You Can’t Bolster Your Newbie Hose With Self-Indulgence

The latest numbers are in for World of Warcraft, and as of March 1st they were down 600k subscribers. That would ruin any other subscription MMO on this continent, but for them it’s just a few percent.

That article goes on to talk about how their player base doesn’t rise and fall linearly. They’re referring to the rebound cycle: your hardest-core players leave periodically, and then come back later. But there’s something missing from this picture.

World of Warcraft has always had a huge newbie hose: a constant stream of brand new players that flood into the game every day. This stream appears to be dwindling — or at least getting more expensive to maintain.

I’m still incredibly impressed with their newbie hose. Can you imagine if your favorite non-WoW game got newbies at the same percentage as WoW has? What if multiplayer console games just kept getting huge waves of new players every week, for year after year, so you never had to keep playing against the same old people? A newbie hose is incredibly valuable — all those newbies make the game more fun for existing players, and when everybody’s having fun, the newbies are more likely to stick around, too. When a game’s newbie hose drops off, its overall retention rates can drop too. So getting new blood in is extremely valuable.

And most games fail at it, or don’t even try. Most MMOs that have been around a few years have basically no newbies coming in, and they are slowly, quietly shrinking.

As an MMO shrinks, the dynamics of its game systems change. For instance, the economy of WoW is just like most other MMO economies: it’s designed around the newbie hose. As long as a constant influx of new characters show up, there’s always going to be people to buy your herbs. But when the newbie hose runs dry, and everybody finally gets all the alts they want, suddenly the bottom falls out of the auction house. This is par for the course for pretty much every other MMO in existence.

Every other MMO has to constantly and aggressively address problems like this one. (For instance, by making herbs do an ever-larger and more valuable array of things, so that people keep buying them.) So one way to get a feel for how many newbies WoW is getting is to watch for changes like this. When fishing becomes a more and more valuable skill in order to keep the value of rare fish from dropping to 1 copper, that’s what you’re seeing: the newbie hose dwindling.

Now, to repeat, I’m not saying their newbie hose is even close to dry yet! But I do think it’s slowing down, and unless they do something really magical, it will continue to dwindle. That would mean a slow death by attrition, which I calculate will take… lesee… holy… well my guess is it will take about 9 years before it’s under a half-million subscribers. So unless they do something stupid (like stop making expansions, or stop advertising hard), they can keep this baby going for another decade. And if they change the game in some innovative new way, they can bring the newbies back too.

But while they aren’t in danger, they’re certainly very aware of their newbie hose.

Cataclysm’s Newbie Experience: Self-Indulgence

It seems like Cataclysm was designed specifically to revitalize the newbie hose. At least, I’m sure that’s how the live team pitched it to upper management. “By improving such-and-such areas, we’ll convert x% more newbies.”

But really, this was a self-indulgent move by the live team. What live team hasn’t wanted to just fix everything? And that urge isn’t unique to games… ask anybody who has to maintain something for years and years. Who wouldn’t want to start over, to apply the lessons they’ve learned?

Can you imagine a city planner that got a chance to completely re-design their city? Tighten the zoning, bolster the transportation structure, maybe get some high speed rail into downtown… sure, it means destroying everything that’s there, but the new stuff will be so much better! Who could resist such an opportunity?

The urge is near-universal, but it rarely makes sense to completely rewrite everything. While you’re busy rewriting things to make them 25% better, you could have been adding new content and features that made the game 35% better instead. Adding new stuff is usually just a lot more efficient. And rewriting stuff has its own dangers. Everybody makes mistakes, and nothing’s perfect the first time. So you’re inevitably going to throw out some time-tested stuff and introduce new stuff that has unforeseeable problems in it.

So gigantic rewrites are only worthwhile to the bottom line if they cause a tremendous amount of expansion when they’re done. Cataclysm’s re-envisioning of the old world did not accomplish that.

I’m not saying they should never change their old world. But most of the time they should be improving it incrementally. EQ2 did this pretty well, I think: some of their original zones were so bad that they actively caused players to quit. (Seriously.) So the live team redid all of those zones. But by “redid” I mean they refactored all the quests and adjusted monster placement. They left the terrain itself unchanged! And these were some very ugly zones. Let’s just say they could have stood a revamp. (If you contrast them to the later EQ2 zones, you won’t believe they’re in the same game.)

