Where did World of Warcraft go wrong?

Of course, then I'm tol time and again that I don't have a place in the game as it's structured and I go back to not wanting to give Blizzard my money.

I should not be looking at an expansion filled with draenei and not be excited. This is literally everything I’ve ever wanted.

Something is rotten in the state of Azeroth, and it has been for a while.

The problem of talking about World of Warcraft‘s decline is that no one is interested in doing so.  The game’s fans are eager to point out that the game still has an impressive number of subscribers rather than talking about the fact that, on average, the game has been losing more than a million subscribers per year since the launch of Cataclysm.  The other side of the coin likes to forecast the game’s death, neglecting to acknowledge that even if the game keeps bleeding off subscribers at this rate it’s got several more years of life left in it while discounting spikes.

But there’s a frank discussion to be had, one that doesn’t invest itself in hyperbole, and it’s obvious that the game is on a downward arc.  Over the past four years (Cataclysm launched at the very tail end of year six) the game has lost an extraordinary number of subscribers.  Its growth has stalled.  This is a stark reversal when the game was in an upward trend for the first six years of its lifespan.  Why is that?  What’s changed its fortunes so thoroughly?  I wonder about that a lot, and I think a lot of it comes down to learning the wrong lessons from its height.

I should be glad that Mists at least used the Blood Elves to good effect.

The first expansion also brought us two of the coolest races in the game, something that some people are still intensely angry about despite (or because of) their popularity.

What do I mean by that?  Let’s look at a little correlation.

The Burning Crusade rewrote a lot of fundamental parts of the game.  The two faction-specific classes were no longer faction-specific any longer.  Raiding wasn’t the same, either; the game incorporated smaller raids all around, along with tighter, more linear dungeon design.  It introduced the idea of daily quests, adding in several reputation factions for players to advance both solo and in small groups.  Toward the end of its cycle it introduced another 10-person raid and a bunch of gear that you could buy with Badges of Heroism, the currency that dropped from Heroic dungeons and raids.  Specs still had a lot of diversity, which led to complaints about things like spellpower plate (i.e. armor that no one who wasn’t playing a Holy Paladin) would want.

Wrath of the Lich King took all of this to the next level.  Heroics were tuned down, meant to be easier for players to progress through.  In the early parts, a quest was added targeting a random Heroic dungeon for extra badges; at the end of the cycle, the Dungeon Finder baked those rewards into doing a random dungeon alone or with friends.  Every raid now came in a 10-person or 25-person flavor.  Not that you even needed to worry about those toward the end of the expansion’s life cycle, when getting the tier armor was as simple as getting badges.  Sure, you had to go into raids and beat some bosses to get the upgrades for that tier armor, but you could literally just run random dungeons and grab a full set for your character that way.  Dungeons became more scripted experiences, and there was even more emphasis on solo progression in the form of the Argent Tournament and a variety of single-player daily reputations.

Cataclysm reversed a lot of this.  Raids were meant to be harder.  Heroics were meant to be harder.  The designers scaled back the availability of epic items significantly, removing the option of buying your tier set altogether and ensuring that most of what you could buy with badges would be blue items.  Raids did get the strictly heroic version added in, which meant that any given raid had four different versions; at the end of the cycle the raid finder was added.  Despite all of this, there were still some large-scale solo progression elements added into the game; if you didn’t like raiding, you could still assemble some equipment from reputations, which were slow and ubiquitous but were at least present.  The raid finder’s introduction was welcomed, but the expansion ended off with far fewer subscribers.  The expansion also didn’t add any new classes of any sort; two new races, yes, and some new class combinations, but that’s all.

Oh, and racism.  I almost forgot racism.

Maybe this overextended April Fool’s joke wasn’t the best choice for leading off the expansion. (The Pandaren have some pretty strong merits, yes, but they certainly didn’t help first impressions.)

Mists of Pandaria seemed to be a return to form, at first – the raid finder was in from the start, the Monk was added, and there were plenty of dailies.  In fact, there were too many dailies, requiring a reputation grind to unlock another reputation grind at launch.  Not that it mattered, as most of the reputation rewards were now gated behind Justice and Valor points, which encouraged you to get in there and raid if you wanted to actually see all of this gear you theoretically earned the right to wear already.  Mists of Pandaria‘s overall progression saw lots of groups hitting hard walls early on in the raiding game.  The game is currently waiting for the next expansion with its subscribers sitting at 7.6 million, fewer subscribers than the game had at the end of its launch version.

