WoW in 3.2 – more game, less MMO

The list of changes in patch 3.2 are coming thick and fast, and even beyond that we’re now getting stronger indications for where Blizzard plans to go with the game.

With paid faction changes in the works, paid race changes can’t be far behind. You can already switch servers (for a fee), and change your character’s appearance or name. No one will be surprised if players will eventually be able to create new alts at a high level rather than starting from level 1.

Raids will have more control over their lockouts ie. instead of a raid automatically resetting every week, there will be the option to extend the lock for a week to keep working on the progression boss of the moment without having to spend an evening or two reclearing. (note: this will leave raid leaders in the interesting position of having to choose between progression and loot from reclearing bosses, but will be great for our 10 man runs which aren’t so much about the loot anyway.)

In addition, Blizzard are tinkering with the economy a bit more directly than they have in the past. By introducing new recipes for epic gems, they’re specifically targetting the value of the different gems and eternals.

((edited to add: don’t take those recipes as gospel, the patch is still in testing and they changed in the later iteration. I do think Blizzard is using them to manipulate the AH a bit more directly than normal though. Note how there aren’t any that use eternal earth, for example.))

(Because obviously it would be a tragedy if jewelcrafters were not able to make huge profits from everything they freaking do. But I’m not bitter.)

Cerinne@Spectrecles lists out many of the upcoming changes.

And what I’m seeing is a concerted plan to deal with what I called the 4 year itch, by changing the game’s paradigm. Fewer and fewer of the choices you make in game will actually be permanent.

Being able to try a playstyle out, learn if it works and change if it doesn’t is generally good design in a game. Who really enjoys those old text adventures where a choice you made at the start in all innocence could screw you at the end of the game? Even in KOTOR I saved my game a lot, so that if I made a poor choice I could go back and do it again.

It’s not really good design for roleplayers, or for virtual worlds. But Blizzard is a games company and they see the game side of WoW as the side that pulls in the players. They probably are correct.

Cui Bono?

With any set of game changing patch notes, the big question to ask is who will benefit. Fel Fire looks at the (controversial, in the blogosphere at least) badge changes and concludes that … actually just about everyone benefits – she discusses this at the bottom of the linked post.

Similarly with the notion of paid faction changes. A lot of people would benefit if they could pick up an old character and switch factions to go join friends. After all, the game has been out for four years. It’s quite likely that players have met new contacts in real life who play the game, why should they be forced to level a new alt just to play with them?

I could go through every single one of the changes that have been announced and find that lots of people potentially benefit. It wouldn’t even be difficult.

So if lots of people benefit, who is adversely affected by these types of changes? Well, anyone who is finding that their previous assumptions are no longer correct. And they’re right to feel that there’s been a switch and bait going on. The assumptions people played under for years are no longer entirely valid.

What does ‘Horde for life!’ even mean when you can pay a fee and switch? Will there be much prejudice against the nouveau Horde? I’m doubting it. The majority of players don’t care about lore, they just want to play the game. Also with the ability to start a death knight at level 55 on any faction, you can effectively take a head start on a faction change at any time.

It’s going to take some time to sink in. Is there any point being a hardcore raider when the only real difference is in how quickly you clear new content (and access to hard modes which may or may not excite you)? Does the choice of race/ faction/ class/ server have less weight to it when you have the option to pay to change if it doesn’t work out?

I wish they’d get on and announce their new game already

I can’t help wishing that they’d leave WoW to tick along under its existing paradigm. It’s worked fine so far. Put the new ideas into the new game instead, and let each game be true to itself.

But they probably are doing the right thing. Many current gen MMOs have eased their levelling curve and introduced ways for newer players to catch up or old players to resub, Blizzard just attacks the whole problem in a more  gonzo way (actually one of the things I admire about them is how willing they are to experiment with their cash cow, a lot of companies would not be so bold).

Having said all that, I’m warmed to see so many people getting their backs up about having less permanent character choices. Because it means that there are others out there who want to interact with their virtual worlds in a way that I do too. And I wonder if any of the next gen games will be able to ditch progression (or find a different, non-level based way to model it) and just give us a world with which to play. I think the audience is there.

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26 thoughts on “WoW in 3.2 – more game, less MMO

  1. “I wish they’d get on and announce their new game already”

    Yes. I need something new. Something really new, or MMOs are going to become synonymous with derivative crap in my mind. :)

    As I wrote this already on Tesh’s blog, let me rephrase it for yours. I wonder where these changes are leading the game.

    The faction change issue could be a worthwhile topic to stir a discussion about something else:

    Why are so many people against the ability to change the faction?
    They are usually not opposed to name/gender change, but against this.
    Why hate people levelling up a char, but are opposed to buying a premade level 80?

    I personally would have to level up my char from scratch, as it is MY char and it is important to me. But is this an argument to say people should not be allowed to buy a max level char? They do it anyways, account sales on eBay and so on.

    On the other hand, I am a bit concerned that more and more things/services become RMT these days, while the games have a trend to become more and more “F2P”.

