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Watcher on AP Problems and 7.2 Fixes for It

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Game director Ion "Watcher" Hazzikostas goes deep into the design principles behind Artifact Power, how it evolved ans what their plans are for the future.

The big things mentioned are how the final 20 point trait was a problem, as it created huge power differences between people who went all out on getting their weapon maxed (primarily hc raiding guilds), and how they were addressing that by returning to previously planned exponential cost increases for each trait. The end goal for now is if someone gains twice as much AP as you, they'll be only 1.5% stronger, 4x would be 3% etc. There are also changes to how you gain AP, with the recent Nighthold improvements and the planned 7.2 M+ tweaks.
You should definitely read the whole thing, though for details:

Blizzard LogoWatcher (source)

Artifact Power has been a hot topic lately, both around the community and within the development team. With Patch 7.2 on the horizon, introducing both new artifact traits and additional Knowledge levels, we have been reflecting on the way the system has unfolded during the first months of Legion, and evaluating changes based on the lessons we have learned thus far.

First off, a look back at where we started.

From the outset, Artifact Power was intended to serve two intertwined purposes: First, it offered max-level progression that was not entirely item-driven, along with choices and elements of character customization as players traversed their trait trees; second, it was meant to serve as a universally desired, consistent reward from all types of content.

In crafting the systems that delivered Artifact Power, we weighed the merits of hard caps versus a smoother system of diminishing returns. We had extensive experience with hard caps, through multiple past iterations of currencies like Valor Points and Conquest Points, and wanted to avoid several of the downsides of that approach. For example, a cap inherently feels like more of an expected quota, where missing a week or falling short of the cap puts you clearly, and potentially permanently, behind the curve.

Instead, as everyone knows, we settled on an open-ended system of diminishing returns. Without any hard caps on how quickly players could earn AP, it was essential to have some sort of limiting mechanism on the gap in power between players of different playstyles, and different levels of time investment. We accepted the admittedly complex design of Artifact Knowledge because it solved this problem, effectively reining in the size of this power gap. Players trying to progress past the expected artifact level for their Knowledge would run into those rapidly diminishing returns, while those who played less than that would have Knowledge as an accelerator to help them catch up to the cutting edge. When Emerald Nightmare was new content, while the average raider was at 20 or 21 points, the most dedicated might have been at 24 or 25 – a relatively modest gap.

Now, where things went wrong…

We feel that we made two major missteps with the Artifact Power system that increasingly manifested themselves as we got deeper into Patch 7.1 and 7.1.5. And both of them served to undermine that core goal of ensuring that the gap between players with different levels of time invested into the system could not grow too large.

First, the cost of ranks in the 20-point final trait remained relatively flat, as opposed to the rapid exponential scaling up to that point. This meant that someone who spent twice as much time gathering AP as I did would have roughly twice as many ranks as me. Instead of the 24 vs. 21 gaps we saw in Nightmare, a number of hardcore raiders entered Nighthold with 54 points, while others were just beginning that final progression and found themselves with nearly 10% less health and damage, equivalent to being almost a full tier of gear behind. Players who switched specs or characters along the way found themselves in a similar position. The power gap was larger than ever before, which created a sense of obligation and a number of negative social pressures that the system had previously tried to minimize. In short: We’re not at all happy with how this worked out.

A common suggestion is to simply reduce the amount of Artifact Power required to fully unlock the artifact in 7.2. This would not solve the underlying problem, but would rather reduce its duration while heightening its intensity, as competitive players sprinted to finish their Artifacts in order to be “ready.” But then we would inevitably tune around that completed power level, and other players would simply be playing catch-up the entire time. And in the long run, Artifact Power would not be serving its intended purpose of ongoing parallel progression. A capped-artifact player who goes a week without getting any item upgrades ends the week literally no stronger than before. Part of the value of the artifact, both for personal progression and guild progression, lies in ensuring that everyone is at least a bit stronger next week than they are right now, and a bit closer to overcoming whatever obstacle stands in their path. Our goal is for Artifact Power to always be of some interest as a reward, whether from a World Quest, or as a consolation prize when failing a bonus roll.

Instead, we are focusing on fixing the mistake of flat cost scaling at the end of the progression, and instead keeping the increases exponential throughout, while also strengthening Artifact Knowledge as a core pacing and catch-up mechanism. These changes should be visible in an upcoming PTR build.

This is done with the primary goal of reducing the power gap based on time investment, while preserving Artifact Power as an endgame reward that everyone values. If the leaders in Artifact Power were only a few points ahead of a more typical player, rather than crossing the finish line when most were just leaving the starting blocks, players with less time to commit would not be as disadvantaged in competitive activities. If a Warlock were choosing between having 48 points in a single spec or 44 points in all three specs if they’d split their efforts evenly, the barrier to playing multiple specs would be significantly reduced. We are still tuning the curve for 7.2 trait costs, but we’re currently targeting scaling such that someone who earns twice as much AP as me will have an artifact that’s only ~1.5% stronger; someone who earns four times as much AP as me should only be 3% stronger. On the whole, this should be a massive reduction in the power gaps we see in the live game today.

The second problem with our initial implementation was that repeatable sources of Artifact Power (Mythic Keystone dungeons in particular) dominated time-limited sources such as Emissary caches and raid bosses. The fact that a large portion of the community evaluates their Artifact Power needs using “Maw runs” as the unit of measurement is ample evidence of this failure. We very recently deployed a hotfix to increase AP earned from Nighthold in order to make raiding, with a weekly-lockout, better compare in efficiency to repeated Mythic Keystone runs. And in 7.2, we’re more thoroughly addressing this issue by adding a significant amount of AP to the weekly Mythic Keystone cache, while somewhat reducing (and normalizing based on instance length) the AP awarded by repeated runs. These changes are being made to narrow the gap in AP earning, and thus power, based on time investment.

