Survey Surveillance – Level Squish Confirmed?

I’ve been working on a lot of long posts (expect huge post flooding to happen this weekend!) but I had to write a quickie when I saw this article on Wowhead.

Blizzard has sent surveys to some players asking about a level squish. What is interesting about the survey is that the wording suggests that the level squish is a sure thing, by saying the following:

“Are you aware that the maximum level of 120 will be reduced in the future (ie Level Squish)?”

So, let’s talk about this topic here again!

My opinion about leveling is unconventional among a lot of my blogging peers, I’ve learned. I don’t generally like leveling, and while I can enjoy the content provided in leveling, I don’t really look forward to it. I look forward to the story, but the number increasing on my character frame doesn’t fill me with joy. I do enjoy the variety of other number accrual games that MMOs offer – maxing item level, increasing stats, etc. – but doing leveling content is usually the most braindead I find myself during my MMO gameplay. In FFXIV, the first time is nice because the Main Scenario Quests are great and fill the space with story and content, and after, I can level alternate jobs fully from sidequests and dungeon gameplay, which is great. In WoW, where you have to generally do the leveling quests every time, I find less excitement in the gameplay, and I usually just watch YouTube videos or listen to podcasts while smashing buttons mindlessly.

I only preface with this to present my perspective so it isn’t shocking when I say that I don’t mind this change, if it is to be done. Leveling alts (like the 6 remaining allied race characters I have to level) would be easier, and maybe it would mean more emphasis on story and content rather than using the leveling experience as a pacing mechanism.

However, I don’t think I’ve seen a lot of support for the idea. Granted, the item squish didn’t have a lot either, and it largely has gone without controversy outside of the bugs with the second implementation. The pacing of current leveling is abysmal – the amount of time you spend without gaining anything for a level other than the number is too great, and it is impossible for me to recommend someone who really likes progression and the feeling of it to play the full leveling experience. The tweaks to experience required in 7.3.5 aren’t all that bad anymore, but the problem is that they lengthened the leveling experience without meaningfully enhancing the actual experience. A smaller level cap, like going back to 60, could be really good, in that way – give every level a meaningful bonus to keep people engaged, tweak the talent system to manage that pacing further, and it could be really good.

However, while I would hesitate to say this is absolutely confirmed – wording on surveys can often be done to pulse-check the respondents and see what is said in response – I would imagine that Blizzard has committed to a decision one way or the other by now, as the expansion development for 9.0 has to be well underway (and it certainly was in progress when I visited the Blizzard campus in October 2018). The messaging around this is going to be interesting – Blizzard inherently sells expansions on the value of the leveling experience and has always made a bullet-point in their expansion presentations about the new levels to achieve. There is a way I think they could discuss this to minimize the shock – if you talk about properly pacing the advancement of skills and demonstrate the enjoyment to be gained from that, it could be very well be received positively. Likewise, if they talk about how it gives them design space to do more, then I expect it will cause a riot.

Either way, I expect that say…around November 1st, we’ll have a lot more to say about this!

13 thoughts on “Survey Surveillance – Level Squish Confirmed?

  1. I’m not sure leveling alts will be any easier as, when they brought this up before, the idea was to cut the levels in half but keep the time from character creation to level cap the same. The emphasis was on making each level more meaningful.

    I still think this is sailing into trouble for Blizz. The item squish passed mostly unnoticed primarily because most people don’t fixate on their stats, dps, or ilevel. But your adventure level, everybody knows what level they are. Taking that 120 and making it a 60 will cause people to be angry, especially if it just means every level takes twice as long as before.

    Blizz is damned if they do and damned if they don’t, because levels have become silly or a barrier in the current game and people don’t like them, but it is the problem they to which they are used. Being level 60… and it will come as a surprise because we’re outliers in that we pay attention to these things… will come as a shock to a lot of people.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I know that while it likely won’t result in less time played to cap, I think for me, the lower number is perceived as less of an obstacle. In an era driven by business metrics, the more players that feel that way, the better the end result.

      Which is the challenge, really – what amount of the audience is willing to roll with such a change versus the number who will react negatively? I think both audiences will surprise, but I would imagine more feel as you mention, and shock will win out. Curious to see what the rollout plan for this is going to be!

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  2. At this point levels are just a number, we all recognize that even with a squish it will still take the same amount of time, if anything it will devalue gear rewards. We’re seeing that already with the latest gear level squish. Going from 900+ in Legion to where we are now, and climbing back up. The other end of the spectrum sees the fallout. Gone are getting a 5 or 10 item level upgrade, now it’s a point or two. The gear in Draenor is currently lower than when I was playing in Wrath. The first squish wasn’t to bad, we lost about 50% if I recall. The move to BfA was a lot worse, I went from say over 100,000 DPS to less than 10,000. That’s a 90% squish and not only does it still take the same amount of time to kill something, scaling has made it so convoluted that I can’t figure out if I’m improving or getting worse as I improve gear. I see a day coming when it may all be just percentage numbers instead.

