WOW Dead Again? Part 3

The majority of people who still want to call themselves fans push back against critiques. They will twist themselves into pretzels defending the game’s weak character creator that improved but not nearly enough, the lack of housing or meaningful options for people who don’t find M+, raiding, or ranked PvP entertaining, and so forth.

If Blizzard wants to attract new players to WoW, changes need to be made. And if changes aren’t made, the game will continue to recede in prominence and eventually go into the same maintenance mode as other games the company no longer develops actively. But in order to critique that in good faith, you kind of have to assume that this is seen as a bad thing, that this is an outcome to be avoided.

It’s that time of the WOW season again. The first raid is stale, the second raid isn’t out yet and everyone wants to declare that WOW is dead again. Every time World of Warcraft hits its current mid-expansion point, these types of critics come out of the woodwork to decry the lack of progress in the game and ask if this is the end of WOW? Again and again, like clockwork, this happens.

How do I know this? There is a reason that this article’s title is a second third installment. Unlike my feelings at the end of Cataclysm when I wrote that previous piece, I like the current expansion World of Warcraft: Dragonflight. I like it at least as much as I did Wrath of the Lich King, which was my favorite expansion prior to Dragonflight’s release. I’ve been playing this game off and on for all the years in-between these two expansion. More on than off.

I play to raid and so the current expansion suits me in a general sense. The other parts of the game are interesting, especially the wildly expanded professions and the newly created artisan’s consortium, not to mention dragonriding; but in the end I play an MMO to do MMO things like raiding, dungeoning and PVP. Should the focus of the game be taken off of raiding, M+ dungeoning & PVP? I don’t see why it couldn’t be expanded. The artisan’s consortium is a nice first attempt to make professions into a thing that might keep someone playing the game. Grinding for mats is a perennial gripe of mine; but if you are willing to pay auction house prices, those mats are there to purchase if you want those pieces of gear.

I’d like to see Classic WOW open up so that new players can actually complete content in the game without having to suck up to established guilds. The players that cling to their nostalgia won’t let that happen though. I’d like to see all the previous raids and dungeons be available for play at current endgame levels. However, expanding the endgame content to include old content cuts against the focus on new content, which attracts new players, which is what keeps the game alive and current. If the game expands in that fashion, how is that different than maintenance mode?

Blizzard clearly thinks this is the case because they intentionally level-restrict all content that isn’t part of the current expansion. They want the player base focused on the new content and not distracted by yesterday’s quests and achievements. Most players would tell you that this hurts the game, but most players are not required to make money creating games, either. Blizzard has to worry about the next bit of coding they need to do and how to keep players interested in that. That is where the costs and the profit are. Definite costs and hopeful profits.

How is catering to the individual wants of every player even an MMO? In Warlords of Draenor and in Pandaria, the developers tried their hands at providing a personal space for individual players like the MassivelyOP author laments for. Those things are still there for anyone to go back and occupy all by themselves. What, exactly, does doing things by yourself have to do with a massively multiplayer online game? World of Warcraft is not Minecraft. I suggest that if you want to build worlds of your own to play around in, find a sandbox game like that one and have a great time.

There are plenty of things to hate about anything we do on a day to day basis. If the negative of the thing I’m doing outweighs the positive I get from it, I do something else. I don’t hate-watch shows I don’t like and I don’t hate-play games I don’t enjoy. There isn’t enough time in the world if you are going to spend it doing something you don’t want to do. I’ve quit World of Warcraft before and I daresay I’ll be quitting again sometime in the future (nobody lives forever) in the meantime I play that particular MMO game to engage in battles with large groups of fellow players. Since that was what it was created for and I’m still playing it, I think it’s doing its job quite adequately.

