In 2004, Blizzard launched a little game called World of Warcraft. Now it’s 2013, and while it’s technically the same game we’re playing, you almost wouldn’t be able to recognize it.
The name of the game in 2004-2006 was “community.” It was a game where even reaching the level cap was a commendable achievement, and having an epic mount meant that you were either a master of farming Black Lotuses, or a valued member of a guild who pulled together to help you out and pimp your ride (1000g was a lot of coin back then.)
Somewhere along the line, these basic ideals of the game that made it the most popular online game ever shifted significantly. The thirst for adventure has been replaced with a demand for efficiency. While it’s debatable whether the changes made to the game have impacted the game negatively or positively, it’s undeniable that is has impacted the game significantly. If vanilla was the cool indie coffee shop where everybody knew everybody and enjoyed one another’s company, the current game is the crowded street outside, everybody quickly powerwalking to their next destination, face buried in their phones, hoping they don’t have the horrible misfortune of having to speak to somebody else.
Welcome to WoW in 2013: If you’re not pushing within 2% of your classes’ theoretical max DPS, you’re a scrub who doesn’t even deserve the air you breathe and the ever present catch-22 of “can’t get into raids without achievement, can’t get achievement without getting into raids” plagues every PUGer on Azeroth.
“PST iLVL and achiev or no invite.” “But the boss just came out today…”
The whole concept of the Warcraft community going to shit came into the forefront last week with this thread on the official forums, telling the story of an “outcast Warrior” in Korea, where WoW is somehow even less about having fun and more about efficiency than in the US or Europe, which leads us to the thesis of this whole article, and something my fellow adventurers should spend some serious time pondering:
Any WoW player, especially ones who were around for vanilla and TBC, should feel an influx of feels after reading that; after all, we were all noobs once. And despite the wealth of streamlined changes Blizzard has made over the years to the leveling experience, I honestly feel that it would be more difficult to start playing Warcraft now as opposed to how it was in 2004. In 2004, we didn’t have Wowhead (we had to use Thottbot! THE HORROR!), there was no DBM as we know it today and Dungeon Journals, advanced tooltips and alerts didn’t exist. This forced us to lean on something that exists only by technicality by this point instead, the community.
Back in the day, you couldn’t really do much of anything without a guild backing you. you could PUG 5-man instances if you were willing to sit in Ironforge and spam LookingForGroup for about 45 minutes looking for a tank and healer, but raids were a guild-only affair—pugging Molten Core was insanely rare until the later days of Naxx40—raids required a plethora of consumables and materials and this was before the days of guild banks, feasts, cauldrons; hell, even before raid-wide buffs. Every minute facet of the game depended entirely on teamwork, and since there were no cross-realm raids or even server transfers, you had to make do with the folks you had on the server you sort of arbitrarily chose based on how cool it sounded.
These eventually came to be seen as negatives by the community, and soon enough you could transfer servers. Then change your name. Then change your faction. Then do cross-realm battlegrounds, press a button and be teleported into a dungeon with players from all around the world within seconds, even hop on the back of the Destroyer of Worlds himself and bring peace to Azeroth without any knowledge of his abilities or even so much as stepping foot outside of your home city.
Somewhere along the line, these basic ideals of the game that made it the most popular online game ever shifted significantly. The thirst for adventure has been replaced with a demand for efficiency.
Naturally, these isolationist quality-of-life improvements are now seen as detriments to the game, and the angry mob is demanding they get toned down. Blizzard has acquiesced ever-so-slightly, by removing cauldrons and reintroducing outdoor raid bosses, but the shocking lack of communication needed to go about your business in WoW is still there.
Warcraft, at least in the endgame, has morphed into being about doing exactly what is needed to most efficiently complete your task, and now that building a thriving community and getting to know other players on your server is no longer required, it’s no longer desirable. Why sit there and wait for others to finish their quests or shoot the shit in Orgrimmar when I could be 3/4ths of the way done with my dailies by now? Convenience and efficiency has begat elitism from within the community, and it’s severely limiting WoW‘s ability to adapt and offer new experiences for its players.
