The intent would be to allow a group to start clearing trash while they wait for a couple stragglers, as the difficulty with less than 10 would still be scaled for 10. It could allow for skilled/geared players to do it with less than 10, but some mechanics just may not be possible as we're not designing for it.

Can they leave and have the raid automatically adjust on the fly? How about adding people after it starts?
Yes, and yes. It's dynamic.

How is it going to scale for healers? If I'm taking 17 players how will I know how many healers I will need?
You'll still want a standard raiding DPS/Healer ratio. It doesn't look at class or spec, it's purely scaling for number of players. It'll be up to the raid leader, and depending on gear and skill it'll be different for every group of people how much they can really deviate and how those deviations affect their rate of progression.

Again, it's going to be up to the PTR and seeing how testing progresses to determine how balancing shakes out and what's possible. (Blue Tracker / Official Forums)

We just made tech which could made life of 25-men a lot easier. Let's give it to LFR folks. -.-
This isn’t for LFR folks, it’s for Normal folks (ahem... you know what I mean) that were going into LFR and weren’t having an enjoyable raiding experience or that just wanted an easy way to play with friends and family without spending too much time organizing it. These players would go to LFR only for gear, not for the experience, and that’s not really what we want to see happening.

I’m hoping that players who are looking for more challenging content, but have no time to get into the usual guild raiding schedules, will start to switch from LFR to Flexible Raids.

Highly skilled players with heavy time constraints have always felt a bit left out from MMORPGs, but maybe there are ways we can deal with that.

Ideally, skill should be equally or even better rewarded than time, but there needs to be a balance between the two, we can’t provide 30 minutes of insanely difficult content with the best rewards that only 0.001% of the player base would be able reach, but we also can’t do the opposite and make rewards exclusively and directly proportional with time spent. Skill needs to enter into the equation and needs to have a pretty strong weight.

LFR still has its own place, some players are quite content with it, some have no intention of going any further than LFR in terms of raiding and are happy with the experience it provides. We’re just trying to provide content for everyone to enjoy.

This is just a preview, 5.4 isn’t even on the PTR yet, many things can still change. This is also part of the reason why we’re sharing this information with you all; the feedback we get will help us to better shape our next major content patch. I've already seen quite a few interesting and unexpected arguments in this thread and we'll share them with the devs, so keep it up!

With a new raid lockout things will indeed change (not for everyone, of course). If you want to stay ahead and on the top of your game, you'd want to run both the 5.4 LFR and LFR+ since they most likely will wield upgrades, whether it be because you want to mixmax for your normal/heroic raid progress or because you want to see your character evolve.
That’s a good point, I believe that a few players might do that for a little while, but I would like to point out that the unlocking of Flexible Raids and LFR are very similar but on different timetables, this will probably mean that normal and heroic will open first, then FR and then LFR.

So by the time LFR opens, chances are, there won’t be that many upgrades left for let’s say, a fully heroic equipped 5.3 raider, which is the typical player that usually tries to get upgrades wherever and whenever possible.

I think it's an amazing idea, but I would like to see it 8-25 or 5-25 if possible + make the loot the same ilvl as normal and make flexi and normal share the lockout, or even replace the whole normal with 8-25 mode.

If there are 11-12 one night, the guild has to decide to do the low ilvl with all players, or do the high ilvl but 1-2 are left out.. and i'm almost positive they will choose the higher ilvl.

Yes that will probably happen to some extent in some groups, but that will depend on how hard the content really turns out to be and the ilvl difference between those “extra” players and the rest.
So, yes, it’s possible that some groups form with the intent to be as efficient as possible, so those will only include the best geared players in the smallest possible group.

I don’t think we should worry too much about that to be honest, in the end it’s all up to whoever organizes the raid, and that has always been the case. I sincerely doubt that most groups will leave people behind just for a small difference in terms of item level. Besides, ilvl isn’t everything, every guild decides on whom to bring to the raids based on many different factors, gear is only one of them, there’s skill, there’s personality, there’s knowledge…

Then let us assign loot to players whilst doing it please. One of my initial thoughts about this was it would be a useful way to help undergeared (whether through bad luck, absence due to real-life, or because they are trailists that need a little boost in ilevel) team members improve their gear.

