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A Word (or Six) on Pet Battles July 16, 2012

Posted by Stormy in Uncategorized.

As you’re all well aware, the latest Mists of Pandaria beta patch is here, and it brings with it the debut of one of the bigger new features in Mists, pet battles. Despite the incessant whining I did when the beta first launched, I haven’t been playing the beta at all. Having slogged through the Therazane quest chain five times, I don’t want to feel the same way about Mists a year from now as I do about Cataclysm now (“Oh God, I have to do that *again*?!”), so I’ve largely been avoiding the beta. I did, however, catch this video demonstration of pet battles from the fine folks at Wowhead…

Note that in the beginning of this post I referred to pet battles as one of the “bigger new features of Mists,” while every other post I’ve read on the subject invariably refers to them as the “most anticipated new feature.” Perhaps. Pokemon was a big thing back in the day, and I’ll confess that I am too old and was too much of a loner in middle school and high school to have any exposure to Pokemon at all. I knew it was a kids’ TV show and I can recognize Pikachu, but other than that my level of familiarity with Pokemon is on par with my level of familiarity with Star Wars–it’s about space, and there’s a girl with a cinnamon bun hairdo and a couple robots, right? So I have zero frame of reference for how this whole pet battle thing is supposed to work or why people have worked themselves into such a tither over it. Having seen the Wowhead video, on the other hand…

This may, in fact, be the dumbest thing I’ve ever seen in my entire life.

To qualify as a “video game” and not just a “video,” a game must require some sort of input from the user in order to make the game do something. The player clicks things with a mouse or types things on the keyboard, and things happen as a result. To be a good video game, there has to be a point to the inputs a player is making: a baddie that must be killed, points that are accumulated or some other sort of prescribed outcome at which the player can either succeed or fail.

Let me tell you a little story–although it’s one I’ve told before. Five years ago I met a guy I really liked, and he kept interrupting chat sessions with me to go play this thing called World of Warcraft. He kept referring to “instances” and other things that apparently required his full attention so that he could not talk with me and play WoW at the same time. That was okay for a while, but after a while I became curious and decided to try out this WoW thing to see what all the fuss was about. I was a level 1 dwarf pally in Dun Morogh and I was given my first quest to kill a certain number of boars. I found an appropriate boar that needed killing (he looked at me funny, I swear) and clicked on it. And that was it. I had no concept of special attacks or that I was supposed to do anything more than click on the boar to kill it. The boar and I went back and forth doing white damage to each other, and because I had more hit points than the boar did, I eventually outlasted him. It was a nail-biter of a battle, but I won. At the time, I thought this was the entire premise of killing things in World of Warcraft: find something smaller than you that has fewer hit points than you do, click on it, and it will eventually die.

This *is* the entire premise of pet battles. Once you’ve selected a pet to kill, you quite literally take your hands off the keys and mouse, and your pet and the other pet go back and forth biting each other until whoever is the strongest wins. There is no intervention from the player at all. Once you’ve picked another pet to battle, it literally becomes you watching what amounts to a video of your pet killing the other pet.

Please, someone tell me how, in a game where players are continually chewing each other out for not knowing the different stat weights for intellect, spirit, hit, etc., in a game where only a handful of guilds can put together the coordination, gear and outright skill to take down heroic raid bosses, in a world where even the Auction House can be played in such a way that it requires a degree in Microeconomics, this fits as something the playerbase is going to find engaging and interesting. I just…don’t get it.

Beyond being a complete failure at the purpose of a video game (giving the player an objective at which to succeed or fail), I’m actually insulted that the folks at Blizzard Entertainment felt this was an appropriate use of development resources for World of Warcraft. I wish I could find the actual tweet from Zarhym from a few months ago, but part of the justification for canceling this year’s BlizzCon was that Blizzard’s two marquee products for the year, Diablo III and Mists, were both scheduled for release in Q2 2012 and would be old news by October. Now a release in Q3 seems less and less likely every day, and our attention has shifted to a possible release in Q4. There has literally been zero new content introduced in WoW for eight months, and it’s likely to be eleven or twelve by the time Mists is actually released. The last big piece of the puzzle to be released, which is by all accounts a buggy mess, is pet battles. There are coders sitting at desks in Irvine right now coding their collective tails off to get this pet battles feature perfected so the expansion can be released. As a result, almost every server is a ghost town right now. Raiding guilds have largely locked up the shop until the expansion comes out. Those of us who are still logging in are flailing around to find ways to fill the time between now and the release of Mists (and although I can’t speak for everyone, I’m currently doing content from BC and Wrath, grinding my second Crusader title and Netherwing rep, because there just simply isn’t anymore Cataclysm content to be had). The content that *has* been released on live servers, the Dragon Soul raid, is widely considered one of the most underwhelming raids in the game’s history. Every minute of programming time spent on pet battles is a minute that could have been spent programming something else.

