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.