But SOE’s product-driven mindset protected them from falling into that trap. By default, SOE assumes “new” is always more valuable than “improved”, because “new” goes on store shelves. This might be short-sighted in today’s digital-download environment, but at least this mindset stopped EQ2′s live team from going overboard here. The EQ2 artists were so busy making new areas for expansion packs that they couldn’t take the time to redo old areas. Old stuff isn’t sexy, it doesn’t sell boxes. I’m sure the designers would have loved to do it, but the people with money kept them in check.

Nobody keeps WoW’s live team in check very much. So they went ahead with a total universe-wipe. This meant that vast chunks of everybody’s knowledge about Azeroth, their shared experiences, were wiped out.

Now you have to ask yourself two things:

Question #1: If I’m a new player, will this revised world make me significantly more likely to stick around?

Well, in the past, an amazing 30% of WoW free-trial players stuck with the game. This is so much higher than any other long-running MMO that it is frankly hard to take seriously. But of course they are interested in getting that number much higher.

To make this number go up, we’ve watched the WoW live team tighten their newbie experience dramatically over the past several years. They’ve said that if players got past level 10 in their free trial, those players were likely to stick around. So it made a ton of sense to make the first part of the game more fun and a bit shorter.

But before Cataclysm, they did this by iteratively tweaking and refining. Cataclysm let them completely redo the newbie experiences. So… the question remains: does Cataclysm’s newbie experience significantly increase the number of newbies that sign up?

I dunno that. But I do know that the new newbie zones are so graphically complex that old PCs can’t play them anymore, and many of the new zones are also over so quickly that some of the elements of “sense of place” are lost from the experience. Those problems are countered by tighter quests with more diverse and engaging activities, so for the most part it’s hard to argue that the new zones are worse. But how much better are they, really?

More specifically, in how many zones was the old content so clumsy, and/or the new content so amazing, that players will sign up when they would have quit before? There were some stinkers, but I suspect most zones could have just been revised, not rewritten.

And even if the content is amazing, WoW’s sign-up rate can only get so high from content alone. Sign-ups are affected by a million factors, from hardware requirements to how many of their friends are playing to whether the game seems popular, stigmatized, or the underdog. Different people want different things. There’s no way to get your acquisition rate up to 100% — that would mean that everybody who tries WoW likes it. No video game is that good.

So my guess is their newbie hose was improved, but only for a while. On the other hand…

Question #2: If I’m a returning player, will this revised world make me significantly more likely to stick around for a few months?

No. Simply put, no. It boils down to one thing: leveling has been sped way the heck up.

Leveling has been sped up, which means you don’t spend nearly as much time in these brand new areas as you did in the old areas you remember. You don’t have time to replace your old memories with new memories. Everything just seems like a blur: oh weird, the mailbox moved. Where was the bank again? Hmm, the whole city’s been redone…

If leveling took as long as it did five years ago, this would have worked a lot better. As it is, it just makes a jumble in returning players’ heads.

Mixed Messages

WoW seems to be mixing their messages here. On the one hand, they rewrote the entire first half of the game so that it would be stickier for new players and interesting to returning players.

But on the other hand, they sped the first half up so much that you fly right through it, right to the latter half, which is not better than before (and some argue is worse).

What was the point of rewriting the content if you’re going to reach level 10 in 2 hours? Why not just speed up leveling and be done with it?

Why? Oh yeah: because the live team really wanted to do it. And I don’t blame ‘em one bit. I would have tried to get to do that, too. It musta driven them crazy, knowing that players couldn’t fly in the old world, and not being able to fix it.

I don’t know how effective it really was, but from an outsider’s viewpoint, it didn’t seem to make the game a lot stickier.

Live teams have their own agendas, and those agendas aren’t always the best way to make money.

Newbie Hose vs. Holding On To Rebounding Players

You can now get a lot further in WoW in your 10-day trial than ever before, yet clearly this has not spiked their newbie acquisition rates to dizzying heights. I’m not saying there’s definitely a causal link here — for all I know, their newbie hose had dropped to 0% and now it’s back up to 30%. I’m just a stupid blogger.

