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The problem with valor points in Pandaria

Alex Ziebart

Valor points, a once-elegant solution to gearing woes that arose in prior expansions, has become something of a thorn in players' sides in Mists of Pandaria. Considering how far this expansion has gone to advance the elements of player choice and freedom, it's strange that a something that was once so simple is more of a grind than ever. Why is that, exactly? In my opinion, it's an issue of double-dipping. Valor isn't a currency with a simple acquire-and-spend flow anymore. Instead, there are additional barriers that stand in your way, effectively doubling (at least) how much work must be done to spend what you put in the time to earn.

Looking back on the launch of Cataclysm, the barrier to entry for high-end content was fairly high. Heroics, as they were released at launch, were fairly difficult for groups assembled via the dungeon finder. The launch raid zones were also considered quite difficult for players that were new to raiding, and the raid finder tool hadn't yet launched. What wasn't difficult, however, was acquiring the gear to participate in that content. Justice points were used to bring you up to the current tier of content, and valor points were a supplement to your boss drops within the current tier. As soon as you earned enough points to purchase your gear, you could go and do it. No reputation barriers, no requirement to participate in content that didn't interest you, nothing like that. So why, in Mists of Pandaria, has that changed?

As previously mentioned, valor points in this expansion suffer from double-dipping. You can't accrue the necessary currency and then spend it. All valor gear is gated behind reputation requirements as well. If you're a rogue that wants the Red Smoke Bandana, you need 2,250 valor points. However, you also need Revered with the Shado-Pan, which requires a long stretch of daily quests in the Townlong Steppes. On top of that, to even begin questing for the Shado-Pan, you need to reach Revered with the Golden Lotus.

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Let's compare that to the Cataclysm experience. If you were a rogue that wanted the Stormbolt Gloves, you had to reach exalted with the Wildhammer Clan. You didn't need valor points at all. Once you hit exalted, you bought the item with gold. Your valor items were on their own vendor, gated by nothing but your ability to accrue the appropriate currency. You had two distinct paths of acquiring upgrades, each with their own independent barrier, but there was only one barrier in each of them. Now, in Mists of Pandaria, there is only one path to success, yet both the reputation and the currency barriers are in place, in addition to a third barrier -- the Golden Lotus rite of passage.

Justice points have been completely lost in the process. Whereas once they served the role of bringing you up to the most recent tier of content, they don't do much of anything. In patch 5.2, valor gear from the previous tier still costs valor points, only less of them.

Also lost in the process was the aspect of player choice that Mists of Pandaria has otherwise handled so well. You must do daily quests to unlock your valor rewards. To accrue valor, you must participate in dungeons or scenarios. If you could take these tasks one at a time, it may not be so bad -- but the process requires both of them. You can't get all of the valor points you need through daily quests, but you must do the daily quests to spend the valor to begin with. The workload has increased, but the reward has not.

It is surprisingly anti-casual, when you consider the accusations of Blizzard catering to casuals that have been going on since the day World of Warcraft launched. It's also anti-alt, because new characters need to repeat the process all over again if they want to catch up to relevant content. Sure, Grand Commendations now exist, but that doesn't remove the barriers. It only allows you to break through them more quickly, and there are still more of them than there ever were previously.
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To explain the double-dipping as simply as possible, look at it this way: you work a full-time job to make your paycheck. However, to be allowed to buy your groceries, you're required to take up a part-time job at the grocery store -- the grocery store doesn't pay you a livable wage, they only give you the privilege of shopping there after you clock out. It used to be that one or the other was enough. People who work for valor points could go to the valor points store. People who do daily quests can shop at the daily quest store. If you had the gumption, you could work both jobs and shop in either location.

It isn't a perfect metaphor, you can shop wherever you want in the real world, but you understand.

At WoW Insider, we've taken the stance that if you don't want to grind out every single reputation every day, then don't do it. You don't have to do it. In fact, you'd drive yourself insane trying to do it. However, Mists of Pandaria's valor point philosophy encourages it, which is inspiring enormous player backlash whenever they hear the word "dailies." It doesn't seem to be getting any better, either. Operation Shieldwall and the Dominance Offensive kept the model. In patch 5.2, the Kirin Tor Offensive sells its goods for gold, but the Shado-Pan Assault requires both reputation and valor points.

Blizzard is also experimenting with the system where you spend valor points to upgrade your gear, adding another reason to grind out those valor points. While the developers have put a cap on how many valor points you can gather in a week to protect players from grinding themselves into dust, the same doesn't exist for reputation -- and the reputation arguably takes more time to work through than the valor points themselves.

The developers have deactivated upgrading gear via valor points in patch 5.2 so you aren't faced with the decision of whether you should pick up new gear or upgrade your old items. My stance is that if that's a decision you might have to face, the system itself is failing. Again, it only increases how much more work you need to put into your gearing process.

How do we fix this problem? First, end the double-dipping. You should not grind for the privilege of an additional grind. You should not need two in-game jobs just for the privilege of spending your currency. If you submit to a grind, it should be with the goal of being rewarded for your time. A new grind is not a reward. Second, find another solution for upgrading the ilevel of your gear.
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As it exists now, paying to upgrade your ilevel seems like it's a carrot-on-a-stick for raiders -- keep them invested in the game between raid tiers by forcing them to upgrade items to be as prepared as possible for the coming of the next tier. Again, it adds another barrier to something that used to be fairly organic. You used to prepare for the next raid tier by participating in the one before it, now you prepare by participating and capping valor every week to upgrade. Either eliminate the system, or find another way to pay for the service. If not gold, then reimplement justice points, accrued alongside valor but spent in another way. Eliminate the issue of "do I upgrade my old gear or acquire new stuff?" Make those processes independent of one another. Remove the conflict.

Mists of Pandaria has taken enormous strides in allowing players to play how they want, to participate in the activities they enjoy, and the expansion encourages you to stop and smell the roses. Valor points single-handedly throw that philosophy out the window, forcing you to churn through level 90 content as quickly as possible, and to continue churning through the same content to maximize your ilevel. If the developers want to avoid catastrophic burnout at their own hands, it needs to change.

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