Posted by: seanmalstrom | July 26, 2014

Email: Heroes of the Storm Artifacts Debacle

Master Malstrom,
 
I don’t know if this email will get to you, but I wanted to let you know about the most recent development on HotS that has caused a huge firestorm within the Alpha community.
 
I and my friends were recently invited to the Heroes of the Storm International Alpha. Suffice to say that we’ve really had a blast so far, through all the victories and losses. My three other friends who were with me are all more or less experienced MOBA players, but I’m the only one among my circle of friends who had refused to touch W3 DotA when it was first released–only playing it a grand total of three times since the map mod was created–for reasons I will explain later.
 
Yet, in a matter of weeks and even with limited gaming (I’m too busy programming these days and can only play for 30 minutes at a time) I slowly became more competent with the game, enough to be able to switch regularly between a roster of 5 heroes that I bought with the in-game gold that I earned, and become a more or less skilled Illidan player. I never had this experience with DotA or even HoN, another game that I tried once and uninstalled just as quickly as the one game I played ended.
 
Why? Because the game had very few obstacles to fumble through. It had a convenient tutorial sequence to get you familiarized with the basic controls and how the leveling / talent system works when you run the game for the first time. It also gave you a “Try Mode” so you can study how specific heroes operate before opting for a purchase or playing him in an actual game, and a Tutorial mode against low-difficulty bots to show you how the maps work.
 
But the best part is that I didn’t have to memorize an entire manual’s worth of item combinations and what they do for each character just to get an edge in the actual game. I said above that I didn’t touch DotA, HoN, LoL or DotA2 so much. The truth is I hated the grinding, the item purchasing, the whole lane farming thing. Attempting to learn all the intricacies of these things just ate up my time. But in HotS you could just pop in quickly and play, paying more attention to what’s happening on the map and with your teammates and accomplishing objectives rather than looking at your gold tally and going “Oh no, now I have to go and make Monkey King Bar!” or something.
 
Skill, cunning, teamwork and situational awareness were what mattered in the game far more than having to fumble around with items, and it showed. While the game being in its Alpha phase obviously isn’t balanced yet (some heroes like Murky and Brightwing are too overpowered and the relevant Matchmaking systems aren’t yet put in place to prevent ridiculous things like a 5-tank comp), dropping straight into the nitty-gritty instead of mucking around with lane farming was a brilliant idea, and many a new player will admit to having played HotS because of these changes. In short, it’s bringing in non-customers into the fold because it did away with the tedious features every other MOBA had.
 
And then suddenly, Blizzard did this:
 
 
Basically what they did was to take one of the most despised systems from League of Legends, which is the Rune system, and put it into HotS under the guise of “Artifacts”. These will supposedly make your character more powerful, and can only be selected at the Hero Selection screen prior to a match. But there are several catches:
 
1) The Rune system is a highly, HIGHLY controversial at best, and despised at worst, feature in LoL because it gave the more hardcore players too much of a huge advantage. One cannot purchase runes if he or she isn’t high enough of a player level, which automatically creates a gap between the more hardcore players and regular joes–the latter of which are the ones that got into HotS in the first place. It truly boggles the mind to realize that Blizzard decided to add a system into the game that is very much despised even by traditional MOBA players. Here is an example of such a complaint: http://www.reddit.com/r/leagueoflegends/comments/1u7i70/the_rune_system_is_a_joke_for_people_either/
 
2) The corresponding “Artifact” system is practically the same thing: a grindfest to gain an advantage. You first have to grind to get to the relevant Player Level for unlocking Artifacts, and then grind gold to buy artifacts. But wait, it doesn’t stop there! Artifacts have “Ranks” ranging from 1 to 10, and you will have to buy these “Ranks” in order to make the artifact more powerful. Translation: even MORE grinding. And what subset of gamer is the one that is most likely to waste his or her time grinding?
 
