Thursday, November 20, 2008

What can WoW learn from the LOTRO and EQ2 expansions?

I was pretty stunned when Turbine announced a Nov 18th launch date for the LOTRO expansion. Did they not know about the 11 million pound gorilla in the room? Had some fool of a Took pulled a Leeroy on their marketing effort? All their expansion hype was going to disappear into the dust left by millions of players tromping to Northrend!

A meeting of Turbine's marketing department?

Well, when I saw that EQ2 ALSO chose Nov 18th for their new expansion, I realized what was going on. These guys AREN'T trying to expand their playerbase by winning over former WoW players in the lull after players run out of Wrath content. Indeed, I'd venture a guess that most people who have stuck with EQ2 for four years now are relatively well aware of the contrast between their game and Blizzard's. Rather, they're trying to RETAIN existing players. And that means providing an expansion at the same time as everyone else is getting their new toys (just in time for the holidays).

So here we have two other MMORPG companies designing features that they hope will help retain players, in addition to recruiting new ones (which, one is forced to concede, probably dies down as a game ages). As long as we're discussing things WoW has borrowed from Warhammer, perhaps it's worth looking at the other two MMORPG expansions of November.

Complete Editions
Both Turbine and Sony have opted to provide so-called "complete editions" of their expansions - one $40 box gets a brand new player all the other expansions that came before (and even the first month's fee). Blizzard's reasons for not doing so right now are obvious - they were presumably raking in decent cash from sales of TBC right up until Nov 13, and hoping for even more as new accounts need to upgrade twice en route to 80. Still, that, on top of the monthly fee, is both a deterrent and an inconvenience to new accounts (or upgrading accounts of former players - my wife's account still isn't TBC-capable, and $70 in expansion fees over the course of 20 levels on top of the monthly fee is a hefty price tag for re-entry). Just because Blizzard CAN throw their weight around in this dept does not mean that they SHOULD.

More Iconic Lore
Turbine has a huge advantage in this department - everyone knows their lore, and actually seeing it play out has been described as "awesome sauce". Blizzard has their work cut out for them here. While they have been happy to release additional WoW lore in the form of novels and comics, most of the players who are familiar with the lore at all are probably familiar with the lore of the GAMES. By the end of this expansion, basically all of those major figures will be defeated, leaving a variety of less iconic options for the third expansion.

Horizontal Expansion?
I've often taken it for granted that Blizzard must always expand WoW vertically - i.e. every expansion must include both a level cap increase and a gear reset, to ensure that all players consume as much of the leveling content as possible. After seeing how Wrath has unfolded, with entry level raids that are actually aimed at entry level guilds, perhaps it would be possible to have an expansion WITHOUT a cap increase. And, indeed, EQ2 is doing just that.

EQ2's Shadow Odyssey does allow for player power inflation. The game's equivalent of talent points are earned via an alternate advancement system that awards additional points for various things (many of which also award exp). With the expansion, players will get more alternate advancement points to play with. There will presumably be some loot in the new non-raid content that players can use to help tackle the old raid content as well. One might argue that both of these things are simply more levels without actually raising the technical level cap. In some ways, that's accurate, and a problem since it makes it a lot harder for players to use their level to evaluate the strength of their characters relative to the enemy. Then again, Blizzard may need to look into some form of alternate advancement. There are a variety of balance problems that are going to come with tacking on more levels, more talent points, and more skills every expansion.

Item Advancement
LOTRO is introducing named item advancement, wherein your items can gain exp and be reforged into stronger items. This system is not without its flaws; there is a heavy randomization element that will make it very hard to obtain gear with the stats players want. Also, for some idiotic reason, leveling your first legendary weapon on old world content that isn't worth exp is a prerequisite for actually being allowed to enter the expansion. Still, this idea is in some ways attractive. It might be nice to feel like your trusty weapon has stuck with you without being left behind the damage curve.

Retooling the old world, and scaling
The EQ2 expansion includes a feature WoW players have been crying for - dungeons that scale from level 50 to level 80. A large portion of WoW's content, especially the old world instances, is very hard to experience anymore simply because there aren't enough players in that specific level range to run it. With scaling instances, players who do find a group have many more options. In fact, Sony also took the time to make leveling easier (needed because, even with a decent mentoring system, their game requires more time to level in), and even to add solo content for levels below the level cap - something Blizzard just doesn't have the time to do. Maybe it's because leveling takes longer, and/or because even max level players can get alternate advancements from low level stuff, but either way, it would be nice if Blizzard could somehow find the time.

Will any of these actually make it to Azeroth?
I have no idea. But I will bet that Blizzard will be watching, and it wouldn't surprise me if a few things from this list make their way into WoW sooner rather than later.

1 comment:

Green Armadillo said...

Note: Thallian posted an interesting comment on this topic at my previous entry, which I responded to over there.