WoW Factor: What could win back the crowd for the next World of Warcraft expansion?

    
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Actually call it a comeback.

So the conclusion to the Azshara raid has been mined out, and I’m just going to link it to you here. I don’t want to talk too much about what it actually contains, but the short version without spoiling people before the cut is that it’s pretty much what you would expect if you’ve been paying attention to things. There are people who are adamant that because it so resolutely sets up exactly the tired plot people have been predicting that must be some kind of red herring.

Spoiler warning: It’s not. It’s exactly the same bland and obvious writing that people have been calling it for months now, there’s not a third-act twist that’s going to make this not lazy work of the highest order.

Instead, I wanted to cast my mind further ahead. We all know that this year will see another expansion announcement because it sort of has to, and we’re placing bets more about whether it’s going to be an emergency thing pre-BlizzCon. Instead, I want to ask a different question about what could actually win back the crowd for World of Warcraft because I don’t think a straight crowd-pleaser like Legion is in the cards again. So what could win people back?

Let bygones be bygones.

A rewriting of the faction system

This is simultaneously the most unlikely and the thing I want to see the most, especially since Calia Menethil has been getting set up as the new leader of the Forsaken since the prequel novel. You know, the last legitimate heir to the throne of Lordaeron and all that?

I’ve said before (and will say dozens of times more, probably) that there’s no twist fixing this story. It’s a bad story told badly with lazy writing and character development. But after the second go around of “we have to work together and depose the Evil Horde Leader through violent means” it would at least make it mildly worthwhile if the result sees us moving into the next expansion without the same faction split. The Alliance and Horde still exist, but players can move between them as they desire, and there’s no longer hard rules on these two sides.

Allied races have already largely put paid to the idea of having faction-unique silhouettes (which was always nonsense), and from a lore standpoint the justification is eroding into nothing as Sylvanas becomes the scapegoat for the entirety of the Horde. It would give players something to be excited about, a state wherein your faction gets shaped by your actual personal choices. Heck, you could even keep Sylvanas alive and have the Horde just straight-up be evil; you can choose not to be with them any longer!

At the very least, having free and open communication and partying would be a major improvement, and something I’d like to see come out of this expansion. It wouldn’t justify the story, but I feel like a lot of players would get the sense that it at least led somewhere interesting.

Why did you let me down so bad.

Major combat and spec expansion

There’s a weird sort of balance right now in WoW wherein a lot of specs both feel too simple and too frantic. You’re only hitting three buttons, but you have to be hitting all three of them more or less constantly… and once you get that routine down, it becomes mind-numbingly boring because again, it’s three buttons. The various specs are, at the end of the day, kind of boring, and the loss of all the fun power and passives we had in Legion is acutely felt.

We just got a large-scale revision of every spec with Legion, and yet much like the item squish, it was handled incompetently immediately thereafter, meaning that we need this again. But the sensible key to taking this task on again would be to make for a larger-scale revamp that’s more about introducing some more complexity, add more branches of differentiation in combat, and stop burning things down to the smallest number of buttons that is still technically playable. This game is not Overwatch.

I’m not saying that we absolutely need to have every spec have a full two bars of abilities you must rotate through, nor am I saying that combat needs to more closely resemble that of another game. There are, however, lots of games that could be used as an example of this, and there are lots of ways that the game could become more interesting to play with only minor additions to buttons.

The key is not just saying “we’ll make combat better,” but demonstrating it while also demonstrating that it’s not tied to a system that the developers keep promising will go away with the next expansion. That would be a big step in the right direction.

Yes, we're at a point where bringing Garrisons back sounds not-horrible.

Housing and persistent systems

Actually, let’s extend beyond that. Let’s make a mess.

Ion Hazzikostas is wrong about a bunch of stuff. He’s very wrong about the idea that you have to introduce a messy system and then abandon it because it’s messy. Instead, you introduce a system in an expansion and recognize that it’s going to cause a mess in the future, but because you can plan ahead you can be ready for that mess. You can act in a proactive fashion to deal for those messy elements. That gives the impression that you’re actually releasing expansions instead of sequels using the same game engine.

I can imagine a version of the game in which we have multiple artifacts, we still have Garrisons, we still have Class Halls (which served a different function than Garrisons because they didn’t have to be basically the same), we have the Heart added on top of that… we, in short, have lots of different pieces working together. Yes, it would make the game more complicated. But the thing is that while the immortal principle of “keep it simple, stupid” is true, the point is to make things as simple as possible without sacrificing functionality.

