WoW Factor: There is (not) much to do in World of Warcraft

Do this differently.

Here’s a fun question for you: How do you count discrete activities in World of Warcraft? It’s a more complex concept than you might think.

Obviously, for example, “queueing for a battleground” is distinct from “doing world quests.” But it doesn’t take long before you start getting into the weeds. Is running a dungeon for a world quest distinct from running a dungeon as part of a queue? What about running a dungeon for a specific quest? If you happen to get an achievement, is that achievement hunting? Is “achievement hunting” a thing to do, or is it a meta-activity of some sort?

Keep that in the back of your mind as we start talking about all of the things to be done in WoW right now if you’re not interested in raiding. You might think that’s a roundabout way of refuting the idea that there’s tons to do in the game right now if you don’t raid, but you’d be wrong. The people stating that there is more to do in the game right now than ever are objectively right. It’s just a question of metrics.

Whenever you're ready.

First of all, let’s get a definition out of the way and state that we’re defining “uninterested in raiding” not in a strict sense but in a cultural sense. This encompasses everything from people who never even queue up LFR to people who will do unstructured Normal pickup groups on a weekly basis. The key emphasis here is on structure and regularity; you can debate the social constructs of what is and is not a raiding guild, but we can all understand the boundary being drawn. Players in this category do not (or more often, did not) have a fixed schedule for weekly attempts at raids. Period end.

So let’s look at this hypothetical player and assume it’s a Tuesday evening. What sort of activities are available? Let’s even assume that this hypothetical player is going in with everything available already capped out right now, so we don’t have old content as a fallback. If you’re this hypothetical player, you could…

  • Queue for a dungeon
  • Queue for LFR
  • Do emissary quests/world quests
  • Queue for an island expedition
  • Queue for a battleground
  • Take care of your mission table
  • Look for new invasions
  • Try out a Horrific Vision
  • Look for an M+ pickup group
  • Queue for a warfront
  • Craft or gather
  • Take on pet battles
  • Chat with friends

That’s a long list. And that is, again, assuming you’ve already done everything else available. If you haven’t already cleared Mechagon, for example, you could look for a pickup Mythic group to do that. There are old raids to farm and appearances to collect. How could anyone say that there’s not much to do?

Well… the answer comes down to why you’re doing content. Because yes, you probably do have a reason, and the reason is almost certainly going to come down to rewards.

The first time you do a dungeon, you’re learning what it’s like and seeing if you can beat the bosses. The dozenth time, though, you have probably learned about as much about any given boss as you care to know. You’re not back here to explore; you’re back here to accomplish a task, and the task is getting the reward. A quest cleared, a drop obtained, a random queue reward, whatever. It’s the nature of video games. Repeated tasks are performed of varying impact; that’s not a condemnation but a value-neutral statement of fact.

So let’s just look at emissary quests, and let’s stop using hypotheticals. Let’s use me. Why would I be doing an emissary quest on my main?

It wouldn’t be for war resources because I have thousands of those and barely use them anyhow. It wouldn’t be for gear because literally no emissary quest is likely to give me a reward that’s better than my existing equipment even if it happens to be for a particular slot. And it wouldn’t be for artifact power; again, I have plenty of that, and it’s for a system I would happily pitch into the sea and will as soon as the next expansion arrives. That leaves… money.

So if I log in after being off from the game for a couple days and my rewards are 200 War Resources, 3000 Artifact Power, and a piece of 420 gear for doing my three emissary quests? There are no emissary quests providing me with any sort of worthwhile reward. Functionally, that content does not exist, even though it’s right there on the map screen.

It only became real very recently.

Go ahead and run down that list again with an eye toward rewards that actually have a not-insignificant change of providing a player with actual rewards, keeping in mind that “there’s a small chance your random drop Titanforges enough to be worthwhile” isn’t something that anyone would sensibly bet on. Then, factor in that we know there’s another expansion on the way, and the odds are that without the top-end raiding gear your gear will be replaced swiftly with starter quests.

This, then, is the problem of metrics. It is totally fair to look at the game, tally up the number of things non-raiders can do, and say that objectively there’s more to do in the game now for non-raiders than there ever has been. But the amount of content available in WoW only matters so long as the rewards gained from said content feels worthwhile, and while there are a plethora of activities, only two or three actually fulfill that criterion.

And all of that is presuming that all of the content options listed are equally viable and approachable. If you’re a DPS player and you’re looking for an M+ pickup group, for example, you have started on an uphill battle. You might also just dislike that same philosophy as a point of clearing for the same reason you dislike raiding. If you’re a healer, Horrific Visions may be difficult to impossible for you to effectively clear. There might not be any invasions going at the time you have available to play. And so on.

Now let’s take a look at that pin from the start of the article. How do you count a discrete activity in WoW? The actual answer, it seems, is that you kind of don’t. You don’t approach a count of activities and then see which ones you’ve done; instead, you think of what you want to accomplish and figure out the best means of going about that. Sometimes it’s very straightforward, like figuring out that you want the mount from Stratholme and then going to Stratholme to hopefully farm it.

But if the goal is “improve my gear” and the only means of accomplishing that is to run content you don’t like, all the numerical options in the world don’t matter. It’s how you can wind up in a situation where there are, objectively, more options than ever for non-raiders while still leaving them feeling that there’s nothing to do – because none of it has any impact.

Fortunately, the solution for this is pretty straightforward: If the amount matters only as long as the rewards are worthwhile, the answer is to make sure that the rewards are worthwhile. There’s a reason that, say, most people don’t talk about Wrath of the Lich King having nothing to do for non-raiders despite having far fewer discrete activities. Unfortunately… well, without wading too deeply into the woods and wedging an entire additional column here in what is meant to be the conclusion, suffice it to say that an awful lot of designers and the same players claiming there’s plenty of do appear to have a vested interested in making sure that this problem is not solved.

But the point ultimately remains. The amount of content available matters only so long as the rewards for that content feel worthwhile. Fail at that, and you can understand why someone would look at a full slate of potential activities and respond that there’s nothing to do.

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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