Link to comment on MassivelyOP

The Problem Isn’t Blizzard

As I alluded to tangentially above, the problem with World of Warcraft isn’t Blizzard brass, the game developers, the programmers or even the players. It is all of those things and the human condition itself all wrapped up into one giant painful ball of generalized discontent. When it comes to getting a handle on what it is that makes gameplay in the current version of World of Warcraft so unsatisfying, even though I find the particulars of the game interesting, has been best captured by the author of this video:

Folding IdeasWhy It’s Rude to Suck at Warcraft

If you aren’t up to watching an hour and a half video on the subject, I get that. Just getting to this point in this article is going to be an achievement for some people.

I can summarize the theme of the video this way. If the criteria for success in World of Warcraft can be reduced to numbers, then the better numbers will always be seen as more successful in the game than lessor numbers are. We have taken the fun of gameplay with other humans in World of Warcraft and made it into a soulless spreadsheet of numbers that tells us whether we are winning or losing instead of just fighting those battles for ourselves right there in the game. This is true of most raiders, PVP’ers and mythic dungeon runners. They don’t just play the game, they have to verify their stats first. Then if they don’t win, they find different stats and blame the old stats or admit that they suck at World of Warcraft and are bad players.

I myself as a player cling to the edge of free play and hope to be allowed to continue just enjoying my semi-directed instrumental play without having to kill the soul of joy that is at the center of free play. But it gets harder every year to find the space to just play the game and not have to spend every minute farming for materials, reading up on fight strategies and just getting through the mechanics of each raid battle as they are presented to me and my guild raiding group.

World of Warcraft is hardly alone in this predicament. Playing any game these days can turn into a nightmare of referencing other players walk-throughs and stat write-ups just to make sure that you are playing the game the right way. Which is nuts if you think about it.

Why does it have to be this way? Because numbers are quantities and quantities can be measured. We all want to be able to determine if we are engaged in a winning strategy or not. Why waste your time on a losing strategy? The cheat sheets are out there and we know it. This number is bigger than that number? This number wins.

Whereas joy has no measurability. It’s just… Joy. So if you find joy pretending to be a hobbit that doesn’t wear shoes and walks (not runs or rides) everywhere (the amalgamated player referenced in the video) your joy is going to be destroyed by the number crunchers who are driven to win at any cost. Because they will make you put on shoes and run if you need to run. Or if you just want to not run another Mythic+ dungeon this week and because of that you don’t get the best stats possible on your trinket when it drops (an actual incident also related in the video) you can be kicked out of your guild for not being dedicated enough. This is what happens when you value numbers over companionship, over humanity.

So we have created this monster that is World of Warcraft or more generally, online competitive gaming. Can there really be winning and losing in this kind of game, where everything can be reduced to numbers and strategies, incorporated into documentation or an addon like WeakAuras and widely distributed? Where do we go next when everything that we might encounter in the gaming world has been done by somebody somewhere else before, better, faster and stronger? Where is your joy then?

I just play the game man. That’s what I always try to do. Just play the game. Don’t ask me to read cheat sheets, please. If I feel I need a cheat sheet I can find them all by myself.

Elitist Jerks

I wrote the second part above reflecting on the tone of the comment that started this thing. I’m enjoying my single-player experience in Dragonflight quite a bit (a nice change that hasn’t been present in World of Warcraft in quite awhile. Pandaria? Probably Pandaria, but that was after nearly quitting during Cataclysm. I liked Legion but wasn’t there for most of it. I should have skipped out for all of Warlords, too. All of these thoughts are recorded here on the blog if you are interested enough to go looking for them) Then I noticed a reply or two coming in on the original comment that started this article.

There was some spittle-flecked hatred revealed when I went there again; that, and one gentle note from an editor letting me know that Massively OP wasn’t some fly-by-night operation. They’d been talking about World of Warcraft for eight years now. Very professional. They were very professionally deleting all the comments that included links back to my originally published content here (thereby leaving me there like a sitting duck, the punishment for saying anything at all on their Elitist Jerk of a site) so I very politely let her know that I had been writing here since 2008 so I thought that I had them beat when it came to years writing on the subject, and thanked her for letting me know that they were going to last longer than say, Gamebreaker, the first website that I ran across predicting the end of WoW back in 2013. I won’t hold my breath in anticipation of the collapse of either Blizzard or Massively OP, but I wouldn’t put money on Blizzard or World of Warcraft failing anytime soon.

