What Happened to WoW?

DPS logo

Easy – Obsession with numbers happened to WoW.

I wrote a few years ago about the DPS Meters, Theorycrafting and what I thought their impact was on MMOs. I think it’s more true today than it was then. This isn’t to say that WoW doesn’t have a myriad of other problems because it does but I think this is a foundational issue with WoW. But I can’t help but think that Blizzard’s momentum of bad decisions might have actually started to overcome the community inertia that kept the game on top.

While the obsession with numbers started with players and DPS meters, it slowly infected the designers. Bit by bit, designers at Blizzard created a game no doubt looks perfect in a spreadsheet, but utterly lacks any soul. The obsession over bigger numbers and number balance and no class being preferred over another for any reason drained the soul of the game. Ancillary systems were stripped down or tossed aside entirely. The core of the model, the gear treadmill, was so brutalized by the blind zealotry to spreadsheet design as to make the gear immaterial.

Class & Ability Diversity

The option to play your class the way that you want has been cut out, replaced by a series of “fun,” but meaningless choices that don’t change the way you play your character in any significant fashion and can be changed at a moments notice so there’s no risk-reward for any decision. Blizzard stubbornly stamps it feet and declares these to be meaningful, fun choices while the opposite is true – there is no choice. I am reminded of the saying, “You can have any color you want! As long as it’s black.”

Unique play-styles and abilities have been systematically carved off because they provided too much of a numbers benefit to one class or another, or is too powerful against another class, or made a single encounter too easy. We are left with nondescript blobs of generic abilities as classes that are min-maxed by design but have no real identity of their own. Sure the aesthetics of a rogue and a monk are different, but the base is so much the same as to be interchangeable. Ele Shaman is basically a mage with nature themed spells and can be treated as such. Enh Shaman is a warrior with nature themed abilities instead of rage. You play one over the other not because there’s any great difference game-play, but because you like the pretty of one over the other.

Other Systems

Do you remember when crafting was at least kind of part of the game? It’s clear that it was never truly part of the core game-play as the item you created were often beyond useless. But for a while it was at least fun and engaging in it’s own red-headed stepchild kind of way. Now, it’s been gutted. Crafting had the potential through minor bonuses to have too much of an impact on the numbers and was effectively lobotomized as a result. It’s useless to the point of nearly being punishing for wanting to craft. 99% of the items you create you will destroy or vendor because no one wants them — not even you. But they are required for you to create to get up to the highest tier were can create 1-2 consumable items that quickly become required, and you’ll never craft anything else again.

The Artifact system was brutally ripped out of the game with almost no rationale other than anemic line of text if you happened to look to look to see why your class suddenly played very different. Instead they replaced it with the so-generic-you-don’t-even-care-about-it Heart of Azeroth. Like specs and class diversity before it, it replaced a system that was engaging and fun with one that left no meaningful choice and perfectly predictable progression of numbers.

The Gear Treadmill

It’s somewhat strange when you think about the fact that a game where gear is paramount that gear paradoxically also doesn’t matter. Gear has been so stripped of personality and utility to be utterly forgettable and immaterial to the game at large. Randomized stats are applied to random weapon models with nonsensical and completely lore-ignorant naming. Blizzard has arrived at the absurd place where they’ve devalued gear for the sake of the numbers it stacks.

Accessibility in MMOs – Part 1

This is the first part of a two part series on Accessibility in MMOs, using World of Warcraft as the critical piece.  The second half of this piece will be published next week.

I stumbled across this video from Preach about the evolution of World of Warcraftand more importantly the concept of the Journey in MMOs.  Preach makes some valid points about the direction of WoW and accessibility in his video, and I don’t want to rehash them–you can just watch it, and I think you should.  So I’ll let you do that.

OK – I’m sure you heard a little bit of whining in there about accessibility and the evils therein.  I think preach oversimplifies the situation in WoW’s case because he doesn’t mention things like Deadly Boss Mods, QuestHelper, Carbonite as mods that make the game VASTLY easier than what it was before.  Last I checked, things like DBM and Omen and similar addons were required to raid.  Add in the fact that most of their betas are open, encounters well documented, and boss’s challenged hundreds if not thousands of times before the actual content even hits live servers and most players just have a cookie cutter model of following instructions.  Sites WoWhead, WowWiki, and Thottbot show every aspect of the game down to the most minute detail and are only a google search away. Is it really any wonder, even apart from increased accessibility, the players complain of the game “dumbing down” or too easy? Continue reading “Accessibility in MMOs – Part 1”

WoW Continues to Bleed Subscribers


As reported by Massively, World of Warcraft is down to a Whopping 9.1 million subscribers, about a million lower than a quarter ago in May.  This has to be making big-cat Activision-Blizzard anxious, despite the admittedly positive tone of the report.  Between Diablo III’s impressive launch (for both positive and negative reasons), and Mists of Pandaria’s impending launch, the company is lined up for a strong quarter.  

My concern is the staying power of WoW.  The responses I’ve heard in the blogosphere, even the fansites, has been decidedly “Meh.”  about the next expansion.  I don’t think this has anything to do with the topic of the expansion (pandas — loosely tied to lore), I think it has more to do with Blizzard painting itself into a proverbial corner with their game-design and a few other reasons I covered previously.  That, combined with the fact that the first round of Annual Pass subscribers is coming up real quick (and I know of at least 2 people who will be cancelling when that hits.)  I have to wonder what their numbers will look like come November.  

Regardless, Ghostcrawler and company might be showing their age a little bit.  

Via: World of Warcraft has 9.1 million subscribers, down by a million since May on Massively 

Diablo 3 to require “Always On” Internet Connection

News today that Diablo 3 will require an “Always On” Internet connection to support several features of the primarily single player game.  So let me repeat that–a game, that has an online component (albeit a large one) but which can be played offline in its entirety, still requires you to be online at all times.

Wow.  So.  I’m gonna go ahead and say this is a bad idea.  Just check out the Ubisoft for justification for that statement. Blizzard says (and no doubt will actively maintain) that the always on status is ONLY to support key features such as an auction house, player chat, persistent server-side character storage, etc but I can’t help but wonder how much of it has to do with a heavy handed attempt to smack down the hacking and taking advantage of the system that was so prevalent in the first two Diablo games.  I know for me, the rampant hacking and exploitation of  Diablo 2 online was ultimately why I stopped playing it.

But I can’t help but feel they might be going too far with it.  As others have said, you can easily achieve almost the exact same result by requiring periodic check-ins as opposed to an always online model, which has been not the best received when other companies have attempted to use it.  I kind of wonder what makes Blizzard think that their gamers, arguably the most loud and obnoxious of all gamers, will take to this kindly.

When look historically at the kind of uproar generated by the art team trying to do something more with the art design than “Grind house muted colors complete with lots of blood that looks like it’s rotting,” and the uproar generated by the RealID fiasco which blew up the forums for days and days…it makes me wonder.  This has a ton of potential to not be well received, but Blizzard seems to be blissfully ignorant of this eventuality.  I think it’s become a question of not if there’s an uproar over it, but rather how much of one?

Blizzard seems to be making these somewhat gamer-unfriendly decisions more and more frequently lately, and I have to wonder what kind of influence Activision is having on the company as a whole.  My fear, the quiet, deep nagging fear, is that it’s much much more than is let on anyplace but internally at Blizzard.

via Geekosystem:  Diablo 3 Requires Always-On Internet Connection, Uh Oh