Persistent systems, housing among them, give players a sense that what you do now sets down a foundation for the future. That would get people more excited right away. Look at how many people were excited for Garrisons before we saw how bad they were.

Throw wide the gates to let us pass once more.

Undoing what’s been undone

Is it wrong that part of me hopes to have the game’s Classic servers as a test bed for rolling things back? Yes. That’s entirely wrong. It’s also a really bad admission of having screwed up when you have to roll back changes you’ve made over the years. But at the same time, a lot of those things that were excised and removed over the years were also bad decisions.

I’d like to see an announcement for the next expansion that we’re going back to the old talent trees. People would lose their minds. There would be screaming. You could say that at the start of the expansion announcement and you’d probably have to pause the presentation for 10 solid minutes. “We’re bringing back Seals and Auras for Paladins.” Hey, look at that, people are losing their minds all over again.

If you want to win back the crowd, you have to put in the effort to remember the crowd that you’re trying to win back. The crowd that’s still in the game is there out of a dogged persistence, a determination that they’re going to stick with this game no matter what. But there’s a much bigger crowd out there that has played the game and stepped away, and that means looking at the things that have driven people away. Undoing talents, putting more and more emphasis on the top tier of progression raiding, turning all real dungeons into that same sort of content, removing gameplay interactions, burning out the meaning of levels… there’s a clear line to be drawn that’s made people drop out.

And the other approach to bring people back in a storm of fanservice is not going to work. Because… well, we’ll go over that next week. For now, let’s leave some comments down below or mail them along to eliot@massivelyop.com. You may wish to consider reprinting the Black Lotus card from Magic: the Gathering in the intervening time.

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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Sykes

I’m in regardless, but to spitball some ideas:

1) Hard focus on story. Hire all of the novelists to the team. Have the Horde and Alliance lose BFA badly as a result of player’s poor decisions, and have us start as regular grunts again, stripped of rank as a result, in need of a redemption arc. The Lich Queen is crowned, slays an old God or three, and consumes Azeroth completely. We’re forced to flee to Outland.

2) Massive Playable Races (not allied races – but new model races): One from each expac that players have wanted in the past, such as: Naga, Arakoa, Tuskarr, Jinyu, Saberstalker, Demon, tortulan….have all old gear just recolor one of 3 presets of armors the most prominent color of the old gear to avoid clipping/modeling issues. You want to play a weird race, sacrifice a bit of gear identity in turn. Many players already just transmog to a single set at this point anyways. Market as a complete relaunch of races.

3) Don’t look back. Look forward. Grab returning players because this is the most fun MMO on the market – not because of Nostalgia. We have WoW classic for that. Use warmodes to have open-world PVP that actually matters. Cities can be destroyed dynamically in warmode during each PVP season. The map completely depends on large-scale open world PVP, which is completely optional if warmode is toggled off.

4) Bring the RPG back into the MMO, as a design philosophy. Double the number of spells, but have all the new ones be situational. Introduce a lot more cosmetic spell glyphs / gear / potions / etc, encouraging crafting while also letting players recreate their fantasy the way they want. Want a warlock whose spells look like they’re raining blight instead of raining fire? Sure. No difference in the damage or abilities needed – just a change in what the spell looks like. Gate some of the cooler ones behind content – solo class challenges with a story, group content like raids.

5) Lean into competitive PVE hard. Method made waves earlier this year. Let guilds be able to join conferences and compete against like-rated leaderboards for speed running content. Encourage twinks by letting xp-off exclusive BGs and Arenas be rated, and earn older cosmetic rewards (not current season mounts, but maybe previous season mounts).

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Matt Comstock

Frankly, I’m not sure anything they can do at this point would draw me back into the game to the exclusion of all others as it did at initial release and through WotLK. I think perhaps it is just me as a gamer, who enjoys moving between games and soaking up all the different stories to be told– there are so many more MMOs and other multiplayer games than when WoW initially launched.

I actually enjoyed the Garrisons, sure they needed work, but it brought me back (I sat out Cataclysm and Mists). But they abandoned the mechanic with Legion. However, Legion was able to maintain my attention, as I very much enjoyed the artifact weapons and class halls with Legion, but they reworked and abandoned those mechanics with BFA.

In line with points in your article, they need to stop introducing new mechanics and then abandoning them. They need to refine those mechanics (for the better), rather than reworking them into something completely different.

