Friday, June 10, 2011

Trying to understand Blizzard

The last post was about WoW's leveling speed being much too high. There are many, many ways to speed up your leveling. But even if you don't use any of them (which is not easy), you will still face enemies eventually that are way below your level. That assumes that you run through the linear story, of course. But since the latest expansion was about the introduction of it, we have to assume that Blizzard expects a lot of players to play through these linear quest lines.

The question I want to answer in this post is "WHY?".
But first things first: This is a deliberate decision by Blizzard. It is not impossible to properly adjust the leveling speed. Earlier expansions are proof.

Why is it bad?
1) because fighting low-lvl mobs makes it impossible for you to use more than one to three skills of your character. The mobs just die too fast. This is not about challenge, but about interesting gameplay!
2) because people like to strife for the next level. That doesn't mean they want to suffer. It just means that they want to look at that experience bar every now and then, and wish it went up faster. This was the driving motivation behind Everquest's success. It is a powerful factor.

So, why? Why did they do this? This is speculation, of course.
You remember the Loremaster achievement? It was about doing every one of the thousands of quests in WoW for a Ding! and a text message. Lots of people did it or tried to do it. And they did it at maxlvl. So, one day someone at Blizzard thought: "Hey, if people like to do low-lvl quests for this!, then they certainly would do the more refined Cataclysm quests this way to reach maxlvl!"

That's not a statement about fun. That guy knew that a lot of players would have less fun. But the leveling game was widely popular, as well as the loremaster achievement. People don't need to have the best time of their life while playing WoW. It is enough if they have just enough fun to p(l)ay.
This is a very important thing to understand. It is the reason behind the lowest common denominator! A game that is loved by 200k people and not liked enough to be played by another 300k, makes much less profit than one that is just fun enough to be played by 500k. This is much more important than that people love your game (or movie). At least when immediate profit is your goal.

Once the guy had assured himself of the fact that a lot of players would still have fun enough to p(l)ay (he sent a request to the metrics team), he imagined all the benefits of the change:
1) (Dumb) Players would feel like they play especially well and the out-leveling of the content is the result of this.
2) A lot of players that stopped playing WoW, because spamming just one button during leveling got them occasionally killed, would not stop playing anymore. (This is not supposed to be ironic. Apparently, there are quite some players like this, believe it or not).
3) The change allows players to reach max-level even faster if they don't care about the quest lines.
4) The change makes it easier for players to reach maxlvl by alternative means, like chain-queuing in the LFD or even the BGs.

Now, unfortunately Blizzard wasn't certain that this would work. That's why they didn't depart from traditional leveling altogether. Yeah, you read correctly: Although Blizzard doesn't care one bit about you leveling together with your friends, they really want you to play together with them at maxlvl. And they want you to reach maxlvl really fast.

One way to make more players reach maxlvl is to allow alternative methods of leveling. Game-changing heirlooms were a first step, but it would be much easier to just award a player a level whenever he did a LFD-dungeon. A lot of players already chain-queue the LFD to reach maxlvl and Blizzard saw this and thought: "Hey, shouldn't we support these players more?". It would make much more sense to award a level after the completion of each LFD dungeon. And once you did 85 dungeons, you're lvl85.
Similarly, Blizzard could give you a level after every one of the linear quest chains.

The experience-mechanism is outdated when it comes to streamlined games like WoW. It was created for games that allowed players to stray off the path. But this is not encouraged in WoW, anyway. And you can still encourage it with achievements and pets and the like.
Awarding levels at specific points in the life of a character gives the developers and the player much more control over the character's progression.

But the time wasn't right eight months ago. Thus, we have a hybrid model right now that seems to be "fun enough" for enough players to p(l)ay. Sure, they moan and complain, but apparently, they don't quit. And some players even seem to have fun one-shooting grey mobs or jumping quest-lines. Well, done Blizzard.
(But not done well enough for me).


  1. But why do they want you to get to max level fast? At max level they no longer have the draw of levelling to keep people playing. Is it because players were leaving the game because they wanted to be max level but found the levelling too onerous?

