Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Looking in on World of Warcraft

It's not a good time for MMOs. The PC gaming market, which has always been the core of the MMO world, has become the toy of Steam, and that's not likely to change terribly soon (unless Humble Bundle opens their own game service...), but MMOs are still out there. RIFT is just coming out of a period of re-tooling and will likely have a second expansion in not terribly long; EverQuest Next and Elder Scrolls Online have been announced to much fanfare; and, of course, WoW keeps chugging along.

World of Warcraft 2009-present
Source: WoW Insider
But WoW isn't what it used to be. Its subscriber numbers have gone from a peak of 12 million to less than 8 million in just 2.5 years. So, you would think that they'd be looking at what's changed and trying to move back toward the state that brought in those 12 million? Um... well, about that...

I stopped in to MMO Champion, today, a WoW news site that I used to frequent when I played. I saw, there, all of the same arguments that the Blizzard community managers and devs were having with the community back when I played. "Squishing" the itemization so that damage numbers don't overflow the database; response to claims that the game is being "dumbed down"; and the ever-popular cry of aging games, "why can't I just have vanilla back?"

So it seems like nothing has changed, yet something has: WoW is slowly but surely running out of players to keep reading this narrative to. What are the right answers? Well, let's look:

  • Squishing: This is a symptom of a larger problem: the game's core combat mechanics have aged poorly in places. For now, while the game tries to recapture its mojo, I would simply truncate the numbers. Internally, the game can track "1,000" points of damage, but display it to the user as "1 Million".
  • Dumbing down: In a word, don't. Reduce needless complexity, yes, but even the moderate success that Rift saw is proof that you can go entirely in the other direction and still have fun. EverQuest Next is certainly not skimping on mechanics complexity with their multi-classing system, so don't set yourself up to compete poorly.
  • While the plea on the part of the players is borne from ignorance over just what it is that they're asking for, there's a kernel of value, there. I'd investigate what can be brought back. It might be interesting, for example, to introduce a server where there are no dungeon queues and no daily quests.
Anyway I wish WoW the best. I'll probably never go back, but that isn't because I dislike WoW or the people who continue to play it. I just found that I liked other things more.
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