Obviously, correlation does not equal causation, but connected items correlating can offer some useful feedback.  In this case, the changes wrought to the game over time suggest what people enjoy and what they don’t.  Numbers were highest when tier sets were available to anyone putting in the time to collect the badges necessary, dungeons were easy and straightforward, a new class was being thrown around, and dailies were present without being ubiquitous.  Or, as seems much more obvious, when players had options about what they were doing in the game.

The game right now gives you a simple choice when you hit the level cap: you raid in some fashion, you PvP in some fashion, or you have nowhere to go.  You can argue that the game isn’t forcing you into vertical progress, but let’s not be ridiculous here, that’s the whole point of the game.  Saying it’s not forcing you into vertical progress is like saying that Super Mario Bros. isn’t telling you you can’t commit suicide via Bowser over and over.  You can, but it runs counter to the stated design goals.

At a glance, my suggestion would be that the popularity of the raid finder isn’t due to a deep-seated desire of players to raid; it’s indicative of the fact that it allows you to raid without, well, all of that raid.  You show up and you get a shot at your desired items.  Some of these people can’t hack it in a raid due to skill, latency, or whatever.  Some of them can do fine but don’t have a desire to devote that sort of time any longer.  Some just want to log in, see some stuff happen, have fun, and progress their characters.

Seriously, I want this race everywhere always.

I mean, we need to have some people who choose to be something other than draenei, presumably.

In Wrath of the Lich King you had a lot of options to do stuff with your character whether you raided or didn’t.  The Argent Tournament gave you goals to work toward without forcing you to even step into a dungeon, much less a full raid.  Even before that you had plenty of reputations to level up, and you had options about doing those, too.  Sure, slapping on a tabard and chain-running dungeons was the fastest way to get to the top there, but if you wanted to just grind out a few dailies every day that was also viable.  The game didn’t care.  Get there faster or get there a little slower.  Ditto with tier; you could assemble a tier set much faster with the badge drops from heroic raiding, but if you didn’t mind waiting you could still work toward it without raiding.

Put it more simply: people like having lots of options.  When you’ve designed a game that doesn’t give you a choice of destination – and let’s be fair, World of Warcraft only has the one ultimate destination – you give them choices about how to get there.

Unfortunately, the designers of the game in the past several years have steadily torn down any meaningful choices for players.  In Wrath of the Lich King, there was distinct equipment that was better for certain specs, sometimes even specs that didn’t share equipment with many other classes, but that’s slowly been eroded.  So has distinct class identity, at that; the visual flair is a bit different, but an Arms Warrior and a Retribution Paladin are only different now in a few areas compared to the vast differences of earlier versions.  “Bring the player, not the class” started with noble intentions, and Wrath struggled with hitting that sweet spot of giving every spec some useful roles to fill inside of a full raid while still keeping them distinct, but eventually that just got tossed by the wayside.  It’s the reason why pure damage classes like Rogues feel a certain malaise; there’s so little separating the specs from one another or even from other physical DPS that what made the class attractive in the first place is lost.

This was to avoid the problem of loot that almost no one wanted, the challenge of gearing for some kind of off-the-wall specs, and so forth.  But it also erodes a lot of what people enjoyed over time.

Cataclysm reworked the talent system, and Mists of Pandaria reworked it again, so now there are basically three (or four) sub-classes for each individual class with a handful of choices.  Is it easier to balance than the old system?  I have no doubt.  Is it functional?  Totally.  Do people seem to like it as much as the old system?  Arguably not.  Even if the choices were never really all that optional, it takes away the feel of the original system.  Sure, most of your choices were always made for you, but the bits you did get to choose and the mechanics of choosing felt better.

Well, it's what designers did in an expansion focused on Deathwing.  In part.  Look, let's just stick with the poetry, all right?  And why are you reading all the alt text?  Do you think there will be great revelations in here just because I trained you to think that?

The erosion of choice isn’t the destruction Deathwing is known for, but it’s what he did.

In short, it seems like we keep losing choices.  There are fewer options about how to play, more funneling toward a single option that is doubtlessly cleaner on paper but winds up feeling less engaging to players.  For all the discussion of why these changes have been made, it seems as if no talks have been had about why players like the old way of doing thing, or for that matter why the game’s subscriptions have dropped off steadily over the past couple of years.

