Tuesday, September 1, 2009

The "Dance Studio" Goes Away

Have you been subject to the chat log shown above? If you've played much at all since Call of the Crusade went live, you have probably found yourself jumping repeatedly against the entrance portal to an instance. These efforts are generally futile because you have to catch room on the instance servers opened up when another group leaves their instance. Friends and guildies in both AIE and Illuminati have complained loudly over these past few weeks and this has even disrupted our guild raids. For example, The Illuminati cleared 12/15 in heroic Naxx a week ago but would have had a full clear on night 1 in all likelihood if it hadn't been for full instance servers (and randomly problematic login servers) delaying start time for 45 minutes.

Well for whatever reason, the term "instance dancing" or "portal dancing" started being used to describe the phenomenon of running back and forth through a portal wall repeatedly for long stretches of time. I can't help but think this was indeed the beta testing for the Blizzard Dance Studio they keep promising us! OK, not really. But it did seem like a strange problem to pop up now. I suppose the rush to run instances and such was never quite as high as right after Patch 3.2 because of the changes to emblems and heroic dailies encouraging people to run their endgame toons back through these instances a lot more. There are a lot more toons at 80 now than during the initial rush through the expansion, so perhaps it does make sense...but I still believe we would've seen this problem a bit more in the past if we were on the brink of overloaded instance servers on high population realms.

Well the weekly maintenance list went up for today and at long last, Earthen Ring is on the chosen list of realms for super-duper extended maintenance today. This longer maintenance than the other realms has been going on for a few weeks now and apparently alleviates the instance dancing problem for the selected realms. Or at least the complaining over the whole community seems to have gone down from the absolute fervor we saw at Blizzcon.

So perhaps I will be able to take my limited playtime and not risk the time wasted to put together a group for heroics only to not be able to get into those instances. I have run just enough to buy my first Tier 8 piece with conquest emblems, but I do not have more than a small handful of conquest and/or Triumph emblems left now because I have not been grinding the heroics like others. The mixed blessing with this curse has been my increased focus on my three alts, which have become real substantive fun for me now. While I hope the extended maintenance does the trick tonight, Blizzard has made it clear that peak hours could still be affected even with the current fix, at least until they roll out the second part of the fix to the instance dancing problem: Patch 3.3.

Patch 3.3 will include Icecrown Citadel, but it will also include cross-realm LFG for 5-man instances. Apparently there will be some extra rewards for leading such cross-realm PUG's and it will be interesting to see what those are (more gold, more emblems?). The cross-realm LFG and instances are limited to your battlegroup just like BattleGrounds are now, but there may be potential for wider realm availability or cross-realm raids in the future if this experiment goes well. Hence, we will be the beta-testers for this feature after Patch 3.3 drops, but on the bright side, the instance server overloading problem should be eradicated because low-population servers will then share their unused instance server space with high-population servers that struggle to have enough instance server space.

As a member of a mega-guild on Horde side and a large guild on Alliance-side, I don't have huge problems finding groups, especially since I heal. However, opening the pool of possible group-mates can only be a good thing for more efficiently starting a group and getting into what you really want to do, which is kill stuff and get loot! However, the dark side of this is the risk of ninjas and absolute horrible party behavior because you will not be building a bad reputation on your own server when you mistreat people from other servers. Unless there's a better way implemented with Patch 3.3 to lodge complaints against these misbehving people, I suspect the PUG market will become incredibly more cloudy. To be safe, you should start compiling a list of good PUG players from your own server now so that you hopefully have a go-to list for a good tank/healer/DPS before you have to resort to PUG's.

As shown in yesterday's "economics" entry, there will always be people out there who will try and game the system. Whether it's ninja'ing rare items in PUG groups for dream shards or exploiting the game to get underground and steal mining nodes, they will always be there. I just hope Blizzard properly thinks out a proper framework for easily reporting these people and getting them warned, suspended, and/or banned if the awful behavior towards other players continues over time.

So while I certainly will not miss instance dancing at all, I don't want to risk losing the chance to PUG completely due to these changes either. Hope for the best, prepare for the worst - as always.

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