Maybe being hardcore is a particularly human talent

I am sure there are people out there who have never been hardcore fans for anything in their lives. They’ve never geeked out about which is the best Pink Floyd album cover, their favourite pylon on the London-North East railway, the optimal way to survive a naked run in Diablo 2, or the best raid composition for the Black Temple (at level, of course).

(Yeah I have known people in my life who were Pink Floyd album cover geeks, and electricity pylon geeks. Envy me!)

But still, it’s these little things which give our lives meaning, and knowing that they’re little things is part of the fun. Will the world end if I don’t get my favourite seat on the 7:24 train from Spinksville Station? Of course not, but it’s still my favourite seat and if you wanted to listen for 5 minutes I could explain precisely why.

I was mulling this over after reading Gevlon’s comments on social gaming. His insight is that casual players usually play casually, won’t get too attached to a social type of game, and will drift off after a short amount of time to something else. This is exactly how I interact with social games, if the short amount of time is less than 10 minutes total. But there are undoubtedly people who, given the chance, will get all hardcore about a game like Farmville.

I don’t understand why. I don’t understand why anyone would pay any money to play that game at all. Why would anyone care about being hardcore on a game that is so obviously casual? And yet, enough people clearly do to bolster some very large companies.

Maybe we just have to put it down to an odd quirk of the human spirit. Maybe it’s that ability to get all hardcore about minor things which made mankind come down from the trees, develop tools, and take over the planet. That strange hardcore geek who had a thing for playing that odd little game with sticks and stones …

MMO nostalgia aka why you couldn’t pay me to play EQ

I’ve heard a lot of excited talk on the MMO blogs I read about the new EQ progression server. Yes, you too could travel back in time and experience what it was like to play a game with crappy graphics, arsey raiders, and where it was considered normal to camp a rare spawn for 17 hours.

Don’t believe me? Here’s a BBC article about it from 2002. (He’s talking about a 3-5 day wait for a single quest mob to spawn and believe it or not, some people actually waited and did not decide, “This game is shite.”)

So why are players flocking back to try the new (‘old’) servers?

I can only assume nostalgia, and an attempt to capture the memories of playing MMOs when communities were forced to be more tight knit, everything and everyone was new, and maybe to reclaim some of their forgotten youth, especially if other ex-players can also be cajoled into going back. You can’t actually go back to those times, people know now which the best classes are, what the best shortcuts are, and I wonder how many of them really do want to spend hours camping the same spawn of mobs to level. I suppose we’ll find out. SoE sensibly gave old players the first month for free, which explains part of the popularity.

To understand some of my disdain you also have to understand that MMO dinos (ie. old players) cut their teeth on a handful of games (note: I’m not including MUDs or MUSHes here). These in the west would typically have been Ultima Online, Meridian, EQ, Dark Age of Camelot, and Asheron’s Call. Whichever game you played will have shaped your expectations of how MMOs should be. And because games back then were so time consuming, typically you would not have played more than one if you were seriously into it.

So I think DaoC was the best old school game ever, despite its flaws, and EQ with its big breasted elven paladins, stupid long spawn times, crazy hardcore endgame players, and exclusive guilds was an evolutionary dead end which unfortunately caught on with new gamers who weren’t experienced enough to know better.

Tobold is enamoured with encouraging players to go back and try it to find out how awful it really was – actually he wants hardcore players to find out how hard it is, but I’m translating into english here. I actually think all of the elements on his list of good things about EQ have been improved by every single game since, especially WoW. And thank Thrall for that.

I would say skip it. Play the Rift open beta instead, it’s equally free. You’ll have more fun, you have way way way more chance to get the actual new game feel if that’s what you want, and you’ll be able to support a new company at a time they really need it.

Arb and I are both playing Rift at the moment so expect to hear more about that in future.

Thought of the Day: When reaching your goals is all about the journey

The perennial casual vs hardcore debate rumbles on, and I thought this was a really interesting thread on the topic on tankspot. It is particularly interesting in WoW at the moment, because people are deciding what their goals will be (raiding and guildwise) in the next expansion.

And I just wanted to pick out one quote:

I think the reason Hardcore people really get progression(and so much faster) is because when you put 25 people in a raid who want to be the best at X class, instead of 25 people who want to get X gear(or X boss). you’ll get much further.

There does come a point where it’s all about recruitment. But there’s also a point where a lot of people would say, “who cares about being best at X class as long as you’re good enough”. Clearly not a hardcore attitude, or is it? Spending Z extra hours to nail that last 0.5% of performance when it isn’t necessary is not a very efficient use of time.

