Tobold's Blog
Monday, April 11, 2011
A cataclysmic theory of fun

Everything we do in a game is voluntary. Yes, there are certain goals that you can only reach by jumping through certain hoops; but as reaching those goals is voluntary, you aren't forced to do anything in a MMORPG. You aren't even forced to play, you can quit at any time. Thus whether you play, and what exactly you do in a game is ruled by a simple calculation: Is the fun you expect from an activity worth the effort and the hassle to do it?

Of course both fun and the perception of effort are highly subjective. But given a large enough population, one can nevertheless observe certain trends. Thus in this post I'm going to look at World of Warcraft's Cataclysm expansion with regards to the fun vs. effort calculation.

On the fun side Cataclysm suffers from the law of diminishing returns. Yes, getting rewards and collecting gear is fun; but after over 6 years and in the 3rd expansion most people are collecting their umpteenths set of gear, fully knowing that soon it will be replaced by the next set, making the whole exercise somewhat futile. Furthermore Blizzard tried to stop epic-inflation, and that has a negative psychological effect: Collecting blue gear just isn't as much fun as collecting purple gear, regardless of actual stats.

On the effort side, Blizzard deliberately increased the amount of effort needed to get rewards. There were a lot of good reasons to increase the level of challenge in dungeons and heroics. But the developers underestimated the secondary effects that increasing the challenge level has: Harder dungeons take considerably longer to play through, thus even if the challenge doesn't put you off, the time requirement might. And harder dungeons by definition mean more occurences of failure, and pickup groups are notoriously bad at dealing with failure. As we discussed last week, different roles in a pickup group carry different amounts of responsability, leading to certain roles being more likely to be blamed for failure, whether they actually caused the wipe or not. That considerably adds to the hassle side of the equation.

In summary, Cataclysm offers for many players less fun for more effort and hassle. As a consequence the expansion shows serious signs of fatigue after not even 6 months, less than a quarter of its expected lifetime. World of Warcraft expansion usually have a serious dip in subscriber numbers, interest, and player activity in the summer 20 months after release. Cataclysm very much risks to have that dip a year early. With Rift offering a reasonable alternative for people who want to play that sort of themepark MMORPG, and SWTOR coming out in autumn, World of Warcraft is likely to take a serious hit.

That isn't to say "WoW is dying". Half of World of Warcraft's subscribers are Chinese, and they just got Wrath of the Lich King and haven't even started with Cataclysm yet. And of the American und European players, a large percentage is casual players who never do heroics, thus aren't affected at all by the increased difficulty. While the Cataclysm level 80 to 85 zones have their replayability problems, the one thing Cataclysm did right was renovating the level 1 to 60 part of the game, offering casual and new players a lot of stuff to do. So it is mostly the less casual and veteran players that suffer from less fun for more hassle. But as it is usually that sort of players who also run WoW blogs and talk about WoW on the internet, they create a rather strong negative vibe at the moment. Which can't be good for Blizzard.

In hindsight the increase in difficulty level should have been combined with a decrease in dungeon length. Shorter dungeons counter the secondary effects of increased difficulty of taking too long and causing too much strife due to never reaching the end. But of course that is nearly impossible to fix for the developers now. They could nerf the dungeons and shower everybody with epics, but even that at this point is unlikely to keep everybody happy until the next expansion at the end of 2012. What it would take right now to revive everybody's interest in World of Warcraft is bringing out the next expansion much, much earlier, after one year instead of two; but we all know that Blizzard doesn't work like that.

So Cataclysm is going to be remembered by many as the expansion that was less fun, and more hassle. Not a successful formula, if I might say so.
I think they should just stop working on WoW and focus on Titan. Just my very personal opinion ;)
I agree with the 'effort' part of your equation. However, you seem to have equated 'fun' with 'getting epics' or at the very least 'better loot.'

