Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Three Mistakes of WoW

Azuriel wrote a response to one of my posts. It remembered me to sum up my remarks after playing WoW for about three weeks now and having leveled up a priest to itemlevel 350.

LFD was introduced about a year after WotLK was released if I remember correctly. Back then I and many others instantly said that this is a mistake. Just like the cross-server battlegrounds have been a mistake. But this one was on a much larger scale: The PvE scale of WoW.

Well, players are often wrong. But this time we have been right. There would have been nothing wrong about supplementing WoW with some kind of cross-server PvE content. But that's not what Blizzard did. Instead they replaced major amounts of PvE content, all group-content except for raids, over-night. My comment over at Azuriel's place is this:
You may be right that WoW never put you into groups, but the way I came in contact with the server communities in classic and TBC were instances and battlegrounds. I met the same people (who played at similar times like I did) again and again. Eventually we would start talking; putting each other on friends lists to be able to invite each other when we wanted to do a instance – or even farm elites in the open world.

We started to know each other. Eventually people would tell me that they finally want to make their own raid and if I wanted to join – just a test run tomorrow evening?

This is how it worked. This is not how it works anymore.

I am not drawn into any community right now with my priest. I would have to make a very proactive decision to join a guild and then spend weeks to get to know those people. That's not how it worked in the past. I remember when I was the main tank of my raid in TBC that when doing an instance I was constantly on the lookout for good (and friendly!) players who might join my raid. In the beginning I, too, was asked to join raids, later people knew whom I already tanked for. Major parts of the server community knew each other. This added incredibly much to WoW !

There would have been nothing wrong with adding a few extra cross-server dungeons to WoW (e.g. during leveling), but to remove all the content that made the community know and depend on each other was a fatal mistake.

But it wasn't the only one. The second big mistake was the trivial leveling game. And I am not talking about making it faster. I wouldn't have a problem with a faster leveling game as long as I didn't dramatically outlevel my opponents. But even not-outleveled opponents are terribly trivial until level 60. And never become dangerous again.

Moreover, there is no variety. All mobs of the same level have the same number of HP, which you can even see displayed. Some have some special moves, which are irrelevant, because they won't even scratch your health points.

During level 4-9 in the Undead starting area there is some resemblance of danger for completely new characters. This makes this starting zone incredibly fun. You really feel immersed and not like a detached tourist.

Finally the third big mistake of World of Warcraft is the endgame character power progression. I wrote an entire series of posts about that before. The quintessence is that the mechanic that has been introduced with WotLK makes you gain itemlevels relatively fast until you hit a ceiling and then that's it for a few months. You can come back a few months later and do it again. This mechanic makes the absurdity of the system very, very apparent. Why would a designer want to do that?

Classic WoW provided reasonably challenging content that players could experience in a pleasant social environment at their own pace. And this applied to all players; from the most hardcore to the most casual. WotLK and Cataclysm herded players together at one difficulty level by requiring them to regularly experience trivial monotonous content in an unpleasant social environment. Classic WoW was far from perfect. But the character power progression mechanic was superior to the one we have now, for everybody but the top 10% of raiders.

You also know my opinion on why they did this: Because WoW is mostly run by hardcore raiders who just want to do scripted raids for their own sake. That's all they want from WoW. But it is probably the part of WoW I want the least. Furthermore, the hardcore raiders are part of estabilished communities. That's why the LFD doesn't affect them much and they don't need to care about how well WoW pulls people into communities.

The Rest
Last but not least there are several smaller mistakes.

The core combat has become too fast, in my opinion. It's often stressful and not suited for players of age 30+. This is especially true for PvP, but also for PvE. Combat is too much about speed right now and, consequently, not enough about pressing the right buttons and moving to the best positions, unless you mastered the speed first. Most importantly, this speed just doesn't feel right to me.

The power progression at all times in WoW is too fast. This causes all kinds of problems. It would have been easy to fix this with Cataclysm, but apparently Blizzard decided against it. They should understand that gaining new abilities and thus exploring and mastering your character is what makes leveling fun. Gradually doing more damage which isn't even a direct consequence of any specific action of yours, adds only very little to the leveling game.

Heirlooms and low-level PvP are ridiculous for new players and anybody who likes to engage in it without grinding for heirlooms first.

There's no incentive at all, not even an advantage, of leveling in a group of even two players, let alone more. I'm not an advocat of forced grouping, but that doesn't mean that grouping should be discouraged or even be outright ridiculous.

Mobs are often too large. If my sword can only hit the opponent's feet, sometimes only the toes, that's a problem in my opinion. If I can't even see my whole opponent, but only his legs, that's also a problem! The alternative, to zoom the camera out a lot, leads to not seeing your character anymore. That's not good; period.

Spell effects are often absurd for a melee. The screen is full of magic explosions, while you would like to see the effects of your sword hitting the opponent.

Character advancement gained in PvP is not usable in PvE and vice versa. I know why this was done in TBC, but I still think the advantages don't outweigh the disadvantages at all. Raiding just to gain equip for raiding and PvPing just to gain equip for PvPing not only rips my character in two halves, but also reduces my incentives to do either of the two.

Starting without any PvP equip at all at max level is absurd. Expensive crafted items whose existence a new player can't possibly guess don't help much.

Much of the late-game five player content is badly tuned for melees. Ranged classes are almost always superior, because they take less damage.

The leveling game 1-80 is neglected. Ironically after Cataclysm hit. Things like being unable to defeat even two opponents at level 4-6 in the undead starting area, but killing scores of them at level 20 and even more at level 30 is one proof of this. Learning curves for all kinds of activities are messed up! Professions are useless unless at max level, especially non-gatherer professions.

