Tobold's Blog
Sunday, November 10, 2013
The ultimate vertical expansion

Bigeyez mailed me to hear my opinion of the new World of Warcraft expansion announced this weekend at Blizzcon: Warlords of Draenor. I would like to reserve a more general judgement to the point where I actually play it, if I decide to do so. This is actually the first WoW expansion where I am not already sure that I will buy it, although that has more to do with the game up to now than with the quality of the expansion. So I do not want at this point to talk about most of the announced features, from player housing to changes to raiding. I only want to talk about one tiny feature: The ability to boost at least one of your characters to level 90 with level-appropriate gear, even if that character was level 1.

To me that single feature defines Warlords of Draenor as expansion. It tells me which direction this expansion takes: Vertically up. The expansion is all about new stuff from level 90 to 100, and the devs would very much like us to forget about the level 1 to 90 game. Apparently somebody asked the devs whether it wasn't problematic to let new players start at level 90 without ever having learned their class, and was told that the proving grounds would make playing through level 1 to 90 unnecessary. Basically the devs and many players see levels 1 to 90 just as a training exercise for the "real game", and now that has been replaced by a better training mode.

So we are being told that when the expansion comes out, World of Warcraft will be all about levels 90 to 100. You will play nearly exclusively on the new continent, maybe sometimes visit the capital cities for some features, but will have no reason whatsoever to enter over 90% of the zones of World of Warcraft. If by some server glitch the old zones ceased to exist, most players wouldn't even notice. I find that rather sad, so much wasted space and potential. I had hoped for more Cataclysm-like renovation of old zones, with Warlords of Draenor not just offering new zones but also redoing the Burning Crusade zones. Instead we are told just to skip all that old stuff.

A decade ago we used to talk about MMORPGs in terms of "world" versus "game". Warlords of Draenor cements Blizzard's position that they want WoW to be all about the game, and more specifically all about the end-game at the level cap (level 90 to 99 will be done with quickly). This isn't about leading a virtual life in a virtual world, this is about playing a game and "winning" it. Which is something I never was interested in to start with, and then find MMORPGs to be particularly bad at.

There is no "world" in World of Warcraft, which is somewhat ironic given the name. But well, Everquest wasn't a game about quests either, so people in this business appear to have problems expressing their concept for their game in the name.

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When I heard about the boost-to-level-90-Feature I was actually quite excited, because I thought it applied to all characters. That would have been cool. I see no sense in letting people who believe the leveling is only keeping them away from the real game actually level. Those people don't want to and will only kill the fun for the rest of us. So let them switch ahead to maxlevel already! The rest of us could have some fun in leveling instances without people who complain if the tank pulls less than two rooms in one go.

All really well expressed points about what that feature means. Hadn't thought it through fully myself but I find that I quite agree.

Very much a shame (the feature, not your post).
Another side to this is that one of the original design considerations of levels (in mmos) was to spread the players out across the world to minimize server load. At the same time, because people do not play in a fixed party like they do in pnp rpgs, there was a lot of content at max level to allow people to play together (even a level 40 and a level 50 character can't really meaningfully cooperate on most things).

The original design was also that raiders raided at max level, while "casuals" just kept levelling alts. That's not how things have turned out. They have instead added lots of things to do at max level. Letting players skip the 1-90 content is a logical next step.

The old content is still there. I'm not too happy about all the stuff they did with lvl 1-60 in Cataclysm, so I don't really mind them not updating Outland. The one bad thing is that low level content will be even more empty, but maybe CRZ will alleviate some of this.

I say all this as someone who sometimes enjoys the levelling game. Two things turns me off it is the decreased difficulty (I feel ridiculously overpowered on my latest non-heirloom brewmaster) and repeating content that I've done. I much prefer the Secret World for leveling game play these days.
I think they have no choice but to try this. Already in WotLK the game was top-heavy, and there have been two expansions since then.

WoD will be the new vanilla, and I think over time they will then set about repurposing the old world.

And from a business perspective, it makes much more sense to re-energise the proven cash cow than to throw an untested new MMORPG out there to sink or swim in a market where most of them sink. Maybe they will pull Titan altogether. But for sure they have decided not to bet the company on it.
But for sure they have decided not to bet the company on it.

"Betting the company" on Titan is mathematically not possible. Even with WoW in decline, they still make more money from WoW each year than the most expensive MMORPG ever produced has cost. They could make a $500 million MMORPG without "betting the company" in financial terms.
I can only say: good job Blizzard.

First we had coalesced realms, hopefully a prelude to the death of the server.

Now we have level boosting, hopefully a prelude to the death of levels.

I only wish they'll go faster on both, since I'm tired of not being able with friends because they are either on the wrong server on of the wrong level.

When finally they manage to kill both I'll finally log in with my GF and just go play in a zone we like (because of the quest line, story, colors or any) WITHOUT being forced to deal with artificial barriers.
Very well said, sir. Especially, the world part.

