Tobold's Blog
Tuesday, April 15, 2008
Where is WoW's Ruins of Kunark?

Long before Blizzard announced Wrath of the Lich King, I wrote a parody about their next expansion, which I called the Freezing Jihad. As the name should have suggested (not everyone got it), I just took the features of the Burning Crusade and extrapolated them, adding 10 new levels, two new races, new and even more expensive mounts and so on. When the WotLK announcement came, the joke backfired, with people praising my powers of prediction. Now Wrath of the Lich King apparently went into alpha, and it's feature list still looks as if somebody took the Freezing Jihad and removed half of the features I announced there. WotLK will have a new icy continent and ten new levels and one new class, but it won't have new races, new mounts, or new tradeskills. Now I am sure it will sell millions of copies and lead to a huge number of resubscriptions. And it will, as always, be extremely well executed and polished. But I think the list of features is extremely thin, and if Blizzard needs another 20+ months after WotLK for the next expansion, they'll see a lot of players leaving World of Warcraft. And what about the third expansion? Another 10 levels, another hero class, another new continent for levels 70 to 80 only? I simply don't think you can expand a game in this way forever.

One of the most successful expansions in MMORPG history happened pretty much exactly 8 years ago, in April 2000: Everquest launched the Ruins of Kunark. Yes, that expansion increased the level cap by 10, but it also introduced new content all the way from level 1 to the new level cap, not just from the old cap to the new cap. And that was extremely well received, because not everyone was at the level cap, and expansion also addressed the needs of newer players and alts.

As I explained in a post about the dimensions of a MMORPG, the length of a game is not the only important dimension. A MMORPG also needs a lot of depth of gameplay, and breadth of replayability. Yes, my pink orcs and leper gnomes of the Freezing Jihad were silly, but still better than the real version; not having any new races and new low level content will really hurt Wrath of the Lich King in the long run. True World of Warcraft started out with lots of breadth and many different starting zones. But the older the game gets, the more people there are who have already seen everything. Finding a new starting area and new class to play becomes very difficult for many of us. And for new players having new low-level content is also an advantage, because it increases their chance of actually meeting other players.

So where is WoW's Ruins of Kunark? Will we just get 10 new levels every two years, and that is it? As successful as WoW is, and as hard it will be to create a competitor, sooner or later World of Warcraft will decline just by the weight of its age and lack exciting new stuff to do for veteran players. New games will take a couple of hundred thousand players here, and couple of hundred thousand players there, until one day WoW is much smaller than today. And the only way to combat this decline is to produce better expansions, and faster.
I think that the expension release dates are strategically defined by blizard. It works, why should they change it ? (financial point of view).

I don't think WOTLK will be a revolution for me and for a lot of people. Just some more grinds, some time sinks and ... the hero not so hero class. Will work the time people grinds to 80, a DK with the new crafting job and we will be a t the same point as today.
WOTLK is to BC like Arena gear is to PVE gear of a similar tier.

WOLTK is looking to be a mere recolor of what BC is now. You can already see many similar themes.

Level cap raised 10 levels. New zones for level 70 and up, replace Burning Legion with the Undead that the lich king commands. Replace Shattrath with Dalaran.

It is virtually the same concept over again. There is no innovation and people simply will not cling to that for as long as they did with BC. Espcially with this stuff coming out once every year and a half :P.
So where is WoW's Ruins of Kunark? Will we just get 10 new levels every two years, and that is it?

Yes that's it. Please don't always pull up old EQ references without further details. When Kunark launched EQs population was just growing up. People already at the max level? Almost nobody. It made sense to push out more low level content, cause there was more than one low level player left, in fact the majority was still months away from reaching the level limit. You just wrote some entries ago about the most casual player you know reaching level 70 in WoW, your wife. See, even slower players are done with the let's call it ancient solo content. Although more low level content would cater to some players, it doesn't solve the middleground and that's where you have to aim for, when having subscribers like your wife and the Nihilum guys.

