Losing Gear Progression in WoW

Players  expect that content will get harder over time in an expansion.  Our characters do braver and more heroic things (modelled by content getting more challenging) and pick up better loot. Raid instances get harder. Rewards get better. And you may need the loot from older raids to tackle the newer ones.

The Coliseum may be a momentary blip in that progression. It is easier than Ulduar but gives better rewards. Perhaps this is a special case, just to make sure that everyone is geared up for Icecrown and the apogee of the Wrath storylines. A special catch-up instance to make sure no one falls behind.

But right now, we effectively have no gear progression. There is no special reason to go to Ulduar, which is the most recent raid instance prior to the Coliseum. There’s no benefit to going there either, you’d be better served for rewards in the newer easier instance. It’s a cool instance, and I sympathise a lot with Copra, who laments that he can’t find groups there. But I understand why people are reluctant to go. And the crazy thing is: If they’d upgraded the Ulduar badges to be badges of triumph when the Coliseum came out, I think it would have been fine. Coliseum would still have been more rewarding but Ulduar would have at least dropped current tier badges.

My Naxx geared alt hopped into a Coliseum raid and came out with upgrades and the all-important achievement that is my passport into PUGs (unless I lie which is what I normally do). If she hadn’t been to Naxxramas, I could have geared her up in crafted pieces, heroic badge loot,  and drops from the Coliseum 5 man instance. In the next patch, when heroics shift to giving out Triumph badges, everyone will eventually get full sets of Tier 9 gear by running heroics.

It doesn’t bother me that my alt (and other people’s alts, or non-raiders who want to get into the game) can raid alongside everyone else. But it bothers me that my alt is almost as well geared as my main, and that all the extra work I did on Spinks now seems to mean nothing. I don’t say it’s logical.

Surely the whole point of persistent games was that we could keep working on our characters to progress them over time? What does it really mean if all that time spent means nothing any more. I don’t know the answer to this question, but I think that finding out is going to affect whether I want to raid in Cataclysm or not. Or even how much I want to play WoW at all after finishing Icecrown. Because if there’s no real point putting extra time and work into a character, if there’s no payoff … then perhaps it would be better to focus less on one character in one game.

What I am seeing is simply the way that the genre is evolving now. The movement in many of the big MMOs is very much towards minimising the effect of previous grinds or raids because those things make the game more inaccessible to newbies. It isn’t just WoW.

What we lose when we lose progression

Despite the fact that progression makes games more inaccessible, it encourages drama, it can frustrate people, and all the other inevitable reasons that it will die, it has served a very very important purpose in achievement driven MMOs.

Gear progression meant that different players were motivated to tackle different content. There was a constant stream of raid guilds focussed on different levels of PvE. It would have been much more likely that Copra could have found his Ulduar raid.

If everyone and everything is focussed only on the newest and most recent raid, then the game narrows down. There is no longer the broad base of accessible content for players. Sure, they can all be in the same instance, but it’s the only instance they can possibly tackle due to lack of social support for the raids needed for the rest.

If we want broad-based MMOs with a wide variety of possible things to do, then maybe losing the gear progression isn’t such a great step. It is certainly one way to funnel everyone into raiding together. But players will get bored more quickly and if there isn’t any different content for them to work on when they aren’t raiding, they’ll wonder where the actual game went.

I think that Blizzard have proved that their vision for the raid game does work. More people are raiding now in WoW than ever before. But they have also proved that raiding alone isn’t enough if they break the gear progression. One little raid instance can’t keep the entire player population happy until the next one.

As for progression itself, I wonder if ultimately the only progression that will count is social progress. Are you in a good guild? Do you have friends in the game? Those are things that genuinely take time and effort to build up, and unlike a raid instance, those things will not be reset in the next patch or the next expansion.

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21 thoughts on “Losing Gear Progression in WoW

  1. Spinks, you rock. You really do. I think you’re the current best and brightest analysist there is among WoW bloggers. I just needed to get it said. If I only keep thinking it, you’ll never know, will you?

    The last paragraph is really interesting. I wouldn’t be surprised if it will result in a commenting post of my own at some point. You’ve planted a seed into my brain. As you always do.

