WoW Factor: A quick glance back at 2019 for World of Warcraft

    
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WoW Factor: A quick glance back at 2019 for World of Warcraft

So how did this year go for Blizzard Entertainment? Well… badly. You cannot have missed all of that. But it also went badly in lots of more subtle and direct ways aside from the company’s massive screw-ups. And while I’ve spent a lot of time talking abut the ways that Blizzard has shot itself in the foot this year, for this particular piece I just want to look back over the last year of World of Warcraft and talk about that.

Which, you know… is also bad. It’s bad in different ratios and for different reasons, but still bad. Yay.

One of the things I find interesting about this year, for example, is the fact that Battle for Azeroth wound up with a lot less patch activity this year than Legion had during its full year of operation in 2017. The latter had two minor patches and two major patches, while we only got two minor patches and one minor patch this year. One wonders whether some of that was related to the Classic rollout, but that in and of itself is a point worth discussing.

Depth perception is for fools, I guess.

Low enthusiasm and nothing to do

During Warlords of Draenor, there was a great player post about feeling like there was nothing to do in WoW. Obviously, I’m not going to be diving full-force into that particular post, seeing as it was two expansions ago and involves discussions of stuff that is relevant for historical purposes more than current play patterns. But I think it does tie into the nature of feeling like there’s nothing to do in the game right now, a feeling that’s been very strong through this expansion.

One of the things that has persistently dogged this expansion is a sense that not only does no one enjoy the current Heart of Azeroth system, but we all know it’s going away when the next expansion rolls around. That makes even transitory rewards feel as if they only matter if you’re chasing the current raid tier. Even now, I get annoyed when emissary quests reward power to the Heart of Azeroth, because I know I’m getting that in lieu of a reward that’s actually going to be useful by this time next year: money.

The result is that a lot of the content this year has felt like things meant to reward you for playing with systems no one likes. Play a bunch of the new areas and you can finally fly in the expansion regions, the region you probably don’t want to level through in the future! Get new powers for the Heart of Azeroth, which you already don’t like or want! Advance the story of the War Campaign, which isn’t liked and isn’t good storytelling anyhow!

Also it ends in a narrative cul-de-sac, but we didn’t know the extent of that until we had a year of setting up some actual development only to be told it’s going nowhere.

The result is that at a glance, the last year has been spent with new content released that people are bored of before it launched, trying to drum up enthusiasm for things people hadn’t liked in beta and didn’t have any fall-backs of “at least it’s fun at the moment.” The majority of the game’s population at this point is people who are very interested in pushing high-end raiding or M+ runs, and even they weren’t happy with the content being released… which is bad when your audience is reducing to that focus.

Oopsie.

Stealing its own thunder

Whatever you feel about WoW Classic, I feel like one of the most significant elements of the legacy version is also one frequently overlooked; it launched in August. Why does that matter? Because patch 8.2 dropped at the end of June.

Anyone with a larger sense of the industry as a whole has a pretty clear picture of why it dropped in June, of course, considering that this is hardly the first time Blizzard has timed a big release in an attempt to undercut another title. (You remember what else launched around then, right?) But what’s interesting about the launch date for Classic is that it was in a situation wherein the new option wasn’t competing for attention with anyone but itself.

Obviously, revenue reports from Superdata and investor reports definitely tell a picture of the effect that this had; it led to a big burst of income for the division which then dropped off pretty hard, perhaps not an altogether surprising outcome. But I also find myself wondering how much of the launch date was motivated in part by a need to reverse fortunes, so to speak. Put another way, was this a case of timing the launch once it became clear that another big patch with a fairly extensive ad campaign failed to draw subscribers back?

I don’t know and, really, can’t know; this is behind-the-scenes stuff that would require me to be deeply involved with the behind-the-scenes stuff in order to make any sort of ultimate pronouncement. But I do find it interesting as a moment of Blizzard trying really hard to derail its own hype cycle, and this was before the moment when the company desperately wanted to take back the reins of the narrative in October.

Oops?

Maintenance mode for a live game

All in all, it feels fair to say that this particular year has not actually gone over nearly as well as the designers expected. It wasn’t made much better with BlizzCon or the long delay for patch 8.3, either. The unusually long anniversary event certainly feels like some of it ties into the simple reality of the duration, but also like another layer of trying for approval. “Look, we’ve buffed your experience for a long time, please just come back and play again?”

It feels like maintenance mode. It feels worse, in some ways, because it’s not just maintenance mode for a live game but a case wherein we know we’re spinning our wheels. However much better leveling might be right now, it’s going to all be changed once we get the pre-patch for Shadowlands and a big level squish hits. And the developers have nine months to get that right.

Except they really don’t. Are we all confident that the next several months will involve actual previews of the “unpruning” promised for each class, or is this one of the first thing that’s going to get rolled back? Remember, we were told before this expansion that the developers planned to return some of the missed abilities like Mark of the Wild, but then that was left out with some waffle about balance being easier this way.

No, I don’t think that it’s necessarily likely that will happen again. But is it possible?

