WoW Factor: WoW’s anniversary editions and event speculation

    
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Looking closer.

Blizzard has really been pushing the whole anniversary thing for World of Warcraft hard and early this year. On the one hand, I get why; it’s got WoW Classic coming up sooner, so that’s a thing, and it also is something to focus on other than Battle for Azeroth, which seems to be somehow coming in behind that Classic version. Does it strike anyone else as more than a little odd that the live game’s patch was considered less important in driving subscriptions than the beta for Classic? It certainly seemed to be the implication.

Regardless, we’ve got some stuff going on with the anniversary, and I think all of the above are now worth talking about, especially since it turns out the physical edition is pretty darn rare and hard to order. So let’s talk about this, starting with the new edition of the game and moving on to the currently only speculative facts about the anniversary event. Which… are not exactly good bits of speculation.

Well, huh.

Forgiven mismanagement

Gosh, the… aesthetics here didn’t hold up quite like someone must have predicted, did they? I’ve seen a lot of comparisons between the aesthetic here and the Sin Eaters of Final Fantasy XIV, ranging from “humorous observation” to “did Blizzard just rip this off,” and… well, look, ivory and gold are not exactly a combination of values and aesthetics that got invented just for Sin Eaters. The color choice is probably unfortunate in the sense that it does really draw those comparisons, but it’s basically impossible for me to believe that these colors were chosen recently enough for it to be anything more than an unfortunate coincidence.

That having been said, I see what the goals were, but it also… sort of doesn’t work. Like, the minimalist aesthetic and everything has an understandable design goal for the mounts, but the lack of any additional details beyond very faint gold makes them look… honestly, kind of untextured. That’s not actually the case, but it feels like someone decided on a box aesthetic and the mounts had to go along with that regardless.

As for the box itself… look, everyone is going to have different feelings on hoarding video game ephemera, and my feeling is that as long as you have a healthy management of your own space, you can have whatever you want on your walls within your own living space. It doesn’t appeal to me, and I feel like the black on Ragnaros kind of washes out sculpt details, but that’s just me and may be more in photos.

However, I feel like the weirdest part of this is that this is, functionally, the CE for WoW Classic. But the in-game reward is… mounts you can’t use there? I know, you can buy them separately, but that’s a bit of the problem. What is this actually for? There’s not a new release, the existing subscription covers it, so what you’re basically buying is a statue, some small art prints, and a few other physical doodads along with a month of game time.

I freely admit to being probably the wrong market for this (my “physical doodad” shelves are filled with Transformers). But it seems like an odd set of decisions to me.

uh

So, do we get an anniversary event?

Here’s the somewhat more rambling part. We do, in fact, know what the anniversary event is going to be, a gauntlet of memorable bosses from the game’s first three expansion raids. Some of the choices seem a bit odd to me, like the fact that Illidan isn’t in The Burning Crusade lineup or the lack of Kel’thuzad in Wrath of the Lich King, but that’s all picking nits. Nine bosses, with a specific nod to Chromie. Sounds fun, right, like that LFR Molten Core?

Well… here’s the thing. There’s not actually any data about these fights being available on LFR; in fact, they seem to be listed in the Timewalking category, which might very well mean that they would require a pre-made group to challenge. And some people are already stating that Blizzard couldn’t possibly lock the big anniversary event of the year behind pre-made groups for fights that require high coordination.

This sentiment is wrong. The developers could do anything they want.

I feel like an element of this drives right to the heart of something that an awful lot of people have noticed without necessarily articulating: Queueing for content basically doesn’t exist any more in WoW. If you’re still trying to parrot “LFG killed the game’s community, it’ll be better if it’s gone,” it’s time to wake up and smell the two expansions ago when it already was functionally removed. LFR for new raids shows up far later; there’s no point in queueing for dungeons because the best you can do is Heroics, and those stop mattering basically immediately. People who are still on this really need to find a new scapegoat because this ain’t it.

All of this is a problem with the game’s overarching design philosophy which has gotten talked about at length (and let’s be honest, I’ll probably find new ways to frame it in a few months and/or have new incentive to discuss it, so that’s not going away until the problem does). But here’s the really messy part: All of that is covering content for some form of progress. For advancement. And the whole point of anniversary events is that they’re not about that.

