So eventhough we get better, so does everything else. No progression is really made. We only get new content and the impression that we constantly overpower content. We are overpowering content, but only current content. Until it's not current anymore and we have a new threshhold to climb. And we do this over and over. Like I said in my old post;
"Cataclysm will have my character just as good/bad compared to the npcs as all the other expansions have. In fact we're rebooting ourselves. Come Cataclysm even those with über ICC gear will have to start out fresh again and start dressing up in greens, struggling in instances and become overjoyed when some "cool" blue item drops. Doing the first raids and getting that first really good epic item, until we're all epic geared again and start replacing epic items with epic items and... Wrath and BC all over again. "
I don't mind it, it is what makes the game still fun after six years, to constantly feel like there still is some challenge in this game and a reward for overcoming it (which isn't just glory, but pretty purple pixels as well). The sense of progression, however imaginary, is clearly a very strong motivator that keeps us interested. But there are casualties of this war, of this constant battle of telling us we're moving ahead when we're really moving back and forth. And the bloated stat numbers are one of them.
If you had told a new WoW player in early Vanilla that characters would once be able to level up to 100 (if we get there) and wear gear with stats that valued up to the tenth of thousands he'd have laughed spittle all over your face. Because everytime there is a new expansion and the new gear is announced I find the new stat values crazy. And those items are usually just the first, measly greens of the expansion. Then we have the epics and whatever item that comes towards the end of the expansion. In fact, I chuckle at my own psychic powers when I guessed what stats we'd be having in Cata in the post I wrote a year ago;
"What can we expect to have in Cataclysm? 10k spellpower? 100k hp on a caster? It might sound ridiculous now, but I'm quite sure these are numbers we'll be working with soon."
We quickly grow accustomed to the new values, but practically there is no difference between an item that has 1000 strength and one that has 10 strength, as long as it is used in current content. The things you fight now will somehow magically take as long and be as difficult to kill as the monsters of the previous expansion. We wouldn't want to have it any other way. So do we just accept that the numbers must increase?
Blizzard tell us they know about this problem (it's kind of hard to miss, so I wonder if anyone thought otherwise), which isn't just aesthetical, but practical as well and they offer two possible solutions - although of course they tell us these are just examples of ways to handle this. Both solutions are similar, and aesthetically close to identical, they do however have different practical values.
The first solution could include changes like adding commas and the like to large numbers. We could also compress all of those 1000s to Ks and all of those 1,000,000s to Ms, much like we do with boss health today. Internally, we have been calling this the “Mega Damage solution” because instead of your Fireball hitting for 6,000,000 damage, it would hit for 6 MEGA DAMAGE (queue the Arcanite Ripper guitar solo)."
"Item Level Squish
The second solution actually involves compressing item levels, which is why we call it the “item level squish solution.” If we can lower stats on items, then we can lower every other number in the game as well, such as how much damage a Fireball does or how much health a gronn has. If you look at the item level curves, you can see that most of the growth occurs at the maximum character levels for the various expansions. This is because we keep rewarding more and more powerful gear to make the new raid tier and PvP season in an expansion reward significantly better gear than the previous one. However, those huge item level jumps don’t accomplish a lot once the character level has increased again. Very few players notice or care how much of an upgrade the Black Temple loot is over the Serpentshrine Cavern loot when their characters are level 80.
With that in mind, we could go back and compress the big item level increases that occur at level 60, 70, 80 and 85. The Mists of Pandaria gear would still grow exponentially from patch to patch, but the baselines would be a lot lower. Health could go from 150,000 back down to something like 20,000. The big risk of this approach is that players will log into the new expansion and feel nerfed… even if all the other numbers are compressed as well.
In other words, your Fireball will still do the same percentage damage to a player or a creature that it does today, but the number would be smaller. Logically, this seems like it would work, and it does. But it feels weird. When we tried this internally, everyone agreed that it just felt off throwing a spell for hundreds of damage when you are used to it doing thousands of damage."
We either have the Mega Damage or the Item Level Squish. Aesthetically they both do the same thing in that they devalue the numbers. Instead of a lot of zeros, you have either no zeros or hide the zeros behind the name "Mega". Practically it differs between actually removing those zeros in the calculation or keeping them.
When I first read about these two propositions I thought it was ridiculous that one would feel better than the other. Would adding "mega damage" to the end really make all the difference? Would it bother me if I did 100 damage or 100 Mega damage? I'm not sure how much I'm concerned with the numbers of the skills I do. I want them to be good, but good compared to what? Compared to the numbers I did with this character before I switched weapons or compared to the numbers everyone else around me are doing? I'd like to think the latter, in which case the size of the number in itself is irrelevant, as long as it is on par with what everyone else is doing and as long as it gets the job done. would I feel weak doing 100 damage with my Eviscerate if I knew 90% of all the other rogues only did 90? I'd like to think not.
But I shouldn't underestimate the power of progression and especially the power of suggestion. Getting a bigger power than what I had previously suggests that I have improved - in a way I have, only so has (or rather will) everything else. It is quite possible I will think it is completely horrible that my renews only tick for 50 health, although the tank only has 6k hp. On the other hand, I do remember Blizzard actually devaluing stats before, half way through Burning Crusade they revalued the spell power numbers (or healing power as it was called then for healers), making us end up with roughly half of whatever we had had before. Fortunately, as I recall, it didn't nerf our healing output with half, but it did nerf us somewhat. I was freaked at first when my numbers had dropped by such a significant amount but I quickly got back into rythm when I realized that I could still do my job. And I'd like to think that eventhough people would be freaked at first, what really matters is whether you're winning against the evil guys or not.
I have been pondering whether it would be a good idea to scrap the whole value-based stat system all together. Blizzard initially started out with solid numbers - say, 2% crit - on items, but quickly realized that as they gave better items more stats, it would eventually lead to everyone having 100% of everything. So in a sense they did scrap the value-based stat system when they implemented ratings, a system where the value is completely dependant on your current level. I was writing about something along those lines already in my other post;
"What if gear worked like inverted BoA - the further away from it's required level you are, the less stats it gives. That means only the gear with the right level requirement for you will be really good. So level 60 gear will be really good, but only around those levels and then you have to switch it."
This is actually kind of like how ratings work, but we still have value-based stats, like spellpower, strength, and all the other primary stats. Maybe the next step would be to make those into a sort of rating as well, giving us 15 agility rating which would be valued less or more depending on level. The problem is, ratings aren't there to solve the bloated numbers issue. As it is now, Blizzard can shove as much rating in our faces as they want since the usefulness of the rating usually diminishes the higher level you get, which explains why I actually become less and less good from level 80 to 84, eventhough I have the same gear. The drop isn't proportionate to the increased skill of the mobs, but actually goes downward. Ratings are there to prevent us from capping our secondary stats, not to prevent us from having lots of zeros on our gear. And like I said in my previous post;
"It is clear we need something to differentiate good gear from bad gear. And some sense of individual progression is obviously a really important part of mmorpgs. Maybe numbers really is the only way to make that in an easy to understand way. 10 strength is better than 5 strength (or in WoW rather; epic color is better than blue color). Easy maths. "
It seems whatever idea I come up with it always ends up with numbers somewhere, because it is difficult to show why item A is better than item B without using some kind of value which always ends up being some sort of numbers. Maybe we are simple minded and can only understand "more is better than less", so maybe numbers indeed is the only way to go about it.