WoW Factor: How World of Warcraft’s elite progression obsession hurts progression players too

Nobody wins this particular game


Here’s a statement that I think few people will disagree with: World of Warcraft has increasingly focused on raiding and high-end progression as the only important part of the game. This is not altogether new, but while raiding slowly got more accessible through the game’s first three expansions, subsequent expansions pushed back against that fact. While Cataclysm introduced the Raid Finder, it also pushed hard at the idea of more high-end challenges, and the relevance of queued content has been continually eroded to the point where Heroic dungeons are functionally pointless.

Given this, you might assume that my contention is that it’s a great place to be if you like high-end raiding. And you would be wrong.

As the game’s design more firmly pushes the idea of “raid or die” as a mentality, the game gets progressively worse. And there are lots of pieces examining why this philosophy is bad for people who don’t enjoy that playstyle, from M+ making dungeons into mini-raids and thus destroying the access and speed of dungeons people actually like to the erosion of actual bad luck protection… but not much discussing how this makes the game worse for people who actually do enjoy this particular playstyle.

First and foremost, let’s start by ignoring things like Titanforging, random secondary stats, and so forth. These things all make high-end progression way worse for people who do enjoy it, but we’re going to pretend that they don’t exist for the purposes of outlining the structural problems inherent in the state of the game, starting with the fact that Mythic raiding makes the rest of the game superfluous.

This isn’t the case as much at the start of the expansion, but once your raid group can consistently clear Mythic, you really don’t need to bother with Heroic or less. You definitely don’t need dungeons any longer. You basically need to just farm the occasional crafting item and then log in for running Mythic because even the Heroic of the new raid won’t offer you much in the way of upgrades if you’ve got Mythic gear from the prior raid.

Of course, a huge gap in power is kind of the point, right? But it becomes more of a problem because you have basically no reason to log in outside of designated raid nights. It’s a short hop from there to seeing raid nights themselves as a chore because everything is focused on the drama of who gets loot, whether or not it’s going to drop, if people can manage to get this fight down or not…

Was there a guy? I thought there was a guy.

But fine, that’s just raiding. These are all part and parcel with the process, and it wears down on some people. So eventually some of your friends will get tired of going into Mythic, and you start recruiting replacements, and… there aren’t any. There’s no one you can call for joining in. There are just other guilds in the same place as you are, sometimes in part composed of the people your guild already broke ties with.

And then we get into the problems of Titanforging, forcing you to keep chasing down the same drops or hope that you get not just the drop but a useful version of the drop, to help you do… what? Do the raid again? You’re not getting the gear to be ahead of the curve. You’re meant to farm it, over and over, to keep farming it. It’s an ouroboros that leads to burnout and boredom, and when you look to replace someone who gets burnt out, there’s nobody there.

That’s because the people who got burnt out had nothing to do once they were tired of raiding. The people who aren’t interested in raiding have nothing to do. And the people who might be potentially interested but aren’t dedicated to it from the start have such a huge climb between hitting 120 and being ready for Mythic that most of them are going to lose interest… and will also probably burn out because there’s no one there interested in the intermediary steps.

Here’s the thing: WoW has always placed raiding at the pinnacle of its content and the end goal. That’s also not debatable; it’s a value-neutral statement of fact. But easily through Wrath of the Lich King, and even by degrees in Cataclysm, it also tried to ensure that there was a space for people to still do things and accomplish something even if you weren’t all that interested in raiding.

Rewards for daily Heroics in Wrath, for example, served a lot of purposes. It gave even raiders something to do during non-raid nights, letting you queue up and earn some needed currency to get another piece of gear. It let people who only filled in occasionally for raids jump in. It let non-raiders feel like they had goals to work toward. It kept the community strong and going, so that if one of your tanks dropped, there were new people coming up who could take over the tanking role with a little bit of help.

The reality is that this is not a pyramid; it’s a bar.

A dispatch from the days when I bothered.

You may not enjoy bars, but you probably recognize that most bars stock a lot of different sorts of liquor. Wine, beer, vodka, rum, scotch, etc. And you probably also know that there are more expensive and less expensive options, and the customer who asks the bartender to just leave a bottle of expensive scotch is making the bar a lot more money than the guy who orders one cheap beer and nurses it for the entire night.

But that guy who orders the one cheap beer might be coming in with three other friends who order more. Those friends might well go on to invite other friends. And even if that guy always comes in and nurses one drink, he keeps people aware that the bar is open and might be a reason for patrons to keep coming back.

That same bar is going to start doing a lot worse if it starts only selling expensive scotch and mixed drinks. Sure, it’s going to be making more money… but fewer people are going to come in. And if a patron who usually orders expensive scotch doesn’t feel like it tonight, she’s just not going to come in at all… and maybe not come in ever again.

