Talking patch 5.1 with Dave Kosak & Cory Stockton

Anne Stickney
A. Stickney|12.07.12

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Talking patch 5.1 with Dave Kosak & Cory Stockton
Patch 51 interview with Dave Kosak and Cory Stockton
Patch 5.1 introduced a lot of new content, and a lot of new lore -- and who better to explain it all than Lead Content Designer Cory Stockton, and Lead Quest Designer Dave Kosak? We sat down with both, along with Community Manager Zarhym to talk about some of the new features found in patch 5.1. Along with questions about the Brawler's Guild, both Kosak and Stockton addressed scenarios, daily quests, tweaking old content, that pesky matter of player housing, and what's to come in patch 5.2.

Patch 5.1 was an incredibly fast patch. Is this going to be a trend with Mists?

Cory Stockton: Yeah, for sure -- this has been our goal for a long time. We can't promise that we're going to have the exact same amount of content in the exact same amount of time, but it's definitely our intention to deliver patches in a time frame similar to this with a similar or larger amount of content. It just all comes down to each individual patch and the details of what we can do, but it's definitely our goal.

Dave Kosak: We'll alternate between patches that have raid content and patches that don't have raid content as sort of required by what players are doing in the game and try and space it out. But our objective has always been faster content delivery, and we're hoping that players are seeing that we're trying to live up to that.

Patch 51 interview with Dave Kosak and Cory Stockton
Speaking of raids, any hints as to what the next raid is going to involve?

Stockton: We definitely know that patch 5.2 is going to have raid content, we can tell you that -- we know that 5.2 will have a raid in it. But I think we're still kind of waiting before we talk about the details of that raid.

Zarhym: Just to add to that really quickly, I was sitting in on interviews with Ion (Hazzikostas) yesterday, and he kind of mentioned that we look back fondly on raids like Ulduar, in terms of scale -- so if that's any indication on where we might be going ...

Kosak: It's a doozy!

Patch 51 interview with Dave Kosak and Cory Stockton
There's been a mixed reaction to daily quests. How do you feel they went over, from a development standpoint?

Kosak: Certainly it's an experiment for us. We always wanted max level content to keep people engaged with the game, even if they didn't want to necessarily do dungeons and raids. So we added a lot of content, and I think that's been really successful. I love the feeling of -- if I start up my WoW client, I know that I have a few hours of content waiting for me. It sort of depends on what I'm in the mood to do that night -- I love that.

I think that a lot of the negative reaction comes from people really feeling like the daily quests were required. That wasn't the design intention, we definitely wanted to encourage, to reward for doing a handful of daily quests a day -- enough to get your charms, enough to get some valor. We didn't intend for the factions to be a mandatory thing that you had to do. They certainly don't gate any content for you, but a lot of players really felt obliged -- like they had to do every daily quest every day. And that's a lot of quests! The goal is to add a lot of content, not a lot to your to-do list.

I think after a couple weeks, once players realized that that was the idea, and that they could cap out on valor every week, and cap out on charms -- I mean, bags full of charms, now they know that they don't need to necessarily quest every day in order to get it. I think that that eases it up a little bit. We'll definitely keep looking at the reward scheme, to try and make sure that the players who don't want to do any dailies at all can see that isn't required in order to advance their character.

But that said, every faction we kind of experimented with different things, and really looked closely at all of them and learned a lot of lessons that we'll carry forward. I think all the factions feel really different, which was one of our main goals. Some of them are really, really, really cool, and they worked out great. I think it's an important part of the game, an important part of our overall content mix, and I really like them from that perspective.

Patch 51 interview with Dave Kosak and Cory Stockton
Stockton: Yeah, I mean I think that what Dave hit on on the goals there is the biggest thing that we're kind of looking at as far as moving forward. Obviously we're going to continue to make dailies, but it's our goal to make those feel like something that you want to do. We don't ever want the game to feel like a job, or something like "Oh man, if I don't get this stuff done, I feel bad the next day." If we're creating that sense, which we've gotten some of that in feedback, those are things we want to correct moving forward.

And I think there's a lot of space within dailies and how we present them, how the rewards are structured, how many people feel like they're inclined to do them -- there's a ton of room for movement in there. So you'll definitely be seeing us try different things from patch to patch, as we try to nail this down. We certainly never had this much stuff available at one time for players, and I think sometimes they just get overwhelmed, like they're going "I have to do everything right now! And if I don't, I'm somehow not a good player." That's not the case.

But we can't just say "Oh well you're not doing this right." We have to build it so that it feels right for them. We've got to present it in a way that it feels like that. And those are the kinds of things we're trying to hit moving forward.

Patch 51 interview with Dave Kosak and Cory Stockton
Did the development of dailies change between 5.0 and 5.1? Krasarang seems a lot more balanced with quest and story.

