Challenges Not To Scale

Just for fun, I’m going to ramble on about scaling this morning.

Call it scaling, sliding, normalizing, whatever you’d like. What I’m going to talk about is increasing or decreasing the effective power of an opponent or a player to make a fight ‘fair’.

The first time I ran into scaling was in City of Heroes. They had a sidekick system that incorporated scaling. The idea was, you might be a long term customer with a powerful character, and a friend decides the game sounds fun and they want to come in and give it a try. The problem? Your friend wants to get in and start playing with you right away, but they’re level 10 and you’re 50. What to do?

The sidekick system in City of Heroes let you group with your low level friend, and the low level friend would have their effective power levels raised to match yours. They wouldn’t gain any new abilities, so they would have far fewer tools in their toolbox, but what they had would at least be effective, and their health and armor would let them be a viable teammate instead of a boy hostage.

So, that’s an example of a system where the power of the character would scale to match the content you were running.

Now, I’ve been puttering around in the new free-to-play MMO, Neverwinter, which is still in beta but is pretty awesome.

Why is it awesome?

Unlike almost every other free to play game I’ve tried, Neverwinter hasn’t been shoving their cash store in my face every time I turn around. Instead, I’m having fun playing the game, and the store is enticing me to buy neat stuff to enhance my play. Not, you know, stuff to buy just so I can have any kind of playtime at all.


In Neverwinter, there are scenarios, dungeons, instances, whatever you’d like to call them. There are those designed by the game company, and there are also player-created instances in what is called ‘The Foundry’, which are also, yes, free to play. And if you so desire, you can create your own scenarios too.

The interesting bit here is that the instances are not gated by level. The monsters and treasure within the instance will scale based on the level of the player that enters, so loot in chests will be level appropriate, and the opponents will also scale to match you. The difficulties come in the instance design. If someone stacks a bunch of bad guys in a small room with no place to maneuver, well, it’s going to be a hell of a challenge. The design of the instance determines the difficulty, and even how many people are needed to play in it, rather than the level of the characters or villains.

So, an example of a system where the character stays the same, and the content of an instance scales to provide an ‘appropriate’ challenge.

Where I’m going with this is simple.

What would it take to add scaling for the old content in World of Warcraft?

I’ll talk about why I think it would be a good thing later, for now let’s just talk about what would have to be done to implement something.

In my opinion, the highest hurdle would be the scaling technology itself. No sense talking about it if it would cost three years of serious programmer time to get something into beta.

Surprise! In World of Warcraft, most of the technology needed has already been implemented.

Blizzard is using scaling in the game already, and seems to be following the ‘scale the player power to match the content’ concept.

The first piece we can see comes from Heirloom items. The tech is in place to be able to scale the ilevel of gear up OR DOWN based on the level of the player.

You get an Heirloom, whoever you mail it to can equip it, and it will scale up or down, no problems. Right now, it scales based off of a character trigger – what is the level of the character equipping it?

In my opinion, it’s a short step to changing the trigger so iLevel scaling could change based on the recommended level of the dungeon or raid you were zoning into.

That brings us to the second piece which is already in the game, Challenge mode dungeons.

The Challenge mode dungeons are all level 90 dungeons that you cannot access until you’ve completed them on Heroic. They do not incorporate any character level scaling, but they do scale your equipped gear down to effective iLevel 463, except for the trinkets.

They also do other things upon entering them, such as deactivate Sha-touched gems and Tier bonuses. A complete list of what gets changed when you enter a Challenge mode 5 person dungeon can be found at Wowhead New’s awesome guide here.

The important bit here is that the tech is in place so that when you specifically queue for one of these scaled dungeons, and you zone in, your gear gets ‘normalized’ to an appropriate power level for the dungeon or raid you are doing.

So what puzzle pieces are we missing for the tech?

Only one thing, really. When you zone into a dungeon or raid, if there was a mechanism in place to detect your character level, and to scale your base character stats down to the ‘intended’ level of the content… well, that would cap the package, wouldn’t it?

With that one additional piece of tech, you could zone into, say, Ulduar 25 and as you zone in, your character base stats could be adjusted down to level 80, your gear iLevel could be scaled down to 232, your hit/expertise percentages against raid bosses would be maintained at whatever your previous level had been, and lo and behold you would now be able to do old content scaled to the appropriate ‘challenge’.

