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29Nov/110

Epic Gems in 4.3: A Critical Analysis

Greetings. I have some thoughts that I would like to share on the introduction of Epic Gems in 4.3. Executive summary: I feel that the introduction is poor, and whatever Blizzard's goal is on the matter it is likely to be undermined by basic player psychology.

Background:

I am an officer and "raid leader" for my guild (see tag). I put raid leader in quotes because my guild is hardly a raiding guild -- we're so casual that the grass in Firelands has time to grow between our "progression" boss kills. I am an elite player in absolutely no way, shape, form, or manner, and from what I can tell my guild will by necessity have to treat epic gems as if they do not exist.

But I'm not writing this post to whine about myself. Instead, I think that the epic gem introduction is ultimately bad for everybody.

Ultimately, I'm arguing from the position that Blizzard has deliberately introduced epic gems in a manner in which they will remain extremely scarce for a long time. As implemented now, the system is a serious throwback to the Burning Crusade, and it ignores the lessons learned from Lich King about the ultimate benefits of gear democratization.

Now, I am basing this post on the assumption that the current source of epic gems -- soley the Dragon Soul -- is going to remain the status quo for some time. Blizzard could make this entire post obsolete tomorrow by raining epic gems from the sky, or whatever.

Epic Gems are Bad for Jewelcrafters:

Right now, Jewelcrafters bear the entire burden of turning epic gems from their raw form into useful cuts. That's the nature of Jewelcrafting, of course, but the traditional "economic" model is that Jewelcrafters should also have the inside track on obtaining those raw gems, namely by prospecting ore. This acts as a kind of compensation for the daily-quest grind for the patterns.

This bargain is subverted with the current epic gem model; jewelcrafters have no better source of gems than anybody else. This means that jewelcrafters are stuck in the position of providing an essential service to the community (that of cutting the gems), but they have no control over the actual bottleneck (the raw gems themselves). It's not the biggest deal, but it's going to put a lot of pressure on jewelcrafters.

The best alternative would probably for jewelcrafters to move to a `commission' model for cuts, but the true development of that is going to be hurt by the raid-centric drops. Just as in BC, progression raiders who are accumulating the most gems will also likely have in-house jewelcrafters to do the cuts. Also, this gives said raid guilds a natural vertical monopoly: they're likely to be the best source of gems at auction, but they have no incentive to provide uncuts when they can do the cut and take the value-add themselves.

Introduction of alchemy transmutes for epic gems and a JC-related transmute (Fire Prism-style) will only mitigate this somewhat. It still ultimately results in jewelcrafters not being the best source of their own materials.

Epic Gems are Bad for non-Blacksmiths:

I'm only going to touch on this point because other threads on the front page have touched on it, but I will summarise.

In the current model a fully-geared Blacksmith is going to get +100 to her main stat from the profession perk (2 sockets), but other professions only provide a net of +80. If this remains unadjusted, it will make blacksmithing the clearly superior raiding profession. If this is adjusted to +100, then while epic gems remain scarce the other professions will have the bonus (+100 for no/little/not scarce cost! Kermit Yayayay!)

Personally, I do not care too much about a net difference of 20 stats, but that is one of the things that makes me super-casual-for-life.

Epic Gems are Bad for PvPers:

I think that the PvP group has been essentially forgotten with this introduction of epic gems. While it will not come to a head for a while yet, this slow introduction of epic gems has the potential to create great problems in the community.

Imagine a reasonably competitive arena player. With the introduction of a new season, her first focus will be to conquest-cap in order to purchase the newest season's gear, and that will provide a significant stat boost. After that's all done -- a matter of perhaps a few weeks depending on the conquest point cap -- the only upgrades she'll have remaining are rare->epic gem conversion.

That's where the problem lies. As implemented right now, there is no PvP-centric way of gaining epic gems. Our arena player's best hope will be that she can purchase gems at auction, but this relies on her server having a vibrant raiding community that will supply them at auction. Also, PvP is not exactly a gold-intensive activity, so she may simply have trouble affording any epic gems -- clearly they will be the most expensive gear modification for some time.

