WoW Factor: Examining excitement, accomplishment, and elitism in Battle for Azeroth

    
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Today, in Bad Forward Planning Theater.

It’s been a while, and for good reason. But now that we’re nearly three months into Battle for Azeroth, the World of Warcraft community as a whole has had some time to lose that “we finally have a new expansion” luster, and the reaction as a community is turning to varying flavors of exhaustion. Where are the weapon drops, what the heck is so boring, why is nothing working right, why aren’t I having fun?

If it were just a few people saying it – or, for that matter, just me – that’d be a pretty simple question to answer. But it’s more complicated than all of that. And let’s start by talking about that video of a broken watch telling the right time twice per day, which is basically where I consider the Asmongold video we posted earlier this week to fall.

I think there’s at least one very important takeaway from the video that is not covered in the video itself: It’s being made by the target audience for Blizzard’s current design philosophy.

Let’s not mince words: This entire video is shot through with the philosophy that everything below mythic raiding is, in fact, the training wheels for the Real Game. You can’t escape that fact. It’s even stated at a few points that it’d be great to see what the personal Armory pages for developers would look like, just to know if they’re even playing the game they’re developing.

But let’s also not mince words when we say that the game, ever since Wrath of the Lich King, has been rolling hard on the “raid at the hardest difficulty or get out” train. We saw cracks in that when WOTLK finally made badge currency into the way you just buy tier armor; you could upgrade it by earning specific drops from higher difficulties, but if you just wanted the tier sets, you could run heroics until you earned the currency to buy them.

That got rolled back pretty quickly and kept getting rolled back more firmly over time, but Warlords of Draenor was when it became really explicit: no more tier gear even in Raid Finder difficulty, a new Mythic raiding difficulty, and get your group together on a regular basis or you might as well not even consider getting decent gear.

Legion rolled some of that back a little, but only halfway. It also leaned hard on the idea that dungeons should also run like that branch of raiding, that Mythic+ dungeons are the real expression of dungeon content and everything below that is mediocre whatever at best.

Going nowhere, going nowhere.

None of these is a good decision, but today I’m not interested in picking apart why that’s the case. Instead, what is interesting to me is how at this point even the people who are deep in this philosophy are now fed up with the system. Submitting to constant RNG for every single reward is starting to just become exhausting, especially with the sheer volume of stuff you need to have happen (get the drop, get good secondaries, get a decent Titanforge, and so forth).

And… yeah, that’s where we get into a very important point, where the game has really leaned in hard on the idea of excitement over accomplishment. This is something that the game has doubled down on over the years, and the removal of badges for upgrading items and the introduction of Titanforging masked the fact that it’s slowly and subtly getting even worse.

I think I see where it comes from, too, because in many ways this is something that happens a lot in Diablo III. Diablo III loves its crazy randomized loot dropping everywhere, and that’s part of what makes the game fun. But Diablo III is also a different game, and I don’t simply mean in the sense that it’s at least nominally a single-player game (or can be played that way). Its entire philosophy of gearing is different.

For one thing, Diablo III doesn’t feature players sharing loot; loot drops everywhere. It’s constantly exploding all over. For another, the loot you don’t want or need can be converted into materials meant to create other things. The game also lets you alter the randomized stats (again, for a resource cost), and it’s balanced around letting you forever refine and improve both your build and your gear. Blizzard kept the part where you get randomized loot without the many, many elements of the game designed to rectify that randomness.

Yes, there’s a moment of excitement when you get something new, or at least there was. But at this point it feels more like a chore. The sense of excitement is tempered because you have no control over whether or not what you got is remotely useful for you; instead, what you feel is relief when the item is actually worthwhile instead of vendor trash.

This change is visible all through the game, and it informs a big chunk of why stuff, well, isn’t as fun as it used to be. There’s a moment of excitement when you get a new level and no worry about figuring out what you’re putting a specialization point into… but it vanishes as soon as you realize that the new level didn’t change anything. The game has managed to combine the worst part of level scaling (your power doesn’t go up just via leveling up) with the worst part of non-scaling games (you have levels where the only increases are to stats). The excitement fades away pretty quickly, replaced with lethargy.

Languishing in the depths of terrible writing.

All of this stuff compounds, too. People have loudly complained that actually getting weapons in the game is agonizing, and on the rare instances you actually get a weapon you tend to get the wrong kind of weapon, which I’m pretty sure is listed somewhere in the litany of deific punishments for a sinful world. There’s no incentive to run most dungeon modes simply because, well, there aren’t any rewards to be had there; even Mythic+ caches are a crapshoot and a half.

The worst part is that I’m pretty sure I know exactly why all of these changes were made, simply because someone decided that the most dreadful possible outcome the game could face is one where people who “haven’t earned it” have decent gear. It’s like an almost pathological fear, that if we still had badges and only two difficulties for raiding then it would be possible for someone to just run Heroic dungeons and get good gear. Horrors.

And that’s where that video really falls apart; it talks about how there’s no way to prove that the character with good gear was any good instead of just lucky. He’s right about the fact that good gear doesn’t prove anything, but it’s wrapped up in that continued sense of needing to Be The Elite. You have to make sure that no one gets these rewards who doesn’t “deserve” it.

