Is quantity content?

Last night as we were cranking out our weekly H Nighthold farm run, there was a semi-lively discussion of Legion — mainly Patch 7.2 but also Legion in general. No great insights, but the comments did start a few chains of thought for me, focused on the whole idea of “content” that is Blizz’s main claim for Legion.

Patch 7.2 gave us a lot of new quests, no doubt about it, but beyond the one big “The Legion is coming, the Legion is coming!” story, there is not a lot to advance the expansion. The daily and weekly quests on Broken Shore are not much more than “Kill 20 demons/harpies/spiders or fill up this progress bar.” Ya, okay, there is a space ship, so that means we are dealing with interplanetary travel pretty soon — hardly a new revelation. And there is poor doubt-wracked Anduin, dithering and wringing his royal hands over whether or not he can step into his father’s boots. (I actually liked the Anduin quests, especially the last cutscene, but they were hardly significant in the Legion story. And for crying out loud, what rule dictates that every escorted NPC must walk as slow as my Great Aunt Dorothy?)

What I am getting at is that I see almost zero creative effort in the 7.2 quest lines. True, there are a lot of them — beyond the dailies and weeklies, every time you turn around you are getting yet another long ass quest line and achievement matrix for your order hall or your class mount or some artifact appearance or to advance your profession. Just my opinion, of course, but they seem to be longer and longer quest lines for less and less ultimate reward.

Even the time gates are uninspired, Blizz-controlled slow releases that do not begin to compare to the innovative player-influenced releases of Isle of Thunder in Mists, for example. Basically, we can do only what Blizz Central permits us to do, at the virtual pace of Anduin’s slow saunter. Oh, right, we do have the player-influenced BS buildings, but this is pretty much a sham, since their completion does not open up new content, only a couple of temporary buffs, and at least North America is now in the mode of a pretty steady and predictable rotation.

(One wonders what would happen if we all just stopped contributing to their construction — would we truly get no buildings, or would we get them anyway because who the hell knows if “player contributions” are just a cover story and the real “progress bars” are computer-generated automatic fills?)

When Blizz announced the Legion expansion, one aspect they stressed over nearly all others was that it would pretty much be a never-ending stream of “content”. This was, of course, a reaction to the perception that WoD had almost none of the “C” word. As I have noted before, content almost certainly means something different to every player. I think we are at the point where we can say that what it means to Blizz is “lots and lots of quests.”

In at least one case this has worked in Legion, I think. I was not personally a fan of the Suramar quests that unfolded during the weeks preceding the release of Nighthold (I just have a general objection to the whole drug-addict story line), but they were certainly creative, they significantly advanced a side story in Legion, they were relevant to the opening of Nighthold, and they continued long enough after the raid release to award a pretty cool mount. And while you were doing them, you could see the advancement of the story line. So while they filled Blizz’s “lots and lots of quests” content philosophy, they also engaged players and made us feel like we were personally guiding the story to its next major chapter.

It may be my unfamiliarity with WoW lore, but I find no similar unifying thread in the 7.2 Broken Shore quests. They are just variations on the “kill a lot of boars” theme. They seem like time fillers, not story advancers.

In the bigger picture, when you think about it, Blizz’s pre-Legion promise of lots more content — which I admit they have made good on so far — has turned out to be nothing more than their normal expansion plan stretched out by adding many more quest requirements to every aspect of the game. Legion’s basic blueprint so far is almost identical to WoD’s, except it has been designed to ensure that players who expect to achieve their game goals in, say, 6 months, now cannot achieve them in anything close to that time frame, because every goal in Legion has far more requirements — usually in the form of long quest lines or endless currency accumulation — than in any other expansion.

Is this “content”? Well, it’s not to me, but then again I do not write the game. Blizz has gambled that by making everything take longer for players to accomplish, by piling requirement upon requirement even for simple game goals, players will actively commit to the expansion until they meet these goals. Basically, Blizz is betting that players only complain of being bored when they have met their game goals and see no new ones on the horizon. By vastly stretching out the time necessary to meet any goal (for example, think of the “maxing out my weapon” goal some players have), Blizz hopes they can show their corporate bosses that they have licked the “boredom” complaint.

The danger here is that they hit a tipping point where people just give up on their goals because they see no reasonable chance of achieving them — certainly not in the time they feel they can commit to the game. For these players, the only remaining attraction of the game then becomes the “in the moment” enjoyment they derive from it. This is where uncreative masses of quests to “kill 20 demons” become a liability, because honestly you can only do that so often before being bored out of your skull. Add to this feeling one of betrayal that suddenly you can no longer meet your game goals in the same general time frame you are used to, and many will just stop playing altogether, exactly the same outcome as we saw in WoD.

