Part of me was tempted to write this column chiefly about the rather baffling idea that Blizzard was surprised by the number of people engaged in World of Warcraft: Classic. I mean… really, guys? You’re opening up a beta version of the game that is excellent at doing almost everything that the live game is bad at right now. The only part there that’s surprising to me is the idea that a group of professional people honestly didn’t see this coming, which also leads me to be reminded that the powers that be don’t seem to get player discontent.
But while I considered that as a thing to write about, ultimately it seemed less interesting than talking about content updates. We’ve already got chatter about the next patch for mainline World of Warcraft, and people are already trying to forecast what’s going to be done with Classic when the content runs dry and how long it will last. It’s interesting to think about, especially in light of the fact that even with the classic content broken up by phases, it certainly feels like there’s a bit more longevity to the content of the game’s Classic mode. Some of that is design, some of that is focus, and some of that is… well, speculation. It makes for an interesting melange.
First and foremost, I think there’s an interesting split that’s going on by the very nature of the content in Classic. There are a lot of people who are already staking their claims and stating that this time, we’re going to actually make it through Naxxramas or AQ or whatever, as if the reason it didn’t happen before was just… not deciding to do so.
Some of the people who have made that decision are genuinely in that position. Others are… probably less so. There’s a certain amount of emotional bias involved with this sort of thinking, as if there weren’t other things preventing you from clearing it before like a lack of time or a lack of raid groups at your time or exhaustion with all of the prep work or just not being a good enough player or possibly the rest of your raid group just not being good enough.
In other words, you can’t actually base your assumptions on how many people will actually do this off of plans to do so right now. There are people who are genuinely planning to do this content right now who will not, and there are people who are not planning to do it who will. This stuff is complicated and messy. Plans right now are basically fanfic for the future.
That means that guessing at the content longevity for Classic is, well… guessing. It’s not even all that educated guessing; my gut says that actual clear rates for this content will be similar to when it originally launched but only slightly higher, but seeing as how I don’t have hard data on how many people did clear that content at launch, it’s still pretty speculative.
Regardless, it certainly does seem like a lot of content. And I think that’s interesting in light of the fact that in absolute terms, there’s a lot more content coming out with any given numbered patch in the live game than will be getting rolled out in the content phases. And I think a chunk of the reason for that is the way that the game structured content, or more accurately, structured what you were supposed to do on any given play session.
The current live game is a very structured affair. You have certain things that you need to do on a daily or weekly basis, and while there is some overlap (you can roll through a lot of stuff with Emissary quests), there’s a certain amount of expected content to get done on a given day. Some stuff you can keep doing even after you’ve done your limited tasks, but usually it’s at a significantly decreased reward.
If you want to raise a specific reputation, for example, you go to that zone when the Emissary quest is up and you clear World Quests. Sure, you can do more after you’ve done the Emissary requirements, but at that point it’s actually slower than moving on and doing something else.
By contrast, in Classic, if you want to raise your Argent Dawn reputation… well, there are the fields of undead. Have fun. Call us if you need anything; we won’t bother answering but we’ll see that you called.
The dearth of structure in Classic brings with it some problems, yes, but in another sense the grind and lack of structure actually helps the game. The closest thing you have to any sort of ticking clock involves weekly resets, and even those are more about being able to save your progress through a given raid so you don’t have to re-do the whole thing from scratch and be stuck playing the game for half a day straight.
As a result, your engagement with the content that’s actually there is informed by what you want to do and how you want to go about things rather than the sense of a ticking clock. A new WoW patch now means trying to get up to date with as many things as possible so you don’t miss any daily resets; a new WoW patch back then meant new things to explore but without any real limitation on how often you would explore them. If you wanted to grind something new all day with no regard for pacing yourself, hey, that’s your deal.
As a result, there’s a more… let’s say leisurely pace encouraged by the game. You feel like you have a list of things you can take on rather than a list of tasks. And if you’re also absolutely certain that this is going to be the time when you really are going to beat Naxxramas, that probably feels far more like it’s going to keep you satisfied all the way through.
By contrast… well, Battle for Azeroth definitely does not lack for content. There’s a ton of content. Yet people complain that there’s nothing to do, and it’s true more because there’s a lack of much relevant content. If you have a raid group or a Mythic group? You can run that over and over. But outside of those runs, nothing you do matters or works toward any relevant goals; it’s something I’ve alluded to before as a situation wherein it feels like even your long-term progress doesn’t matter, because everything’s just getting a reset with the next expansion, so who cares?
In fact, if you want to be really cynical, that’s kind of the takeaway from all of this. The Classic content phases contain a dungeon, a raid or two, and some associated content focused around those additions. The current patches technically contain more… but functionally, they contain a raid, maybe a five-person raid, and that’s it.
So while the Classic content phases might not contain as much content in terms of raw volume, at least they’re not lying to you.