That's not the motivating factor for me. That's not why I raid or still play Wow, and I'm sure it the same for many other raiders. Loot for me is just a bonus, the real fun is killing new bosses!
I have so much things to do in cataclyms EXACTLY because it's slower paced. I haven't run out of content, there are goals ahead of me. I'm having more fun than in WotLK when I got everything without even trying.

Maybe you should write a flash game, where after pressing ANY button the screen flashes in colors and "You WON", "You are awesome" and such arrives.
I agree, they've gone a little too far with the difficulty on this expansion. It seems that every boss has a couple of different mechanics you need to know or you wipe, which over the 42 bosses means learning a lot of fights before you even use the LFG tool.

The harder bosses of Wrath, even in ICC dungeons, were balanced by fairly simple tank and spank or get out of the bad stuff bosses. When there isn't any contrast, it doesn't feel fun, whether it's too easy or too hard.
I always find it very fun when I wander around on the blogs you mention, which were bashing non-stop WotLK because it was too easy, and now they are whining non-stop because Cataclysm is too hard. Even more ridiculous are the ones claiming that Cataclysm brought less content compared to the other expansions, it almost looks like people count levels ("only 5 levels added") and somehow miss that the entire 1-60 world has been completely redone.

Personally, the only thing I don't like in Cataclysm is that there are some raid bosses which are very lag dependent, with extremely short windows for interrupts/movement/activating stuff. An evening where the network is laggy increases the wipeness a ton (BTW I'm thinking about Maloriak's storm, Nefarian's pillars, Atramedes gong activation).
thanks for this article.I agree 100%.

People cannot make difference between gaming masochism and fun.Someone that suffer from gaming masochism likes the cataclysm and in his eyes this is fun.

Others pretend they don't care about loot and they don't play for loot.. I really wish I could see them to pass their epics to others and keep their blues.

As you said difficulty should be combined with less time consuming.

Because difficult is something a clever can do in 1 minute and a monkey in 1000 years.

A monkey in wow can have better progress by investing huge amount of time, while a clever man that don't have so much time or he is not suffer from gaming masochism he will not progress as much.
Maybe you should write a flash game, where after pressing ANY button the screen flashes in colors and "You WON", "You are awesome" and such arrives.

Gevlon again demonstrating his uncanny ability to completely miss the issue.

And that game already exists and made $250 million for Zynga.
I personally have a hard time relating to this post. As one wow player, I am having a good time in Cataclysm and find it the most entertaining expansion thus far. I don't my see myself burning out soon. But to be fair, I am also a casual player (10-15 hours/week). Maybe I represent the target market now?
This post is exactly right for my situation. Having played this game for 6 years, this is the first time I seriously consider stopping my monthly payments to this game. I have had breaks before, but they turned the direction of the game to much for me this time around.

As someone said in another comment, before you had much more tank and spank. Now you got to know each of the 42 bosses.
I only played WoW briefly, but from what I hear from the outside Tobold has hit the nail pretty squarely on the head.

The only thing I might take issue with is the premise that "fun" is the driver for all, or even most, players. People do an awful lot of things for reasons other than "having fun" and I get the strong impression that playing MMOs is one of those things. Whether Cataclysm will make playing WoW less successful at scratching the various psychological itches other than "having fun" mayhave more of an impact on the subscriber numbers in the long run.
If players are complaining that Cataclysm is too hard, I wonder where are the original 8 million players that played vanilla wow?

Is any of the Cataclysm heroics any harder than Scholo back in the day?

And what should you care about what heroic mode hardcore players say?

If people didn't give a shit what the hardcore raiders thought they sure aren't going to give a shit on what hardcore dungeon crawlers think now, are they? At least that was your stance on vocal minorities back then...