Referencing Kunark isn't really the best fit for Wrath. Just like Wrath, the best expansion EQ ever had, was its second one: Velious. That thing layed the grounds for what we now call the raid game. It also offered epic tradeskill quests wich ended in what still is the most epic quest event ever: the ring war. With armies of giants storming a whole zone and the one single player that triggered the quest needed a whole friggin army of its own, to complete this event. Can you imagine something like this today? 40 players helping a single one, without actually getting something in return? Would be a total disaster today, back then it was the most epic thing.

The moral of the story? Verant/SOE introduced whole now ideas, some became popular, others didn't. Thing is Verant at that time was an innovator, something Blizzard never actually was. They polish, they do not come up with groundbreaking new things, though we saw little stuff like dailies and UI features. Don't expect them to truely push the genre foward. New ideas are risky, polish isn't. When you handle a 10 mill playerbase, you try to avoid risks. Just look at what happened to another brilliant idea from WoW 1.0. Anyone remember the tribute run from Dire Maul? Leave out lower bosses to get better stuff at the end. Brilliant and still never been picked up in Burning Crusade again. This says something about innovations and Blizzard.
Now that Blizzard has made a bajillion dollars and is set to make a bajillion more with WotLK, their next "expansion" should actually be a free overhaul of the original world. If they keep expanding, adding new lands, they are going to wind up like every other MMO I don't play anymore: huge world, mostly empty.
A small correction; I'm pretty sure Inscription was touted as a new trade skill.

I did say 'minor'.
Sounds like yet another 'everyone will leave' rant imo. I feel like the majority of people who are playing (including myself) these days are playing not for major new continent, but for the simple joy of playing the game. As long as they keep adding new things to do I'll be around. They don't need to be game-changing. This applies to pretty much everyone in my casual-friendly guild. Its the 4th largest guild on our server so I'm guessing there's similiarly minded people on other servers as well.

And btw, WotLK is adding a new tradeskill and I'm willing to bet that there will be some new mounts too.
I think most of the innovative design people are working on Blizzard's next super secret MMO. The lack of information about WotLK is starting to get scary because it either means it's nowhere near finished or nowhere near as exciting as the new games coming out. Either way Blizzard wants to keep a wrap on it until they can figure out the best release date in competition with Warhammer.

While I agree with your over all point you must realize that unless Blizz does something to freshen up Azeroth many of those lvl 70 players are going to disappear out of boredom. No doubt a few months after WotLK we'll have our current mains at 80, tried the new class and got it to 80, maybe even paid off the new money sink. What then?

Getting a new character to max lvl will be even more of a chore than before, not only will you have to trek through Azeroth again (which by now you could do in you sleep) you have to go through Outland, witch is far too linear when it comes to zones. Sure they'll speed up lvl'ing 60 to 70, which equals skipping an area or two. Super fun. Many players are not gonna bother getting another class all the way to endgame again.

With all the older players not rolling alts anymore the lower lvls are going to feel even more empty. If Dalaran doesn't have a trade channel new players will think the game is dead or dieing.

Blizz is staking too much on it's expansions, there is plenty of room in Azeroth to fill out. Hell, there are still missing zones, many on the eastern continent. by forgetting about Azeroth Blizz is just shooting themselves in the foot.
I'm looking forward to Wrath for the new abilities and gear. The thought of having to level up to 80 makes me want to stop playing right now. How many more kill x bears quests do we need?

I agree with arrow, with Outland AND the new continent, Azeroth will be even more empty. It will become the new silithus. :-)

Regardless, like the peon that I am, I will go out and buy it, level up, replace my T4 gear with greens, come back with 10 of my level 80 buddies and kill Illidan. Since there's no way I could do it at level.

If they don't fix the alt system, I will never level up an alt again. I refuse to level up from level 1 again. People who have reached the cap should be given a "alt token" which would allow them to have a level 50 or 60 toon created for them.

Just my 0.02$.

I think the "freezing" part of your "Freezing Jihad" post is what makes it seem like such a successful prediction, stuff like increasing the level cap, adding races, professions, etc., is more of the same, which is pretty much what burning crusade was, and fits in general with how an expansions in general seem to work.

My gut is telling me that Wrath of the Lich King's release won't cause a player decline, but that a few months afterwards the amount of people will start to decline, as new games come out, and as more of the same starts to cause boredom to slowly sink in.
What's more worrying to me is how the features of WOTLK so closely mirror WAR and AoC, as if they are merely copying rather than trying to innovate. I noticed this when I came back to WoW after playing LOTRO, and saw all these features from LOTRO that WOW players wanted for years but they were "too busy" to do, like guild banks, better minimap, and in WOTLK even the barbershop.