The TBC, WotLK and Cata transitions during leveling are far from perfect. And I am not even talking about the story. More polish is needed!


  1. I'd call the mistakes of wow something different

    ~ the law of unintended consequences. The result of making major changes to a complex system.

    wikipedia says:

    "Possible causes of unintended consequences include the world's inherent complexity (parts of a system responding to changes in the environment), perverse incentives, human stupidity, self-deception, failure to account for human nature or other cognitive or emotional biases."

  2. You are almost certainly right. But then it's not like I wrote down revelations there. Most of this is known for some time by now - especially the trouble with LFD-like features.

    WoW suffers from lack of polish at anything not endgame and from developers whose only answer to any problem is: "Let's try to get players to raid more and offer more dailies". And it is like that since mid-TBC.

  3. The GCD used to be the 'cure' for fast. Every 1.5 seconds was the fastest you would need to press. Rogues used the shorter 1.0 second GCD, but that was a conscious design choice, they are meant to feel fast and twitchy, and I think it is great to have a class like that. But more and more off-GCD abilities have been added. On top of that, more cooldowns, short cooldowns, which means more to keep track of. Moving out of fire is quite easy when there is nothing else going on. But if instead we're tracking several CDs, possibly some debuffs, and a dynamic resource (as opposed to mana which mostly just goes down) like rage or holy power, it's somewhat more understandable that some people could be slow moving out of fires. I remember times when I just did not see the fire. I'm not stupid, but at that moment my brain was not giving much priority to what my eyes were telling it.

  4. -LFD for sure was the biggest least it should be server based!and I say at least and not sure about..back in vanilla and TBC my friend list was full and also I had a notepad in my desk to add more names!I also knew all my enemies. Now players are like NPC mobs you don't remember the last guys you did a dungeon with.

    -Leveling : I have made so many posts in official forums about leveling be so with cataclysm itsn't only trivial but too much linear also!you cannot even skip a quest you don't like in an more traveling around the world..yes I am the minority of people I liked the quests to send me in the four corners of the whole world because that what quests should be..difficult tasks with plenty of story. Some people like to be adventurers some other like to see an adventure movie, I am with the first ones but it seems the majority is with the second :(

    what can I say about your article is really so good and what veteran players that have stopped playing wow thinks..I know this because I still talk with a lot of people I met in vanilla and TBC via skype/facebook..

    pvp gear cannot used in pve and vice versa...simple stupid..

    dailies don't let people to advance in their own dungeons in patches give raid loot don't let people advance in their own pace but force them to the latest content and makes them skip the rest of it..New dungeons in 4.3 patch will have drops with 378ilvl, firelands drops..bye bye firelands, next please

  5. It's not only the people you talk to or actively interact with. There was also the strange guy always sitting in front of the AH on his rare mount. There was the person you've met a few times in a PuG UBRS. There were the group of player always sitting besides a fire near the bank.

    The game felt alive. You "knew" a lot of other player the same way you "know" the person on the same bus as you every morning.

    Server transfers, and to some point the LFD, killed that. Which, for me, is another factor that reduced the world to a game.

  6. There was the person you've met a few times in a PuG UBRS. There were the group of player always sitting besides a fire near the bank.

    Those are still there, Kring. You just don't notice them, because you fly at 400% speed past them directly into the AH. And that's only if you ever leave it without teleporting in the first place.

    So, yeah, I agree.

  7. I agree with your entire post. I too was one of the bloggers predicting that LFG would have a terrible effect on the community. It gives me no joy to have been proven right.

    But if you think Blizzard consider this to be a mistake, think again. They're about to introduce looking for raid in the next patch.

  8. To be honest, I find LFD to be exactly what I need when I want to group.

    Have you recently played any game without LFD or teleport-to-dungeon?

    Standing in town for the same 30 mins it takes to find a group as DPS, spamming the global channels "LFG level xxx Rogue" or something similar?
    LotRO works like this (almost, you have teleport-to-dungeon), and honestly I never bothered grouping except with people I already know (= guildies), since it just takes too much time, and I can't do anything while waiting (ok, this is somewhat false, since in LotRO people use a non-official server-global channel for LFG, so you can be out of town).

    I think that Blizzard LFD + preference for same-server which they added later, just does the job very well.
    Note also that this does not stop you from LFG on global channels and make friends.... so instead of complaining why don't you just do it?

  9. > Have you recently played any game without LFD or teleport-to-dungeon?

    That's the point. We're not asking for a "game" but for a "world".

    I agree, a game needs such "quick to action" tools. But "Game of Warcraft" is losing subscribers, "World of Warcraft" won them.

  10. Helistar, I played Rift before the LFD. It was great fun to assemble groups and run to the entrance together.

  11. Great post, here are some extras.

    1. What about designing expansions at contractions? Why is it okay for an expansion or a content patch to render previous content obsolete? What's wrong with the new expansion being optional content? Isn't it weird that there are roughly 30 raid instances in this game, yet, there's only 1 raid instance that's relevant at a time. It's a gargantuan failure in the game design.

    2. Designing gameplay that contradicts the core format of the game. What's the point of leveling and gearing up a character in a game where you pick goblin zeppelin parts, drive cars, catapults, impersonate imps and nagas all day long?

    They could've approached the quest diversity through challenging, dynamic and unique combat encounters and better story telling, rather than inflating the only story telling mechanic of the game to introduce new, contradictory designs.

    The problem wasn't that the "kill x of y" quests needed a change, but that the "y" needed to be more interesting. They're still not interesting, and the thousands of quests are certainly not interesting.

    3. If you have to give incentives for players to engage in the gameplay designs that you come up with, the incentives either ruin the experience or the experience is not worth your time in the first place.