Thursday, August 20, 2009

What the Cataclysm Nay-Sayers Underestimated

By this time tomorrow, the rumors about WoW's Cataclysm expansion will be settled once and for all on the Blizzcon keynote stage. This post, in turn, will either be one of the few things I predict that comes true, or a requiem for an interesting idea that didn't get its chance after all. Having endorsed the rumor as soon as it leaked, I'm betting on the former at the risk of looking foolish if it turns out to be the latter.

On one level, skeptics underestimated the stakes for MMO-Champion. Though I'm sure they've gotten a ton of traffic through all the links over the past week, the site's reputation and credibility are worth far more traffic in the long run. In a broader sense, though, people underestimated Blizzard's willingness to venture out of the "new continent and 10 new levels" box. I count myself among that number - less than a year ago, I didn't think that Blizzard could find the time to do an old world Azeroth revamp.

Much of the reasoning behind my hypothetical expansion idea turns out to have been 100% correct. Instead of standing by it, though, I dismissed my own idea out of hand because there was no way for Blizzard to deliver a significant old world revamp in addition to the usual amount of new content (10 new levels) at a time when the top talent is moving on to Mystery Project 4. On this too, I was correct. I just couldn't think far enough out of the box to imagine that Blizzard would choose to cut back on the requisite 10 additional levels in order to make the time to do the revamp.

Cataclysm's Target Audience
There is, it turns out, a market that is even more valuable than the players who will purchase each new expansion to see what the biggest production values in the business can bring to solo questing this time out, even if they have no interest in the endgame. WoW's biggest potential growth market is in FORMER players.

How many players decided they were tired of tedious travel and sparse quests in the 50's? How many players came for the solo content, left when they met the group-only endgame, and have not seen a good reason to return since with both expansions saving all their best lore for elite endgame raids? How many players simply used up the content that WoW had to offer over the last nearly-five years, and would return for a spruced up trip down memory lane with some shiny new choices to play with?

Blizzard is betting that this is the most underestimated market of all. I won't be lining up to put my money against them.


Keith said...

one word: achievements.

why? because now blizzard can track boss kills on a faction, server, and the entire game basis.

they now know what % of players have achieved hard mode boss kills, etc, and where the majority of players are at in their game/raiding experience.

i'm willing to bet that went into their new expansion decisions.

Jormundgard said...

I made the same mistake, I never figured they'd commit to a revamp of Azeroth when there isn't even the time to redo Druid animal forms.

Once I saw it as an Expansion Budget problem, and interpreted the Five Levels as Minus Five Levels, it made much more sense.

I still think the same idea still holds though: the rumored expansion as currently described is not for players committed to an endgame experience.

thedoctor said...

Great read Green...I am willing to bet you are spot on.

Anonymous said...

This is pretty much how I see it too. I also see how excited some of my friends who stopped playing WoW are about the prospect of worgen druids.

Looking forwards to all the Blizzcon announcements now :)

Longasc said...

@Keith I think Blizzard could already track that before. They had kill lists and some statistics on their webpage way before they implemented Achievements. They also had % numbers how many people played the old Naxx that were often cited by Blizzard themselves.

There was recently the question what is most fun about WoW and MMOs in particular.

What WoW made great was not the raids. It was the incredibly well done levelling game.

There were even statistics showing that nearly nobody did the "old Naxx", and that the actively raiding population never was that big. I wonder if WOTLK changed that, making raiding more accessible, I still think many people are simply no raiders, my favorite thesis.

Their current plan sounds a bit like the more horizontal progression thing that has become popular lately, see Age of Conan, maybe powered by achievements, who knows.

"Cataclysm" sounds like a genius Blizzard style idea. I really believe it and would laugh hard if it was just our imagination pushing a rumor.

Plastic Rat said...

If they're really after the 'former player' market, I don't think they're going about it the right way.

The game is very, very different today to what it was 2-3 years ago. There's no guarantee that players from that time will actually enjoy what the game has become.

I for one miss the challenge and the feeling of the size of the world and travel meaning something. I saw no mention of any of that coming back.

They can spruce up a bunch of old quests, add more idiotic achievements and sprinkle it all with copious amounts of shiny lewt, but the gameplay is still nothing near what I used to enjoy playing.

All this might do is squeeze a few more bucks out of the lolkiddies who I honestly believe would be delighted with mud if you gave them enough achievements and digital loot with it.

Green Armadillo said...

@Keith: As Long says, they could probably track some of that info before, even if players could not. The new thing we've learned from achievements is that they actually work as incentives - players will do the things the achievements tell them to. Blizzard might see some potential that everyone will eventually do the new low level content for achievements.

@Jorm: Exactly, it's an expansion budget question. Perhaps I'm wrong and they really are making 10 levels worth of content but only granting 5 levels for balance reasons (e.g. not having 10 more talent points), but it seems like players who like to solo on their current main will get the short end of the stick.