I think there’s two different types of goal setting.

  • I want to do/get X as fast as possible.
  • I want to do/ get X as efficiently (i.e. as little excess work) as possible.

Optimising efficiency hasn’t really been popular gameplay in western games, it’s a little alien to designers.

But if your goal in Wrath is to kill the Lich King, there’s no special benefit to being in a hardcore guild if a more relaxed setup could also do the job. Each week we’re seeing more raids take down Arthas for the first time. It’s a really big moment for any group that had been raiding together for most of the expansion, however casual.

And the particular  challenges facing casual raid guild leaders who need to pull together players with varying goals, commitment, and availability and keep things running for months on end are not well understood or rewarded in game.

To all of them, and everyone who raids with them, congratulations! You rock.

Free-to-Play Hardcore

As the countdown to LotRO going free-to-play starts, I’ve found myself pondering all sorts of random elements about games going free-to-play. Possibly the most bizarre of these, is the concept of hardcore and how it relates to the micro-payment structure.

Will the new hardcore be those who reach the level cap without paying a penny? I like the idea of this one, and I’d give it a go if I wasn’t already a lifer on LotRO – it’s a little like Ysharros’ non-quest quest, but with additional difficulty of not buying adventure packs.

I actually hope someone does give it a go, so we can cheerlead them along, in whatever game they choose to do it in.

A Kingslayer is you! And some thoughts on raiding.

deathofarthas

Yup, this is what a 25 man LK kill looks like (kids, don’t take screenshots before the mob is actually dead — what I did here is wrong).

It is harder to describe what it feels like. We were screaming on voice chat. Screaming the way we hadn’t been all expansion. Because this isn’t just an unusually awkward raid boss at the end of the patch du jour, for my raid group it represents the end of a long journey which we’ve taken together. And there have been up times, and there have been down times. People have left and people have joined. I’m sure there have been times when the raid leaders wanted to throw in the towel from sheer frustration.

Although we all talked confidently about killing the Lich King someday, at the start of Wrath we were scarred from our experiences in the previous expansion. In TBC our alliance was very newbie friendly, we took on lots of new raiders and taught them to clear Karazhan and Gruul. We never made heavy inroads into Serpentshrine Cavern, people tended to leave to join more hardcore raid guilds if they were keen. It’s what I did also, when I wanted to see Zul Aman and the Black Temple.

So it seems fitting to put that in context. I’d seen more hardcore guilds and decided that wasn’t what I wanted. I didn’t know how the tanking would work out, or if we would see Arthas die. But like all the other members of our raid, I wanted to try and make it work.

Wrath has been our expansion. The one where the raid game was aimed primarily at raids like mine. No matter how much more hardcore players try to seize control of the narrative and tell us that only the hard modes really count, I think that’s a decision that each player has to make for themselves. Gevlon has a great post up today where he’s looking at  how players decide to define what it means to win.

[Sirlin says] “A scrub is a player who is handicapped by self-imposed rules that the game knows nothing about.”. Very accurate and very true. But why would anyone do that and how to fix them? “the scrub labels a wide variety of tactics and situations cheap.

In this context, I think self imposed rules such as  ‘I want to raid with my mates’, ‘I want to only raid one/two nights a week’, and/or ‘I want to be part of an established community’ definitely fall in this category. But it’s not cheap, nor does it make a player a scrub. One of the beauties of MMOs is that there is plenty of space for lots of different self imposed rulesets. All you need is a group or leaders that agree with the ones you have picked. And no harm is done to anyone who plays differently, they can just go play with a different group.

So yes, there was a 30% damage/healing/stamina buff in ICC yesterday and although the LK is mostly an execution fight, it definitely helped. But for what it’s worth, last night’s kill feels GREAT.

We played by our self imposed rule and got our self defined victory. So that’s a win. Hard modes await, and we’re not expecting to get the LK hard mode kill. Most of us probably aren’t even interested in that. It’s more about completing Shadowmourne for our raid’s chosen wielder and chilling out with friends until the next expansion.

We were actually the 5th horde side raid to get him. This says more about how few 25 man guilds actually made it to this point in the expansion than it does about our raid alliance, but maybe keeping a casual light-schedule raid together and focussed for this long is an achievement in itself. I know the players who joined us after their more hardcore raids split up said they got a buzz from the kill too.

