Collecting, solving, socializing — the WoW tripod?

Recently, some of the blogs I follow have focused on the role of individual perceptions of progression in WoW, relating that notion to engagement/lack thereof in the current expansion as well as to the question of “cheating” by buying carries with real cash (once removed). Check out the last couple of posts by The Grumpy Elf, alt:ernative chat, and Grimoires of Supremacy to see what I am talking about.

The essence of the comments on individual progress is that players need to believe they are moving forward — “progressing” — in the game in order to feel like it is worth their time and money. There are of course lots of ways for players to define “progress,” and how I define it may not be even close to how you do.

Some people like to collect things, and if they have more at the end of this week than they did at the end of last week, that is progress. They might be collecting pets, mounts, transmog gear, gold, titles, followers, or achievements, but whatever they collect, it is a numbers driven goal — more X this week than last week is progress, and collecting even more next week and the week after is what keeps collectors coming back to the game. The only limiting factor is the number of collectibles available, because when you have gotten all of them, your engagement factor is gone. WoW is a huge game, and luckily the number of collectibles is similarly huge, and usually even if you get close to the final number more are added through a new patch or expansion. Collecting, although it can be done in groups, is basically a solo activity.

Nearly every player in WoW is a collector to some extent, collecting is a large part of the game after all. But pure item collection is not the overriding interest factor for every player. For some, the game fascination derives from the personal satisfaction of “beating” increasingly complex puzzles, which in WoW usually take the form of combat mechanics, that is to say raiding, specifically progression raiding. For these players, downing a new boss or two every few days, at progressively higher raid levels, is progress. As with item collection, there is a limiting factor — the number of bosses available —  but unlike item collection the number of bosses is quite limited. It is not unusual for many of these extreme complexity-driven players to run out of bosses before new ones are introduced. Sometimes a long time before. For these players, that means their main game engagement factor is gone, and for them the game “lacks content.”

So far I have described two types of players: collectors and puzzle-solvers. Of course, almost no one falls purely into one camp or the other, most players lean towards one but have some interest in the other. It’s a line, and people may be further to one side or the other or squarely in the middle. But it is a useful way to talk about some other aspects of the game. (And as with all generalities, there are outlier exceptions to everything I am going to say.)

The practice of buying carries, for example, might be explained as when a collector decides to collect boss kills and/or the loot derived therefrom. The collector has little or no interest in solving and beating a complex raid mechanic, they are just adding to their chosen collection. Groups that sell carries may have gone as far as they can as puzzle-solvers and so turn to collecting gold or whatever as their secondary game interest.

Now add a third factor: social engagement as a game motivator. People interested mainly in the social potential of WoW can engage positively or negatively. Some positive manifestations include forming or being active in guilds that help their members progress, performing random acts of kindness in the game, carrying friends or even strangers for free in raids, etc. Negative manifestations include collecting or puzzle-solving purely so as to brag to and put down others, ruining the fun for regular players, and — well, trade chat. For the socializers, the limiting factor is the audience. Negative socializers require a large and responsive audience. (“Oooh, what a large and beautiful mount you have!” “Excuse me for daring to express an opinion contrary to yours, O great Mythic Raider.” “Dude you are twisted and perverted, knock it off or I will report you.” Etc.) Their enjoyment is externally derived. Positive socializers only require an appropriate audience — a lone quester who needs help, a population of mediocre but pleasant raiders, etc. Their enjoyment is internally derived.

So back to the buying carries example. I personally have never bought a carry with gold, and I cannot imagine ever doing so. That is probably because I tend to fall pretty far along the puzzle-solving axis, not so much along the collecting one. But I see nothing wrong with others using gold to buy a carry. It is a business transaction, just as much as buying an item in the auction house. Both parties get what they want. And, as long as neither party has violated the Terms of Service, it shouldn’t matter how they got the commodity they are using for the transaction. I think people who consider it cheating to use token-derived gold to buy carries are externally-motivated (i.e., negative) socializers in-game — their audience in their opinion is a little less impressed with them when lots of others can do the same. This diminishes their perceived preeminence in the game.

Extended side trip: Now that I think of it, I have “bought” carries. Towards the end of Mists, when my raiding guild had SoO on farm, we ran weekly Heroic SoO so the primary raid team could cycle all their alts through. (They had a lot of them!) At that time I was still part of the JV, but I faithfully ran my main every week to provide a little extra DPS to help them through. It was a fun group to run with, and I figured I could use all the raid practice I could get. After a few weeks, the Raid Leader invited me to start bringing some of my alts, even if they were not especially well geared and not in the guild. I had not expected this, and told him it was not necessary, but he explained that I had earned it. So I guess in a way I did buy some carries.

I am not a math person, but I can imagine a three-dimensional graph with these 3 factors — collecting, puzzle-solving, socializing — each being one of the axes. Every WoW player falls somewhere on this graph. Much of the complexity in developing and maintaining interest in this game comes from trying to satisfy the biggest clump of players on the graph. When Blizz makes its most spectacular development mistakes, it is because they have — either deliberately or stupidly — misidentified the clump they should be developing for.



About Fiannor
I have a day job but escape by playing WoW. I love playing a hunter, and my Lake Wobegonian goal is to become "above average" at it.

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