WoW Factor: The design slide from start to present

    
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WoW Factor: The design slide from start to present

After more than a decade of operation, a curious thing has happened to World of Warcraft: It’s circled back around on an awful lot of its design principles, not in the sense that Warlords of Draenor is only a hop and a skip away from the game’s original incarnation, which is demonstrably untrue, but in the sense that a lot of what has changed over that original incarnation has slowly wound up coming back to the same place.

This is something that I think has been cycling around for a while, due in no small part to the simple fact that designers are people too, and the people designing WoW are big fans of the game’s original design without understanding the iterative improvements that happened over the years. Whether or not these changes are good or bad depends on individual taste, but it’s educational insofar as understanding why the game is what it is now.

The constant slide of silliness isn't really a reversion. It's just unpleasant.The undoing of badges

I am not a fan of random loot. I’m not a big fan of randomness in general because it takes agency out of the hands of the player and aligns it with the whims of a computer. Random loot is a particular offender, though, because it turns victories from a matter of accomplishing X for reward Y and into a game of accomplishing X in the hopes that you might get reward Y. And since it’s random, there’s no real way to accelerate or slow it down.

At launch, WoW was all about the random loot, and this posed a problem that the designers understood. Thus began the saga of the badge system, starting in The Burning Crusade with Badges of Justice, which worked well for much of the expansion before becoming vastly overpowered as extremely good equipment could be had for the minimal effort of farming up badges. The system was refined further in Wrath of the Lich King, such that by the end of the expansion a player could literally pick up a full tier set at least by just farming Heroic dungeons.

Cataclysm started to roll this back, Mists of Pandaria went a step further, and now in WoD the idea of currency drops from heroic dungeons or raids is completely gone. Instead, there’s the bonus roll mechanic, which is… sort of the exact opposite of a solution to the problem, since if you couldn’t trust your luck the first time, you sure as hell can’t trust it a second time. The core idea is the same in that it offers a way to adjust your luck, but the implementation is right back to where we started and is just as luck-based as ever.

The daily and the reputation

The Burning Crusade introduced the idea of daily quests to WoW. Wrath of the Lich King was the expansion where Blizzard fell in love with the idea of daily quests as reputation gates, using them for only a handful of factions beforehand. Both Cataclysm and MoP made extensive use of dailies and new factions, and here we are in an expansion with virtually no factions or dailies to worry about.

MoP was a particularly dark time for dailies, not because of the quests themselves but because they were implemented in a fashion best described as “baffling and insane.” You had random daily hubs each day. You had to raise your reputation with a faction in order to unlock the justice/valor gear that had normally been purchased straight with no need for reputation, removing what had been an optional element of gameplay (in previous expansions, there was high-end faction gear and there was badge gear, two separate routes). And you could no longer earn reputations through dungeons, so you were forced to gorge yourself on reputations.

Back in the vanilla game, I was hardly the only person who got used to killing undead in the Plaguelands over and over to raise that Argent Dawn reputation. How are you getting your reputation up for a lot of the factions in WoD? Same thing. (In principle, that is; please do not attempt to grind Laughing Skull rep by killing undead in the Plaguelands. It will not work.)

That New Jersey steez.The death of the heroic

It’s a matter of public record that I’m a big fan of small-group content. Having fewer people on deck means that every decision is more impactful, every mistake is more meaningful, and every encounter winds up being that much more challenging. So the idea of heroics always interested me, and as World of Warcraft‘s team got better at designing instances, those instances swiftly became one of my favorite parts of the game. A version of the older dungeon tuned up for higher levels and meant to be repeatable endgame stuff? Yes, please. Take my money. Here, I’ll just sign a blank check for you.

Tuning rewards and difficulty has always been a problem, though. TBC arguably had instances tuned a bit too hard, while by the end of WotLK they were far too easy — fun, but mindlessly so. Cataclysm was again too hard for too little; MoP largely hit the sweet spot in difficulty but still struggled with rewards. WoD‘s heroics are about right in challenge, but they’re far less rewarding than easier content.

The net result is that not-raiding is more pointless than ever; the only reason for anyone to do a heroic at this point is for giggles, since you get much more out of LFR runs. We’re back to the original game’s routine of running normal dungeons for a bit and then raiding as much as you can in hopes of getting an upgrade.

All of this has created a very different game from its predecessors, and I think some of the discontent with WoD comes purely from the fact that there’s an increasing push with each new expansion to completely unwrite the game as it stands rather than make it foundational. It’s hard to feel as if a game is moving forward when it keeps kneecapping its own history, after all.

Feedback is welcome in the comments below or via mail to eliot@massivelyop.com. You can also follow @TruceSMV on Twitter if you’d like to read my in-character Draenei Shaman tweets. Next time around, since this wound up a little unintentionally pessimistic, I’d like to circle around myself and gush about what I find really cool in Warlords of Draenor.

