The Artifact Power Grind

There’s been a lot of talk lately on twitter and on the WoW forums about Mythic raiders being burned out by having to endlessly grind Mythic+ dungeons for Artifact Power (AP). There are other factors that have led to the feeling of burnout for several veteran raiders, but the specific problem of feeling like you have to spend your available time getting more AP for more Artifact Traits is what is complained about the most, so I’m going to talk about that.

I should preface by saying that my perspective is of a semi-hardcore Mythic raider, and that I’m absolutely in favor of an uncapped system for acquiring AP. I think that if a cap was added to AP there would still be people who feel like the cap is either too high or too low, and the cap would just be moving the problem to a different set of people. I also think the expectation for how quickly you acquire AP should be set by you or your raiding group and not by Blizzard.

Setting a Cap on Artifact Power

I’ve been playing WoW since 2005 and have seen multiple different systems for capped and uncapped resources. From uncapped Honor grinding in Vanilla to seemingly uncapped Badges of Justice in Burning Crusade to the weekly Valor cap in Mists of Pandaria. The Badge system in Burning Crusade was capped in the sense that there were only a set number of dungeons and raids you could do per day/week, but that cap was so high that it was almost never achieved every day; very few people did all 16 Heroic dungeons in a single day.

Regardless of my opinions on the systems themselves, I was always in favor of an uncapped system because a cap was either too high for me to care about or too low and made me not care about the content. Obviously this is specific to my own determination, but that’s also my point: it’s virtually impossible for the arbitrary cap to be exactly how much content you want to participate in.

A lot of people are also pointing to this Blue Post from when the Valor cap was introduced in Mists of Pandaria.

There are several reasons behind the Valor cap btw., none of which are to serve as a punishment for people with a lot of time on their hands. Just in case you would like to know the reasons behind the Valor cap, they are as follows:

  • To make sure that the normal gearing process through facing and defeating different tiers of content is not circumvented or rendered irrelevant.
  • To make your choices matter. We want there to be choice and decision-making involved when building and playing your character.
  • To ensure that as many people as possible can use their time in-game on something they think is fun and that they enjoy doing, and not make people feel like they have to spend massive amounts of time every day just to reach a theoretical maximum weekly limit of Valor Points.

The first point doesn’t matter because the Warforged system already does precisely that, and the second point is mostly irrelevant because there’s only one place AP can go: your Artifact Weapon. Yes, you can have the choice of putting it into a different specialization’s weapon, but that doesn’t really create a new choice–you’ve always had that choice. This was more for a system that expected you to get new items and choose which item was more fitting for an upgrade.

The last point is what most people are linking this post for (why it’s bolded). I think a lot of developers would actually disagree with this now because it leads to the opposite problem of having too little to do. In Mists of Pandaria, players would get their weekly cap done early in the week and then have nothing to do for the rest of the week. I don’t think Warlords of Draenor was even close to a shining example of what an expansion could be, but the problem was broadened even further with Apexis Crystals serving very little purpose for anyone.

The problem with this point is that it assumes that there is enough non-character-progression content out there that people want to participate in. WoD was an excellent showcase for how much people want to do things that make them feel that sense of progression and are bored with everything else. Heroics didn’t give gear after the first week or two, previous raiding tiers were nullified the moment the next tier’s LFR came out, and Apexis Crystals didn’t give you anything meaningful until Tanaan Jungle came out in 6.2.

Barely anyone who enjoyed dungeons were running Heroics in Warlords for the fun of it. There was no benefit to running them, so people didn’t do them. People want to do things that make them feel like they’re achieving something. When you put a cap on that achievement, people stop doing that thing, even if they generally enjoy it.

I’ve also seen people suggest that the front-loaded cap to Valor in MoP was the reason it was so bad, and a rested-style system where you accumulate a higher cap after periods of inactivity would be better; similar to how the Conquest cap was for Arenas. I agree that this would be a better system for a cap, but I still feel that any cap, regardless of how good the system is, would be an arbitrary new goal line for different people.

I will absolutely agree with the fact that adding a cap would solve the issue of endlessly grinding AP–one hundred percent–I agree. But solving that issue just creates a new one for the group of players that either enjoy doing lots of dungeons or enjoy the grind itself, and the developers have to consider the opinions of everyone.

Group Dynamics

The overwhelming majority of complaints from raiders about an uncapped structure for AP is that players feel like they’re letting their raid group down by not grinding for AP as often as possible. The idea that you’re falling behind or holding your group back is a very real problem associated with AP, but I don’t think it’s Blizzard’s job to fix it.

Vulgrym, the GM of <Temerity>, made a very good post about this problem that I want to highlight.

The systems in place are more punishing for team oriented endeavors. If you are part of an organization, and assuming that organization is providing a positive experience and helping you meet some goals, then you’re going to feel beholden to the team. You naturally want to contribute. This is basic organizational behavior.

What the current systems do is stratify a guild’s membership in ways that haven’t been possible since loot lockouts came into existence (note: they were originally introduced for very good reason). Even when guild leadership explicitly implores its membership not to burn itself out and take it easy (as we have done), there is systemic pressure in place.