WoW is old... That's why Rift is being successful: it's WoW2004 minus most of the crap back then. In about six months to a year Rift will have sparkle ponies in the gift shop.
Cataclysm was a race to 85.. As a regular player in a regular guild, even progression requires a level of play beyond the reach of the non-passionate player on a two year old computer. I got to level 85 by questing, then had to sit around and wait for the people mix of skilled players to begin the new raiding content. Strategically I would think that any company would aim level of play at the average player and the average guild - not the expert gamers. I think Blizzard designers are all high level players and, as such, created game content for themselves -not the guy on the street. I am now playing Rift and having the time of my life again; not unlike the good old days in Warcraft.
A monkey in wow can have better progress by investing huge amount of time, while a clever man that don't have so much time or he is not suffer from gaming masochism he will not progress as much.

Actually, Blizzard's design is moving more and more away from this. Gear/reputation/money are all trivially easy to acquire, requiring only a minimal investment of time.

Minimal, of course, if you are *good* at playing. The "farm a lifetime for a new shiny" has been kept ingame exactly in order to allow the ones who are not good, but have a lot of time on their hands, to continue advancing at a much slower pace (paying the subscription in the meantime).
Wyrm wrote:
If players are complaining that Cataclysm is too hard, I wonder where are the original 8 million players that played vanilla wow?

The central isue here is pleasant anticipation. Or the anticipation of future fun that is fun in itself; actually it is usually much more fun than the fun that is anticipated.

People usually like the process of gaining somthing much more than the thing itself.

Of course, different player types like different kinds of 'gaining progress'. Some like it more difficult; some like it more casual. A central challenge for the game designer is the management of exspectations. And this is where Blizzard failed with Cataclysm.

People who have no fun at difficult raiding exspect to have fun doing it since Cataclysm. This must fail - and it does. But players will adapt in time; as long as Blizzard doesn't change the game faster than they can adapt!

In the end, the question remains: Why is WoW so homogenized? Why are all dungeons of the same length, why are all battlegrounds of the same length, why are all outside mobs of the same strength ... ...
My interest in WoW will never be re-ignited. Especially after I cancelled my account, removed my credit card information, and Blizzard decided to put the card number of a previous account I had used to "help" me out.

I was on the fence before that happened due to other issues with the game (and this was pre-Cataclysm), but their trying to use my personal info without my premission just sealed my opinion of them as a company.

Because yes, it's a game, but we tend to forget that it's a company behind it.
For me WOTLK brought fun with my friends to Wow. This was the expansion that my guild who arent the best players but were fun and reliable could raid in. We could do a few of the heroics in BC and could raid Kara when they nerfed it just before the expansion. Cata promised so much - I thought we were going to be rewarded with more content we could do and more recognition for being a guild that stuck together. Instead we struggled in Heroics, there were not many ways to gear to make it easier and the replayability of the 80-85 content was awful. The most exciting thing I've heard of is offline guild chat... if only I could do it without a sub.
wow seems to suffer more from the 'law of unexpected consequences' more than other MMOs I've played. Not sure why that is.
"On the effort side, Blizzard deliberately increased the amount of effort needed to get rewards."

Oddly, for the first time ever I became able to watch Youtube while doing dungeons in Cataclysm.

After trying to tank and/or heal for a while I realised the path of least resistance was dps. As dps is a little passive for me I became mildly bored. As I have another PC on the desk not doing anything in particular...

I don't even think I was particularly ineffective. I had the sound on so I could hear if the tank pulled, target his target and mash my macro. Seemed to get the job done.

Never had any problems with other players either. It was the runs where I was paying attention that I ended up getting drawn into arguments. Bit boring though.
Well they might have dip in sub numbers, but frankly all the changes sounds like good ones (I dont play wow so cant judge myself) and are good for long term.

If they fix the community aspect (by improving LFD) I think there could be a wow Renaissance of sorts. Though given the band aid patch of bribing tanks it doesnt look like they are too interested
in doing proper fix right now.

