The problem of old content, and is recycling the answer?

Anyone else love gossip and speculating about games you know nothing about? Yeah, me too. I was pondering the next WoW expansion a few weeks ago and mentioned in passing the notion that they might come totally out of left field and rework old Azeroth in its entirety. Except I didn’t really think it was a serious option.

I’m still not convinced about the latest Cataclysm leaks, although we’ll know more very soon since Blizzcon is this weekend. Me, I suspect some of the leaks will turn out to be true (new race/class combos might be a smart way of luring people into rerolling without actually having to generate any extra content). I’m still dubious about the sheer amount of work that would be involved in redoing everything in vanilla WoW.

But one thing is for sure, people have reacted with excitement about the possibility of revisiting their favourite old zones and instances in an up to date 2010 edition. Even the one raid boss who we know for sure is being revamped, Onyxia, has stirred plenty of interest.

The Problem of Old Content

In MMOs I have played, PvE content has a definite life cycle.

  1. It is new and a bit buggy. People flock to do it. They abandon the old zones they used to hang out in.
  2. Bugs are ironed out, content is better tuned. People complain about nerfs. More people flock to do it.
  3. Content becomes old hat. It stays popular if it is either fun, required, or offers good rewards for time put in.
  4. New content is patched in, go to #1.
  5. (Old content stays in the game, but no one goes there any more. It becomes part of the game’s mythology. Old players tell new ones about what things were like ‘back in the day’ when the old zones were busy. New players shrug and get on with the new stuff.)

We see this particularly with new expansions in games like WoW. The expansion is intended to reset the endgame, so the old endgame content is meant to be mostly abandoned. There are no relevant challenges or rewards there any more.

Even if the old instances could get revamped a bit, it doesn’t solve the problem that a lot of players are bored with them anyway and just don’t want to go back. So you can easily end up with vast areas in the game where no one ever goes. Perhaps the occasional exploring newbie will stumble into it, unaware that it’s not on the optimal levelling path.

Now aside from the fact that it’s quite atmospheric to have empty zones as well as full ones, this always feels a bit sad. And while there are ways to keep the old zones busy, they’re just not as exciting for players as a constant stream of new content.

But … could a cataclysm in which every old zone got a total revamp — new graphics, new quests, new updated storyline — could that be the way to make everything old seem new again? Maybe it could.

Aside from the fearsome amount of work (yeah I’m still not convinced), what better way to lure back old players who had quit than the offer of cool fun things to do in the zones which they remember? And that’s exactly the audience Blizzard needs to be looking for at the moment. To add some extra charm, reviving 5-year old content in this way is far enough in the past that even old players who ran it to exhaustion might be over the boredom and ready to go check it out again. So maybe, just maybe, the leaks are on the money…

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10 thoughts on “The problem of old content, and is recycling the answer?

  1. I think with the new revamp of the old world that it could make it seem brand new. I agree with you that old players coming back to the game to see something fimilar would be a good thing.

    Good article Spinks

  2. I also wonder how this is going to work. A new experience for veterans and new players alike?

    Face it, 1-60 was what made WoW great, the original WoW. TBC and WOTLK already began having that “expansion” character for veterans and Karazhan plus flying mounts still top the awesome landscapes and quests of WOTLK. I also loved the exotic world of Outland, dunno why but I loved it more than WOTLK.

    Oh, I am deviating from topic again… :)
    BACK…:

    Still, what does a Cataclysm do to a level 80 char?
    Flying over an awesome revamped low level, say a flooded thousand needles, in a dragon is exciting for the short time you need to take a look.

    It is probably more fun to start a new char and play that old yet new content again.

    Maybe they plan something like Guild Wars Hard Mode: They revamped ALL zones to be max level extra hard content. So your level 80 char could enter a “phase portal” and gate back to the new Azeroth, where every zone is level 80-85.

    But this sounds like too much work and so unlikely that I do not believe it myself.

    Usual rant: Getting away from levels and classes and making an Ultima Online style world would not devaluate all old zones and only make the max level dungeons and the few near max level zones interesting for players. With every expansion, the percentage of playable/interesting content in WoW gets smaller through this system. The bane of the DIKUMUD, the need for neverending progression and the trail of depleted low level zones it leaves in its wake.

  3. Spinks noted: “Perhaps the occasional exploring newbie will stumble into [old zones], unaware that it’s not on the optimal levelling path”.

    I don’t get that. You have to examine why you are playing this game. Is it to level quickly? To what end? It isn’t as if any of the current end-game content is as coherent and well-thought-out as the original old-world content in WoW. Nothing in post-60 content can match, say, your first trip to the Deadmines instance at level 19. Why would anyone want to skip game content after they paid for it?