But I just have to ask this: what if, instead of completely redoing twenty newbie zones, they had added twenty new zones to the end of the game? Hindsight is 20/20, but I’m sure that would have been a much bigger win for their retention.

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23 Responses to You Can’t Bolster Your Newbie Hose With Self-Indulgence

  1. Stabs says:

    “for them it’s just a few percent.”

    WoW’s 12 million include a lot of players in Asia who pay by the hour. They don’t have and have never had 12 million people paying $15/month. 600K may be a much bigger dent in the game’s revenues if it is predominantly US and EU players who have stopped playing.

    In the worst case scenario they’ve lost more than 600K monthly subscribers and the size of the calamity is obscured by growth in other areas of the world where WoW is much cheaper.

    I think the trickiest issue for WoW is the tank and healer shortage. Anecdotally I’ve heard of two players turning up to Ragefire Chasm to tank and being rejected by their groups when they told everyone they were new. That’s catastrophic – if new tanks are being told they can’t play with the others in a game that’s mostly about 5 man grouping the only tanks are veterans and veterans’ alts.

  2. Eric says:

    That’s a good point, we don’t know what percentage of their subscriber base was lost.

    It’s interesting about groups and raids requiring well-equipped and experienced players now. That increases retention, to an extent. But it has to make new players less excited about trying to get into WoW raiding. To some extent these problems are logistical issues, though, or mechanics ones, and I think they could fix them relatively easily… well, more easily than rewriting all their 1-60 content was, anyway…

  3. Nils says:

    Thanks for writing this extensive analysis. Although I’m not a fan of WoW for several years now, I want to congratulate the WoW team for their courage. It was a risk and they took it knowing it. It also was a lot of work and they pressed hard to do it.

    Problem is that your current opinion is not always the result of ‘lessons-learnt’. Was making story-telling more linear really a lesson-learnt? Was ignoring immersion whenever abstract gameplay encouraged it, really a lesson-learnt? Was compressing the level-intervall per region really a lesson learnt when seen in combination with the WAR-learnt-lesson of exp gain for PvP ?

    Developers need to understand that their current opinion is often not a lesson learnt, but really just another opinion. However, as I already said: I congratulate the WoW team for trying to innove. It’s a pity their innovations are always the opposite of what I’d hope for in a MMORPG.

    Last but not least, my analysis (short version):
    When playing nowaday’s WoW I don’t feel like a mage, but like trying to beat an expensive facebook game.

    And in conclusion:
    WoW dieing (slowly!) can only be good for the industry.

  4. Chris says:

    Interesting. I have to admit, the cataclysm changes are what finally got me to play WoW. A friend who is a long-time on-again, off-again player of WoW couldn’t stop ranting about how much better the new player experience was with Cataclysm and I decided it was time to check it out. Enjoying it so far.

  5. JasonM says:

    Great article and analysis. I went back (as did some friends) for Cataclysm. Personally, I found the new race newbie areas to be very neat, but the old revamped areas to be quite dull. But, I fall into that category of having played through those areas within the first six months of WoW’s launch repeatedly trying various race/class combos.

    Its interesting cause Lord of the Rings Online also did this a while back, revamping the newbie areas. Though theirs was to make it ready for F2P.

  6. Jeremy Thornhill says:

    I came back specifically for Cataclysm. I would not have done that for any other type of expansion, and I don’t think I’m the only one who did so. Will I stay around for a long time? No, I won’t – I saw the new stuff and left. But how much did Blizzard make off of me in the process?

    At first, I just wanted to check out the revamped old world. $15 just to see it – not a big deal right?

    OK, after the first few weeks, I’ve seen the new zones with my new characters. Cool! But hmm, what about the new *high* level content?

    Cataclysm, the expansion box proper (which unlocks the 80+ zones and the new races) requires all prior expansions for use. I’m only on TBC. Doh!

    OK, so now I buy WotLK. I buy Cataclysm. That’s $70 more. I subscribe for month two: $15.

    So here I am, my $15 investment to see the old zones suddenly turned into a full-on $100 investment to get caught up. And, another month to even get to the new content! They’ve sold me the old damn expansion, and I’m swallowing it hook line and sinker!

    So month three, $15. Finally hit the Cata new content. Finally hit level cap. Month four, another $15, seen all I reasonably will, finally cancel.