So, it’s a possibility. The tech is not that impossible to imagine.

Blizzard could, if they chose to, implement a new system where you could do old content through the LFD/LFR system, and when you zone in with the group your effective level and gear would be scaled to match the challenge.

If they chose to.

What is the one big reason why they might like to implement this?

To expand on options in the Looking for Group tool for dungeons and raids when leveling.

For a big bonus, to give us more options for randoms when level capped and seeking fresh possibilities for weekly Valor Points.

If you could queue for ANY dungeon or raid content, where you can queue for it now instead of when you finally ding 90, where you would have to use your class abilities to some extent rather than outgearing and facerolling it,  and IF you received Justice Points, Valor Points and experience points for doing it just like the current leveling dungeons… wouldn’t that expand the leveling freshness a bit?

Think about it. You wouldn’t just be matchmaking with people who are within the same three levels as you when trying to do Sunken Temple. You’d be queuing with anyone your level and above who’d like to get a run in, and everyone in the group regardless of level is going to have their effective power scaled down to put you all on the same playing field for that run… except for how many buttons are on your bar.

Why would you expect to get Justice, Valor or experience for such a run? Well, the whole point would be to make the content a reasonable ‘at level’ challenge, and suitable for LFR/LFD queuing. It would seem reasonable to expect to get some XP from the kills, some JP for the bosses and maybe a 15 or 30 Valor Point random queuing quest reward.

But there is one last big hurdle to it, and the reason why this isn’t an “I think they will do this” and more of an “I wonder how they would do that”.

What to do about loot?

Right now, when you do randoms leveling up you get a loot bag on completion of the run, with some random blue quality gear of the appropriate level for the dungeon you ran. The iLevel of the gear is based on the level of the dungeon, not your level. It doesn’t matter much because once you level past that dungeon, you can’t queue for it anymore.

What if they added loot bags to the random LFR/LFD system for old raids and dungeons? Bags with a piece of loot based on your actual character level instead of the level of the dungeon or your effective character level? The gear is already there, a wide range exists from those dungeon bags. Tie the bag quality into your level when you queued rather than the level of the dungeon, and you would get a level appropriate something for doing older content.

But is that enough incentive to get someone going through an entire raid? Some of those would take megatime.

Probably not.

But there is something else already implemented in a similar context that could be expanded into older content in LFR/LFD.

Achievements, Titles, Pets, Mounts and fancy transmoggable armor sets.

They have already implemented this in the Challenge mode dungeons, so the model is there.

If there were special achievements for doing older scaled content through the Raid/Dungeon finder tool, if loot was handled the way it is in LFR right now so you’re not competing with the other players, if there were pets that could drop on bosses, mounts to earn for completing raids or achievements, gear pieces that were specially colored old Tier or Dungeon sets…

Yeah. I think that just might be a complete package.

You could even implement a class-specific easter-egg hunt.

If you played in Vanilla WoW, do you remember the Sunken Temple quest lines?

Each character class had a quest you could get in Ungoro Crater, that led you to Sunken Temple, and as a reward gave you something really useful for your class.

What if a quest chain were added in the game, that asked you to visit all of these places through the Scaled Content LFD and collect items from them? Gather all the items, turn them in and get something appropriate for your class.

It wouldn’t have to be anything big or crazy, but it would be fun to have that class quest for a tasty item or RP flair. Mages could go collect shards of energy cast off from some of the big battles, charging a special Mana Gem. Warlocks could collect Shards of teh Souls of powerful bosses they defeat along the way. Rogues could pick pocket trinkets from bosses in various locations that had… personal meaning for the person sending you out to get them back. You get the idea.

I’m just musing aloud here, I’m not trying to prophecy or suggest something, and I don’t believe it WILL happen… but it could happen, and it would be fun.

The most interesting thing about this to me, is that by using the LFD/LFR tool as the gateway to run these, it allows Blizzard to leave all of the existing content untouched. You could still zone in and solo the old runs, get the chance at the original loot lists, work on original achievements and Legendary questlines, drops for the Raiding with Leashes pets, all of it.

The only time you would be zoning in to old content that scaled for an appropriate challenge would be when you intentionally sought one out on the LFD/LFR tool.

