Tobold's Blog
Thursday, October 16, 2008
WoW patch 3.0 thoughts

So I patched WoW yesterday to version 3.0.2, but didn't have much luck playing. Some servers suffered from severe lag, and lucky me was on one of the affected servers. I was trying to use the auction house and mail, but that either took forever, or ended in a "world server down" crash. This morning things looked better, and I had actually already sold a good amount of the low-level herbs which I had bought for 5 silver each and put on auction for 1 gold each. Herb prices exploded, and I've even seen a guy trying to sell a stack of herbs for over 500 gold, but I guess he didn't find a buyer.

One new feature from the patch notes struck me as funny: I don't know if it was just a regular improvement, or if somebody from the WoW team was making fun of WAR, but in WoW you can now shift-click on auction house mail to auto-loot it. One single click to open the mail, take the attachment, and delete the mail. You're missing out on the information who bought your item for how much, but in most cases you don't really care, and auto-loot is optional anyway. May I suggest a "auto-loot ALL mail" button next? In any case, already now the difference in quality between the WoW auction and mail system and the same system in WAR is striking. WAR has some good ideas, like the ability to sort items by price per item, or having a separate AH mail box, but the execution and user-friendliness of the WAR system is abysmal. The WoW system has undergone many patches and been continuously improved, and that shows.

That started a train of thought on whether games are always getting better with each patch and expansion. As long as you are just looking at functionality, I think they are. No developer intentionally patches something in to make his game worse. Of course some patch changes are done to improve game balance, which can include nerfs to this or that class, which tends to be not popular with the affected players. But even those nerfs are done for the greater good of better game balance. Somebody starting World of Warcraft today would find most game features in a better state than 4 years ago, when we veterans played it. Just one example, the latest patch moved all mounts, pets, and various tokens like Badges of Justice or Marks of Honor out of the inventory and into a special tab of the character screen. A previous patch added the keyring. Back in the days (you know, the time when we went to school and back through 3 meters of snow, uphill, both ways) all keys, mounts, pets, and tokens took up valuable inventory space. I probably deleted most of the pets and vanity items from various events, because I simply didn't have the room to store them. Now things are much better, and apparently you can even get deleted pets and keys back by talking to a stablemaster and blacksmith.

But even as the functionality of WoW improves with patches and expansions, the game experience doesn't necessarily. Wrath of the Lich King introduces both more high-level content and first hero class, which starts the game at level 55, not level 1. Thus any *real* new player in WoW, who starts with a real new level 1 character, will find the world around him very empty. He'll rarely meet other players outside the big cities, and he won't be able to find a group of his level for the various dungeons. He'll be able to see that WoW now has a LEEEEEEEROOOOOOOY achievement, but won't understand what that one is about. He'll never do a proper Molten Core raid, or even Karazhan. If he has a veteran friend he can level up with triple xp, and get boost runs through dungeons, or even see MC or Onyxia if some guild kills them for fun at level 80. But that will be just a pale image of what we experienced when we played through that content.

MMORPGs are multiplayer games, and much of their attraction comes from the interaction with other players. As the players moved on, a huge part of World of Warcraft just ceased to exist. What is left behind is just an empty stage, and faint memories of the plays that were enacted on that stage. To populate that part of the world again, we'd need a completely different type of expansion: Not 10 more levels added to the endgame, but a cataclysm striking the old world, and changing it. New classes, maybe even new races, and most of the quests and zones of old Azeroth being changed to breathe new life into them. I wonder if we'll ever get such an expansion.
More likely we'll get this new MMO they are being mysterious about ;). The question is how it will link, if anything, into WOW to create a bridge for all those millions of subscribers to make the migration is they feel like it.
I agree about old Azeroth. It is a shame to see Blizzard trying to rush people through it to get to the newer zones, and I too would love it if they could give players a reason to journey there again.
Thus any *real* new player in WoW, who starts with a real new level 1 character, will find the world around him very empty.