I was fascinated by Ultima Online exactly because it was a persistent world. I had a house, a shop, several shop assistants. I mined Valorite and created GM armor that a lot of people wore. I checked everyone in Valorite, just to make sure it's mine.

I do remember swimming for those pearl collecting quests in WoW. Now that was amazing! I crafted a helmet later that allowed me to stay under water longer.

And I've won a ton of Battlegrounds, all the way to Marshal PvP rank, when it meant something. But I remember the reef and the swimming. Also, fishing in Azshara.

What's next, you pick one of your characters to be gifted best-in-slot items? Why is it a good thing to let new players skip over huge chunks of your game, and go directly into hardcore content they are not prepared for and almost certainly will not enjoy (in no small part because they are not prepared for it, and how the community will subsequently treat them)?

I have long argued that the Blizzard developers for WoW are hardcore players thinking hardcore player thoughts about what it must be like for those "casuals." They cannot comprehend wanting to do anything but raid, they only see the game before level cap as a waste of time. Sorry, Blizzard, you are just wrong.

WoW was most successful when raiding was only done by a very small portion of players (which is arguably still the case), they have been in significant decline ever since they started their efforts to shove casual players into raiding.

I think the next successful MMORPG will have their game/end-game focus on something that is not raiding or PvP. I consider those to be niche activities for a very small portion of MMORPG players.
@Samus It's likely not meant for new players but for returning players with a level 70 or 80 character. Although I suspect hardcore raiders will use it to jump a new alt to level 90 so it's good for them too. New players will have the choice, it's not like every character starts at 90 automatically now...

@Helistar I personally love the idea of removing leveling all together and making all content relevant. They'd probably need to replace all drops with earning points for gear (which is effectively leveling so I'm not sure it would actually acheive anything) and would either kill progression or would end up changing nothing
@Sam McKoy
Thanks. I wrote a massive reply but your comment said whated to put accross much more succinctly.

There are some restrictions (such as faction, EU/US/RoW and possibly server type) but nearly all group activity cam be done cross-server via Battlenet IDs. The main exceptions I can think of are non-ranted Battlegrounds and the non-flex versions of the latest raid (and pre-made group raiding content will be flex in WoD).
non-ranted Battlegrounds

Funniest typo of the week. :) I doubt those exist. ;)
They're doing it right, in my opinion.

WoW is arealdy "old", in terms of pure time. Blizzard cannot capitalize on new players anymore, because it's too late: they need to foucs on old/seasoned/leveled subscribers (frozen and active ones) which can still be tempted to come back after a pause.

Sure, Blizzard can still get new subscribers here and there... but that's nothing compared to the old times, where WoW was one of the few "titans" in the MMO world.

By the end of 2014 things will get even worst: more competitors (one of them being the promising Star Citizen), more options, more choice. And let's not forget the money axpect of playin WoW: luring an old player is much easier than convincing a new one to join the brigade for $12+ a month.

I find The Return of the King to be a very vertical book. It's all about new stuff in Mordor and siege of Minas Tirith, and Tolkien would very much like us to forget about the first two volumes. So you liked Moria and wanted the author to explore it in further detail? Too bad, there's not a single scene set there. Did you want to find out what Tom Bombadil was doing during the battle at Pellenor Fields? Sucks to be you.

What's worse, new characters pop directly into the plot at full power, without going through 500 pages of character development. We never see Denethor fleeing the Shire, fighting off Black Riders at Weathertop or exploring Fangorn Forest. Instead, he gets to level directly into the position of the Steward of Gondor and into command of a a huge army. (Naturally, he quickly gets bored of this instant gratification and quits in the first third of the book. That's what appealing to casuals and tourists gives you)

The action nearly exclusively focuses on the new stuff. Sure, there's a token scene in Shire, but in general, characters never get to enter over 90% of the places in Arda. If the rest of the setting ceased to exist, most readers wouldn't even notice. I find that rather sad, so much wasted space and potential. I had hoped for some updates to the first two books, with RotK not just offering new scenes, but also retelling the Council of Rivendell and the restoration of Rohan from twenty or thirty different viewpoints. Instead we are told just to skip all that old stuff. And to think that back in the day, we used to consider Tolkien as the masterful world-builder. How far the mighty have fallen.
Possibly the first time I disagree with one of your posts enough to comment.

Remember that you can only boost one character to 90. Not all of your characters. So, yes, if you are a brand-new WoW player then you could choose to miss a lot of the world. What percentage of WoW players are brand new? I'm guessing its a very low percentage.

I think that the statement that there is no "world" in world of warcraft is a bit of hyperbole. I don't think there is another MMO out there - possible any other game out there in any genre - that has so much content to explore.

The world is there for the playing. Yes, you can opt to skip it in order to play the endgame faster, but that's just an option, and you can only do it once. I am certain that the old zones will be just as full (or not full) as they are now.