Celebrations are supposed to be a chance for you to stop worrying about in-game gear grinds and progression and just have fun, doubly so for anniversary events that offer you cosmetics and a chance to hang out and look back over the decade and a half of operation the game has enjoyed. The idea of these things not being LFR-friendly fights wherein you have to carefully coordinate with people to figure out how to fight Kael’thas on-level again is just… exhausting. It’s exhausting to type the words.

The reality is that taking things out of the queue options means that you are, effectively, locking people out of content. There’s a lot of places wherein that isn’t appropriate, but I’d think most people can agree that forming a new progression group for clearing a holiday event runs counter to the spirit of the content.

And yes, you could just as easily ask questions about whether these bosses are iconic because so many players saw them or because so many players heard about them as an unattainable thing. I’d love to see official stats on clears and such. (If someone has those lying around, please, let me know. That wasn’t sarcasm.)

Do I actually think this is what the game is going to do with the anniversary event? I really don’t know. I can see three major outcomes. The first is that this was speculation based on nothing; either there are changes to Timewalking that makes this speculation groundless, or the category doesn’t have any bearing on the queue option. The second option is, of course, that it’s exactly what it looks like and you’re going to have to get a pre-made group able to coordinate and you can probably hear me making an exhausted sound again.

And the third option is that you don’t have a queue option, but it’s really simple and stripped-down and don’t worry because you don’t need to know the fights cold; just form a group since they’ve been made more simple so anyone can clear it. This is also a really awful idea… but it’s the kind of awful idea that also sounds awfully plausible.

The 15th anniversary is kind of a big marker. It feels like the fireworks are getting moved into place a bit early for it.

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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Khrome

I think you’re missing the trick with the LFG thing. You assume that *every single player* is out to constantly improve their gear no matter what, and *wants* to do harder versions of the dungeons they already did in easier modes.

And this is where i have to disagree. Most people could not care *less* about mythic dungeons or anything outside of LFR. They’ve done the dungeon, they’ve done LFR, they’ve done the content! They don’t need better loot to do their dailies, they don’t need mythic +10 or heroic//mythic raiding. That’s for the hardcore players, the top 5%, if not less.

Most people will happily wait for LFR to come along, and will never even bother stepping foot into a mythic dungeon. At least, that’s my bet – Maybe they tag along for one single weekly dungeon to get the bonus chest, but that’s it.

Take LFG/LFR away completely and streamline the difficulties (back to only one difficulty, or only normal/heroic with optional hardmodes ala Ulduar) and you incentivize more people to play together. This change has literally zero impact on the aforementioned hardcore crowd, but it will move the people who currently don’t bother with content requiring premade groups to become more involved.

I don’t believe *for a second* that this would have *any* negative impact, outside of the extremely loud but tiny minority who will be whining about *MUH SOLO PLAYING RIGHTS*. After all, WoW was at it’s absolute peak *before* LFG was introduced, and started declining *immediately afterwards*.

While it may only be a correlation, i am convinced that there is a direct connection, with Blizzard continuously trying to make the game more ‘accessible’ and thus removing more and more incentives for players to play together, and as a consequence, removing meaning from the game itself. After all, if the entire game feels like a singleplayer game and other players are treated as throwaway NPC’s by the game itself, what’s the point of paying a subscription?

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Joey

I’ve been playing WoW since it’s beta and I’m am convinced too, that the automated grouping tools pretty much killed the soul of the game. LFR is probably one of the most toxic activities I have ever engaged with in the game. LFD, almost the same thing pretty much.

The other problem with all the difficulties too, is that it segregates the player base. In the old days, all the players played together in one community. Now, everyone is segregated off into their own little difficulty cliques.

Alyn
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Alyn

Thus far and for most of this year I have felt that “something is not quite right” with what is happening with the commercial game.

I think Classic will bring people back. These gamers will play for a time, then will go on to something different. Again, I doubt after that ol’ time feeling has subsided not too many will re-enter commercial wow.

We shall certainly know by this time next year though. I just do not like the way the company is going as of late-

xpsync
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xpsync

“did Blizzard just rip this off,” – Seriously? How could that ever enter ones mind? I mean all the top people left after Overwatch, i’m sure the fact that there was literally no games left to copy had anything to do with that :)

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Koshelkin

I’m pretty sure pictures of this anniversary edition have been out in the wild *before* Shadowbringers dropped, so I don’t get the comparison to FFXIV’s sin eaters(and if they would rip anything off, why that?).