I wish there were achievements for raid leaders. Because ours deserve them every bit as much as any hardcore raid leader ever did, if not more. For now, the screams of excitement over TS may have to be enough.

We’ve come a long way, baby

longway

If you look back through this blog, you’ll see one of the first entries was me explaining how nervous I felt about being tapped to main tank in Naxxramas at the start of Wrath.

And even before that, like many other players I first encountered Tirion Fording (key NPC in this storyline) back in the Plaguelands, all those years ago. He’s actually one of the big WoW NPCs who was entirely introduced in the MMO and not previously.

Yup, we’ve come a long way baby.

kingslayer

ps. this is the shot from after he actually died, with the achievements at the bottom of the screen and everything to prove it.

pps. naturally he didn’t drop a tanking weapon.

Devs speak out: “MMOs are for the hardcore.” “Immersion makes people spend more in cash shops.”

For today, a quick look at comments made by developers which caught my eye this week.

Aventurine speak out

Tasos Flambouras, from the Darkfall team, had a Q&A session with Rock Paper Shotgun this week. One of the things he was talking about was the type of players who are attracted to MMOs.

When you play any MMOG, you’re making an investment, these are not casual games and they continuously evolve.

Nothing much to argue about there, you’d think. But commentators have interpreted this as meaning that MMOs are for the hardcore only. They’re right, of course. But it depends how you define hardcore.

Even the most casual MMO player has some kind of ongoing commitment to their favourite game/s and to their character/s. That commitment might go on for months or even years. Even if you just log on once a week to chat to your friends and solo a bit, that’s pretty hardcore compared to most gamers.

But it does go further than that. These are massive, complex games (even if old time players don’t think so). They reward time spent researching or looking up information online. The more time you spend thinking about the game when you aren’t playing it, the better. The more time you put in, the more you get out of the game – that’s been the traditional way things have worked, and it sounds to be the type of game Aventurine are proud of producing. So these are also games which have tended reward players for being more hardcore and challenge them as to who can be the most hardcore guy on the block.

Even if the competitive hardcore aspect was toned down (as is the trend), a casual MMO player would still come across as amazingly hardcore compared with the average gamer.

However, convincing Darkfall players that they’re more hardcore than everyone else has been one of Aventurine’s marketing strategies so it would be surprising if Tasos didn’t mention it several times during the Q&A session. He does forget his hardcore persona and go slightly off-message later in the article when he adds:

Darkfall is not the strictly hardcore game it’s made out to be. We have numerous casual players who enjoy the game as much or even more than the hardcore players. We were also surprised to find a healthy population of role-players during our events.

I’m intrigued as to what a healthy population of role-players is. If you are too, and like full PvP in games, they have a free trial on at the moment.

If a game world is immersive, players will spend more

MMO Crunch post about a report that shows how immersion affects buying habits in virtual worlds. (But they fail at linking to the actual report so I can only comment on their summary – which is that players spend more in immersive worlds.) This sounds plausible to me, although I was sad not to see the report because I’m curious as to how they measured immersion.

But another well known developer also spoke on a similar issue this week. Legendary Nintendo designer, Shigeru Miyamoto, answered questions in a video interview for IGN (partly transcribed by eurogamer.)

And then what happens is as the player begins to understand the world that they’re playing in, then they’re going to begin to think about ways that they can play within that world; they use their own creativity and their own imagination to tell the story or to come up with their own parts of the story, and at the same time they come up with new ways to play in this world that has been created for them.

So in a time when many MMO players have been wondering if devs are giving up on presenting immersive worlds, there are two different angles on why immersiveness might be THE single most important part of a game.

The first argument, straight to the bottom line, is that being involved in an immersive gameworld encourages players to spend more money. And the second, straight to the gameplay, is that players are more encouraged to play in immersive worlds.

So don’t give up hope yet!

The fun of deciding NOT to do something

Say it in whispers, but one of the things I like about MMOs is that it isn’t possible for me to do everything in the game. There just isn’t time, so I have to decide where I want to focus my efforts.

I know that other people don’t have the same time constraints and also don’t seem to get bored at the same rate, so they can throw way more hours into hardcoring it up. I just don’t find hardcore as fun as the more thoughtful gameplay choices that casual players have to make.

I’m playing far more casually at the moment, and that means that even in aspects of the games I enjoy, I’m always weighing up whether the benefits (including fun) of an activity are worth the time/ effort. Whilst a lot of hardcore gamers really thrive on grinding for hours for that last 1% bonus, as a casual I enjoy being able to say, “Nope, I’ll skip that grind. I can be 99% as good without it and put the time into something else.”