  2. “Because if there’s no real point putting extra time and work into a character, if there’s no payoff … then perhaps it would be better to focus less on one character in one game.”

    Bingo.

    The introduction of scaling heirloom items, the ability to fly in Northrend at level 68 if you have a level 80 main, the upcoming changes to Northrend reputation rewards in 3.3, and the reduction of gear difference are all the part of the same trend.

    We’re gradually moving away from character-based progression model and towards account-based progression.

  3. Larísa is right, and it seems your short vacation inspired you even more.

    What is left in progression based MMOs, so basically… all of them… if there is no more progression? They usually show their bland and unimaginative side. Socialization will also suffer. MMOs are still quite limited when it comes to possible player activities, I often said that early MMOs allowed more world-item-interaction than most wallpaper nodes where most things you can click are either quest items or resource nodes.

    1.) Guild Wars uses rare vanity item skins as the carrot to keep people playing.

    2.) 6-28 & +15% damage mod are the best possible axe in the game, but then you have options to customize to a certain elemental damage type, or go for increased armor piercing or vampiric damage. You also have the choice between +armor and the usually prefered +health mods. -> maybe customization/specialization of gear/items instead of progression is another idea how to keep people entertained.

    3.) Guild Wars also has some an achievement system. My beef with it is that some of the achievements are ridiculous grind of the worst kind. Drinking 10.000 beers, you have to wait 1 minute before drinking the next one, and some death-levelling achievements like the Legendary Defender of Ascalon are very unenjoyable timesinks. People still did achievements of this kind, because they counted towards a meta achievement – 30 titles and you get the fancy title “God Walking Amonst Mere Mortals” for you Hall of Monuments, that allows you to transfer some still undisclosed prestige titles and a few vanity “things” (that’s at least the plan so far…) to Guild Wars 2.

    WoW also has very nice explorer achievements to discover landmarks, where uncovering the map in Guild Wars for the explorer title is really unfun wall-hugging to get the last pixel (I did that on three continents…).

    Achievements are an alternate progression system besides levels, and people love it. But I hate them, as they have a tendency to “go wild”. Especially if real advantages or very special items besides a fancy title are bound to it, they become quite mandatory, especially for completionist players. I also hate it when everything gets turned into a to-do-list and every thing I do gets me a new entry in my database. Is it really necessary that every fun thing like “Jumping down from Teldrassil” or “let Eck the Ferocious” spit in your face gets turned into a binary entry DONE/OPEN in a list with 10.000 often more or less ridiculous entries? In this case achievements are just quests, nothign else, gone wild with a huge quest log of “completed this, that, …”. LOTRO deeds of the “kill 240 X” kind are nothing else but kill quests that show up in their special log.

    I think both quests and achievements have their place, if done right. And right means not gone wild and adding meta-achievements for meta-achievements and tying lots of carrot-rewards to them. This kind of design also does not offer new content, it just gives incentives for players to re-visit old content and buys developers time to create something new. I wonder how Guild Wars 2’s “event” system and LOTRO’s “skirmishes” (with automatically party-size scaled content – Wolfshead should hear that!) turn out.

    I also noticed Ephemeron’s observation, we are indeed moving towards account-based progression instead of char-based progression. I wonder how long it takes till we can create “level MAX-10 chars” in World of Warcraft from scratch if we already have a level 80/max level char.

    I think to bring back the social feeling in MMOs is HARD… progression and “working” towards this or that achievement/title are sometimes boon or bust: Drinking in Guild Wars is a lone and boring task that cries for macroing. But the “hunt” quests in LOTRO are quite social events, as are the daily heroic quests. But actually I think we just need more social options and feel good while socializing, not like we are missing out because we are not hunting after the next carrot. And most MMOs are so heavily focused on gear/level/achievement progression nowadays that socialization is really like the 5th wheel on the car, put it in the trunk and don’t bother to put it on your car if it already has four wheels, it will slow you down or have no value.

    Maybe regular GM run special events, and automatized events like they might be planned for Guild Wars 2 having an impact on the whole game world, asking people to work together on a common goal, maybe this is the future. +1 progression in disguise has already shown up as the wolf in the wool too often.

