Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Quality Content Control

I remember reading an article by a former GM who described the amount of WoW douchebaggery rising significantly when players get bored of the content and instead of playing "the game," they decide to mess with people instead. Generally, this was a problem in the months before a new expansion. Yet here we are, early in Cata, and the problem is clearly going out of control again now.
 - Me, in February

World of Warcraft's subscriber base has reached pre-Cataclysm levels, according to Mike Morhaime, CEO of Blizzard Entertainment. He then later stated an actual number, with subscriptions at the end of March clocking in at right around 11.4 million.

That's down by about 5% from the announced 12 million mark late last year. Interestingly enough, that was right before Cataclysm released. In fact, it's actually lower than the milestone reached in 2008 with the release of Wrath of the Lich King.

Another point, Mr. Morhaime touched on as well is that World of Warcraft's subscriber base does not change linearly. It fluctuates based on content consumption, which players seem to be doing a whole lot of -- at a more rapid pace -- with Cataclysm. "Subscriber levels have decreased faster than previous expansions," he said.
-, early May
This is not going to be a very positive post. Let's just put that at the top here.

Patch 4.2 is percolating on the PTR now, and is probably only a few weeks from release at this point. I am thoroughly not excited anymore. Besides another stir of the pot that is "balance issues." Blizzard is giving us sort of half-a-tier of raid content and a bunch of daily quests. They are giving us more features (the "Dungeon Journal") that are really only intended to replace third-party features that were working pretty well without Blizzard's help.

But enough about that. The bigger issue I have been stewing on for a while is the lousy amount and the quality of the actual content this expansion. The content is inadequate. Here's why:

The Three R's
There is not as much content being offered to players as there was in the past.  For example, Lich King gave us eight new zones. In Cataclysm, we got five.  Blizzard says, "Yeah! But they are really big zones!" and this is true, but there are at least three design themes less than before. It's not the size of the zones that is so important, it's the variety, and there is less variety.

We only leveled five steps to the new level cap instead of ten.  Blizzard again shakes us off, saying that there was no sacrifice in player power. I agree (as I walk around with 106k health unbuffed, it's hard to argue otherwise), but this still reduced the choices I could make while leveling. It also made leveling to the new cap really really really short. It compressed the time that it takes me to move alts as well and since alts really don't participate in endgame, I'm already pretty much done with them, a mere seven months into the expansion.

There are fewer useful dungeons to run at the level cap than ever before. Blizzard tried to stretch this by drawing out the gearing process, but this just feels tedious. Who really wants to run normal Halls of Origination to pick up the normal version of the gear you really want with the heroic stats. It's the same gear, just with mediocre stats.  This is not exactly new, but providing a "heroic" version of a dungeon is not substitute for new material. Making players run through normal then heroic as a means of "gearing up" is just stretching limited content.

Patch 4.2 is going to offer a paltry seven raid bosses, which is about as bad as the reviled Crusader's Coliseum Tier 9 level of content.  Originally, there was to be a second Tier 12 raid alongside the Firelands down in the Abyssmal Maw, but they just ... cancelled it, saying that they were more excited about the fiery gear elements they were making and that they "weren't excited" about the undersea story.

It took them five months after the release of Lich King to produce 14 bosses in Ulduar, and now the best they can produce is seven bosses, approximately seven months after release. Not good.

All around last year's Blizzcon were all these statements of mission about producing more content, faster, with raid and five-man dungeons each major patch. What happened? Blizzard needs to be critiquing itself right now and realizing that they have failed in that goal.

Shall we count out the number of raid bosses back from the dead?  Onyxia lives. Nefarian lives. Ragnaros is sprouting some legs.  Every damn one of them is probably shouting, "My Lair was merely a setback!" "The Molten Core was merely a setback!" I expect to see Baron Geddon in the Firelands raid shouting "That hillock on the side of Mt. Hyjal was merely a setback!"

Instead of new content in patch 4.1, we got entirely reused content instead: the two Zuls.

Zul Aman is almost exactly the same instance it was before. Blizzard points out that there is a new end boss! I'll point out that the new boss does the same fight mechanics as the old boss! Zul Gurub has been re-populated but in both instances, the scenery has not changed and even the gear is all the same models from the original content. Thus, Merinna refits all her gear with vintage troll gear, most of which she wore at one point or another in expansions past.

