Tobold's Blog
Thursday, May 28, 2015
Endowment effect

The endowment effect is a psychological phenomenon where people ascribe more value to things merely because they own them. It appears that Blizzard developers aren't very well versed in psychology. They caused a huge uproar by announcing that flying isn't going to be introduced to Warlords of Draenor, nor any future expansion. People pointed at their $25 flying mounts and felt cheated. Mount collection is a huge part of the game for some people, with players willing to run old dungeons and raids many times in order to get some rare flying mount. But those flying mounts usually look horrible waddling on the ground, so being told that they will become forever useless is hurting some people big time.

There are good arguments for and against flying, but I consider all those arguments to be irrelevant. The point is not whether World of Warcraft is a better game with or without flying. The point is that because of the endowment effect you cause more damage taking away a feature than you created by introducing it. I'm very much convinced that exactly the same thing will happen when the next expansion doesn't have garrisons or some equivalent form of player housing. People get used to features, adjust their gameplay to them, and then get angry when those features are taken away. It doesn't matter how good that feature is. Devs need to make the decision of whether a feature is good for the game *before* announcing and introducing it. Constantly adding features and then removing them again just makes it appear as if the devs don't have a plan and are simply working on trial and error instead of with some vision or design philosophy.

The only surprising thing about this is that the decision wasn't made after WotLK. TBC delivered on it's promise, but they didn't really consider how badly flying mounts broke their zone, progression and encounter design. WotLK had some attempts to make flying combat work, but AFAIK Malygos was a very disliked encounter. The engine simply cannot handle three-dimensional combat as well as ground combat.

I guess Blizzard was trapped by the endowment effect until now, and eventually decided that the backlash from an unpopular decision would harm them less than keeping the issues associated with flying mounts. Maybe they made a last-ditch attempt to make them work and concluded that it can't be done?

Ice Crown and Storm Peaks in WotLK were clearly designed with flying mounts in mind.Getting to some areas without one, was simply impossible, IIRC. Blizzard dropping flying has nothing to do with flying combat (no one expected it anyway besides the start of WotLK when people has some hope it would happen), and Occulus was universaly hated as a dungeon.

What they're essentially saying now is "we don't have the budget/desire to spend on creating interesting vertical zones, so we decided to go with the funnel-everyone-down-a-linear-path method".

I mean, in WoD I expected Spires of Arak to be a largely vertical zone, with parts cut off and available only with flying in the endgame (because, you know, it has "Spires" in its name) but what we got instead was a mostly flat area with a couple of winding paths up a hill.
The only "flying combat" that has ever worked in WoW was quests where you were on a mount on rails and you jumped / threw a line to other mounts on rails. Without depth perception, there can be no free form flying combat.

I don't know about calling it a budget decision. If I created an MMORPG, I wouldn't have flying mounts. I would only have ground mounts and city to city teleportation (which would only allow soulbound items to teleport with you).

The problem with flying mounts is that your players can simply skip over every barrier. They don't need to fight their way to the top of the tower, they simply land on top, kill one guy, pick up the item, and fly off.

You can do what WoW is doing, and simply not allow flying in certain zones. But that comes off as highly artificial, and as we have seen, it will only piss off your players. I think it is better just to not have them at all.
Maybe you could have flying only between certain (non-quest) locations. For example, you could land in a friendly town or city, or at a dungeon entrance, but not in the middle of the 'countryside'. (Or if you did, you'd go into a special non-interaction mode, and if you then engaged an enemy or gathered resources, you'd be teleported to the nearest or most recently visited city.)
It's really kind of pathetic that Blizzard never implemented some real mounted combat, EQ had it after all. And so far as combat in a 3D environment, Might and Magic 6 did it, so WoW not being able to manage it is sad.
@Gerry Quinn

You a flight path?
I mean like a very wide flight path covering areas that are reasonably easy to get to. You could fly around between small settlements even if they didn't have flight paths.
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