    But how to design a MMO game that keeps people entertained without having to resort to permanent progression? Immersion in a cool >world< might be a good idea for starters, despite its shortcomings Fallen Earth really seems to excel in this regard. But how to do this… no idea. It is definitely harder than thinking about more and more super-ridiculous achievements and churning out more and more raid dungeons.

  4. All true.

    I find myself particularly frustrated that all that time and effort running on the hamster wheel of progresion means very little now.

    I want to see Arthas dead for sure. I’m happy that I’m in a guild that will be ready to raid Icecrown when it hits. I will level to 85 come next expansion, I will play Worgen and Goblin starting quests. Will I raid in the same week-in-week out damn near 100% raid attendance I have for WotLK and TBC. Dont know. I suspect not. The progresion from t7 to t10 has been fast and not a little disapointing. I spent less than 3 weeks in my t8.25 gear and I’ve already started dumping t9.25 for heroic gear. t10 due out in a few weeks…sheesh. I see burnouts happening all around and players I’ve gamed with for years cancelling subs as its just not ‘fun’ anymore. We’re hitting content to often with 10 man/10heroic 25/25 heroic IMHO. It gets stale quick especially when there’s only 1 room!

  5. Like Tobold acerbically said, the inability to discriminate on gear is also disastrous to players who play to keep up with the Joneses. However, players will always find ways to make their cliques. If they can’t discriminate based on gear, they’ll discriminate based on achievements. And so on.

    But what does messing with gear progression (and therefore with the difficulty curve really do to WoW? If you take away the defining characteristic of X, is it still X? Probably not, assuming that you identified the defining characteristic correctly. It would be interesting to see a series of articles (hint hint) on deconstructing WoW. We all know the DikuMUD origins, but is there something else there as well? If you peeled away everything but the core, what would the core look like? Mirror’s Edge got turned into Canabalt, but what would WoW turn into?

  6. I think, what you discribe is not the reality for me. I am in no guild. I log into the game when I have time for it. Sometime 3 evenings a week, sometimes not even one.

    But the most recent changes made it possible for me to attend a PUG raid for the current most attractive Raid enviorment. There are a lot of players outside who do not have the time to go raid for more than 3 hours or even stick to fix dates.

    Therefore, the recent change with Heroic verison of Raid and Casusal version is absolutely optimal, at least for me.

    Sure I may not be able to defeat hardmode, since finding 9 other PUG’ers up to the top of their game may be tough. But I have seen Anub Arak.

    I never been deep into ulduar, because it is far to time consuming to make a clear run with a PUG fast.

    The Colliseum Change where the best for me they have ever done, since I stopped playing hardcore.

    And I do not think that many of the hard core guilds allready managed to beat TOC25 hard yet. Therefore, we have finaly endgame content for Pros and Causuals.

    Ulduar can be done by PUGS if you loved to. I think my server has at least one offering each day. Sure it may be unatractive for Guilds. But keep in mind for me Guilds are unatractive due to fix time shedules.

  7. “But it bothers me that my alt is almost as well geared as my main, and that all the extra work I did on Spinks now seems to mean nothing.” and “What does it really mean if all that time spent means nothing any more.”
    But it *did* mean something — when you did it. The time you put in when these raids came out allowed you to conquer them at the time, and allowed you to be ready the moment (or very shortly thereafter) the next tier was released. The work you put in (your progression) was your ticket into the next tier; does that really mean nothing?

    The problem that I see is that right now, there is no ‘next tier’ — it’s on the PTR.

  8. I am with you. But what you have acchieved, you did it probably earlier than other. But the rest is grind. Do it again and again just to be prepared for the next tier of dungeon?

    Do it again Ulduar, means a)Good Guild or b) No chance to catch up.

    This way we could easily skip some content, come back and be ready for basicly everything.

    In Burning Crusade I did Karazan and not much more. Why. Good guilds already run Sunwell, I had no chance to catch up at all, since the content in between was no accessible for any PUGS.

    Now we can do everything with any alt. Just get 80. Buy some stuff (=> be ready to carry your own weight in heroic), change badges for really good gear (=> be ready for PUG raid) great.

    Why does it bother you that your alt is very well equipped?

