Sunday, July 22, 2012

Pet Quality - It's Complicated

With pet collecting evolving into a more mainstream style of gameplay, Pet Battles, everything about companions is getting more complicated. That's just nature of evolution.

That being said, I've been putting off writing about this topic because it's not simple, black and white, cut and dry, or something that I have a firm opinion about yet. There are many sides, valid points, and shades of grey. It's something that we as a community and Blizzard as developers, are going to have to discuss at length and compromise over. Even then, there will still be some who are not satisfied.

In a couple of words: pet quality/rarity.

Some Background

This mechanic will be part of the Pet Battles minigame, and involves assigning a companion with a quality type that will ultimately affect how it scales as it levels up.

There are currently 4 known quality types: poor (grey), common (white), uncommon (green), and rare (blue). Epic and Legendary qualities haven't been confirmed yet.

NOTE: I'm not sure about this, but I don't believe the pet item will have any relation to its quality. An example is the original pet item (not a caged version) that teaches the Hyacinth Macaw; it's an epic item but learning it will not teach you how to summon an epic quality pet.

The higher the quality of a companion, the higher its base stats will be (attack, speed, and health). These three attributes at their max levels won't guarantee it absolute success in a battle, but it will likely give it a better chance than pets with lower attributes.

As far as I know, there are only two ways to own a pet that is of high(er) quality - catch a wild pet OR own an existing "rare" companion that is determined by Blizzard as worthy of a higher quality status. In the former situation, the quality of the wild pet is determined at random and as soon as the wild pet is spawned into the game world. The latter... well, that's still up for debate at the moment. It's what has much of the pet collecting community buzzing.

The Problems

Initially, the plan was that only capturable pets would be assigned a rarity type. This meant existing companions and new pets from vendors, quests, etc. would not have any base stat boosts, and would ultimately be put at more of a disadvantage when fighting in a battle. It would be like pitting someone in full PVP gear against someone who is not. The former isn't guaranteed to win, but has a much higher chance because of the bonuses granted to them by their gear.

Blizzard recognized that this created an issue where players would then focus on just finding rare wild pets and exclusively using them for battling. It also made the entry level into the minigame steeper since everyone, especially new players, would not have access to rare pets until they managed to catch one. Using existing pets to start off in this minigame would be difficult and tedious compared to using a rarer companion.

In addition, developers recognized that some pets that were not wild should be granted higher status simply because of how unique or difficult to come by they were. Telling players that their highly desirable (and not to mention prestigious) Zergling was of lower quality, and therefore be put at a disadvantage when up against a pet like an every-day rare quality wild fawn, probably did not sit well with Blizzard.

Needless to say the notion didn't sit well with players, either.

This led to the promotion and upgrade of non-wild pets, turning them into higher quality companions. Currently there is a discussion thread on the beta forums about WHICH non-wild pet should be granted a quality bump. The pets listed are Blizzard's initial ideas for the companions that will get turned into rare quality pets, but the list is by no means set in stone yet. They are willing to hear out suggestions on what the community thinks and which pets we'd like to see get upgraded.

While all of this seems very promising and a good idea in theory, a new issue has come up, an issue of choice or lack thereof.

Some players see the entire concept of quality assignment as taking away their ability to choose which pets to use in Pet Battles. Rather than being able to use their favorite lower quality companion, many are feeling pressured to use a less desirable pet that has higher stats simply for the sake of having a higher success rate in battle. The equivalent would be having a best in slot item in PVE, and how it feels almost mandatory to use these items if you want to min/max and have a slight advantage during combat.

For a "casual minigame", players are wondering why this situation should even exist. Why turn Pet Battles into something so complicated when it should be light-hearted and fun, without the headaches of contemplating what pets and actions would be the most efficient and overpowered?

Sure, the quality system gives the game some depth and an extra zing to make it interesting and long-lasting, but is it worth giving up the ability to simply go with whatever feels good for the sake of "progress"?

In all honesty, the argument that "choice" is still available and players should just use whatever pet they feel like using, regardless of quality, is a weak one.

Think about it. If given the option between a pet that you don't find all that appealing yet it has more attack power, more speed, more health, and just MORE in general, or a pet that has less in every aspect but is your favorite pet for sentimental reasons, which one would you choose to use in a battle? Naturally the goal is to win the encounter, right? So under normal circumstances, would you willingly put yourself at a disadvantage and choose the companion that does not have a slight edge on the competition? There's no guarantee either way, but generally humans will naturally pick the more favorable option that will help lead them to their goal.

Another issue is how does one quantify quality? Who gets to choose which pet gets to be upgraded to a higher status? Ultimately Blizzard does, but one person's idea of "rarity" may not be the same as the next persons. Not all players will agree with the final list of non-wild pets being transformed into companions with better stats, simply because of the fact that rarity and difficulty is relative.

In some cases such as the Zergling or Murky, it's undeniable that these pets deserve a notable and favorable increase to their status. But what about the Frigid Frostling? Should this pet qualify too? Some players have managed to acquire this pet on their first try, while others have spent years trying and hoping and waiting with no luck. The former group might not see this pet as higher quality-worthy because it was so "easy" for them to obtain, while the latter group thinks otherwise. Who is right and who is wrong in a situation such as this?