    So here I am, a guy who hadn’t played in years, a guy who “only” got 4 months subscription out of this expansion: I’ve shelled out $130 total.

    The beauty of Cata is that it’s *bookends*. You see one end of the expansion for “free,” then you feel like you need to see the other end, but you have to buy the boxes of everything in between. And, you’ll suffer through the junky old expansions since you’re looking forward to the new shiny you got used to 1-60. I think that’s brilliant.

    I think people get easily distracted by the cyclical WoW sub numbers, when the profit and publicity from moving all those boxes is *huge*. Cata sold me $130 of WoW, versus the $0 I would have paid for any other type of expansion – and I don’t think I’m alone.

  7. Stabs says:

    That’s a very good point Jeremy but that high initial cost is a double-edged sword. It was fantastic while WoW was perceived as light years ahead of the competition.

    Will WoW’s next expansion be worth forking out large sums of money for when you can access some games for free (Eq2, Lotro), some games for a fairly nominal fee (Eve, £10)?

    It’s a gamble they absolutely won with Cataclysm, something like 4.7m boxes sold. I wonder if the game still has the legs to sell like that, especially since there may be two competing Blizzard RPG products (Titan and Diablo 3).

  8. Jeremy Thornhill says:

    @Stabs – that’s definitely true, and it’s pretty clear they have to do *something* to ease the pain for people entering via the “newbie hose” as the number of expansions starts to pile up. It seems like they’re on top of this though – consider that the base game is now effectively free (it’s $19 to “buy” the game, but that includes one month, and you also get the first 10 days as a free trial) and the TBC expansion is only ~$12. They can drop the prices on old expansions over time, and/or bundle them up into new products at key milestones (which happened with EQ when it started getting a ton of expansions).

    I like to focus on box sales since we have actual numbers for those, unlike the “subscription” numbers that mean so little in WoW’s case. Keep in mind that Cataclysm was the fastest selling PC game *ever*, and it was priced almost like a full PC game. With 5 million boxes moved within the first month at or near MSRP ($40), I think that’s a powerful validation of the Cataclysm strategy, even if long-term retention isn’t much impacted.

  9. Nils says:

    I think that’s a powerful validation of the Cataclysm strategy, even if long-term retention isn’t much impacted.

    I agree, but looking at the quality of the game, it is just a validation of WoW up to WotLK. Nobody of these 4.7m buyers knew what Cata is like when they made the investment.
    We are not so much interested in the strategic decision to make an expansion about low-level content, but rather interested in the execution of this strategy, I think. And I suppose, we agree that the execution has some problems.

  10. Stabs says:

    I think one can go even further and suggest that 4.7m boxes was the prize for making a string of excellent products from Lost Vikings to WotLK and SC 2 but that Cataclysm may not win as many sales of future boxes as its predecessors have done.

    I do however feel it’s not the “fault” of the Cataclysm design team or the live team. I think that there were vectors within the system (mudflation, dumbing down, optimisation) which would have come to crisis no matter how the Expansion was designed.

  11. Cat says:

    I’ve just been playing one main all this time… I have a couple alts but I don’t level them much.

    It sort of sucked to play the Cataclysm free trial and go, “Nice! This new zone is pretty cool.” Then you shell out for it and you get to 85 and there’s this giant brick wall called the “end game” that you hit pretty hard with your face.

    Back in Lich King, I ran regular instances and then heroic instances and after a little while I could go tank Naxxramas. In Cataclysm, they decided to make the heroics like 5-man raids. They also decided to make the entry point for raiding even steeper — when Cata was a month old you might have been allowed to raid in your level 346 blues, but now you need to go the extra mile and have some epic raid-level items… before you set foot into a raid.

    How do you get those? You run those lengthy heroics until you want to stab your eyeballs out to collect points you can spend on epic items. You run daily quests over and over until you can buy epic items from certain factions. The progression from regulars to heroics is about the same (gear up in regulars and then you can go on to heroics), but the progression from heroics to raids is a multi-week grind (assuming you don’t have more than ten hours a week to play). If you have less time than that, your grind will last months. By the time you reach the previous bar for raid entry, it will have been raised… until ultimately you can’t raid without a full set of epic raid gear on.

