Wednesday, February 23, 2011

PvP! Rage! Fire! Brimstone!

This week, Boubouille at MMO-Champion presented some data-mining regarding the win/loss rate among the Alliance and the Horde.

I'll reiterate a point that he made while presenting these two charts: there is no claim to 100% accuracy here. Even a large sample size could not provide that. The only people with 100% accuracy on this matter are Blizzard Developers, and they aren't telling.

In fact, I'll soon be arguing that developers ought to be ashamed of this, so it's no wonder they don't want to talk about it.

So, check these charts: (and please let me apologize for the weird blur. This always happens when I post charts, and I just don't know what to do about it).


This first shows BG activity prior to 2011. Note that the percentage range is only between 40 and 60%, so the wide distance between bars isn't really as sharp as it might first appear.

The second seems to include data only since the start of 2011. It also encompasses new battlegrounds.

Quite simply, this is unacceptable.

A perceived Horde dominance of PvP activity is nothing new, but when statistics start arriving to confirm this, then the developers who, during last Blizzcon hemmed and hawed that "yeah, maybe there might be in imbalance, but, um...we're not really sure," need to have their jobs threatened or something.

Why a Faction Imbalance is Bad for the Game

Lest readers think that I'm just going to QQ about Alliance PvP incompetence, let me stress that this is not just bad for Alliance, it's bad for the game as a whole. If there were an Alliance dominance, we would still be facing these same problems.

A PvP imbalance reduces everyone's opportunities to participate in PvP.
As one faction falls heavily behind, the players on that faction will stop coming to the fights. They also tend to faction transfer. The result is lots of PvP players on one faction and not so many on the other. In this case, the Horde can look forward to longer BG queues, and Tol Barad battles of 7v7 with most of the people queued up not getting in. During Cataclysm Beta, there were a few incidents of stress testing at Tol Barad being canceled because only the Horde showed up. This is happening on a less dramatic scale every day now.

An imbalance only makes itself worse under the current reward system.
If one side usually wins and the other usually loses, rewards flow to that one side of that divide much more quickly, that faction gets more equipment faster and the imbalance gets worse than it was before. Blizzard tries to mitigate the power of gear, but is only moderately successful at doing so.

PvP is not just for PvP people
There is a sizable chunk of WoW players who play mostly for PvP. They are highly skilled. They design their speccs around PvP needs and they are entitled to have a good time. But Blizzard tries over and over through a number of different methods to make PvP experience relevant to all WoW players. Frankly, this has probably only increased the PvP imbalance as middling to lazy players flock to the "strong" side for easier access to these rewards.

The longer Blizzard allows this imbalance to go unaddressed, the more likely it is they are going to lose subscribers.
I'm not terribly fond of people who threaten to quit the game, but this is something that needs to be examined. If you connect strongly with the Alliance and you know the guy writing the game (Chris Metzen) is designing the game around the fact that Thrall is the hottest thing since sliced bread, I think at some point, you'll just go find another game. Really. Who wants to play a game when your team is getting neutered?

I can hear the troll gallery bellowing response now: "If you don't like it, you should change factions!" "Only bads/children/noobs play Alliance anyway." These are so missing the point. If all the players we called good faction-transferred, the game would be more broken than ever before. Warcraft only keeps working if both factions are really viable.

How is this happening?

I'm going to be pretty critical of the developers on this. Blizzard's protestations that they don't favor one faction or another are starting to turn laughable: You watch Blizzcon and the Blizzard people can't keep a straight face when they say "No, we really like both factions." The in-house band basically makes tunes about the one faction. Metzen can't get near a microphone without bellowing "Lok'tar Ogar!" at some point.

I don't like attacking what is clearly a point of fun and pride for the makers of our game, but by example and by leaning into their favorites, they are creating a player community that is less and less balanced and progressively less and less fun.

Stop writing the Horde to be such bad-asses and the Alliance as a bunch of pansies.
I have previously recounted how Blizzard wrote out both sides of The Battle of Taurajo, but this epic of questionable writing continues in the Twilight Highlands (among other places).

While the Alliance engages in such wacky hijinks as beer runs, and arranging weddings for "The Fanny," the Horde are questing to attack our base of operations in Highbank, and to destroy our food supplies. The Wildhammer Dwarves are on the defensive throughout the entire zone...and it's not from the Twilight Hammer. Horde backed Dragonmaw clan orcs are hacking and slashing through the whole zone and nobody is really even opposing it.