Kosak: Partially -- we were taking lessons from 5.0 and carrying them forward -- and you'll definitely see a lot in 5.2 as well.

Stockton: I think that the quest chains mixed between the dailies feel awesome, where you kind of do the dailies and then you keep getting the one shot quests, kind of intermixed in between. I think that was definitely something that came up after launch, we thought this would be cool because it feels like you're actually making some progress -- you're not just killing the same dudes or doing the same thing in the same area every day. You're getting sent off, making some progress, some really engaging story, and then coming back and doing another set of dailies to get to that next little mini goal.

Kosak: Yeah, that felt really good with the Tillers. We felt like that the Tillers had all kinds of little incremental steps that were going on, so that every few days something happened with the Tillers, it was fun! Even if it was just finding a dog and getting a dog on your farm. Spoiler alert! But it adds a little something to that reputation, like little micro-achievements.

Patch 51 interview with Dave Kosak and Cory Stockton
How did the development of the Brawler's Guild come about?

Stockton: The Brawler's Guild was an idea -- one guy had this idea and kind of pitched it out and talked to other people about it. It was one of the guys in quest design named Paul Kubit. He came up with the pitch for it and made a little presentation and did a test case of how it could work. He pitched it around, and a lot of momentum came behind it -- a lot of people said "Oh, solo bosses I can fight? That sounds cool, I want to make one of those!" or "I want to know what that is!"

The idea got pretty popular around the team, and from there, that's just kind of how it grew into what it is now. The whole underground vibe, and the single-player boss fights, and the notion that it's not instanced, so people stand around and actually get to watch the other fights, so it creates a real sense of world and community inside of it.

Kosak: It was one of those ideas that really snowballed and gained a lot of momentum. Once Paul had put together his prototype, all the encounter designers were like "Oh, I have a crazy boss idea!" and all the quest designers were like "I wanna do a crazy boss too!" Pretty soon, everybody was contributing bosses to the fight -- it gave us a great little laboratory to experiment with really weird mechanics or things that we didn't think would work in a raid, but thought might look really cool. Just kind of crazy, one-off ideas that we could try and have a lot of fun with it -- that's how we were able to quickly develop a whole suite of fighters.

Patch 51 interview with Dave Kosak and Cory Stockton
There was a some confusion when it was introduced -- some thought it was the Proving Grounds feature. What's the difference between the two?

Kosak: The concept behind Proving Grounds was that we were going to give you a way to measure up your raid skills in some sort of test environment. So we'd create a challenge, like we'd put you with four NPCs if you were a tank to give you a chance to prove how good of a tank you are. And similar for healers -- we'd give you some set of challenges to keep a set of NPCs alive. And you could see how you did, how you stacked up, and sort of compare how you've done with other people.

So that was kind of the core idea behind that, and the Brawlers Guild is really kind of similar from the standpoint that you really get to see how your DPS stacks up against other players. In a way, it's a little bit like the Proving Grounds idea, but it definitely isn't quite what we had in mind for the Proving Grounds.

Are the Proving Grounds still something on the table for the future?

Stockton: Yes. For sure!

Kosak: Yeah, that idea hasn't gone away -- we like that idea a lot!

Patch 51 interview with Dave Kosak and Cory Stockton
We got four new scenarios in 5.1. How do scenarios fit in game – are they intended to be a story tool, or a reward tool, or something else entirely?

Stockton: That's a great question, and it's a question that we're still figuring out here as we speak! With scenarios, that's one of the biggest strengths about them. It's essentially a combination of a bunch of different tech that we've always wanted for different ways to do things, but all kind of wrapped up in one. We can instance people off, it can be any number of players from 1-40, all the objectives are pushed directly to the players and completed, it works with all our map and quest tools that show you where to go.

It's kinda like a bunch of neat things we always wanted to do, and so when we got to do them for 5.0 we took a stab at something -- what feels not quite as pressured as a dungeon run, but it has more story and more interactive elements than say a daily. That's what we went into with 5.0, looking at them. That's the setup we ended up with, was this range between all that stuff.

Kosak: In vanilla WoW, we had always loved the idea of group quests. You'd be questing along, and then you'd get a quest that was a really difficult challenge and you needed to get a team together for it. We loved that idea, and when you got a group together for those quests they were really fun. But there was so much overhead in actually getting that group together that it was actually a pretty painful experience. And what happened in practical terms was that by the time the expansion had been out a few weeks, you could never get a group together to do daily quests -- it was such a pain that you never ended up doing them.

Patch 51 interview with Dave Kosak and Cory Stockton
So our solution to that through Cataclysm was we just didn't put group quests in the game, which kind of chucked out this really fun potential content. So to some extent, scenarios are a way where we will assemble the group for you. You just need to say "I want to do this scenario" and we'll put a group together for you, and then you can do all the cool things that you could do in a group quest, have all kinds of objectives going on at once, all kinds of crazy cool fights, do really fun things.

