This coming Fall season is going to be a busy and exciting time for both Blizzard and the many players who still inhabit the developer’s venerable MMO World of Warcraft. November will mark the game’s ten-year anniversary and in addition to all of the ten-year milestone celebrations, Blizzard is also getting ready to unleash the game’s next major expansion: Warlords of Draenor. Players who purchase Warlords of Draenor will be able to travel through time to a pre-Burning Crusade version of the planet Draenor and establish their own personal garrisons as they work their way up to the new level cap of 100. There’s no doubt that Warlords of Draenor will bring many exciting new features when it initially launches, but what should Blizzard be focusing on further down the road?
The Power of Choice
Players working their way up the leveling path in World of Warcraft have a bevy of different activities they can access to help round out their leveling escapades. Leveling up a character is done mainly via PvE quests and occasional group-focused dungeons with side activities such as instanced PvP battlegrounds and gathering/crafting professions helping to round out the leveling curve. However, once a player reaches the level cap, their choices of what to do next become much narrower and often only appeal to a small part of the game’s overall community. While max-level players can still technically go out and do quests or work on their crafting professions, any sort of meaningful max-level progression can only be gained through raiding or PvP.
At first glance, this wouldn’t seem like such a bad thing; max-level players who want to dive into competitive gameplay can do PvP content while those looking for a more cooperative PvE challenge can go do raids. The problem lies in how high a barrier of entry both of these max-level activities have. Those who want to raid must first slog through monotonous daily quests and other grind-based activities so they can get good enough gear in order to pass a raid’s gear threshold while PvP players must suffer through a similar grind, albeit one in which they get mercilessly slaughtered by opponents in superior gear so they can in turn amass enough PvP currency to purchase the gear themselves and perpetuate the cycle.
To me this is a two-fold problem: not everyone who reaches max-level wants to raid or PvP and not everyone who wants to raid or PvP wants to suffer through hours of grind just to get their foot in the door. Blizzard could work to address both these issues in Warlords of Draenor by making other max-level activities (crafting, non-heroic dungeons, scenarios, questing) more appealing via tangible rewards that could in turn help players more easily break into raiding and PvP if they so chose. Blizzard has long tried to keep World of Warcraft’s PvE and PvP elements segregated much to the detriment of both activities. Perhaps it’s time for the two to form a more harmonious relationship that benefits max-level players of all preferences and play-styles.
Meaningful Story Contributions for Players
It wasn’t until I started reading some of the many novels set within the World of Warcraft universe that I realized just how much of a disconnect there is between the stories presented in the books and the lore players get to witness first-hand while playing the game. As much as Blizzard likes to tout that fact that World of Warcraft allows players to craft their own heroes and help fight back against the many threats invading Azeroth, it’s hard to feel heroic when you spend so much time gathering ten spider legs for one NPC and thirty crocolisk eyes for another. Locking away all the meaty story content behind max-level raiding doesn’t do more casual players any favors either.
Again this seems to be a two-fold problem; players want to feel heroic even during the low levels of character advancement and max-level players want to experience an expansion’s conclusion without having to jump through all the pre-raiding and raiding hurtles that separate them from that conclusion. Now I’m not suggesting that Blizzard should go back and completely redo the entire game’s questing system, but certain tweaks and additions could go a long way towards correcting both problems: Maybe introduce personalized instanced PvE scenarios that players can undertake either by themselves or with a small group at certain level milestones (level 10, 20, 30, etc.) that have them assisting in major battles or other events that are connected with the game’s lore. These repeatable solo scenarios could not only serve as a fun alternative for leveling characters, they could also offer max-level players a chance to experience the game’s major lore events first-hand without having to partake in raiding.
Dynamic Social Content
Taking a cue from other MMOs such as Rift and Guild Wars 2, Blizzard should make a concentrated effort to make World of Warcraft players feel like they’re part of a world teeming with fellow adventurers instead of just wandering through large outdoor zones by their lonesome selves. However, implementing such group-oriented activities should be done in a non-intrusive manner since nothing kills a solo-focused player’s interest more quickly than having to slog through mandatory group-focused content. While Blizzard has experimented with structured open-world PvP in the past (Wintergrasp, Tol Barad), I think it’s time such efforts were expanded to include PvE content as well.
Guild Wars 2 and Rift have already shown that dynamic open-world events can be a great way to not only help players progress their characters, they can also help draw players to each other as they band together to complete a common goal. If Blizzard was feeling especially bold, perhaps dynamic open-world PvP events could be introduced as well, allowing players both old and new to feel what it was like to partake in the often spontaneous PvP battles that would spring up around Southshore and Tarren Mill back in World of Warcraft’s heyday. Many players have bemoaned World of Warcraft’s increased focus on instanced content over the years; perhaps with the coming of Warlords of Draenor, Blizzard can start working to turn that problem into a solution.
A Decade of New Beginnings in Warlords of Draenor
Despite all the naysayers and critics out there, it cannot be denied that World of Warcraft has held its position as one of the biggest and most influential MMO’s for ten years running now and Blizzard has proved with Warlords of Draenor that it doesn’t plan on slowing down any time soon. Naturally the game’s subscription numbers have ebbed and flowed, sometimes drastically, during that ten-year period but the coming of Warlords of Draenor will no-doubt bring in a healthy number of both new and returning players as all of the game’s past expansions have done. If Blizzard wants to retain those numbers however, it’s going to have to work harder than ever to keep World of Warcraft relevant. The above suggestions might not make every returning player happy, but they could go a long way towards keeping World of Warcraft on top for at least a few more years.
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