    So much for dawdling and getting into raiding at a sane pace! Grind very, very fast or the target will recede from you faster than you can approach it. That’s been my experience. I’m just not willing to run 1-2 hour long dungeons every single night. Raiding is where the fun is. Why is the fun separated from the leveling by weeks of mind-numbing, repetitive activity?

  12. Rholm says:

    First, a brief player storyline:

    I started playing WoW early 2005, not that long after the original game launch and played for several months. Real life called me at some points and I had to abandon the game. I came back in Autumn of 2006 and aside for few brief periods of time, I never really stopped playing. In short, I guess I could call myself a game “veteran”.

    Forwarding to today – the Cataclysm expansion. I am disappointed by it. A lot, actually. At first, I thought it was simply that the game was getting old and perhaps it was time for me to move on. But that is not it. Blizzard failed at keeping me interested.

    As you mentioned already, the game changed to hyper-speed mode. Everything is faster. You travel faster (no seriously, do we really needed THAT many flight paths?), flying on Azeroth, heirloom items all over the place, the guild perks, the relative ease to get gear, the idiot-proof questlines etc…

    All of what I just wrote is what ruined the game to me. I sincerely miss trying to figure out where to go next to get new quests or to find out which zone I should head to. As of now, it might as well just be a corridor with a few boars and murlocs to kill along the way.

    The dungeon finder tool. Sure it was sometimes painful to get a group going to run dungeon X prior to it, but it was also a nice way of meeting new players (of your own realm) that you would group again with – assuming that everyone had fun in the first place. I met most of my now friends that way. With the dungeon finder, I rarely come across a group that would chat and even if they do, chance that I meet them again is close to nil.

    The guild perks. Sure they are nice. Nothing mind-blowing either. I noticed more and more players asking on trade channel “If high level guild PST”. It seems that finding a guild that have specific goals to match yours is gone. Heh, as long as you get that 10% more experience from quests or that mount boost speed, who cares if you play with douchebags… right?

    Anyway, I am rambling. I have mixed feelings at how the game is at the moment – and its future.

  13. Yeebo says:

    I had the exact same experienced as Jeremy. I subbed up to check out the revamped 1-60 game, ended up staying for three or four months until I ran out of stuff that was fun to do at the cap (leveled 1-85, got all of the gear I could from BGs, and then I was done). Evey single time I hit the cap in WoW, the game pretty much ends for me. I was sick to death of the old leveling game, a 1-60 revamp … or the addition of an entirely new set of 1-60 zones… was pretty much the only thing that would have gotten me back (if only until I hit the cap and the game ended again, like it always does). Surely I am not alone in this?

    I also suspect the drop-off we are seeing has a lot more to do with Cat’s problem then a lack of new high end zones. The current end game is a lot harder than the WotLK endgame. You can’t cater to ultra casual raiders for years and then suddenly change your mind, you’ll lose your existing audience in droves and likely replace few of them. What hardcore player is going to try out the extremely easy leveling game and assume that there’s some sort of grindy punishing raiding game that caters to them at the end of it all?

  14. Moonmonster says:

    @Rholm

    Funny thing; I don’t think they made it simple enough. Or they did it in the wrong way. Or they’re just weighted by tons of content.

    I started WoW back in 2006 maybe? Somewhere around there. Got a priest to 40s before I decided that it was kinda boring and moved to other games. Ok, fine, that’s just me; I never stick with one game for that long.

    I came back to try Cataclysm, because even though I don’t stick with games, I do bounce back and check in on them. I got a Draenei paladin to 20ish; the part where you leave your starting zone and move on.

    Wow what a chore that was. Somehow I missed the breadcrumb quest that told me where to go, but hey, I remember a bit of WoW from back in the day, the spooky forest area near goldshire should be my level. I’ll just go there. There should be a boat … ok got a boat, wait this isn’t where I wanted to go. Boat again. Ok finally I’m in Stormwind and I can’t believe they didn’t make this place less annoying to navigate, but fine. Talked to the flying transport dude and then went and quested a bit.

    Hit kind of a deadend of quests in the forest where I completed the handful that were at the western end but again didn’t get pointers to somewhere else to go. So maybe I’ll port back and take care of some housekeeping … shit. I’m back on the starting area. Ok let me find the flying dude… oh I can’t fly to Stormwind. lemme find the boat. Damnit, wrong one again, where are the signs?

