Here is the funny thing about exponents: once they begin, there really is no end.
This thought occurred to me the other night on Sedagive, my Death Knight. Her health is now up to some 175,000, while EyegÃ¶re, my warrior who is sitting at level 70, has only 12,600 health. Only 15 levels apart and that drastic of a difference in health. Thus the power of exponents.
With Blizzard slated to add content expansions every year or so, there really is no possible end in sight for the health and item levels coming. I can see it now, come the final patch with Mists of Pandaria, a fully geared tank would have up around 500,000 health, 11,000 strength.
I am not the only one thinking about this. Greg Street, lead systems designer for Blizzard and World of Warcraft, posted at the Developer Watercooler that this question has been plaguing the minds at Blizzard for some time. Even still, he notes, they are not sure what to do with it.
Street offers this chart as evidence for the explosion in recent patches and expansions of the exponential impact of growing numbers:
From the chart, it is clear to see that with both Wrath and Cataclysm expansions, Blizzard has gone on a gear increase binge. And, with players getting used to it and enjoying flexing their muscles with some 5,000 strength, many might want this to keep up; however, it will enter the realm of ludicrousness - and Street agrees.
I look at the Vanilla line and it makes wonderful sense: a gradual increase of stats with level and skill increase. When Burning Crusade hit the market is when the numbers game began to change, but you can look to the chart above and see that for yourself. What is funny on the chart, though, is look at the Cataclysm line, its horizontal axis is at a slight degree smaller than its vertical: this is the ludicrous realm.
While World of Warcraft is and always will be a fantasy game, there needs to be some reality to it. The players live in a real world and expect many of the basic rules by which we live to be the same in the game. With the horizontal and vertical lines being close to 90 degrees, this is a hard one to buy.
I see Blizzard falling into our culture's desire for that immediate, though often short lived, impact. We are a culture that thinks bigger is better (look at my neighbor's truck, for example). Moreover, we are a culture that doesn't think long term, only right now. And, if changes, big changes, don't happen right now, then we are not happy.
The primary fear that Street and the game developers have, though, is that players will not understand that if they retune the stats, then they will feel like they have been nerfed. I have to admit, I feel a sense of awe when Sedagive swings her sword and connects with like 50,000 crit. But, again thinking exponentially, what will happen near the end of Pandaria, will her crits be, once again looking at the trends in the chart above, 179,000? What about DPS? In Wrath, to hit a couple of thousand was tantamount to god-like, now we are hitting 12,000 and more. So, will we seek DPS upwards in the 50,000's or more?
When Blizzard put in the "item level" aspect in the character pane, we all got used to that. Remember the days of "gear score?" But, with "item level," the numbers are low and understandable. The "item level" makes sense. If players got used to that without the feeling of being nerfed, then I figure we can handle what Street is calling the "item level squish solution."
What Blizzard developers are thinking about doing "actually involves compressing item levels, which is why we call it the 'item level squish solution.'” This does make sense, that is if they squish the entire game from Vanilla on up.
But, what I think is also needed is to go back to the Vanilla view of growth. We already have enough issues in reality with our desire for immediate results. If Blizzard were to do this in Pandaria, re-balance the increase in stats a bit more congruently with the increase in level and skill, so that there is a distinct difference between the X and Y axis on the above chart, then perhaps the quash wouldn't feel like such a nerfing.
Of course, there is one exception. Many commenters, in reference to the potential squish, feel that it would work with little impact on the player's psyche, but what must also happen is that there is a squish throughout the entire game, from Vanilla on up. It would be weird to be running through Cata content at 120,000 health, hit Pandaria, then suddenly see your player's heath and other stats drastically reduced. So squish one, squish all.
As humans, we don't have much difficulty in dealing with numbers in the hundreds of thousands, but, if things keep growing as they have been in the game, eventually, we will have a difficult time figuring out just how much, say, a million health looks like. Think of it this way, draw a line, say three feet in length. Let's assume you break that line up into one-million equal parts, much like a meter stick has a small tick for each millimeter. Now, you have your line, it has been marked, show me where 1,000 would be. That's right, so small, you can hardly see it. Again, the power of exponents.
Yes, there are workarounds like we see on the bosses in the game, whose health far exceeds that of the players. The same could be done with player stats. As well, another workaround Street and others are considering is not squishing and adding some sort of "Mega Damage" announcement for the huge crits, as 12,000,000 would take up some serious screen space.
Again, what needs to happen is not just a squishing of items and stats, but a more balanced approach to stat increases with level and skill increases. What needs to happen is the approach to growth that Blizzard had in mind in the days of Vanilla. We have enough desire in reality for wanting the sudden exponential change in reality, which does not fare too well by us; the game should be more "real" than this. The game should reflect the truth that growth only comes through hard work and determination, not just by being present, if you will - that, in order to play with the big kids, it takes time. This would put Blizzard and World of Warcraft on a more sane pattern of growth for players and stats.
Would you feel that after the big squish that players have been nerfed? Would you like to see a more rational, balanced pattern of growth?
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SOURCE: All images from the Developer's Watercolor.