It was a way of doing small group content that was agnostic -- you didn't need tanks or healers. You could just get in with any group, anybody that you'd be able to pair up with. We really like that. Now, we're super conservative when we do new stuff, so we didn't integrate it into the quest flow or anything -- there's so much more we could do with scenarios than we have so far. We just kind of wanted to get them into the game and play around with them and see what was fun, what we could make work. They're fairly optional right now, in 5.0 there wasn't a huge strong incentive to do it -- it's a really fun way to collect valor, I think.

We've upped the rewards somewhat, so you have a little more incentive to do it now. And I think in the future, we've decided they're really neat ways of telling stories, very good for delivering story content. They're also potentially really good for quest progression. I think we'll do a lot more with scenarios in the future now that we're a little more comfortable with them, and you'll see us using them in a lot more interesting ways. We have some plans in 5.2 that are kind of cool.

So yeah! They kind of fit in that niche where it's not quite an organized group of a dungeon, but it's more organized than solo content.

I like how you can queue for a scenario and a dungeon, and as soon as the scenario's done, the dungeon pops.

Kosak: I love that -- I tweeted that earlier this week. We need to get the word out on that, because I think that's an awesome way to play WoW! If you ever have a queue and you don't feel like doing dailies, you can run some scenarios and it's a lot of fun.

Patch 51 interview with Dave Kosak and Cory Stockton
A lot of people have been talking about the Tillers farm as the first step towards player housing. Any thoughts on that?

Stockton: Well, I think that's -- I mean you could say that the fact that you're owning a little piece of WoW, I think that's definitely a way it could be interpreted. But I can tell you philosophy wise, the main reason we haven't done any sort of housing in WoW specifically is just -- you know we really tried to put our heads together on housing as players think of it in the traditional sense. We just don't see a lot of actual gameplay there, you know? Yes, you could customize something and that can feel really cool, but there's not a lot of pure gameplay there for us, other than customization.

We want people to be out in the world, we want them to be out with other players. We don't want them to have a space where they can basically do everything in the game. They can queue, they can get all these bonuses and then never have to leave that one little spot. So I think that's where the farm really feels great. You see other players, it's got some really tiny customization kind of stuff, like becoming a friend, you can get furniture, or you can get a dog -- your farm can feel unique, but it's only for you. No one else can really come in and see your actual farm. For us, we really like that balance, that it feels like housing to some players, but for us, it's really awesome gameplay, is what comes through the farm element.

Kosak: Yeah -- what makes the farm work is that it's really integrated into other gameplay systems. I mean you're either growing food, or enchanting mats -- you're growing things that tie into other gameplay systems. You're not spending a whole lot of time there, but you get to feel like it's yours. So it felt really heavy on the gameplay, and that really worked for us, and helps us figure out what we want to do going forward, where we'll take that farm idea and we'll try our best to keep incorporating things like that in the game going forward. Again, we're always experimenting with World of Warcraft, and the farm was an experiment that, judging by player reaction and the kinds of numbers we're seeing on the servers, I think it's been very, very successful.

Patch 51 interview with Dave Kosak and Cory Stockton
With the addition of pets and the tweaks to old raids, a lot of old bosses are now soloable. Is there a point where you say it's fine to make those tweaks? Obviously with those changes, some of those bosses are going to be a bit trivial at level 60, even if they're a challenge at 90.

Stockton: Those changes -- I mean, first off we can tell you those changes that were made, it was specifically because of the new pets we added. We felt like some of those bosses just couldn't be done with a smaller number of players. We weren't intending to try and make them specifically soloable, we were just trying to make them easier for smaller groups of players to do, and only in the cases where those pets we had added dropped.

We certainly hope that players don't get confused and think that we'll somehow be making changes to all the old world bosses to be easier to fight, or that our intention is that we want people to go in and solo that stuff. If they can, that's great, and that's a really fun way to do things if they want those challenges, but it's not something that we're looking to actively support.

As far as how do we feel about changing those raids now -- I think we're totally okay with it. We've gotten amazing amounts of gameplay and hours from players out of those raids. And I think we're totally okay with making those changes that might not make them feel as difficult or relevant at level 60. We have tons of other ways we can bring that content forward to other players, whether that be converting an old raid to a challenge mode, or turning it into a scenario, making a heroic -- there's all kinds of things we can do if we want to take that content and make it relevant to current players.

Speaking of changing purposes ... any chance we'll see the removal of daily lockouts on old heroics from TBC or Wrath? Some old gear models only drop in heroic mode.

