Monday, December 12, 2011

Are Epic Gems Too Epic?

Ah shinies. Patch 4.3 is here and so are epic gems. Well, atleast they're in the game technically. I can't really say I've got my hands on any of these mythical gems of epicosity. I've seen them floating about the auction house for sky high prices and I've opened geodes hopefully and I have to yet to hold one, cut one much less socket one. I held off talking about this for a little while in the hope that my initial reaction was just that -- a simple reaction of shock and dismay that would quickly be proven unneeded and melt away. Unfortunately, Season 11 has begun and not much has changed.

Currently epic gems can be obtained by the following ways. The first is raiding normal or heroic Dragon Soul - each boss drops a token which can be turned in for a geode. Consequently, each geode has a small chance of giving you an epic gem. The other source is conquest points but these have their own limitations. Conquest points can only buy you pre-cut hybrid resilience gems.

The consequences of this extremely RNG dependant limited supply go far beyond a simple "no shinies for you". It excludes the crafters, turns raiding into a semi-gathering profession and thus puts Jewelcrafting as a profession in a unqiuely bad spot. While I support the idea that epic gems should be truly epic, the idea's implementation in 4.3 seems short-sighted and badly done. It leaves me wondering whether these epic gems have crossed the line of epic into the realm of irrelevance.




Excluding the Crafters: 

I'd like to start this one off with a story. Back in the previous expansion, there came a time when I was tired of healing and of raiding. It was burnout and I decided to take a vacation on both those fronts. Rather than quitting the game, I decided to explore a different facet for a little while. I have always loved crafting with professions so I became, in essence, the "supplier" to raids. I spent my time cutting and selling gems, putting up enchants, making feasts etc - everything a raider needs. It was a fantastic way to take the game at a slower pace while still participating in it and supporting the raiding community. I found that there were many who played in this way - who were all about crafting and professions - who didn't raid or PvP or do Arenas. For them, the fun was where crafting and selling was at.

The current paradigm does away with this. A non-raiding jewelcrafter has no way to access raw epic gems save the auction house. As a crafter I always considered the auction house an alternative to crafting materials - not the primary source. It really does trouble me that supply here is limited a single aspect of gameplay. The message to a full-time crafter, an RPing travelling merchant or an avid PvPer is to either become an AH mogul and afford the prices, step foot into normal/heroic raids or live without them. The point here isn't whether one can be without them or not - the point is that it doesn't seem incredibly fair to exclude an entire section of players.

RNG and Raiding as a Gathering Profession:

The story behind the bottleneck supply of epic gems is only partly about being limited to raiding. The other part is the RNG governing those geodes. My relationship with the RNG gods wasn't the best in Firelands and its apparently not any better with geodes. I obtained approximately 10 geodes while raiding from patch launch until now and I received no epic gems. Nada. Not one. Truth be told I was lucky to receive a couple rare gems. The majority of the gems I received were greens - an annoyingly high number of Zephyrites to be precise. This affects all of us - not just the crafters who depend on raiders for supply but the raiders themselves who are looking to gear up and progress through the fights.

What Does It Mean to be a Jewelcrafter in 4.3?

In short, it means that a Jewelcrafter hits a brick wall pretty quickly. Once they have their rare cuts there's really not much to do unless they raid, get lucky, or get rich enough to supply their profession with epic gems. This actually irks me. By definition, Jewelcrafting is about providing item enhancements - somewhat like enchanting. And yet, the crafters themselves have little or no means of getting the materials for it.

The reason this troubles me is because this isn't the same across the board for all professions. Alchemists can still make flasks and transmute gems and truegold without being forced to step into a raid. Enchanters can put up enchants without having the requirement of killing a raid boss. I can hardly imagine what it would be like if I was told "Hey Mely, if you want to work on end game alchemy transmutes you better Arena or else!"