The Level 85 heroic dungeons were bolstered by new "heroic" versions of Shadowfang Keep and The Deadmines. Honestly, these have been interesting for the nostalgia factor, but "nostalgia" must not be mistaken for "fun."  Nor should it be mistaken for new content.  How long til there is heroic Gnomeregan? And think carefully when I ask this: Do you really really want to go to heroic Gnomeregan??

The ultimate thrust of this expansion has been the reshaping of the old world.

It's pretty and all, but try leveling an alt and you go so fast that you'll not really see around 40% of the new content in any particular zone.  There are some good stories written in here and it's kind of frustrating when your character outgrows the story before it's done and you have to make a choice to push on or else to kind of lurk out in low-level content.

I wish I had perceived this earlier on, but it feels like a lot of wasted development.  I've put two alts through the old world, and they never needed to venture off one continent or the other. In fact, the one I leveled in Kalimdor still has never had any need to visit Desolace, Feralas, Thousand Needles or, the North Barrens or Silithus.  There are a lot of players who are probably very happy about not having to travel all over world, but really... it's a loss. Blizzard put thousands of man-hours into this work but reduced the playing framework that enables us to experience it. There's not more here. There's less.

Lousy Gamers
I have to think hard about that explanation that was offered by that ex-GM regarding player attitudes to the game when they get bored with the content.  The past months have been absolutely awful for random PuGs.

For example, last night, Meri went to do a random heroic and landed in Deadmines. The group cleaned up the trash, and efficiently killed the first boss. And as the tank pulled the next bunch, the healer quit group, the tank died, he left group. The other two dps in the group got killed and all left too. Even if you are "bored" with the content why show up at all to a random PuG if you are just going to leave like that?

I have completely given up on doing Zandalari dungeons because you can't enter those places without losing three and a half hours of your life while the other players zone in, stare a boss for about a minute and then leave again. Or who suffer a single wipe and /quit. Well-geared characters try to fight the place ignoring the fight mechanics and wipe everybody. New players don't know what's going on and tanks just pull before even the basics of the fights can be explained. I swear, in these two Zuls, every stupid thing that can be done wrong is being done wrong most of the time.  I still haven't finished Zul'Gurub because no group can ever last that long.

And just daily, no matter what you run, there are the players who just snipe at each other continuously. They come in making posturing remarks, tell everybody how much dps they can do on their main. And try to tell everybody how to play, in the rudest, and crudest way imaginable.

I know the solution to this is to stop pugging and run with my guild. But, for real-life reasons, that's not possible right now.  Quite honestly, as much as I still really like WoW, I think it might be better to just stop before I'm completely soured on it by all the douchebags I meet every single time I log into the game.

Check any set of WoW forums and you'll find other messages just like this one, and the general response (and the one I expect to anybody brave enough to post here) is "Deal with it. There is no changing human nature." But that's the point: A few years ago, we didn't have this atmosphere in WoW. Human Nature didn't become worse, but something did. Apparently, it was the game.

1 comment:

  1. Honestly, the amount of Initial content has decreased, that much is obvious... but I think the real problem fuelling the absolute post apocalyptic state of LFG is that the player base was Made lazy by the last expansion. I mean, sure the 3 instances release with ICC proved a little trying for the first 3-4 weeks, and hell I still wiped in Halls of Reflection from time to time after that, but they made it way way too easy to acquire 'Loots' in that patch, and constantly nerfing the content during that time made it even more Noob friendly.
    I'm sure that it's more that the Player Base very generally became lazier. It's sad, and I hate seeing, being involved in, and to an extent contributing to, these factors myself, But until Blizzard change their paradime of "crap, the little kids are finding this trying, lets nerf the hell out of it" I can't see it changing, which is sad...

    Blizzard have basically moved the game back to the BC play style instantaneously, instead of making it a gradual move so that the people who started in Wrath's so called "Faceroll" content don't have a conniption over the increased need for Skill over Zerg.

    Personally I like the current content, it's challenging for even the most experienced and skilled of players, without demanding the amount of time involved in laborious and boring tasks as in BC, while still correcting the issues at the end of Wrath (for the mosts part, excluding Dungeon/Raid size). It's just a pity that their are people still looking for that Zerg Run of everything.

    I really think Blizzard need to create some 21yrs and over servers that require an ID check :)