And finally, and to me the most fascinating part of the whole thing… by scaling the players to the content, you leave in place the option for Blizzard to tweak up or down the effective iLevel of the players. If a particular dungeon or raid became a severe chokepoint, then they could tweak the effective scaling of ilevel up or down as they felt appropriate.

I dunno. Maybe there is some glaring flaw I’m missing, but the whole thing seems technically feasible, it would benefit the majority of players in the game right now by adding more options, you could return to having a challenge in old content without it necessarily being a brutal slog, it would not require the creation of new zones or raids or art assets, except for mounts or Tier recoloring (or new gear sets, if they felt like it), and it would continue to be relevant regardless of what future level caps may climb to become.


So, what do you think? Does any of that make sense? Would it be fun? Is it a horrible idea? What do you think, my friends?

Oh, and happy Wednesday.

15 thoughts on “Challenges Not To Scale

  1. Heh. I remember the last toon I leveled in Wrath. I would go out, get every quest I could for a dungeon (through WoWHead Research) then run it. Your Sunken Temple comment reminded me of the optional boss in ST, the summoned one. The folks in my group were so impressed, they said they hadn’t done that fight since Vanilla. (Granted it was the first time I had ever done that fight, lol.)


  2. I like those ideas Bear. Not only would it give long time players at max level something else to do for a bit of a challenge, but it would also allow newer players a way to see content in an “originally designed as” way in raids/dungeons. I started playing shortly before TBC released and the only raids I had ever run at level, before WotLK released, were Kara and Gruul’s. I’ve always wanted to see how AQ 20/40, MC or BWL were “supposed to be done” at level.

    Along with Tesh though, I’d like to have a way to still be able to run the older content solo for the fun of testing myself…or the ease of just plowing through stuff to try to find old gear for t-mog purposes.

    I’m curious though…how would they handle old raids like AQ 40, MC or BWL as far as the amount of people needed to run it goes? As far as I know they are still classified as “40 man” raids. Would they keep it at 40 or drop it to 25? I would think dropping it to 25 would take a little more programming than they might want to adjust the health pools and damage of mobs/bosses to accommodate 25 players scaled to level.


  3. I think I see an issue though – part of what happens during a natural raid tier cycle is that you gear up, which makes the content easier. So when you defeat a new boss, it’s partially that you’ve (hopefully) improved and learned the fight, and partially that gear has made it a big easier for your team. Even challenge modes had gear leakage as gem slots aren’t scaled down, which made them easier after a while, and allowed more people to complete them who wouldn’t have been capable otherwise.

    I don’t know how much value there would be to content that locks you to a particular iLvl because brick walls are not fun. Most of us are not Paragon and never will be – we need at least a bit of gear help to be able to win.

    The challenge mode scaling has all sorts of issues as well. With legendary gems not working, I have to reforge my entire gear set to get back to a spirit level that allows me to heal effectively without the meta. In my DPS spec, I have to keep a separate helm with a meta that does work. I love challenge modes, but these quality of life things really mess with the fun.


  4. Actually bear, there’s another bit of scaling code you missed out on: Raid bosses and anything else in the game that has a skull for a level. They’re always treated as your level + 3 for to-hit calculations. Given that they’re already doing that, it would be excruciatingly easy to duplicate that code and swap some numbers around, adding a few things. It’s already been tested out, so they know it works. All they’d really have to do to implement it for scaling dungeons would be some basic integration testing once the modules were written and applied to dungeons.


  5. A minor correction, you can’t queue for challenge modes. I’m not sure they can even be done in a cross realm group but I’m positive about. It is about your own server community.

    Scaling could be fun, but I wouldn’t like it permanently on. I enjoy being able to go and grab transmog stuff/farm mounts without needing 4+ friends at times.


  6. I like the idea but so help me I never want to queue and be randomly stuck into Maraudon or Wailing Caverns. If they do scale the dungeons hopefully when you queue for a random you can at least choose which group your dungeon is in (vanilla, or maybe all of the troll dungeons no matter which level they were originally at). And, I would hope that doing old dungeons at their original level is always an option. Too many people enjoy farming old items, and soloing more recent bosses has become almost a game itself.