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    1. I agree on the proportions, but I think gear complexity is largely down to game balancing rather than squishing. If anything, it should be easier to math out the improvements – 100 of a stat should be simpler than 1,000, but Blizzard’s balancing of rating, diminishing returns, and such make it more complicated than it perhaps should be.

      Percentage numbers may win out in the end, since the classic gear uses percentage secondaries for nearly everything we associate with rating today. It’ll be interesting to see how players who didn’t play that will feel about it!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. As long as I can still solo old content with ease, I don’t care if my level says 120 or 60. As someone who enjoys leveling a lot, I wouldn’t mind if they completely overhauled the whole leveling process tho.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. It is easily implemented by giving older content bosses an extra percentage of damage received. Say, you plant 1000 hit on a mob of your level, but the same hit takes away 50000 from the Lich King or Ragnaros. I even think they’re already doing it now.

      Liked by 2 people

    2. Totally agree – if my gameplay still feels good, then I don’t care if the number next to my character frame goes up or down – there are other means for me to measure my progress.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. How is this going to play with WoW Classic? If the Live game squishes levels to 60 with all expansions while Classic launches with a Level Cap of 60 in no expansions at around the same time that’s going to make for some very invidious comparisons. It’s interesting looking at this from the outside, as an EQ2 player, too.

    Stats and damage in EQ2 are utterly insane these days. As a casual solo player, for example, my Berserker has over 60 million hit points. A raider might have three times that. Marathal talks of his DPS dropping from 100k to 10k – my zerker’s individual strikes are measured in the millions. Mobs have billions of hit points, bosses trillions. This looks ludicrous from the outside but EQ2 regulars, by and large, seem to love it. Everyone knows the numbers are silly but they also tend to think that big numbers are fun.

    Whether WoW players can be persuaded to find small numbers as much fun as big ones is a bit of a gamble. If it means a complete re-write of the way the game works, something that would give life to future expansions for years to come, maybe that’s a risk worth taking. If it’s a temporary respite, soon to be overtaken by a fresh wave of climbing numbers, maybe not.

    (Second attempt)

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I venture into the Vault of Archovan in Wintergrasp every so often to feel like a god. Being able to make one cast and see the meter record 1.8 million DPS feels good. The first time I ran a Wrath Timewalking dungeon, I had spent a few days grabbing up all the best Wrath gear, Full tier sets from ICC, every high level piece for all other slots, over 14 gems, every Wrath enchant. If we were still in Wrath, I could have soloed most dungeons on my Shadowpriest, or at least made a tank cry because I was ripping threat off them. When I went in that first time I thought, this is gonna be awesome, I am going to be the big hero burning through mobs left and right. In the end I was 4th for DPS behind the tank, my numbers were horrible, so the next one I just put on my normal current gear, I was still 4th in DPS, but not as bad. That was when I realized that scaling is a lie, it may have a minor component from gear level, but there is an arbitrary value set by Blizzard for what they want as a base for a certain class. I have only done maybe a handful since then. There is a point where a player starts feeling like they are not getting better, and eventually they just give up trying. That’s where I am at right now.

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    2. We’ve been fighting huge numbers for a while now. We ended Mists of Pandaria with tanks in the millions of HP, damage per second measured in hundreds of thousands, and then the first item squish brought those values down to 30,000 health and around 8,000 DPS in the same gear and levels. The newest squish brought my tank character raiding main from 12 million health to 30,000, and even now with 10 player levels and near 200% power gain from gear, I’ve just barely gotten close to 400,000 health again. Scaling in WoW got ludicrous fast once hard mode raids and upgraded rewards came in, but the team at Blizzard seems to think the numbers must be smaller to be comprehensible. On one hand, I agree – the current state of affairs is far easier to parse in real time. On the other hand, the big numbers were a lot of fun and I think the game loses something through this cycle of expansion and contraction of stat values.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. It is interesting how Blizzard is solving the challenge. Leveling is not just about a system of progression or character power – the Ding! has a value of its own. It’s like getting a pat on the head that you’re doing everything right, of achieving things along your journey.

    WoW leveling has inevitably become a behemoth. And it’s time to do something about it. It’s not even the content that matters – as you dungeon through, or see barely 1-2 zones from each expansion through questing only, you’ll never experience it in its entirety without an extra effort.

    Through leveling an individual must learn to play the class, the spec, and arrive by the newest expansion all ready, with arsenal, and confident.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Agreed – I used to at least feel really good about progress in leveling, but it no longer feels quite as special. When Blizzard introduced character boosts, I knew the game was in need of an overhaul on leveling and that even Blizzard knew it – the easiest possible solution to a sprawling legacy of content without having to rework it is to give everyone the means to skip it. The trial character is an improvement, and 7.3.5 leveling changes feel better, but still, the whole experience is in dire need of a full redesign. Now that Classic will exist, 9.0 would be the perfect time for it – you can pull the nostalgia out completely and make the leveling experience a new, exciting thing, with interesting content for even veteran players. While that might be a Cataclysm problem waiting to happen, I think it’s worth it.

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