2019 was a bad year for the game, but the reasons why it were bad as much involve players feeling like this might not be A Bad Time but, instead, the new normal. And therein lies the really difficult dance of next year, to convince players that this year and expansion was just a blip. Which would be a lot easier to do if your game’s history over the last decade hadn’t been more “miss” than “hit.”

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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Utakata

I’m not going to convince readers who have already made that mind how Blizz flubbed BfA have a dim view of the game Retail side, it is not bad as they think it is. After all, this is the bed Blizz chose to make of WoW, they have to learn to sleep in it.

However, I don’t agree that this patch is on maintenance mode, because you could argue that with every other between time of patches otherwise. Save maybe Vanilla, which had something like a whopping 12 patches. Boring and running out of things to do was always a staple of this game…unless you are willing to do the grind to achieve everything in the game for every alt you have and their dog. And I’m not sure that’s ever going to change for this game. Even more so with Classic…if they decide to stay Vanilla to the end of time, lol. So play another game, until they drop the next patch, I guess…which will be in 2 weeks and a pigtail’d bit. o.O

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Danny Smith

To sum it up in ten seconds or less:

Real talk: this is what happens when self professed “mobile only gamers” are your lead devs and they stop lifting ideas from rpgs and borrow from mobage instead.

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thalendor

I don’t know how much better they could have done in 2019 given the state of the game coming into the year. Most of their problems are stemming from decisions that were made prior to BfA’s release in 2018. Pretty much all BfA features fell flat. Not everyone needs to love a new feature for it to be successful, but it at least needs to be not universally hated. Islands, warfronts, azerite, and so on? All things almost no one likes. How do you recover from that without starting from scratch, basically with a whole new expansion? So, yeah, the best I think you can hope for from WoW to keep you interested until Shadowlands is raiding and Mythic+ (which, for me, TBH is enough) and, if neither of those are for you, I guess you’re just out of luck or playing a different game.

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Sorenthaz

At this point I’m 100% sure that Shadowlands is going to break the glass on the “In case of Emergency, bring back Arthas” button.

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psytic

Hopefully its better than Star Wars “In case of Emergency, bring back the Emperor” button.

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Ironwu

I agree with Eliot 100% on this analysis.

Every point made in the article is accurate, and sadly it does not seem like the people in charge of WoW development have any clue as to why the game is failing.

The lessons of why WOTLK took WoW to the heights it did seem to be totally lost as the continued development marches further and further away from that high water mark.

It is just to damned bad.

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Nathan Aldana

I mean, i feel the same about what i thought weas the high mark, pandaria,. shit, even narrativerly the devs refuse to learn from pandaria.

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Nathan Aldana

Like I love that twice now we’ve had entire expansions about “cycles of revenge are bad”, yet the devs refuse to let it pay of ooc.

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Ironwu

I liked MoP as well. Did not mind the Panda angle, and I thought the whole expansion was well crafted and linked with story. The new classes were also unique and fun to play. Overall, I think MoP is my #2 expansion. :)

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Bruno Brito

I find Pandaria, TBC and Wrath to be really good, Wrath being their pinnacle. TBC was a evolution of classic with the RPG feel. Wrath had a bit of banalization going on, but still felt good to play. Pandaria had a lot of exploration, world building, and jesus, the PvP was incredible. Timeless Isle was my favourite patch ever.

I think they should think about WoW in a layer style: The game nowadays is similar to Pandaria, but it can go in some layers to a more TBC/Wrath feel. The squish to 60 is a good start. Now, let’s see if they get the rest right ( i doubt it ).

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Sorenthaz

Yeah MoP was a great expansion that’s mostly overlooked because of the Panda label.

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Sorenthaz

They whittled it down into basically a formula that they think should work on paper, but they don’t seem to look at design decisions from a player perspective anymore to where they can’t understand why folks are unhappy.

I would hope WoW Classic is a wake-up call for them, but I doubt it.

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Utakata

WTB a TBC, Wrath, MoP and Legion servers. As those are the times I enjoyed WoW the most.

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Zora

Well, warlords taught the studio that as long as they are willing to weather significant sub drops post-release, there’s virtually nothing they cannot get away with in terms of support to the live game.

In terms of history and what we know of the future it’s more likely for legion to have been the blip on the radar, the expansion equating to a star late in its cycle burning what’s left of its original mass in a final blaze before shrinking into a red dwarf that will keep existing for trillions of years…

…and still not introduce housing before the thermal death of the universe all the same!

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Danny Smith

Feels more like Legion is for Blizzard like when someone like Nic Cage or Travolta comes out of straight to streaming/blu-ray hell and puts out a serious performance that makes people go “holy shit are they back?!?” right before going back to coasting on crap because it pays the bills for far less effort.

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Furin

I agree with the points made here-in. The heart of azeroth/azerite systems feel terrible to me for 2 reasons really, it is impossible to plan for effects given by azerite armor due to the way armor is replaced, and the fact that we know based on previous expansions that it will all be removed come next expansion. It really feels like spinning your wheels.

Just a heads up, I think you meant “while we only got two major patches and one minor patch this year”, in your third paragraph.