WoW Factor: The problem with Garrisons isn’t Garrisons

    
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Bet on it.

When World of Warcraft rolls away from the inexplicable inclusion of alternate Draenor for good, it will also mean bidding farewell to the elements of Draenor, and I imagine most everyone will respond to that with several rounds of cheering. I don’t blame anyone for it, either. One of the loudest cheers will be reserved for Garrisons, one of the least-liked features of the expansion, and frequently pointed to as one of the signs that the expansion wasn’t very well-handled. And it’s pretty understandable there, too… but I don’t think that Garrisons are inherently awful despite that.

This is not to say that there aren’t several structural problems that came up with Garrisons more or less as soon as they were baked into the leveling process in Warlords of Draenor, so I’ll be as happy to be rid of them as anyone else. But I think the majority of the problems that people have with Garrisons (and always have) say less about Garrisons themselves as a concept and even most of their execution. It’s more about the state of the game itself.

Did I build this? Yes. Do I care about it? No.People have a lot of complaints about Garrisons, of course, but the majority of them fall into one of two categories: Garrisons aren’t what was originally promised, and Garrisons are an absurd chore. The former is both understandable and true, but it’s also part of the nature of game development. While I might not agree with the choice to turn Garrisons from a feature you could place anywhere and do almost anything with, the reality of those design shifts were visible slowly and steadily, and the developers were pretty universally forward about what was going on.

Of course, this speaks to the nature of why many people disliked Garrisons just the same: because the design choices were pretty much universally made with a strictly functional viewpoint. The stated goal of having WoW‘s version of housing fell away based upon the designer assertion that no one wants to play The Sims in WoW, disregarding that the two aren’t mutually exclusive goals. There’s space to argue that these were bad choices, but I think that ties in nicely with examining the other major complaint about Garrisons being an unpleasant chore.

It doesn’t take much imagination to understand that one, definitely. Even before the game’s general release people were making jokes about the fact that we were sending other characters out to do things instead of going out and doing things. That was always kind of ridiculous. By this point in the expansion, I’m willing to bet no one actually likes logging in to do a whole bunch of Garrison mission management… which is probably why the game added one last area after several delays which sends players back into a totally different style of zone with daily quests.

But hey, at least there’s something to do outside of the Garrison now. And that’s where I think Garrisons have fallen down – not in their very nature, but in the world surrounding them.

The world of Warlords of Draenor offers very little for max-level characters to do other than raid or prepare for raiding. Until the addition of Tanaan Jungle, dailies really weren’t a thing that existed. For all the talk of gating Heroic dungeons, the rewards from these streams trickled to irrelevance almost right away. Mythic dungeons fared somewhat better in the reward department, but “the same dungeons you got bored with months ago only now they’re super hard” isn’t the most rousing endorsement possible.

So Garrisons became a chore, and the daily-less world largely became a chore, just as dailies in Mists of Pandaria were a chore – because both of them had the same feeling, that this is what you have to do at max level to actually get rewarded for your playtime whether you like it or not.

I’m not sure Blizzard understands that the problematic part of Mists of Pandaria‘s dailies was not the fact that we had a lot of them in somewhat random selections (a bit annoying, but fine), nor was it the fact that they were the only way to gain reputation (strictly worse than what had come before in Cataclysm, but also something that had happened before). What made them truly intolerable was that for the first time since the idea of gear bought for currency had been introduced back in The Burning Crusade, the token currency rewards and the reputation rewards were one and the same.

That was what made the whole thing seem like a chore. You didn’t have the option of saying “eh, I don’t feel like doing a Heroic today” or “meh, no more dailies for a bit.” You had to do both or you could only stare in resentment.

Well, all right, goofy pictures were an option.

And that’s where Garrisons became a chore too. If you wanted to have anything to do, you had to focus on Garrisons. When you can get better rewards from Garrisons than from doing anything else short of Heroic raiding, so to speak, you are naturally going to do that, because why would you not? I am that rare sort who actually enjoys repeatedly running dungeons, but it’s a different sort of fun, and it’s the sort of thing I do because I know there are rewards at the end of it. If those rewards become pointless, my interest wanes fairly quickly.

The problem wasn’t the number or frequency of the rewards; the problem was that every other approach had been stymied. You had to do this, and there was little point to doing anything else.

Not for nothing, this ties back into that functional thinking I was talking about when it comes to design decisions. So much of what Garrisons originally meant to be was gutted over time to make sure that they were more functional, that they provided better advantages or more desirability for people pushing for Mythic – and as we’ve discussed before, that is a tiny percentage of people. The fact is that Garrisons needn’t have been oriented for those people.