3) This isn’t yet speaking of the impact Artifacts will have on game balance. Instead of being balanced around each other, Heroes will now have to be balanced with yet another factor in mind: Artifact usage. In theory the artifact bonuses look to be quite small, but make no mistake–some Heroes can actually take that small bonus and turn into a death machine. For instance, Valla and Illidan can take the Artifact that reduces cooldown time and make their already short CDs even shorter (not to mention the fact that some Heroes can reduce CDs using certain abilities). By adding Artifacts Blizzard is adding a layer of complexity in balancing the game, and thus more work for them.
 
4) All the players understood that Artifacts are basically a gold sink meant to push you into buying Heroes with real money. Even when Blizzard decided to compensate by rewarding gold after every matchup, they made sure that most of that gold will go into buying artifacts once you hit Player Level 15. Isn’t there a better way for them to earn money than doing all of the above to put their own product in serious danger?
 
The playerbase caught on to this and immediately went on the offensive. If you read the comments on the above Heroes blog you will immediately feel the heat from the backdraft: it’s like the RealID controversy on a lesser scale. Players were already screaming at Blizzard not to create another LoL, and yet they went through with it.
 
Heck they tried to justify it in their latest Q&A as being a “player-requested feature” despite being shaken up by the backlash. I wonder how they could even say that. How could they rescind on their promise to not make HotS like any other MOBA so dramatically, and then tell us to our faces that it was a “player-requested feature”? Which players do those happen to be I wonder?
 
I remember reading the email which contained the Polygon interview with Blizzard a while back. I’m beginning to wonder if the guy that was chewed out in their staff meeting for wanting to keep the traditional MOBA trappings is getting his revenge.

 

I’ve been away for a while so I didn’t find out about the Artifact system until late last night.

What does this tell us about Blizzard? It is that Blizzard sees HOTS as gaining LOL (and DOTA 2) players and money by merely undercutting it.

I think we should rename Blizzard to Hamster Wheel Inc. for this blog. I’m not a LOL player, but I recognize Artifacts as a hamster wheel and despise hamster wheels. It is one thing for hamster wheels to be in WoW because that is a subscription based game. But why are hamster wheels in games that you buy? Or in a game like HOTS?

The only people I see excited about Artifacts are people from Hamster Wheel Inc. It’s unfortunate that the Artifacts debacle is overshadowing feedback on the new map.

I understand Hamster Wheel Inc. wants to monetize the game, but you’d think they would be more creative. TotalBiscuit argues that Artifacts goes against the WoW model for talents, and he is right there. But I think Hamster Wheel Inc. is just copy and pasting LOL’s business model.

I wish I could blame Artifacts for HOTS being Free-2-Play, but the hamster wheels keep constructing themselves in the other games.

Above: Blizzard 2.0

Let’s pretend Blizzard 2.0 appeared with Bnet 2.0. Blizzard 2.0’s hamster wheels are ruining their games. The chief problem behind Diablo 3 was not Inferno or the real-money-auction-house but the hamster wheels. The problem with Starcraft 2’s multiplayer is the elaborate hamster wheels of it. (I love, love, love Starcraft 2’s single player. There is no hamster wheel there.) I totally understand why people think Artifacts will destroy HOTS because it will.

What’s worse is that I don’t think this is a design decision but a business one. The developers may not have any say over it.

It’s interesting how quiet Blizzard has gotten. They may make a statement a week or two from now.

Gating the talents also doesn’t make sense to me. It is just another hamster wheel. What they might even do is offer a higher price for heroes so you get them with all talents unlocked.

The Artifact system would be cool if it changed non-gameplay things such as changing your machine gun into a… pig gun.

What these Hamster Wheels are also telling us is that Blizzard doesn’t trust its players to play the game for fun. They must play it for ‘progression’.

I never played Warcraft 2, Diablo, Warcraft 3, Starcraft, or even Vanilla WoW for ‘progression’. I just played to have a good time.


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