    I can not equip two chars. Because I do not have the time. Even running only 2 times TOC10/25 cost me two evenings in a PUG.

    you have to play significantly more to equip all alts equal. Is it that you wish to have more time invested really needed.

    I like the pace they implemented right in the beginning. Do only one RAID ID per instance and week.

  9. Splinks, I don’t have much to add except to say: awesome post. You really hit on something here. ToCr is like a black hole, with an inescapeable gravitational pull of easy gear that nearly erases everything else from the popular consciousness.

    Fortunately, Icecrown might pay off enough to make it worth it. After the amount of time I’ve spent with WC3, I’ve never been this excited about a WoW patch.

  10. I stopped playing WoW a few months ago. It really did seem to me that the mudflation had got completely out of hand.

    I noticed it most I think because my preferred class is healer. On my healer one of the aspects I’d always enjoyed was mana management.

    However in WotLK I had infinite mana and it just was a matter of spamming cooldowns as fast as I could. My gear was so good and the raid buffs like Replenishment so strong that it was almost impossible to run my Holy Pally out of mana even using Holy Light and Holy Shock provided I hit my mana restore buttons every chance I got (and no real reason not to).

    It’s a playstyle I didn’t enjoy nearly as much.

    And it’s a playstyle change that is directly attributable to runaway mudflation.

  11. Thanks everyone for all the comments. I do think that the game is changing, and that’s going to affect different people in different ways.

    What I’m noticing (and probably the reason I’ve been feeling odd about my alt’s gearing) is that some of my previous assumptions just aren’t true any more. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed being able to raid in Wrath and I’m glad more people are getting a chance to see that content.

    Larisa: Thank you! I’m embarrassed but I’m also glad it isn’t just me who thinks about these things. Your post about WoW getting easier was one of the things in my mind when I wrote this (the other was my post yesterday about why I liked that the Coliseum lets people play together more easily.)

    Ephemeron: I wouldn’t mind account based progression. It’s a bit different, but kind of interesting.

    Longasc: Thanks! and I’d love to see more world interaction. I’m not sure about old MMOs. I remember being impressed when I first saw mineable nodes in WoW so evidently it was more interactive than whatever I’d seen before.

    Uzi: I know what you mean. I really want to see Arthas dead, this doesn’t in any way curb my enthusiasm for Icecrown either. And I also don’t really feel that I get much time to ‘enjoy’ my gear before the next tier comes along (although a tier these days is more like putting a timestamp on the gear to say when it came out.)

    Hirvix: That’s an interesting thought. Because I think they have made some major changes to the DIKU model, and successful changes at that.

    Melanthor: I hear you. And this is where I’m conflicted, because I agree with you. It’s great that new and older players can raid together. It’s cool that people can raid without having to dedicate their life to a guild if they want. I feel that something is lost for me, (which is OK, things change), but my unease is that I’m not sure what it is being replaced by yet.

    Jeffo: You’re right. Gear from one raid let us go straight into the next one. But part of the issue with Coliseum is that we conquered it on normal mode so quickly, and not just my guild, everyone did. People run it as PUGs these days. Everyone is going to be geared for the next raid, pretty much as well as I am. That’s not bad in itself but it does trigger the ‘why bother’ reflex sometimes.

    Hatch: Thanks! And I also have very high expectations of Icecrown. If it does end up being my last WoW raid, I plan to go out on a high note!

    Stabs: Yeah, the nature of healing really did change after vanilla WoW. I’ve played my healing alt a bit in Wrath and I don’t find it as fun as I used to do. Maybe mana management is part of that — I don’t put it all down to mudflation, part of it is deliberate design too.

  12. Um… All games are like this. And,frankly, they always have been. Maybe this is many people’s first trip to the fair, but if a game has an expansion model, everything you did in prior expansions is moot shortly after the new one releases.

    Consider the alternative. I present EQ1 as my case. The first 4 EQ1 expansions were almost purely progressive. Out in front you had the hardcore/long term players. At the back you had the noobs, and somewhere in the middle was everyone else. The problem is that finding a place to raid at the content you were geared and levelled for was horrible.

