Procrastination Amplification: Punditry on MMOs and games in general.

A Post About WoW

So I’ve been asked by a (former?) guild mate of mine to post more about World of Warcraft, which is hard for me to do since I’m not playing the game anymore. I won’t bore you with all my complaints about the game, but I thought it might be interesting to write about what would have to happen to get me back into it. Cataclysm is on the horizon somewhat and people already talk about how it is or isn’t going to bring players back into the game. Below the break you’ll find a list of points I’d like to see addressed if I were to resubscribe. As usual, the list will be far from complete and in nor particular order.

Challenging Content on Demand

The first point in the list is a tough one already. I want to be able to log in irregularly and still play fun, challenging content. Currently WoW doesn’t provide that – I can either raid regularly and get to work on hard mode raids or I can play boring easy content with more or less terrible people in pick-up-groups. The dungeon finder, for example, has absolutely no attraction for me because it only lets me play content that I can play with my eyes closed. The only somewhat interesting content left for me in the game are the hard mode raids and I’ll get nowhere in those if I don’t become a regular fixture in a decent guild. Other games I play these days allow me to play as much or as little as I want to and still be challenged. Starcraft II puts me in leagues with players of equal skill. If I only play twice a month I’ll probably be in a lower league, but that’s completely fine. If I have a stretch in which I play more, I might just get better and play better people – either way the game will stay enjoyable and challenging. Single player games do the same thing – I could sit down and finish Dragon Age: Origins – Awakening (which arrived for me on Saturday) in one marathon session, or I can just leave it be a bit and play it when I feel like it. I have in the past subscribed to regular raiding times and could do that again – but the lure of the game would have to be really strong. As long as WoW doesn’t get much, much better it would need to have challenging on-demand content for me to participate in.

More Interesting PvP

Xel'Naga watch towers allow Starcraft II players to observe troop movements in parts of the map.

This might actually be coming in Cataclysm with ranked battlegrounds, we’ll see. I think I would greatly enjoy the strategic aspect of playing in a Battleground with a regular team of guildies – assuming that they bring as much devotion to it as they bring to raids. WoW PvP lacks more than just ranking though – one would need a better interface to strategically lead battlegrounds as well as more diversity in those. When compared to the maps in, say, Starcraft 2, WoW Battlegrounds have very few strategic possibilities built into them. Instead of the gimmicky vehicle battles of the newest maps in WoW, I’d rather see more options for strategic play – back-doors, observation posts, passages that can be closed etc. Blizzard already has a team that can design great strategic maps, why not let them loose on some Battlegrounds as well?

In Starcraft 2, there are still casual matches in which players don’t use all the neat features of the maps, but higher level players can and will use them. Similarly, casual WoW players could still zerg around the battleground and hope to win that way, but more advanced players would make sure to control crucial observation points to discover enemy troop movements or launch two-pronged attacks to throw the enemy forces off balance. A lot can be done with a few additional elements as proven by Starcraft II, Blizzard needs to up their game a bit and provide that in WoW as well.

Stuff to Think About

I love it when games engage me even when I’m not playing them. Look at how much is written and talked about Starcraft II strategy even though the game isn’t out yet and only a minority of players even gets to play in the beta. Even more impressive, look at the amount of articles that are still written and read about Magic – The Gathering, a 17 year old game. I recently checked into the latter because I discovered I still had some digital product left in Magic Online and there’s still a fascinating amount of strategy to read being written every day. In comparison, WoW’s decision making ins minuscule – and what’s worse, there’s usually one definitive correct answer to every question.

In order to engage me again, World of Warcraft needs more interesting decisions to make – and if at all possible a varying meta-game like we see in the other afore-mentioned games. How one can fit that into a PvE environment, I don’t know yet but I’m sure there are ways to do it. Without something to think about, WoW is just a collection of grinds to keep me paying. The time where that worked on me is over.

More Interesting Raids

Speaking of grinds, I absolutely hate how one week’s raid is absolutely identical to the previous week’s one. This problem is a bit difficult to solve in the light of raiding, as the most obvious solution would be adding more randomness – but randomness is dangerous. What I would love to see is a more advanced boss AI in which the bosses react to the strategies your raid employs and which, in turn, requires you to adapt your strategy to their reaction. The current scripted nature of boss encounters allows for something that seems like a very interesting encounter until you have understood the underlying pattern (thank you, internet!) at which point everything just becomes a matter of execution.

The Isle of Quel'Danas had to be captured before players got full access to it. (image: Postcards from Azeroth)

Another way to make raids more interesting would be to make them matter more – currently all you gain from defeating bosses is some loot and maybe an improved standing on WoWProgress and similar sites. Where is the in-game battle of the guilds? The castles that fly your guild’s colors because you did well where other guilds didn’t, or the advancement of alliance forces throughout Icecrown while the horde has to fall back? Currently the effect of raid results on Azeroth is pretty much non-existent. People even liked the whole Isle of Quel’Danas race, even though it was just a glorified grind. Allow me to work for something greater than just loot and I might even be tempted to play again.

Drop the Activision Bullshit

Turning WoW from a game into a cash generator might be good for your funds in the short term, but it surely doesn’t entice me. The most important thing that would have to happen to get me back into the game would be a reversal of the “appease as many players as possible” policy. From a business perspective, making the game appeal to as broad a player-base as possible might be a good decision. One could even argue that the definition of a good game is that as many players as possible like it. Me, I don’t subscribe to either point of view. A game that lots of players like just enough to keep playing has to be worse than one that fewer players really, really like. And, quite frankly, halving WoW’s player-base would still make it the most successful MMORPG ever. Who knows, people might even be willing to pay quite a bit more than their $15 a month if your game was really good, making up for at least some of the lost revenue. Either way, it would definitely do a great deal for your reputation and that ha to count for something in the long run, doesn’t it?

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