  2. I haven’t quite made up my mind about all those changes yet. I too can see what a relief it must be for people who happen to have their best friends playing on the opposite side. Finally they can find a practical way to unite, like any Romeo and Juliet. It must be sweet for them. But… there’s something about this easy-to-change-philosophy that at the same time will dilute the attachment you have to your character, as I think Tobold pointed out.

    I can’t help worrying a bit, thinking they’re somehow breaking the game. Or at least the game we learned to love. It’s turning into something else and I’m not entirely sure I’ll fall in love with it the way I fell in love with WoW.

    But as I said, I’m not in anyway dogmatic about it. Rather a bit puzzled.

  3. Longasc: Good thought, I will talk more about the faction changes I think (there’s some stuff I want to say). But the faction choice seems meaningful to many players in a way that name/race/gender isn’t. The game encourages it.

    Larisa: I feel much the same way. I can see the sense in what they’re doing, but personally I feel a bit as though I’m being told that it’s silly to feel attached to my character and that a real gamer would change everything about it like a pair of socks as soon as it became useful to do so.

    I’m not sure anyone knows why so many people love WoW. (It’s one of the things I like about MMOs, no one really gets them.) Will tinkering with the formula hurt more than it helps?

    • I’ll ask, as I so often do, what difference does it make how other people play the game? Just because the option of changing exists, what difference is that to how you play your character? If *you* want to be Horde for life, what is stopping you?

    • It won’t change how anyone plays their character, but it does change what it means to be Horde. There’s an element of shared experience that will be lacking. People can do what they want obv (and I did say that I thought it was a good thing and would benefit a lot of people — be fair), but something that was a meaningful permanent choice becomes less so.

      • Yeah, that was more of a response to the generic “you”, as you (specific) do make good points. I’m just increasingly unsympathetic to those who fuss about changes because it’s not the way that things used to be. If these MMO things are to even come close to approximating virtual worlds, change will be the backbone of the experience. If we can’t handle these sorts of simple changes (that are better for the game overall), how in the world will we ever handle a dynamic world where even more can change?

        Tangentially, do choices have to be permanent to be meaningful?

      • No, I don’t think choices have to be permanent although that probably adds extra weight. To be meaningful in game imo you have to actually play through some aspect of the experience.

        So if WoW had a betrayal quest like EQ2, then I think switching factions would have more meaning. (I don’t think they should do a betrayal quest, mind.)

      • I’d like to see a betrayer-quest! Maybe started by an very rare epic drop (BoU) to prevent mixing up factions too much.

  4. Oh the dilema!

    When I first started playing I just chose a server at random (as you do). A little later I realised I was on the wrong server and the wrong faction to most of my friends.
    But I had a 70th level character and was begining to raid. So I stayed.
    Eventualy I leveled another character to 80 horde side and eventualy transfered to the same server as a certain prot warrior who Bloggs a bit.

    So this facility could have saved me the time and effort of leveling an entire new Horde character.

    But would I have transferred my Ally 70 across faction as well as server? Noooo. I dont think so. My Dwarf is just that a Dwarf. The idea of them suddenly turning into a Troll or Orc just doesnt work for me. Maybe I’m too much of a RP nut and not enough of a ‘player’.
    Of course my human rogue would trade it in to be Undead in a second :)

    I am attached to my characters and their interactions with others. SOooooOO. Will I use the facility if we get it? Probably not. At least not for my mains.

    Is it a step too far? I dont know I can see how it makes it much easier for people to keep up with their RL friends. Its one of the major draw backs of the game as is. How many of us have had ‘The’ conversation :-
    “You play as well! Thats great. What server are you on.” “Oh you’re on a different server and the wrong faction to me. oh. oh well never mind, but it would have been cool to play together” aka ‘ShouldhaveplayedEvE’ syndrome.

    But my Dwarf wont be a orc anytime soon!

  5. I think I’m broadly in favour of faction changes, simply because it gives increases the social functionality of the game. The thing is, unless you *actively want* it already it won’t impact the game for you in any way. I don’t think it necessarily dilutes the attachment you have for your character – if your character is an orc, then an orc she’s welcome to stay.

    WoW is such a social game – although you can progress alone, it’s infinitely improved by people and you’ll need like-minded people anyway to access the endgame content. Changing faction and/or server is never going to be something you do lightly or for kicks – it’s just if you find yourself on the wrong side of the divide, you’ll be able to do something about it, other than start the long lonely grind to 80 or just give up playing altogether.

  6. Thats the core of it all right.

    Blizz seem to be taking steps to encourage people to keep playing or to start. Easier leveling, recruit a friend, heirlooms, DK’s all of these mean its far easier to catch up to the current crop of 80′s. And thats no bad thing. Much as I suffer from ‘but I paid x’ for my shiny new car and he paid x-y….the end of the day we need new blood to keep coming into the game. If only to subsidise the top end game with their membership fees :)

  7. Any product after a few years will eventually become bloated. I think we’re seeing a lot of ‘nice to have things’ coming up now as Blizzard have basically done all of the fixes and priority updates.

    Also, new changes like the faction swap attract people back to the game. I’m sure many people will be tempted to return to the game and change faction just to experience it from a new perspective.

