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.

Does Skinny Mei Matter?

Blizzard recently made a bit of an embarrassing mistake– Mei, a curvaceous Overwatch character was significantly skinnier in her new skins than she had been in previous iterations.  Blizzard has already come out and said that that it was a bug and unintended and would be fixed in an upcoming patch. But of course that hasn’t stopped people from both sides of the proverbial fence from jumping up and down from how could Blizzard do this, to Blizzard is caving to the special snowflakes.

Continue reading “Does Skinny Mei Matter?”

My Perrenial Problems with WoW

The New Stormwind

Have you ever tried to go back and re-read the original Dragonlance Chronicles?  It’s rough.  I loved them when I first read them in middle school. They weren’t the first fantasy novels I had read (that honor goes to Magician: Apprentice), but they became part of my hook into the genre. This year, I went back and re-read them during a lull in the book release schedule.

Continue reading “My Perrenial Problems with WoW”

Accessibility in MMOs – Part 3

 

So, I received a few comments on Part 1 and Part 2 that I was being entitled, elitist, pretty much a general asshole–all these things that I really wasn’t intending and definitely don’t think of myself as being when I was trying to talk about Accessibility in MMOs. My bad. So I decided to write a 3 part to this series to hopefully clear up some of the concepts that I didn’t do a good job of communicating the first time. Continue reading “Accessibility in MMOs – Part 3”

Accessibility in MMOs – Part 2

Lich King
From Joystiq

Update 4/1/2013: So, it sounds like I might not have correctly conveyed me intent with this second half of the piece.  I’ll write a follow up that will hopefully clarify my thoughts, and make me look like less an elitist bastard.

This is Part 2 of a 2 Part series on Accessibility in MMOs – read Part One here.

What WoW attempted to do to offset the accessibility swathe was to  create different tiers of difficulty for gamers corresponding to how much effort they put into the game.  For the top tier there was Hard mode raiding, middle tier was regular raiding, middle lower tier was heroic dungeons (generally speaking, of course).  But this tiered approach misses the mark in that it still assumes the lowest common denominator.  You have to turn on the heroics in the dungeons, or the hard modes in the raids.  The core game play is still geared towards the player wants the lowest common denominator.  You have to essentially *ask* for things to be harder. Continue reading “Accessibility in MMOs – Part 2”

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 

The Diminishing of World of Warcraft

This post has been brewing in the back of my mind for quite a while now.  I want to start by saying that World of Warcraft is not now, nor has it ever been a bad game.  In fact, it’s one of the best games ever made and it’s ongoing influence in the MMO space cannot be discounted.  The WoW-model of design for MMOs is still very much in effect today as it was when WoW was first launched.  However, I think that WoW as it is has been diminished from what it was.  The game is still epic, but it’s just not “as epic” as it was.

So let me start by talking about my history in the game.  I started to play World of Warcraft right before the launch of The Burning Crusade.  I played, stereotypically, a hunter–that I only got to level 20–keeping in mind that at that point, level 20 was a decent portion into the game.  When TBC came out, I rolled a Blood Elf Rogue, and that’s been my main ever since.  I loved the rogue class (coming from a Ranger in Neverwinter Nights), and I really enjoyed being a stabby character.  I feel in love with the lore of the Blood Elves, so much that I have the Blood Elf crest tattooed on my side (easily, the most painful place).

Even still, I played the game off and on for months.  I didn’t have a guild so playing the game was always a little bit … well, boring.  I did a few server transfers and landed on a server and found a guild towards the end of TBC that I stayed with all through Cataclysm.  For me, Wrath of the Lich King was my WoW hayday.  Not because of gameplay changes, but because of the guild that I played with was a ton of fun, we got along great.  We weren’t even close to the best guild in game, but we had fun and that was all that mattered.

Towards the end of Wrath, the guild exploded, splintering off in different directions.  I continued to play regularly again more of a “free agent” than an actual guild member, but without access to raids to get gear, I was repeatedly kicked from PUGs in the dungeon finder for not having enough DPS (even though I needed gear from the dungeon).  This wasn’t just a once or twice thing, but when I would try to play, in a run of 4-5 heroics, I would be kicked from 3-4 for being ungeared and they didn’t want to “carry” anyone.  Its not that I didn’t know how to play my class — I did.  I was always effective as a rogue.  Most of the time I was kicked based entirely on GearScore–nothing else.