Much like Warhammer then =P

Seriously though, what would you do to make 'horizontal' expansion/replaying the levelling game more enticing? For most players, MMO's are all about character advancement, not side grades. The only MMO I've played that really doesn't feel like you're a slave to the level cap grind is Eve Online.
I guess this is no longer relevant but one of my all time favourite wow-mods was CT_MailMod. Must have saved me hours of clicking :)
As WoW is only about endgame, as a matter of fact (in my opinion), what can Blizzard offer to the next generation of new players? Even if you see "endgame" as the range between lvl 70 and 80 now, how interesting can it be for a new player having to rush through 1 to 60 in an empty world, through 60-70 in a relatively empty world (apart from 1 million Deth Knights, of course) just to reach the populated area of the game?

The whole way from 1-70 takes even a veteran between 1 to 6 Months, depending on available play time, I guess. Can Blizzard expect absolutely new players to play the game for 1 year, before they are able participate in the real action (endgame)?

EQ1 anyone?
Still, even as the events and raids of vanilla wow remains locked away from players starting nowadays, there is enough content for them to keep them busy anyway. I've leveled alts in 2008, and even on low population servers, you could mostly find a group of alts willing to do an instance run of BFD or Zul'Farrak.

Expansions tend to add new territories without revamping the old world much. I'd love to see Gnomeregan freed and cleared out, while Stormwind or Ironforge is under the raids and attacks of random enemy faction #10. Would make the old world interesting for older players.
Here's a radical though, as WoW is going to be pretty much a single player game upto say level 50, they should change it so that you only pay monthly after you reach that level.
PVE has been a joke in every major MMO released since EQ. There's simply no point in wasting so many resources developing PVE content when it becomes virtually obsolete in a matter of weeks or months. Developers should just get it over with and release a raid based MMO that completely eliminates leveling altogether for some other form of achievement.

On a side note, it's terribly depressing to see what wow has morphed into.
You can this a review of patch 3.0? You forgot to mention how stupidly over-powered Ret Paladins are at the moment. They can heal for 6k with holy light and still do retarded DPS. They even have a bubble and can pop Avenging Wrath while inside their bubble. GOOD LORD!
No, I never called this a review of patch 3.0. I called it "thoughts", and its just that, things that went through my mind on seeing patch 3.0.

If you want to know everything about paladins, I'd recommend Blessing of Kings blog.
I bet if Blizzard setup a server where you could only role from from level one, there would be a huge response, mainly for nostalgia reasons
No developer intentionally patches something in to make his game worse.

Unless you are Sony Online Entertainment and your game is Star Wars Galaxies, and you just patched in the New Game "Enhancements" (NGE). Heh.
As a former subscriber now playing for free (I just have to reroll every 10 days), I noticed last night in Coldridge Valley (Dwarf/Gnome start area) that the male Troll Whelps now look distinctly un-whelp like. They've buffed up so much they could probably arm wrestle Sly Stallone, and win! The female Troll Whelps still look like they could use a good feed, but wow! Those Male Trolls are buff!

I guess Blizzard are using the Northrend Troll model for the Whelps, and it looks very odd.

It's too bad Blizzard chose not to introduce a couple new races (or classes starting at lvl 1) to motivate older players to start alts - that really helped to populate the 1-60 zones in early 2007 when I started.
I guess Blizzard has not much of a choice trivializing old content since the high level/new content is where the action and players will be. So getting as much players as possible be able to go there (ramping up the leveling speed to insane levels) is sound, business wise. The so called (but otherwise not very special) hero classes are just a mechanic to introduce new classes in an already matured mmo environment (expect the new hero class to start at 65).

Even though i will spent my limited game time in another mmo, i still have a WOW account, so i downloaded the patch. (first thing i did was check the achievements section, to see if i had any special entries on my characters :two feats of strenght, one being an old style pvp title).

I will probably buy the xpack since im curious about some things out (mainly the dk) but i highly suspect this game will not hold my attention for very much longer. After so many years it just feels too familiar, in a bad way.
This idea may be very labor intensive but I think it would be nice if blizzard took the old dungeons and added hench men, took out the trash, and made them scriptive like single player console games.