Group players may be a bit better off - if I'm right, Icecrown@85 will be like Naxx@80, freeing the raid team to actually have a non-entry-level raid at launch. It may not be better than the status quo, but I don't see why it would be worse.

@The Doc: Thanks! :)

@Spinks: Yeah, after spending some time on the PTR's, I think I would definitely go with a Worgen Druid (or perhaps they and the trolls will be called "Animists" in game to distinguish the lore of generic shape-shifters from the Cenarion crew). And the fact that they're keeping the programs hidden until the keynote makes it sound like they may be announcing Mystery Project 4.

@Long: With all the stuff that MMO-C has leaked over the years, you might almost imagine Blizzard trying to trick them as a prank. That said, I really don't think that anyone will be 100% excited about another 10 levels+continent expansion, and I suspect that Blizzard is aware of that.

@Plastic Rat: I suspect that you will be correct. Blizzard made those changes for a reason - because there are more players who want it the way it is now than who benefited from the way things were in 2005 (e.g. single digit percentages of players in Naxx and Sunwell). It doesn't make financial sense to piss off the majority in an attempt to win back the hardcore minority.

Klepsacovic said...

It's not that I can't believe it, it's that I don't want to. So much of the leak looked absolutely terrible and a huge waste of time.

sam said...

If thats thier plan I wonder how many of those players who made it ot 50 or even 70 will come back. If they quit at 50 and only had the base box thats 3 boxes to buy to try out the new content. 2 boxes if they had BC. Thats a lot of money to drop on a game you left because you weren't happy with it for some reason.

That's the reason I won't try it out. I'd pay for one box to try it but I'm not buying WOTLK and the new expansion to come back and try it out. I can afford it but I'm just not willing to shell out 80 bucks to come back and see how good the new content is. And for someone that quit before BC its over 100 to come back. Thats a lot of money for an 5 year old game.

Kyosei said...

I kind of wonder what are the vanilla players going to see once the big pre-expansion patch is released. Assuming the leaked info is true, if the whole old world is being revamped anyways are they still going to see it or be phased out of it?

The biggest reason it seems to buy the expansion is the revamped old world. I'm thinking if the vanilla player didn't buy the other expansions because they didn't really care unless they wanted a horde pally/alliance shaman or a death knight.

Another question would be will the vanilla player be able to use the new race/class combos with the original 8 races?

It will be interesting to see what will play out in their Blizzcon announcements today.

What's my main Again? said...

When I first heard the rumored name this was the kind of expansion that I was hoping for. Having some sort of world changing event drives the story forward. Both the expansions have been going out and righting the wrong left at the end of Warcraft 3. With Arthas dead though, it is time for things to change.

The content that they have reused so far atleast has made a bit of sense. Naxxramas was a flying fortress so the lich king recalling it to Northrend to help fight off invading forces makes sense. If the new expansion has to deal with Deathwing then having Onyxia show up under wyrmrest temple also makes sense.

I don't see them converting the old world dungeons into higher level clones of the current ones. I do however see those dungeons as becoming part of the new story. Rag coming back as a 5 man boss instead of a raid boss and in a newly formed lair after his current one is destroyed.

If this is truely what Blizzard has in mind then I am really excited. I want to see that the last 5 years of game play has made a lasting impression on Azeroth. Both good, and bad.

Anonymous said...

I can't post on my account on the WoW forums for some reason, so it'd be nice if someone would suggest this (hint, hint):

If one of Blizzard's intended audiences is former WoW players who have unsubscribed, then Blizzard should offer a one-time-only free one-month retrial to canceled accounts.

nugget said...


Yes. Cataclysm sounds interesting. It doesn't address my main, basic problem with WoW's design philosophy (I do not like infinite gear spiral systems), but the revamp sounds interesting.

Then I think. To see it, I'll have to buy WotLK which I'm not interested in, and THEN buy the Cataclysm box too..


Not unless Blizzard offers former players some kind of deal to bypass this multiple box thing. But I doubt they will. TBC was a huge disappointment for me. It, together with the infinite gear system, is why I didn't buy WotLK, and why I stopped playing altogether.

Green Armadillo said...

@Nugget: If you just want to see how the revamp came out, it sounds like you will NOT be required to buy any boxes at all. The new zones are physically replacing the old ones for all subscribers. You won't be allowed Death Knights, Worgen, Goblins, or levels above 70, and you may or may not be left out of the new profession or other new features. Even players who skipped TBC should be allowed in the door to see how the old world has changes, if they're prepared to do without the features of that expansion (level 70, BE/Draenei, jewelcrafting and flight).

Also, there is a free Wrath trial currently available (I think a week or 10 days or something), and I'm sure there will be one for Cataclysm a few days after launch. Again, it is unclear if the latter will do you much good if you're not in the market for a Goblin/Worgen, but the option should be there.

I would like to see Blizzard offer some sort of all-in-one box like other games have done, but there's only so much you can expect them to do on that front as long as TBC and Wrath remain on the CURRENT bestsellers charts in PC gaming.