It’s a horrible conundrum for Blizzard, because at this point, what can they really do? Anything short of a total overhaul of the game as we know it will not do much to strengthen community ties, but outright removing convenient features (that have proven so popular they’re now MMO staples) such as Dungeon Finder and LFR not only seems like a step backward, but it will almost assuredly alienate a large portion of the playerbase who almost seem to play WoW despite the designation “massively multiplayer” instead of because of it.
It’s no secret that WoW is losing a lot of its sheen in the eye of both the casual and hardcore gamer. Professional gamers and basement athletes alike are flocking to more attractive games like League of Legends, and in the latest press release, Blizzard announced the playerbase is down to 9.6 million (although “falling” to 9.6 million players in a nine year old game is about as concerning as Apple “only” selling 47 million iPhones last quarter). Blizzard has to act fast.
League of Legends is now more popular than WoW.
Or maybe the problem is that they’ve been acting too fast. It’s an easy criticism to make that Blizzard seems to be bending to demands that in the past seemed ludicrous. Whether it’s changing Arena ranking to gradually go up as a season progresses, or even the fact that there’s a Pandaren-based expansion at all, Blizzard has done their fair share of ‘Pandaren’ to their playerbase (sorry, I couldn’t leave that unpunned) to keep them forking over their $15.00 every month. The addition of flying mounts is something Ghostcrawler has been openly regretting lately, going so far as to say that if they could do it over they would have never introduced the mechanic. But now that we have years of content based around the idea of flying, can it really be thrown away now? This is the proverbial rock and the hard place that Blizzard is stuck between.
The uber-convenient landscape of the game now promotes isolationism and to a lesser extent, the elitism that both sours current players and scares away potential new ones. It’s a path I don’t know that the game can keep up for much longer. Frankly, I’m surprised it’s carried them this far. There are a whole bunch of WoW veterans who have stuck around and have seen some shit, man, and at this point, it’s hard to tell if the game is evolving in direct parallel with my interest and willingness to invest time in the game, or if the way the game is now is encouraging me to become a more antisocial player. Here’s an itinerary of what I used to do, in vanilla, on a near daily basis:
• Log onto my guild’s Ventrilo server, join the lobby channel with most of my guild in it.
• Log into WoW.
• Farm herbs for a few hours to contribute to tonight’s raid.
• Do a few dungeons with guildies to help them better gear up.
• Switch over to the PVP team’s Ventrilo, join their group, and do battlegrounds for a few hours a day to MAINTAIN my ranking (Rank 11, no big deal by the way ::brushes dirt off shoulder::)
• Rejoin my guild’s vent to get ready for the raid.
• Raid for a few hours with the guild.
• Form a Zul’Gurub or UBRS raid after the main raid to keep working on everybody’s gear.
• Fall into a fitful slumber, with visions of Onyxia’s head hung o’er the Valley of Heroes dancing in my head.
Compare that to what I do on a normal basis now:
• Log into WoW.
• Get the Golden Lotus dailies out of the way as quickly as possible. Pray I do not get the obnoxious Ruins of Guo-Lai iteration.
• Harvest a smattering of random vegetables from my makeshift farm to the delight of an anthropomorphic, hillbilly panda bear.
• Join a queue to join a raid where if there is any communication whatsoever, it’ll be of the “OMFG YOUR TRASH” variety.
• Log off, think “well, at least that’s out of the way until tomorrow,” and log back in by rote tomorrow.
When you spend more time with goddamn Farmer Yoon than anyone in your guild, you know there is something very fucking wrong. And this sort of autonomous, “figure it out yourself or get out of my group” style is as disheartening as it is mind-numbing. I don’t know what the solution is, honestly. I don’t even know if there can be a solution; after all, Pandaria is in my mind the best expansion since TBC, where we wouldn’t even be having this conversation. So maybe the only solution is to stop being such a bunch of dicks, ya jerks.
“Do you even play on this server?”
The poor Warrior in the thread mentioned earlier is just looking to escape from the doldrums of his own life and slay some virtual goddamn dragons with some strangers. After all, isn’t that all any of us want?