Yesterday the news started hitting the blogosphere that Blizzard reported a loss of 600,000 customers during the last quarter, and that players are “able to consume the content faster than with previous expansions”, and thus they are going to attempt speeding up the development process. I’m probably one of those customers, and while I’ve explained why I quit in the past, I’m going to look back at this again as a player who has been WoW-clean for several months.
My casual WoW guild has lost a number of players (including my husband and I), and the reasoning behind the cancellations seemed to be the same: people got tired of jumping on the neverending end-game hamster wheel and grinding out heroics/raids just to get the next iLevel of gear. And for what?
WoW tends to shuttle people primarily towards raiding and gear acquisition, more so than other MMOs. For example, in LotRO, my current game of choice, there’s raids and gear and such, but there’s also a number of other things for casual players to do, like player housing, a wardrobe system, & the music system. There’s not as much of a push towards end-game activities and the pace is slower and more relaxed. Once at cap, some folks do raid, but you don’t see people rushing to get daily/weekly heroics in, or comparing raid progression. Individualism is valued there, and people mostly play how they want to. Another MMO, Rift, has artifact collections, a new wardrobe feature in the works, and armor dyes. Again, it’s quality-of-life *fluff* things that seem silly to the hardcore of the hardcore, but they give players a way to express their individuality, to do fun, non-combat-related things during raid and heroic downtime, and to feel like they’re truly *living* in Azeroth.
Blizzard prefers to focus primarily on dungeons and raids. That’s fine for dungeon-runners and raiders, but eventually that content will get beaten, and players will be searching for something else to do. This focus on finite game features with a limited shelf life is a big part of the problem. Where are the open-ended features with tons of creative possibilities for players?
My other big reason for leaving WoW, in addition to the gear-grind, was due to the heavy phasing and ultra-linear content. It made the game feel like a single-player game in a lot of ways, and that just wasn’t fun for a player like myself who enjoys exploration and feeling like they’re in a persistent and rich world. I think the Blizzard artists and designers are amazing, so this isn’t a beef with graphics or world design at all. Rather, I simply got annoyed that I was completely funneled into on-rails storytelling.
It’s a fine line to walk. You want to tell great stories, players love great stories. But you have to balance that with giving players an environment to write their OWN stories. That personal investment in their character and in Azeroth is what ties them to WoW. Once those ties are cut and their character becomes completely interchangeable with any other player character, they lose that vested interest in the game.
To be honest, I have a hard time feeling sorry for Blizz here… they made the design decision to speed the leveling content up, to make it ultra-linear and ultra-easy, and to put everyone on the fast track to heroics/raids that were really too difficult compared to the leveling content before them. Where were the world elites/bosses? Where were the group quests for each zone? With Rift’s release and the upcoming release of Guild Wars 2, you’re going to see a bigger focus on dynamic content, and more phasing just isn’t going to cut it in most player’s minds. At this point it feels almost as if World of Warcraft, once the invincible giant, is now a lumbering oaf that is lagging far behind its faster and more agile peers. It’s a shame too, because Azeroth really is something special, and deserves better than what Blizzard can currently give it.