Tobold's Blog
Friday, June 17, 2011
Nils on Cataclyms

Just a quick link to Nils' analysis of WoW raiding. While I do not completely agree with his emphasis of blaming "the B team" and his belief that WoW suffers from underinvestment, there is a lot of truth in much of what he says. Choice quote:
"Unfortunately, this meant that shortly after Cataclysm's release the average player found himself confronted with a very trivial leveling game and very hardcore heroic dungeons that had often to be completed in an unpleasant social environment. And all this was necessary to start raiding which was rather hardcore and as such inaccessible for many of them.

The result was a 5% drop (after creative bookkeeping) in subscriber numbers shortly after Cataclysm had been released in Europe/NA and WotLK had been released in China."
I do think that the trivial and too fast leveling experience has other reasons than those Nils mentions (Team B was following a Team A policy of time to level cap having to be a constant), but I do fully agree that trivializing the leveling game and making the endgame less accessible are the main reasons for the relative lack of success of Cataclysm.

Now I'm reasonably optimistic that Blizzard understands at least the raiding problem, as some of the devs' comments and actions suggest. Thus there is a chance that the next World of Warcraft expansion will manage raiding better, hopefully with a better system of variable difficulty which makes raiding accessible to the majority of players, while keeping is challenging for the more hardcore. I am much less optimistic that Blizzard can reverse the trivial leveling problem. Assuming the next expansion adds yet another 5 to 10 levels to the game, Blizzard would basically have to double the time to level cap to reach a speed in which people don't outlevel zones before consuming the zones' content. While this would improve the game enormously (even my ultra-casual wife complains about too fast leveling), it would be far too easy for the people who hate leveling to paint this move as a huge money-grabbing nerf. Thus there is some doubt whether Blizzard can reverse this mistake. With WoW not getting any younger, it is quite possible that future expansions will not be able to recover subscription numbers, and that WoW has peaked.
Nil's and your analysis seems reasonable.

I think more than 2 difficulty levels sure seems like an obvious improvement. My personal experience is that for non-HM, it would be helpful if there was some way to not require exactly ten (25) people of an acceptable mix to get together at the same block of time or lose forever this week's lockout.

It sure seems like leveling is bimodal; some really love it and some hate it. So how about a "Gold" (a la WoT) level 90? Increase the leveling time/experience. But for $10 you convert a level 85 to level 90 and for $25 you get a prebuilt level 90. No gear or achievement but ready to "now play the game." The "gold" handicap is that they can't have professions. So it does not benefit gold farmers or the realm first progression guilds and puts the purchasers at a few % disadvantage. But the 1337 are able to skip all the fun parts in order to raid immediately.

I do think that it does not reflect well on Cataclysm that all the retrospectives are happening this early in the expansion. It feels later than it is.
I agree the disconnect between the challenge the levelling and end game represent is a source of real problems for WoW at the moment.

I've just had lunch with two friends, both former raiders since BC/Wrath and players since vanilla. Each of us play either a tank or healer.

The problem is the end game: the culture and mechanics that demand near perfection.

Each of us is currently levelling alts, but logging on less and less.

So WoW has lost 600k accounts. How many more are not very active?

I think Hagu is onto a good idea. Why not - like World of Tanks - have a cash shop where you can my raid level toons?

Why not seperate the raiding and levelling game all together? Let the raiders fund the development of their content, while allowing others to level, PvP etc.
*where you can BUY raid ready toons.
What would you think of an approach like this:

- there are no levels, when you create a character it doesn't have access to all the skills/talents of its class. Access to those is unlocked by quests which are designed to teach you what the ability does and when to do it. The total time to unlock everything would be a grand maximum of 10h for a complete newbie, going down significantly for a veteran.
- as soon as your character is complete (but even earlier if you want) you can start the "endgame" (instances/raids/whatever).
- quests/zones are visited and played by opening your character pane and ticking "enable storytelling mode". At this time quest NPC become accessible. Quests are separated in two groups:
* "flashbacks" of your character, i.e. you're often alone or with some NPC, the questlines are easy, gear is fixed (your current gear is saved and a specific set is given to you for the quest). Choices made during the quest shift some slider of your character like "good/evil" which has no impact whatsoever on character efficiency, but it's just "RP fluff". At most, it could affect the texts associated to the emotes.
* past world events: an approach similar to Caverns of Time, they are instances/zones/questlines related to the history of the world and they allow you to relive the most important events of it. They are harder than the "flashback" quests, and when you enter gear is "normalized" (i.e. the power of the items is fixed by its uncommon/rare/epic property, so full epic stuff makes the quest easier).
* all these quest provide minor gear upgrades (a bit like Archeology rewards) and some "cool" items, but no gamebreaking stuff.
Correct me if I'm wrong but as far as I remember when TBC was released the vanilla leveling game was not speed up. The accelerated leveling was introduced late in TBC as a preparation for WotLK.

Therefore that's very likely a Team B change, too.
I am pretty sure this is wrong, Kring. Though I'm not 100% certain and don't want to search for patch notes.
I hoped I don't have to go dig through the patch notes but here they are. :) It was patch 2.3.0 (Zul'Aman patch) which reduced the XP.

Leveling Improvements

Many leveling improvements have been made for the old world.

* The amount of experience needed to gain a level has been decreased between levels 20 and 60. In addition, the amount of experience granted by quests has been increased between levels 30 and 60.
* Level 1-60 dungeon quests have had their experience and faction rewards increased.
* Many elite creatures and quests in the level 1-60 experience have been changed to accommodate solo play.
Late TBC. mmh. That's when the 'welfare epics' came along ..

I'd say that the other team had overtaken by then. But anyway. It's not good to talk so much about the teams.

The design decisions are what should be talked about ;)
It is not a Team A or Team B problem. It is a problem of the Vocal Minority being focused on in Vanilla and early tBC.

The majority of the player base were then focused on for the last half of tBC and most of WotLK.

It was the refocusing on the QQers that wanted to be unique snowflakes that brought us the fail of T11 and soon to be T12 content. If less than 50% of guilds could not complete 12/12 normal like is currently the case then it is a design problem. For the content to be really successful 66% or more of the player base should be 12/12 normal.

This is also not counting the few that are 1-2/13 HM by skipping getting 12/12 before entering HMs but that is just progress gaming. Because the progress tracking sites are retarded as well. Admittedly part of the problem is Blizzard achievement tracking and the fail that is not differentiating 10 vrs 25 man kills.
Could any of this be related to how fast Team B could create content? It appears that TBC shipped with 6 raids with somewhere in the ballpark of 30 "encounters", representing 3 raid tiers, with two raids added on later. Tiers are now added slowly, one at a time with HM to slow people down.

I think the bigger motivation for the change was so few people saw BT and Sunwell, allowing anyone to skip to the last raid tier to make sure they experienced it, no matter how late they came to the game. If they wanted to see the lower tier content they could (during wrath I raided Naxx a little even after Ulduar came out)

This isn't a new problem. I remember this same problem with Everquest: Planes of Power where most players had a hard time getting attuned for half the zones.
Malchome: it was the design intent that only a relatively small number of players finish T11 before 4.2. The "big idea" of this expansion is extending the tuning of raid content through time as well as by the normal/heroic switch. The rest of the players are intended to do T11 after 4.2 comes out.

Now, the $64 question is whether the lesser players will nowbother to do the T11 content. If so, Blizzard will conclude the mistake in Cata was not including an easy-only tier for those players to do initially. If not, Blizzard may decide the temporal shifting of difficulty itself is a failure and go back to WotLK-style tuning.

My suspicion? The value proposition of an MMO is ego gratification and being able to show off accomplishments. A training wheels raid will not really deliver on this. So, I expect the uptake of nerfed T11 to be low.
The thing with WoW is that there's only so many people who are going to play it, and that those people have a certain amount of time that the game is going to be a draw for them. The burn rate, imo, was hanging at stasis for a few years and appears to have tipped into the negative now. There's not a whole lot that can be done as far as new content or mechanics to change that. Every month that passes more veterans quit, and pretty much everyone who is interested in MMOs has played WoW (or refused to play WoW).

It's the inevitable downward slope.
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