There IS NO absolute right or wrong here. Each player places their own impressions of value on their collection and each individual companion within it. It just doesn't seem right to have to tell someone that their opinion about a favored pet is wrong. Their point of view is their own, and regardless what it is or if others agree, they have a right to it.

A Solution?

At the moment, the thread in which the announcement for quality upgrades is continuing and becoming quite lengthy. There are some that are for so-and-so pet, and those that are against. Mixed in are discussions of why include quality into this new minigame at all, for the reasons stated above.

So what should Blizzard do in a situation like this? Well, at the moment I think they have a basic choice to make:
- Remove the entire quality mechanic.
- Keep pet quality in.
Removing it would anger players who were looking forward to hunting down and capturing wild pets with unique qualities. It would also mean less depth to this minigame. However, it would help alleviate the issue of perceived choice of pet for combat, and make things less complicated in general.

Keeping it would anger players who don't want to feel pressured into using X companion over Y, for the sake of a slight increase in success rate. But it would help promote the longevity and replay-ability of Pet Battles, especially for those who have to literally "collect them all".

It's going to be a tough choice for Blizzard, and I do not envy them for having to make the final call on this matter.

If they do choose to keep the system of quality in Pet Battles, some players are mentioning possible solutions that will give players more control and more of a choice in the matter.

I haven't gone over all possible suggestions yet, but after a brief conversation with a friend, he came up with one that makes qualities both a static and dynamic feature.

Rather than pre-assigning quality status to non-capturable pets, give players a chance to choose which pets they would like to upgrade.

While engaging wild pets, players will need to choose to capture or defeat any pet that is of rare quality, right? Well, what if defeating it rewards the player with a token or tokens? By collecting enough of them, they would then be used to boost the stats of any non-rare quality pet, eventually turning that pet into a higher quality companion. To prevent any farming abuse or exploitation of the system, only rare wild pets of similar level range would drop these tokens and they would be BoP.

That seems pretty reasonable, right? Not only does it include the existing idea of randomly capturing a rare wild pet, it empowers the player with the choice of using a pet that might not start out as high quality but has the potential to be over time. The idea of a BiS pet still lingers, but the player has more control over what they want to be BiS.

It would probably take extra coding and programming as well as development and planning on Blizzard's end to implement this, though. With the deadline for MoP possibly inching closer and closer, I'm not sure there's enough time for such a complicated adjustment to the system.

But that's just one suggestion. There are likely many other similar or unique ideas for balancing and compromise, I'm sure. Maybe Blizzard has something cooking up behind the scenes too.

For now we'll have to wait and see where Blizzard decides to take this, and continue to provide mature and constructive feedback. They really do take the community's voice into consideration, but we must remember that sometimes the final decision is simply the best they can do at the moment. It might not be ideal or even acceptable for the majority. As long as we keep the communication channels open and keep an open mind, there is hope that a resolution will be found.


  1. Another issue I have with pet quality is that it could lead to decreased availability of wild pets with already low availability.

    For example a pet that is only available when it rains. Say it begins to rain, and then six of these pet spawn. What if one person then captures all of these (releasing the lower quality ones) in the hope of getting a rare?

    1. @Kintarah: That's a very good point. Quality is currently such a large factor in Pet Battles that it feels almost mandatory. Players are going to naturally want to be as successful as they can be, and if that means hoarding all the wild pets for a shot at that special one out of X number, what's to stop them from doing so? There won't be enough to go around.

      I have to admit that I'm guilty of "catch and release" of wild pets while on the beta. All for the sake of looking for one of higher quality. On one hand, the hunt is interesting for me, but on the other... it's unfair to those who are also looking.

  2. I do like the idea of opening the list to our current collections as there are a few I would love to use and not feel disadvantaged by using a poor giraffe, for example just because I want to use a giraffe.

    Kintarah also makes a good point though as I'm interested in trying to find some of those more unusual pets but I like the fact that it opens the battling system up to those who want to focus more on wild battles for capturing rare quality pets if that's their preference.

    1. @Cymre: The more I think about it, the more "quality" just seems too complicated for what's supposed to be a laidback minigame. It adds depth to the game, sure, but perhaps it's not worth all the potential issues that are popping up. And there seem to be a lot of issues.

      I'm still on the fence about it. :\

  3. The hunter pets are equal regardless what skin they are in? Why can't minipets be the same, and the only variation being what skillset you choose to use in the battle?

    1. @Eileen: I think Blizzard wanted to add something akin to Pokemon's "pet evolution" mechanic to give Pet Battles more depth and increase the longevity of gameplay for some players, without blatantly copying the "evolve" system. My guess is that their solution was different quality type.

  4. Oh... I have been collecting pets for so long now, but I feel so nervous about this battle-system. Not sure what to think!

    I really appreciate your blogging about it.

    1. @Eileen: I know what you mean! When I first heard about Pet Battles, I was very skeptical and unsure. But after trying it out on the beta, I've come to really enjoy the new feature. There are still traditional ways of collecting new pets if you find that Pet Battles just isn't your cup of tea, though. :D

  5. Everyone shouldnt be worrying about what pet they use, if its not rare then just upgrade it by finding a rare one or using a battle stone. problem fixed


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