War never changes, but World of Warcraft does, with a decade of history and a huge footprint in the MMORPG industry. Join Eliot Lefebvre each week for a new installment of WoW Factor as he examines the enormous MMO, how it interacts with the larger world of online gaming, and what’s new in the worlds of Azeroth and Draenor.

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naritha
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naritha

cromahr My sentiments exactly.  Thank you for a concise write-up.

Grimmtooth
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Grimmtooth

Speaking as a filthy casual there were more alternative ways to play in vanilla than in the last 2 expansions. Back then leveling was gameplay not the chore you had to do to start gameplay at max level. I know many people that never set foot in any raid in vanilla and they had tons of fun. This worm realy started to turn with Cata with each expansion striping more and more things out.

WoW is suffering from the same problem that Soviet era communism had. You can’t centeraly plan everthing there are too many variables. The only difference is the recource being managed is “fun”. This is as close of an analogy I can come up with for there overwhelming problem

deleted_71894174_deleted_71894174_toby tob
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deleted_71894174_deleted_71894174_toby tob

Radfist theSMOOF
Except that there is nothing Vanilla-like about WoD.

oneeyered
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oneeyered

blast tyrant oneeyered If that even happened you would still get a good two years out of it. I would at least try it you may like it. You will never know however if you don’t take that first step :)

cromahr
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cromahr

Actintous Maybe your points even underline that statement you quoted…
Because I feel that having a choice between raiding (or LFR), dungeon-grinding, dailies and scenarios and crafting (which I feel has suffered a LOT in WoD… I have lost all motivation to level my alts because of the crafting changes, but YMMV) were CHOICES. You could kinda tailor your play-style to what you liked.
In Wrath, I felt like there was always something to do. I did raid a bit, but didn’t have enough time. So I met up with some friends and did heroics. Did dailies. Worked on achievements. Crafted and traded. Farmed gold to buy some gear.
Kinda the same in Cata, and then I played less and less until I came back for building a new raiding team and doing DS, which was probably my final chapter of WOW-raiding.
Garrisons, to me, are tedious. They eat SO much time, but don’t feel like fun at all. I only had 2 chars at 100 before I cancelled my sub in Dec, and at that point was sick and tired of logging in, starting missions, running through my mine and farm, visiting the garrison-buildings. I agree that the fill the meter-grinds are tedious, and dislike them as well.
I did like that in the past, I could get at least some DECENT gear from the factions. Not raid-level, but decent. It took longer when I had to grind reps (unless you used tabard-grinding in heroics), but it was one choice you had. Instead of raiding or doing only heroics, work towards that.
Scenarios? Gone. Dailies? Pretty much gone. Decent gear from farming rep? Pretty much or even totally gone. Crafting? Limited to three pieces.
So unless you wanna have some “fun” with the very mature LFR-groups you seem to end up with so often, or grind dungeons, as a casual player who doesn’t wanna raid anymore, there isn’t much choice left. Things that developed over time, like dailies, or things that were added as an innovation (scenarios) have now been kinda removed, and to me, it seems like a desperate move. They have been talking SO often about “giving players choices on how to play, what to play, how to progress”. I remember how they were boasting about that especially at the pre-MoP Blizzcon. And what happened? So many things that people enjoyed or actually used (In MY opinion, it wasn’t that the playerbase hated dailies themselves, but the amount and rep-gating in MoP, so maybe doing LESS of that would have been smarter than removing dailies) were erased, classes were changed so much that they seem to have lost so much of their uniqueness and flavor, and I just feel there is much LESS choice than before. 

I know, YMMV, and maybe my playstyle or taste is quite individual, but to me, WOW in the current version offers hardly anything that keeps me playing. I didn’t ragequit or anything, I just stopped loggng in every day, then didn’t log in for a week, and ever since mid Dec, my sub is inactive, with no intention or interest of coming back anytime soon.

Actintous
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Actintous

brix50 I wouldn’t be surprised if 5-person dungeons disappeared. It must be an issue that very few people want to tank/heal. I did see that they had considered turning them into 6-person dungeons (with 4 dps).

But then why not just go to more 10+-person raids then? Personally I would like to see the 3-person scenarios (like we had in MoP) and then raids of 10-30 with no dungeons in the middle.

cromahr
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cromahr

Radfist deleted_71894174_deleted_71894174_toby tob theSMOOF I kinda disagree. Or let me put it this way: Going from way too many dailies to hardly any is not exactly listening to the players.
Why couldn’t it have been something like “OK, we don’t lock extra reps behind dailies anymore, and lower the amount back to, say, 10-15”? Why remove them all but those “fill the meter cuz reasons” ones?
Blizz has been around long enough to know that 180 degree-changes like removing pretty much all dailies after adding way too many will make some happy, and alienate a lot as well. Check out how many people say “I have nothing to do” or “I miss some dailies”. SOME.
I am not even sure people said “Gosh, I HATE ALL DAILIES NOW”. What I kept reading was “Its too many, and why do I have to grind this one to exalted before even getting to that other one?”. I think the reason they put in so many dailies was that they seemed to work well and were popular in TBC, Wrath, Cata. Then they went overboard.
But to now remove them all pretty much seems a bit silly or over-reacting. Why can’t they make a moderate change? These “OMG you hate dailies, we will remove them all?” just seems quite desperate

Actintous
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Actintous

Why do you think that those currently designing WoW “have no understanding the iterative improvements that happened over the years in the game.”Not sure I can agree with that statement.