After all, that bar down the street has scotch, too. But it also has beer, and maybe it has a trivia night too. It has reasons for her to be there other than just the most pricey version.

That’s the part of this all that really baffles me. I play a lot of games that have a progression endgame and a progression scene, but WoW is the one that seems to be pitting non-progression players against progression players, as if there’s a need to make the high end even higher and make the people without an interest suffer. And that sucks for the people who don’t like that playstyle… but it also sucks for the people who do. They lose out just as surely.

And then they have to start dealing with random loot enhancements put into place just so they have to keep re-clearing the same content, just to keep people logging in. It doesn’t actually make anyone’s experience better.

In the end, it’s a lot like the perpetual problem of predatory open PvP games. Those games require a population of players to hunt others and a population of would-be victims; wolves and sheep, so to speak. Except that the sheep don’t actually want to be hunted, and thus they simply… leave. Which leaves a worse experience for the wolves, too; they got the structure that they wanted, but their targets simply left.

Spend too much time catering to a specific playstyle, and you can end up finding that it required other people to function… and then nobody has a good time.

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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Elitism is exactly what is hurting the mmorpg genre and has been hurting it for decades. Even casual mmorpgs (like ffxiv) have tedious grinds for very little gains (cosmetic items) that nobody would partake in in offline games.

No game developpers seems to be able to design a mmo that doesn t try to take itself very seriously, by implementing chores into the game.

It is as if an unwritten rule would be to make mmorpg as tedious as possible.

Ben Stone

Titanforging was the thing that kept people doing old content and keeping the open world active in Legion. It was the step by step watering down and then final removal in BFA that caused the open world to be dead and only top end content to be worthwhile.

Throughout Legion every man, woman and their dog would farm Withered Ji’m because if that trinket titanforged, it was amazing. Now look at BFA world bosses? There is no point even touching them outside a 1 week levelling up period. Great use of repeatable content guys.

It also meant you weren’t wasting your time doing other content, anything had potential to drop useful gear. Mythic raiders hate it because they don’t want casual players having gear as good as theirs by chance. They want to log on, raid, gear up to the best possible quickly then sell unwanted gear to those same ‘scrubs’ and that whole cycle is just toxic and not fun.

Bring back Titanforging and make all content relevant again.


Titanforging messes with the design of the content and the progression in the game so no, titanforging should not be implemented back.

It is ok for the players to outgrow the content. When you play super mario, the games doesn t make you return into the first levels before you can go into the fi al castle.

Henrik Boriths

All I miss and whats keeping me from playing wow is a Pre raid Best in Slot list and a raid BiS gear. I like to play several characters, but titanforging, random gear stats and corruption on top of the insane essence grind has kept me away from wow for longer than I thought possible.

I need a roadblock for my character before I can find any reason to play my alts. And I need to play my alts and I need my alts to play differently than my main and I hate that most classes are build spender specs now.


“Here’s a statement that I think few people will disagree with: World of Warcraft has increasingly focused on raiding and high-end progression as the only important part of the game.”

Hi, I’d be one of those people who disagrees. In fact I find it kind of baffling, as someone who has played WoW since 2007 but never really raided. In fact, every metric available shows that raiding is still a niche activity in WoW. This is especially true for Heroic and Mythic raiding, which are activities that only a small percentage of players partake in.

WoW Classic is “raid or die”. There is no other endgame but raiding, and lots of Classic players only log in for raid night. In modern WoW Blizzard have been going out of their way for years to make a robust game that includes tons of activities beyond raiding. BfA has arguably gone the furthest in this direction, and made it so you can gear to the highest levels by only running 5-man content.

As a non-raider I have never felt like I have more gear available to me in WoW than I do right now. My average ilevel of gear is 450. Normal Ny’alotha drops 445. I achieved this without doing any raiding whatsoever, and no Mythic+ either. I raid-geared my character entirely through solo and casual play.

And that’s just gearing. I haven’t talked at all about the many other activities available, many of which aren’t about gear at all but rather about collecting new cosmetics, reputations, mounts, etc. Like I said, I have been playing since 2007 and still feel overwhelmed by the amount of stuff I have left undone in WoW – I just don’t understand how you can say people don’t have any reason to play after raid night. There’s lots of optional stuff to do, and that’s how it should be. I suspect that if raiders DID have strong progression-related reasons to play between raids we’d have a piece about WoW wasting our time with chores.

A few other randoms thoughts. You lament that 5-man content isn’t important like it was in Wrath, even though 5-man content is more valuable than it’s ever been. Why should Mythic raiders feel pressured to continue running Heroic or normal? Is that something we really want, people feeling the need to run the same raid 3-4 times per week on different difficulties? Ask Mythic raiders – WoW has been there before, and they don’t want that. Titanforging & Corruption certainly do suck, which is why they’re removed completely removed in Shadowlands. Speaking of Shadowlands, according to alpha players the best part of the expansion so far seems to be Torghast. People are loving it. It’s a solo or small group casual activity that lets you progress you character and is pretty much the opposite of “raid or die”.

