This week, I had fully intended to present a searing treatise on what exactly is wrong with Warcraft and how in my infinite wisdom as a decade-long player of said game I would go about fixing it. Except, about six hundred words in, I came to a conclusion so staggering I actually had to go and make a cup of hot, sweet tea to deal with the shock. You see, it occurred to me in a moment of unexpected clarity, that nothing is wrong with Warcraft at all. So what that it lost three million subscribers in what seemed like a matter of weeks? All those people very publicly and noisily cancelling their subscriptions on social media because there’s no more flying in current content? These kind of public flounces were ten a penny back in Vanilla, you just didn’t have the luxury of Facebook and Twitter around to announce your departure so were forced to do so on the Forums instead.
In fact, Warcraft’s doing exactly what it should be right now, which is allowing a long-standing static population to Raid with very little negative impact on anyone. [*]
All the noise and fuss that’s been generated in sections of the community is just that: for the long-term ‘sitting subscribers’, everything in their garden is actually pretty damn rosy. They’ve got their play time all paid up with Gold, they’re still raiding with friends, and they understand from a decade of experience that the smart player always stays one step ahead of this game, and that means remaining tied to the title long-term is what works best. Fortunately for them, Blizzard’s provided a slew of alternatives for them when Warcraft won’t cut it: Hearthstone, Heroes of the Storm and Diablo are all now accompaniments to the MMO and provide a familiar and reassuring environment in which players can escape to let off steam. Those titles are now being far more aggressively monetised than at any point in the Company’s history, and what that says to me is that Blizzard finally decided that the players who’d like to give them extra cash should be allowed every possible opportunity to do just that.
Remember Warcraft’s still a subscription-based model: there’s clearly no desire to remove any options for those who wish to pay for their time using real world currency. In fact, 6.2 has code embedded within it which will presumably allow at some point after launch a new selection of in-game services to be accessed directly from the UI, seeming to indicate that more will be made of being able to use Tokens for those who have gold to spare. Those who are behind the curve and could use some financial assistance can still buy their gold from the company if they desire, and when the Level 100 boost inevitably appears (and it will, of that I don’t think there is any doubt) there’ll be one more way to monetise the equation. Except, there are many who feel that all of this is largely irrelevant if the game cannot provide them with new content to occupy their time when they’re not raiding.
The reality of this however is that many more people simply don’t care. All they turn up for is the Raiding, and if that happens on a weekly basis? They’ll simply make their own entertainment away from those high-stress moments regardless. Their ‘community’ thrives and exists in many places outside of Guilds via social media, and the traditional ‘home’ that used to exist for so many on single servers is often nothing but a distant memory. The various complaints on content seem to emanate from those for whom the casual aspect is more significant than the game-play Blizzard knows have only ever appealed to the more committed and organised sectors of the player base. In fact, if you compare what there is to do now away from those ‘organised’ activities? There’s actually far more content than ever before.
I did this screenshot compare and contrast for my own Blog, and the differences are stark. In six years, the amount of casual content has ballooned massively, from Pet Battles to Garrisons and all points in between. There’s now more custom built distraction in Draenor than you’d find in a comparable period elsewhere, with the added bonus of all that Legacy gubbins that remains from the raft of previous adventures. Even if Blizzard don’t provide support and updates for the past as it remains, the allure of what is left within it is very much alive and well. The key to what qualifies as playable material then is wrapped up with the understanding that a motivated player will always be able to find something to occupy themselves, regardless of what is actually is being sold as current content by the company. Because actually, the framework of the game is often more than enough for someone to use as the basis of entertainment for themselves, independent of what is officially sanctioned.
You only need to look at the concept of the WOW Ironman Challenge to understand how this plays out in reality: level from 1-100 in only the most basic gear and under a selection of stringent external constraints. If your character dies, Game Over, and you have to reroll from scratch. This concept has nothing to do with anything Blizzard are offering, except making judicious use of the in game API system to record and report people’s efforts. There are roleplayers in Azeroth who have everything they need to make their games as rich and fulfilling without ever requiring a stitch of new content to support it, including the desire to even reach max level. The argument that there’s no content to keep people occupied is actually the biggest of jokes, when you stand back and count what’s on offer when 6.2 finally launches: the new dungeon difficulty, a raft of weekend events, a sea-based Garrison Mini game plus the complete new Zone of Tanaan Jungle with gear and rewards… even before you look at Hellfire Citadel. And yet, the biggest point of contention in the last month has had nothing to do with any of this, and revolves around the fact that players can’t get from A to B under their own steam as fast as possible.
Because suddenly flying has become the reason for some why Garrisons have trapped people within them. You can’t go and hunt Rares from the air any more, or cheese all those Achievements like you did in Pandaria by simply swooping down and then making your escape. There’s no taking to the skies and gathering quickly, or avoiding all those nasty mobs so you can level in half the time. A single design decision appears to have negated everything Blizzard have done for those who feel the removal of a basic freedom matters more than simply shrugging their shoulders and just doing the work on the ground, because their own notion of independence has been summarily curtailed. All the content, years of work and effort from the Company has been effectively been reduced to an extended argument over transport.
Except, that’s not what’s wrong with this game. Remember, there is no problem if you speak to the people still grinding their way through raiding who never cared about playing Warcraft outside of that criteria to begin with, except when forced to at an Expansion’s launch. Those who believe that giving them flying back will solve everything in a stroke are missing a key point: it won’t make their problems go away. Because the genuine issues have become so subjective and fragmented over a decade that I doubt Blizzard will ever make everyone consistently happy ever again. In fact, I’ll guarantee that’s the way they’re looking at the game’s long-term future, and so moving forward is about providing all manner of options and hoping that at least one of these will pique a player’s interest. If they don’t, maybe they’ll be the type who’ll come up with a new way to exploit the API to their advantage. And if all else fails, maybe a nice game of cards or a MOBA will help those difficult types relax after a long day wiping on Mythic trash.
The reality of the current situation is stark: there is no problem. 6.2 has more content than you could shake a Tauran at, but it will never be enough for those who arrive in this game at the start of any patch and have exhausted everything they have been offered by playing 24/7, burning themselves out weeks before anyone else. For them, their activity is now an almost acceptable part of the ‘cycle’ of Warcraft’s patch lifespans. As long as Blizzard can make some money from them somewhere along the line? Does it really matter if the game experience they have is short, sweet and ultimately unsatisfying? I’d say with the way the company now produces its content, they’re really not that fussed how it gets consumed any more, at what speed that happens or if ultimately it leaves players with a sense of satisfaction.
These are Warcraft’s traditional salad days, the heady time to catch up on your Bucket Lists and prepare yourself for what comes next. Fortunately for you, as I write this Blizzard officially announced the end of the latest PvP Season, which probably means we have no more than a fortnight to wait for Tanaan to drop. Make no mistake however: rumours of Warcraft’s demise are very much understated, however much you’d like to state a decade from now it was you that caused the demise of Azeroth…
[*] They know Mythic’s broken, but you’re still raiding it, so… ^^Related: Column, Community, Patch, World of Warcraft, WoW Wednesday