WoW Factor: A decade of Blizzard’s bad habits

    
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When leveling alts was already the plan...

The funny thing about World of Warcraft – and I should note here that I’m using “funny” in this case as a synonym for “odd” rather than “hilarious” – is that the game has been around long enough to make a lot of design mistakes, fix those mistakes, and then make those same design mistakes again. I find the overall thrust of patch 6.2.3 kind of baffling, since it’s bringing back a currency that should not have been removed in the first place for a purpose that almost no one liked, and hoping that this will get people to stick with the game for the lengthy gap until Legion arrives.

Ultimately, though, it’s a symptom of some issues that the game has had for a while, a longstanding set of bad habits that have an awkward tendency to stick around long after it should be obvious that these are bad ideas. So just to change things up with the game’s next expansion, perhaps it’s time to look at some bad habits the game has long been guilty of and actually address them rather than just assuming they don’t really matter.
I said what?

Relevance through the expansion and what people like to do

A few days ago on Twitter, based on another set of questions, I had started speculating about how many people had even gone through Normal mode Hellfire Citadel. I mean, this is the big show-stopping finale for the expansion. I didn’t get great solid numbers, but based on the numbers that I and several others pulled, 10% through Normal seems to be about the upper limit in terms of realistic completion; 5% seems more likely

I don’t need to go into depth about the mess that is the game’s existing high-end raiding scene, which is basically producing expensive content for almost no one in the world as has been pointed out many, many times. There’s a real bad habit in place here, and it’s not simply the existence of raids; it’s the existence of things built and tuned first and foremost for almost no one who is playing the game. And it puts me in mind of something that has been said by a few other people: that as an expansion’s life cycle extends, it becomes less and less interesting.

To some extent, this is inevitable. But I’ve noticed an unpleasant course of events wherein the designers strive to provide a great questing experience, then a robust top-end experience, and nothing in the middle group.

In other words, it’s an assumption that people who don’t like to raid are going to leave rather than examining that those players leave because there’s nothing to do.

Do I have things to do at this point? Yes, but absolutely none of them has anything to do with the endgame gear cycling. Mathematically, 300% of my time in game is spent on mounts, leveling alts, roleplaying, and stuff like that. There’s a bizarrely backward cycle of feedback there wherein the assumption is “these people leave, don’t give them things to do” instead of “give people things to do other than raid and they’ll stick around.”

“It can’t be coincidence that the game’s highest subscriber numbers came at the end of Wrath of the Lich King, when you could get a set of tier gear just by running regular Heroics for fun.”
I mean, it can’t be coincidence that the game’s highest subscriber numbers came at the end of Wrath of the Lich King, when you could get a set of tier gear just by running regular Heroics for fun, can it? Or that at that point a given alt had about a dozen endgame projects you could run for cosmetics, for upgrades, or just for the simple joy of jousting? Perhaps there’s a reason why everyone decided to leave when it became intensely clear that they were no longer welcome? That seems like a no-brainer to me.

For that matter, it was a no-brainer to the design team when they realize that the Sunwell raid was seen by basically no one. But over time, I think the wrong message has been internalized, and bad habits developed.
Write a new story.

Professions that do nothing and yanking things

My Shaman has been dedicated to Inscription since the profession was introduced, and at this point I’d really be happy if Inscription as a profession were removed altogether. It adds nothing of merit to the game. The initial promise of slightly tweaking your character’s gameplay via glyphs has been lost amidst glyphs that are talents in all but name, the sheer irritation of researching glyphs and randomly hoping for what you want, weird pricing for cosmetic glyphs, and… really, right now, it’s not doing anything.

I think Enchanting and Jewelcrafting could probably join it, at that. The idea behind removing the mandatory gem slots, reforging, and most enchantments was that it wasn’t fun to constantly be re-purchasing gems and rearranging things, making each new drop a question of “all right, how do I shuffle this to make it useful” instead of just a straight upgrade. But the flip side is that now these features have politely waved farewell to even the most superficial relevance.

Jewelcrafting is particularly annoying because the solution of having a single sort of gem to worry about actually makes crafting new gems significantly more straightforward, which is kind of a hallmark of the game’s approach to problem solving and one of those bad habits I’m discussing – never solving a problem one way when it could be solvedĀ multiple ways, in which case all of the alterations go in at once.

I’ve mentioned before that professions need a serious overhaul, and they honestly have needed that for quite some time; our existing lineup doesn’t do a whole lot in many cases, and Garrisons have thoroughly screwed with the idea of dedicated crafters or gatherers having a major role. Some professions are rather uncomfortably bloated, and others have been marginalized into practical pointlessness.

And herein we see one of the last bad habits the game has: an unwillingness to address things that aren’t disgustingly broken in the past. World of Warcraft is a game that has very much been about the now rather than what was, and while there are reasons for that, it means the game has a whole lot of uncomfortable and unnecessary crap hanging around in the background. The fact that there are two entire professions designed to work with one expansion that have never subsequently been changed to work with later developments doesn’t help matters.

All of this can be fixed, and while it’ll take some effort, it’s not beyond the realm of acceptable work for a new expansion launch. The key factor, again, is that these are habits. These are elements of design and execution that Blizzard falls into out of practice, not out of necessity. The original maps for Azeroth proper weren’t built to allow flight out of necessity because the game’s team was small and the constraints of time were appreciable; the refusal to go back and update older content, or to only develop showstopping raids for tiny portions of the playerbase, are borne out of conscious decision.

Sure, bad habits are hard to break. But breaking those habits is important, and given the troubled history of the game over the past few years, now seems like a prime time to do so rather than overreacting with a violent swing in the other direction.

Feedback, as always, is welcome in the comments below or via mail to eliot@massivelyop.com. Next time around, I want to talk a bit more about professions and what could potentially be done to remove the current mess from the game – which might not be ideal, but it would work.

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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