Hell, the only offensive power displayed by any member of the Alliance is Fargo Flintlocke inventing the "Shaman shot," (Hunter shot, Warrior shot, etc.) to blow up an attacking Horde zeppelin. And that is the very definition of "wacky hijinks."

The remaining Alliance lands in Lordaeron have been rampaged while King Varian, who Horde players were so pissy about in Lich King, sits in the palace and worries about his son.

Ashenvale has been almost wholly overrun by the Horde, while the Night Elves play a little defense but mostly run around concerned about Burning Legion encroachment and those goddamn furbolgs that are still corrupted.

Enough of this. Is it any surprise that the player base thinks the Horde are the only true fighters in this game if this is how the writers choose to present the factions? Give the Alliance back its cojones and write us back into the fight. Patch 4.1 needs to start off with a Gilnean offensive pushing that freak Sylvanas back to the edge of her Undercity, and then a set of dailies dismantling the Dragonmaw fortress in the Twilight Highlands.

And after that, even if it means firing Metzen and getting somebody else who knows the meaning of the term "unbiased," don't write the Alliance into this sort of stupid, useless hole ever again.

Incentives don't really translate into impetus to get out there and "fight harder." - A lesson developers are in denial of

Tol Barad is a pretty firm example of this problem. Developers claim that the benefits of capturing Tol Barad ought to be a pretty good incentive to go out and fight the uphill battle they have arranged to capture that place. Getting to fight Baradin Hold is nice. So are the extra dailies, but going to fight what you think is going to be a losing battle is not a very satisfying way to use your play time.

Go to Baradin Hold? Sure! Take care of those extra dailies? You bet! "The Battle for Tol Barad is about to begin! Do you wish to join the battle?" A long thought, a deep sigh, and I usually click "no" because I can generally think of some other way to spend half an hour doing something more productive and more fun. I understand the rewards of winning TB, but they really don't compensate for the grief associated with the PvP scene on my server.

To be honest, this is a disappointment. One of the downsides to the traditional BGs is the fact that a victory really doesn't mean much in the life of a player character. Tol Barad, and Wintergrasp before it, were attempts to make a PvP battle actually mean something to the greater world. I don't know if there is any fix for this. It may essentially be a failed experiment. Either way, it's time to move on.

Active Racial Bonuses Need to Go
I think this is going to happen sooner or later anyway, but this is why it needs to happen. Look at these active racial bonuses (which are different from the passive bonuses like "+15 to Alchemy.")

Dwarf - Stoneform
Gnome - Escape Artist
Human - Every Man for Himself
Night Elf - Shadowmeld
Draenei - Gift of the Naaru
Worgen - Darkflight

Orc - Blood Fury
Tauren - War Stomp
Troll - Berserking
Forsaken - Will of the Foresaken
Blood Elf - Arcane Torrent
Goblin - Rocket Jump / Rocket Barrage

Goblins have two active abilities for one thing, but look at the nature of these abilities. Every single one of the Alliance racials is a defensive ability, while ('cept for the Forsaken, and the Rocket Jump) the Horde racials are all offensive powers. Most PvP activity has been based on the ability to kill your opponent faster than he can kill you. Blizzard keeps trying to reassert otherwise, but it's just the nature of the PvP battle.

I'm not going to suggest that Horde always win only because of their racials, but these abilities are an advantage and Blizzard knows it. It also throws perception to the Horde. The very design theory seems to suggest that "Horde are killers" and "Alliance merely survives," And this is a bias in itself. Developers keep trying to nibble around the edges of this problem (CDs on these Alliance powers have been rejiggered via hotfix, but these racials are flawed and imbalanced at the core. It's time to just take them out altogether.

I'd like to hear more about the stats revealed at MMO-Champion. Like, the sample size would be interesting to know. And I'd love some analysis about the lone Alliance dominance in Alterac Valley. Boubouille's stats may not be 100% accurate, but they are probably not "wrong." A 5% margin of error (which would be pretty big) still wouldn't swallow most of the margins we're seeing here.

But this makes me mad. Playing "Pin the Bias on Blizzard" has been a long-standing meta-game in WoW, and they dodge and weave around the matter all the while their own stats must surely be pointing towards what we see here. Is there nobody in the company with the clout and wherewithal to tell the developers that they have to do better?