    Frankly, as Longasc already noted, content added in TBC and WotLK have an “expansion” feel. They just aren’t as good as old-world content. So why would anybody want to skip it?

    The only people who might want to do so are those levelling their nth alt. These are the guys who are banging on in forums about how long it takes to level, and asking if something couldn’t be done to make it faster – Blizzard’s response is DKs, and even that doesn’t satisfy them. Newbies aren’t asking for this. Many aren’t even aware that anybody is asking for it. They’re too busy enjoying the best part of the game!

    • My point is just that experienced players on their 2nd, 3rd, 4th etc alt probably already explored the less popular zones and will focus on more efficiently levelling because they know the game better.

      (But I always go through Azshara on my alts because I like the zone so much :) )

  4. Pingback: West Karana » Daily Blogroll 8/19 – L2Test edition

  5. It’s been bothering me in this thread that people have been negatively comparing the expansions to old-world WoW and saying that the old world was basically better.

    I’m sorry, but your memories of the old world are probably filled with nostalgia. The expansion content was designed with the mistakes they made in old world WoW in made. So, for example, there are no Shredder Operating Manual or Green Hills of Stranglethorn quests, there are no quests that sent you back and forth three times from the quest giver to the same place, like the Harpy killing quests in the Barrens, there aren’t quest chains that require you to go to the other continent to progress, like the Hammer of Zul’farrak or freeing Myzrael, hell, even the Nesingwary quests in WotLK were a lot better than the ones in vanilla WoW or TBC.

    Also, yeah, your first run through Deadmines at 19 is going to be awesome and memorable, but it’s not because Deadmines is not (necessarily) superior in design or anything, but it’s because it’s your first instance run when you’re new and everything’s new and interesting to you. For me, it was Razorfen Kraul, Zul’farrak, Sunken Temple, but it’s not because they were super-awesome and well-designed here.

    On the topic of revamping the old world, I don’t believe it NEEDS a revamp, say, because while it has flaws, it’s still good content, but I think there is enough wriggle room for the revamp without making quite as much work as you are thinking. Chances are they’ll probably keep the majority of the quests the same and alter, change, or remove some of the ones that could really need it. For example, something like moving Mankrik from the Crossroads to Camp Taurajo would be fairly easy and make a lot more sense.

  6. If true, brilliant. Solves a bunch of problems at once.

    – It is pretty obvious that the current WoW staff is struggling to produce content at the same rate as in the Classic or TBC eras. Being able to leverage a whole bunch of world from Classic ought to help a lot.

    – The new player experience needs some work at this point. This Cataclysm provides an opportunity to bring that portion of game content aimed at new players in line with current levelling curves, and perhaps just as important, puts noobs back in general proximity to the rest of the player base, not on some other continent/planet somewhere.

    Now, yes, commenters here and elsewhere are right that this is a structural flaw in DIKU mechanics. But such a flaw can hardly be considered to refute the paradigm, as some argue, since –

    – It has produced success after success, including very long running games like WoW, EQ1, and NCSoft’s grinders.

    – It does not become serious until your game is already mature (and successful, or no one would be bothering to sub/resub it anyway) and thus filled with bitter old vets clustered up at the level cap.

    – Mitigation is available to the developers, from the crude but sort of workable xp acceleration seen in WoW and EQ2, to minor zone revamps like those done to Duskwallow and Hinterlands, to, perhaps, these rumored changes in Cataclysm.

  7. A few comments:
    - The revamp is a ton of work (I’ve categorically stated on my blog that it was prohibitive), but the change is that we’re getting the revamp and five new levels in place of ten new levels. Unless you believe the hype that those five levels will be more epic, there will be less new level 80+ solo content, as the team spends the time revising the old stuff.

    - I agree that it’s inevitable for content to fall by the wayside. My guess is that Blizzard plans to handle that with gear inflation, like we have seen in patch 3.2, to physically propel guilds out of each dungeon as they get tired of it and onto the next one. The rising tide, as it were, would allow new characters (alts or new players) to skip the bottom rungs of the content ladder, right up to wherever their guilds are with relatively limited need for backfarming. Whether it will WORK is another matter, that’s just my guess for what the plan is.

  8. I have huge nostalgia for the old areas. I know much of it is purely nostalgia; I used to hop off to a new server just to play through a favorite starting area again, no matter how many grindy quests they still presented me. I’d love to see the sort of story progress and style of quest hubs they’ve developed in the more recent expansions. Could they mix in high and low level content in some of the more important old-world areas?

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