So, as luck and a bad script would have it, I went to Googoo and searched for information concerning whether there was a limit to the number of Monk characters one could have when the new expansion for World Of Warcraft goes live in a couple of days. That led me to this article by Carmelo M. on the Clever Musings site.
For a long time, World Of Warcraft has had a limit on the number of characters a player can have on a singular server, as well as a limit on the number of characters a player can have spread across all of the servers. Ten and fifty, respectively. Whilst no word has reached my ears concerning whether there will be changes to the latter limit (fifty characters total spread over the servers), it appears that in preparation for Mists Of Pandaria, one more character slot per server will be added. In other words, for each server a player has characters on, they may now have a total of eleven rather than ten. Carmelo states, rightly, that over the previous seven years, the continued additions of new races and classes to the game has made the issue of desire for more character slots per server reach a boiling point. With the addition of the Monk class, there are now a total of eleven character classes in the game. With the addition of the Pandaren, there are now a total of seven character races for players to choose from. Clearly, ten slots is not enough.
I used to impose upon myself a limit of one race, one class. In other words, I could have a Gnomish Mage or a Human Mage, but not both. The reasons for this are pure quirk and habit, but the salient point here is that after forming my own guild, my adherence to this limit went away to a degree. The fact that the changes made to some character classes for Mists Of Pandaria did not help, either. Early in the days of Cataclysm, the expansion that is being put out to pasture far sooner than any of the others, the option was added to make a Dwarvish Shaman.
Carmelo also states, again correctly, that just because a player wants to make a character of a certain class does not necessarily mean they want that character to be the race traditionally associated with that class. Just as not every Shaman wants to be a Draenei, or vice versa, not every Monk wants to be a Pandaren, or vice versa. Some players I have spoken to have even stated a desire to make a Pandaren Hunter just for the irony factor. But the thing is, the changes to some character classes have made me reluctant to continue playing them to one degree or another. On the extreme end, we have the decision to make Shaman manually place one totem at a time without automation, or discernible value. Totems have basically been changed from something that provides a boost to basic stats to something that just sits there and casts a spell for a few seconds. With an enormous action bar space cost (four, minimum) to boot. They could have at least kept the Shaman totem toolbar. Or better still, improved it.
But the reason I am writing this is not to complain about Blizzard‘s doings in this latest expansion. I will save that for later, as I have a lot of complaints to make that some will agree are more pertinent. No, the real reason I am writing this article is because Carmelo M.‘s complaints as written in the pair of articles I have read thus far are doing those of us with criticisms of World Of Warcraft and Blizzard a bit of a disservice.
In order to make my meaning clear, I would like to share the following quote:
How did the final solution go from no server cap to 11 though? Why not 25 per server? It just does not make sense. Rather than striking a middle ground Blizzard went for the absolute minimum.
Well, Carmelo, it is like this. Every character that every player makes requires a certain amount of resources for Blizzard Entertainment to store safely and securely on their servers. Very likely, Blizzard even have redundant backups, and I emphasise the word backups plural, so that if the worst happens and the hard drive in a server where one lot of character information is stored shits itself, the customers will not get upset and stop playing after having their characters go on permanent vacation. If you get my drift.
Even if it were not completely necessary to have all of this redundant character information backup, the mere presence of a character on a server imposes real and measurable costs upon Blizzard. Costs that they somehow have to recoup from players. And Blizzard cannot be unaware that their customers are inclined to complain vociferously about everything from the rates at which certain in-game items can be obtained to the lack of support for certain in-game actions of a less than savoury nature. Hence the need to make damned sure that every character a player has created and not deleted is available without fail.
Whilst a lot of talk occurs about how much revenue World Of Warcraft supposedly brings in for Blizzard Entertainment, it baffles me that so little talk is expended upon what their operating costs would be. It is like that maxim about the film industry, where everyone talks about what their product grossed, but nobody ever says a word about what the product netted for the studio concerned. In fact, one fun exercise whenever talking to a Tom Cruise fan and listening to their drivel about how brilliant he must be because his newest exercise in non-acting grossed X million dollars is to outline in great detail what the difference between gross and net is. (For those who still do not get it, the former in this context is how much money the product took in at retail, and the latter is how much the makers got after the expenses such as the distributors’ shares were deducted.)