I wrote my own tale of the end of World of Warcraft for me in 2022:

I end that article with a quote from Eliot Lefebvre, the same author that I quote at the beginning of this article. He blames Blizzard there just as he blames it here. He’s consistent, at least. I find myself enjoying Dragonflight more than I thought I would; more than I wanted to, even. My complaints about the constrained nature of endgame gameplay that I voice in that article still ring true to me today. I really am about done spending time in the game unless they come up with something new to do (I’ve run through everything more than once and I’m losing interest in the reputation… errr, renown grinds, same as always) but we’re about due for another raid so I’ll bide my time for a little while longer and see what happens next patch.

The difference between me and Eliot is plainly obvious to me; he’s looking for a scapegoat and I want to understand why I am not happy playing this game I’ve spent so much time involved in. His rants appear weekly on Massively OP, the hell that waits for all critics willing to do the work of critiquing a dozen different games all at the same time. He has my sympathy there. My rants appear here when I feel like writing them. I win.

Then the replies to my reply to the editor show up, and one of them is the kind of Gish Gallop (GG) that I’ve come to expect from believers who really don’t understand what it is they want but want to impress you with their ability to dissect your words nine ways from Sunday. Eliot Lefebvre quotes the most objectionable part of that GG in his comment:

Weird flex, considering most of the former WoW players here have also been playing since the game launched, so on that camp, we’ve been playing longer than you, but ok. Back in my day, you would have been called a Wrath baby.

Making fun of newbs, as if it’s laudable behavior. They unashamedly make fun of newbs, applaud making fun of newbs, but can’t seem to figure out why no one new wants to join in the games they love. I think I see the problem here.

In the For What It’s Worth department I have this; World of Warcraft wasn’t worth playing until the Wrath of the Lich King expansion (I didn’t bother signing up early for reasons I go into in my End of WoW article) and the game went totally sideways after Wrath trying to win back the love of the Elitest Jerks who hated Wrath and the inclusiveness it brought to the game. A fact which Eliot Lefebvre himself acknowledges while still making fun of newbs. Go figure.

In classic Wrath they didn’t include the limited ability to form groups that was present in the original game, instead opting for the kind of exclusive setup that made Vanilla and BC a wretched hell to attempt to play in, if what you wanted to do was group content and didn’t already have a raid group you were working with.

I have that kind of support in retail WoW, but that group doesn’t want to go anywhere near Classic in any form. Which I don’t blame them for. It’s hard to navigate those games and I’ve basically given up on them because I’m not going to buy gold on the black market so I can pay someone to carry me through content or spend the months of work required to make new lifelong friends in a game that I won’t be playing in two years.

Which is the ultimate problem with WoW as it was originally conceived. It did build friendships that lasted, but it wasn’t something that was going to last as long as the friendships did. Which meant that requiring the building of that kind of trust and reliance in order to play a game that would be gone in two years was an emotional overinvestment on each individual players part. A fact that still pisses most of those players off even twenty years later.

I’m still a newb according to the Elitist Jerks though. Great. I designed buildings in the real world when I was a working stiff but somehow that knowledge and experience just doesn’t carry any weight with people who wasted twenty years playing a game that I’ve only enjoyed playing for 14 or 15 years.

I really would like to try to explain the facts of life to these people. The facts of life when it comes to creating something real. Something real like a game or a computer system or a building that works well enough to live in; as opposed to just making fun of the people who do put things together but somehow fail to read the critics mind in advance. If I try to do that legwork I’m going to fail based solely on the herculean nature of the task of communicating that breadth and depth of knowledge in a few short paragraphs. Designers struggle with these kinds of problems every single day and every single project is different in some fundamental way.