  1. WOW, toughest blog yet. I had my first turn in Tol B yesterday. It wasn't much fun at all. Not sure about going back if we have virtually no chance of beating the Horde.

  2. Try making the charts a JPEG2000 file instead of a PNG, might fix the blur.

  3. Hey, thanks for the advice, Knai, but the server said, "GAAAAHH WHEEEZEE SPEW!" and wouldn't accept the Jpeg2000 format. No really, that's what it said.

  4. Interesting read, and from what I see may be TOO general.
    I am playing on US-Azuremyst-Horde and Tol Barad on our server has been switching sides usually a few times a day.
    This server has higher Alliance population than Horde ...
    I can tell you that at no time is there a feeling of "We are SUPPOSED to get it" - it's always a battle to the end.

    As far as developers bias - I happen to think the reverse. I started WoW as an Alliance player and started some Horde characters only so that I don't miss the world before The Shattering on either side. A funny thing happened - I liked playing Horde better than playing Alliance, and one of the reasons was that I felt like the developers always made things easy for the Alliance side. I am not referring to PvP here but to the game overall. If you have done the Tauren starting area before the latest changes you'd scream when you compare them with any Alliance race of that era (Worgen is the only race I have not played since they did not exist).
    In a way maybe the Alliance experience was getting "spoon fed" too mu8ch and that would impact your PvP - I don't know.
    The moment even one realm has those TB swings I think that the basis for your thesis is flawed.

    I have heard quite a few people on both sides talk as if they SHOULD or are SUPPOSED TO lead in world war / PvP but I have not seen any factual basis for that.


  5. Hey, Z. Thanks for your input. I hadn't checked in on this thread in a while since it's more than a month old.

    Funny you mention the Tauren starting zone, because that always was a chore and was totally no fun. At one point or another I had a hunter named Cowabunga who I think made it to level 12 before I deleted him, but I recall dying horribly, repeatedly with that character all over that start zone (and then being bored to tears with it most of the rest of the time. Mulgore = Snoozeville).

    I only brought TB into this article as an example of how developer incentives to PvP (Baradin Hold, more daily quests) aren't really compelling enough to actually fight that fight in any meaningful way. I queue for that fairly often, actually, and when I actually get in (about 50% of the time) I'm in an Alliance raid with maybe seven other players. And that means there's only about seven Horde playing too. Nobody is there. The thing changes hands, I suppose, but not through any groundswell of Player effort.

    For "factual basis" about PvP balance, please just go back to the top and check out the blurry charts I linked in from MMO-Champion that show a fairly undeniable Horde ownership of the general battlegrounds. I have some questions about the source of the data here, as well as the scientific accuracy of it, so I don't think I'd want to call this "proof" yet, but it does show a real PvP imbalance. People have been talking about this imbalance for years, and now, here are some real numbers.

    As for what is causing this statistical imbalance... I mean, there's still a lot of things going on with that. And I wish that more people were trying to pin that down. I come up with badly balanced racial abilities, and a story that I perceive to slant towards the Horde as being the real bad-asses of Azeroth. Blizzard will never reveal this information, but they know the full demographics of the factions, age ranges,and the rest of it. And if they write the Horde conquering the Twilight Highlands while the Alliance escorts some beer to Kirkhaven, I bet they are just responding to this demographic information. But that's only further pigeonholing the faction perceptions, and making a greater imbalance in relative demographics and (probably) skill.

  6. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  7. Z...

    You're not really responding to the main point of this article and are instead trying to me get bogged down in a slapfest about developer bias which was just one point I tried to make in a much larger issue. And I only suggested developer bias in a very limited sense that would seem to encourage Horde PvP. We can go back and forth for years (people have done this), with all the points you raise.

    If you would like to comment on the data presented from MMO-Champion, or if you have some other source of data, that would be cool. But don't just tell me that the Alliance rocks the Gulch in your battlegroup and that this fact somehow invalidates everything I've written. This is not the basis for a useful or interesting discussion, and I won't have it on my site.

    So I've deleted your comment. I don't mean to be rude, but I'm just not interested in that kind of a back and forth.

    I do, sincerely appreciate your participation, and I don't mean to run you off. This "delete" is not accompanied by a site ban or anything like that. I have dreaded the day when this sort of action would be necessary, but if comment discussions don't make me happy ... for whatever reason... I'm not going to allow them to continue.

    But seriously too, Z... you write well about a number of points, so please don't get sore and just go away.

    Best, Merinna