I know I’m in the minority. There are tons of people looking forward to reliving the ’90s through Pokemon, and there are tons of people excited about this pet battle thing for all sorts of other reasons. I sincerely hope they get the enjoyment they’re hoping for, and I hope they get their money’s worth out of the new expansion. As for me, I’ll stick to things that actually constitute playing a video game.



1. red cow - July 16, 2012

I think you may be misunderstanding what you’re seeing in the video! The bar along the bottom of the screen is the pet’s spell bar, so the player is making attack choices and providing input for how their pet will behave in the battle. In the first battle, the pet only has one move, similar to how pokemon start out with something simple like tackle, or druids come with wrath. In the second battle you can see that the pet has a second ability to use. The main difference from WoW battles now is that the attacks are turn-based. The Godmother has a brief description of how a battle plays out here: http://www.alternative-blog.net/2012/07/beta-pet-battles-from-beginning.html

Of course you don’t have to like or play the pet battles, but it’s not as easy as clicking on a critter and waiting for a cutscene to play out! I wouldn’t want to “play” that either.

Stormy - July 17, 2012

I’m willing to be wrong, but watch the cursor in the video. You’re right that the pet only has one ability and that he has to manually select that ability at the beginning of the battle…but then his cursor moves completely away from the action bar for the duration of the battle. That’s like me clicking Mind Flay once and having my priest auto-cast Mind Flay for five minutes to take down a boss. Where’s the skill (or the game, for that matter) in that?

red cow - July 17, 2012

I just assumed you could use your action bar, like you can with vehicle combat! Reading descriptions of the ability so far suggest you can use DoTs and long-cooldown abilities, so you would need some consideration in your battle choices, not just setting auto-attack and walking away.

Maxine (@mixxie143) - July 17, 2012

You can use your action bar. And the pets gain more abilities as they level, up to 6 in total. And the three different pets with 6 different abilities each–that’s 18 abilities to juggle with different damage or healing effects. Yes, the bottom levels look pretty boring and repetitive. But that’s also partly because wild pets are predictable and less inventive. On top of the increased complexity that comes with leveling the pets, player battles will introduce the complexity of a human brain on the other side of the computer.

But ultimately, this is not supposed to be a game-changer for the mmo genre. This progresses a current trend of having minigames available within the broader game, a trend which has been quite popular so far. Whether or not you like this particular aspect of that trend, I’ll repeat what i’m sure has been said before: try it before you knock it.

2. cedra - July 17, 2012

Got linked here from MMO melting pot so lots more people will see this. So no offense but you may want to try the feature before you post a long winded rant. You don’t need to move the mouse curser to control your pet. You can do so from the keyboard just like there are a TON of different pets with different abilities that combo in different ways and work against different opponents differently. It’s actually a pretty complex system that’s going to have a ton of game play. I think you’re really doing something you obviously haven’t tried a big disservice.

cedra - July 17, 2012

I ment to say just like any other vehicle in wow.

3. joui - July 17, 2012

those buttons can be keybinded, you dont have to mouse-click on them at all, so the cursor can be as far away as it likes. I have no clue where my cursor is half the time im raiding…

If the poster would actually try out the battles, or even read about them on the forums, they would understand that there is quite a lot of strategy involved: there are around 10 pet types, with different vulnerabilities and strength points; there are spells that last several moves, there are counters to those spells, there are counters to the counters; there are spells that apply to all 3 pets you have in your battling group, there are specific abilities on some pets, and then theres the random factor on top of all this, much alike any “real” game…

4. Smartazjb0y - July 17, 2012

Yeah you’ve definitely got it all wrong. It’s literally like any turn-based battle system: you select a move, your pet performs it, your opponent does the same, the it’s once again your turn to select a move. It’s not an autopilot game where you just take your hands off the keyboard and watch your pets duke it out, you’re constantly putting in input, and taking weaknesses, strengths, and abilities into consideration, the system can be quite complex.

Just saying, it’s pretty poor form to attack not only the feature but to attack Blizzard and question their decisions, when you didn’t take the time to fully understand the feature.

david leach - July 17, 2012

Haters Gonna Hate

5. Team Matticus takes on the updated Pet Battle system | Owned Gamers - July 18, 2012

[…] know that not everyone likes the inclusion of the Pet Battle system in the game. But it’s another engaging activity to do within the […]

6. The Godmother (@AlternativeChat) - July 18, 2012

..and canny gold makers are going to be quids in. This has the potential to become utterly addictive for a subset of the player base, and they will want to buy the best pets. The canny AH seller/’professional’ trainer’s going to have to potential to make a real killing as a result… 😛

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