This is a very serious issue that has plagued numerous guilds. It’s happened in my guild as well, but I don’t expect Blizzard to solve this issue for me or my guild. I think it should be up to the individual or the group leaders to impose realistic expectations for AP (or any other uncapped system in the future). I think each guild should treat Artifact Traits like they treat their raid schedule and tailor it to their members and their progression expectations.

Most guilds raid three to four days a week for three to four hours a night. Every person in one of those guilds made the choice to join their guild based on those raiding hours. Sure, there are several other factors that go into choosing a guild, but no one chooses a raiding team that assumes high attendance that can’t make the last hour of each raid or the first raiding day of each week. Any time someone is looking for a new guild, they might find a guild they really like, but other aspects of their life don’t allow them to commit to that guild’s schedule, so they look elsewhere. It’s a self-imposed limitation that they’ve based their decision on. Why can’t the AP grind be similar?

To make an analogy for AP grinding as a group expectation: assume that you’re part of a 3-night raiding team with hopes of being in the top 1000 in the world. For whatever reason your guild isn’t quite getting there, and your officers decide that the solution is to expand raiding hours, but they don’t know how much they should add. Instead of trying to figure out players’ schedules they open the window of raiding to 5 hours a night for 7 days a week. No one is expecting everyone to make all 5 hours or all 7 nights, but they want to see how much people are willing to raid to move up to the ranking they want.

I think most people would agree that this is a terrible approach to solving this issue. Many of those group members would feel awful about calling raid early or not being able to show up to a raid night, especially if they knew they were the one person that the group needed. This scenario seems ridiculous, but this is how so many guilds are treating AP.

I will concede that this analogy doesn’t cover the fact that you can grind AP without a guild group, so the requirements for character progression aren’t as restricted as extra raiding hours, but I would argue that this has always been a part of the game. Learning more about your class or theorycrafting, more fully understanding boss fights before you get to them, and going over your own logs or replays are all ways to improve your performance outside of raiding. Every guild has varying expectations of how much time you should spend doing those things, but no one is complaining about the time they feel they need spend outside of the game because it hasn’t been something that has had such a tangible increase to character power.

Player Perception

I think one of the biggest reasons why AP grinding has become such an important part of the WoW milieu is because of the clear advantages associated with it. It’s very easy to understand what a 5% increase to DPS from your 35th trait is going to do. It’s much harder to quantify how much spending a few hours a week going over your logs will improve your DPS.

I would put this in the same category as stat weights. Everyone loves to be an expert about their stat weights because it’s a clear indicator of doing the “correct” thing. It’s an element of control in a game with a lot of randomness. I’m not trying to say stat weights or Artifact Traits are bad or that you shouldn’t care about them. I’m saying it’s not the only way to improve your ability to be a good raider. There are innumerable other ways to get better at this game, but an overwhelming significance is being placed on areas of the game that give clear results.

The other issue I have with the AP grind is players’ perception that you have to grind Mythic+ dungeons because they’re the most efficient. I won’t disagree that they’re the most efficient, but they’re certainly not the only way to keep up with AP. World Quests, daily Heroics, daily Battlegrounds, Order Hall Missions, and raiding all give respectable amounts of AP that don’t drive you crazy. I have a Mage in my guild who is at 41 traits (slightly above average for my guild) who has only done a little over 100 Mythic+ dungeons. Compared to several semi-hardcore raiders who are complaining about Mythic+, that’s not that many. It’s not impossible to diversify your methods for gaining AP to keep your sanity and still have a relevant amount of Artifact Traits.

What’s the Solution?

This is an area that’s a compromise for raiders, casual players, and everyone in between, so we’re never going to have everyone be happy about it. In the meantime, raiding groups can set their own expectations. Maybe that’s a specific number of traits required at specific dates, or maybe it’s a specific number of traits and then a steady increase of one or two traits per week.

If your group is expecting you to be at 40 traits by the end of the week and several players are already at 45+, then they’ve already gone above and beyond and shouldn’t feel required to do anything this week. How many traits you need each week would depend on a lot of factors that are specific to your group, just like how many hours you raid each week or how prepared you are before raids.

I don’t know what the exact solution looks like, but I hope we can be willing to figure it out on our own rather than looking to Blizzard to save us from ourselves.

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2 thoughts on “The Artifact Power Grind

  1. Krol January 1, 2017 / 9:19 pm

    Hi, thx for this interesting post. Yeah, I was felt a bit burned out (reachin’ 53 tomorrow), and I’m happy to finish soon because it’s not fun but hey, we need that lil’ optimization where we can find it. And I agree with all the side work you can do too (logs). I surprised myself thinking about a weekly cap … never happend before x)

    Happy New Year ! Much Light to all of Us !

    Like

  2. Poris March 20, 2017 / 8:36 am

    I think adding a rested bonus to AP whould greatly increase the fun of playing alts AND to make people chill out about “grinding” AP all day, although I don’t understand why people go insane about getting that max rank ASAP, just chill out, you will accumulate AP in a speed that is being determined by the difficulty of content you aim for. If you’re a mythic raider you’ll naturally gain more AP a day, than a normal lfr guy. Yall need to relax and do the content you want to do and you will collect AP as a side effect.

    Like

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