Okay, so, the preamble is pretty simple.
World of Warcraft: Mists of Pandaria has managed to shed nigh-on a fifth of its subscribers from its launch high point.
As is usual with news of this type, everyone has an opinion on it, and I feel the need to share mine. First things first, however, let’s try and keep the usual crowd satisfied by putting a few things out there first. Namely, the simple fact that the game has been in decline since early Cataclysm, and it may be nothing at all to do with the quality of the game itself.
- We have a more heavily populated MMORPG market.
- There’s stagnation amongst the MMORPG design studios.
- World of Warcraft is pushing a decade and many believe it’s looking dated.
- Many players have played for years and naturally moved on.
- The game remains the most heavily subscribed MMORPG by a mile.
Hopefully, that little set of caveats will keep the usual screamers at bay. The next list is my viewpoints on some of the criticisms (and praises) I’ve seen of the current expansion, and they inform my overall conclusion.
THESE POINTS ARE PURELY MY OPINION, AND ARE OPEN FOR DEBATE.
- There’s never been more to do in the game than there is now.
- Normal raiding is too punitive, and LFR simply isn’t a substitute.
- The community, even within guilds, has taken a significant hit.
- CRZ’s did nothing to ease the legitimate problems with low-pop servers.
- The talent/glyph redesign has caused significant homogenization.
With all of that said, I find the press release blaming a “lack of engagement from casual players” to be absolutely staggering. I literally don’t see how the loss can be attributed to such a thing when all of the evidence seems to point to the contrary. Levelling is as quick and easy as it’s ever been, there are far more types of content than ever before, and the level of entry is sufficiently easy for all but the most difficult of people. As an additional side to this, any criticism of the Blizzard work ethic on MoP will be laughed off for the sheer silliness that it is; the developers have worked extremely hard on this expansion.
I also want to desperately avoid comparisons to the past, as such comparisons are a minefield for those with an axe to grind.
So what’s gone wrong?
For me, the blame lies with the raiding model that has almost single-handedly crushed casual progression guilds. I’m on record as saying that LFR was born out of a necessity from Cataclysm, a necessity that made normal mode raiding brutally punishing on normal guilds. That hangover has continued into MoP where more casual players were promised easier content to welcome them in, but have been treated to laughingly simple five-man heroics that lead to extraordinarily punitive raids. I fear for the game if this continues.
Prior to Cataclysm, casual players could progress nicely in small groups of their friends. Stronger players could carry weaker players, things like VOIP programs weren’t required, and the content didn’t patronize those who were unable to do it for whatever reason. Even as far back as The Burning Crusade, Karazhan was a mechanically simple instance that players could work through at a leisurely pace and progress their characters. The advent of a 10-man version of every raid in WotLK took this premise even further, again allowing small communities of chums to get together and play some content.
This is now practically impossible.
Much of the debate around dailies in 5.0 centred around the “hardcore” feeling like such things were mandatory. That’s because a specific Blizzard employee, Draztal, forced the debate in that direction. Where the debate didn’t look was how difficult raiding content was affecting the more casual raiding guilds that were left behind after Arthas. After hitting the level cap and gearing through easy heroic dungeons, many of these guilds were hitting a brick wall on the very first boss of the tier. The only way to get over this was to farm valor points or LFR, with the former requiring a reputation grind and the latter requiring a healthy dose of luck with no redundancy for dry spots.
In short, the grind of 5.0 hit the smaller, more casual communities that wanted to raid harder than it hit anyone else.
The second issue I have is one that has little to do with gear; it’s to do with player skill. Now, it can easily be argued that players should just get better, but surely it should also be the choice of a guild leader to carry a weaker player or two because they’re great guild mates and fun for everyone to play with. This has become nigh-on impossible because the normal raiding scene is flooded with bosses that have tight enrages or individual mechanics that can cause a single player to wipe an entire raid. Even if you can get players to learn some of the more basic mechanics, they’re still going to have to put in a lot of effort outside of the game to increase their DPS, healing or encounter knowledge to a point where they won’t be a burden.
I honestly dread to think how many guilds have been obliterated by this approach.
Now, what’s making this problem worse, is its knock-on effect. By this I mean, where is the new talent that better guilds need supposed to come from? Mike Preach was recently talking about the dearth of tanks, but when the time and performance requirements for a normal guild with normal progression get jacked up to the point they’re at now, people tend to simply fall by the wayside and find other things to do that aren’t so demanding. This then leaves server-competitive guilds with no pool to draw on, practically cutting the throat of the recruitment churn.
LFR was designed, in my eyes, with the express intent of allowing those who couldn’t meet raiding schedules the opportunity to see content. It’s now morphed into the sole catch-up mechanic for the game, as well as the sole way for casual players to develop their characters. When so called casual players are treated to a 25-man ghetto of impatience, elitism and inability, it’s little wonder they want next to no part in it when all they get for their efforts is countless bags of gold.
Here’s a tip: casual players want to develop their characters, too.
At this point in 5.2, you have a single way of doing that. LFR. The only other option is to put in the time required to be a normal-mode or heroic raider, a door not open to casual players. In Blizzard’s rush to get out more forms of content and more ways to play the game, they forgot about those who like developing their characters.
And don’t get me started on the dismantling of “alting”. I raid three times a week, I’m relatively successful, yet I’m still only well geared on a single spec of a single class. The amount of time I’d have to put into getting an alt ready for this patch, not to mention the drop in ability I’d have to account for somehow, almost makes me weep.
This has got to change.
I don’t want this thread to become a whinefest of Blizzard hate, nor do I want the fanboys out in force. Nobody can argue that Blizzard haven’t put a ton of effort into MoP and keep a straight face. But the game is on the wane, and the very communities that are the lifeblood of servers are the ones that are being inadvertently hammered by some of these design choices.
Having said all that, I move on to my usual finishing line for these essays.
What do YOU think?
[Edit: 16th of May]
It seems Blizzard agrees, with Ion Hazzikostas commenting thus:
Originally Posted by Blizzard Entertainment