Their best shot at really grabbing my attention back, includes: bringing back the artifact weapons, as they were in Legion; perhaps keep but refine the azerite stuff (which I’ve not experienced); hybridize the garrison and class hall (i.e. a class hall is just a part of your garrison), or drop the garrison in exchange for a decent housing system with a return of the class hall as it functioned in Legion. Cross faction game play is a must have. And, then maintain those mechanics throughout future expansions, even if they introduce some new mechanic.

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Eric Dinosa

BFA was the final straw for me. I have played this game ever since Vanilla, and I always found something to like. I did take long breaks from the game in between, simply because IRL got in the way, or because I wanted to focus on another game. Yet I always came back.

I even liked the second half of Cata, and even though WOD was boring, I played it casually, earning millions of gold just by using the garrison with different chars.
Legion was kinda cool, and I played a bit of that too.

When BFA was announced, I was like “That’s IT?”. I don’t CARE about the Alliance vs. Horde conflict flaring up again. BFA right away felt like a cheapened version of Legion.

I leveled two chars to 120, geared them a bit, did reps for flying… and eventually never logged in again, and have not the slightest desire to do so almost half a year later. In the past, I always had that jonesing coming in after a while, wanting to come back. Not anymore, guess I was cured of that.

I am tired of the way the game has changed. Tired of seeing what happened to the classes. I used to love healing raids with my shammy, druid or priest. Loved to solo content with my moonkin or enhance shammy or Paladin or other chars. I became an altoholic in Wrath, and ever since Cata, I ALWAYS had one char of each class at max level. And BFA killed that too.

I can’t even stand the thought of leveling yet another char through BFA content. I dislike the silly scaling, the zones, the lore. The lack of diversity among classes. The whole vibe. I used to love the lore, knew it inside and out. The recent developments? I just dont care about those stories and chars and twists and turns.

Undoing things, as described in the article, sounds great. But it will never happen, even though a classic server is a tiny bit like that. Undoing stuff, going back to old mechanics would mean they’d have to admit they went the wrong way. And they hardly ever admit something like that. Yeah, they do when stuff REALLY goes wrong, when its overly obvious, but it’s never “OK, we messed up. We bled subs like crazy, and we know that this ain’t fun anymore for so many of you, and we wanna go back and make this fun again.”

It’s always that “We know better than you what is fun” attitude. They say “we hear you”, but they act as if they don’t. Maybe I am wrong, maybe what they’ve been doing really is the road to success, maybe the game would be all dead if they hadnt made all those changes.

But in any case, I learned that WOW isn’t for me anymore. Whether its feeling burnt out after 14 years of “new expac, level, gear up, do endgame, play another game or do old content until the next one comes out” or whether I am just not the target demographic anymore… I dont know.

I fondly hold on to all the happy memories from vanilla, TBC, WOTLK, even Cata or Mop, but it’s like seeing that ex gf you broke up with… the one you have happy memories with, but you know you just wouldnt work out and you dont like the way she has changed… or maybe you have changed too much.

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Goettel

They killed off my (unhealthy) preoccupation with the game with the initial level cap increase, which IMO is the worst ‘feature’ of many in this genre. That can’t be undone. So at this stage it’s V̶a̶n̶i̶l̶l̶a̶ Classic or nothing, for me.

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Teh Beardling

They would have to completely change/overhaul the class system to get me ever to play again. After playing through every expansion since launch, going from legion to BfA just broke me. I didn’t even make it to max level in BfA. The classes felt so gutted and bland. There is no depth or real variety of choice anymore in the way a class plays. I have always felt that an RPG was a game in which you placed yourself in a fantastic role and customized it to best fit who you were and how you envisioned the character. With all the depth being pruned away I feel that is no longer possible in WoW. It’s closer to a moba or action game than an RPG these days. Add in all the watering down of crafting and its just awful and leaves you feeling almost betrayed after so many years.(Which is probably why there was so much anger at BfA) I have so many fond memories of WoW over the years and to know that I will likely never make new ones is disheartening.

The lack of customization in main stream mmo’s is not just a wow thing though. I feel FFXIV struggles with it too and I quit it for the same reason really. I couldnt find a class I enjoyed. I also didn’t understand why I had to take an advanced job to be effective. (Why do I HAVE to play ninja, what if I WANT to be a rogue/thief?) It sucks too because I absolutely love the crafting in 14.

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Hurbster

Just looking forward to Classic so much, even if I wanted to go back to WoW I have been away for too long. And the last thing I want to do is go back to WoW in it’s current state.

