The Saga of Corruption – When A Good Thing Goes Bad

I want to write something lengthy-ish about a bone of contention I have with modern Blizzard, but before it goes in that direction, let’s set the stage.

Corruption, the replacement in 8.3 for WoW’s forging item upgrades, is both better and worse on its own merits compared to what it replaced. The system is built on a tradeoff that limits viability of an upgrade, but also means a corrupted item dropping isn’t always a good thing. The system also rewards and incentivizes regular play – which is, in an MMO, a fairly standard thing that doesn’t need much ire directed at it. You play more, you can resist more corruption, wear more of it with no ill consequence, and gain power at a constrained pace over the end of the expansion drought.

The randomness of the drops, however, led many to be like I was about it – to understand when a piece is an upgrade but to otherwise disengage from it almost completely. There was no incentive for farming, little investment in the actual system, and overall, it was fairly low touch. Mind you, I think this was a good thing – titanforging meant that farming was valuable and you’d often be playing content far after it was fun for you, hoping for a few scraps of an upgrade. With Corruption, you can choose to keep doing normal or LFR raids hoping for a specific corruption, but it holds less value than a -forged piece did a tier ago, generally.

Faced with this disengagement, and surely some degree of business metric data, Blizzard made a choice – to allow Corruption to be farmable via a currency system. It still drops in BfA season 4 content, but now you can also save up Echoes of Ny’alotha (the Essence purchasing currency that was added a bit ago via hotfix) and buy Corruption to apply to an item of your choice that isn’t already corrupted.

Before I continue, I feel a need to come out strongly here – this is a good thing that Blizzard did, in spirit. The complaints of randomness were heard, and with that, Blizzard opted to make a change to align better with player interest. For a substantial piece of BfA, Blizzard has been inflexible to a fault, refusing to budge on a ton of points major and minor, and only in recent months starting to flex to player requests. Now, being willing to stick to their guns isn’t inherently bad, but if the vision isn’t panning out, it makes sense to pivot and Blizzard’s refusal to do so after hitting that point often in BfA is a sore spot of the expansion for many of us.

Therefore, it is through the medium of tough love that I must say the next things I am going to say about this – this change was implemented in a seeming state of panic, as it was poorly designed and communicated, requiring a handful of fixes and moments of confusion. In doing this good thing, Blizzard has a layer of iffy decision-making and a sparkle of that Blizzard randomness love tied into it, damaging the system’s perception at what appears to be a crucial time for the company to retain players. So let’s dive into those points!

Currency Confusion, Cleansing Clarity, and Crappy Calibration

My first judgment of the Corruption vendor idea once implemented is that the idea, while solid, is that the vendor currency of choice being Echoes of Ny’alotha was a bad choice, and in some validation of my armchair game designer side (oh no!). For those not currently playing WoW in BfA, the Echoes of Ny’alotha are a currency added in the last few months to implement an account-wide essence system of sorts. When introduced, it was simple enough – you logged into your main character, and every rank 3 essence they have unlocks the ability for your alts to buy the same essence (or a different role one that was unlocked through the same means). This login then also unlocks the ability for your alt characters to obtain Echoes of Ny’alotha from doing…well, just about any BfA content. Save enough of these, and you can buy an essence!

Simple, right? Well…

If you paid a lot of attention to that chain of events, you might notice an issue right off the bat – alts earn this currency, but what about mains? Well…they didn’t. This is a contradiction in terms for using them for Corruptions, because where the essence idea was to reward alts for activities on your main, arguably, you definitely want ideal, targeted corruption on your main character, where it is less important on your alts!

So for the characters most able to benefit from this vendor for corruption, now you have to wait until the corruption vendor is live to even earn them! It then gets worse, because it turns out that a series of bugs struck. Once you could earn the Echoes, then it turns out that you can’t corrupt cleansed gear, not because of a design limit, but because the game couldn’t quite make it work and it took several days for a hotfix to rollout. ]

But okay, so what? It’s fixed and now your main is earning Echoes and ready to buy and corrupt some gear. Let’s go to the vendor and…oh.

Rotating Random Reel, Rarifying Realization of Goals

(okay, done with alliteration for now!)

One thing I know I missed in the post about the vendor when it was first formally announced is that the corruption options on the vendor rotate. Randomly. Twice a week, coinciding with the switchover of the minor assaults. So, to say this was an unpopular choice would be an understatement! The vague initial discussion in an interview with Ion Hazzikostas, while it promised or pledged nothing, did lead players to build an idea of what a corruption vendor would entail, which largely centered on “everything available all the time.” This is not the case, and while the rotation has a decent number of available corruptions, it carries one other twist. Several corruptions have multiple ranks, with the higher ranks carrying more corruption value but also higher value to the player. For the vendor, each rank is sold as its own item and has a slot in the random rotation. You can buy any rank and use it – calling them ranks is misleading as you don’t need to go from 1 to 2 to 3, for example – but this means that if your ideal is a specific rank, you may be stuck waiting longer, even after your desired corruption effect is on the vendor.