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agemyth 😩

Yeah, the theme of the anniversary box thing wasn’t something cobbled together in response to a creature or NPC type in FF14’s expansion that just released.

It is a milestone year for WoW’s lifespan and it also happens to be the year “Classic” WoW returns. The box art and mounts are themed after Classical period Greek sculptures often made out of marble or alabaster.

I think the mounts look acceptable for what they are. Not everything has to be huge and emitting particle effects (which these actually do have particles but not obnoxious from what I’ve seen).

Bereman
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Bereman

Which is an amusing choice (at least to me) to go with the marble in its more natural color, given how Greek sculptures and such were often painted and very colorful.

Bereman
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Bereman

To be fair, even if we assume that it’s not just a humorous coincidence (which it almost certainly is), if we’re going by the date of when images were revealed, we’ve known about the Sin Eater thing and their overall design since November of last year, while the pictures of the anniversary edition came with its announcement in May of this year.

So if one were to buy into the conspiracy that they themed its design around something a competitor was doing (again, all signs point to it just being a coincidence), that pictures of the anniversary edition existed before the expansion launched wouldn’t exactly serve to disprove such a theory.

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Ironwu

On the LFG/LFR problem with community, I think the point has been missed entirely. It is not JUST the LFG/LFR capability (though that started it), it is the whole Cross Server / Cross Realm dumpster fire. That is the real community killer; the mixing of completely unrelated people into dungeons, raids, and the world. Killed the community dead.

The deconstruction of the Dungeon/Raid content to make M+ the only meaningful content is just a lame attempt to cover over the Cross Server / Cross Realm design failure.

Good for those folks that don’t care much about who they play with as long as they get the loots. And people wonder why World of Warcraft Classic is set to succeed.

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agemyth 😩

Good for those folks that don’t care much about who they play with as long as they get the loots.

Those folks = most players = most money.

Most players are content tourists looking to spend time playing the game instead of waiting in town for groups. That is why LFG/LFR became a standard feature of the genre. Until we hear about Classic getting expansion updates or new servers based on different expansions we have to assume patch 1.12 is going to stagnate and lose players.

WoW Classic will succeed with smaller but dedicated audience.

K38FishTacos
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K38FishTacos

Those folks = most players = most money.

You might be right, but we don’t have the data to back it up for sure. That “most” players category is problematic. For example, people can be in that group sometimes, but would player another way if it were an option.

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Khrome

You say that, but WotLK had 12 million subscribers at patch 3.1, WoW at it’s absolute peak.

Then they introduced LFG, and the game has never recovered, subs having been on a downwards slope ever since then. BFA, the expansion which made player interaction less important than ever before, is down to below around 2M subs currently if the financial reports are to be believed, the lowest in the game’s history. Coincidence? I think not.

Who would you want to have as a subscriber? The people who have the patience to connect to others, form a community and try to overcome the game’s challenges together multiple times over a long timespan, or the people who spam LFG, do a dungeon, get the loot without *any* interaction with others and then cancel their sub after 1-2 months because “they’ve finished the game” in their eyes? Because the latter are the ones Blizzard have been chasing and it makes no sense. It’s like expecting a 7 year old with ADHD to read Great Expectations all the way through in one sitting.

So no, “those folks = most players = most money” is a theory that’s been disproven ever since around 2009 and i can’t believe people are still buying into this.

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agemyth 😩

Matchmaking and group finding tools are an industry standard now for games that want millions and millions of players. Whether you or I like it is irrelevant because players overall like it and expect it in their games. There is no solid evidence to suggest LFG alone drove millions of players away from the game.

Why make that assumption when it is so much more likely that the game just hit its peak and is now “old” enough that it just doesn’t grab new peoples’ attention anymore? Everyone who might want to play WoW has played it and moved on.

We do not know subscription numbers for BFA. We know that subs go way down between expansion releases, but so far a big enough chunk tends to return for their 1 to 3 months after a box release. Content drives WoW subscriptions.

World of Warcraft was always aimed at making every aspect of the MMO game more convenient.

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Joey

Well Classic’s release is going to put this theory to the test then.

