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 solved 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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FlyinDutchman
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FlyinDutchman

Until someone comes up with a functional AI that can generate dynamic quality content automatically I think the theme-park MMO is pretty Doomed. 

It’s a business model that was always fundamentally flawed to begin with. However it’s been wildly exacerbated by blizzard spending milllions and millions of the dollars they made milking wow players to buy movie studios and E-sports companies instead of spending it making quality content.

Honestly, when was the last time blizzard released a raid or dungeon on the quality level of Karazan or Nax? They haven’t…. In damn near a decade.

pepinocantador
Guest
pepinocantador

Legion had better do something amazing for the game. I came back to play with a friend, and there’s so much about WoD that is just a mess. The free-to-play mobile title that is garrisons is embarrassing, and I was really excited for them pre-launch. People have asked for housing forever, and got identical plots of land to do timed, daily busywork on… Yay. Some of the fights in the Blackrock raid have been fun, but the other raids have been a solid ‘meh’ out of 10.

Gold is utterly valueless now, and with the addition of monthly subscriptions purchasable with gold, they’ve actually increased the level of gold spam and sales, since buying gold from the farmers and buying your sub that way actually works out cheaper, and you get about half the value in gold from selling the monthly sub currency as you would just buying gold outright.

PvP content really isn’t worth bothering with, and their current stop-gap patch until legion is to basically put nearly top end gear in as dungeon rewards.

All that said, I’m still holding out hope for Legion. I don’t know that I’m super keen on the whole one-weapon-with-slight-visual-variation-for-the-whole-expansion thing, but I am hopeful that shooting from 6.8m subs up to 10m then taking an almost 50% total drop within a few months has lit the fire under them to put out something good and make some needed changes.

Drewbob
Guest
Drewbob

Balancing the game for that would ruin any incentive to group and further require every class to be able to function independently essentially ruining any distinctiveness or choice. We’ve seen this before, it’s called GW2, and as everyone knows, instanced gameplay in that game is lackluster.
And indeed, nothing stops people from running all that old content solo once the expansion is older.
The game historically has had fun things for non-raiders to do, Blizzard just seems to be thoroughly unwilling to make the effort lately.

Alien Legion
Guest
Alien Legion

Drewbob It’s called choice.  The game IS dying.  Subs ARE dropping. Factor in the age of the game with Blizzard’s enduring disgust at offering expansion and how could it hurt to offer a choice.

There are those of us who use to play in groups / guilds, but as many people attest to, those groups are gone and those guilds have dried up.  Why not offer people who would sub another reason to do so?

And if the article is even remotely close to accurate, upwards of 90% of the user base does not even see the current end game as it requires raids.  Make it solo’able, drop a blue or something just a bone and let everyone see the story.  Have it scale to any party size 1 – 40 and to any level.
Want to stomp Kara solo? Have a blast!
Want to get a 3-man and have Kara scale up to make it challenging again? Go for it!

c71clark
Guest
c71clark

The game is in desperate need of a 2.0 treatment. If anyone has the money to take the best of GW2, Aion, Wildstar, Eve Online, BF4 etc… and combine it into a new monster MMO, it’s Blizzard. But WoW 1.0 is a zombie, feeding on the guts of those (many) people who ALSO have a bad habit: playing WoW 1.0.

Shaigh
Guest
Shaigh

The assumption that the quick epics during wotlk caused the highest point isn’t true.

WoW had a 3M population growth during the course of TBC spread over all quarters, during wotlk the growth was zero untll the population peak that coincided with the pre-cataclysm patch. At best the EZ-mode epics kept the population around during WotLK but it never caused a growth of the population, that was thanks to the revamping of the world patch.

The sunwell patch was a really good patch, they created a quest-hub, a 5-man dungeon and a 25-man raid which gave everyone content to play. The ICC patch was also good, a quest-hub, three 5-man dungeons and a raid. With so much revenue blizzard has enough money to create content for all three types of gameplay.

Problem with cataclysm was that it was just more of the same, people got really bored of the game and new mmorpg’s started to pop up left and right. During vanilla, tbc and wotlk there was little competition, most games that released had nothing on WoW, now we have bunch of decent f2p/b2p games in rift, swtor, tera, gw2 and eso. That’s bound to hurt such an old beast as WoW.

Drewbob
Guest
Drewbob

It’s not and has never been a solo game. There are a lot of solo games out there. Diablo 3 is a solo game. WoW is not.

Drewbob
Guest
Drewbob

Prior to becoming independent, the site that these writers worked for was owned by AOL, which also owned another site wholly devoted to WoW. AOL dropped both sites unceremoniously, and so both groups of writers formed independent sites devoted to the same interests.
There’s no reason now that the massively op staff couldn’t cover WoW, but I think they continue to respect that Blizzard Watch more than ably covers it, and also this community historically tends to trend post- or anti-WoW, and old habits die hard.

Drewbob
Guest
Drewbob

I think if they want to retain more players, each major content patch should include a Molten Front-sized questing zone and at least two wholly new dungeons at a m

nveronski
Guest
nveronski

Nicely put, I agree with every word he said.
It’s time for Blizzard to address those issues it might bring back old players to the board.