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 850 Comments
  1. nctank's Avatar
    Squish squish... Makes sense and same was done with talent trees and talent points. They already done it last expansion and will be doing it again on next.
  1. Ezaraku's Avatar
    item squish please! Screw the mega damage! Who's with me?!?
  1. tohyatvc's Avatar
    Quote Originally Posted by Crucialus View Post
    I don't think I get you? If they squish everything (not a nerf), then a boss that would do, say, 3k damage per second would start doing much less (300?) so wouldn't that be the exact same when it comes to soloing?

    Really just trying to understand this.
    No, he gets it. Vanilla content would be harder, so would TBC and wotlk relative. This is a GOOD THING.

    Vanilla scaling would remain completely intact, that is to say, vanilla stats and encounters are the CORRECT WAY to scale.

    They want to nerf the crazy scaling AFTER that, which wasn't linear at all. Remember with the launch of TBC, we had the new combat rating system. In vanilla, stats were granted as a fixed percentage (piece of gear gives you 1% crit, affects your exact crit rating, for example).

    Older content would be harder (relative to now) at max level (but exactly the same at the relevant level), this is a good thing, it would make me want to play again.
  1. Nerph-'s Avatar
    Quote Originally Posted by merex760 View Post
    It was a joke. Like the caption right under the image says.
    I know, it still sounds retarded though
  1. Ginseng's Avatar
    Squish. BUT implement the squish sooner rather than later so people can adjust and not be surprised/have problems adjusting closer to the MOP release date.
  1. Tommo's Avatar
    Yea the numbers coming out are insane its starting to look like a private server lol.. +vote for squish!
  1. Puremallace's Avatar
    This was so well written I actually e-mailed it to Trion. Rift is going down the same path with gear jumps and in my view I have ALWAYS been against it even when I played WoW.

    ToR will have this identical issue also. Guild Wars 2 maybe not so much, but they do not have instanced pve raiding, so they took the easy way out.
  1. achaeon's Avatar
    It'd be kind of lame to get weaker from one expansion to another. Not to mention it wouldnt make much sense. They jumped too far with the stats in the past couple xpacs, that's where it broke down. You go from health measured in the 1-3k range at level 60, to 100k+ 3 expansions later? I for one dont want to login to MoP feeling like my characters took back steps. Just doesnt make sense from the perspective of your hero/toon growing stronger.
  1. Gurbz's Avatar
    Quote Originally Posted by Crucialus View Post
    I don't think I get you? If they squish everything (not a nerf), then a boss that would do, say, 3k damage per second would start doing much less (300?) so wouldn't that be the exact same when it comes to soloing?

    Really just trying to understand this.
    It will be harder to solo raid bosses because there will be much less difference in you stats, compared to the huge jump in stats we see in expansions now.
  1. Cavox's Avatar
    IMO squishing would be the best.
  1. AmongOthers's Avatar
    I'm all in for squishy! While it might feel weird, it's alot better than silly mega dmg thing, - don't get me wrong, the mega dmg solution has some crazy ass addon potential but it just seems a bit 2 crazy 2 me, and we wouldn't wanna upset moar peeps about MoP being childish by adding SUPAH-MEGAH-DMG-PWN to it xD
  1. Spotnick's Avatar
    It would feel weird, for the first month, then you get used to it. Not such a big deal, I agree that the post-expansion patch is probably the best time to drop this bomb, so people can get used to it BEFORE the expansion.
  1. Austilias's Avatar
    This has the potential to make old content much less soloable, and therein lies the potential to loose my monopoly on gear that might drop in having to depend on people. While at higher levels it might make sense, in other aspects of the game such as this, I have a foreboding. Do not want? Potentially.
  1. fangless's Avatar
    Is this really that big of a deal?

    In BC, GOOD players maybe got to high 2000's for DPS at Sunwell content.

    Now we're doing 30,000.

    No one thinks 30,000 is a bad number, when it's a HUGE increase from just a few expansions ago. Why would that suddenly change with 5 more levels?
  1. Dotfix's Avatar
    Squish it! Brings back good ol' memories from the past as well!
  1. Kjell's Avatar
    I like the "mega damage" more, it would just feel wierd to do less damage after this expansion, would totally ruin sense of character progression. I'm up for lesser scaling but it just feels wrong to lower the damage output.
  1. Prothall's Avatar
    I have to say, "Battleplate of TRULY Ludicrous Numerical Superiority" is an awesome name for a piece of gear.

    I think the squish would work - I've been noticing this for a while now. It's weird to get weapons with more stamina that my chest piece had in the last expansion. And really, it was only Cata where things got so out of control. It felt right to have the amount of health I did at the end of Vanilla, and BC, and Wrath. But Cata just blew that out of the water.
  1. Doombringer's Avatar
    Neither solution is particularly elegant. As he highlights in the article, a level 80 piece of gear will not be a great jump from level 60, let alone 70. It can lead to people holding onto old gear and bypassing content, etc, etc, as he also mentioned. To put it into perspective, imagine if the gear you got in Tier 11 at the start of Cata was only a mite bit less powerful than the newest and latest in 4.3?

    I suppose a solution to encourage players to get an upgrade rather than keeping old gear would be to have the old gear's stats cease to function after a certain level or at a certain point in time. "Valid only until level XX" and all. This is STILL an ugly 'fix.'

    Also, with an Item Squish, the content will need to be tuned accordingly, and that means that we will not necessarily easily blow through lvl 60 Blackwing Lair at lvl 85 like we do right now -- retro runs can become harder, and less desirable to run. People run these because they CAN obliterate them easily, it's part of the fun.
  1. pinkshirtbadman's Avatar
    Quote Originally Posted by Simca View Post
    I'm so glad they could finally admit this is a problem. I support the item squish personally and want them to do it for 5.0.
    There's no "finally" about it, Blizzard has commented on this since at least patch 3.0. They've known it was a coming problem, we've known, they've never pretended it wasn't going to be a problem. As they point out, currently it's not a "big" problem so it didn't "need handled" yet.
  1. JebJoya's Avatar
    I realise it's only a mockup of a potential solution, but Fig 5 certainly implies that T3 epics of lv60 will be ~= ilvl to Lv75 items, and an epic from the end of Burning Crusade should take you through to level 85 - anyone else find that a little odd? Feels like running a couple of raids while levelling will just remove the gear progression for a couple of expansions... :S Meh.

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