"Warlords of Draenor cements Blizzard's position that they want WoW to be all about the game, and more specifically all about the end-game at the level cap"

WoW is 9 years old and we are approaching expansion 5. For people that love WoW, there is plenty to look forward to. To people that don't, there is little to change their minds.

This shouldn't be a surprise to anyone - we are not seeing any 1m+ subscriber MMOs that are challenging Blizzard sufficiently to change their approach.
You can still get a bit of the 'world' out of World of Warcraft. The problem is that there is simply no extrinsic reward for it. But I got some fair

I got plenty of mileage out of Pandaria (honestly, more than I expected) from doing archaeology collecting, pet-battling, soloing old raids, completing quest lines I missed from Cataclysm, rare enemy-hunting, tending the farm, achievement-hunting, maxing out faction reps, and a variety of other completionist behaviours.

As far as actual character-growth went, I plateaued pretty damn early. WoW is annoying in that the only way to advance my character is to raid. That's it. People keep trotting out that mind-numbingly stupid argument, "Why do you need good gear if you aren't going to use it to raid?" which misses the point so hard they couldn't be any more ignorant if they tried. People don't buy sports cars because they actually need to do 260km/h in the city. They buy them because they're pretty and make them feel powerful, even if they never break the speed limit with it. So yeah, if THAT'S your motivation (and I'd say for most people it is), you have to raid. Which I hate. I'm not doing it again.

So without participating in that key focus of the dev team's efforts, you really are left high and dry, to your own devices.

I think that the expansion will offer a little of that, though probably not to the same extent. They really do seem to be trying to force people into raiding, more and more, so utterly convinced that people would really enjoy it 'if they'd only just give it a chance'. Which is bullshit, and kind of like thinking that everyone in the world would really love Indian food if they just gave it a chance, try some of the milder curries to get them hooked on trying the hotter, 'better' stuff. No. People have different tastes, alright? But the devs like raiding, so that's the be all and end-all.

But it looks like there'll be a few diversionary tools for those of us forced into hunting down intrinsic rewards outside of the raid-gear-treadmill. The garrisons look like a combination of the farm and pet battling with some extra complexity/collecting.

Whether it, and the story/scenarios/dungeons that I'll tolerate will be enough to last for long is the question. It might not be a good value-for-money purchase.
Somewhat related:

Notable quotes:

After they implemented the wedding features: "People didn't just show up; we saw a genuine spike in subscriptions. It was clear that we'd provided a needed dose of RPG in our MMORPG. Suddenly, there was a spark in the team and magic started happening: if Rift players liked weddings, what other non-combat activites might they enjoy?"

So they worked on player housing, which has been a huge hit.

More 'world' in your game-world. I don't have numbers but intuitively reckon WoW saw a pretty big activity increase around pet-battling/farming and have incorporated and expanded on it.

I just don't think you can get that raiding bone out of the dog's mouth - the rest will always be optional extras instead of extrinsically-rewarding.
Well man, the new players have been mostly gone a very long time. When I started truly new players were common.

When I was playing I found leveling to be lengthy and tedious for reasons I've already probably explained in the comments here 100 times, and would have absolutely killed for the chance to skip the 6-7 days of playtime needed to level a new character. Short version: doing minor variations on the 5 basic quest types in different colored zones for 182+ hours is BORING. Running through that yet again when I probably have enough experience to quickly get up to speed on a marginally different character.

As far as Titan goes, once upon a time it the release date was right about now. I think Blizz has realized that Titan can't possibly replicate or even come close to the success that WoW had and probably aren't all that enthusiastic about it.
I disagree; this has been what WoW has been about since the very beginning. The allowance of a free level 90 is meant to appeal to all sorts of players and the idea that a new player could skip the old world is sort of a side-effect. There are plenty of WoW players that got frustrated or burned out mid-expansion or when leveling ANOTHER alt and I think the free-90 was aimed more at them. Yes, it means that for a new player they might blast past the old world, but I think some of them might make alts later on. Remember they only get ONE free 90 currently, so any alts beyond that they have to level all the way through the old content.

Plus, I think it's a mistake to call the WoW leveling process any form of training. The vast majority of leveling players spec as a DPS and will use the same basic rotation from 1 to 90; varying it only as new abilities become available. It's only in Pandaria that I ever started encountering enemies that even remotely resembled boss fights through broadcast attack mechanics and strange buffs/debuffs. Players might be getting some training in instances as they level, but most of those are fundamentally no different from the normal-mode instances at max.
On the blizzcon episode of the instance podcast the hosts refer this expac as basically being a wow 2.0. Viewed from that perspective the boost to 90 certainly makes sense. New models, new stat designs, new features, new raid system, picking "good" features from past expacs and bringing them to this one... the more I think about it the more it does make sense to think of this as basically a soft reset of WoW. Everyone starts at lvl 1 (90). And can jump right into the new game. As they said on the podcast the old content is still there for those that want it but blizz want everyone to start off fresh with these 10 levels.
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