    What gets me though is why they don’t channel some more of this energy into releasing their expansions faster. That would be far more exciting for us and profitable for them.

  8. “I can’t help wishing that they’d leave WoW to tick along under its existing paradigm. It’s worked fine so far. Put the new ideas into the new game instead, and let each game be true to itself.”
    At this point I think WoW is 50% testing for the new game they’re making, a way to see what we like and don’t like or will/not accept.

    • I hadn’t thought of that but it sounds very plausible. Very curious to see what they’re going to announce at Blizzcon — will it just be more D3/SC2/next expansion or do they have something else in the works to announce …?

  9. Are the bonds with your toon weakening because of the potential changes that they would let you do?

    For me the answer is no. I have a few friends who happened to roll horde on the same exact server as I am on. I wouldn’t change my faction to be with them. My 70 days /played (ohh god, that isn’t even counting alts.. sheesh) has built up too many people that I would absolutely miss. Their opinion is the same.

    That doesn’t stop me from ganking them in Wintergrasp when I see them, either :)

  10. Pingback: Paid Faction Change « Fel Deeds Awake!

  11. “one of the things I admire about them is how willing they are to experiment with their cash cow, a lot of companies would not be so bold.”

    Just how many MMO cash cows are out there? I count one. With millions of subscribers and guaranteed loot, they can take chances and experiment. This is not all that different than what Microsoft did with the XBox (and many of their other products).

    Microsoft raked in so much money with Windows alone it could steak-horse other, riskier endeavors. The XBox lost them money for years. They were seeking to leverage their OS market share into other software avenues and then looked to the gaming market. Today the XBox is a nice gaming console, albeit a lower-quality piece of hardware compared to Nintendo and Sony — but it’s now entrenched.

    Blizzard can take these chances, experiment, whatever, as they get prepped for their next MMO. WoW is becoming their real-world R&D vehicle. So those playing it are basically guinea pigs testing out possible future features of the next bigger, better, Blizzard MMO.

    I really think we are seeing the evolution of MMOs into more easy, everyone-accessible online experiences that make it less taxing to play without needing the time or effort to excel. I truly hope Blizzard doesn’t ruin this space for all of us. Some of us still don’t mind the challenge, the effort needed, and the rewards of working towards a goal. We don’t all want something handed to us. The hard-core MMO player might be swarmed and overwhelmed by the not-so-hard-core MMO player.

    • By cash cow, I just mean the game that is responsible for most of their profit. Not in terms of how much it makes in absolute terms. A lot of companies would be really cautious about messing with whatever is bringing in most of their income (I remember when I worked at BT we weren’t ever allowed to do anything that might piss off the guys in charge of the voice network, for example.)

      Sure, Microsoft took a risk on the XBox, but how much of a risk did they take on their cash cow (ie. windows)?

  12. From a design point of view WoW’s problem (sic) is that they’re currently the best performing game in every niche or very close to it.

    Best performing raid game. Raids in AoC when i tried it last summer were very perfunctory, think Onyxia without the complexity. EQ2 possibly has a decent raid game also Vanguard but WoW is simply better in terms of a fun challenging experience.

    Best performing solo PVE game.

    Best performing daytrading game. Well, Eve is probably better but WoW appeals to a lot of the daytraders because they are wolves among sheep.

    Best performing crafting game. Well SWG is still out there on life support. Eve has a great crafting game. But for most players who want to kill stuff while mastering a profession as a side interest wow is perfect precisely because it’s not a full time job.

    Best performing casual pvp game. Wintergrasp, the various battlegrounds and the various world pvp elements seem to be holding players’ interest better than the pvp in WAR. Blizzard hyped its pvp features quite heavily in 2008 to counter the release of AoC and War and has been pretty successful.

    Best performing hardcore pvp game. If 1% of WoW’s players consider themselves hardcore pvpers then that’s 110,000 subscribers which I think beats Darkfall. (not 100% sure). Being a hardcore pvper in WOW puts you as a wolf amongst sheep. You massacre people in battlegrounds and arenas.

    Because they dominate every nice they HAVE to be polyglut. Had the lost the raids to EQ2 and the PVP to War they could concentrate on their solo questing side.

    • This is very true. WoW appeals to casual and hardcore, PvP and PvE. It appeals to people who like chatting, and people who are borderline sociopathic. It is all things to all people.

      When Blizzard announces its next-gen MMO (the unannounced one they’re working on), they’ll position this NGMMO and WOW somehow to different market niches, so WoW will stop being all things to all people and instead be primarily for one or two market segments.

      My suspicion is that WoW is going to be the “casual” MMO, for a number of reasons. The main reason is its brand recognition among non-traditional gamers. I also think the casuals are gonna be harder to move to a new game than the hardcores, so Blizzard is likely to position their new MMO for hardcore and semi-hardcore players.

      This is years off (I don’t expect the unannounced MMO to be announced for at least another year, and then it’s a while after that before it’s even in beta), but Blizzard is slowly pushing WoW in this direction starting now.

  13. Afterthought: of course the precedent is Lady Sylvanas Windrunner. Night Elf to Forsaken faction change before WoW even released. Wonder if it cost her $15.

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