The objective wouldn't be to figure out a strategy to beat the bosses but to just keep alive. So the dungeon would not have to be taylored to the each class. Loot could be optional or just quest base.

This would allow new players to experience the old dungeons with an epic feel.
I think Tyler's suggestion was a good one but don't hold your breath. They could turn them all into single player instances like Age of Conan's Destiny Quests. At the end you get 1 or 2 blue drops for your class with a choice of stats to suit your spec.

Heck, I'd keep one active WOW account for the family for that option. Pick a hybrid and when anyone in the house has a taste for WOW go for it.

In a house that once had 5 simultaneous accounts we now have 0.
I don't think there is an answer to the shelf life of content in a game where the entire purpose is to improve and move on. Even if you find a way to get level 80 players to return to low-level zones (through phase quests maybe, or new sub-zones) they are hardly likely to help out level 11 noobs kill 10 rats or run them through wailing caverns. The process of levelling becomes more and more of an obstacle to new entrants until, eventually, you have to release a new game to start the cycle all over again. I don't think it's any coincidence that Blizzard is planning it's new MMORPG now. Every new game that comes along is dubbed the WoW killer - I think Blizzard is simply planning its own succession.
The new mmo I'm waiting for isnt by blizzard, its the KOTOR mmo. If it is as well done as the single player games, it will be a hit for sure.

Regarding a "new" player to Wow. I dont think wow is designed for them anymore. It is pretty much catering to the current Wow player base.
There aere so many things they could do to sprinkle players throughout older areas: ore spawns, rare lvl 80 elite mobs, daily quests where you summon a high-level monster, farming mats from newly added high-lvl mobs, new achievement incentives, doing dailies that require you to turn normally low-level mobs into higher-levels (sort of a reverse effect of the giants in Feralas!)etc.

For some reason, the design team at Blizz doesn't want to touch the old code.
They butchered the endgame with this patch. Clearly they didnt test ANYTHING for lvl70. Why was this patch even released before WotLK?

Every PvE instance is VEERY easy and PvP is done for. Healers are being killed in 3 shot and everyone else too.. there is no strategy at all anymore. Ret Paladins and Mutilate rogues are overpowered like hell. The overall feeling is very private cheat server-esque with some +30% damage buff :/

"We release things when they are finished" and blizz polish polish polish thing goes to the wall with this ill-thought patch.
I've written about the loss of the Old World before. In conversations with BBB, he suggested some cool ideas for revitalizing Azeroth. Most involved alternate storylines, sort of a "behind the scenes" of questlines that we've already seen. Almost a shadow organization sort of feel, where quests and storylines revolved around patching up errors in the timeline caused by the old questlines.

There really is a lot that can be done on the grand stage that is Old Azeroth. The "ten more levels and talents" is just... unfulfilling.
Content-use is, to me, a very interesting topic in MMO's specifically, but in all games generally. It doesn't just apply to raid zones. There are ruins and locations in WoW that have never been used, or you just ran through once and never again.
Why is such content left behind? Gamers learn from the games they play, and part of that learning is not participating in inefficient activities. Once a certain activity is perceived to be non-optimal, the vast majority of players move on.
The key then is why game design reinforces such a narrow range of 'optimal' choices.
I remember playing with my wife and I noticed her standing there looking around. I asked, "What are you looking for?" She replied, "Oh nothing, just admiring the scenery in this region since I will probably never see it again."

It's supposed to be a virtual world, not a treadmill?
Adding two new races was very important for keeping the old content kinda new in the last expansion. Nothing new in the old world, I think, will turn out to be a bad mistake this time around. New races, however, are only one way of doing though. The alternate storylines idea is a great one. Making a neutral faction (since pvp is limited if not fried) with new races and new factions of old races might help. Also, adding quest lines so people could change factions would be cool. Hell, Dranaei and Blood Elves already work together in Shatt and on on the isle, why not go all the way. The role playing weirdos would love it too. (shiver)

One thing that I find most encouraging about WAR is how it appears to be setting itself up for an almost endless set of horizontal expansions without the vertical expansions. It is going to be very straight forward for them to add new racial pairings without ever adding 10 more career ranks, In fact, given the way the campaign and tiers lay out, I don't think they could add more levels if they wanted too. What would you do with a tier 5 with no fortresses and cities? or do you completely change the maps? Not going to happen. They could, however, add more renown ranks without ever having to change the existing fortresses and sieges. And when they add new pairings, the rank 40s will be able to head over to the new fortresses and cities right away. Think of it: "New endgame content without a 10 level gear reset." That just makes me grin. Not to mention the new races to role as alts and storylines to run though.