Then I read that this new difficulty would be using the current lfr loot roll system. This would be a hindrance to such help. It would be useful if this decision were reconsidered, so that raiding guilds could assign gear to members based on need for helping us progress through normal's and heroic's.

There's nothing that cannot be reconsidered and iterated before a patch goes live, we'll share your input about the loot system with the devs.

Sorry, but I don't see that the traditional loot distribution would work with flexible raid size. If they add brackets to how many items drop based in a fixed amount of people (ie 2 with 10, 3 with 15, 4 with 20, 5 with 25) people would just pick enough people to reach that.
That’s a very good point; I assume that's probably the reason why this loot system was chosen in the first place. But like I said, everything is still subject to change, devs sometimes like to surprise us with unexpected solutions. (Blue Tracker / Official Forums)

Blue Posts
Originally Posted by Blizzard Entertainment
Titan Runestone Drop Rate
Can you clarify, are you still limited to one runestone total from as many Lei Shen's you kill per week? (one normal/heroic and as many lfrs as you can stomach)
Each character has always had one chance off an eligible boss (regardless of difficulty mode) per week for the Legendary quest drop.

Does that mean, if i do LFR and then raid with my guild i can have a chance off LFR and normal/heroic mode too?
If you have already defeated Lei Shen on Normal difficulty that week, you would not get an additional chance by defeating him on Raid Finder.

Is the chance of a runestone droping the same regaurdless of if you kill the boss first in LFR, Normal, or Heroic Mode?
The chance is the same regardless of difficulty/mode.

I don't believe this is true. It may be for Titan Runestones, but for the Secrets of the Empire, my guildies got them at roughly 4x the LFR rate from normal mode. To be more specific, a couple of them finished this step in half the time I did, despite starting later, only doing the first 4-6 bosses in normal mode, and never doing LFR. (I did every boss in LFR every week and very rarely did anything on normal).
The chance is random but remains the same across different difficulties. Your guildmates just happen to encounter a streak of good luck while running Normal difficulty.

The guaranteed drop from Lei Shen is meant to be an upper cap for players that experience a streak of bad luck. The discussion seems to be if this upper cap is still too long. (Blue Tracker / Official Forums)

PvP Item Level Cap Increase
Blizzard are trying to remove the fact that gear is needed to do arena so ye i dont think they will increase the ilvl cap in arenas.
No, we still want gear to matter in PvP to allow for a sense of power progression, but we simply didn't like that it was such a large factor in player victories previously. We will be increasing the cap in patch 5.4 for the next season, however we don't want to have the Ilvl cap suddenly jump up instantly to ensure that those with high Ilvl PvE gear don't suddenly out gear those in PvP gear, but rather everyone's Ilvl will increase together. We will try to share more about this as soon as we have more information on it for you. (Blue Tracker / Official Forums)

Diablo III – Coming September 3 to Xbox 360 & PS3
If you are interested in Diablo, be sure to read the message from the new game director!
Originally Posted by Blizzard (Blue Tracker / Official Forums)
On September 3, evil will be reborn on console systems throughout the world with the release of Diablo® III on the PlayStation™ 3 and Xbox 360® games and entertainment system from Microsoft. That's right, Diablo III will be unleashing hell on both Xbox 360 and PS3™ before summer's end, so lock in your preorders with your local retailer soon.

As an added bonus, all preorders of the Xbox 360 and PS3™ versions of Diablo III will include the exclusive Infernal Helm (in-game item only. . .though we have to admit it'd look pretty sharp IRL). Wearable at level 1, the Infernal Helm confers a +EXP bonus to help you whip your new PlayStation™ or Xbox® characters into shape. Plus, it looks sweet as hell on all five mortal heroes of Sanctuary—be it the Witch Doctor, Barbarian, Wizard, Demon Hunter, or Monk. Keep in mind that the redeemable key for the Infernal Helm, which you will find in your preordered console copy of Diablo III on launch day, requires an Internet connection to be redeemed and cannot be transferred across platforms.

Be sure to get your preorder lined up for the PS3™ or Xbox 360 versions of the game and prepare your thumbs to do battle against the sinister forces of the Burning Hells.

Please note that as the Xbox 360 version of Diablo III was announced today, it may take retailers several days to set up their product pages for this new version of the game. Be sure to check back if you don’t see Diablo III for Xbox 360 listed on retailers' websites.

