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Monday, August 6, 2012

WoW the Third: Thrilling Conclusion

This is the last part of my World of Warcraft discussion. For the initial post, a description of my four years spent playing WoW, click here. Part two, what I believe to be some of the game's current flaws, can be found here.

Looking back at my two previous posts, it's easy to see that World of Warcraft can quickly become a second job. The game has both depth and breadth of content and allows players to experience each part of the game at their own pace. I took the progression of my character pretty seriously and ended up spending a significant amount of time improving said character over the course of four years. My WoW resumé was and still is pretty solid, but in the end, where did that get me?

This was probably half of my play time.

Tallying up both the time and money I spent on WoW was pretty sobering. I accumulated over 325 days of play time and spent over 900 bucks on WoW over the course of 4 and a half years. That's basically 20% of my time; factor in 8 hours of sleep every day (which I'll admit is generous) and I spent almost 30% of my waking hours logged into WoW during a 4-year span. Sure, some of that time was spent AFK or using the game as a glorified chat room, but the large majority of that was active gameplay. I guess you could say I got my money's worth and then some.

Moving On

While I was raiding I would routinely log into the game for 4-5 hours at a time each night. In spending so much time playing the game you get to know and befriend a lot of the people you're playing with. Once the game has its hooks in you it's hard to let go - you log on to talk to friends and you feel obligated to continue logging on to help out your guild. The hours upon hours you put into the progression of your character are ultimately meaningless outside the context of the game, and that's a hard fact to swallow when you're thinking about pulling the plug.

WoW is an endless game that you never truly beat, but at some magical point you look around and realize that you have very few personal reasons to continue playing the game. New bosses are simply amalgamations of encounters you've already seen and defeated; PvP gets stale when you're forced to grind out wins in the same battlegrounds for honor points every season. If your friends start drifting away from the game, there's a good chance you'll follow suit - World of Warcraft is a social game after all. In the end, when you finally hit the cancel button, the only things you take with you are your experiences and hopefully some friends that went outside the confines of the game itself.

To be fair, it's very rare that a game can keep your attention for more than several months let alone 4 or 5 years. Blizzard has done a pretty solid job of managing the game when they're not diving into their swimming pools of solid gold coins. Every couple of years sees a new paid expansion, and every 5-7 months thereafter introduces new content to the game for free. Despite the loud minority whining about certain classes being over- or under-powered, the game is remarkably well-balanced. While people often point out the game's "poor" graphics, the WoW team has managed to maintain an art style that doesn't look terrible and keeps the game accessible to all types of systems while not looking like something straight out of 2004.

Moving forward, I still believe World of Warcraft is the best MMO currently available. Every supposed challenger to step up to the plate has more or less struck out, and the only game that deserves to be in the same discussion as WoW is Star Wars: The Old Republic. The sheer amount of features and content available to WoW subscribers ensure that every new game has a huge hill to climb. SWTOR has the benefit of its own popular universe and fanbase to draw from, but they're still hemorrhaging subscribers like crazy and recently decided to go free-to-play this fall. If you're going to release a new MMO tomorrow, you better make sure you've got enough end-game content to last players for 4-5 months at minimum.

Blizzard is going to have its own challenges in the future as subscription numbers have moved from leveling off to declining. A friend linked me to the Youtube video above, and I found myself nodding along in agreement throughout. The video highlights many of the game's current issues as Blizzard tries to balance their accessibility mission without completely alienating veterans of the game. WoW today has a continuous and overwhelming system of positive reinforcement by way of a constant loot stream heading the player's way. Players need something to work towards to keep things interesting, and having everything handed to them doesn't exactly help.

Many people are looking to Guild Wars 2 to see if someone can finally throw the WoW guys off of their game. It'll be an interesting battle to watch, but ultimately the only company that can bring the WoW juggernaut down is Blizzard itself.

All posts in this series:


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