I hope sub dip will happen and will serve as wake up call to make some real improvements
Too bad that game is only about item level. Such a waste.
WoW can have it's Gevlons... It deserves them.
While I agree with Tobold that there is some serious imbalance between required effort and reward (i.e. enjoyment of the game) in Cataclysm to me it will be remembered as expansion in which WoW community disintegrated. Cataclysm did not start the process. The countless arguments around hardcore vs casual, hybrids vs pures, welfare epics, etc were going on before but it looks like this expansion somehow managed to aggravate them to a degree that it started affecting the in-game experience.

To me it wasn't long queues or lack of content and things to do that fit my schedule and abilities that made the game unplayable. It is increasing intolerance and hostility among the players. I don't want to be confined to play with just few close friends. It is supposed to be a virtual world that brings players together into a cohesive community. I expect virtual world to be a dangerous and challenging place because of monsters and other evil creatures lurking out there. Not because of intolerance and hostility.

It is very telling that M&S bashing crowd seem to be on of the most satisfied groups in this expansion. No surprise that Gevlon has not run out of content or things to do. He and others like him are very busy converting masses into their religion or trying to extradicate those they deem too deficient or unworthy of conversion.
I was an avid WoW player for over five years. Cataclysm ended that. Granted there were other factors that played a role as well (having a baby tends to do things like that.) But I certainly could have, and did for a time, kept playing if I wanted to. What Cataclysm did for me was change the ratio of "effort versus reward" to the point where the time I spent playing could no longer be justified.

That tipping point is different for each individual player, but for me, I rapidly found myself logging on and asking the question, "Why am I here?" When I could no longer come up with a satisfactory answer, it was time to cancel my sub.
You hit it on the nail again.

Sure your findings don't apply to everyone but it does apply to a portion of the population.

I've hit 85, geared up for heroics and did heroics. And ... I'm done. Its just not worth the aggravation as a healer. I even played the auction house for a month and went from 30k to 75k.

But raiding was just... 6 years and I'm done. In theroy killing bosses is fun but the prep you have to do before learning strategy and flasks/enchantments etc. Plus guilds used to be places where you meet the same people on a regular basis but as people fall out and new people come in. There's no "comfort" in gathering with strangers.

Also with 10 alts all at 60 or above, I have no interest in exploring the 1-60 game even with new content. Right now Rifts and Sims Medieval is taking up my time. And I'm considering another play through of Dragon Age 2.
Look at it in a different perspectiv.

Struggling alone with strangers is not at all fun. struggling with freinds can be fun.

Maybe it is not so much the dificulty setting but rather the complete lack of server comunity that made cata flop for you.
I agree with everything except the bloggers

1-60 is great and 80-85 is a bit better the first time and much worse by alt #3 or 4; so less time per alt and less fun is fewer alts. And of course the heroics and raids are longer, more twitch. So for more people it is less fun. All you said.

The veteran players who still care enough to comment are disappointed. Did you see the Cataclysm game changer guest post on WoWInsider. That amount of negativity from the subset who care enough to read a fan site does not bode well at all for the game. If any game designer cared about the business, and I don't think they do,it should really trouble them. However, I feel that a lot of the bloggers are from the "l2play; u hello kitty; play flash" crowd (See our most prolific sociopath's comment)


An interesting question is:why did Blizzard do cata this way? I think all your objections were quite predictable prior to release. So did Blizzard not care about subscriber numbers (i.e. spectacularly negligent employees for Bilzzard shareholders)? Or did they somehow believe the epeen (compensating) crowd that the world wanted a less pleasant game? (poor marketing skills)

Could it be that Cata was "fighting the last war?" I.e. Cata might have been a reasonable response to say WarHammer but it seems like the absolute worse competitive offering to a Rift launch. Trion is so lucky that Blizzard chose to self-destruct prior to their launch.