TCG Art Update
Blizzard updated the Trading Card Game art gallery to feature ten new pieces.

by Published on 2013-06-07 01:19 AM

Patch 5.4 - Flexible Raid Preview
Patch 5.4 will add a a new raid difficulty:

  • Bring anywhere from 10 to 25 people to your raid and the difficulty will automatically scale.
  • Works with battletags, so you can bring friends from other realms.
  • Item level of loot is between Raid Finder and Normal and loot is awarded with the Raid Finder style loot system.
  • Separate lockout from Raid Finder and Normal, allowing you to do all three difficulties.

Originally Posted by Blizzard Entertainment
Raids in World of Warcraft have a long history of not just challenging players, but changing and evolving as the years and expansions go by. As with everything in the game, we’re always thinking about what more we can bring to raiding to improve the experience for an even wider range of players. While Normal and Heroic Raids are a great fit for many, we feel there’s another gap worth filling—and to that end, we’re currently working on the development of a new type of Raid for the next major content update: Flexible Raiding.

One Size Does Not Fit All
While it’s impossible to fit every player into a neat, tidy archetype, we recognize that we could be providing a better experience to one broad category of raider: social groups comprised predominantly of friends and family, and smaller guilds that do their best to include as many members in their Raid outings possible.

During the Wrath of the Lich King expansion, the 10-player Normal difficulty served these groups of players pretty well, but the unification of 10-player and 25-player into a single difficulty effectively eliminated that niche. While Raid Finder mode is extremely accessible, it doesn’t provide smaller groups with a tight-knit social experience while progressing through the content. In Patch 5.4, we’re planning to introduce a new mode of raiding that allows us to deliver the sort of experience that we think these players are looking for.

To fill this void, we’re in the process of developing a new Flexible Raid system, which includes a new difficulty that sits between Raid Finder and Normal difficulty, while still allowing friends, family, or pick-up groups to play together. This difficulty will be available for premade groups of 10–25 players, including any number in between. That means whether you have 11, 14, or 23 friends available for a Raid, they’ll all be able to participate.

The Flexible Raid system is designed so that the challenge level will scale depending on how many players you have in the Raid. So if you switch between 14 players one week and 22 the next, the difficulty will adjust automatically. Keep in mind that unlike Raid Finder, no matchmaking is available, so you’ll need to make sure you invite people to attend—but if some can’t make it, it’s not the end of the world (or the Raid). You’ll also still be able to invite Real ID or friends cross-realm. Who you choose to bring and what Item Level gear they’ll need to join your merry band is up to you, too—there’s no Item Level requirement for this Raid difficulty.

Dressed to Kill
A new Raid difficulty also means a new Item Level. Flexible mode will award loot with an Item Level that falls between Raid Finder and Normal quality, and will use the Raid Finder’s “per person” loot system, specialization choices, and bonus rolls, so you won’t need to worry about bringing the “wrong” person and having them win that piece of gear you’ve long been waiting for.

You Have the Keys
We plan to unlock the Flexible Raid difficulty in wings, similar to Raid Finder, but on an accelerated timetable. This new difficulty also has a separate Raid lockout from Raid Finder and Normal difficulty, allowing you to take part in all three if you so desire. You’ll also be able to complete portions of your “Glory of the Orgrimmar Raider” raid meta- achievement in Flexible mode as well as in Normal or Heroic to earn cosmetic rewards such as an epic mount. This will allow Raid groups the opportunity to switch off nights between raids to complete achievements. Finally, taking part in Flexible, Normal, or Heroic difficulty will provide access to additional rewards that won’t be available in Raid Finder.

Getting Down to Brass Tacks
As with any in-development feature, we’re continuing to refine how the Flexible Raid system will work, and we look forward to hearing your constructive feedback from your experiences on the Public Test Realm when the new system goes live.
by Published on 2013-06-06 07:13 AM

Messages From Hell: The Future of Diablo III

Site Updates, Forge Simulator, Uther the Lightbringer Emotes

Patch 5.4 Unannounced Feature
Originally Posted by Blizzard (Blue Tracker / Official Forums)
I just read on MMO champion that the 'unannounced feature' for patch 5.4 is essentially knifed in the belly. As I'm reading the tweets GC suggests that he wishes he never said anything about it or any features for that matter. Stating that when he announces a new feature or functionality within the game and it doesn't pan out or arrive in time the community gets upset.

