The purpose of badges

| Friday, January 10, 2014
When I say badges I am referring to the ongoing system that began with badges of justice in Burning Crusade and now exists as justice and valor points. Honor and conquest points are a similar system, but I do not directly address them here. One could reasonably draw comparisons to the multi-class gear tokens of Ahn'Qiraj as well.

What is the purpose of this mechanic? That's the key question for everything in a game. Presumably a mechanic with no purpose at all would get thrown out. What if the answer isn't clear because it is meant to accomplish many things at once?

Clockwork may be the appropriate analogy here. A part that is used frequently will wear out faster than one that is used rarely. A constantly-spinning gear for a minute hand will wear out sooner than the track along which the cuckoo travels once an hour. Yet a part that is used constantly may also be simple and therefore easy to replace. Swap out the gears and it returns to operation. The clockmaker may have even anticipated this and designed the clock so that those parts that wear out soonest are also the most accessible. A part with multiple roles, that is pulled in many directions, will wear out faster. But with many duties, it is interconnected, and therefore harder to replace.

Consider mounts; they increase player speed and they serve as a conspicuous status symbol. These were once intertwined, when mounts were so expensive that simply having one at all was a status symbol. Blizzard eventually made the riding skill costly and basic mounts inexpensive. Fancier mounts are much more expensive or in some other way hard to acquire. The Mount part had been redesigned into two pieces: a simple Riding piece that just makes us go faster and a simple Show-Off piece that makes us look cool. These can now be easily changed as they wear out; Blizzard can produce an endless stream of expensive and exclusive mounts without needing to remake the entire mounting mechanic.

Then there are badges. What is their purpose?

In BC they started off as a way to fill in for missing gear; they helped insulate players from the cruelty of the RNG. At this, they failed. The badge gear was inferior. Worse, it created a cruel choice. Do you spend your badges to fill in for a missing slot, which may then be filled the very next raid? Which slot? The RNG could not only torment you by withholding loot, it could do the same by giving it and making the badge purchase seem foolish. Badge gear fell behind raid drops, so another tier of badge gear was released, without any restrictions. This meant that players could use it to gear past their raid experience. Were badges meant to be an RNG fixer, an alternative progression path, or a way for players to overgear in order to reach otherwise inaccessible content? Or all three at once? Doing multiple things with a single mechanic is dangerous, as any change creates that many more ripples.

Wrath of the Lich King seemed to carry on this system, until badges became necessary for buying tier tokens. They became a gating mechanism. Or a way to fill up heroic groups, by pushing high-end raiders into trivial content. They were used for five purposes (or more, I may have missed some), doing none of them well, and causing all manner of other social problems.

Now Blizzard has simplified things. Badges can give some early gear for a bit of a boost to get into LFR, because in contrast with Wrath and Cataclysm, running LFD is now apparently a terrifying thing that the developers want players to avoid. This badge-based gear skip is redundant now that the Timeless Isle exists, but that's not causing any problems.

Badges can be used for very expensive and very tiny gear upgrades. I find this terribly unexciting, and yet, brilliant. Your fruitless RNG attempts still yield the badges that can upgrade gear. As long as you have an item that isn't going to be instantly replaced by the RNG (surely you've gotten something) and it isn't maxed out (good thing the upgrades are so expensive), then you can keep getting something from those wasted kills. It isn't the loot you wanted, but it is some advancement, some sense that you're getting somewhere, however slowly.

Badges have been simplified, trimmed down to a nice, compact, extremely slow treadmill. What more could a developer want from an MMO mechanic?


Belghast said...

I think this post gets to the heart of the problem, that I mentioned in my post and you in yours... I simply do not think the designers really know what to do with badges. It seems like one of those things that they continue using because since burning crusade they have always used them. Likewise they seem to have forgotten the original purpose... to help you defeat RNG at least a tiny bit. Don't get me wrong I like the incremental upgrade option, it feels nice albeit expensive as you said. Which is why I went off on a tangent for a new kind of RNG defeating currency. Were I in their shoes I likely wouldn't know what to do with the badge situation also.

Dimli said...

One thing to keep in mind with the current upgrade system, is it is a direct correlation to the old Progressive small nerfs we saw in ICC and Dragon Soul (5% every 3-4 weeks). Instead of the game making you slightly more powerful arbitrarily every few weeks. If you do a small amount of work (getting valor in any way) you become slightly more powerful with no other outside upgrades as well by roughly the same amount. This power increase seems to sit much better with the general player base then the old progressive nerfs did however.

Klepsacovic said...

@Dimli: I like that perspective! And method. I didn't like that the nerfs defaulted on rather than off.

Post a Comment

Comments in posts older than 21 days will be moderated to prevent spam. Comments in posts younger than 21 days will be checked for ID.

Powered by Blogger.