    Realized I’ve just spend 20 minutes running around trying to get to where I actually get to play the game I want to play; realized most of the other games I’ve played in the past handle this a million times better (either quicker transport like EQ2 or transport-is-game like Eve, or even get-you-kinda-close like Rift). Cancel account, go play those other games.

    I was honestly shocked at what a pain in the ass it all was.

  15. Mavis says:

    I think your also underestimating the value of redoing areas in keeping some of the jaded players still playing. As it made creating another alt less painful. I’m an ex wow player who’d hit level cap in Wraith- and I was inches away from restarting as it allowed me to both look at “new areas” with a new character and “explore the future” – so while it failed to lure me in it must have worked on a chunk of people.

  16. Paul says:

    It’s a gamble they absolutely won with Cataclysm, something like 4.7m boxes sold.

    I’m not so sure they were all that happy with Cataclysm initial sales. The now-defunct blog Digital Castration (which appears to have been shut down due to a C&D order, which lends it credibility) stated that internally they had been all ready to roll out new servers for Cata, but had to abandon those plans when sales didn’t meet expectations.

    It’s perhaps telling that the post-Cata activity levels recorded by warcraftrealms didn’t even get up to the post-3.3 peak, never mind the all time high at the start of WotLK.

  17. Rholm says:

    @ Moonmonster and Mavis

    I can understand that WoW isn’t the game for you. To quote you; I never stick with one game for that long. That is not my case.

    I think the designers did a darn fine job at creating this World (of Warcraft). Some may not like the art style, but I do. Some may not be into its rich lore, but I am loving it. Some may consider the leveling system a “grind”, but I don’t. I like the fact that it takes some time and dedication to reach the level cap.

    I have multiple level 85 characters and a bunch of 80 to 83 on both factions. I even started new characters at Cataclysm launch to experience the new races and their starting zones (Worgen/Goblin).

    I enjoy playing and to experience the various aspects the game has to offer. While I am now a retired raider, I never considered WoW as “a race to level cap”. I enjoy the ride as much as its destination.

    Now (and to some extent, in WotLK) they made the quests so trivial that, in my humble opinion, they are no longer fun. Heck, you don’t even have to read the quests at all. Even partially like many of us used to do (i.e OK go west of this town and kill 10 boars). Now, you just open your map and everything is marked. When you arrive at destination, a simple mouse over a mob will tell you which you must kill. It can’t be more auto-pilot than that! It made the quests boring and not involving to me.

    And while I know that it is a choice to use them or not, I do not like the heirloom items. Nothing against the idea of getting some rewards when achieving the level cap on a first character – to help your alternate ones, but I think it goes too far. The experience boost you get on them is not needed. Add to that the extra experience you can get via the guild perks. It is insane. By the time you kill those 10 boars, the quest itself is already grayed out. Way to screw up your own leveling/quest/zone flow, Blizzard!

    Yet, I am still playing. Go figure!

  18. Dehna says:

    Agreeing with Rholm! “the idiot-proof questlines” hehe

    At one point I considered stripping few items off my character in order to have some challenge while killing a mob.

    My first memories of WoW are of me and my friend running away from murlocs, planning strategies how to kill Yowler and Lt Fangore (low level Redrige quests). We died as hell back then. And now… As Greedy Goblin said: It’s a press any key to continue type of game. Not much challenge in questing. And then you hit 85 and you need to run same instances over and over again until you turn dumb, and at the same time there’s that vast beautiful world just being there empty and abandoned.

  19. Rholm says:

    Addendum to my previous post and

    @Dehna

    I can’t agree more with your “vast beautiful world just being there empty and abandoned”.

    Blizzard advertised Cataclysm with a lot of emphasis on its “redesigned” Azeroth – the Shattering. Truth is, you will barely visit most of a said zones and completely miss many others as you level up.

    I also sincerely miss the various “attunements” you needed to enter some of the raids. Or keys to enter dungeons. Skeleton Key for Scholomance, Crescent key for Dire Maul …Onyxia’s Lair attunement? Molten Core, Blackwing Lair and later on, Karazhan, Black Temple etc… Anyone?