My response to that is, "What .. are you going to just say nothing?"

*Patch 5.4 includes ... *

It may let down some yes, BUT its far better to tell us your plans, visions, direction and ideas and fall short than simply not saying anything. The first lets me know you guys are still creative, ambitious and still trying to push this game forward which has a greater chance to keep my subscription. The second makes me think you guys are lazy, don't give a damn and not confident in your abilities.

Here's the issue we run into regularly. If we share incomplete information or "hint" at something without proper context, some people end up being disappointed when what they had in their head isn't what ends up being implemented.

Things change while in development. That means that even if we do give advanced information, it could change, and for some, that change may be construed as "worse" whether they've actually experienced it pre-change or not.

You may not mind when things change. Many people don't, but from our experience, most people tend to be a bit happier when they can get a more complete picture. I can assure you, the implication that the development team in any way shape or form is being "lazy" is far from reality. We're still working on many things at current and will do our best to get the information out to everyone at what is hopefully the best possible time, with the most accurate information possible.

Upcoming Titan Runestone Drop Rate Change
Originally Posted by Blizzard (Blue Tracker / Official Forums)
We agree and feel that Titan Runestones drop too rarely. We are going to make some changes to Lei Shen.

For players that are on the legendary quest line, Lei Shen will now always drop a Titan Runestone. This is similar to what we did with rare drops in the past and will help players that have been experiencing really bad luck.

This change is still undergoing testing and is scheduled to take effect next Tuesday with the raid resets.

Patch 5.3 Hotfixes - June 5
Originally Posted by Blizzard (Blue Tracker / Official Forums)
Raids, Dungeons, and Scenarios
  • Fixed an issue where players did not receive a Heroic Cache of Treasures for completing the first Heroic Scenario of the day if they had completed a Normal Scenario first.

Blue Tweets
Originally Posted by Blizzard Entertainment
Reputation / Questing
I'm tired of doing the fkng dailies? We are all tired of doing this. We play game to have fun, not tired.
So don't do them? What is the specific reward that you feel requires you to run so many dailies? (Source)
Bad "professional" answer. you made your game revolve around them.(kind of sound naïve about your own game sir.
My point is if you earn 500 valor a week instead of 1000 a week, you'll still get gear or upgrades, just at a slower rate. (Source)
Been challenging for us when folks who play 2 hours a night and folks who play 2 a week want to progress at similar rates. (Source)
All guilds with some progression will require you to cap each week. You can't log only to do what you like.
I'm in a heroic guild, and the officers would never mandate everyone cap valor and charms. To each his or her own I guess. (Source)

crap answer. Maybe Mr. Heroic raider doesn't need valor gear, but some of us lesser fools do.
But why do you *need* valor gear? And even if you do, you can still earn it even if you skip dailies completely. (Source)
Valor gear = stronger and more powerful toon, gear is everything, higher the ILVL the better, correct me if im wrong
That sounds like a want, not a need. I'm just trying to understand the argument. (Source)
It's a need if you dont want to be barred from every guild or get kicked after you come up last in an LFR boss fight
If you are coming up last in an LFR boss fight, it's not the lack of valor gear.... (Source)
It seems to be "I need max valor to progress, but I don't want to participate in the most efficient avenues to accrue it." (Source)
When the alternatives to just accrue valor slower or less efficiently seem reasonable. What am I missing? (Source)
It seems to be "People always take the most efficient path so lets make it as boring as possible"
We think having lots of dungeons to run is less boring than doing Mechanar every night. (Source)

How was daily limit removal a mistake? Putting in 100 dailies was the mistake...
This is "don't nanny us" vs. "I have too much to do" conundrum I referenced the other day. (Source)

Realize you're telling me "WoW isn't for you" because every patch seems to be a rep grind and dailies.
You have to ignore a lot of content to say that is all our patches have been about. (Source)
I really don't get people harping on about it, there hasn't been a daily rep with useful gear since 5.1
Depends what other gear you have access to. It can't be rewarding for both heroic raiders and folks in blues. (Source)
5.2 had gear same ilvl as 5.1. Barrens has gear lower ilvl. Most of it feels wasted even on LFR players.
We heard from a lot of players who didn't want to have to raid or wanted catch up for their alts that wasn't 5.0 reputations. (Source)
You mentioned story gating working well (5.1, 5.2). 5.3´s story was over in a day. Way less interested in doing stuff now.
Part of our faster development cycle means that 5.3 was pretty far along before we could evaluate 5.1 and 5.2 player reaction. (Source)