What would I have recommended?  Sticking the trajectory.  Make tier sets something earnable by everyone willing to put in the time, even adding in slow solo mechanics to earn those badges.  Sure, give them some upgrades with boss drops for people pursuing hard content, but make it a difference of “how fast can you get this” rather than “can you ever achieve this if you don’t go into raids.”  Diversify your paths.  Add in more dungeons.  Add in different sorts of dungeons, instanced content that isn’t just a straight fight from start to finish – imagine an exploration-style dungeon where the emphasis is on jumping and movement, where classes with movement toys have a distinct advantage.

No, I don’t know if that would have fixed everything.  Maybe six years was always going to be the turning point.  But I don’t think it’s a law of the universe by any means.  I think the game has consistently been designed by people who have taken it in a sharply different direction than the one the game had been heading in, emphasizing a model that really appeals to some people and doesn’t appeal to a lot more.  We’re looking at a four-year slump, and based on what players have been told thus far about Warlords of Draenor it’s just going to keep going.

And that’s sad.  And I don’t think it’s something necessary.  The trajectory was there, it needed only to be embraced.  Maybe that isn’t the whole of the facts, but there was a shift, the drops keep coming, and it seems like the discussion to be had is what changed between the height and the current point.  The game has several more years of life in it, without a doubt, but it’d be a shame to see it sinking and dissipating when it could be doing so much more.

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About expostninja

I've been playing video games and MMOs for years, I read a great deal of design articles, and I work for a news site. This, of course, means that I want to spend more time talking about them. I am not a ninja.

21 responses to “Where did World of Warcraft go wrong?”

  1. Tyler F.M. Edwards says :

    I’m always hesitant to make any firm claims about what is or isn’t causing the decline in WoW, because the fact is we just don’t know. It could simply be age. It could be catering to hardcores. It could be catering to casuals. It could be anything, or a combination of things.

    But I can speak for myself, and what you’re saying here is what has been driving me away from the game, despite my great love for the setting. WoW’s entire history since Wrath seems to be one of two steps forward, two steps back. There’s a lot of ways to define it, but a loss of choice is as good as any.

    I do miss how Wrath allowed you to essentially play however you want and still progress. Cataclysm had a similar situation by its end — you needed to run LFR for tier pieces, but you could also buy a lot of very high quality gear with valor. Perhaps not coincidentally, the last tier of Cataclysm is when subscriber numbers started to even out after the big drop.

    Blizzard doesn’t seem to be able to learn from its mistakes. In Cataclysm, it was raid or die. In Mists, it was rep or die. They don’t seem to understand that people want choices in what content they experience — we always get herded into one narrow progression path. Now they’re even removing flying mounts in WoD.

    Two steps forward, two steps back. The game just keeps chasing its tail.

    The one major area where I’d disagree with you is that I think the Mists talent system is a vast improvement over the old one. I remember inspecting lots of people back in Wrath and Cataclysm, and absolutely everyone always used the exact same builds. Now, at least, two people of the same class and spec may have some meaningful differences between them, even if only a few. I prefer a handful of meaningful choices to dozens of choices where there’s only one right answer.

    And also I can’t stand Draenei.

    But seriously, good post.

    • expostninja says :

      There are a lot of merits to the MoP system for talents, to be sure; I’m hesitant to even say that it’s worse, because there’s plenty of positive stuff going on there, and I can totally get behind the idea that it’s an overall better system. It certainly feels as if you have fewer choices, though. Whether or not you actually have fewer choices or dubious, but sometimes the difference between choice and no choice comes down entirely to feel.

      Glad you enjoyed the article!

  2. Balkoth says :

    I think you have some major rose-tinted glasses here.

    “Make tier sets something earnable by everyone willing to put in the time, even adding in slow solo mechanics to earn those badges.”

    You realize this WASN’T the case in WotLK?

    At WotLK launch, doing Heroic Dungeons or 10 man raids let you get Emblems of Heroism which let you buy these two items:

    http://www.wowhead.com/item=40613

    http://www.wowhead.com/item=40610

    Those are the gloves and chestpiece for the 10 man version (worse ilvl) tier set at the time. The other three items? Helm, shoulders, legs? Those you had to raid for. They only dropped from raid bosses.

    Ditto in Ulduar (might have been different slots, I forget, but still needed to raid to get the whole set).

    The whole idea of “you can get an entire tier set by doing five mans” didn’t exist until ToC.

