Editorial: Is World of Warcraft Dying?

In an effort to combat recent sharp spikes in weeaboo-related weeabooery here at Lusiboo dotto kommu, I have decided that this week will be a World of Warcraft post, which should appeal to all two of my readers, namely Boss Hawg Shawn (who left his lonely mage parked in Darkshire, of all places) and Chris Privateparts Sabin1001 Writes For A Different Website Where He Gets Respect But Somehow Gets Dragooned Into Coming On To Our Podcast Where We Subject Him To Torture Privetere. Enjoy, guys!

So, Cataclysm is having a bit of a rough patch for my dear WoW. On the one hand, it is a very polished and well-put-together expansion. There is a lot of fun stuff to do in the game, but it seems as if the game has lost some of its… vibrancy… compared to the early days of Wrath of the Lich King.

You know you fucking said it.
Did someone say... weeaboo?

Part of this is attributable to the fact that the game is getting on in years. People that started playing at release six years ago were likely in a different spot in their lives. Graduations, new jobs,
amount of attention one can devote to the game. Other players are, by this fourth expansion, a bit burned out on the World of Warcraft endgame model, and with good reason: raiding and PVP have not fundamentally changed. New window dressing, some small novelties in abilities and whatnot do not radically change the structure.

Another factor is the existence of Rift, which, while a good game that has undoubtedly poached a few burned-out WoWers, still offers much the same experience. Many guild leaders and raiders I know are simply waiting for a true next-generation game to come out. WoW is, barring a major restructuring of the game, in its sunset years.

Which is a shame; my own burnout has led me to level alternate characters (a prospect I avoided for years because of how dreadfully boring the original 1-60 curve was), and I have been blown away by the changes to some of the leveling zones. Redridge Mountains and the Burning Steppes, for example, with their tale of the brave John J. Keeshan and his… shall we say, team… is full of humor, lighthearted fun, and killing more gnolls than I can shake a stick at, and believe you me, I have shaken many sticks at many gnolls.

Other zones remain lamentably sucky, like Stranglethorn Vale, with its “MURDER ALL WILDLIFE EVER THEN SKIN IT AND DRINK ITS BLOOD TO GAIN ITS POWER” quests. Seriously, Hemit Nesingwary is a plague on quest-kind and someone needs to kill him. There, I said it.

So while WoW has lowered the accessibility bar quite far in making engaging questing that dramatically improves the solo-player’s game, has improved crafting and secondary professions, and made it very easy for players to get in quick dungeons and battlegrounds, they do not seem to be able to retain players in the top tiers: arena matches, raiders, and rated PVPers.

TouhouCraft
I guess I can re-use old assets too, Blizzard!

It is not that the game has gotten dramatically harder; most fights with the exception of the final bosses are gimmicky things: insert tab A into slot B, fold up panel C, collect loot. They require very precise execution, but not necessarily careful play. Some degree of skill at playing one’s character is necessary, but far more often, a lack of execution will wipe a raid than lack of player skill.

To compound this issue, two of the most sought-after classes have seen their difficulty increase. Healers, for example, have been switched to a type of play where they must constantly monitor their resources and make trade-offs between throughput and speed in terms of outgoing heals. To make matters worse, a wrong decision can often snowball out of control, leading to a wipe. Tanks, on the other hand, are forced with a daunting task of being responsible for everyone else’s screw-ups while at the same time being given little advice on which gear to seek. Current thinking is that it hurts more than it helps to ensure that all tank attacks land. Attacks not landing are generally bad, as they increase the chance that another character will garner the ire (and attacks) of a monster.

Consequently, outside of most guild groups, dungeons are so much of a pain that tanks and healers avoid them, and raids are frustrating because only a few guilds really have the unit cohesion and steady rosters necessary to progress.

Progress has been so slow that Blizzard has foregone releasing their second tier of raids within the same time-frame as Wrath‘s second tier. Instead, players have been treated to a four-month long ramp up to a minor content patch introducing two “new” 5-man dungeons (really just revamped old raids scaled down), and a whole host of class balance and quality of life changes. To make matters worse, it does not look like this patch will hit before the end of April. That is nearly six months in the game without a single new piece of content being added. A whole half-year of doing the same shit on different days.

It is no wonder that people are getting burned out so quickly, and it does not look like Blizzard has solutions. Rather, they have band-aids that they hope will sooth burnout.

Look at that come-hither stare! Come and get it, boys!