We believe you will have more fun if you find a group of friends, and we will try to do more to enable that. (Source)
try that at 3am and you're the only one on the server
That's why we provide ways to play solo as well. We would just like to lure you into groups of friends. (Source)

does dynamic open world scenarios similar to public quests in warhammer online sound like a good alternate to dailies?
Potentially. We're dabbling that with the Battlefield Barrens stuff and plan to do more. (Source)

Random q: Have you thought about creating tech for "auto-grouping" if people are completing the same quest in a fixed area?
We've considered it. I think you'd have to be really careful not to force players into groups if they weren't interested. (Source)

What is designed to be the most effective/fastest way to level? Quests, Instances, PvP, etc.? I
Ideally doing a variety of tasks, but we always want to make sure questing remains attractive. (Source)
What is it about questing you find more appealing? Don't you think by 90 people are pretty sick of questing?
The question was about what we want to be the most effective way to level. The answer is 1) variety, 2) quests. (Source)
At max level, we want players to have a reason to go out into the world. Quests are one way to do that. (Source)
But we didn't have many alternatives to max quests at launch. Patch 5.3 and 5.4 have more outdoor options. (Source)
The Barrens has a lot of content, but not a lot of quests. The next patch will have an even more ambitious area. (Source)

How popular has Sunsong Ranch been this expansion? More or less popular than expected? Will we see something like it again?
More popular than expected. We'd like to do something again but not an exact clone. (Source)

The Music of Mists: an Interview with Russell Brower
Originally Posted by Blizzard (Blue Tracker / Official Forums)
The Blizzard Music section has been updated to include the soundtrack to World of Warcraft: Mists of Pandaria. When you visit the page, you’ll be able to read notes from the soundtracks’ composers, listen to song samples, and download albums and individual tracks directly through iTunes.

To provide more insight on the development of this auditory (pandaren) feast, we sat down with Senior Director of Audio Russell Brower to talk about the making of the Mists of Pandaria soundtrack and his views on the purpose of music in games. Read on for the full conversation below!

Q: The role of sound and music in games, even in our games, isn’t always clear. Is there anything you’d like to tell players about what your team does?
A: (Russell Brower): I believe our players already have a great appreciation for the role of sound and music in games. A healthy portion of our players can’t imagine a Blizzard game without what we do. Sound and music aren’t always an essential part of gameplay, but Blizzard wouldn’t ship a game without them, just like we wouldn’t ship a game without great cinematics.

We’re a visual society; we take our hearing for granted unless it’s taken away from us. It’s the first sense that’s turned on in the womb, and, unless something breaks with your hearing, it’s on for the rest of your life. Marty O’Donnell, a good buddy of mine who’s my counterpart at Bungie, has a saying: “the ear does not blink.” Sound is a constant immersion tool—voiceover has to be localized, but music doesn’t, and sound effects don’t—they’re a universal language.

Also, the team strives to keep people from turning their sound off. There will always be hardcore players who’ll never have sound on; they’re in voice chat, or they need absolute focus. I feel like that’s a frontier we have yet to conquer, but also, as social gaming continues to put people in closer contact with each other, the challenge of sound to remain immersive is only gonna get tougher.

Q: Do you find that players get bothered by game sounds with any regularity? Where does that concern stem from?
A: Well, for example, we’ve had to tone down our auto-playing sounds to be less startling. We found that some people will put headphones on, and after two hours of installing, suddenly the game will go “BOOM!!” when it finishes. People started to install games with the sound off.

Q: Right! When you hear one of those thundering installation complete sounds, it's like, “ack, did a bookshelf fall over?”
A: For our Cataclysm update, 4.3, you heard horns when the update was completed—it was a bit more easy-going. Another example: a LOT of people hated Sindragosa’s constant roaring on the Wrath of the Lich King title screen. So, when we were scoping out Cataclysm, we thought, “oh, man, not another dragon update!” We actually got the World of Warcraft team to keep him mostly quiet. It was a fight, but then we saw far fewer complaints. With the MoP login screen, I’ve seen a lot of grateful comments. I’ve had a lot of people on Twitter tell me that they actually waited and listened to the entire piece of music before logging in.