So for me, playing with time constraints (and boredom constraints) makes the day to day decisions of gameplay more fun. The decisions matter. I know I won’t have time to raid simultaneously on several alts. I know I won’t have time to get good at thousands of different specs. So I have to choose carefully and stick with my decisions. That’s fun for me; important gameplay changing decisions are fun. And it isn’t just time constraints that come into play – I enjoy exploratory gameplay where I’m learning new things. So I’ll prioritise that over grinding for achievements.

I could make time for more in game grinding if I really wanted to do that. Maybe that last 0.01% would make a difference to our raid performance after all. But I know the truth is that I enjoy deciding not to do something just because it’s there, just as much as I enjoy throwing myself into some new feature. I love that there is content which I deliberately decided not to complete, but that other people do. I know that to a hardcore gamer I must look like an unmotivated slacker.  But I don’t think that slacker really describes the way I play at all.

Do you pick and choose which parts of the game you play, or do you feel duty bound to do everything you possibly can to advance your character?

How to switch to being more casual

I have played hardcore. I have played casual. And let me tell you, switching from one style of play to the other is not just as simple as only logging in for a fraction of the hours. It involves  a change of the way you view yourself in your MMO of choice.

Being a casual or hardcore player isn’t just about the hours played or the raid schedule, of course. You can put in lower hours and still play like a pro. You can put in longer hours and bimble around with your alts. But switching from 5 nights a week to 1 night a week is still going to require a change of mindset, as well as of logging time.

It is also completely normal for people to re-evaluate their play schedule when a new expansion is coming up. Do I want to be less hardcore in Cataclysm? Would I like to try to get into a top 100 guild, and what would that involve? Would I like to do things differently in the next round? Has my life changed (new job/ university course/ baby/ relationship) and does my gaming need to change too?

For example, if you are used to playing in a heavily scheduled, hardcore raid guild, you probably see yourself as being among the elite of the server. So what happens when you have to cut your playing time? Your raid may need to replace you by someone who can make all those scheduled raids. It won’t be personal. It won’t be a comment on your failure to get out of the fire in that one raid last year.  But you may still feel like a failure, and see the raid options available (apply to a more casual guild? PUGs?) as being beneath you.

Similarly, if you’re used to being one of the mainstays of a highly social or RP guild, having to cut your hours means you simply won’t be around as much. People will talk to someone else instead. Friends will still like you and be happy to see you when you are around, but you will feel as though you aren’t the centre of the guild any more because you just aren’t there as much. You will be very aware of all the exciting RP that goes on when you aren’t there and probably quite jealous, even though it’s no one’s fault that you missed it.

So if this sounds a bit like a 5 step program, it’s because most people will be shaken in their game identity if they have to play less. So if you’re going to make this switch (which you may have no choice about), AND be happy, you have to come to terms with a few basic facts. And learn to enjoy your decision and your new playing schedule.

1. People with less time have to make hard choices, you will miss out on some things

In many ways, players with limited time are the only ones who get the opportunity to make real choices in MMOs. People with virtually unlimited time can pretty much do everything that they want. They have the time to level all the alts, attend all the raids, practice all the trades kills, make all the in game networking contacts. But you will have to prioritise. Other people may not be under the same pressure.

So although your choices do matter more, you must accept that you have to make them. Events will also happen that you will miss, and some of them you will have really wanted to attend. You need to learn to live with that.

You may also end up feeling less engaged with the game. You’re putting in less hours, doing other things as well. It is sad to step back from something that was an important part of your life, but people change and it’s natural for priorities to change too. You’ll always have the memories.

2. Pick your goals smartly

Because your choices matter more, you need to pick sensible goals for yourself. What do you actually want to accomplish in the game? Will your current group/ guild let you do that? If your current guild is making you miserable because they are based on everyone playing a lot and you can’t keep up, then maybe it’s time to look around for a group that suits your circumstances better.

It’s not easy to leave a social group behind. But infinitely better than staying and being miserable because you can no longer fit in. Plus there are plenty of people knocking around who have made the same decision in the past and will understand where you are coming from.

If you want to raid, would you prefer to find a casual friendly group that has a relaxed schedule? Or switch to a server with very frequent PUG opportunities? (A high population server with a lot of raiders will offer infinitely more raid PUGs than a low pop, less progressed one.)