Certainly cata means that Blizzard would be better served to move even more resources from WoW to Titan. Getting cata replaced closer to one year than two would be a big help (unless titan is going to ship in 2012) So bring in a WoW release abd greatly delay/cancel the next one assuming titan can launch in time.
I very much enjoyed the Cataclysm content. But now I am done with the dungeons and don't plan on raiding. I was excited when we heard about the new 5 mans coming in 4.1 a couple months ago, but it is still nowhere in sight. This is where Blizzard can significantly improve: speed of content release. Rift is already on 1.1 and it just came out a month ago. Waiting six months for 2 new dungeons and some balance changes is not good enough any more.
Wyrm said:

"Is any of the Cataclysm heroics any harder than Scholo back in the day?"

Maybe not. But the difference is that at the start of 2011 we have a player base that is conditioned to expect simple dungeon runs. Those are the players that Blizzard sought out, that's the mentality they cultured.

Now they're telling the players "You have to *think* about you're doing and communicate, coordinate, with the rest of the group." and that is (one place) where Cataclysm went wrong.
Honestly though, the mistake sounds like it came from WoTLK becoming too easy, and then Cataclysm going back to its roots.

As a individual game, would you agree that Cataclysm would be a great experience if it was the introductory experience to WoW? I mean, it's got even more content than before for Casuals. That is, there is more stuff than just grinding PvE heroics; archaeology is an entire sub-quest meant for lore buffs and people who just wander the land for no reason.

If players as a whole weren't conditioned to play bad and expect a lower level of difficulty from WoTLK, would Cataclysm have bombed as bad as people as it does? (I still enjoy the content, so I can't say I agree that Cataclysm is all that bad for myself.)
Wow what a post... great synopsis of what Blizz is dealing with.

This getting expansions/content out faster and faster is the paradigm I keep talking about.

Blizz will create next-cata expansion about the time when Rift and Rift clones will be doing expansions every quarter.

If you don't believe me BELIEVE CNN

Yeah... I think Rift is just a fad that no one will be playing in 6 months... NOT!
It must be said that crafting (LW, ENG, BS) is totally pointless unless you run heroics.

A couple of fun trinkets and some pretend decent gear (PvP mainly).

Creating gear to sell, play the AH's... collecting mats etc was an effort and to an extent just enjoyable.

A dead end for me... thus no effort required due to not wishing to do heroics... ultimatley a poorer expansion as a result.
The question for the Cata-heroic v.s. Sholo argument above is, can you imagine having run Scholo in a random DF PuG?

It's the random PuG tool in Wrath that dictated that heroics be easier and more straightforward.

The only way PuGs progress through content is via overall improvements in gear, and overall repetition in running instances.

So it all comes down to a crapshoot whether you get highly geared, attentive, knowledgable players (who benefit less and less from heroics), or Youtube-watching slackers who could care less about playing well.

That crapshoot appears to be approaching a critical stage, when even players who read blogs freely admit that they watch Youtube while running a heroic.

The difference with Rift, is that the players seem to give a damn about the game.
I'd be extremely careful with claims that one game has better players or a better community than another, as you are so going to regret that as soon as the new shiny has worn off, and it turns out that in fact its the same bunch of monkeys playing all MMORPGs.
"new shiny has worn off, and it turns out that in fact its the same bunch of monkeys playing all MMORPGs."

Agreed. It's not uncommon in Rift for Guardians and Defiants to kill a world boss together unfortunatelly there are always a-holes on both sides that rather kill the other faction even though everybody else is fighting the boss together...

With the soul system most classes are basically hybrid but people still look for the cleric healbot or the warrior tank instead of trying to work with the classes they have available. Even apparently not optimal setup's can succeed if the players bother to, well, play the game.
@ Tobold
"you are so going to regret that as soon as the new shiny has worn off, and it turns out that in fact its the same bunch of monkeys playing all MMORPGs."

Disagree, you are not allowing for a product adoption bell curve.

The customers that partake of a gaming service at the beginning of a 6 year game cycle ARE different than those who play at the 6 year end.

Just the same way that an amusement park will have a certain clientele at it's shinny open but NOT after 10 years of wear and not so shinny rides.

Think of it this way... Wow used to be DisneyWorld during Wrath and Burning. But now it's just another under-supported MMO in farm mode.

