October 30, 2015
It’s been a while since I cleaned out my drafts folder, and this last week before Blizzcon — when there is absolutely positively nothing going on in the WoW world — is probably a good time to do it.
What is “content”? Pherian over at alt:ernative chat has a piece today about game content, and it got me to thinking that I really have no idea what that term means. Even though in the past I have used it myself to disparage WoD (“thin content”, “non-repeatable content”, “lack of content”, etc.), in retrospect I think I was guilty of fuzzy thinking, of using the term as a generic — and therefore meaningless — catch-all.
I suspect “content” is whatever each person defines it to be, and it comes down to “lots of things I like to do in the game.” If the game design permits you, over the lifespan of an expansion, to do the things you find fun, then you tend to think it has a lot of content. If not, then you think there is little content.
One of the many problems with WoD was that a significant number of players felt funneled into one particular activity — raiding — and the xpac design actively discouraged them from easily pursuing other activities they had previously found fun. People who loved guild socializing found their guilds disappearing. People who loved alts found it difficult and time-consuming to maintain them. People who loved crafting found their markets disappearing, along with their ability to use their craft to fully gear their characters. People who loved archaeology found it nearly impossible to do without flying. People who loved the hustle and bustle of faction capitols found them suddenly deserted. People who loved social raiding found it nearly impossible to pursue. People who liked running random dungeons with a small group of friends, or who liked the weekly kill of several world bosses, found there was almost zero benefit to doing so.
For these players, and they are many, WoD had little or no “content”.
Is the game becoming less social? I was reading a scholarly piece the other day, a social science professor analyzing social mechanisms in online games, and I began to think that much of the social fabric in WoW is slowly disintegrating. I have no research to back this up, only my own anecdotal material, but I do think I see a pronounced shift away from the social aspects of the game that drew me to it in the beginning.
- Lack of social accountability. CRZ and cross-realm random grouping have pretty much destroyed the whole idea of “server reputation” (except as trade chat trolls). Many players find that there is no longer any social penalty for being a chronic asshat, and sadly their conclusion is that therefore they can engage in nonstop ashattery, because it is unlikely they will ever again be grouped up with any of the same players. And no one holds them accountable for their behavior, either, because everyone knows they will likely never again encounter this particular asshat, so they derive no future benefit from calling them on the behavior.
- Guild benefits declining. Each expansion seems to remove a few more incentives for joining or remaining with a guild. Many of the guild perks introduced in Cata were removed in Mists and WoD — guild summoning, special guild food and cauldrons, faster travel, faster hearthstone cooldowns, etc. Pooling of crafting resources, another benefit of guild membership, has much less impact on WoD because garrisons allow every player to have decent crafting abilities for every profession. Guild achievements no longer offer much in the way of tangible guild rewards.
- Garrisons. ‘Nuff said.
- Blizz’s lack of social engagement. Blizz presents itself in game as basically a strong centralized — possibly even dictatorial — virtual government. Yet they maintain a complete hands-off posture when it comes to social matters, even those that directly and negatively affect player enjoyment of the game. Exhibit 1 of course is trade chat. Exhibit 2 is LFR. Exhibit 3 is insular-event behavior such as the annual Winter Veil player blocking of access to the tree in Ironforge. Blizz imposes no penalty for such antisocial behavioral patterns, which is a defacto encouragement of it.
- Solo questing. It is rare, at least on my server, to see groups of 2-3 players questing together any more. Part of this may be due to the WoD mechanism that selects quest lines based on player actions and choices, thus players in a small group must make the same choices if they wish to keep on together. Part of it began with the solo quest scenarios in Mists, when even if you were questing with someone else, you had to do the scenarios solo. And part of it is that the game will now provide you with an NPC to quest with, in the form of a garrison bodyguard. So players who historically have often preferred to level and quest with another player — healers, squishy clothies, sometimes tanks — no longer need to go through the hassle of coordinating schedules and quest lines with a real person. I have even seen a suggestion that Legion may feature the availability of a small proving-grounds type group of NPCs to assist players — especially healers and tanks — in dealing with damage-intensive quests.
- Raid finder. Again, ’nuff said.
My hopes for Legion. To be honest, I am pretty pessimistic about the game improving in Legion, and Blizz’s worldwide of silence ever since the first week in August has pretty much dampened any enthusiasm I might have for speculating any more. I am bummed about the destruction of hunters as a class, I think the idea of adding two new melee classes is beyond absurd, I predict the whole artifact weapon system will be a disaster for alts as well as for multi-spec classes, I sense that flying will be delayed via gating until the second or third patch, I do not believe Blizz will move away from their total dependency on RNG for everything, I doubt if the game will attract a wider base of players, and I see no logic whatsoever behind the class hall structure. So, although my hopes may be optimistic, my expectation is that Blizz will have learned all the wrong lessons from WoD, and Legion will be possibly the last dying gasp of a once-great game. I would love to be 100% wrong on this.
On the plus side, I find I am finally enjoying the game again, as I usually do at the end of an expansion. The reason, I have finally figured out, is that this is when I give myself permission to do whatever the hell I want to when I log in. I apply no internal pressure to level a main or primary alt, to chase after gear, to study bosses for raid night, to get this or that achievement for this or that perk, etc. I just have fun. Pity I don’t let myself do that at the start of an expansion. I definitely need to work on that!