Stockton: It's not something that's currently on the radar, to do that. I mean we're talking about, we're looking at transmog and trying to figure out some changes that we can do to give players some more options that they would like. That's something that we're currently talking about. I don't think lockouts are on the schedule anytime soon -- I think we're still okay with the way that stuff works. It feels like you get a limited amount of chances to try and get a specific transmog piece that you're looking for. We don't really feel like that that's a key driving factor to try and take those requirements off that old stuff.

Patch 51 interview with Dave Kosak and Cory Stockton
So we're on the next step of Wrathion's quests. On the one hand, he's getting a huge army together. On the other, he has us murdering each other. That seems kind of counterproductive, doesn't it?

Kosak: You're attempting to delve into the mind of a black dragon -- you're going into dangerous territory here! His stated goal is that he thinks that having two equal factions at war constantly on Azeroth is bad news. He thinks the planet would be stronger if there were one faction in charge that completely dominates the other. So he's looking at this more as an opportunity to finally establish the complete dominance of one of the factions.

And to that end, he isn't sure which one should win. Who should run the planet, the Alliance or the Horde? So he's doing a little research, he's doing a little probing, he's seeing -- what's the caliber of the Horde players? What's the caliber of the Alliance? What are their leaders like? And he's testing you, and he's running experiments. And I also have to think that Wrathion seeing the chaos along the shoreline just kind of revels in the absolute destruction of it all. (laughs) But he really is testing you to figure out which faction he thinks really deserves to rule the planet.

At the moment, it seems like the Horde has a really clear direction of why they're in Pandaria -- Garrosh is making it clear. The Alliance doesn't quite seem to have that clarity. Can you elaborate on Alliance plans?

Kosak: I think, to use a historical analogy, if you look at the history of the Cold War -- the stated goal of communism was to create a worldwide revolution, communism all over the world. So what do the capitalist allies do in that kind of situation, kind of this policy of containment. You try to get out in front of it and stop the spread wherever it is. Varian Wrynn has been on the bad end of a few of Garrosh's schemes -- Theramore was kind of a rope-a-dope in order to get the fleet as close to Theramore as possible and then blow it up with his secret weapon.

Varian doesn't want any more secret weapons. He wants to be ahead of the Horde. So if the Horde is sending a fleet to Pandaria, then the Alliance is gonna need to contain it. They're gonna need to be there, to have a presence there to make sure that no schemes come around. A lot of it is simply trying to stay a step ahead of the Horde.

But that's not all that Varian is working on. Again, he's binding the Alliance together, and I'm really hoping that we'll continue -- we show a little bit of that in 5.1, we're going to continue showing that I believe in the upcoming patches. Because ultimately his goal is to dispose of Garrosh and come to a better place in the world.

Patch 51 interview with Dave Kosak and Cory Stockton
It's been eight years of WoW! Name the one change or feature you're happiest with.

Kosak: For me, the real turning point in the game was Dungeon Finder. For me, that absolutely changed the game and maybe changed how I look at MMOs. Prior to that, it was very hard for me as a player to run dungeons -- sometimes I had friends and we could do it, but for the most part it was just content that I couldn't do. And then Dungeon Finder comes along, and suddenly everybody can do that content. Now, that's for better or for worse -- I mean there's definitely a community hit when you don't quite have that pool of people. But boy, if you look at the chat channel of say, Ironforge, before Dungeon Finder -- it was unreadable! LFG2MBRD -- I mean you couldn't even -- no sane person could read it, whereas nowadays the chat channels are full of Chuck Norris jokes. They're easy to understand.

Stockton: I would say there's two competing ones for me, but probably the introduction of daily quests with Burning Crusade. There was really nothing that drew me into a real world time situation, until something like that came into WoW where you say "Oh man I really need to get this done before 3am." And you look at how many years we've evolved and done dailies -- when people think of WoW, dailies are just such a big part of that. It really feels like that changed the dynamic of the game so much.

The only other thing I think is close to that would be the introduction of 10 man raiding, because that really opened raiding to such a wider audience, I think. Especially for me, from doing 25 for so long and then going to 10 and feeling like I mattered so much more to the raid itself. It just made so many things more accessible because I couldn't find that many people all the time to be able to do something.

Patch 5.2! Is there anything you can tell us about it?

Kosak: It's awesome!

Stockton: It has a raid!

Zarhym: Can I just add that since I'm not a designer I've only gotten to see a few sneak peeks, and I was blown away by what I've seen so far?

Kosak: We'll have a lot of stuff to announce very soon. It won't be long.

Stockton: It definitely won't be long.

Given patch 5.1's turnaround time, I'm inclined to believe that. Thank you to all three of you for the interview, and we look forward to seeing what's coming up next!

Mists of Pandaria is here! The level cap has been raised to 90, many players have returned to Azeroth, and pet battles are taking the world by storm. Keep an eye out for all of the latest news, and check out our comprehensive guide to Mists of Pandaria for everything you'll ever need to know.

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