The only thing I can think of for Blizz to do to reuse the old content is to retune the old endgame instances and raids for 5 man play at higher levels. Lots of work so I don't expect it to happen soon if ever. But it is a shame to see great content and storylines go to waste. The most important thing they will need to do to get people back into the old instances will be to retune the drops for the new levels. People still run BRD, DM and even LBRS once in a while. It is rare, but only because it can be difficult to find a group. People never do UBRS or MC or ZG unless it is just for kicks and old time sake because you have to have too many people at level to make the loot useful or you have to out level the loot for 5 to work. People can get 5 together at 65 to try UBRS but why if there is no loot and the attunement is difficult. Drop the attunements and retune the drop for whatever level a group of 5 could do the instance at. Then add new races and/or classes so that people will level though them again.

They could also create heroic 5 and 10 man versions of the old raids. Would you have done 10 man MC or Ony after your 10,283rd run though Kara? I would have.

Retunes will take a lot of resources but will they take as much as laying out brand new instances and populating them from scratch and writing new background stories for them? Being able to choose between 40 heroics and 15 old school raids as 10mans in addition all the new 10 mans would be great.
The easiest way to revitalise old content and provide new players with a sense of the old being new again (and not be overwhelmed by the "current" endgame) is for Blizzard to do the following:

Create a new class of servers that has a max level of lvl 60. All old world dungeons, attunements etc are required with the exception that there are dranei and bloodelves available. AQ is not opened and will need the server event to open it and Naxx to be introduced after AQ is "farmed". Players rolling on these servers can play forever or transfer anytime off. Players can only roll on these servers from level 1 and cannot transfer from the current normal servers.

I would say this is the cheapest and most cost effective way for Blizzard to retain a group of customers as well as provide new players and rerollers the best experience.

If you want to make it "hardcore", disable new character creation on ALL current servers and any new characters can ONLY be created in these oldschool servers. This will FORCE people to experience the 40 man raids, give them a chance at the old Grand Marshal titles.

You flag the character at creation whether you want the toon to progress past 60 or not. If you flag the toon, you get a free transfer off to the normal servers after you hit 60 (optional). If you don't flag, you will need to pay the usual $25 to transfer off.
Tobold, congrats on your herbal profits. Herbal enhancements... it reminds of a joke I heard at Blizzcon:

"What's a woman's favorite class in WoW?"
"Male enhancement shaman!"

I use the Postal addon to open all of my mail with one click.

Ok, about the main point of your article, I agree with other comments here that it's impossible to both stretch the advancement game and simultaneously keep a high level of interaction with new players. The Recruit-A-Friend program is the closest thing available -- even at 3x leveling speed, some people may want to bring their newbie friends through instances. And that requires 3 more people in that old-world zone.
It's rumination like this that makes me question (once again) the whole point of an "endgame" (or "elder game", whatever) and the whole level/loot metrics in the first place. To my jaundiced eye, it looks more like a way to pad out the playing time (and subscription) rather than either providing sufficient content or a system in which players provide content. (Whether it's an ever-changing political control scheme like RvR/factions, or literally player-created content.)

Is the level/loot treadmill really the only way to give players a sense of achievement and investment in their character?
Ok, I started reading Your blog one week ago and going slowly from 2003 up to now. It made me smile many times but at this point I've decided that I absolutely have to comment that one :)
I really think Blizzard reads and takes Your points into consideraton. There were many things You've requested that made it to the game, but that one... well, they should hire You Tobold :)
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