    “When you’ve designed a game that doesn’t give you a choice of destination – and let’s be fair, World of Warcraft only has the one ultimate destination – you give them choices about how to get there.”

    Are you suggesting that you should be able to earn Heroic Warforged gear by doing solo quests if you do enough quests? That should be a choice to get to the ultimate destination?

    If not, then we’re just haggling over the price…er, I mean, we’re only talking about HOW restrictive we should be, not WHETHER we should be restrictive.

    On top of all of that, WotLK also massively tapped into the market of people going “OOOH ARTHAS!” It was the end of the WC3/TFT saga. It shouldn’t be surprising that people saw it and less people were interested in staying for future expansions. You also have market saturation of MMOs and the fact there’s few people who HAVEN’T tried WoW but might compared to TBC.

    WoW isn’t losing subscribers faster than ever or something. It’s just not getting as many new ones.

    • expostninja says :

      Perhaps I should have specified that this column as referring to the end of Wrath of the Lich King… oh, wait. I did.

      Huh.

      • Balkoth says :

        Sorry, I was going by…

        “In Wrath of the Lich King you had a lot of options to do stuff with your character whether you raided or didn’t.”

        Which is referring to the whole expansion. Not to mention the Argent Tournament didn’t exist for a long time so there weren’t that many dailies either — mainly the Icecrown ones and Sons of Hodir ones.

        Did you mean

        “In the latter half of Wrath of the Lich King you had a lot of options to do stuff with your character whether you raided or didn’t.”

        perhaps?

        Also…

        “Ditto with tier; you could assemble a tier set much faster with the badge drops from heroic raiding, but if you didn’t mind waiting you could still work toward it without raiding.”

        You got badge drops from NORMAL raiding on both 10 and 25 man during ICC if you’re referring to that period — HEROIC raiding had nothing to do with it.

        Furthermore (referring to start of Cataclysm)…

        “The designers scaled back the availability of epic items significantly, removing the option of buying your tier set altogether and ensuring that most of what you could buy with badges would be blue items”

        is also false. You HAD to buy 3/5 parts of tier set with valor (gotten from dungeons and raid bosses ICC style). Only helm/shoulders dropped. There were also many epic items available for valor including some amazing trinkets.

        And are you going to answer the question about solo heroic warforged gear? You said

        “Sure, give them some upgrades with boss drops for people pursuing hard content, but make it a difference of “how fast can you get this” rather than “can you ever achieve this if you don’t go into raids.””

        Which isn’t the clearest because I’m not sure if you’re saying that heroic raiders should be able to get upgrades to their tier FASTER or whether ONLY heroic raiders can get upgrades to tier.

      • expostninja says :

        I haven’t answered your question because it’s pretty self-evident in, you know, the two thousand words I wrote talking about how more options = good thing. “Should solo players have these options” is a question much like asking “Should players named Dave have these options”; it’d be kind of silly to write a whole article praising the need for more options and then limiting who should have access to those options.

        If you’re going by that line, you’re also missing the many, many lines outlining the time period under discussion in no uncertain terms leading up to that. Not that it matters; you’re not addressing the premise, you’re attempting to nitpick minutiae. Which is fine if that’s what you want to do, but it doesn’t add a whole lot to the discussion.

  3. Balkoth says :

    “Not that it matters; you’re not addressing the premise, you’re attempting to nitpick minutiae.”

    No, I’m pointing out important facts you’re missing. Your argument is about OPTIONS, right?

    Well, at the start of Cataclysm, you STILL had…

    1, 3/5 tier pieces for valor. And these pieces were relatively BETTER than the pieces during ICC/ToC. In ICC/ToC the tier set you got was the 10 man version, very weak, 26 ilvls below the best set available. In t11 the tier set you got was the 10/25 version, 13 ilvls below the best set.

    2, other pieces for valor, including powerful trinkets, boots, rings, and cloaks. Compare that to ICC where you got trinkets/idols/cloak/waist for non-tier slots. So in ICC you could fill 5 slots with inferior tier and 4 other slots, while in Cata you had superior tier and 4 other slots. Your only loss was two tier slots but the tier you got was better.

    3. Some dailies (more ones that were relevant than during ToC/ICC) AND tabards were available for reputations and epics were still available for reps.

    4. You STILL got Valor from heroic 5 mans, didn’t have to raid. Could get 8/16 slots of pure normal raid quality gear which was better overall than ICC’s 10/16 slots of less than normal raid quality gear from valor.

