WoW Factor: WoW Classic’s Season of Mastery is starting to gall me

I circle the waterfront, I'm watching the sea.

So here’s a column that might be a bit more woolly than recent installments of this particular column. One of the thing that I’ve tried to do – with varying degrees of success – is to keep my analysis of World of Warcraft a bit less personal over the past few weeks. It’s not due to a lack of opinions so much as a desire to keep the focus where it should be. Whether or not I like Torghast or the state of the game isn’t as relevant as the simple matter of fact that we are looking at a game in crisis, to the point when asking when we’ll get an expansion announcement is a big deal.

But this one is… well… personal.

I wrote about the changes coming to the WoW Classic Season of Mastery servers the other day, and the fact is that this bothered me. It bothered me in a subtle but persistent fashion that just stuck in my craw until it became inevitable that I would need to spill some words about it. And it’s not for no reason by any stretch of the imagination. I have a good reason for why this bothers me, and it comes down most essentially to a question of fandoms and who gets empowered. So join me on a personal tour of this particular issue in which it’s not really the wrong set of choices so much as… well, choices I really dislike.

First and foremost, I want to establish a baseline point of order, and that’s the reality that vanilla WoW just wasn’t that hard. It was definitely a slower game than the modern retain version, but from an execution standpoint the vanilla content has just never been hard, just prone to punishing impatience or mistakes with heavy time costs. I’ve even talked about this here before; I was there, and Classic delivered what it promised.

It did not, however, deliver what a certain vocal populace was certain had existed. The whole “Vanilla was harder than Classic” thing is unlikely to go anywhere, and it’s wrong, but the people invested in that particular misapprehension are committed at this point.

Season of Mastery seems to be leaning very hard on that mental block. You thought world buffs were too powerful? Well, they’re gone now! You thought that bosses were too easy? We added back all their old mechanics! Wait, that was still too easy? Well, then, we’ll just add in totally new stuff to make the bosses even harder after all.

Why does this bother me when I acknowledge I’m not the target audience?


To really answer that question, I’m going to take you on a related tour over in the Transformers fandom. We’re going to talk about GEEWUN.

Generation 1, shorthanded as “G1,” is the fan term for the first generation of Transformers toys and media. To most people reading this particular article, it consists of a series of comics published by Marvel from 1984 until 1991, a syndicated cartoon from Marvel and Sunbow that ran from 1984 until 1987 (with a theatrical movie late in the run), and a toyline that ran from 1984 until 1990. There’s technically more to it (for example, the Japanese cartoons extended for some time, the Marvel series kept publishing compilations in the UK into 1994, the toyline never ended in Europe or Japan, and so forth), but this original incarnation of Transformers is a known quantity.

GEEWUN is not a disparaging fan term for people who are fans of the original property. Rather, it’s a disparaging fan term for people who treat that original incarnation of the property as a flawless cultural institution with a quality that has never been equaled, instead of a line of toys that a company sold with a narrative toy commercial to back it up. It’s for the people who are basically insistent that childhood nostalgia is superior to any later incarnations because reasons.

It’s not that these people have a bad memory for the franchise; it’s that their memories tend to be wrong. They insist that old toys were bigger or better than the actual toys put forth as reissues of classic toys, or that the fiction was deeper or more violent or mature than it actually was. When confronted with the unquestioned reality, these people tend to insist that the evidence is fabricated, that the original cartoon matched fuzzy emotional memories rather than anything else.

Now… every fandom has these people. Emotional connections formed when you’re younger can be powerful things. But the real question isn’t whether or not these people are right (they’re not) or why they choose to double down when informed that they’re wrong. The real question is whether or not these are the voices that the powers that be allow to dominate the conversation.

Because when these voices do, things stagnate. You can’t help but be amplifying voices that are both wrong and proudly so, stripping innovation and novelty away in a blind attempt to appeal to what people remember from the past.

Parses were still a thing, even then.

One of the big problems that WoW is facing at the moment is that there’s not a clear path forward for the game. Fan reaction to the prior expansion was negative and it continues to be negative. And rather than courting an audience that might be inclined to come back to the game, the latest Season of Mastery changes point to courting an audience that’s already deeply invested and telling those players that they were right. See? We’re writing your alternate history into the game now! It’ll be even harder, just like you wanted!

Don’t you want to play with us?

That is, ultimately, why this kind of bothers me on a personal level. It’s not just that the raid-centric seasonal server is becoming even more raid-centric. That’s disappointing, but I can’t exactly be mad about something I have no interest in continuing to be something I have no interest in. But it’s that element of making vanilla closer to what people imagined it to be that, well… sticks in my craw.

It bothers me. Not because this is a new occurrence or even a surprising one, but because it’s all but responding to an actual problem by quadrupling down and trying to push even harder on that “difficult raid” button that has already been getting slammed with vigor for years. It’s changing the game’s actual history to match a particular segment of the playerbase’s insistence about the past that isn’t actually true.

And that is a mistake, from where I’m sitting! It doesn’t tell me that future iterations of Classic seasonal servers are going to be interesting new takes on the game but further refinement of myths, that the designers are more concerned with a sort of self-sustaining fuzzy memory than with actually making the game better or addressing genuine problems.

Or, you know, maybe that’s just me. I freely admit that this is mostly a personal thing that just bugs me on some level more than anything else. But my general inclination is that feeding into a myth about old-school difficulty is probably not a great path forward, and it doesn’t exactly make me hopeful that any section of WoW considers me the target audience.

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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