And honestly, I am not sure there is a better option at this point. If Blizzard wants people to keep playing, they are going to have to do a few things to ease the barriers to entry to certain things. I do not mean dumbing everything down like Wrath, but implementing a few “quality of life” changes that will help them retain player interest in the face of burnout.

1. Triple Specs

If Blizzard wants people to experience things like PVP as well as PVE, it is time to give players a choice for a third-spec. Some people will take 3 PVP specs; some will take 3 PVE specs. That does not matter; currently, hybrid-class players must choose between two PVE role specs (healer/tank, or tank/DPS, for example) which are often required as raid composition shifts from fight to fight. This effectively locks them out of PVP play without paying a 50+ gold a pop respec fee any time they want to do a rated battleground.

2. Gift Experience

Some players enjoy leveling alts, and that is all they do. Others tend to be forced to focus on one character because of raid needs or limited playtime, but still would like a chance to level alternate characters. Some ability to take fruitless experience/gold/gear points earned at top level with an established character and “gift” them to lower-leveled characters would be nice. For instance, if I am bringing my tank character to every raid because my guild is low on tanks, my caster is going to suffer because I do not have time to level or gear him. A chance to use all Justice Points above the cap (which I am currently not earning) to either bank up for use by this character or to purchase “Free 100,000 experience points” bundles would remove this problem.

3. Allow Professions to Remove Soul-Binding

Currently, equipment awarded to one character is, in most cases, permanently bound to that character. To allow professions to use materials or pay a fee to remove this soul-binding so that equipment could be shared by all characters on a given Battle.net account would lessen the gear curve and encourage people to have a wider “stable” of characters available for raid and PVP needs.

4. Faster Leveling Through Bad Zones

Now that I have tasted the sweetness of the new 1-60 leveling experience, combined with the awesomeness of 80-85, the drag between 60 and 80 is looking grim. Blizzard employees usually mumble the response of, “Oh, well, it goes by fast, so do not worry.” Ugh. What a cop-out. Instead, provide a single questing path, maybe three or four individual ten-quest lines, for each zone that award increased experience. If players are going to skip zones and quests anyway, provide them a way to do existing quests and get the required XP by highlighting the best quest lines in each zone. Mark them with special purple exclamation points and call them “Prestige Quests” or something.

Nate Liles returns from a night of drinking to write his post.
This guy is the only one left playing WoW.

5. Bring Back The Weekly Raid Challenge!

This was an excellent idea from Wrath, because it got people looking together for pick-up groups to do easy bosses. Sure, it led to people getting gear a little faster, but the gear acquisition rate is a little too slow right now.

6. Make Secondary Professions Suck Less

Fishing and cooking are boring. I know that Patch 4.1 will add more dailies to make leveling these quite a bit easier, but an increase in the skill gained from each quest would help a considerable bit too, and not be overpowered since cooking and fishing only gain traction near the level cap. Archaeology is currently a grind, boring, and not very much fun. I am a 525 archaeologist on my main character, and it was so boring and mindless I listened to audiobooks while doing it. Sure, learning about the history and stories of WoW is neat, but at least make the hunting artifacts aspect of it less boring. For instance, players should have to investigate world dungeons, caves, caverns, and ruins to find a Clue item that starts them on a quest. That quest should then, in true Indiana Jones fashion, take them around the world to exotic locales where they will need to perform specific tasks to obtain more Clues (or fragments, or whatever) until finally they complete it and obtain an artifact. This might get boring and repetitive, sure, but nothing is exactly lost as it is already boring and repetitive. This would at least break up the monotony, and the complete-only-once quest lines for epic items would feel more like the awesome legendary quests of yore, like the questline to forge Thunderfury.

As always, I hope Dr. Street is listening. Hook ’em Horns, and for Thor’s sake, use my ideas this time.

9 comments

  1. I generally agree with everything in this post, which is why I don’t play WoW for more than a few weeks at a time anymore. In my ‘off time’, I screw about in FFXIV with Reetin, and have just as much fun as I do in WoW. And that should not be the case, for XIV is a shell of a game which is still free to play, whereas WoW is fully-developed and sports a deep lore setting with loads of excellent quest lines.

  2. In the end, that which killed WoW was… WoW itself.

    Now you see why I say that WoW will be free to play by the end of 2012, the “big MMOs” for themepark play will be Rift for fantasy-setting buffs and SW:TOR for sci-fi buffs. Sandboxes will continue to favor EVE, and maybe FFXIV depending on how the devs deal with it.