If it could be done that easily, the architectural design website I envisioned thirty years ago would be as old as World of Warcraft is now. The knowledge is too unwieldy to be communicated that easily. The lack of vision inherent in the non-designing mind dooms the process from the beginning. If you aren’t a designer then you only know what you like when you stumble upon it somewhere else, disconnected from the thing you want to add it to. The process of incorporating what you like into the thing you already have will require compromise and streamlining and in the end the thing may or may not even be worth the time it takes to find out if it is possible to execute or not.

What I hear from the Eliot Lefebvre’s out there is a lot of small complaints, things like making space in World of Warcraft for housing. Sounds great, right? Your own house in WoW? I mean, I bought houses in Skyrim when I was playing it while not playing Legion, why can’t I have a house in WoW? For starters it would entail huge swathes of game real estate for individual houses that others could visit; or it would require phased housing like the garrisons were, for individuals to sit in by themselves. It doesn’t seem like much of a game sitting alone in your house, but I know a few players who filled their Skyrim houses up with every piece of cheese they could find in the game, so I guess for some people the idea of game is a little looser than it is for other people. There are dozens of places to go for this kind of entertainment already (I’ve already mentioned one. The GG’er mentioned two others. In code. Which I’m not going to bother to decode to reference. Screw ’em) Blizzard could and might even eventually do the background work to make this demand happen. Will it be worth it? I highly doubt it.

Trading Post clothing fails to render.

GG also wanted to know why they can’t design their own appearance? Every unique appearance has to be stored in the game and communicated to everyone who runs across that appearance in game. When that appearance fails to load you get a wardrobe malfunction like this one. Even if the unique appearance does load successfully, it impacts rendering times across the entire game. In every mentioned change in every article ever written critiquing Blizzard for their failure to deliver on promises and functions found in other games, there is some calculation-saving reason not to do whatever it is, so that the game plays smoother and loads faster.

I don’t know which games the GG’er is playing but I’ve played Red Dead Redemption 2. I’ve seen the kinds of character customizations that are possible in that game. Why can’t World of Warcraft do that? Red Dead Redemption is a dedicated console game that works best for single player scenarios. Throw in a thousand or a million other Arthurs or John Marstons all with their unique outfits and unique housing and you might begin to see the kind of impediment that calculation burden entails.

All down the line, without exception, there is some calculation saving compromise that goes into why this or that thing doesn’t appear in World of Warcraft or any other computer game that has ever existed. That ever will exist. Because in the end, if you can’t play the game on the system that you have in front of you at the moment, that game might as well not exist at all. That game will not make money from you and from X% of all the other potential players out there, and making money is how you stay in business.

Blizzard, with all its faults, has managed to produce a playable, enjoyable game based on something like the same universe for twenty years. It could have been better, but wasn’t. How many other games are still out there being played by millions of people that were first put on the market that long ago? While I hated Shadowlands and played as little of that expansion as I was required to play in order to raid (and the unpopularity of that expansion shows in the fact that the current game play-line skips it; going straight from BFA to Dragonflight) Dragonflight seems a lot more like Wrath than any expansion since Wrath has been. Which I personally will count as a success. If this is the last expansion of the game then so be it. It will have gone out on a high note at least.


…and then there were Niffen. The less said about them the better. Blizzard will be lucky if I’m still paying them when the third raid comes out.

Take an expansion that has been all about flying dragons across entire continents under a clear, blue sky; and then confine those players and their dragons underground talking to moles for three months. Or a year. Yeah. That about sums it up.

The raid is going to have to be so good I need to clean out my shorts after each battle. That might keep me playing. Maybe Eliot had a point about it being all Blizzard’s fault for World of Warcraft being what it is today. Maybe Niffen is ’nuff said.

They were all on fire, Blizzard, and you made me put the fire out in order to keep playing. I wanted to log over onto my warlock and douse them with shadowflame again just for good measure. Not put them out. No, burning is what these lying, dirt snorkeling diggers need. WTF, Blizzard? Maybe I should be playing an MMO that lets me kill the NPC’s if I want to kill them. Maybe I shouldn’t be playing World of Warcraft after all.