Blizzard proclaims that they have eleven million subscribers on World Of Warcraft. Assuming an average of twenty US dollars a month from each subscriber, that is a gross of about two hundred and twenty million dollars a month. But I wonder if anyone has stopped to think about the expense involved in maintaining the game for these eleven million subscribers. If after the expense of employing support staff, employing technicians to keep servers running, keeping the hardware in said servers powerful enough to run the software that drives the game, and so forth, I would not be surprised if Blizzard had less than a third of that revenue left over.
That is probably the real reason why Blizzard have been very conservative about increasing the number of character slots per server. Whilst I am sure that they could have increased it to a dozen if they wanted to, it is a bit like the money-hose on films. As Robert Rodriguez has said so brilliantly in audio commentaries, once you turn on the money-hose in a film to wash away your creative problems, you cannot turn it back off. So Blizzard have apparently decided that a slowly, slowly approach to increasing the allowed number of characters per server was the way to go. After all, why add ten slots and then discover one cannot afford the associated maintenance costs, rather than add one and discover that the costs can be easily absorbed?
Does this mean that Blizzard are off the hook for slaps to the face of the customer? Of course not. But when one bitches to the degree present in the linked article about a change in the system being insufficient when it has not even been tried before, it lets the whole side down. As does making a complaint that comes eerily close to a demand without a full understanding of the logistics, like the backup data requirements I have outlined above. Suddenly asking why not twenty-five characters per server is going go to come across as somewhat childish.
It is also a bit odd that players would expect to have one of every race or class on a given server. Or worse yet, every possible combination of both. Of course, there are people who feel a certain completist need to have one character of each race or class, and that is perfectly understandable. I would even encourage the latter, as knowing how different classes work in the game improves one’s gameplay overall. (Given that one of the biggest complaints I have concerning the game is how a significant percentage players demonstrate a complete lack of respect towards anyone outside of themselves, their friend list, or their guild, I am sure you can guess the other reason I encourage class experimentation.)
As one person who commented on the linked article stated, race has largely become meaningless as a character mechanic in the game. It did not mean a whole lot to start with. In tabletop games like Dungeons & Dragons, your choice of your character’s race could have a profound effect upon not only your strategy, but also the combinations of classes your character could be. Humans, for example, could not be dual-class, but they also had some classes that (as I understood it) were exclusive to them, such as Rangers or Paladins. Elves and Half-Elves could not only be dual-class, but if a player truly wished to drive themselves up the wall, they could even be triple-class. All of the races save for Humans also had certain statistical advantages or disadvantages that one had to weigh up. Dwarrow, to cite my favourite example, were at a noticeable disadvantage in any test involving Charisma due to their ornerous and distrustful nature or reputation thereof. But in any test involving Constitution, they excelled. Killing a Dwarf with poison was particularly problematic unless you swarmed them with Giant Spiders, as they had multiple additional “saves” against being poisoned, any one of which could negate the majority of poisoning attempts.
The point here is that in older versions of World Of Warcraft (I am referring of course to the time just before The Burning Crusade was released, when I started playing), the bonuses races gained were minimal at best. The few that remain, such as a boost to Engineering skill if you happen to be a Gnome or a boost to Skinning if you happen to be a Worgen, are so minor as to prompt the question of why Blizzard bother. Which effectively means that as of Cataclysm, when the vast majority of limitations concerning what class a character of a given race could be were done away with, there are no real reasons to be any particular race within the game. This diminishes the making a choice and living with it aspect that made the Second Edition of Dungeons & Dragons in particular both mysterious and compelling.
What all of this means is that I am probably the furthest thing from a fan of Blizzard Entertainment that you could possibly imagine. After playing a scenario for the first time this evening, my belief that they are more concerned with the money players put into their pockets rather than the content said players get in exchange is stronger than ever. But wailing about how an increase in the number of character slots allowed per server is insufficient will not avail players of any alignment anything. Whether we like it or not, programmers sit in a little dark room and pore over this choice endlessly. And at the end of the day, it is still their servers, their maintenance staff, and their multiple backups of character information that we are putting under strain. We should not be moaning about how they only decided to give us a singular additional space for new characters, but rather surprised (as I am) that they made this choice at all.
I cannot believe that I have just defended Blizzard Entertainment.