A few random things though:

– Gear is much easier to get now than it has ever been, through  LFR/follower missions/crafting. Getting tier set in BRF seems daunting.
– The only reason to raise rep with any WoD factions is for “fun” stuff like pets and mounts (and some transmog).
-. I don’t like the tedious mob grind they left in for Apexis crystals and rep. But there is no reason to do this as Apexis crystals (and rep) mostly useless.
– I haven’t really done 5 mans since Cata and am annoyed that i felt pushed into doing them in WoD. LFR has taken their place I reckon.
– I miss the 3-person scenarios they had in MoP – quick and fun and didn’t rely on tank/healer/dps. 
-I liked some of the daily quest rep stuff in MoP, such as the Klaxxi, and found it pretty fun (unlike some of the BC stuff).

cromahr
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cromahr

What always bothered me was the 180 degree turns Blizzard did on so many things. By now, they even seem a little desperate, like a dog chasing its own tail endlessly.
Dailies… yes, you always had people who disliked them, but I LIKED doing them. Even on days when you didn’t feel like raiding etc, or didnt have the time, you could log in and work towards your Sons Of Hodir rep or whatever. Or do some others weren’t interested in, as they weren’t “mandatory”. To me, they were just right in Wrath, which was an xpac and era of WOW I really really liked.
Cata dailies were a bit less at first, then FL came around, wih the Molten Front. Yes, they took like a month to unlock all the rewards, but I did enjoy those dailies, especially since you often had a choice of which set of dailies you’d prefer on any given day. I did these on several chars, all the way through.
Then, MoP hit, and I admit it was a bit too much. Especially since they kinda messed up on where they had those dailies, as in having people compete for not enough quest mobs or a bad droprate for quest items (anyone remember those shackles in Dread Waste?). And it was just too many dailies, with the often-quoted “rep locked behind a rep”.
The ones that were added later, down in that jungle, were ok, and I think so were the Thunder Island ones.
It felt like “Hey, you dig dailies? Here is a metric ton of them. Burn yourself out, be our guest!”. And in WoD? The exact opposite. “Oh, we ticked you off and burned you out with too many dailies? Let’s remove them almost completely”. Other than those weird “Go there, kill mobs to fill meter because reasons”, which feel… boring. 

Why can’t they have a balance? They keep talking about adding choices and ways to pick how to play, as in get somewhere with the things you enjoy to do in game. At the same time, after the nice balance that, IMO, they had on dailies in WOTLK and even Cata, they go totally bonkers with them and then take them away.
I think one of the reasons why I didn’t log into WOW since mid Dec is that there is nothing to do. No, I haven’t cleared all the raids, and I don’t PVP. In the past, I still had choices. I could do dailies and some other “mundane” things and eventually get somewhere. That is kinda gone. I dislike the “meter dailies”, I dislike the facebook-y garrisons (fun at first, totally dull time-eater soon after), and so there isn’t much to do unless I wanna grind dungeons again.
Once again… I have SO many happy memories from vanilla, TBC, Wrath, even Cata, Im grateful for those and hold on to them, but I guess WoD finally is the xpac that made me close the door on Wow. I have taken long breaks before, but at this point, I just cringe thinking about WOW, or smirk, and I stopped keeping track of sites like Wow Insider/Blizzwatch, which I never did even during my former WOW-breaks.
Thanks for the wonderful times in game, but I guess it’s time to move on. I hope those that still play enjoy the heck out of it!

Nucleon
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Nucleon

d0ub1ep1u5g00d The master loot thing is funny because it’s a allegory for other problems with have in society with inequality. In MoP, group finder was personal loot which meant no loot drama, ever, ever, ever, and it was a good thing. Who complained? Raid leaders. Why? They felt they could distribute the loot more evenly if they had the ability to do so. That’s a convenient opinion seeing how they have a vested interest in loot drama since they are the ones who skim off the top and benefit from it! 

The raid leaders argument always boils down to: “Don’t like it, start your own group!” There will always be more followers than leaders, that’s a fact of humanity. People that do successfully lead raids do deserve some additional compensation because they have to put in more work to accomplish that. Do they deserve the right to flat out take advantage of people, scam them, or cheat them? No. Doesn’t this whole situation sound familiar to issues of taxes and fair wages in the rest of society.

In games, as in business, if you allow people to take advantage of each other, they will. Human beings can be pretty awful to the people not in our inner circles. So what Blizzard has done is give us a tool by which we torment each other. Great, mission accomplished.