There is, in fact, a prevailing attitude running through WoW‘s design about whether or not people really “deserve” rewards, which strikes me as incredibly counterproductive and damaging on a whole. It’s a topic for another day, but it deserves a nod.

Ultimately, though, what makes Garrisons a tedious chore isn’t just Garrisons themselves. If you slapped identical functionality into Wrath of the Lich King, it would still make for a far better environment and not feel like a chore because you have a choice about what to do. There are several different objectives you can choose to pursue, and getting your weekly raid cache is nice, but it hardly obviates running Heroics and buying tier pieces that way. Or doing 10-person raids, or taking part in PvP, or even doing dailies.

It’s only when these activities become mandatory that they stop being fun. And that’s my great fear about whenever Legion institutes its own follower system. Not that I’ll be sending my followers on missions, but that doing so is the only thing worth doing in the game.

Feedback, as always, is welcome down in the comments or via mail to eliot@massivelyop.com. Next week, let’s take a look back at the game’s history in a completely serious manner.

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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DPandaren
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DPandaren

Metadirective Eamil That’s kind of their fault though. They’ve pretty much conditioned a huge pool of players that way without really knowing what they were doing waaaay back when they first started their MMO gig.

stiqy
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stiqy

The big problem I had with Garrisons is it further balkanized the “MMO” population even more than LFG/LFR did. There was no reason to be in the world… and worse, no reason to rely on anyone else. Everyone could mine, everyone had herbs, everyone could do every gathering and even craft in every profession. WOW stripped the “MM” out of everything and removed any reason to go into the world.. Not even any reason to gather in a capital city. Everyone alone in their garrisons running dailies, trading at their own private AH, shopping at their own private merchants, and queuing in the LFR lobby.

stiqy
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stiqy

CistaCista Los of differences. You can customize what your workers are doing, aiming towards different production goals. Also you can manage them from anywhere, on any alt, and everything they do/produce is account wide. There are three massive differences right there, and I am sure there are many more subtle ones.

RicharddeLeonIII
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RicharddeLeonIII

Denice J Cook RicharddeLeonIII Not all of that loss can be attributed to the casual vs hardcore debate specifically.  Ability pruning is definitely a big part for some, some people die, some people just dont game anymore, or any myriad of reasons.  But even without hard numbers, casuals will always outnumber hardcore.  The only time you will see hardcores outnumber casuals in a game is if their sub numbers dip to EQ1 levels (250k to 500k) assuming the quality of the game is top notch.

RicharddeLeonIII
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RicharddeLeonIII

Hounddog74 RicharddeLeonIII Speaking for myself, I played since the early  EQdays, and ive always been anti social.  My mmo playtimes increased as the genre got more solo friendly.  Thats less a function of a ‘hardcore’ description and more I dont like anyone else’s help doing in-game stuff.  I was always going against the grain and doing things in MMOs as solo as possible.

tonymcs
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tonymcs

Garrisons were both the best of times and the worst of times.  It was good to have a place to call home, liked my various followers and pets strolling around and the ability to craft items outside my professions was great and I churned out many a gnome rocket, glider and shield to help my main and subsequent alts.  The herb garden and mine were fine at first (although I sadly didn’t learn I could chug multiple coffees in the mine and use a special pick to make the job so much quicker until my third alt) and really all the repetitive crafting and gathering in the garrison are ok if you have only one character as they take up little time, but each successive alt adds to the boredom.  The levelling and equipping followers was fun for a while, especially with the rewards, but once again repetition. especially with alts, kills the fun eventually.  If your primary motivation is gold collection then garrisons would be a big success as I have some acquaintances that moved past a million gold in WoD.  Being able to invite friends and have them use your facilities and occasionally help fight an invasion or take on a 40 person boss was also enjoyable.  Having a bodyguard was a nice feature and added a nice boost to DPS and the occasional  blind panic when they used an AoE inappropriately.

After 3 alts, I learned how little you have to do in garrisons and my subsequent alts had top level garrisons that looked like building sites, as I didn’t bother with any buildings, except levelling the garrison, and only missions for followers I picked up in quests.  Got the shipyard and once again didn’t bother with missions just got into Tanaan Jungle for the dailies etc.  If you detest garrisons, then it’s quite possible to enjoy the questing, levelling, dungeons, LFR and raids without spending much time in them at all.

In the end, I think garrisons were a needed experiment that failed primarily due to the mindless repetition, the perception that you needed to complete all the garrison tasks and perhaps not enough customisation.  Nevertheless, it’s provided Blizzard with a wealth of data on various garrison mechanics and I expect we’ll see some aspects of them appear in the future.