Lastly here, this sucked especially in the first week as players who were previously unable to even earn Echoes had 3.5 days after maintenance to quickly pool the currency needed for any first purchases they would want.

Yikes!

What I Think Could Have Been Better

So with that all stated, what could have improved? Well, one thing I find myself coming back to is that there was never a need for a new currency even for Essences! In 8.3, the core systems of the patch revolved around two currencies new to the game – Corrupted Mementos and Coalescing Visions. The former was used for the purchase of rewards from Visions, mostly – a mount, a pet, gem sockets, and a backpack, with the vendor options for these requiring an achievement from doing visions. In the interim, they were used for the talent tree of the vision system. Coalescing Visions, on the other hand, were used for one thing – buying Vessels to use to enter Horrific Visions. With the change allowing Echoes to be used to buy Vessels, I found myself thinking this – why wouldn’t you just use Coalescing Visions as the medium for the vendor and adjust pricing accordingly?

Now, I know this has a bevy of problems all its own – everyone could have a stockpile of these, they were earned in quantities of as much as 12,500 in a single event, and …actually, that’s all I can think of! With that, you can imagine a world in which these were used – every player doing the current content has immediate access on all characters that are engaged with current content, everyone instead of just alts has a stockpile based on effort, and then you can make adjustments accordingly – maybe you bottom everyone out to 5,000 CVs (or a similar bottom value) and cash out the excess at a gold value per point, maybe you just straight-up reset everyone – but you can balance around expectations of what values people should have and what they should be allowed to keep going in. Obviously, the communications around the system could have used more detail and clarity, and some bug testing could have been done.

However, I find myself thinking that the best option is the simplest one – tie all of the vendor stuff to CVs, bottom out to a baseline value, reward players for their excess past your determined floor, and rebalance vendor costs such that coalescing visions can be used to the same kind of scale and value that Echoes currently have. That way, you avoid the innate imbalance of some characters not being able to earn them until the vendor was in, players have a goal to work towards immediately upon announcement, and then any bugs or issues feel less pressing because you’re also not working within a tight rotation time window to be able to purchase a specific desired corruption.

I think that is the thing that most disappoints me with the idea. Blizzard clearly had their hearts in the right place on this one – and I absolutely want to continue to communicate that clearly. They do care and this was a good move on their part, even with the warts. That being said, the wart of randomness feels far less substantial if the system doesn’t come with a currency and acquistion wart. I came into this piece wanting to argue that no one of these issues is really the crucial one, and they both have their place in player’s ire, but at the same time, as I analyze it, the currency situation made it far worse, and if you simply fix that prior to going live, you’ve actually got a really good compromise position.

With the random rotation, Blizzard gets to keep the aspect of FOMO and need to login present in the game, but also gets to meet players somewhere closer to where we want to be. Is it perfect? No, of course not. However, I think there is a world where this change leads to a resurgence in BfA play if implemented better – and maybe that is a tiny bit of narcissism from a blogger posing a solution from his chair at home.

8 thoughts on “The Saga of Corruption – When A Good Thing Goes Bad

  1. What I want to say about the currency and vendor is that to me it is apparent that they hedged their bets at 8.3 release time with some “aces in the hole” that they could roll out. So, to me, it didn’t seem so much as panicking as planning to hedge their bets.

    This stuff takes TIME. You can’t envision a new idea like that on Monday and roll it to production on Friday. There are dozens of factors that come into play in the process of rolling it out. What currency? What does it buy? Who can buy it? What form does it take? How does it work? I mean, these questions are easy to answer in the abstract, in the, if I may, language of the “armchair game designer”, but implementation – that’s the tricky part.

    While my experience is with non-game software, at its very core it’s just software, so I know what the risks are and what it would take to roll something like this out. And IMO this all looks very polished and prepared, not an off-the-cuff reaction. Sure, “mistakes were made.” Always happens in some way. But I saw nothing out of the ordinary there.

    Where I do feel you is that the initial intent and design was just awful.

    But I find it very interesting that they’re starting to pre-stage “plan B” as a new normal. It makes them look more responsive than they deserve, but, in the end, I guess I don’t care about that part 🙂

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    1. I’d agree with the time comment – it definitely isn’t layman “quick” but software quick – 4 months after the patch to implement with almost no public iteration ala PTR is fast for Blizzard.