(I'm quite surprised that Blizzard developers were surprised at the strong positive reaction avatar customization received).

I think more content would be great for many players. People like to point out that census sites show most players are 70, but those census sites can't count all the people that quit. Only Blizzard knows how many people quit and didn't come back, and the answers they put on the survey as to why.

But many players I've known like the leveling aspect, and keep making alts until it's boring and finally quit. (This especially applies to people I knew from "real life" first) A whole new continent would bring all those players back even longer than just a few more levels.

Of course... maybe those types of players are too expensive to cater to since they always want new content and don't want to repeat the old content very much. That's very little return on Blizzard's development investment. So I can see why they wouldn't want to do much to attract those players - they're too expensive to keep around after they play through a few times.
(I'm quite surprised that Blizzard developers were surprised at the strong positive reaction avatar customization received).

things like this are why I consistantly say blizzard is getting lazy. People have been asking for the ability to change character appearance and armour appearance since launch. they knew it was going to be popular they were just too damn lazy to do anything about it because the money was flowing in.

Many companies completely tank products long term on this model. do as little as possible until the customers start to leave and then try to wow them back. I really think blizzard is unneccessarily shortening thier product life cycle by thier model of tired nothing new expansions.

BC really gave nothing new except smaller raids. Enchanting 2.0 (AKA socketed items and gems) and 10 more levels. That's pretty much thier entire expansion. 3 months of fun then grind for the next one.
What's more worrying to me is how the features of WOTLK so closely mirror WAR and AoC, as if they are merely copying rather than trying to innovate. I noticed this when I came back to WoW after playing LOTRO, and saw all these features from LOTRO that WOW players wanted for years but they were "too busy" to do, like guild banks, better minimap, and in WOTLK even the barbershop.

That would be an interesting experiment actually, have a computer company pretend to release some convienience feature in a future game, and than see if blizzard copies it in the next expansion. (I know this is just a random thought, but it would be odd to see.)
There is a no tradeskill in Wrath. It's called "Inscriptions" and from how I have heard it described it is essentially enchanting for your abilities. You'll be able to do things like add +5 range to your Fireball or +10 damage to Frostbolt.

Still -- more of the same. I've wrote before that I think so many people are waiting for the next expansion (or next MMO) because they just want variety.
Bah. Stupid typo. I meant "There is a NEW tradeskill"
I am looking forward to WOTLK, mostly for the promise of leaving stupid Outlands behind. My only hope is that the new leveling content will have the feel of 1-60 WoW with the polish of BC WoW.

But without new 1-70 content, I won't likely stick around long- unless they announce the end of level increases and they work on horizontal expansions (growth through gear, tradeskills, etc) rather than vertical (higher level caps).
If Inscriptions is how you say it is, that's going to be the Wrath's big Money Sink, especially if it's an actual Trade Skill along the lines of Enchanting, LWing, JCing, etc., because a Trade Skill that only affects your own abilities won't make you any money.

Now, will those upgrading to Wrath be allowed to have a third Primary Trade Skill?

I can just imagine the initial outrage, followed by reluctant, numbed acceptance, from people who discover that to become an Inscriber they need to drop Engineering, Blacksmithing, Enchanting, etc, thus wasting all the time & money they spent getting that Skill to 375. Some people don't have a Gathering Trade Skill; they use Alts to farm and have a Main Raider who's both a 375 Engineer AND Enchanter because of those rare BOP recipes that only drop in End Game Raids.

For me personally, unless Wrath gives Hunters more Stable Slots I won't be buying it, and even then I'll probably wait a couple of months after release when I can find it in the $10 Bargain Bin.
totally agree. They ened to support the old content.
Unlike several of you, I would gladly reroll an alt (I still do it from time to time) and level it up, especially if there is new content. The new races in BC made it exciting until lvl 20 when the new content was gone, but still, but second highest character is a Belf. My traditional gaming group chose to level up our Belf's instead of our Tauren to the expansion, but I decided I like my shaman at 60 more than my priest, so my Tauren is till my main.