I've heard the argument that epic gems are similar to how rare Maelstrom Crystals were in the beginning before the 4.1 and the supply will alleviate as the demand goes down. I don't think they're all that similar really - the reason Maelstrom Crystals became more accessible was because of the Zandalari dungeons and now, the Hours of Twilight dungeons. Dungeons, by their nature are much more accessible. With 4.3 being the final content patch, I don't foresee a similar way of increasing the supply of epic gems.

Epicness to Irrelevance?

Here's an interesting thought I had. The idea of something being epic is defined by how scarce it is. If we take scarcity to its logical end, we ultimately end up with the item being irrelevant. In other words, if something is so scarce that barely anyone has it, it can't be that important for me to have it now can it?

I've tried to reason as to why this kind of scarcity would be implemented. Perhaps it was intentional and epic gems were truly only meant for the world first elite competitors. That's fine. But if that were the case, wouldn't it make more sense to make the gems guaranteed drops with a BoP attached to their cut versions? The fact that they've been implemented this way sends mixed messages. On the one hand you have the epic gems situation that harkens back to the days of Burning Crusade where inaccessibility was the name of the game, and on the other hand you have the implementation of LFR whose purpose is defined by making it more accessible to people. Scarcity of this kind works with world drops, pets, mounts. It doesn't really work however, when a raid is hitting its head against a gate boss who they cannot down because majority of their members got darn unlucky with their geodes that week.

Meaningfully Epic:

The current state of epic gems isn't doing much good: it excludes full-time crafters, penalises PvPers and honestly puts more pressure on raiders by making the availability of gems dependant on RNG. None of those consequences seem like a good thing to me. I personally think that all it will take is a slight tweak to the system to alleviate the scarcity while still keeping them epic.
  • Transmutes: This is a good way to provide an alternative supply to the gems. Want to keep scarce? That's fine. A week long cooldown on the transmute would work well for example. Or perhaps increase the materials required for the transmute. Shared cooldowns are another way to make sure these transmutes don't flood the market. 
  • Jewelcrafting: In my mind it makes sense that a jewelcrafter should have access to the very gems they can cut. There are many ways to go about this without compromising on the gems' scarcity. Having epic gems buyable with daily tokens for example - and by that I mean a significant number of tokens would be effective in limiting how many gems a jewelcrafter could buy. Another method could be pyrite and having turn-ins of say 50 Pyrite Dust for a single gem.
These are just ideas off the top of my head but the point was that there are ways to limit supply of gems without making players feel like they're being pushed into a certain aspect of the game to gain what they deem quite important to enhancing their gameplay. For me, personally, I'm a casual raider and not really competing for world firsts or even server firsts. But I still brought up this situation because at its very heart, it seems to be doing more than harm than good. The gems' scarcity (which in turn contributes to its rarity) seems to eclipse its original purpose of being part of a profession and enhancing items. And when that happens, one has to ask if that kind of rarity is really epic?

2 comments:

  1. I loved reading this one Mely - it got me thinking more about the current gem situation and how it stacks up to past models. I don't usually consider things from a crafter's perspective in WoW, so this was a little new to me too... but I can really understand not wanting to be pushed into an aspect of the game you don't enjoy. I would be furious if I were expected to step into arenas in order to be competent at a PvE aspect of the game.

    I can't for the life of me figure out why Blizzard thought going back to this was a good idea. Even in BC, it was frustrating to be precluded from a whole aspect of gearing, and epic gems were far more obtainable with that model - especially in the long run - than they are with this new RNG-happy model. Getting any epic gem seems pretty lucky at the moment, much less desirable gem colors. I have a feeling that epic red gems are going to stay exactly as rare as they are now for a long, long time.

    I hope one of the devs happens by here and sees your ideas for improving it - either of those would be very welcome changes!

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  2. This model is SO much better than making the recipies bind on pickup and only sourced in raids, or (earlier in Cataclysm), making Chaos orbs bind on pickup.

    If you want to cut epic gems, you can buy them from the AH, cut them, and sell them. The prices will come down fairly fast (at least for the ones that are not red).

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