    In other words, your OPTIONS were just about the same.

    Cataclysm had other problems — disjointed, difficulty of dungeons, difficulty of raids, etc — but OPTIONS weren’t very different from ICC. So claiming choice is the problem is incorrect.

    “it’d be kind of silly to write a whole article praising the need for more options and then limiting who should have access to those options.”

    Okay, so since any solo player should be able to get Heroic Warforged gear, how long should it take them?

    Let’s say a group of 10 skilled raiders spent 12 hours a week for 3 months — so 144 hours each individually — to get a full set of Heroic Warforged gear.

    How many hours should it take solo?

    Also 144? 288? 500? 1000? What’s our ratio here?

  4. Shintar says :

    I think it’s easy to look back at Wrath’s subscriber numbers now and go “well, clearly the game was at its best back then” but I remember that back then many were looking at it from the angle of “the game has stopped growing for the first time since launch, clearly the devs are doing something wrong”, so it wasn’t all sunshine and roses either.

    That said, I don’t disagree that if they had generally stuck with a design closer to Wrath’s the decline might have been slower. I think that ever since Cata, more than anything else the game has suffered from inconsistent design decisions, with things like difficulty, how to earn rewards etc. changing with every patch. The levelling experience for a new player is a confusing mess, and if you return after a bit of a hiatus, nothing will be as you left it either. I imagine that must make it very hard for anyone to stick around who isn’t already massively invested.

    • expostninja says :

      It’s totally possible that six years of growth was always going to be the end, but Wrath did involve a push upward at the end of its life-cycle. Whether or not it was evident at the time is another story, obviously; I freely admit I’m talking about this with the benefit of hindsight.

      Like I said (and you agreed), it’s not so much that Wrath was ideal as its trajectory by the end was aimed for something that players liked. I suspect it would have worked out better in the long run.

  5. Tobold says :

    Thought experiment: If World of Warcraft had never changed, if the expansion just had added more content but we would still have the same rule set and design principles of vanilla WoW, what would the player number trajectory have looked like? Probably pretty much the same. World of Warcraft didn’t “go wrong”, it just aged. So did Ultima Online, Everquest, Dark Age of Camelot, and so on. Raph Koster had a brilliant article once explaining how the subscription number trajectory of a MMORPG is universal.

    • expostninja says :

      Except that’s already not what’s under discussion. The expansions had changed, and their trajectory shifted. Saying “oh, it just got old” is kind of a cop-out answer; it was old when it was at its height, and it’s spent more time falling than it spent growing.

  6. Imakulata says :

    I have to say I agree with Balkoth when he says there are more options now than they used to be. I understand this may have changed since I quit (early MoP) but WoW keeped adding new modes of gameplay; on the other hand it also cut off a lot of grind, so it’s possible the time a player could spend decreased over time, even though s/he would spend it with more varied activities. In fact, the phrase “raid or die” comes from vanilla – maybe it wasn’t prevailing opinion that WoW used to be like that but it was certainly popular enough to be notable.

    Balkoth also said WoW wasn’t losing subscriber any faster than in its growth period. I’m not sure whether it’s true but I think it’s definitely a possibility. I only started playing WoW in 2008 but I recall players had been leaving all the time, even back then. The question is, is the subscriber loss driven by people leaving, lack of people joining or both in about the same level? What works for attracting more new players isn’t necessarily going to work for keeping more of the old ones.

    One thing I noticed in Ibe van Geel’s MMOData graphs was all games except for EVE simply stopped growing after about 5 years or less (even the old ones such as Everquest, Lineage or Ultima online) and the number started to stagnate and inevitably fall a few years later. (More often, the data just stopped being available or the game converted to FtP.) So, whatever it was what WoW did wrong, it probably was the same thing the old games did as well.

    • expostninja says :

      WoW bucked a lot of predicted trends, however, and I think it’s very notable that its falls have been so steep compared to its long period of steady growth. the usual arc of a game is a surge of growth, a plateau, and a steadiness marked with occasional dips and spikes. WoW, by contrast, was a straight climb followed by notable dives (with one or two brief resurgences).

      The funny thing is that the game has added a lot of different things to experience, it’s just also cut off a lot of the avenues that people had to choose “this is what I like doing and that’s what I want to do from here on out.” I honestly think that’s the biggest thing that’s been kneecapping it. I don’t begrudge the game for being an ever-ascending climb up a ladder of equipment, but as I said in the article, the players as a whole seemed happiest when they had a lot of options about how they wanted to tackle that ladder and what they’d do to climb it. Cutting off approaches has been the order of the day for a while.