      WIth that said, I do find the end point of your comment especially interesting, because I sort of agree – having a baked-in Plan B is interesting, but given that a lot of BfA was Blizzard sticking doggedly to plan A, I’ll definitely still give them credit for an improvement!

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      1. If you consider 18 months to be the average software life cycle for a major product, then 4 months is actually content-patch-long in scope. I imagine that it was already staged and ready to roll out but it took that amount of time for someone to get over being stubborn and give the word to start with “stage 1” we’ll call it. It’s one thing to have the code in place, but, yes, it needs a little time to bake in test code before they can just inflict it. After THAT – then it’s hotfixes.

        The only thing that will save the people behind the initial designs is if raiders don’t cry too loud. Keep them at least not unhappy and management is happy.

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      2. I would point out that “Plan B” has been in existence for years. Patch 7.3.5, the Legion legendary vendor. All of this is a worse version of that, or a cross between that and the Titan Residuum changes we get each raid tier. If they had simply duplicated the Legion vendor and left all the currency stuff alone folks would have been much happier.

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  2. Even more annoying to me is that they changed when you starting earning Echoes of Nyalotha. Before it was login to your main, alts now get the currency doing whatever they are doing. Now you have to have the legendary cloak to earn anything. Even if you already have a stockpile of them. It was nice to be able to buy some essences to stop that incessant popup telling you that you had an open slot. (Yes, I know about the addon — it doesn’t work reliably for me.)

    The botches here means I really don’t believe them when they talk about balance issues with Covenants for Shadowlands. I honestly believe they aren’t going to change anything major that they have planned. A few cosmetic things? Sure. Not the major systems because those have had too much development effort behind them and can’t be changed at this point since they are now corporate and hit release dates instead of the old school “when its done”.

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  3. This is just an extension of the fundamental itemization strategy in BfA (which was an extension from Legion) – putting buffs on items and time gating the access to those options by applying RNG. That said, cleansed-item bug aside, this system is light years better than what BfA had at launch. I stopped playing when I realized that the gear I had when I dinged 120 was better than mythic drops, due to HoA requirements. I had no interest in a double grind to get back a skill I already had (we’ve all seen enough rants on this).

    The design direction is improving, that’s for sure. Account unlocks are more prevalent. Account currency for “catch up” with a main currency for “power increase” is the logical next step. Removing gear-dependent skills seems to be a Shadowlands objective through covenants. The balancing of all this is going to be interesting, and time will tell if Blizz’s can get the extreme skills to be closer in power to the median. Who knows, maybe we end up with a Battle Pass-type structure that’s focused on cosmetics as a retention / engagement tool – the game is almost there now.

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    1. I’d definitely agree – fundamentally, this is the game now – random modifiers to improve power on gear, with some degree of luck as to whether you get them now or later but some amount of added power guaranteed to all. Your last point on the grind strikes at a great callout, though, which is that the early impression of Azerite did definitely push a lot of folks out and even as it has improved, it has that stink on it from launch. I agree that the corruption system is far and away better than Azerite was (and is, in some ways) with this change.

      To your last point, though – it’s interesting, because as I’ve played the game longer and longer, I tend to think less of the gear grind as a mechanism for power and more as a way to get cool looks for my characters. Because I think of gear in that way, I’ve found myself subconsciously wanting more aesthetic goals in the game and then as I’ve realized that, rooting out loud for transmog caches like they’ve used sparingly in the game as rewards to be a more central thing. I certainly hope it doesn’t take the shape of the battle-pass model I’ve seen in games like Fortnite or Apex Legends, but if they invested into the art more, I’d love to see a class look tier set and a raid aesthetic appearance set per armor type make their way in as rewards.

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      1. The grind has always been, and will continue to be a proxy to the shiny stuff. The difference between today’s design and yesteryear’s is that the grind is no longer entirely gated behind current-tier raids. If you want that cool look and it’s behind a fishing grind, then you’re going to fish. The lack of tier sets, to me, is indicative that Blizz not only understands that driving force, but is actively pushing people to take a more horizontal view.

        The dumb that comes with that is the compounding RNG, which makes something like Island Expeditions equivalent to loot boxes with timers, when it could follow something like the PvP vendor honor unlock system. So not a Battle Pass in the exact sense, but in the concept of clear linear cosmetic rewards.

        I like to think of it as a Venn diagram, where Cool (cosmetic), Fun (engaging) and Challenging (limited) intersect. It’d be great to see everything in the middle, but that design goal is insanely hard to achieve.

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