  3. I agree with a lot of the points you make, Lane. Hemet Nesingwary’s quests were quite fun to go through for me. ONCE. Every time after that it’s just a pain and I’d like to avoid the bastard forever, now. I don’t understand why the dailies don’t give more skill points. Leveling fishing basically boils down to hoping that the RNG doesn’t hate you. And I’ve actually changed my outlook on how I want to play the game completely with the awful things they’ve done in this expansion to the mechanics of tanking. I used to thoroughly enjoy tanking, the responsibility, the success, but now it’s just so terrible. The encounters were made more difficult, and all they’re doing to tanks (I play a druid) is making it harder and harder to keep up threat. In the next patch, they’re REMOVING bonus threat from most bear form attacks in favor of a minor damage increase. That’s awful. The only thing that I can figure is that Blizzard thinks that druids shouldn’t be a class that people enjoy to play.

    I’ve switched to PvP healing, which is fun, but I’ve run into another problem. Gathering Honor Points is deplorably slow. When gear costs upwards of 1.5k honor and you get 90 honor every time you win, but only 15 every time you lose (at random battlegrounds) you’d think it would be faster, but in the end you actually get less honor from a battleground than you would justice from a dungeon. A dungeon that takes 30 minutes to beat will gain you about 200 to 400 Justice Points if you include the random bonus for the first regular random dungeon of the day. A battleground that takes 30 minutes to finish (and not always for a win!) can grant between 50 and 200 honor points, depending on how awful your team is. It’s the same amount of effort or more for almost no reward, and it’s seriously lowering my opinion of the game.

  4. They are offering a JP-Honor/VP-Conquest conversion ratio in the next patch (probably 2-3 weeks out at this point), but you’re right. I was leveling my warrior as a pure-PVP character from 80-85, and it made me want to pull my eyeballs out.

    My main is a DK tank, and I’ve found that now that I’m in raid gear Vengeance more than takes care of threat for me. The hardest time I have is with 6+ of the Aberration adds on the Maloriak encounter if my DND is down. But honestly I have better AOE than a Bear. You guys are just straight up broken at the moment.

    They didn’t want to go back to BC levels of difficulty, but they didn’t want to make things Wrath easy either. At this point, they just need to say fuck it and bring Wrath back. At least they were successful and people were having fun then. The game needs a few gameplay tweaks: the rate of incoming damage needs to be reduced to help out healers (and healers need to be given off-DPS abilities that aren’t so damn mana-intensive), tanks need better snap aggro generators (Blood Boil is awful and nothing like Thunderclap + Rend-ilence or Consecrate.

    They need to implement a Hellscream’s Fury/Wrath of Wrynn like scaling buff as they did in ICC. Six months into an expansion more people should be able to kill more than Atramedes.

  5. @Lane:

    “At this point, they just need to say fuck it and bring Wrath back. At least they were successful and people were having fun then.”

    This is what I have been saying all along. People say now, retrospectively, in a very self-aggrandising way, that Wrath was “too easy” and they they “don’t want that”, but these are the same people who were there every night from the launch of Wrath until the launch of Cataclysm.

    The fact is that most of us (despite what some of us claim) want to come home, run a dungeon, have some fun, and get a chance at some loot. We don’t want heroics that last forever and give us ulcers, where failure is guaranteed if someone makes a tiny mistake during the gimmick round, and where it takes 32 once-per-days to buy one piece of epic level gear. Elitists will say smug things about “it’s too easy *now*,” but I also note that these are the people who bail out of the game first, and bitch the most, when the difficulty is ramped up and they start having trouble doing their endless gear runs.

    I’m all for “bring Wrath back!” and I don’t feel embarassed about it in the least. I had loads of fun with it, and would love to see something like that brought back. At least I have the good sense to admit it. I seriously think most of the people complaining have no idea what they want, but genuinely think they do.

  6. I’m convinced the only segment that really “likes” Cataclysm’s endgame is the hardcore masochistic, I want it to be hard because I am a nerd and it makes me feel powerful crowd.

    I love my guild, but if they said, “screw it, we’re moving to Runes of Magic next week,” I’d go to Runes of Magic. I am there for the friends at this point, not the game. And that’s markedly different than Wrath, when it was equal measures of each. It may have been easy, but it still felt awesome to be one of the top Warriors on the server.

  7. Hood’s balls man! I hadn’t heard anything about players leaving WoW … I’d love for that plank to be knocked out of Activision’s arsenal, but I still don’t quite believe it!

  8. At the end of the day, when they’ve tried all the options and seen them fail, they will have to make the content easier. Easy = Fun for almost all players, even if most won’t directly admit it.

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