I agree... another 10 levels is not going to cut it for the next expansion... and it can't come out 2 years from now. They need to come out with newer content soon... since they already created 2 new starting areas... perhaps a new "continent" with areas ranging from 20 to 50?

And I still think there is great work that can be done to make the current 50 to 60 level content viable again. If they just reuse the 60 end game content and re-level it... it would do a lot to make it interesting.
Inscription will be a new trade skill, theres a new CLASS afterall - and who knows what mounts there will be, we just know that there wont be any new insanely priced mount skills, and for that i can only be thankful.
I usually wait till I've played something before I slate it, but go ahead everyone loves to bash the leading company/person in its/his/her field.
> And for new players having new low-level content is also an advantage, because it increases their chance of actually meeting other players.

I disagree -- adding more old-world content will actually make it *harder* to meet other players because it increases the options people have for leveling. There are two types of players who start new characters: 1) Veterans who have played through the content before, and 2) Newbies who have not.

If new low-level content is introduced, half of the Veterans will play through it for the new experience, while the other half will stick to the original content to powerlevel quickly (as per a leveling guide). In neither case will Veterans want to group with Newbies for Gnomeregan (original old-world instance), or Lepergnomeregan (fictional new low-level instance).
I think the problem here is that WotLK doesn't seem to be adding all that much.One new class? Good for a few months fun. A new profession? OK, but not exciting. New lands for 71-80. Fine, but that's good for what? 2-3 months for the average player?

I really can't see there being more than 4-6 months content for the average player there, so there's a risk of a rapid drop off in subscriptions after that.

Of course Blizzard may be holding out on us and have a second hero class up their sleeve, but even then that's only about another 3 months worth. Again - what then?
ooooooh a new hero class.....Will it be a"MASS MURDERER" hero class.....

sorry for the sarcasm but I've kind've been there on hero classes ever since I found out it was going to be Deathknight. Not much of a hero if you as me.....
I look back over TBC, and while it was decent overall, I think that there will have to be changes that at least resemble 'innovation' in WotLK.

For example, I don't know how much longer an endgame that is a thinly-disguised loot-based gear-and-gold chase will be appealing. TBC succeeded in making epics almost common, and 100-gold-a-day easy. It did not succeed in the area of PvP game balance, matching groups, nor solving the AFK problem. It opened a 10-toon raid to casuals, but didn't really make raiding accessible and now is encouraging the badge-farming of that "first" of TBC raid instances. It demanded a lot of endgame groups, but essentially abandoned grouping in the leveling game.

Patch 2.4 was probably the thinnest TBC patch so far IMO:
Another 25-toon raid. More daily quests. A server-wide unlocking design. A 5-man instance. A re-write of the combat log system. Tweaks to old BGs. And unloading gear and loot into TBC like a going-out-of-business sale (which I guess it is...)

I thought that the server-wide unlocking design was a good change of pace; not an innovation, but a twist. It was nice to see a new 5-man.

On the other side, I'll probably never see the new 25-toon content, and I'd guess that a majority of the paying population won't either. Only one new instance. Not very many new quests - and the daily quest design is long past its 'new' feel and closing in on "please, not again". The combat log stuff isn't making much noticeable difference to me, except that my updated add-ons don't like it. Nothing really new in Arena or BGs. Sadly, the distinct PvE and PvP gear path design has been thrown under the bus. Patch 2.4 is all about the gear chase, but the gear chase is pointless with WotLK on the horizon.

So, taking stock: I hope that WotLK isn't a repeat of TBC. I don't really want an expansion that is pretty much played-out by a casual in 6-9 months, but dragged-out for 12-15 months and on life-support for an additional 3-6 month transition period. I've pretty much played out the existing BG's, and I'm hoping that there are new 5-toon instances in every patch (not just raids), and I'm hoping that daily quests are kept to a minimum (10-a-day was plenty). I'm hoping that the PvE and PvP gear paths are restored to, and kept, distinct directions - not the one-way gear path suddenly re-introduced (PvE for PvP gear, but not PvP for PvE gear).