So, depending on how dedicated she is to improving gear, our intrepid Arena-er will feel obligated to raid to acquire these gems. This is not good for anybody -- the PvPer will resent being forced to do something she doesn't want to do, the raid will suffer for having someone along who doesn't want to be there, and the raid will further suffer because her epic gems will be earmarked for her PvP rather than raid gear-sets.

Perhaps this falls under "life's tough, deal," but the mid-to-high end arena community is very competitive (and the low-to-mid end thinks that they are). Blizzard knows full well how much of a firestorm erupts over even a perceived imbalance.

Epic Gems are Bad for Casuals:

Perhaps the second most obvious point here, but epic gems are bad for casual raiders. This group (myself included) on the whole underperforms the potential of their gearing, and consequently they could use a `leg up' to see new content. Blizzard has begun to realize this, and that is why the Troll and 4.3 dungeons introduce gear on par with the raid tier recently completed.

This model was developed at the very end of BC (with the introduction of Sunwell gear at badge vendors and the Kara-equivalent gear dropped in Magister's Terrace) and was refined in Wrath.

Here, however, Blizzard is intentionally witholding the `easiest' gear upgrade -- putting a new gem in an already-existing piece -- to those who are already progressing. Blizzard may be putting their hopes on the new raid finder quickly acting as the Robin Hood gear fairy, but I feel that this is overly optimistic.

Qualitatively speaking, it also sends a bad signal to players who are thinking about becoming raiding. If epic gems are only freely available to raiders, then it tells players that they shouldn't bother optimizing their gear unless they are already raiding. I imagine that this is an unintentional signal, but it's still there.

Epic Gems are Bad for Progression Raiders:

If the last point was the most obvious, I think this is the most surprising. The introduction of epic gems is going to be bad in a progression environment, especially for hadcore guilds.

In an environment where every hit point and every mainstat truly matters, it is incumbent on raiders to gear up as much as they can. This introduction of epic gems means that the hardcore raider must obtain as many as she can as quickly as she can.

From there, the problem is obvious. If the best way to obtain epic gems for progression raiding is to raid, then progression raiders must also go through farm-raiding (of Dragon Soul) in order to gear their main characters. This is the reintroduction of the problem of Trial of the Crusader (4 lockouts, one raid) in another form.

Based on some quick wowhead searching, it looks like a fully-geared 4.3 raider will be tricked out with 15 non-meta gem slots, plus any Blacksmith bonus. This will represent more than two full clears of Dragon Soul (@ 8 bosses, one gem per character per boss), since it looks like players won't be able to select their gem colour of choice. The only way to gem 15 slots in a timely manner, thne, will be for progression guilds to additionally hold several farming runs of Dragon Soul in the raid week.

Mind you, this only applies until the mains are geared up and fully gemmed. Then, epic gems go form an epic shortage to nominal vendor trash, as far as main characters are concerned.

In a nutshell, this introduction of epic gems encourages progression raiders to raid reallyreallyreally hard at the start of this patch, but then to taper off as soon as the goal is in sight. This is not the healthy consumption of patch content, this is burnout-style behaviour.

Epic Gems are Bad for Blizzard:

Honestly, I just don't see who benefits from this introduction of epic gems. Ultimately -- when the release of Mists of Pandaria is imminent -- epic gems will be in surplus. People only need a finite number, but they will be generated at a continual (and increasing!) rate over the patch cycle.

The only real effect of this introduction is to somewhat artifically gate the gearing process, but even that is surmountable by the dedicated-enough raid group. It's not even a solution for gear inflation. Ultimately, Heroic Dragon Soul has to be balanced around the best-available gear, and that includes gem slots filled with the purple stuff.

This introduction harms most professions, shoehorns PvPers into an unwanted raid environment, penalizes Casuals, and demands burnout from progression players. I fear this will ultimately create a player base that cannot be satisfied, and this will be a support nightmare for Blizzard.

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