    I notice that Turbine have just released pre-orders for Rise Of Isengard and one of the draws is a gadget that gives your characters +25% XP up to level 65. It seems pretty clear why they are doing this: they want to suck the players through the early levels, which are F2P into the higher level content, which is not and they want you to buy the expansion, which starts at level 65.

    I'm not so clear what Blizzard's motivation might be as I haven't seen Cataclysm first hand.

  2. Very insightful post if I may say so.

    The trivialisation of the leveling game is something I'm strongly against - Cataclysm has made things much worse with the on-rails questing and XP showering from all directions.

    @Roq yes I noticed that and am dismayed. I haven't played that long, and as it's my 2nd game do not progress fast. But that's the way I want it - I want to experience the wonderful storylines without speed-leveling past everything. The fact that Turbine is copying Blizzard on this is depressing...

  3. This post sums up my thoughts exactly. I'm trying to level a Worgen alt with some friends to see all these new quests we paid for with the expansion - but in a group, questing is pointless as everything is one shot. It seems that about two quests into a new zone, everything is green or grey - and that's with us deliberately not wearing any xp gear as we're desperately trying to slow things down. If we dare step into one dungeon, we come out having to skip another zone.

    If blizzard really want people who don't care to insta-85, they should let them (which they did partially with DKs starting at 55) without spoiling the enjoyment for those of us who prefer levelling, than end game.

    In answer to roq's question - wow has the same thing effectively - a new expansion (usually) requires people to be max level to see the new areas etc - so people only buy expansions (mostly) once they are about to hit their cap for the first time. More people at max level = more people who will buy your new expansion = more money and more industry hype on number of sales if an expansion.

    When levelling was slower, you really felt like you earned those levels and enjoyed doing it. Now that people can level an alt in two days, it all feels pointless and insulting to those of us who put in the time and energy required to earn those levels, back in the day.

  4. I skipped the 'new' Azeroth almost entirely on my last (final) alt and levelled almost exclusively using LFD, but I see a lot of new players really enjoying Azeroth so I can only assume it is an attempt to retain more new players. Maybe a higher level character after the trial period convinces those trial players to further invest in their character.

  5. I don't think the explanation of fun enough works well to explain these moves. They were not going for fun enough, they were going for super awesome fun - I just don't think they did a great job of it.

    Fun enough was what Azeroth used to be. Sometimes a quest would tell you to take a boat to the other continent, fly for 15 minutes and drop off a box. And you'd get 5k experience. *That* was fun enough. Giant explosions, battles raging all around you, and seeing the fruits of your labour materialize in the world before your eyes are supposed to make things more exciting. We like going up levels, so going up levels faster should mean more to like.

    I feel like Blizzard decided that the toddler would be happy if we just let him eat the entire 2 pound chocolate Easter bunny in one sitting.

    The fact that more, more, more turns into less, less, less at level 85 is quite jarring. I'm sure Cataclysm heroics are a bit of a rude awakening for people who were soloing Ramparts at level 61.

  6. I don't really understand what Blizzrd's motivation for speeding up the leveling game would be. For all they care the longer the game takes the better.

    "3) The change allows players to reach max-level even faster if they don't care about the quest lines."

    I'd expect this would be the most likely case. They probably are trying to balance between the two types of players, but, regardless, it's a shame that they aren't afraid to mess with the content to meet this end.

  7. The reason Blizzard want to speed leveling up is very simple: WoW is an old game, a lot of people is at level cap. Chances are, if you join it's because of friends playing: if you look forward to several months of leveling before joining your friends, few people will go through it. Levels may be good for the ding/reward effect, but they are extremely bad because they segment the population in small non-interacting groups. In particular with Blizzard's exponential power increase.

    I think they should get rid of levels altogether, but it's not an easy thing to engineer, expecially when you already have a world which is built on it.

  8. If the choice is between being given a gadget when an expansion is released that makes me level at ludicrous speed that I can throw in the trash, and just levelling at ludicrous speed by default, I for one welcome our new gadget bearing overlords.

    Pity that at least the lower levels of LoTRO still seems to be an exercise in watching everything in my quest log steadily go from white, to blue, to light blue to green, even without using the gadget, and that's on an F2P account that doesn't give rest XP.

    I didn't even bother using my Lifetime account for this go at the game, precisely because it gets rest xp and F2P ones don't :/