Only as good as the last patch

I cannot remember a time when I have been as glutted on awesome computer games as I am right now at this moment. My gaming hours are still very occupied with Dragon Age, which is offering some of the most compelling, immersive gaming I’ve ever had on PC right now.¬† It is not only a great game, but it also plays right into my storytelling/ RP AND gameplay preferences so it’s absolutely the whole package.

If I want a break from that and some mindless hack/ slay action, Torchlight is still brilliantly entertaining. I find I enjoy it more when I don’t sit down for long sessions — that can get repetitive. But in short bursts it’s very fun and refreshing, and I still have more character classes, more builds, more endless dungeon to try. As if that wasn’t enough, we finally decided to pick up a PS3 so have a couple more great games there (Little Big Planet and Uncharted 2) when we want to sit down on the sofa together and play. I will have more to say about both of those games sometime but they’re both fantastic.

The nice thing about the single player games is that even if I build up a backlog now, it just means I won’t buy any more for awhile until I’m done with them. There’s no special hurry.

But where is WoW in all this? It’s on the back burner for me. I’m keeping up my relaxed raid schedule of one 25 man raid a week, and that’s about it. But why is that? This current patch is simply not compelling and I’ve run out of goals. Until the next patch drops, I’m finding other things to do with my spare time.

Larisa comments that she worries that people think she’s burning out because she’s been critical of WoW recently. I don’t think that. I think they put out an unexciting patch, and I remember noting that it sounded like filler when I first read about the Coliseum. I also don’t see any reason why even a fan has to ooze positivity over a lacklustre patch. By all means find something positive to talk about, but what if the positive thing is, ‘Well, at least we’ll all be geared for the next patch which should be better’?

Compared to the single player games, patch 3.2 offers very very little gameplay. There was one new raid instance that didn’t put up much of a challenge – I enjoyed the new mechanics but they didn’t keep us occupied for very long. Being offered the chance to keep rerunning old instances to be rewarded by a slightly different set of badges which could be turned in for better loot got old before the patch even went live.

One thing this has crystallised in my mind is that WoW at the moment is only as good as its last patch. Oh, there’s plenty of other content in there but I’m done with the rest of the expansion myself, as are a lot of other endgame players. We’ve run the instances, gotten the rep, experienced the quests/ storyline, and capped the tradeskills, so we are very focussed on the new patch content to keep us engaged. Or in other words, many people who played since the beginning of Wrath are now out of in-game goals and bored of the year old gameplay. As soon as a new patch hits, everyone who is endgame-ready will be motivated to switch to the new content — partly because it is new and partly because they will be enticed there with ever increasing rewards. But what happens when they’re done?

Any subscription game needs to keep offering players a mixture of short, medium, and longterm goals to keep their interest in maintaining a relationship with that game. Those are the things which make it worthwhile to pick up a longterm sub, knowing that there are things you want to accomplish that will take months. Goals aren’t enough on their own, but if they’re not there, then you’d better hope that your community is very sticky indeed.

The reason this has become more of an issue now in Warcraft¬† is that Wrath heralded a new era of accessibility for the game. And that meant fewer long term goals, and a shift in perspective for raid goals. For example, if your goal is to kill the last boss of a raid instance, you can now decide whether killing it on normal mode (possibly in a PUG) will satisfy the sightseeing instinct. Is it worth the extra hassle of finding a raid group just to get the boss on hard mode? A lot of people don’t find that as compelling a prospect as when it was the only way to see that boss die at all. Not only that, but because of the way players are now corralled through the game, many more of them will run out of patch content before the next patch hits.

So these things are in many ways a result of deliberate design decisions. I don’t think the decisions were bad, and I rather enjoy that I’m able to see all the bosses and finish a patch and move on without having to dedicate vast amounts of time and effort. But it does mean that if one patch is less exciting, it’s far easier to either skip it or take a break and do something else until Blizzard provide something more interesting for players to do.

I’ve seen a lot more raid groups recruiting at the moment, so I’m guessing a lot of people are bored with the Coliseum. Will they come back to see Arthas fall in patch 3.3, or will other games — maybe even single player games — have stolen their gaming souls?