Ghostcrawler has a new Developer Watercooler up where he talks about stat inflation. This is something that Blizzard has mentioned in the past as a thing that could become a problem in the future, and apparently with Mists of Pandaria well into development, the future is now.
The basic concept is that stats in WoW are growing disproportionately with level. Back in vanilla doing a few hundred dps in endgame was fantastic; now it’s a rounding error. Here is the stat inflation graph that Ghostcrawler presented:
Ghostcrawler makes an important point about the reason for the endgame stat inflation:
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.
Specifically what’s happening is they want the new tier of content to be clearly better than the old tier of content. But if they make the upgrade only slight — as it is while you’re leveling — then the higher ilvl item won’t always be better. An item of a lower ilvl with itemization that’s better for your spec could be superior even though it had less of each stat — because the amount less was so small. And this isn’t even getting into the issue of set bonuses.
Ghostcrawler goes to pains to point out that in their experience this kind of stat inflation is absolutely necessary. The solution to the stat inflation problem is not to lessen the amount of an upgrade an item is, because that just doesn’t work. Players don’t consider it a meaningful upgrade unless the upgrade is substantial.
The problem with the stat inflation is that the numbers in the game are getting too large. In the near future they could become silly large. Already we’re doing over 30,000 dps, and have over 100,000 health. At some point the numbers are getting too large for people to easily process.
If they don’t do something to change it, Ghostcrawler points out that in patch 5.3 a chest piece would have, for example, 2569 agility on it, with secondary stats over 1500. By patch 6.3 that chest piece would have 10484 agility with secondary stats over 6000. It just starts to get silly.
This is something that the developers are looking at now and discussing now, but they haven’t settled on a solution yet. They only know that something needs to be done, and that something probably needs to be done in Mists of Pandaria.
Currently the developers have two solution ideas in mind, but Ghostcrawler freely admits that neither of them are really great. Here are the two big possible solutions:
- Mega Damage: the idea here is to keep the numbers where they are, but turn it into something easier to read. So 10,000 damage might be 1 mega damage. Then 100,000 damage would be 10 mega damage. You could have kilo damage and super mega damage or whatever. Ghostcrawler points out that there are technical issues with computers quickly computing numbers that large, but I think another issue is that it’s just strange to have the scale of your numbers change as you level. So at one point you’re doing thousands of dps, then suddenly you’re doing 1.2 mega dps. There are definitely problems with the transition and the feel of it.
- Item Level Squish: the other idea is compressing item levels. Basically you’d go and reduce the ilvl on all those endgame items once that expansion is done. Then you go into the next expansion with the same exponential ilvl growth. But next expansion you compress those again. The huge downside with this system is that you will go from doing 30,000 damage in Cataclysm to doing 3,000 damage in MoP. Sure, you’re doing the same damage proportionally, but it feels like a nerf. And a big lesson in WoW is that what it feels like is more important to players than what it’s really like (just look at rested XP for a perfect example).
Is There a Better Solution?
Personally, I don’t think either Mega Damage or Item Level Squish are great solutions. If I had to pick one I’d pick Item Level Squish, but I know I’m not in the majority in looking at things proportionally. I suspect most players would hate it. The real question is whether there’s a better solution. I’m hoping that with the collective genius of the hunter class we can come up with one.
Just keep in mind the very real limitations: item power needs to increase exponentially in the endgame, and player perception is a very legitimate design concern.
I’ve thought about this a bit and I don’t have any great ideas. I came up with some that I think would work but for various reasons they were ultimately bad (I liked an idea I had about normalized damage, where instead of dps everyone has an attack that does max damage, and all other attacks are proportional to that damage, and you just increase the max damage each tier proportional to average ilvl — then you can do interesting things with stats to change the proportion of max, but max is always the same for every class. In other words, a system that changes everything, and that most players would not understand, and thus it sucks).
Ali had an idea about making each tier of gear have special bonus damage vs. undead/dragon/whatever that tier’s creature is. But this has the same downside as ilvl squish.
The tricksy thing is that in an ideal design you have to maintain the exponential power gain in endgame, but also never reach a point where you’re suddenly doing substantially less dps/healing/tanky things than you used to. It’s a thinker.
I feel like the ideal solution would be tied to another stat… like for example if you put a flat base 25% miss chance into the game, but then at higher tiers you got crazy amounts of hit increase, and thus did way more damage, but your numbers didn’t look way bigger. Of course you couldn’t do this with hit, but something like that. What’s needed is a way to let your power grow outside of the size of your numbers, so that the number growth can remain linear, while this other thing goes up exponentially.
We already have a kind of item level squish with ratings — switching from percentages to ratings in BC let Blizzard effectively make thinks like crit and hit go down as you leveled up… maybe some kind of expansion of that method?