      • Imakulata says :

        I think all 3 games I mentioned (EQ, LA and UO) are quite notable and neither of them, according to MMO Data, followed the usual arc you mentioned, instead the plateau eventually ended and all of them entered a decline slower than the initial growth. As did WoW. There is a difference: LA’s decline was steady, WoW’s and to a slightly lesser extent EQ’s and UO’s mixes falls with periods of slow decline (in case of WoW, even no decline at all). The overall decline rate seems to be about as quick as LA’s or UO’s and faster than EQ’s but both LA and EQ had a sequel by the time their decline started. Interestingly enough, WoW’s decline period will soon be as long as it’s growth, unless something unexpected happens. (Started in 2010, with Cataclysm, which makes it about 3.5 years; the growth took vanilla and TBC – about 4 years.)

        On the other hand, there are lies, damned lies and statistics; a brief look at the numbers doesn’t tell everything. My interest was piqued by peak concurrent users’ graphs – it seems that while WoW’s subs grew until 2009, PCU plateaued at 2007 (EU+NA) or 2008 (CN+KR), as if there was more players but each of them played less on average… or maybe there was another reason.

        As for the number of options given to players, I am confused as to what to think. You said WotLK had given more options to players (which I agree with), yet it is the expansion which saw the growth stop. MoP gave more options than Cataclysm, yet it saw a decline, as did Cata, which apparently took options from players (although I am not sure whether to agree). On the other hand, due to large amount of players WoW had (and still has), which only a few Chinese games (virtually unknown in our lands) can compete with – not even the large Korean games come close -, it’s hard to say whether or not it would be able to sustain better growth than it did.

  7. Chris Newkirk says :

    There are a loooooooooot of factors that go into sub count, raid numbers, and dungeon numbers than just their loot philosophies.

    The first thing you have to note is that China, which accounts for a huge portion of WoW’s market, didn’t get WotLK until only a few months prior to the US / EU release of Cataclysm. If you think doing ICC / SoO for a year+ is rough, imagine only TBC content for that long. This was due to a large censorship battle, and it wouldn’t surprise me in the least if part of the dropoff for Cataclism was due to Chinese players giving up on the game due to lack of content. Unfortunately, hard sub data has never been published do discussing this in detail isn’t really possible.

    Raid popularity has certainly declined leading up to LFR / Flex, but I’m not sure if it decreased to the degree people think it has. If you go back to WotLK, we had separate lockouts by size AND difficulty. This allowed a 25-man group to break up and do more casual runs on an easier difficulty – Because 10-man content was designed to be easier – without jeopardizing their main run and also accelerating their gear acquisition. Cataclysm merged four difficulties into one lockout, also bringing with it a huge number of balancing issues between 10s and 25s supposedly being “the same difficulty.” Their 10-man philosophy since then has tended towards “It just kills you” which… Makes raiding not the best experience.

    And then we have Dungeon Finder, which along with other cross-realm functions is one of the reasons dungeon quality, and therefore satisfaction with the content and development of that content, has declined. By the time LFD was released most people were grossly ahead of the ilvl the dungeons were designed for, so you would usually be able to utterly steamroll the content with ease, excepting the new three dungeons that came out with ICC. And boy, did people hate randomly queuing for those. Cataclysm released with heroics on difficulty par with those three and TBC’s heroic 5-mans, which was met with titanic disappointment from people who had gotten used to gearing up through steamrolling dungeons with four strangers.

    And probably the largest issue out of all of these is that Blizzard NEVER TEACHES YOU TO PLAY THE GAME. I’ve been playing since shortly after release and the first actual effort they made to teach you what to do was the “core abilities” and rough priorities that came out with MoP. Gemming? Reforging? Stat priority? You have to go and look those up elsewhere, which doesn’t make for an inclusive gaming experience. Lacking real teaching tools and then forcing people into large groups where you have to perform or fail makes for a fairly toxic environment, which is what contributed to the failure of Cataclysm dungeons and the declining popularity of LFR.

    Releasing raid tier to non-raiders was also a mistake. The idea of challenge mode sets is a step in the right direction; players from different aspects of the game should absolutely receive different rewards.