And I think Blizzard knows this. I think, for that matter, it’s designed a game where excitement and drops are the rule of the land because then you’re never actually done; something better might drop. Instead of having a game wherein you can accomplish something over time, you have a game wherein you need to just continually be grinding away, where your upgrades won’t be obsoleted with the next major update but when random chance drops the exact same weapon but now with better secondary stats forcing you to fight with someone who has gotten no weapons in your raid group.

Whether or not one of them has +10 to rolling boulders uphill forever is a question for another time.

But it gets worse. Feedback is welcome down below or by mail to eliot@massivelyop.com, but please, do join me next week when I talk about how Lore’s already tone-deaf statements are completely wrong and we’re still farming for Nature Resistance gear. Really.

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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Bluxy

BFA endgame, well it seems other people don’t like it… Im just leveling 1-120 and doing things here and there and the game is still lore wise and combat fun.

To be honest I stopped endgame when Cata hit. Its just not worth the heartache for the same same thing. PvP gear was fine for me. And you dont have to be elitist to enjoy wow. Before asmongold there was wowcrendor. Its for the casuals, lets call it rise of the zombie dragon.

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Sarabande_Mage

Great article. Some of my guildies and I have been saying that they need to bring currency back. In Wrath, it was great. My friends and I – some like me, very casual, and some high-end progression Raiders, would run heroics together. My raiding friends never got upset that the more casual of us were earning Tier gear. Of course it took us much more time, but it was okay. Before that patch was up, we would be well-geared. We also had the raid in wintergrasp, it’s pretty casual and pug friendly. That was another place we could get Tier gear. That kept up until MoP, where we got Normal tier from World bosses, we could get very good gear from Ordos since you didn’t have to be a serious Raider to get the legendary cloak.

And as you said, that all changed in WoD. Luckily, from late SoO all the way through WoD, I had a good, casual raid group. If it wasn’t for that, I would have disliked WOD a lot more. With all of the ability pruning that happened, my tier bonuses we’re the only things that actually made my favorite class and spec fun.

Aside from the uninspiring and confusing Azerite gear, the RNG nature of everything, and just a general boredom of lot of the content, my biggest complaint is the ” raid or die” design for professions. The amount of b o p mats that you have to collect, with Sanguicell dropping in very small numbers from LFR , with having so many of the hydrocores necessary for the intermediate gear, it’s really terrible. I remember back in the burning Crusade when I was able to make my wonderful 3-piece spellfire set, without setting foot and even a dungeon or Raid. It took a lot of time to farm the mats, but when I made it it was a wonderful year for someone on my play style. Now, what used to be one of my favorite parts of the game – professions – has become one of my least favorites. The one thing that could have held my interest in the expansion has been ruined by their design a requiring raiding to make the best gear.

I read some of the other people’s comments, and they are right in saying that this is like Legion with some of the most fun aspects taken out. But they took the one aspect of Legion – again, professions – and managed to make it even worse.

Granted, I realize that Legion was a hard expansion to follow. But what’s baffling is, after hearing negative comments about the RNG nature of legendary acquisition in Legion, they decided to make everything RNG based. I don’t understand trying to follow up a good expansion with one that is similar, but was many of the very fun elements removed.

I understand that they are afraid of the end of expansion lulls. I for one, have never been bothered by those. I wish they would go back to the days of allowing themselves time to design better systems, which the majority of player base could enjoy.

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Ashfyn Ninegold

This was beginning to be evident in Legion, the gating of progression by group content. Professions also used to be one of my favorite activities. Now, it is not worth doing. And certainly not worth raiding for. Who ever thought this up really, really doesn’t understand how people play WoW.

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Sarabande_Mage

Yeah, one aspect of Legion (which, for the most part, was a fine expansion) was requiring group content for SO MANY THINGS. It’s fine to have some dungeon quests, but for completing zones, Order Hall campaigns (both needed for flying) and I think worst of all, professions. I get that that was nowhere near as bad as having to constantly go to Uldaman or Scholo to advance professions, but we’d come so far from those days. I get that group content is a big part of the game, but really wish they’d separate ptofessions from it.

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draugris

Asmongold has a very extreme opinion. He believes that only people who played wow from the beginning should have some influence in the game and only if they do the hardest content available. So in that way he is really delusional because that will never be the case, I would make a guess that the super long term and super hardcore type of players are the minority in this game.

All the other points he makes, I agree for the most part. RNG is a real plague in BFA, you basically can´t work towards anything regarding gear. It´s all pure luck based.

Regarding elitism, I think this is not only a problem in wow, but wow cultivated that to a ridiculous amount. Back in the day’s people tried to run with players and kicked them if they did not perform. Today there is raider.io, you will be measured by a score and if it is not high enough you won´t get invited at all. It´s getting more and more difficult to find a place which allows you to learn things because everybody expects you to be perfect from the beginning.

I play wow with friends only and thank god do not have to run things with groups from the dungeon finder.

Mordyjuice
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Mordyjuice

I don’t think it’s that simple, I watched Nixxiom’s interpretation and it looks better through his filter; while I don’t agree with his idea that all game modes below Mythic are not playing the real game he does hit the head on the nail else where.

