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.
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.