In other words, I don't see my playing "WotLK as an extension of TBC" for more than a few months. New quests for the 70-80 run, one new BG, and a set of instances that have to last for over a year is not enough; and I'm not even sure that the new class is appealing to me from what I've seen of it so far.

Let's hope that WotLK isn't The Freezing Jihad in the worst possible sense.
I actually finally cancelled my WoW account today. I have been a customer since playing beta in 2004. I did it all - leveled several toons to the cap (2 pre-BC, another one post-BC). I raided extensively at level 60 and again raided for a full year at level 70. I earned Field Marshal on one of my toons in 2006. I bought epic flying mounts on all three 70 toons.

But I have finally run out of things to do. I got sick of the abysmal wreck that is raiding in Burning Crusade. So in March I quit my raiding guild, and decided to take an alt and go into a PvP guild. I really did enjoy PvP back in 2006, so I thought having a group to run battlegrounds with again would be fun. Literally a few weeks after I hit 70, patch 2.4 dropped and effectively killed group PvP. Nobody is willing to wait an hour for an AB or EoTS. So now if I want to BG, I have to go solo. So I spent the last couple of weeks getting exalted with SSun on that toon, for something to do, to see if Blizzard would rethink things; apparently the answer is no. And I've run out of things to do. I could go exalt the other two toons on SSun but I find myself completely unmotivated to do so. There seems to be no point in playing anymore, since the only groups are raids and I no longer want that nightmare obligation.

Playing solo defeats the purpose of playing an MMO at all, really.

Anyway. I reactivated my LoTRO account a few weeks ago and am having a blast. Nicer people, tons of quests, pick up groups for quests constantly available. And no freaking crowd control required. (Are you as tired as I am, of every pull being 4-6 mobs and every 5 man having to include 3 CC classes? whatever happened to the good, old-fashioned, pull-til-you-drop style dungeon crawls? Bliz dropped the ball entirely, I no longer like their design philosophy with regards to group/raid content at all. It demands a higher skill and attention level than most players are capable of.)

I don't know if I'll come back to see WoTLK. If I do, I will probably just level to 80 to see the continent, then deactivate the account again. The Warhammer pre-order is in; CE, so I'll be in early. Between now and then LoTRO is thoroughly enchanting.
As someone who played EQ from March 1998, I think you are looking at history through rose colored glasses. As another poster pointed out, Kunark was released when the player base of EQ was still very spread out over the levels. It addressed the needs of their customers at the time.

Still, I think you have a point. People leveling through the old world are forced to do mostly the same content over and over again. The addition of the Blood Elf starting area and Tranquillen, and the Alliance mirror, were welcome additions for new characters. I've leveled both of my recent alts there to get a new experience. While sinking a ton of time into an entirely new 1-60 path would probably be an excessive investment of time, perhaps an additional leveling area between 20-60 in wotlk would be welcome. Especially if it used some of their recent concepts.

On the other hand, Blizzard introduced or refined a lot of new mechanisms in TBC that have substantially raised the bar for WOTLK. As they were introduced in TBC, they were imperfect, and have been refined over time. For example, winged dungeons were an emphasis in TBC, and except for SM they were pretty much absent in the old world, and take more time to design than a standard dungeon. Heroics were introduced and refined in TBC. Badge loot. Arenas. PVP Honor gear. General gear tiering and progression. 25 man raid balancing, progression, consumable use. etc...

People tend to forget that when WoW launched max level content was sparse, poorly itemized, and substantially more difficult. The raid functionality was broken. There were no pvp rewards. There was nothing for a soloer to do after 60. Only 1 faction, I think, that had any rewards.

The sum of new features that they have defined as 'standard' add substantially to the cost and time in adding just 1 level of content.

EQ has become a mythic thing in some people's minds. But the innovation came in a general environment of shoddy programming, QA, and project management. Who here remembers Plane of Fear crashing and resetting, Plane of Hate's stuck mobs training the zone, the dozens of iterations of bosses that would swing from horribly buggy to broken and back again. The 'new to each patch' way to exploit the buff system. The way they broken bards every.single.patch.

Let's take a step back and appreciate Blizzard for both innovating (adding more balls they have to keep in the air) and their consistency (keeping all those damn balls up there). No gaming company has come close to that.
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