Regarding his statement that only old vets should have a say I think what he really means is you can’t make a nuanced or informed opinion unless you’ve experienced the bigger picture, for example I’ve been playing since 2005 which basically means my opinion is probably more informed than his (though he’d never admit it).

Like him I do feel like the Crazy Old Man whether I am logged in as Mordyjuice or Bryan (which for all intent and pusposes might as well be a dead man on this site), but then if you’re Coming to this site then we are all the crazy old people.

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draugris

I don´t know. I am not a veteran, I am playing since legion. When I listen to people like Asmongold, I always have the feeling that they are so imprisoned in their nostalgic feelings for the game that they are unable to see that times have changed.

I am not saying that how gearing in wow is like now is the best in the world. In fact, I agree that it is too easy which maybe creates this feeling of lack of accomplishment.

On the other hand, I believe that most of the people do not have the time to invest in a game like for example Asmon or McConnell have. Blizzard decided that wow has something in store for everybody, also for casual players and I do not believe that this is going to change anytime soon. These are the players that feed Blizzard, not the Asmongolds. So hearing only the hardcore type of player imo would hurt the game more than it would benefit from it.

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Ashfyn Ninegold

Elitism has plagued WoW from early on. When I was a guild leader, I remember one player informing me that our guild sucked because we didn’t raid. And here we thought we were having fun doing the content we enjoyed.

It seems pretty clear that the effort to stick to a hard timeline for turning out content has significantly dinged WoW’s team’s ability to assure an expansion with well thought out mechanics.

The mechanics in BFA are terrible. The spitballing made it to production without any refinement or depth. A lot of bad, hasty decisions were made and it shows.

I thought six months of shake out time was enough. Now I’m thinking closer to a year.

Alyn
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Alyn

I have stated this before; I have long ago grown tired of the actual “game” in WoW. However, the people I have met in the 14 years experiencing the content, are why I still log into the game.

WoW is basically either pvp based or raid based. The “premier” content has always been the raiding content. The philosophies of becoming a “raider” has evolved only a bit since Vanilla. The main difference is now the true hard core experience is mythic raiding. I am not sure that more than a small fraction of those that raid actually complete mythic content Anything else is just “sub elite”.

I don’t think the developers currently working at the Blizz campus really have the ability to re imagine a philosophically different World of Warcraft than we see today. However, as seen in some of the posts thus far it appears some want to experience the original content. I can only smile when I read how excited people are for that “experience”. I also do not think the old content will remain an interest for more than a fraction of what currently plays in the commercial brand after Vanilla is re released. It simply takes more time to get raid prepped than it does currently. Now, for a sub set of WoW fans this will be refreshing and invigorating. For the larger group of curious gamers it may be a bit too slow. It will be interesting to find out if the curious will remain and prep for Molten Core, (remember you WILL need fire resistant gear!!) Fun times indeed.

I will remain and continue with WoW. It is polished and the lore is second to none. However, I hold a glimmer of faith that maybe sometime in the next decade an mmo will be created that isn’t so narrow at end game. For me, a mix of sandbox and theme park would be just fine thank you very much. I do NOT seek some wobbly excuse for “old school”. I don’t want to be forced to experience an mmo that is one person’s personal “vision” of his or her perfect game. These philosophies have not panned out all that well.

I’m holding on for something I can believe in.

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Mallus

Great article, I’ve played every expansion since WoW was released and this is the first one that I did not play for more than a couple weeks. WoW has lost its luster and elitism will slowly but surely kill it off, GG Blizz…

budtoker420
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budtoker420

Same here. I made it about 6 weeks which is the shortest I’ve ever lasted in a new expansion.

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Nemui Byakko

So, basically, current top gears are *lootboxes*? Funny :)
They definitely burned the wrong tree.

oldandgrumpy
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oldandgrumpy

I came back for BFA and left again. Not that Wow will notice one less casual.

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Matt & Krissy

Looking at wowprogress and wowlogs the majority of players have done LFR and Normal. Not Mythic.
Thats the playerbase Blizz should be targeting to keep.
Having lost half their subs – down to 1.7 mill, is a clear indictment of the current Game Leads decisions. The blame is with them.
Go back to WotLK ideas.
Dungeons for tier tokens, gives entry into normal raids. Along with fun world pvp which also gave raid gear – who didnt love Wintergrasp!
And go back to just recolours of gear.
I dislike raiding only to get gear that has half the artwork removed to appease the 1%.

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Sargonnax

BFA is Legion with most of the fun removed. Blizzard got rid of the things that worked well or dumbed them down and implemented new ideas that are almost universally garbage. I’m already bored with BFA and questioning how much longer I will be playing. I really cant figure out how Blizzard had their heads so far up their asses with this expansion, and what makes it worse is they mostly don’t want to acknowledge that they screwed up and things need to change. The rare times they do communicate its easier to avoid the problem or tell us they understand our concerns, but this is whats best for the game. I already see far less players logging into WoW these days and that bleeding will continue until Blizzard really puts some serious work into fixing the mess they created.