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.
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.