    I think they were important in a various ways: First, it brought you a story as to why you have to kill that big bad internet dragon over there. It also brought guild members together to do stuff prior to to the raiding itself. Common goals to ultimately, get your guild as a whole to do even more stuff.

    I don’t know. As of now, it seems that Blizzard is promoting the “social” experience of a guild by offering various perks to stick around in one guild and on the other hand, they remove everything that made the game a social one. You know, an MMO. When is the last time you heard someone asking for help or a group to kill that one elite mob in the Barrens? Oh wait, no. They removed all that too.

  20. Wolfshead says:

    A truly great article!

    Let’s not forget that Blizzard’s logic in revamping old zones was to ensure the future vitality of WoW by making those older zones more in line with their current level of quest design proficiency.

    As you noted, they negated all of those supposed benefits because due to the fact that Blizzard wants everyone to level faster to funnel everyone into the “core” game (read: level cap and beyond) players are barely in a zone and then they are sent to the next zone. Why bother to create something if players will barely experience it? It’s like guzzling $100 a bottle champagne.

    While Blizzard may feel they improved those old zones I contend they are worse than the original versions. There is zero challenge now for 85 levels. Players are just going through the motions. When you hand everything to players you are cheating them of the sense of accomplishment that comes with overcoming challenges. That is basic game design 101.

    With all this sanctimonious talk from Blizzard how it’s all about the “game” not the world, WoW has itself has become a rather bad game with virtually no challenge for all those 85 levels. WoW is the Monty Haul of MMOs with it’s inflated rewards for dubious achievements.

    It is clear that Blizzard’s design philosophy is now overwhelmingly all about subscriber retention and bringing in new subscribers at the expense of making decisions would be good for the game/world/community as a whole. To think otherwise is to deceive oneself. At last WoW is reaching the start of the tipping point when expedient, short-term design choices are coming to fruition. Combine this with an aging MMO that has offered no real innovation for virtual worlds and you have the beginning of the end.

    If anything it’s going to be entertaining to see how Blizzard rearranges the deck chairs on the Titanic as their MMO finally starts to sink.

  21. Nathan says:

    The new lowbie zones go by too fast for experienced players with heirloom gear. Given the linear nature of questing, and the need to discover flight points before being able to fly to a new zone, the end result is that player who had levelled multiple alt pre-Cata would find themselves stuck in a zone they had out levelled with the only option being to run to a new zone, often with higher level zones that need to be travelled through to reached the players actual destination. It just doesn’t work and doesn’t feel any better than the pre-Cata levelling experience.

    The new spells and talent trees available to low level characters are great, but that could have been done without wasting so much time redoing old content.

    And when the player finally reaches 58, they’re stuck bashing through Outlands and Northrend. Outlands is a real killer. I managed to drag one alt through Outlands, before finally getting sick of it when I reached Northrend. The other alt never made it out of Outlands.

    Even my level 80 alts didn’t progress far in the new high-level content. It’s just not fun a second time around. There’s no way to be more efficient because the quests are linear, and neither level 80 starting zone is very interesting. The underwater one is downright terrible to navigate around.

    And Cata also suffers from having to undo WotLK’s bad habits with player strength. Was a healing nerf required for the good of the game? Probably, but the way the live team it was rather poor. The weak, efficient heal every healer gets starts to feel completely useless in heroics. To use the weak heal effectively, the player must chain cast it, leaving no chance for dispels or other niche spells. I found it to be a frustrating play style because I was continually waiting for this lame, little heal to cast. Blizz should have increased the power of all the heals and increased the mana cost to keep the same HP/MP ratio. At least then, healers would have meaningful choices between dispelling, healing, or not casting at all.

    In the end, Cata should have brought more new stuff to the table–mixed things up more–instead of wasting time on low level content that everyone blows through too fast. By the time I’d geared my main through heroics, I just had no desire to do the endless dungeon grind again, or the even-worse PvP grind. There’s no point targeting the newbie hose the the extent that Blizz forgets to make a compelling experience for their long-term players.

    Oh, and flying in the old Azeroth zones is largely pointless. Yes, it’s nice to have, but probably not worth the development cost.

  22. Inmake says:

    Интересненько

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