WoW Factor: The debate over World of Warcraft’s refer-a-friend nerf
Ah, another day and another thing to enrage people in World of Warcraft. Last time, it was that the Allied Race unlocks might (will) require you to actually play the endgame a bit. This time, it’s that the refer-a-friend service no longer allows you to gain huge chunks of experience just for turning in a breadcrumb quest to arrive at a new zone. Or, alternatively, it’s that Blizzard has just noticed that a decade-old service could be used for some unscrupulously fast leveling roundabouts, and now that it’s sort of proud of the 1-100 leveling experience again, we can’t have that.
Much like the bit ages ago with Star Wars: The Old Republic and the pointless controversy over a cash shop lightsaber, this is one of those situations where everyone involved is being either willfully or unintentionally dim. It’s not that the players grousing about this are right, and it’s not that it was the right decision to make. So, just as I did for that, it’s time to sit both sides down and explain why this is dumb across the board.
You are not referring friends
I’m sitting those of you who play the game down first because, well, you’re closer. And it’s time for us to have a real discussion about this, starting with the fact that I know with absolute certainty that this is not actually a complaint about trying to recruit new people into the game.
How do I know that? Because if your friend bought the game, your friend would already have a level 100 boost token sitting on the character creation screen, making any discussion about the price equivalency completely moot. And I know from experience (read: having actually done this) that even with just the heirloom boosts, you’re looking at two Legion zones cleared before you’re at 110. Tops. And that’s completely ignoring quests that don’t funnel into the zone’s main storyline, to boot.
You and I both know that this isn’t really about leveling friends you bring into the game. This is about leveling your alts and how this workaround no longer lets you work around anything. It’s like people arguing that weed should be legal because it can be used to make paper; it’s a tacit admission that you don’t think your real reason holds up.
In this case? Honestly, it doesn’t.
I understand enjoying leveling speeds of absurd degrees, I understand the impulse to have characters at max level, and I understand the argument that it’s more fun when you’re at the level cap and have your full suite of abilities. Those are all understandable points. But this is also one of the things that the changes were specifically meant to address. You can argue that they didn’t really fix all of the issues, but saying that straight-out is more useful than being upset that you can’t still do an end-run around the mechanics that are in place.
At this point, the simple reality is that if you want to level, you’re going to have to actually level. This is not such a dreadful prospect, considering that odds are good that there are zones and dungeons you haven’t seen. The experience is going to be a bit slower, but making it faster and less relevant all along the ay means that the old portions of the game may as well be outright deleted. Everyone starts at level 110, forget everything else.
If the process of leveling isn’t fun, that’s a sign that the process needs to be trimmed up and made more fun, not that we should just ignore it altogether. So the fact that you can no longer use this particular mechanic as a way of cheesing through levels like lightning is ultimately a good thing, not a drawback.
The system was broken, and honestly, it should never have stacked as thoroughly as it did. You knew it, I knew it, and Blizzard knew it. Let’s be honest about it.
You have not always been at war with Eurasia
All right. Blizzard. Guys. Here’s the problem. I’ve just finished explaining that yes, this system was broken. Making heirlooms and refer-a-friend non-stacking and equivalent is entirely a correct and good change.
You know what would have been better? If you had made that change within the decade of time when this was not the case.
Seriously, this refer-a-friend program is not new. It did not suddenly show up in the game code by mistake. It’s not like you implemented this experience boost a few months ago and just now realized that this was a problem. You’ve had a huge amount of time in which you knew this was the case and chose to do nothing, and you’re changing it now because you’re actually sort of happy with the game’s leveling setup again and want everyone to take part. You were fine with it before because it let people just glide over the parts of the game that were… less polished, in other words.
All right. Fine. But lean the hell in on it, will you? Stop acting like this is some change that just came out of nowhere, and stop acting like you’re fixing an issue that showed up all of a sudden as if no one could have expected this outcome ahead of time. You knew about all of this well before now. These are old facets of the game and you have, quite intentionally, ignored them up until now.
This is a problem that you display consistently, as if everyone is just going to ignore what you were doing five minutes ago to focus on what you’re doing now. It has never worked in the past, and there’s no reason to imagine it’s going to work now, and that’s a lesson that should have been obvious with Warlords of Draenor and flight. I wrote a whole article about that, and yes, there are a lot of arguments for keeping flight out of the game. You’ve never figured out how to make zones interesting with flight, just obnoxious without it. So yes, there’s reason to say, “Flight should never have been in the game.”
But that doesn’t mean that you can just promptly declare “now flight never existed” and have everyone sagely going along with it. It happened. It looks worse when you try to get everyone to ignore the history than if you just explain why the changes are being made.
Refer-a-friend should not stack with heirlooms. It shouldn’t have stacked with heirlooms from its introduction, and it should have been addressed then. The time for making a certain cap on the experience gains as then. Making it now makes it pretty transparent that you were unhappy with things then but overlooked it intentionally until you introduced level scaling.
This, then, is the problem. You did a good by at least admitting that this was more or less the motivation, but you wouldn’t be losing points in the first place if you made these chances and stuck with them back when this was a new thing.
In short, for the love of crap, start planning ahead for more than half of an expansion.
Feedback, as always, is welcome in the comments below or via mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. I’ve got alts to level, if you don’t mind. (They’re not refer-a-friend alts. They’ve never been refer-a-friend alts.)