Unofficial and pertinent views

Admin note: We are having a terrific 2-day windstorm in my neck of the woods, and our power keeps going out, so today’s post may end up being a bit choppy.

Ghostcrawler has a piece on his Tumblr page that really caught my eye. If you have a couple of minutes, I encourage you to read it.

I was never a particular GC fan when he was with Blizzard and was the most visible dev interfacing with players, but in retrospect I wish we had someone doing that thorough a job now. Yes, he was often reviled — he took an incredible amount of player abuse — but say what you will, he was always out there explaining and debating design issues. Even when I disagreed with the path of the game, I always felt like GC was being honest — sometimes brutally so — with us, and more importantly that he respected the player base. Those feelings evaporated as soon as Ion Hazzikostas took GC’s job and began to put out piles of snarky, disingenuous doublespeak to a player base he seemed to disdain. That he has backed off this approach over the last year or two does not erase that first awful impression. Since Hazzikostas has gotten away from everything other than canned Q&A sessions, there is no one who has been able to fill the void and create a regular, trusted, respectful — if often contentious — dialogue with players.

All this is by way of saying that I think GC still has insightful things to say about WoW, even though he is no longer with Blizz. I like the fact that he still responds to questions about the game, and I take his comments for what they are — general views of how things developed years ago in WoW, and insights into much of the messy process of designing and maintaining the complex enterprise that is an MMO. Does he know anything about current Blizz design problems and plans? No, but he is still the only one out there willing to address valid player concerns in any meaningful way. He fills a void, even if imperfectly and unofficially, in Blizz’s customer interaction.

So the cited piece on Tumblr caught my eye. There are actually two discussions there, the main one answering a question about why players unsub, and a second one below that about why WoW players keep playing.

One part that got my attention in the unsub piece was that in the big picture, when you have millions of players, the vast majority who unsub do it for personal reasons of not having enough time, or their friends stopped playing or the like. It is rare indeed when there are significant numbers of people who quit out of protest for a certain game design or trend, and even then generally that group still ranks below, in terms of numbers, those quitting for personal reasons. (Translation: rage quitting WoW likely gets zero attention from any part of the dev team…)

Another interesting observation, I thought, was that games — like nearly every human enterprise — have life spans with long-term ups and downs in numbers of players. Unstated, but what I presume, is that sometimes there are identifiable causes for these fluctuations, and sometimes probably not. GC says there is usually a predictable dev set of responses to this:

When you see a lot of players leave over the course of say half a year, it usually spurs two diametrically opposed views on the development team. You will get one faction of “Players are getting bored – we must be bold and innovate!” You get another faction of “We are changing the game so much that we’re losing our soul! We need to get back to basics!”

I think we have really seen this scenario play out in Legion. A lot of players did in fact unsub in WoD — recall the famous 3-million player loss in the first quarter of 2015 — and there was much criticism of the expansion throughout its existence, most of which centered on some version of “There’s nothing to do” with sprinklings of “It doesn’t fit with the lore, this whole time machine idea stinks”.

So what did we get in Legion? I think we saw the “bold and innovative” group dominate, but there was a nod to the “back to basics” group in terms of the main story and lore. The dominant group led to many of the mechanics in Legion — complete class rewrites, the idea that specs become what amounts to their own class, artifact weapons and the eternal AP chase, the complete repudiation of the WoD profession model, severe curtailment of alt play, Mythic+ dungeons, world quests, zone scaling, etc.

But the kicker point made by GC is this:

My perception has been that the players and developers in the “We’ve changed too much!” camp tend to be those who are less engaged with the game than they once were. Losing track of change usually happens to players who once played every day and are now playing once a week or once a month. They remember being super engaged with the game and knowing everything that was going on, and so the dissonance of that no longer being the case for them is really striking, perhaps even alienating. On the other hand, players who are still really engaged are the ones most likely to need something fresh and new so that they don’t run out of stuff to do.

What this comes down to is a game company knowing who its intended audience is, understanding what kind of a player base they are courting. Do they want lots of new players, or are they content to design for what will almost certainly be a gradually-dwindling group of dedicated players? I think Blizz has still not figured out the answer to this.

Legion seems to be favoring the latter group, the dedicated player base. As I count myself in this group, I am not totally unhappy with that trend. But I can’t help but wonder if it is ultimately a strategy designed to gradually — and hopefully gracefully — ease the game’s final demise. I had hoped that Legion, maybe in conjunction with the Warcraft movie, would bring in a rush of new players who would soon love the game as much as I do. Sadly, that turned out to not be the case. The movie, let’s be honest, was a stinker for anyone not already involved in the game (and even for some of us predisposed to liking it, it bombed), and Legion added an incredible leap in complexity for what was already a complex game. The buy-in for new or even returning players, especially if they do not have someone to help them along, seems almost insurmountable.

We will see what happens in the next expansion, but it is looking to me like WoW is moving towards catering to a small group of dedicated players, and Blizz is not especially interested in significantly increasing its player base. Whether that vector is ultimately beneficial or destructive remains to be seen.

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.

4 Responses to Unofficial and pertinent views

  1. Sorry finally catching up on other blogs haha. I guess, from a numbers point of view, what he says makes sense, but speaking for myself personally — the reason I cancelled my other accounts was not due to time/RL constraints but as a direct result of game changes. It wasn’t really any one change though, rather a whole avalanche of small ones. If I ever do cancel the final one, it will be because my friends no longer play, which I guess is the first category. I’m at the point where the game itself does not hold my interest and I’m only staying for social reasons. That’s a pretty precarious place for a sub to be.

  2. I left the game for one reason. I loathed what they did to hunters so much, I couldn’t play my hunter without feeling angry over the the changes. And I couldn’t play another class, because I always remembered back to when I had a class I LOVED playing, not just tolerated.

    Then, I watched Legion develop from the sidelines, and I have thanked all the gods that I left when I did multiple times…each. RNG overdependance, hunters being taken for a ride, endless grinding, profession debacle, alt isolation.

    While I miss my friends and shared exp raiding stepping off the growing treadmill has been immensely rewarding and I’m no longer looking for reasons to come back.

  3. You are so right, the player base has to dwindle if there is no real push for new players. If their efforts to tie all of their products under one launcher works, then there might be some spill over from people who like Overwatch or Hearthstone.

  4. Bheleu says:

    Why am I leaving the game?

    I have less time to play, but that is not why I am leaving. I had less time in WoD too. MoP was last time I had lots of time to play. But I was still having fun, even with less time.

    Many of my real life friends have quit playing throughout the various expansions (some Cata, some MoP, heck some have left & come back & left again..), but that is not why I am leaving.

    Removal of “fun” from the game, and for me that translates to destruction of the hunter class, is why I am leaving. I could probably deal with the RNG and grinding and not being able to max my professions, but if basic gameplay is no longer fun, I can’t stay.

    I’d love to see the numbers from Blizz on subs, and also to see a breakdown of reasons given when people cancel their accounts. I really wonder if unsubs in legion are mostly “not enough time” and “friends quit too”.

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