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DargorV .

The trust is gone, sorry bra

Alyn
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Alyn

Dr. Seuss
“Today was good. Today was fun. Tomorrow is another one.”

Albert Einstein
“Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

Simply put, is the game fun for everyone more often than not? Do you feel that it is work just to get through another rep quest or incursion event? Which is it, work or fun for you?

I write this post to thank Eliot for yet another thought provoking article about WoW. For many of us and especially me, WoW is sort of that “love/hate relationship”. I log in for my friends that I have come to know. However, the experience is becoming more and more difficult to bear. It seems to become more laborious than joyous for me. I tend to agree with Einstein. The optimism of Dr. Suess I can admire and try my best to show optimism as often as possible. The prolonged silence in my Discord while a dozen or more people are basically experiencing the same world that I am is deafening. We are working too hard to have fun in WoW, in my opinion.

Eliot asks if there is anything that can be done to “save” the current commercial brand we are playing. Yes. Blizzard could actually make some positive changes. No, Blizzard won’t spend the money on the man power to accomplish this huge task. They will continue to give us the same old game and attempt to polish and spit shine what has become tarnished since Cataclysm. Basically, there probably isn’t one thing I could mention here that would gain 100% support and such is the mmo world as we know it today. However, I shall give it a shot. The skill trees are a total abject failure. Is there truly choice? Yeah, if you don’t raid or pvp. However there was more choice pre-Cata.

One thing we can all count on is that Blizz WILL continue to tweak our skills, won’t they? They will spend BIG ad dollars to promote what will be painted as different and refreshing and , and fun? Nope. NOT FUN. Same old rep grind for gear. Some new “trick” for our armor or weapon and poof all gone the next expansion. Why? Why do we have to endure the crappy skills on every single class? Challenge? Why the honchos at the “think tank” at Blizz have assured us that we will have tons of fun since we have had our stats “squished” and dungeons “enhanced”. Oh yeah those challenge are fun, aren’t they? Hell no, they have become “clock- in and clock-out 9 to 5” jobs! And what is our intrinsic extrinsic rewards? Gear. Gear? Can we not craft any more? Oh yeah, forgot. Nope we have to go to work over at Daza’lor or Uldir. Do NOT forget to clock-in. How dare us to even consider crafting gear anywhere near as elite and beautiful as Daza’lorian armor! And so the beat has gone on like this for the life of the game.

In conclusion, will Classic WoW” save us all? No, I fear it is much like a string of other so called legacy servers out there. It will be fun for a time for some, but will frustrate many of those that feel they need to get to end game content asap! I am not holding out for that good old time experience. Instead I’m playing some other mmo’s at present and really enjoying myself. I still log into WoW and in fact I have sort of rediscovered my DK. Running him as blood and wow, I AM having fun. PLEASE do NOT tell those very smart “think tankers” at Blizz they’ll nerf the crap outta him!

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tyyriz tyyric

this all sounds great.

right up to the thing that is not mentioned. PVP.

PVPers complain about any half a percent of “unbalance.” the game doesnt need to dumb done anything for PVE – give players all the power items and spells they want. let them run 150% baseline instead of dranei pallys/dks being stuck in tar. pve power doesnt matter as end game shows. leveling is a slog but get to end game + 340 gear suddenly pve is real easy.

but the pvpers will sim and complain about every little half spell difference. one class has two dispels or a attack speed adv (remember that) – and they raise holy ire. really, until pvp becomes a whole different system with its own balancing, modern wow is stuck in the 2010 past.

and with war mode – blizzard started in that direction. and pvpers should WANT a whole different system based upon just pvping. that might get more ppl pvping. and it might be cooler than us boring pvers.

theres a thing chris perkins said about OP spells in DnD. he said there SHOULD be some OP spells (like fireball at level 3). because it makes a character feel powerful. if DnD had to balance around PVP instead of PVE, then fireball would have been mushed out of existence.

——
the other thing is that I am just bored. bored by the end game story, bored by the classes. I have leveled 20 toons to 120 350+ and i still cant find a compelling main. i try different combinations of warriors, dks, and now rogues. and every time i think – ok this is my new main – i just get bored and start over in elynn forest or the dwarf lands. i enjoy classic levels so much more than kul tiras, i dont know why.

there was a time i did loremaster on one character. now i cant stick with a character past 120

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Tuor of Gondolin

Nothing would make me go back. Blizzard would need to make a new MMO, without the current game’s baggage, for me to possibly have an interest in it.