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

    
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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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Jokerchyld

Completely agree with this article. WoW is a beautiful game, but in retail its becomes a queuing game. While that can be fun thats not an RPG.

Funny how WoW Classic seems to nail this aspect of RPG with rewards in a way that is fun to play. They’ve lost that.

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Stiqman

Key word being fun.
I agree.
If just the playing (fun) isn’t a significant part of the reward (fun) itself, then it’s not done correctly.
Then you are just doing un-fun things in order to trigger a dopamine response from a reward. Which is why we can agree that the article may be true, but disagree that the answer is to make the game even MORE about rewards, when in fact the answer is to make the actual game-play fun again.

And it would not be hard to argue that millions of people still do find this game fun, because there is a lot of things to do that can be fun, regardless of whether you get your dopamine bell rung by a loot box at the end.

creationguru
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creationguru

I will say for a progression based game that I think one of the few things g that tera did right (well besides co.bad as that was fun) was only bind equipment to the character on equip so if you got a different itme or duplicate and were a raider hou could put it on the auction house and sell it so people that were not raider could still get rip teir gear without raiding by just having the resources helps much in making a game only for raiders. I still miss replaceable gear as in the end if no risk no reward makes gear useless. (Mind you this comes from and OG UO player that learned to never carry the top end gear for chance of loss so the gear on the market ment a ton and made the market great)

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Stiqman

“The amount of content available matters only so long as the rewards for that content feel worthwhile.”

It is interesting that you never mention as a possibility that there are very many things to do in WOW, and the content of them matters, just because they are fun.

Apparently, from start to finish in this article, the only possibly reason the developers can give you to play is to be rewarded with something. Is that the only way you enjoy games?

What a sad and discouraging premise. If that is the “only” way the content can matter. I am sure the developers will always, eventually, fail.

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Bruno Brito

It is interesting that you never mention as a possibility that there are very many things to do in WOW, and the content of them matters, just because they are fun.

Except that 1- the game is reward-focused, always was. It’s the entire package that’s supposed to be fun, being rewarded is part of that. If that wasn’t the case, WoW wouldn’t have progression.

And 2- every activity in WoW, is derivative of their extremely linear/limited content type. You either raid, dungeon, PvP or collect mogs/pets which are normally tied to old raids and dungeons. Or you grind professions ( LOL ).

WoW doesn’t have housing. Doesn’t have a a focus on open world storytelling. The game development starts and ends on raiding. A lot of the game, even for casuals, is not “what can we do besides raiding”, but instead: “we can raid a easier version of the raids”.

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Jokerchyld

Apparently, from start to finish in this article, the only possibly reason the developers can give you to play is to be rewarded with something. Is that the only way you enjoy games?

No. But it does show that is where the developers ended up given how wildly different WoW classic is from retail.

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Lily Cheng

Please explain how WoW classic is different from retail in this aspect?

There are a great many differences between classic and retail, but progressing and being rewarded for your time spent is definitely not one of them.

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Jokerchyld

Getting a reward is common between the two, the difference is the context under which they are given. My time in retail is focused on progressing the player. Classic is focused on progressing the character.

Meaning I enjoy the time spent in classic getting rewards more so than the time spent in Retail (where I feel like I’m wasting time).

In retail to progress. I have to queue for PvP. Queue for Islands. Queue for Mythic dungeons. Queue for LFR.

In Classic to progress I just have to explore.

Thats the best way I can explain it.

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Harlow Games

Leveling up my character is rewarding. Unlocking an achievement is rewarding. Getting a rare mog/pet/mount is rewarding. Defeating a challenging boss or mastering challenging fight choreographies with my guild is rewarding. Finally meeting rep requirements and unlocking the allied race is rewarding.

Rewards are not just about loot. Generally, if something is fun it is rewarding in some way.

