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Thursday, August 2, 2012

WoW Continued: The Flaws of Blizzard's Billion-dollar Amusement Park

Here's a continuation of my thoughts on World of Warcraft, Blizzard's multi-zillion-dollar MMO success. For Part I of the series, a not-so-brief review of my time in WoW, click here.

I cancelled my WoW subscription at the end of 2009. I jumped on a couple of free "please come back to the game" trial offers since then, but I've basically been WoW-free for the last couple of years. If you manage to keep your head down while playing the game and keep handing $15 checks to Blizzard month after month, you'll find that there's an ever-increasing range of stuff to do in the game. If you take a step back and look at your subscription history, you realize that you've paid hundreds (if not thousands) of dollars over the years to basically do the same thing over and over.

World of Warcraft is an amusement park with a $15 admission fee. Once you buy a ticket you can ride everything as many times as you want, all month long. Every few years they throw a new coat of paint on everything and open up another couple of roller coasters, but when you've been lining up for the same rides every week for the past four years the thrills aren't quite the same. Every new ride seems like a pieced-together version of previous attractions with a few less loops and a lowered height requirement.

Current State of Affairs

From where I stand, the magic of WoW is gone. That might be a byproduct of having played continuously for over four years and getting burnt out, but to me it seems like each expansion takes more of the fun out of it. During vanilla WoW, when you first hit the game's maximum level (then 60), you would join a guild and start slogging your way through end-game content for 12-20 hours per week. Over time you became a valuable part of your guild and got to know a lot of the people you were playing with. Boss kills felt like major accomplishments since they often took weeks of practice to defeat. The game had a clear progression of content that lead to an ultimate goal just before the first expansion was released. Sure, it was one of the more "hardcore" ways to play the game, but it really hammered home the massively multiplayer concept.

Nowadays everything seems more lifeless and automated. While improvements such as the "Looking For Group" (LFG) tool made the logistics of putting together a 5-man group easier, they also took a lot of the human interaction out of the game. Most of the time you throw yourself into a group with 4 strangers to complete some weekly objective and leave an hour later having said at most a couple of sentences to your party. Each new week becomes a race against time to check off items on your laundry list of ways to attain loot, and having multiple characters means you've got multiple laundry lists. A lot of the encounters in the game are recycled versions of previous bosses with a couple of new mechanics thrown in, and the hardest part of the game isn't the game itself but managing the people you play it with.

Slaying internet dragons becomes a central theme in WoW.
Seriously, there's like 5 of these guys per expansion. Stay away from the tail.

With the wide array of content available and easily-accessible loot options, players' motivations for joining a guild can vary greatly. Finding 25 like-minded players of roughly the same skill level who are all available to play at the same time is more of a challenge than the content those players will be facing. Many players feel content with the idea of clearing the normal difficulty of a dungeon, preferring to get that out of the way and receive their loot instead of spending hours tackling harder content. Why spend time learning the hard mode of something I've already killed when a new dungeon will be release in a month or two, offering better loot for less effort? Each new expansion brings a full gear reset anyway; this further increases the general feeling of indifference.

That mindset didn't exist during WoW's first few years on the scene. A freshly-leveled character had to complete a pretty straightforward path through the game's content to secure the gear required to tackle the hardest stuff available. Now it seems like there's a general unwillingness to put forth the extra effort required to progress - everyone knows Blizzard is going to prop everyone up with the next content patch. Towards the end of my WoW "career," completing a particularly difficult encounter just wasn't accompanied by the same feeling of accomplishment that I had felt in the past.

World of Warcraft isn't without its faults, many of which I've tried to address above. I made a lot of friends playing the game and I don't regret being a subscriber - though adding up my play time and the total amount of money I spent were kind of eye-opening. In the last post of this WoW mini-series I'll take a look at Blizzard's direction for the future of WoW and why I believe it's still the best MMO on the market today.

All posts in this series:


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