Some goals are inherently more casual friendly. PUGs and battlegrounds can be hopped into at any time. Solo play can be taken at your own pace. You’ll soon find out if any of your goals aren’t feasible because you’ll be frustrated all the time you are in the game. If this happens, look harder at your current goals.

Plus, of course, it’s easier to make sure that events happen when you want them if you can organise your own.

3. Picking a suitable class/ tradeskill

Some people will tell you that tanks or healers are more casual friendly because they don’t need to wait so long for instances. Or specifically healers if you want to PUG raids – they’re always needed. Others will suggest DPS because it may be an easier role to learn, and more of them are needed.

I’d say that the best notion, as usual, is to pick the one you love. But if you’re looking for a regular raid spot, it will be a more uphill struggle with a tank.

And while hybrids will give you many more options, it also takes longer to gear each role and learn to play it. Having said all that, the answer to anything in WoW at the moment is probably paladin. Great at soloing, very forgiving, can tank/heal/dps, not too difficult to learn, no competition on the healing plate.

Trade skills are another matter. Understand that the actual crafting skills are usually time sinks and players with more time will have maxed them out long before you get there. You will make more money in less time by going with gathering skills. This is not to say that it’s a bad idea, just something to bear in mind when picking goals, and don’t expect to be the only enchanter in the village.

4. Try to be happy

Don’t be jealous of people who have more stuff or more time in game. It is hard to adjust from being one of the time-rich ‘haves’ to being more time-poor, but hating on random people won’t help. If you are used to being one of the people who always helps everyone else, it can be tough to switch to being the one who is asking for help.

I think it’s the change in mindset which is more painful than actually having less time. No one minds crafting stuff for you if you ask politely and give them the materials (and a tip, if appropriate). It just can feel harsh if you are used to being able to make everything yourself.

Still, there is plenty of chilled out fun to be had. You can do pretty much all of the things on a casual schedule that people could do with more time (it may be that cutting edge raiding is off the agenda, for example). But you have to do them in different ways and maybe a different timescale.

It is just the nature of these games that more time = more stuff. You could also look for alternative games where this isn’t such a factor. Just bear in mind that Blizzard have been trying to even things up for people who play less right since the game opened (e.g. rested xp, limited boss attempts) and people with more time have consistently found ways around it.

5. Find people to hang out with who understand where you are coming from

If you spend your time in game with a bunch of hardcore gamers who raid five nights a week, you will also spend a lot of time comparing yourself with them and being miserable about how much you are missing. As a casual player, you will very likely have more fun and be less stressed in a guild which has a good mix of people and is less focussed.

It doesn’t mean you can’t play with the same people. A fixed levelling group or regular casual-friendly PvP evening will put you on the same footing as everyone else who turns up. But that takes buy-in from everyone. A guild which makes active use of bboards during the day will make it much easier for you to keep up with what is going on and feel involved, even though you may not be in game so much.

Don’t stay in a group or game which is making you unhappy, though. Instead think about why it’s making you so miserable. Are your goals incompatible with your availability? Are your friends on a different schedule?

Playing with people who have more/less time to game

In any MMO, there will be some people who play more, and some who play less. Unless you either always solo or always play in a fixed group who log in at the same times every week, you will hang out with both people who have more time to play and people who have less.

At the moment, I notice this because I’m playing more than one MMO (WoW and LOTRO). In one, I’m the ultra casual. In the other, I’m not. And in both cases, I play with people who spend both more and less hours in the game than I do.

Can it cause friction? For sure. People who play more hours will almost always have more stuff, more alts, more trade skills, more time to raid, more practice at the game skills, more friends/contacts in the game. After all, most ‘choices’ offered in MMOs vanish if you have enough time to do everything. (Which class should I pick? I’ll just level one of everything. etc.)

People who play less may be more casual, less skilled, have less gold. And that takes some adjustment. It can be frustrating for the lower hour players (why do I always have to be worse at everything? Isn’t there any one thing I can do that player X won’t pull out 17 alts who do it better?) as well as the more intensive players (how can Y not understand this simple thing?)

And of course, people often change their playing schedules. For example, at the start of Wrath a lot of WoW players featured it heavily on their gaming schedule. There was a lot to do – levelling, rep grinds, gearing up, organising raid groups. And as people get more bored or have completed more of the game, they tend to play less. They still have all the stuff and all the skills which they accumulated during the initial glut, but will spend less time right now. This type of play isn’t the same as a more casual player, even though they might be putting in the same hours.

Do you play with people who spend a lot more or less time in game than you? What issues have you found? And how do you deal with them?