Alyn
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Alyn

Last night on my Discord I listened as a couple of ladies in my guild were commenting on the so called “new content”. One was extremely frustrated with the seeming repetitiveness of the activity in the old Pandarian area. The other agreed and commented that she just didn’t have that spark she once did so many years back-

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Bryan Cole

Problem is the rewards are for loot. That’s fine but shouldn’t be the only reward in an MMORPG. This is why a robust housing system is so desired in MMORPGs. It’s also why new features that expand the game horizontally are just as vital as level cap/raid bumps. Games like EQ2, Lotro and FFXIV do this with their new in game systems such as housing, skirmishes, epic battles, allegiance systems, crafting guilds, treasure hunting maps, gold saucer, Deeds, and so on and so forth. I keep waiting for the day that WoW grows the right way but it seems to have gone the opposite way, taking legendary weapons away, etc.

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Dobablo

Equalising gear, effort and reward is impossible. The total content for gear focused players will always be limited to single best way for gear up.
I would rather Blizzard took the chance to get good gear away from casual content. Stop suggesting that every activity should reward upgrades and casuals enjoy everything without having to put up with gear obsessed players telling us we are wrong and the many activities we enjoy are not worth doing.

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athiev

Maybe follow this logic forward and get rid of gear completely? Only when you do that, it suddenly turns out for a lot of players that much of the fun is gone.

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Robert Andle

I feel the same way. The new content offers very few rewards I actually want and seems like more of a chore than anything. I played it for a bit on patch day then went straight back to Classic.

Blizzard really need to do a better job of giving people worthwhile content to do and not making all the old content irrelevant whenever a new patch comes out. This is an MMO with 15 years of content but only the latest patch is worth playing. That’s got to change.

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Sorenthaz

The big issue is that WoW’s design philosophy revolves around playing the patch. Everything prior to the patch gets rendered irrelevant or is discouraged compared to keeping up with the latest stuff. Thus previous expansions don’t add up – they simply collapse for the next one. It’s a stark contrast from FFXIV which tries to keep everything relevant.

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Lily Cheng

As a self-confessed gamer that primarily likes to reach “endgame” as fast as possible to see the game for real… I’ve spent over a year playing FFXIV and have only just recently started the Stormblood MSQ… I have enjoyed every minute of the time I have spent in the game so far.

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Annoyed badger

Wrath really was the highpoint of wow. Felt so much to do, yet not forced like MoP was, which just felt like a forced grindfest.

The teir gear model in wrath was great, and the run dungeons/use tokens etc for 1 level down from latest raid gear made it easy to keep up to date and kept other activities meaningful and worth doing.

I was never so active in wow as I was in wrath. I dont mean in time played, I mean in what I was doing in game. People always wanted to do stuff, there was always a daily quest group going, or a raid group, or a dungeon run, or wintergrasp or …..but none of it felt like a job the way MoP and later expansion dailies did.

Bree Royce
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Bree Royce

“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.”

Join me in my efforts to cajole Eliot to do a whole piece just on this absolutely potent paragraph right here. :D

kajidourden
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kajidourden

There’s a LOT to unpack there. Part of it is in my comment about planned obsolescence, another big part of it is tied to the economy and the fact that accessibility is the number one goal of developers (to the extreme detriment of anything that might resemble an interesting or dynamic system) it seems

Edit: Just realized I didn’t do the one thing you asked. Yes, Eliot should absolutely take a stab at that massive undertaking XD

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Oleg Chebeneev

I was like “why the fk would anyone complain about WoTLK now when it was released in 2008?”. Even during WOTLK I rememeber people were doing stupid dailies and farming dungeons. variety /s

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styopa

Eliot, listen to the wise Bree.
To his point, I’d assert that while I think he’s on the right track, yet it was WotlK that *also* laid the foundations of some systems in wow which led quite rationally (if regrettably) to many of the things that I dislike today.
I’ve had an unusual experience recently for wow: we re-subbed our 2 family accounts for classic, but have also been playing retail too. (I admit too that I’ve amended my unmitigated scorn for retail, there are some things I find that do like in there.) Since one soon has moved out…I sort of had to give up that first, main account so he could play his characters at will. So I started a brand spanking new wow account, with no heirlooms, no sugar daddy toons, etc and it’s been…illuminating… in both good and bad ways.