Eventually, after meeting my partner and having a few WoW dates, we both eventually moved away from WoW and onto other games, but we keep active subscriptions, and keep coming back.  And finding it disappointing again, and moving on again.  This brings me to what I consider to be the diminishing of WoW: the inclusion of GearScore into the game proper, and allowing faction transfers.

I think that GearScore is likely the worst thing to happen to a game.  It attempts boil a player down to a discrete number, which when correlated to other numbers such as DPS, comes up with entirely new ways of discrimination. The actual skill of the player is irrelevant — the only thing that matters is your GearScore.  To a lesser degree, if your GearScore is appropriate but you aren’t hitting some arbitrary number that someone has decided you should be at in DPS, HPS, etc, you are judged by that too.

Now, if this were just the realm of the elite, it wouldn’t be a problem for me.  It should only apply to those who are trying to clear the highest, toughest tier of content, the min-maxers.  But it doesn’t.  Players in WoW apply this to every aspect of gameplay now.  Something as simple as running dungeons can now be denied to me if I don’t have what some consider to be appropriate gear.  Even if the gear I need to get better is in that dungeon.  Worse, Blizzard actually incorporated this singular number as their gating mechanism.  There’s something fundamentally wrong with making the summation of a player a single number, which intended or not determines whether someone can play the game.

The second is faction transfers.  The inspiration for this one came when I was recently at an amusement park and saw someone with a Horde tattoo.  I’m a stalwart Horde player (hence the belf tattoo).  So naturally I got excited and pointed it out to my partner who replied with, “Like that matters anymore … no one cares about Horde or Alliance anymore.”  Allowing faction transfers for existing characters I think undermined a fundamental core mechanic of the game, which has always been about the conflict between the Horde and the Alliance.  In the MMO space, it’s a fairly unique dynamic. When you think, there are still not many games that build this faction conflict into the story quite like WoW.

I was (and still am, even if it’s a meaningless distinction now) part of the Horde.  I was vested in the Horde and really enjoyed playing in it.  I had never rolled an alliance character above level 5.  I never wanted to play Alliance, I disliked Alliance.  But once faction change went live, and my guild imploded, I did what I thought I would never do — I faction changed to Alliance to play with other friends.  I learned my way around Stormwind.  I tried to play for a while, my Worgen Rogue scampering about.  But for me, it just wasn’t the same.  A few months later I transferred back to my blood elf rogue.

But I think the damage was already done.  My choice to choose Alliance or Horde was already meaningless.    By being able to move back and forth between factions with no repercussions at all (outside of my wallet…I don’t consider those “game” repercussions), I made my choice to pick a faction utterly void.  It didn’t matter anymore.  It still doesn’t matter.  Ultimately, I think that this is the greatest diminishing of WoW — the game has become one meaningless choice after another.  If I don’t like a choice, I pay money–things change.  My spec is meaningless now.  I lack any real choice in anything that matters — I have choices of utility left in the game, but even those are meaningless.  I have no consequences in game for re-speccing, faction changing–anything.  A choice without consequences is at it’s heart, not a choice.  A choice must have consequences or it’s utterly meaningless.

While this happens all the time in WoW, for me the faction change is the choice that diminished the game the most for me.  My choice to be Horde is meaningless because there are no repercussions to changing to Alliance.  I think in a larger sense, the lack of consequences for my choices is what has made WoW less than what it was.

Like I said, I don’t think WoW is a bad game, or that it’s dying.  I don’t think any of those things, but I do think it’s been diminished from what it was through the implementation and tacit acceptance of GearScore and the gradual removal of all consequences for any choice you make in the game.  Literally, nothing in the game at this point has any consequences anymore.  And a game without meaningful, consequential choices isn’t much of a game for me.

The World Really Is Ending – No BlizzCon 2012.

Well, big news from our favorite developer here–reported by IndustryGamers, Blizzard will not be hosting a BlizzCon this year, and instead will be hosting a Battle.net eSporting Championship in Asia. 