Grimmtooth
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Grimmtooth

I am so glad I walked away from WoW when WoD was announced. It just sounded like they were going to break more things than they fix. Legion sounds like more of the same reinventing the wheel for the sake of a new exciting feature.
If you love playing WoW as it currently stands thats great for you, I hope you’re having a ton of fun. 
But if you’re like me and are burned out of the never ending raiding gear treadmill then there is less & less to actually do in the game with every expansion.

wjowski
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wjowski

Garrisons wouldn’t have been quite so awful if they’d let you assign and complete missions remotely and gotten rid of the mines/herbgarden/barn.

mysecretid
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mysecretid

Metadirective 

Astute observations, thank you!
As my quantum physicist friend has pointed out in the past: it’s often not simply the data, but the interpretation of the data, which separates good science from bad science.
(Don’t get him started on all the people who lead with, “Well, quantum physics says that …” Some folks think that the famous cat can be used to justify pretty much anything ;-) )
Cheers,

Dope_Danny
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Dope_Danny

Day one -and im sure i have the posts on mmochampion to prove it- my default reaction during Blizzcon was “this looks like korean mobile game shit designed to keep you logging in every few house to click a button to generate an addictive dependency reinforcement loop thats used to catch whales” and right from my initial expectations of what i believe i described as “mmo poison” at the time my opinion never changed because it was never anything else.

Garrisons were a placebo fix. A way to give the increasingly casual -yes i said the naughty word!- portion of the audience a need to login to click a button, get a reward and logout without them producing content. Keep feeling they need to play means they keep feeling a need to be subbed. An experiment in a supportive money buffer based not just on a reduction of content but on no content updates in mind whatsoever for greater periods of time. Typical Tactics for a company like EA or Activision but never good guy Blizzard -even though most of the ‘good guys’ who made the games not met with derision and extreme criticism are all long gone- right? I’m sure theres some who still think like that, brand loyalty and misappropriated anthropomorphisation of corporate entities and strangers as loyal friends and all that.

Warlords in every way was a signifier that WoW is on its decline to a sunset period in its life span. Not in some doomsaying way, but in a ‘this is going to happen to every game you love with an online component ever’ inevitable way. The expansion was an experiment in ‘How little can we give them while making them still pay?’ with multiple experiments in achieving this goal. Garrisons were a habit forming way to have players ‘grind’ none content by tapping in to hit a reward button like a trained rat in a college experiment and later things like the wow token designed around the idea that they were just a month of sub time costing more than a month of sub time designed to milk the garrisons gross over abundance of gold in the economy to effectively increase the sub price for those people even if they themselves are not paying it. Warlords was expecting people in some capacity be it time or money to pay more for less. It was greedy, it was gross, it was the phantom menace. A modification of the backstory we knew in a lucas esque “this time i can fix it!” way which did not need retelling or ‘fixing’ in any regard that was a step down in every single regard that made World of Warcraft a big deal.

Garrisons were not the big problem people want it to be. They were a tiny annoyance of ‘gameplay’ that never ever should have left the cesspools of the app store. They were just another symptom. Thats all.

The entirety of Mists of Pandaria players were working with Wrathion who was talking about the Legion invading Azeroth. Out of nowhere his showed up with very little content and every mechanic including the garrison was a hollow busywork grind to keep players logging in with little massively multiplayer content at all to do, and right after? right back to the legion invading azeroth with only Guldan being the one single carry over who could easily have been replaced with someone else.

Warlords of dreanor was a hollow filler designed to keep the game producing money. Thats all. Thats no different than any release by any game dev ever, but in this case it was clearly an asspull. Garrisons were just one of many asspulls in this ur asspull that shit the bed so hard it made WoW the object of ridicule as “that game that doesnt update anymore and people still pay for it” -and not my words but words of lots of mmo based websites and podcasts the world over.

We can all bitch and complain about it, and rightly so, but from the players experience it was a shit two years and garrisons can rot. Thats the nice thing about mmos, everything changes. We didnt always have wow being the current shitshow it is, and its no guarantee it cannot improve again in future.

The only people who really suffer from Garrisons are Blizzard. Most of us simply dropped out subs and walked away hoping one day they game will be worth playing again. None of us were forced to stick with it -unless you were one of the whale types that fall for those kind of things i suppose- but in the long run warlords ruined warcrafts reputation and that doesnt mean a thing to us in the ocean of good games we can play that have released over the last 3+ decades, our paychecks and livelihood dont rely on things like garrisons.

Its those people who should be pissed off with Garrisons, because they thought it was a good idea and every day they went into work watch the sub numbers go down to catas numbers, then bcs numbers, then vanillas numbers and everyday seeing more and more people go “this is not a good videogame anymore” and it was their choices that did it and their livelihood that suffered for it.

Maybe that means we wont see its like in future, we can hope.