It takes HUGE amounts of maintenance for Disney to keep DisneyWorld all sparkly. If you don't invest you get that run down look that attracts all kinds of hoodlums.
But that is exactly what I'm saying. It's the newness of the game, not any difference in its user base. Once the new shiny has worn off, the players of the new game will behave as bad as those of the old one. And that won't take 6 years.
" Those are the players that Blizzard sought out, that's the mentality they cultured."
"Honestly though, the mistake sounds like it came from WoTLK becoming too easy, and then Cataclysm going back to its roots."

Companies have very little control over their customers abilities, wants and needs. WotLK did not take 13 million customers and lobotomize them. They got 13m customers because they provided entertainment that 13m wanted to purchase ( and the rest of the +100m computer owners did not.) If you want 80m customers, you need to provide something like Farmville. If you only want 20,000 or 300,000 customers, you can make more niche entertainment.

i can understand if you want Blizzard to make a game that you want to play even if it halves their revenue. I can not understand why Blizzard would want to do that. But I see no basis to claiming that Blizzard can make a more exclusive game without lowering their revenue.
I think Tobold has hit the nail on the head in regards to fun vs difficulty.

The revamped old world 1-60 levelling experience is fun, entertaining and well executed. I've rolled several alts through the Horde and Alliance side and greatly enjoyed it. I found myself enjoying the quests, the 5 man dungeons and a bit of PvP. Great entertainment.

But then then you hit the 85 LFD/Raiding wall in which things become noticeably different.

From a tank's perspective the hardest things in Heroic dungeons is the time commitment. Some dungeons like the Lost City of Tol'vir can be run in under 25 minutes with a high degree confidence that it will be completed. Indeed, every time I see the loading screen for LCTvir I'm happy. When I see Stonecore then my heart sinks... SC is the PuG breaker par excellence.

As it has been noted in order to be a successful tank I essentially have to memorise the dungeons and over 40 boss fights.

Shorter dungeons would help.. 30-45 minutes is probably the maximum time who can expect a PuG to stay togethers. Even a guild group can't be expected to stay together for that long.

I mark the targets, assign CC duties and control the pulls. I explain the fights, and keep the group running. The pace is mine to set, but usually against the back drop of "Just pull!"

I think the problem is that the responsibility for a successful dungeon run rests too much on one person: the tank.

Blizzard should be looking at ways to distribute the responsibility across the group more.

The tank is the linchpin of the group - yes the healers is to an extent. But it is the tanks who are "suffering" the most burn out and thus

Right now I'm levelling a rogue via PvP. No responsibilities except staying alive and trying to kill other players.

Rogue in PvP = fun.

Tank in Heroics = damn hard work.

Which am I playing more now?

And I've just got the Rift Collectors Edition...
The true problems with Cataclysm are much different than most people and bloggers realize. Everyone argues about difficulty, but that has nothing to do with so many players quitting WoW (like I did after five years of playing). Blizzard attempted to improve the game, but ended up destroying critical MMORPG elements.

The first major problem is the shift from from an open world with massive freedom, to a bunch of "on rails" zones. In terms of freedom, Vanilla WoW was like Elder Scrolls Oblivion, whereas Cataclysm is like KOTOR. The phasing and integrated story lines seemed great at first. But, they really don't feel right in an MMO. And they ruined any replay value. Really, leveling was changed from an incredibley exciting open world into a poor single player game.

Blizzard also attempted to make things easier for beginners, which is fine. But they did it in a way that ruined a lot of the game's charm. I agree Sunken Temple, Wailing Caverns, and BRD were confusing. However, slowly discovering the multiple quests, slowly learning your way around them, and slowly learning their vast secrets was quite addictive and rewarding. Heck, just going to the dungeons felt epic in and of itself. Now you can see everything sunken temple has to offer in one run after teleporting there. There's no reason to go back. Nothing interesting to see again. The game now lacks any charm of discovering secrets and finding interesting things. Everything is spoon fed in a boring linear format. Why not just play Mass Effect?