    What WoW needs right now is a focus on social accountability, and a return to form in dungeon development (Scenarios might help with this! I don’t know why that feature hasn’t been explored more) and a re-examining of raid design philosophy. Making your game primarily about raiding has never been an issue for WoW – It has always been about it – But the most important aspect of catering to a core demographic is taking people on the edge of that core and bringing them into the fold. They did that really well with easier 10-mans and gear speed in WotLK and immediately shat on all those people with the Cataclysm changes, so hopefully Flex can do a better job of getting the people who want to raid into raids and they can once again give better variety outside of raid play.

    • expostninja says :

      The thing is that this is the core demographic that they’ve been catering to in increasing numbers, and it certainly hasn’t done anything good for the game. It’s also been the core demographic that a number of other games have catered to, much to their long-term detriment. Saying that the key is to cater differently seems to be a matter of underselling the issue, and comes down to arguing that the core philosophy is solid – which is a discussion that I suspect Blizzard has had internally many times over the past several years.

      It’s true that the game’s solo leveling path was originally intended to allow people to get into raiding more easily, but a lot of people were hooked simply by virtue of having something to experience other than EverQuest farm parties. To paraphrase Mark Rosewater, if you try to design for what you want players to do as opposed to what they actually do and enjoy, you’re not going to find yourself in a good place over the long term.

      • Chris Newkirk says :

        There are really two separate cores they’ve been catering to in PvE since the release of LFD, and those two are:

        – The super hardcore everything must be Demon Souls hard raider
        – The “If I can’t autoattack and kill it I’m cancelling my subscription” guy who plays for 30-60 minutes a day a couple days a week

        The result of this has been that raid content is stupidly hard on the normal mode level and smaller-scale content has very little difficulty; to this day I still don’t know what most of the bosses in the dungeons really do because the majority of mechanics boil down to “This might hit you kinda hardish compared to other stuff but still not for more than 1/4 of your HP.” There are some notable exceptions; Brawler’s Guild was a lot of fun for me as a solo-focused player outside of raiding.

        The thing is, though, the core raiding demographic is still shelling out sub dollars right now while the more casual demographics are out as soon as they’re done consuming content. Grinding out emblems of frost in the same dungeons for weeks every day is one way to expand that, but the idea of raid progression is that you have to learn fights over weeks and that learning accumulates gradually into kills. That type of learning doesn’t and hasn’t ever existed in 5-man content, usually because people have expressed displeasure with even TBC-level difficulty.

        So the question is, then, what type of content should they be developing that is good gameplay, has a good reward structure, but also keeps you playing?

        Something tells me you’re already gonna be writing about that.

  8. ControlBlue says :

    I think I can definitely agree with this line of thought.

    I know that for sure

    If I was able to get a good set of gear through Pet Battles I would still be paying my monthly sub. If I was able to get a good set of gears through crafting, I would be still subbed.

    But you can imagine how mad the raiders would get -> “THEY WANT TO HAVE THE SAME GEARS AS US!!! WE WHO ACTUALLY DO THE ONLY CONTENT THAT TRULY MATTER IN THIS GAME!!! HERESY!!!

    As Cataclysm started, following their “things have to be hard” philosophy they adopted at its beginning, Blizzard decided that raiding was THE thing that mattered, and everything had to go in line with raiding. Talent Trees had to be killed, too hard to balance for raiding, Racials had to be toned down, too hard to balance for raiding, LFR had to be in, or else the casuals would not be raiding, raid, raid, RAID, RAID, RAAAAIIIIDDD!!

    In the process they killed everything that actually offered either choice, or identity.

    Only one game will be able to show if they made the right decision or not, Camelot Unchained, here is a game that is going to offer choice and identity at all cost, one that will offer multiple ways to power, and one that won’t be about raiding.

    By comparing the success of both, it will be easy to see what the right thing to do when it comes to MMOs is.

  9. Tom says :

    I think raid design has more to do with the decline than overall choice. Ulduar you had the basic raid and activated hard modes, now a player can do LFR and its so close to the harrder levels theres no incentive to keep ramping up your commitment. Also a lot of the people I plaed with felt like killing Arthas was the natural end of the warcraft story because they had started it by playing Warcraft 3 first. The deathwing story was vaguely compelling, the pandaria story less so.

Trackbacks / Pingbacks

  1. Quote of the Day: The decline | Bio Break - 05/20/2014
  2. MMObsession – Ten Years Too Many - 05/28/2014

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