    It’s not about the “noobs” playing catch up. It’s about the noobs having groups to play in. And every MMO needs noobs or the game dies a slow death. To progress thru plains of power you had to be “keyed” to the next zone by beating the boss of the prior. Well, if you didn’t have your key, you had to find a group to help back-key you. Usually a good guild wouldn’t do it for just one person, so you had to wait for “enough” people to need a key to justify a raid.

    Everyone’s accomplishments were awesome, but fewer and fewer people could accomplish them at all. In the next few expansions they put in all these alternate quests for getting the keys that just required group grinding. And guess what? Everyone lamented the loss of their acquisition of the keys “the hard way”.

    The best you can hope for is an economic reset where Cataclysm actually rebalances the entire game against a new itemization. Then you wont feel bad about old gear obsoleted by new content, since everyone’s old gear will be obsolete.

  13. This is what drove me away from WoW. I mean I just got pissed that the only thing being ran was ToC… I expect the raids to go increasing difficulty and it’s not just happening. To be honest I’m kinda confused on the whole issue.

  14. I have to agree. They purposefully remove any kind of “work on your character” to make it “equal for everyone”. The only difference between two players is “did you do the hard modes of the most recent instance or didn’t”. However it is only visible to those who care. The social player have no reason to “work on” anything.

  15. But it bothers me that my alt is almost as well geared as my main, and that all the extra work I did on Spinks now seems to mean nothing.

    i think I’ve found your problem, you’re equating satisfaction in a game with all the hard work you’ve done.

    I have three 80s, and they’re all about equally geared (some ulduar, some ToC10 and 25, nothing from ToGC). it doesn’t bother me that my warrior suddenly shot from ‘wishing he could grab a naxx 25 run’ to being the best geared of the three for a short time, I was just happy that I could use his equally, without fearing someone was going to inspect me and bitch about it in raid chat.

    I just enjoy playing… it’s the journey, not the destination.

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  17. I admit I haven’t raided in WoW in years. The WoW you describe is completely alien to me. It’s like another experience entirely compared to what I do which is continually leveling up alts.

    There are many people like myself that live on the periphery of MMOs like WoW. We see patch notes full of more goodies for raiders. All we can do is dream. All we get are the crumbs that occasionally fall our way, like a piece of crafted gear unlike the steady stream of gear upgrades that raiders are swamped with.

    Due to my play schedule and the fact I play late at night and the ease of soloing which has created a culture of players that have no reason to socialize or group, raiding is something I’m not privileged to be a part of. Being a guildmaster and a hardcore raider almost cost me my marriage years ago.

    I live vicariously through the experiences of others. By reading blogs, by reading WoW.com and others. I continually wonder what it’s like to group and raid again — how the other half lives in Azeroth. My angst comes from the fact that I’m a grouper and raider at heart. I love to cooperate and play my characters at the very highest level of skill.

    Still, I find myself sympathizing with your concerns. Gear based MMOs are illusions at best.
    The formula is simple:

    Kill mobs that drop gear that allow you to kill tougher mobs. Rinse and repeat.

    Then Blizzard comes along and “resets” everything and lets the mediocre and casuals catch up which has the effect of invalidating the hard work and status of those players who earned their gear.

    When players finally confront this, they start questioning their future participation and ask the existential questions that you and your readers are asking.

    As you so aptly pointed out, in the final analysis it’s the social game that is the most important. Gear is a means to an end. The end all we are left with is the socialization, bonding and camaraderie that you get by experiencing shared challenges.

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  19. I couldn’t put my finger on why I’ve been struggling with planning out a raid schedule since ToC was released, but you nailed it. It’s really tough to coordinate a guild when everyone would rather just farm easy stuff to get gear to work on ToC hard modes instead of getting basically an achievement kill on Yogg. I gotta say it really bothers me because Yogg represents a fight that we’ve made great progress on, we have the gear to complete, but we don’t have too much gear to make it trivial. (hello, Sartharion) It’s exactly the kind of encounter that I love to play this game for and it really sucks that Blizzard isn’t making it easy on me to tell our raiders to do it.

    What I really think needs to be brought back is the ring rewards we saw in TBC. Every raid needs some kind of amazing ring, trinket, or something that says, “complete this instance, at least once”.

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