The dungeon finder seemed great at first. In the long run, it's changed dungeons from exciting to just grindy chores (especially combined with the daily random mechanic). Instead of finding a group of friends and traveling cross country to a cool looking dungeon, it's just a lame que with a "what can you do for me" atmosphere. It's definitely killed a lot of the server's community. Once again, it seemed great in short term (especially for tank/healer hybrids like me), but over time it's killed a lot of the game's charm, and caused a lot of burn out.

Pretty much the only similarity Cataclysm has with Vanilla WoW is the combat, which is still great. PVP is WoW is 2nd to no other MMO. It's too bad Blizzard screwed up on rated bg's or I might have kept playing a bit longer (but probably not much).
Hagu put it best, I think. Props, Hags.

Personally, I really enjoyed Wrath. It catered directly to me in most ways. Things were moving forward, we were confronting Arthas (FINALLY) and wrapping up loose ends in exciting new environments with an exciting new class an entirely new 10 levels without our choice of zones to explore. When we hit the cap, my casual guild of family and friends was actually able to do ICC 10. It was hard, and it took us often a week per boss kill, but we achieved it.

When Cataclysm landed, one of our guys was 85 within a matter of days, had fully-explored all the new non-instance content available for 80+s. Sure, new players got dozens of new zones, but that's not me. I got 4. All people had been talking about for the three months prior was Cataclysm, so nothing was new. I loved Hyjal. Bored to tears by Vash'jir. Curious about deepholme, but I could already see it ending by the time I started getting into it.

Cataclysm was so much less. Half the zones. Half the levels. New races, but no new class to master.

I don't know why I got bored. I've tried to analyze it. I still don't know. Even with the promise of epics for tanking (which is the only thing I do, ever), I remain unenthused. A question I'd really love to see answered is what it would take to bring folks back. I honestly can't think of anything at the moment.

Did you ever have an album or single that you listened too so much that you overdosed on it and now, no matter how long it's been since you listened, whenever you come back to it you remain unenthused? WoW is starting to seem like that for me.
Half of WoW subscriptions are in China, but not half of WoW subscription *dollars*. Blizzard makes just a few dollars per month on a China WoW account.

WoW lives and dies on NA/EU subscriptions.
People trying other games doesn't necessarily equate to them cancelling their WoW subs.

I'm not even sure you could say that the majority who are "taking a break" from an MMO aren't paying for it. I used to believe that would only be natural, but it's kinda surprising.

An MMO's greatest strength is almost always NOT the game itself, it's the addiction of logging in, whether for character progression, 0wnage, or social interaction.
I like the comment from Nils about players adapting to the changes in Cataclysm. I myself have done so, and are very much looking forward to World of Tanks getting released finally later today :) (Löwe here I come :))
Tobold, I think your comments are well thought out and right on the money.

I wanted to supplement your thoughts with my views of difficulty regarding heroic dungeons and who Blizzard's customers really are.

Heroic versions of dungeons and raid dungeons are not designed for the casual player.

There is a normal version and a heroic version for a reason. The five-person heroic versions are for the more advanced players, which are typically not casual players. In Cataclysm, Blizzard has returned to its original idea of heroics when they were first released in The Burning Crusade expansion, saying that heroic versions of dungeons are tuned for the advanced player who wants an extra challenge.

Perhaps, its the definition of casual player that's at issue. If you are raiding or running heroic versions of dungeons, you are -- by definition -- not a casual player. In my view, the casual player plays the game fewer than 10 hours a week on average and has no or very little interest in learning about boss mechanics via out-of-game resources. In fact, some casual players would say that 10 hours a week is pushing it. There are many, many people who play WoW fewer than five hours a week.