Q: What instrumentation did you use for the MoP soundtrack? It sounds very different from what we’ve heard in other World of Warcraft expansions.
A: We supplemented the usual palette of sounds rather than replace it. That stemmed from a conversation I had with Chris Metzen early on; we were looking at all the gorgeous artwork and art direction of Pandaria, and he said, “the artwork is telling us we’re in a different world, a place of wonder, but one that will potentially get conquered by the Alliance and Horde.” He felt that we needed an Asian overlay, but that the soundtrack was also an opportunity to remind us that we’re still in Azeroth. We shouldn’t go so far afield that it doesn’t feel like Warcraft.

So, we kept our usual palette of epic orchestral sounds, but we added some specific Chinese instruments. One is the erhu, which is basically a Chinese fiddle; it’s got 2 strings, and an almost vocal vibrato singing quality. We also added the guzheng, which is like a harp, but it’s long and laid out flat. It’s both strummed and plucked. The third instrument was called the dizi—you know how if you pluck a blade of grass and blow on it, you get that reedy sound? Well, the Dizi has a hole in it with a membrane that vibrates, and so it sounds like a flute, but it has this very buzzy overtone. We also included one more—the pipa, which is more or less the Chinese version of the banjo. Those four instruments, along with Chinese drums, gave us the overlay we needed to have a bit of Asian feel. We also changed the orchestra’s playing style—even when we were using familiar instrumentation, we had a bit more sliding between notes at certain times. In some ways, it’s what Hollywood has told us Asian music sounds like, but some of it’s authentic. Those Chinese instruments were all played by masters.

Q: Oh, so this isn’t you guys picking up an instrument for the first time?
A: Oh, no. Luckily, in California, you can get instrument experts fairly locally. Everyone was local except for the arhu player, who we flew in from the Bay area. In China, she’s considered a major star—she actually teaches, and also plays violin. So, she’s able to play in the language of Hollywood, but also with the personality of her instrument. We would typically say to her, “ok, play it idiomatically correct this time; ok, now play it like a violin.” In editing, we got to pick and choose, because there were times when the idiomatic version was so heavily vibrato or ornamented that it might actually call too much attention to itself. It’s the role of music to support and immerse, not to say “hey, listen to me!” We’ve actually failed if the music is calling too much attention to itself.

Q: Can you elaborate on that sentiment? What do you think the role of music is in gameplay? Guiding or instructing a player, providing cues—is that something you think game music should or shouldn’t do? Where does our music influence our gameplay?
A: It depends on the game, but in our games, certainly in World of Warcraft and Diablo, the music adds to the immersion. I think in Diablo it’s a little more about mood, where we want to enhance the creepiness, until we get to the cinematics, and then we get to character development. There’s a theme for Diablo, and there’s a theme for Leah.

WoW has even more of that—there are very specific melodic devices and tone colors for Alliance and Horde, and for some of our major figures. Arthas has an arc coming from Warcraft III, where a melody was first established more than 10 years ago, and that DNA is in the song "Invincible." In fact, it’s the chorus. There are new verses, but the chorus came from 10+ years ago.

StarCraft’s a different animal in that the gameplay is so fast—it’s very strategic, but there’s a little bit more ‘twitch’ gameplay involved, so the music needs to stay out of the way. The map music is really just there to make the game cooler—where the music gets critical in StarCraft is in the cinematics. Starting with the original StarCraft, each race had a very identifiable musical signature, and that carried over to the maps and played a part in cinematics. Wings of Liberty is where we really started establishing themes for characters. While Raynor is synonymous with the part of the Terran race that listens to space-cowboy trucker music, he ended up with his own theme in Wings of Liberty. We’d started some Zerg stuff in Wings, but it’s fully developed in Heart of the Swarm, and we’ll see that happen again with Legacy of the Void for the Protoss. We established a melody for Zeratul in Wings, and that’ll carry over and get developed, too.