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Khrome

I don’t get that argument, especially if you mean it literally. That industry standard has yet to produce an actual result. Only FFXIV reached that million number and only very recently, off the back of a well received expansion.

Aside from WoW, no other MMORPG has ever reached that number, or has managed to maintain it for more than a month.

In a way, those convenience features which are industry standard are actually hurting it (the industry as a whole), because every game feels functionally identical, not to mention that games can feel very condescending towards the players because of it. And as i’ve said elsewhere, the convenience features make the multiplayer features of the MMO in question often feel trivial and meaningless. Taking it a step too far defeats the point of having someone play an MMO in the first place.

I’d posit that the constant streamlining and convenience feature additions to WoW are what caused the massive drop in subscriptions over the years. While hard numbers are not available, the financial reports from Activision-Blizzard are, and from their revenue numbers it can be deduced that as of Q1 2019 they were at ~1.5 to 2m subscribers for BFA, optimistically. They’ve never been lower, even during the long content drought in WoD.

The quality of the content in a vacuum has gone up over the years, but the constant streamlining has taken away mechanics and systems, and the model for instances has prioritized solo player convenience over group play at all times, and i can’t help but feel that this has had a massive impact on the way people have experienced the game.

I think Blizzard is chasing the people who would rather not play MMORPG’s at all. People who want to spend 15 minutes on a dungeon, finish it and get their loot, but not a minute longer. People who want an instant reward for participation without having to interact with others. The modern mobile crowd, really. I’m not sure that (the higher ups at) Blizzard realizes that WoW is not a mobile game but a PC MMORPG. And they’re not alone in this disconnected perspective.

IMHO Blizzard is chasing a market which doesn’t exist, and most of ‘the industry’, lacking any original or critical thought, blindly follows the same pattern in the assumption that it’ll make them into the billion dollar powerhouse Blizzard once was.

The first game which nails the MM part of MMORPG again will probably make bank in a huge way. I don’t know about you but i’m tired of the RMT lootbox quasi-singleplayer fiestas current games calling themselves “MMORPG’s” have become.

xpsync
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xpsync

I hate to admit this but that’s what is working for me in wow atm, i’m still leveling away to get toons to max on my new horde life so probably mostly why.

I remember when cross came in and whoa did that turn me off hard, i still kept playing but i remember having huge discussions with my boys about it at the time, they thought it was awesome, and ofc me not so much.

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DargorV .

Bwahaha “succeed”

It’ll be dead by december.

smuggler-in-a-yt
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smuggler-in-a-yt

Agree with those new Alabaster mounts. I get what they were trying for, but wow; did no one from design stop long enough and say “Gee, these look a bit like those pre-render shots we always see in CGI movies…”

I share your concerns on the anniversary mount. A vocal part of the community whined so long and so hard that LFR broke the game that I could totally see the pendulum swing the other way, HARD.

And when people complain about that, the Devs will say, “We want challenging grouped content to be a fundamental component of our game design.”

Just remember, every time someone whines about a lack of forced grouping in WoW, a Valkyr gets its wings.

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Khrome

It’s hard to ignore the cold hard numbers, really. WoW peaked right before LFG was introduced, and subs have been going down ever since then.

Maybe it’s just a correlation, but i’m convinced it’s a causal connection.

Mind you, it’s not just LFG, it’s the multitude of features which low-key remove the reason for playing an ‘MMO’: If you remove other players from the equation from *all* content, what’s the point of playing the game at all?

Most players won’t bother with mythic dungeons or normal+ raids. They can experience the content in their easier LFG versions, and the *only* reason they would require ‘more loot’ is to participate in the pre-made group versions, which they explicitly do not want to do, and how people do not see this as a problem i don’t know.

And that’s even before you get to the community destroying aspects of cross-realm servers. It’s no surprise that the guilds and communities which were created before cross-realm became a thing tend to last for over a decade or move to another game together, while guilds and communities formed *after* it was introduced have a lifespan which would even have one day flies think they’re immortal in comparison.

If you want to go after the instant gratification crowd you shouldn’t be surprised that they’re not sticking around after you’ve shown them everything you have as quickly and as easily as possible.

smuggler-in-a-yt
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smuggler-in-a-yt

Based on your vociferous defense of group content in the thread, I think we’re going to have to disagree on this one. Pointing to sub numbers as proof that LF* killed WoW is like blaming (or praising) the president of the economy. It is a complicated multivariate setup.