Robert Andle

I disagree with your disagreement. I’ve played WoW for nearly 15 years and it’s pretty obvious that it focuses mainly on raiding and end game progression. They’ve made more changes than I can remember to make raiding more accessible while dumbing down pretty much every other part of the game. That isn’t something you do unless raiding is your number one priority.

And yes, I agree with you that raiding is a niche activity which is what makes it so baffling that there’s always so much focus on it at the expense of other content.

An expansion without any raid content at all which focuses on other aspects of the game is an expansion I’d want to play, but I know nothing like that will ever happen. Blizzard are far too set in their ways to make a major change like that. Sure, they’ll gut the rest of the expansions as they see fit, but do anything to their precious raiding scene? Not a chance.

Bruno Brito

Making raiding and gear accessible doesn’t mean the game doesn’t revolve around raiding. There’s a reason why WoW has a way more developed raiding scene than it’s open world scene.

Why the open world is a mess, so is leveling, but raiding is the best it’s ever been.

Ion is a former hardcore raider. The writing is on the wall.

Kickstarter Donor

There’s actually a lot in this article I agree with, such problems with Titanforging (never mind the abomination that is Corruption), that the power curve on gear is a fair bit too steep, and that adding Wrath-style vendors & currency would benefit the game. I’m even all for adding group-finder to Mythic raids and Mythic+ dungeons as long as I’m able to ignore it and continue to form my own groups if I choose. But there’s a couple things where I just disagree:

“This isn’t the case as much at the start of the expansion, but once your raid group can consistently clear Mythic, you really don’t need to bother with Heroic or less.”

Sure, any group that can clear Mythic doesn’t need Heroic anymore. Heck, any group that can kill probably the first 4 to 5 bosses in Mythic doesn’t need Heroic anymore. So certainly, that part is true, but the implication that I should continue to bother with Heroic raids? If someone in that situation wants to run it for fun more power to them as that seems about the best reason to run anything in a game. But seriously, shoehorning in a reason to push me into doing Heroics after the first few weeks of a patch is just adding a chore, and I thought we didn’t want chores? The fact of the matter is, I log on for Mythic raids night because that’s something I find fun; I don’t want to log in to run Heroic week after week because they quickly become trivial and boring.

“You definitely don’t need dungeons any longer.”

Pretty much every guild I’ve seen that seriously pursues Cutting Edge requires, or at least strongly encourages, everyone on the Mythic raid team to run at least one +15 a week for the weekly chest. It’s definitely considered needed, or at least highly desirable.

Far from being something I don’t need or want, M+ is what keeps dungeons fun and relevant to me throughout an expansion. Quite frankly, in all expansions I played prior to Legion (including Wrath), I’d tired of dungeons rather quickly even though I enjoyed them intensely in their first few weeks. Now? They are literally my favorite part of this game that I spend far more time on than raiding. I’m running keys into the 20’s not for loot (realistically, anyone running for just the loot stops at +15) but because I enjoy it and want to see how high I can go.

Part of the reason I enjoy Eliot’s articles is they’re well-written viewpoints from someone who’s interests in WoW and MMOs are quite different from my own and it’s interesting to see how someone with that different point of view approaches the game. Heck, there’s a fair number of things we actually agree on despite these differences and I’m usually content to not say anything or voice my support for things I do agree with. But in this case, I felt compelled to offer a differing viewpoint.

Bruno Brito

Remember also, that this mindset that WoW established, is then followed by other games. I’m completely against making raiding the de facto endgame. I feel like GW2 gets that right, since it balances it’s open world with the raiding, and if they focus on improving the crafting and get housing in place, the game will be THE game to be.

WoW should do the same, but i don’t expect anything while Ion is steering the ship.

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Unless something has drastically changed for the better with GW2 I very much disagree with “gets that right”.

Of course there’s a reason why players are in the open world. But that’s because there are certain daily chores tied to a random zone. Zones that aren’t so blessed are pretty dead.

ArenaNet’s grand experiment is the epitome of everybody zergs! If that’s good enough for you, great. But do not assume that’s universally beloved.

Bruno Brito

Of course there’s a reason why players are in the open world. But that’s because there are certain daily chores tied to a random zone. Zones that aren’t so blessed are pretty dead.

They aren’t. I finished map completioning my Ranger, and all the zones were alive. Thank that to artificial measures: Megaserver, the fact that almost all zones have a world boss who are on the farm rotation, the fact that the GW2 community is way more united and overall better than WoW’s, and that the game has scaling, so most zones don’t get relegated to obscurity. Not only that: Map completion has a utility, while achievement farming doesn’t.