So, the role of music, in WoW especially, is closer to its role in a movie, in that we can convey what would take too many words to describe otherwise. When you read a book, you can get inside a character’s head and hear what they’re thinking. In a game, we really don’t have that luxury—they’d have to talk too much, and we’d have to localize it, and it’d stop gameplay. We want to stop gameplay as infrequently as we can. Music doesn’t have to be translated—people say that it can tell you how you’re supposed to feel, and I suppose that’s true sometimes, but sometimes it amplifies what’s already there.

Q: Yeah. You see a sweeping vista, and the score emphasizes the grand scale of it all.
A: All rules are meant to be broken, though, so sometimes you play against type. There’ve been moments in StarCraft where a character has done something awful, and he’s listening to opera. It’s the classic gangster-movie juxtaposition. Similarly, some of the music in StarCraft, this space game, could be considered “spaghetti western.” It’s a nice genre flip, especially for someone who’s not expecting it.

Q: There’s a track on the Mists of Pandaria soundtrack called “The Traveler’s Path,” which sounds like it contains a conlang, an invented language. Is that accurate?
A: Yes. We went to our Creative Development team, and, for certain NPC responses, they’d already begun to spin a language, and we asked them to flesh out some words in English that [Lead Quest Designer] Dave Kosak had written. It’s the story of Liu Leng, and the turtle, Shen-sin-zu, and why Liu Leng left Pandaria and came back. I was inspired by a video of Dave doing what he called “story time,” where he told the story of Liu Leng, and when I realized that part of the player experience was that you weren’t necessarily going to realize you were on a turtle until you got on a balloon and went around the island and saw his face for the first time in a mini cut-scene. So I thought, “why not write a song that tells the story of Liu Leng?”

When I was a little kid in choir, we learned a Japanese song called Sakura—it was easy for kids to learn and remember, so I wanted to find the Pandaren equivalent of that—a melody so simple that it could be an ancient folk song, one where the words could change over the centuries. In this case, Lorewalker Cho would be singing the part of Liu Leng, so we asked Creative Dev to basically translate the story, and then we went through a process of vetting it with the localization guys to make sure we weren’t inadvertently saying something offensive in Chinese or any other language.

Dave was so excited that he made a whole quest line around the song. It only happens at certain times; you go out to a little beach where Lorewalker Cho’s waiting, you sit down in front of him and he sings the song, and places all these paper boats in the water, and it’s just this gorgeous thing. Yeah, we focus on gameplay first, but for those who care to venture off the beaten path a little bit, you’ll find this special moment.

When I worked at Disney they called these sorts of things ‘discovery places.’ At Disneyland, if you happened to go around the right corner, you’d find Snow White’s wishing well, a fountain, and her singing voice coming from the fountain. It’s a little thing, it makes no money, but they did it because that’s what that park does. Blizzard has a similar sensibility—we want to give our audience the little things alongside the epic ones.

Q: How does the inspiration exchange work for you and your team? You talked about being inspired by art—at what point during the development process do you usually get concept art?
A: As early as we can. Before production begins, we pretty much need to have done our homework. When production begins, it’s too late to be designing—at that point, we need to be implementing, because things move fast. During the time from when we first get a glimmer of the next expansion, patch or feature, we cast the voices, we go, “the next expansion is about zerg, so we need a lot more *glorp* sounds, we need to expand that vocabulary.”

Q: And then you begin casting?
A: For Mists of Pandaria, casting was a big-time effort. We went with the Screen Actor’s Guild for the game so that we could get access to the best actors and authentic accents. For the music, even though we hired master players for several of our instruments, we had to learn to write for them. The instruments were designed to play traditional Chinese music, and they have ranges that don’t necessarily hit all of the same notes as the instruments we’re more familiar with. We had to do some funky things, like the Arhu player would play everything but two notes in a given phrase; then, for those two notes, we would go to a different track, she would retune the instrument, and we’d punch in the missing notes. In the case of the Pipa, the Chinese banjo, most of it we were able to write around the range of the instrument, but there were a couple of things that I just wanted that were a little below its range. We [whispering conspiratorially] actually used a banjo for those. I defy anyone to tell.

