Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Returning WoW To Its Roots

Syp and Snaffy spent the most recent episode of their MMO podcast doing a retrospective on WoW. It was interesting to see where the perspectives of two guys who know MMORPG's and have some experience with WoW, but don't necessarily consider it their primary MMO, line up with things I've been thinking about of late. Reacting to the then-rumored Cataclysm expansion, the narrators express surprise to see the old leveling game seemingly triumph over the endgame. I would argue that the picture is perhaps a bit more complicated than that.

The face of WoW in November 2004

WoW introduced the genre to solo PVE and tapped a huge market that had nowhere else to go. After that huge initial investment, however, WoW spent its first four years obsessed with accomplishments. Group content was tuned to be challenging for appropriately geared players (to the point where PUGS would bring double the appropriate number of players and still sometimes fail to complete a 5-man at level 60). The new solo content added in patches and expansions was aimed squarely at players who had already neared or reached the current level cap.

The lesson of the TBC and Wrath eras is that players who do not want to raid are not actually asking for smaller raids. From the Dungeon 2 Set questline to Karazhan, Blizzard believed that players wanted them to bring the full challenge of the achiever-driven endgame to groups that were smaller for logistical reasons. It turns out that players came to WoW and its descendants because they wanted to be able to sign on when they want and play for however long they wanted. Accomplishment-driven mechanics (attunements, gear checks, consumables) flew in the face of what brought so many of these players into the genre in the first place.

And so, Wrath delivered the first installment of a real overhaul, stripping the accomplishment prerequisites from the group game with a dozen 5-mans and entry level raids that were readily puggable by appropriately geared characters. The solo game, however, remained buried behind dozens of levels of accomplishments. The goal of the Cataclysm is, in part, to bring the last four years' worth of improvements to the solo PVE game down to players who have not wanted to pursue the accomplishments needed (55+ levels) to see the fruits of Blizzard's labors in Outland and Northrend.

In short, perhaps the shift isn't really a new direction at all. With four announced raids for the expansion launch, including optional hard modes, there will be much more accomplishment-driven endgame to go around than Wrath had at its debut. Meanwhile, the expansion will return WoW's focus to the accessible solo PVE game that it brought to the genre in the first place and neglected for the last few years. In some ways, the Cataclysm is less of a revolution than a return to the game's original roots. Given that the game can assemble prominent Warhammer bloggers to talk about its impact five years later, that may not be a bad direction to go.

Now if only we could get them to go back to making hats that actually look like, well, hats....


Longasc said...

I think you are right, I voiced similar thoughts occasionally: Raids do not appeal more to people who simply do not love/want to raid by making them more accessible, easier, reduce the number of players and all that.

You put it in a nutshell what Blizzard is doing, rebooting the game and giving new and old players alike a reason to play it again.

The problem is IMO the "play it again". WoW is wonderful the first and second and third time through, but will a changed experience really excite veteran players and their alts so much? It does not look like so much more cool raid content, and raiding cannot and should not be the only endgame experience.

I think Guild Wars 2's "events" might be even more appropriate for "Joe Casual" than this. But the ultra casual "Joe" might not know Guild Wars. xD

Green Armadillo said...

@Long: The real goal of these changes is to bring lapsed players back to the game. Retaining long-time veterans with new content is challenging; you only have the latest stuff to work with. By contrast, when you lure players who have been absent for a while back to the game, they're experiencing older changes that are new to them, even though they're not new to the game.

Will this strategy cause some existing veterans, especially the non-raiders, to drift off? Quite possibly. Thing is, many of us were drifting anyway, and were going to continue to drift between content patches no matter what Blizzard spends its time on. It's worth losing 2-3 months worth of my subscription fees over an 18-month expansion cycle if they can bring back someone who might stay for six months and buy an expansion box or several.

motstandet said...

I think Blizzard hit the nail right on the head with this expansion. I don't want to say that it'll be their best WoW xpac to date (because I was initially excited for BC), but bringing all the lessons they've learned over history of WoW to the original selling point of the game is a wonderful idea.

What's my main Again? said...

I actually just did that quest last night on my freshly minted tauren druid. With the face of the world facing major changes I'm running out of time to see what the content horde side looks like.

I've posted my thoughts on the stat changes but I still remain hopeful that the next expansion will be really good. It has the potential to do all that blizzard wants to do... but a major change like this can also go very very wrong. People may get burned out faster if the content just seems completely reused... but also reject the content if it is too different.

Major changes need to happen for the game to continue on... I just hope they know what they are doing.

DeftyJames said...

"Meanwhile, the expansion will return WoW's focus to the accessible solo PVE game that it brought to the genre in the first place and neglected for the last few years."

I just have to say that my opinion is 100% the exact opposite. I don't know what facts you are basing such an assessment on. How is have only five levels as opposed to ten strengthening the solo PvE game? Sure, they are remaking some of the level 1-60 content but that already basically solo PvE so it's not retuning to the roots, it's just adding some new text to the quests.

I typically respect what you write GA but I found this post short on facts and long on opinion.

Klepsacovic said...

My fear is that as long as end-game is felt to be the goal, that leveling will remain an obstacle rather than part of the fun.

@Defty: The expansions focus on adding to the level cap; adding new raids as the focus and new levels to push you out of the old raids and towards the new. This is the first to really look at leveling in a major way, not just adding 1-20 starter zones, but really remaking leveling for more than just the new levels for people who already hit the previous cap.

Bertie said...

I think that your observation that smaller raids did not necessarily accomplish their stated goal until gating (attunements, consumables, gear) and time constraint changes came to be considered as well is a very intelligent one. That's a lesson that seems to have been lost on Turbine, who for all its encouragement of an "entitled casual" attitude among its LOTRO playerbase actually ended up with a game that for much of its run favored a playstyle that while small group was still large time commitment.

All that said, I do think that 10-man hards and their predecessor ZA and the like did serve a legitimate section of the playerbase -- those crusty old-timers (kind of like me) who still can make time for a serious raid now and again (so it is not quite a casual style -- we know how to play this game and can carve out time to play it when motivated to do so) but want to do it with a more socially restricted group (that is, my fellow crusty old timers who have known each other in-game for years now, across multiple resub cycles at this point). My server actually has multiple "old timers" guilds at this point and some of the long standing guilds that still field 25 mans have within them old time vets that stick to the 10 man stuff.

(None of this is to say that 10 man hardish content need only serve the above mentioned section of the player base and of course I don't know of any real data as to how many people use it).