I don’t know how long it has been since you touched GW2, but while the game has several issues, and i poke them out everytime i can, population is not one of them.

ArenaNet’s grand experiment is the epitome of everybody zergs!

True. So? You talk like that makes any difference in how these events are crowded. Everyone does Tequatl, and it has mechanics. Yes, it’s a zerg. Yet, to do the Triple Wurm, you need a shitload of cohesion.

If that’s good enough for you, great. But do not assume that’s universally beloved.

I want you to re-read everything i said and tell me where you can find the words “universally beloved”.

Here, i’ll help you:

I feel like GW2 gets that right

I feel like

I feel like

I get it, you don’t like GW2. We all get it.


WoW has had this weird identity crisis where it tried to push hard towards opening the game up to everyone and their great grandmother, and then they realized that’s pissing off their core/hardcore playerbase so they tried to gradually go back on that. But then they also decided they needed to keep even their highest end raiders on an endless RNG grind so they put in a loot system that is utterly garbage and works on a multi-layered lottery system so top-end raiders have to log in at least once a week to still run the current raid if they want to hope and ever get close to full BiS.

And yeah they basically trivialized all PUG content to the point where it doesn’t even feel rewarding and Heroics basically have no purpose anymore. It’s incredibly stupid and it feels like they are struggling to figure out who to actually cater to, thus we’ve got a bipolar design where certain endgame activities are a joke that you blaze through with no effort whatsoever, and then you’re required to group up and get serious if you want to really do anything beyond that. There’s no real middle ground anymore, and that middle ground was sort of where WoW was at its best.

Not to say the game should open its endgame completely to the casual audience, or abandon its raid system. But the bipolar nature of dumbing down everything but the top end stuff (the only things you have to form groups for without random matchmaking) and making folks feel like they don’t get good enough power growth to take on open world/solo content unless they raid is stupid.


“Guys, I can’t do this anymore.” That was the sound of me finally burning out on Everquest 2 raiding at the end of ’18. This same pattern has all but killed EQ2, and probably other games as well. I suspect that one of the reasons it happens is that it’s low effort–you don’t need to put together as much content, all those pesky quests and dungeons. And so everything becomes World of EverRaid over time.


I wish Blizz spend less time trying to chase and quash the imaginary demons of “welfare epics” and get on in making the game enjoyable for everyone else. /le sigh


What? The game is overflowing with easy epics, moreso than ever before. My main hasn’t completed a single raid or Mythic+ all expansion and I have an average 450 ilevel, which is above the level of loot in Normal Ny’alotha.

Wow has a lot of issues right now, but being stingy about gearing it absolutely not one of them.


…oh that’s what you guys of ‘alt’ reality call ’em now. Kinda like SJW have been replaced by “woke”. While completely missing that this has nothing to do with color of gear. but it’s item level. /le sigh


But… I specifically talked about item level and how easy it is to obtain gear that is the same item level at the current raid tier while playing solo??

And I don’t understand what you’re on about with talk of “alt reality” and “woke” or whatever. Are you trying to accuse me of being alt-right or something? Please don’t bring American politics into a discussion about WoW gearing. Not only is it completely irrelevant, I’m Canadian and typically vote for the Liberal Party.

Bruno Brito

I’m going to assume Uta just want the team to stop giving a shit about the vertical gearing process inside or outside the raiding. Who gives a shit if they’re “welfare” or not. A MMO should not be focused on raiding at it’s endgame.


A lot of people play RPGs, including single player ones, specifically for the vertical progression. A lot of people really love power progression. Many WoW players would quit entirely without vertical progression. Some MMOs feature it as a core part of the experience, some don’t. That’s okay. Can’t we all just get along? Do we really need blanket statements about what forms of gameplay should be focused on at endgame? Just let people enjoy what they enjoy.

WoW is probably the best MMO for people who want vertical progression. GW2 is probably the best for people who want an easier more casual experience with lots farming. FFXIV is great for people who want to watch an anime.


jealous-san is clearing arguing the forest instead of the trees in bad faith. This exercise is to completely dismiss/marginalize our reasonable concerns without evidence. This why I don’t really to ague with this type of apologetics. It’s just easier to dismiss and move on. As the author of this article has already gone over this in an eloquent, informed and compelling narrative…

…there’s really much more engaging things out their today to enjoy, instead of arguing with outliers who really don’t want to get it.


…to say nothing of how this has led to the nearly-complete deprecation of the actual world in which the game is played, as anything now but the most feeble backdrop for the instanced content.
There are so many examples – from the obliteration of formerly meaningful professions, to the conflation of green and white gear to be essentially just 2 more shades of grey, to the lack of effort in worldbuilding or storytelling (what’s the deus ex machina this week, Blizz?).