Another instrument we used—who knew that the musical saw was a traditional Chinese instrument? It turns out it’s not, but I was looking for a very specific sound…

During Dave Kosak’s story time, he talked about how the Jinyu place their staves in the water to consult the river, which led to a piece on the soundtrack called ‘Go Ask the River.’ If you’re wondering what the high, wobbly melody note in that song is, that’s a saw. A Sears Craftsman saw. The saw player puts the saw down, holds the handle between his legs, and bends the blade, with the teeth facing him, and he uses a violin bow to bow the saw, then changes the pitch by bending and wobbling it. You may have heard of a theremin; this is sweeter and more vocal because it’s not made electronically, so there’s no static sound. I was a little worried that people would go, “oh, what’s a theremin doing here” and make Forbidden Planet jokes, but so far, no one’s mentioned the word to me, so it seems to have worked. In Mists of Pandaria, whenever you’re around a body of water that might be mystical or hold knowledge of the future or visions of the past for the Jinyu or Shaohao, you’ll hear that singing saw. We had two saws—a 14-inch one and a 20-inch one, and our saw player called them his “alto” and “tenor” saws.

Q: On the Mists of Pandaria soundtrack you blend several songs together and segue from one track to the next. Is that designed to reflect zone transitions in games, or did you compose it as one continuous piece?

A: We did seven-and-a-half hours of music for Mists of Pandaria—that brings WoW up to a total of 45 hours of music, including over 12 hours of ambient music (which is actually really fun to listen to in a playlist). Those hours are made up of many hundreds and hundreds of individual music cues. In fact, on Mists of Pandaria, I hit a personal milestone and I wrote my 1000th piece of music for WoW.

Our first soundtrack from brown box (original or ‘classic’ World of Warcraft) produced a lot of music that’s amazing and iconic, and we’re still building on it today, but it was arranged in groups—city themes, big moments, zone tracks—and they were more or less in alphabetical order. It was a ‘record’ in the sense of being a historical document, but it wasn’t arranged as an album. Starting with The Burning Crusade, we felt like we wanted to let our albums have a life outside the game.

The original brown box only had about 2 hours of music for the entire game. To make an album, they pretty much had to put almost the entire soundtrack on it. Now, we put out anywhere from 6-8 hours of music per expansion, and around an hour per patch. Ulduar was almost 2 hours. Not all of our 7 hours of music really works outside of the game—some of it is fairly ambient—but we can use a few notes to paint a mental picture, and put those tracks in a ‘story’ order that builds on related ideas and concepts. A given cut that’s several minutes long might be made up of anywhere from 1 to 5 or 6 cues from the game, and we spend a lot of time crafting nice segues and finding ways to get from one cue to another that take you on a journey without jarring you.

I also think about the album as a whole—making sure we don’t include too many slow or loud pieces in a row. Obviously, if everything’s epic and bold, then epic and bold begins to lose its meaning. Music is about contrast; a loud thing will appear louder if it’s preceded by silence. I literally draw a graph on paper, and go “with this lineup of pieces, we’ve got a nice rollercoaster going, then a big buildup, then right before the end it kind of gets slow, and then it ends at 11.” It’s a conscious decision to have the album stand alone outside the game, so people can play it in their car when they’re not playing the game if they want to take a piece of World of Warcraft with them.

When I cut the music together for the Burning Crusade album, I got the idea to put in just a hint of the ambience: our ambient tracks are really compelling in and of themselves, they’re beautiful and actually you hear them more than you hear ‘music’ in the game since the ambience never shuts off. The music kind of materializes out of the ambience and then recedes back into it. On The Burning Crusade, Derek Duke did this wonderful music for the Draenei. It was very pastoral, to represent the shimmering, glowing crystals that power their homes. It’s almost spiritual music. On the soundtrack, leading into it, I included a hint of the ambience from their starting zone, and then later the ambience from the Exodar, and it became a tradition after that. I did the same thing for the soundtrack albums for the other franchises, but it works best on WoW.

They’re all gapless albums—the only time there’s a gap is when it’s good showmanship. Going back to The Burning Crusade, the only gap is before ‘Lament of the Highborne,’ and the previous cut is ‘Taverns,’ which is almost out of left field. Then there’s a two-second gap, and then Lament of the Highborne. The album doesn’t end on a high, but with a reaching or yearning.

For Mists of Pandaria, Jeremy Soule did this piece which wound up being for the series of dailies you do when you’re riding a cloud serpent—the mechanic is like a bombing run mission, and you end up with a serpent mount at the end of the quest chain. I conducted the piece at Nokia, and it’s just really cool, so that became the capstone of the album. That’s deliberate.

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