  7. I agree with good mother G – this is exactly the direction of the “big new feature” announced for 5.4. LOTRO btw has had scaling dungeons for ages

    IMHO Blizzard made a very bad business decision – every time an expansion comes out the old content was made completely irrelevant, creating a lot of repetitiveness in the relatively small new areas. Maybe, with the pressure of subscription losses they are revising their strategies

    Rauxis, choosen of CAT


  8. Y’ought to play Guild Wars 2, the scaling there works pretty much exactly how you describe 😀 It basically means all dungeons are still viable endgame content, even the lowest one which has a minimum level requirement of 30, and even with five well-geared max-level characters it can still provide a bit of a challenge, especially if the group isn’t very coordinated. And like your ideas, loot is based on character level (sort of – there’s a roughly equal chance to get dungeon-level loot too).

    I really like the idea of downscaling players for older raid content, particularly if it scaled their gear down to the max ilevel available in that raid, e.g. 226/245 for Ulduar.

    I reckon to further entice players, Blizzard could make it so the achievements for a raid are only, er, achievable when downscaled – no level 90 characters practically soloing Sarth 3D/25. It certainly would make titles more meaningful, although there’s the issue of people who already have them but got them the easy way, so I dunno what would happen about that.


    • I haven’t run a lot of dungeons in Guild Wars 2 but from the other scaling in the game (you get scaled down in zones as well) – the scaling isn’t perfect. Gear still plays a role – if you downscale in the zones you are not invincible, but you still overpower the area. The scaling in the dungeons works better because they are still really targeted as something you can do at max level with gear.

      The main issue I have is really with the up-scaling they do. All the event dungeons/zones you get up-scaled for. So you end up at max level (much like you described for City of Heros BBB) – but it’d be like getting up-scaled to the ilevel 458 and getting thrown into throne of thunder LFR. Some of the issue is that as you level you tend to grab whatever gear you have and wear it – and they all get up-scaled and you don’t end up with the same stats you might prioritize when you get to end game. But it means that if you screw up you can end up getting 1 shot, where you have more leeway when you have the best gear (which isn’t that hard to obtain once at max level).

      The only other thing is that the WoW devs need a bit more practice with the scaling since they screwed up the battleground scaling… but they’ll get there.


      • I think the overpowering thing is at least somewhat deliberate, or perhaps a reflection of how gear gets scaled, plus things like traits/talents affecting the numbers – does something that gives you +15% damage to an ability still give +15% when you’re downscaled? And exotic/rare gear isn’t even available at low levels, so if you’re equipped with that, then obviously you’ll be overpowered relative to a downscaled level 80 character wearing greens/blues; by how much, depends on how the gear levels are scaled. The issue is complicated somewhat in WoW due to item level, too, and things like tier set bonuses.

        That said, none of this is insurmountable, it’s just* a case of tweaking the numbers. By far the biggest problem is tweaking them to the right values 🙂


  9. Remember the weekly raid quests or whatever from Wrath? How about we add a weekly “scavenger hunt” where you get Magtheridon’s head and Magmadar’s scrotum and turn them in for 90 valor?

    Well, maybe not exactly those parts. Magtheridon’s head would be HUGE and probably hard to carry around. . .


  10. I like this. A couple of thoughts to expand the idea:

    I like DDO’s dungeon difficulty settings. If you’re going to have scaling, I’d say make it optional. Sometimes it’s still fun to just go plow through a lowbie dungeon solo. (On the other hand, make it so dungeons scale to your group, even solo, letting any oddball group find an “appropriate” challenge”. I’m less sold on that, since half the fun of soloing is to see what I can do to content designed for groups, but it’s another possible tangent.)

    Two, extend this “normalization” to PvP. My single biggest complaint about PvP is the inevitable gear/level imbalance. Normalize it so that PvP is about player skill and class design, period.

    I think Blizzard could do any of this. I’m just not convinced they want to.


    • Er, not that that first thought of mine is really expanding the idea, more agreeing with it. I’m not sure that the LFR tool is the best gateway, mechanically, but yes, all scaling all the time is a much harder sell, I think.


  11. I think you may get your wish, at least in part. I have a sneaking suspicion that the ‘New Feature’ Blizzard will introduce in 5.4 will combine Scenario Technology with old dungeons, allowing you (as a 90) to play these ‘classic’ dungeons at an appropriate level. Not scaling per se but at least an acknowledgement that people want a way to do the old content that yields appropriately levelled rewards. I’d expect there to be a fair number of mogging rewards in the mix, as well as re-skins of classic weapons and armour…


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