Point in fact, many Warcraft fans thought Wrath was the end of the line. The entire lore had spun around Arthas for more than a decade. Cataclysm had the same effect on WoW lore that it did on the game world – it’s retconning fundamentally broke it. I was in a guild at the time, and people had basically adopted the attitude of “well, can’t be anything much to the story after this, what could possibly be better?”

They’re weren’t wrong either. Wrath, and especially Icecrown, was a pretty amazing march towards what many hoped would be a final conclusion to the whole story. To this day, I think Arthas dying was still a better cut scene than SaggyAss sticking his flaming kabob into the planet (and not obliterating the atmosphere in the process – magic!).

Around the same time, WoW had become such a presence that you were seeing new games come out nearly every month. The fragmentation of the market space was staggering towards the end of Wrath. People were ready for new things – new approaches, new graphics, new systems, new lore and stories.

In short, WoW had accumulated so many subscribers that there was no where for them to go BUT down. Which led them down a road where a series of decisions gave us Cataclysm (What do you mean, put together another xpac?!), Pandaria (Uhhhh…what’s in the back?), Warlords (Now we’re just going to screw with you because), Legion (let’s start strong and then GO TO SPACE!), and then, Battle for Azeroth (on two ISLANDS!).

Now, all that’s to say I am fine with testing the hypothesis. WoW Classic will be a litmus on a number of variables. It’s probably the cheapest thing they could do all things considered, because I’m not sure if they put together another expansion right now how they would right the ship. The need to understand the consumer behavior first. Classic will put them a step closer to that.

I don’t think it’s going to be nearly the success they need it to be. Which will trigger a whole lot of angst in the community because of divisions between the tribes. But that’s another line of discussion.

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Khrome

I’ll admit i may be a bit biased. I personally just miss a game where group content wasn’t viewed as ‘a necessary evil’ in a game which is ostensibly *about* group content, if you know what i mean.

LFD for me killed a lot of the fun in dungeons. It’s no longer something you fight your way through together, it’s something that you do solo – You queue up, do your dungeon, and you’re done. You never talk to anyone in the group and if someone isn’t performing well he will be kicked ‘because he’s not worth carrying’, rather than someone starting a conversation and people helping each other to get through it. There’s just zero communication going on, and there’s zero incentive to get to know people outside of the ones you already know, and even less to help one another because others are in the way of your personal progression.

I can’t help *but* see it as the ultimate evil in the genre. It would have been at least acceptable if it only worked within the same server/community, but since it’s crossrealm you’ll just get grouped with people you will likely never, ever see again afterwards, so in addition to the above, there’s zero consequences to being a jackass.

You are right about the expansions, but i disagree to what degree that really mattered. WoW ballooned far beyond the reach of Warcraft 3, and people were hyped about expansions without needing to know anything about the game that came before. I admit to being one of those people who never played WC3 but still very much enjoyed WoW since 2005. As such, i looked forward to the lore expansions, though they haven’t always been handled very well (the space thing was a bit much, and the whole garrosh/sylvanas/tyrande stuff across everything just feels like bad fanfiction, but i very much dig the old god lore). I would be willing to bet that the people who only stuck around for a conclusion to the WC3 storyline were in a vast minority by the time WotLK got into its stride.

You’re also right that i may be oversimplifying things, however, i’d posit that Blizzard has been doing the same to the game. Everything was done in the name of streamlining of convenience, but i think they went far, far beyond the goal with that by over time eroding the RPG elements of their MMORPG (aside from the LFG thing). I have fond memories of playing an arcane mage in TBC, and speccing everything into +int and +mana (and some spirit) at the expense of everything else, making me able to sustain my burn phase far, far longer than anyone else in my guild at the time (4 AB stacks aaalllll day long), while others would go for haste, or crit, or whatever build they felt comfortable with within the same spec. The execution may have been a bit boring at times, but at least it felt like *your character*. Whereas right now, there is one rotation for each spec, and you don’t even really get a choice in what stats you want to build (i miss having a huge mana pool…. boo @ homogenization).

That’s just an example, but i think you know what i mean.

Sorry for the rant. I just hope that WoW classic turns out as good as people hope it to be.