By the way, this type of casual player makes up the vast majority of subscribers, the vast majority of Blizzard's customers. We just rarely hear from them since they don't read WoW-related websites, forums or blogs yet alone post comments therein. Through proprietary scientific market and customer studies (company research in which we are not privy), rest assured that Blizzard Entertainment is fully aware of the type of customers they have, and the company's management know that the greatest number of their customers are not the forum posters and blog commenters.

But that is exactly what I'm saying. It's the newness of the game, not any difference in its user base. Once the new shiny has worn off, the players of the new game will behave as bad as those of the old one. And that won't take 6 years.

Lotro has never has this systamatic problem, and I have played a couple of others that also too have had stong decent player bases.

WoW is like this because Bliz did very little to make it anything else.
"Is the fun you expect from an activity worth the effort and the hassle to do it?"

Excellent question. It should be noted that within the business world, this is a common question. In effect, is the enjoyment from work activity worth the effort and the hassle to do it? Many business experts have said that people do want to be challenged because it makes them feel valued and worthy in overcoming those challenges. So a challenge can be enjoyable, almost inspiring, particularly if you have the resources and capabilities to overcome it. Where people usually disconnect is when their work activity is too easy, causing boredom, or too difficult, causing exhaustion and burnout.

BTW with regards to your previous post about bribery, it should be noted that higher pay often doesn't compensate for a bad working environment. I mean I've even know plenty of people who made 75K+/year but left their jobs because it was too frustrating and exhausting for them. What they were seeking wasn't monetary or physical rewards but instead a more enjoyable work experience. Sometimes you can't put a price on that. To me, it's the same thing in WoW. It's the better or more enjoyable experience that people are looking for.

"So Cataclysm is going to be remembered by many as the expansion that was less fun, and more hassle."

True but the primarily cause for this in my mind is still Wrath of the Lich King. It was made way too easy. Thus Cataclysm was supposed to be a rebalancing, if you will, but again it overcompensated and now is tilted a little too much on the difficult side (and again primarily because of dungeon length as you noted).
I think some people missed the point of Tobold's original post. The problem with raids is that it leaves no room for improvisation or spontaneity. I feel like a rat in a maze---when DBM flashes red, I run. Nothing changes and once the routine is learned, it is boring and grindy. There is no strategy or on-the-fly adjustments. They can make the line dance harder, but in the end, there is nothing beyond hitting the right button at the right time.

I switched to heals to try to add some openness and strategic thinking. It was better, I got sick being blamed for people doing stupid things. I also was digging PVP for the same reason, but the got tired of the zergfest of random groups and getting teams for rated bgs was too hard. Now I play EVE.
"I think some people missed the point of Tobold's original post. The problem with raids is that it leaves no room for improvisation or spontaneity."

Mark: Oh I definitely understood that aspect of the post. Actually I posted something like that to my guild a few weeks back. Basically I said FPS games like Counter-Strike teach individuals in clans / guilds to be more responsible and self-reliant, whereas WoW just teachs people how to be dependent upon videos and strategy guides. The responses I got back were surprising, especially from some of the people I had played Counter-Strike with years ago.

Simply put, their response was for me to change my outlook and looks at things from a different perspective. For example, imagine some of the first guilds running new raid encounters in an expansion. They have no guides to work with. They have to figure things out by trial and error. Thus to compensate for that, they need to be highly aware and be able to adapt quickly to different situations.

It's really no different than in Counter-Strike. For example, we used to teach our clan members how to effectively deal with a flashbang situation as a team. In WoW, you could teach your raid members how to effectively deal with specific types of AOE attacks in terms of positioning, heals, and so forth. I mean most raid encounters nowadays are like recipes or mixologies of previous boss encounters. One you separate those elements and teach your raid members how to deal with most of them, they could probably handle 80% or more of what a new boss threw at them. Don't get me wrong, the first attempts would be brutal but the ramp up time in terms of understanding the fight would probably be much faster and I guarantee you the implemenation would be dramatically better because you have people who are much more self-aware (i.e. high level of situational awareness).
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