5 Challenges for Cataclysm

Chris at Game by Night is dubious about whether Cataclysm can really keep Warcraft players occupied for another two years (the average time between WoW expansions up till now). Yes, there are new races and new levelling content, but once people have worked up their new alts … what then?

In many ways, the most surprising thing about Cataclysm is how little we have heard about it. It’s going to be released this year, but when? Is it in beta yet? Where are the screenshots or artists impressions of the new zones? Maybe a picture of a well known zone seen from a flying mount? How about some more information about the dance studio (i.e. ability to choreograph your own dances) which was mentioned at Blizzcon?

Just for comparison, the first beta leaks from Wrath were in April ‘08, and the expansion was released in November of that year. If Cataclysm is aiming for a release before Q4, we should start hearing more about it very soon. The longer they delay, the more likely that the expansion won’t go live until the end of the year.

Aside from that, there is a question of what exactly it really would take to keep WoW players occupied for another two years.

For raiders, I’m sure Blizzard can dole out the raid content at the same rate they have been through Wrath. For alt-fans, an old worlde revamp, new races, and 5 new zones will certainly keep people busy for awhile. Blizzard have also mentioned reworking some of the old dungeons as high level heroics – if they did that to all of them in addition to any new instances then that’s a lot of instanced content also. Plus the rated battlegrounds, which I suspect will be one of the really big features in practice.

So, same old same old. More zones, more dungeons, more races, more battlegrounds. But is that enough? And if not, what exactly would be enough?

Here’s the five main challenges I think the expansion will face.

  1. Rated Battlegrounds. How well will these take off? If this plan works, then it will throw a nice chunk of both content and challenge at raid guilds who are bored of running the same raid four times a week. Plus should be fun for the more casual guilds too. They will need to find a way for people to opt out of the ratings if they want to go run a random battleground or else the whole casual friendly, solo friendly nature of bg PvP will be lost.
  2. People who can’t raid or don’t want to raid. Wrath opened up WoW raiding to more people than ever before. Some will be hooked and raring to go on Cataclysm raids. But what about the people who decided that actually it isn’t for them? It may be that some form of cross-server LFR tool will make raids a fun, casual friendly option. But as I’ve said before, I don’t think a regular tuned 10/25 man raid would work for a cross server PUG.
  3. Hardcore disengagement. Hardcore raiders have worked within the new hard mode /normal mode framework for raid instances. But how much do they actually enjoy it? Do they want to sign up for another expansion of more of the same? More working their guts out to beat hardmodes, when the majority of the player base just doesn’t care any more and isn’t especially impressed because they are happy with their normal modes and get to see the same fights anyway. How many will decide that it’s just not worth it?
  4. Levelling through Outland and Northrend. Now, Outland and Northrend both offer very cool and fun levelling experiences. But how are players going to feel when they leave the revamped old world and have to chug through 20 levels of unchanged content before they get to the new Azeroth zones? How many of those new alts will actually make it to endgame?
  5. Class Balance and Hybrid Vigor. Wrath has seen hybrids winding up with a good deal of in game privilege. They get the extra flexibility of multiple roles, at very little cost (apart from the extra time and effort to gear up). We know that Paladins and Druids (and Death Knights, natch) have all been gaining in popularity – last armoury survey showed that over 15% of all level 80s were paladins. I’d expect this effect to become even more marked as more people create new alts in Cataclysm. Druids will get vastly more popular because … worgen druids. Plus of course, a class talent revamp for all classes could unsettle everything.

The big problem of course is boredom. People who are bored of the game are not going to be enthralled by more of the same, and Blizzard has shown no signs yet that Cataclysm will include anything other than more of the same.

And really, they have to go with ‘more of the same’ for the players who aren’t yet bored – plus they will want to increasingly save their new ideas for the unannounced MMO that is yet to come. This isn’t to say that WoW is being short-changed, but that the original design might just not be welcoming to some of the new things designers want to do.

Anyway, for what it’s worth, I think they will at some point figure out how to make fun cross server PUG raids. I think the rated battlegrounds will be wildly successful, more than most people are expecting.

I think that the new expansion will struggle to hold a lot of existing endgame player’s attention for more than a few months. This happens anyway with any new expansion, but the drift will be faster than ever, and it won’t depend on new games coming out. But remember, a lot of new or returning players will be coming back to start again with Cataclysm. They won’t all be bored yet. They will enjoy the more accessible instancing and raid content. Blizzard is banking on the new wave replacing the old. Time will tell if they are right.