I can’t help but feel a little bit betrayed by this.  Sure, there’s tons of money to be made in Asia, but what about some love for the states, which we clearly don’t have.  Even though I’ve never been to a BlizzCon, I’m pretty upset about this.  This shows a pretty big shift in focus that Blizzard/Activision (yeah, we can’t leave them out of this) is willing to shut down arguably one of the biggest events in gaming each year to instead focus on an event in a country that a signficant of people who would have attended BlizzCon can’t get to. 

In light of recent departures on the Diablo 3 team, the reworking of coresystems after 5 years in development, and the lack of a release date, the future of Diablo 3 is pretty unclear in my mind.  Combined with a shifted focus to Asia markets and what gamers will undoubtedly translate as a slap in the face with the cancellation of BlizzCon, I can’t help but think, What are they thinking? 

There’s no way this can seem like a good idea in my mind.  So much uncertainty surrouding key franchises, and they choose to just ignore it and go play in Asia for a while. 

Ouch Blue, Ouch. 

Why I left WoW, and Why I Keep Coming Back

Well, Blizzard made quite a splash at BlizzCon 2011 … again.  They’ve opened up the flood gates of the QQ by going back on saying they would never have the Pandarens be in game–they were just a fun Easter Egg.  A spoof.  But, looks like it’s here, and if my guesses are worth anything, I’m going to utterly postulate a Q2 2012 release.  There’s a lot of rage on the interwebs about WoW, which I mean seriously NEVER happens.  With all the people threatening to leave the game, or leaving the game, or claiming that Blizzard is desperate for subscribers (which, it’s not … ), I started to wonder why exactly I left the game, and what it is that keeps me coming back – because I do.  Every few weeks, I resub, or log back in and try the game again.

I started playing WoW right before the release of Burning Crusade.  I floundered around in game as my lowly rogue, and solo’d content all the way up to mid-40s before failing to be engaged in the game, I wandered off elsewhere.  Fast Forward 6months of basically not playing and I restarted (for reasons beyond me) found a great guild that hooked me for the next several years.  Here was my hook – the people made the game.  In fact, the game actually served as my social life for quite a while, and I was OK with that — I was a pretty transitional period in my life, and that was what I needed.

But then, as all good things must, towards the end of Wrath, my guild started to flounder, and eventually die.  While the guild itself exists, it’s pretty much non-existent in terms of people in it.  The people that drew me to the game wandered away, separated … I still keep in touch with a lot of them outside of WoW, but the game itself lots it’s appeal when the group dispersed.

I’ve found it particularly challenging to re-integrate myself into the game.  I find it pretty inaccessible to me to find a new guild, a new group of people to play the game with.  WoW for me, was never about the mechanics or winning or downing the boss, it was about doing things with friends.  Things that often involved math and pretty pixels. But regardless, it worked – who cares?  I wasn’t the best, we weren’t the best, we didn’t care to be the best.

Despite trying other games, WoW is something special to me.  I started my MMO life in Anarchy Online and loved it–one of my best gaming friends I met in AO, and we still talk at least once a week.  But when I left Anarchy Online, it felt like time to leave.  I didn’t have that with WoW.  Maybe I’m missing closure, or something … I dunno.  Every few weeks I log back in and see if it’s different.  Thus far, it hasn’t been.

I’ve tried to come back to WoW.  I really want to find the “magic” in the game that I had before, but I haven’t been able to.  To be fair, as much as I love MMOs, no MMO has been able to give that to me.  It’s not that I’m trying to find the “perfect fit” like I did the first time, but rather, I don’t find a fit at all.  I’ve joined guilds and would for a while and log in and lurk.  But I never found the drive, I never build any relationships that kept me coming back.

It comes as some what of shock to me to realize that I want a game to have meaningful relationships in it–and that having meaningful relationships over games (or using games as the medium to enable those relationships) is important to me.  Somehow, I feel like I’ve been conditioned that these relationships shouldn’t be important to me — that I shouldn’t strive for them.  But I do.  The relationships I built with people during my time in WoW are important to me.  It’s with some irony that I realize that the lack of relationships is why I left (leave?) WoW, and it’s the relationships that I found that I keep coming back, hoping to find that place again.