All of the above changes are aimed at allowing players the freedom and flexibility to decide how they want to spend their time, and which goals they wish to pursue, while limiting the difference in power between players who arrive at different answers to those questions.

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Isn't it too late for this? I mean, if they implement it now, when all hardcore or semi-hardcore raiders have 54 traits, it will make catching up just harder for the rest of the pack..

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Ion and company clearly have good intentions here, but this approach may only make things worse. I got my main spec artifact to level 54 shortly after Nighthold launched, and even with the flat trait scaling, the time investment was considerable, typically requiring me to farm every source of artifact power every day since launch, with the exception of endless Maw runs, which bore me to tears.

With the new exponential scaling, the time investment to max out even a single artifact will be nothing short of massive, while the rewards will be so few and far between as to feel trivial on a day by day basis. This will have the effect of requiring a lot more time for a lot less tangible return on that time on a daily, or even weekly, basis. If the placeholder estimates of over 1.6b total artifact power (and some claim that the final numbers will be almost triple that amount) are even close to accurate, off specs and people with limited playing time may feel even further behind the curve than they do now. But the main issue here is that if artifacts feel like they take too much time and effort to max out, some people will either give up on pursuing upgrades -- or in extreme cases -- simply quit the game altogether, since Legion made artifacts the only game in town.

This may sound alarmist, but it's human nature and it can happen very easily, just as the perception that Cataclysm heroics were "too hard" caused the game to lose one third of its player base in only three months. Even before the extra 20 trait drill-downs were introduced, the forums were full of people who claimed they were quitting and citing "artifact grind" as their main reason for leaving. All of these problems can be easily avoided with some foresight and common sense, but lately, Blizzard has addressed simple issues at a glacial pace, so one can never be too careful.

Edited by Larssen
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So... this is kind of a tricky one.  I'm kind of divided on this subject.  As of this posting I have multiple 110's with multiple artifacts that have at least 35 traits, however I do not have any of them maxxed out (the downside of being an alt-oholic).  I understand Blizzard's desire to cater to the masses and "dumb" the game down, but the difficulty and the sense of accomplishment that people got when completing a massive quest chain or grinding out that level that was the epitome of Vanilla is what a lot if not even more people crave.

The problems that I see with the current system is as they stated it does create a power gap which causes friction between the "casual" and "hardcore" players.  Casual players will find it harder to break that barrier into progression if they want to because of this gap.  On the other side of this I feel that the hardcore players should not be "penalized" by having their power levels brought down to match someone that's not putting in the same effort.  This is a reflection of today's society and it's "participation awards, and no one loses" mentality.  I personally and honestly feel that if someone puts in the time and effort they should be duly rewarded for that time and effort.  Now, I'm not saying this applies to everyone but, as an example, If someone is going to be lazy and think they can just skate by without grinding out the progression that a hardcore or less casual player would they should not be able to be anywhere close to being competitive with them.  

With all that being said, I understand that the casual player constitutes the majority of the player base and Blizzard wants to keep it's player base for WoW especially with such a (in my opinion) successful expansion release.  I don't feel like "shortening the power gap" is the answer though.  I think that Blizzard should focus more into trying to get the casual player (that can devote the time but is unwilling) to "step it up" and push further to make their character stronger.  Honestly, I'm not sure how to accomplish this with the current systems in place but I think there would be a higher satisfaction rate if people felt they were actually making progress on their own and not being handed progression or held back because of a shortening of the power gap.

I do however like the idea of the length of a dungeon being a determining factor on the amount of AP it gives.  Currently the system in place doesn't just place Maw of Souls at the forefront of AP farm it is one of the fastest and easiest dungeons to clear for Mythic+ content and provides some decent loot.  This puts it at the forefront of loot and legendary farm.  Not to mention when trying to carry someone through a mythic to help them gear up Maw is more forgiving than say Halls of Valor or Black Rook Hold.

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It is not too late, because they are going to reset everyone to 35 traits in 7.2 and refund your AP for any talents beyond 35. Then you can use that for the new traits, and they will make getting the 19 traits in the final 1-20 much harder to obtain.

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I agree with @DeathsDesign. Lowering the power gap isn't a fair solution for players that devoted so much time into farming AP.

The gap isn't a huge hindrance when joining guilds or being able to raid. Why not leave it as is?

Players can always get better and improve their AP pool... the game has four difficulties to play through.

Are you adopting a more casual approach to the game? There's Normal difficulty, LFR, Mythic dungeons. I don't think casual players would even care if a Mythic HC raider had a 10% higher HP/damage output than they do. Punishing players just doesn't feel right. It's Like an Arrow to the FaceLike an Arrow to the Face.

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@Stan and company:

I agree that the current power gap is not nearly as impactful as Blizzard makes it out to be, but they are notorious for looking through the wrong end of the telescope and thinking that the top 2% of players are representative of the entire game, so we'll see. But I also agree with you that things are fine as they are now, so why fix what's not broken?

I made my above post based on a statement somebody made to the effect of: those who have level 54 artifacts when 7.2 goes live will not get the forced refund, and will be able to keep their 20 drill-down traits and stack the new ones on top of them, as a sort of reward for their dedication. If this turns out not to be the case, then we will be in for quite a grind to get close to where we were before. In that case, trying to artificially narrow the power gap is indeed a slap in the face to all those who put in the time and effort to power up their artifacts. It's just as silly as Blizzard saying that poorer players with no gold will be given millions to put them on equal footing with rich players that worked hard for years to farm their gold. Because hey -- everyone needs money, right?

Edited by Larssen
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If you don't want power gaps then you have to have hard caps. Without hard caps someone will always no life (or bot) their way to the extreme.

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