It turns out you can have a boring expansion by letting players achieve their goals too quickly, but you can also have one by fostering a player perception that there is no hope of achieving their usual game goals at all and combine it with uncreative activities. It’s a delicate line to walk, but I see little evidence Blizz even recognizes there is such a line.  Certainly 7.2 does not indicate they do.

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.

6 Responses to Is quantity content?

  1. Marathal says:

    I gave up on goals. There is no end. There is no questing out the zone, I think I’ve even done a few World Quests so many times I don’t even need to look at the map to know where I have to go.

    I think they may be close to finding a balance per say, but it’s not quite there yet. I doubt even the next expansion will be perfect for everyone. The pace so far has allowed my guild to advance in the raids and not feel like they are just getting into a groove and a new tier drops. ToV? Well, not sure how many enjoyed that one. The whole Norse mythology feels off to me. But I’m not a huge Lore person.

    And I still have a nagging feeling there is something we are overlooking. It’s like driving to work the same way every day, and passing a generic tree, that isn’t there one day. You know something is not right, but can’t put your finger on it. Then there is the guy on the island in the little camp near the Murlocs. When you talk to him he tells you the Legion is not the real enemy. Or something like that. I may screen shot it tonight if I get on.

    • Fiannor says:

      I have given up on some goals — like maxing out even my main’s professions. But I stubbornly cling to others, like getting all of my alts up to LFR gear level and developing their professions to the point that they are useful to me. Remains to be seen if these are actually attainable, I guess.

      The sheer complexity and number of quest lines and special achievements make me always feel like I am missing something, that there is some big thing I should be doing but have not yet even started. I frequently get tiny panic attacks when there is some comment in guild chat like, “Has anyone found the fifth mrrggluxe token? It should be on top of the tower in the Dampbutt Murlock area, but I can’t see it.” And of course I have never heard of any of that… It happens more often than it should, I think.

      • Marathal says:

        There is a flying type quest in a little temple for a toy that gives you wings I think. You have to gracefully fall through rings I think. I tried it once and missed one and ended up in another zone. I’ve been meaning to go back now that I don’t have to battle my way there.

  2. Grumsta says:

    I posted a link to a Reddit post a while back about 7.2 being (relatively) alt-friendly. Initially I was encouraged, then when 7.2 was launched I was extremely sceptical. Now I’m starting to understand how it might be: it’s a “deep breath before the plunge” of ToS opening and then 7.3 arriving.

    A better way to put it might be “if you’re going to switch, do it now”, but the point stands that there is a lull of sorts to take advantage of.

    I might be being hopelessly optimistic here, but if (big if) Legion is a trilogy then expect the climax and payoff to be later. Hopefully we’ll look back at this phase and see how we were being teased and it was all building up nicely. (Or Blizzard are hopelessly bad at telling stories, and if there were any surprises they’d all have been datamined and spoiled anyway. Who knows.)

    I’m one of the few people who seem to enjoy the BS weekly quests. I didn’t bother doing the Suramar ones until they were all out, then I blitzed them one weekend when I was able to play and got a ton of AP because my AK was a few points higher. However with flying being available it’s a nice addition to do the BS weekly while I’m over there anyway.

    The BS WQs are horribly boring and repetitive and I hate having to do virtually the same ones every day. I’ll hit Exalted soon and then I’ll avoid the place except to do any AP WQs.

    I realised in 7.0 that with the time I am willing to commit to the game there was no way I could do everything. To me that shows there’s plenty of content, and that’s where WoD failed miserably as even playing casually you ran out of things to do pdq.

    We have lost a few players from our guild recently. Some were from the Mythic raid team and others were more casual but had played the game for many years. It is a combination of being burned out (mainly from the mythic raiders), but mostly because they were away for a short period of time (as little as 2 weeks) and felt so hopelessly behind that they just threw their hands in the air and walked away.

    The stuff I’m unable to find time for is trivial fun fluff stuff like training up my Falcosaur pets into mounts. I’ve even missed out on the last two Timewalking weeks, and this might easily be my third missed event. I’d have loved content like that in WoD, and now it’s there in the game I can’t make time for it. Very frustrating.

    I’m not sure how we’ve ended up with a chunk of the player base overwhelmed and quitting, and others scratching their head and pondering where the “biggest content patch ever” went to. I guess those of us who are finding enough to do without burning themselves out are the lucky ones.

    I’ll be glad when the AP phase of the xpac is over and I can explore the nooks and crannies of the game again.

    • Fiannor says:

      I had not thought of the trilogy aspect of Legion, but it certainly makes sense. It occurs to me that for many literary or movie trilogies, the second piece is often the most uninspired of the three, so maybe you are right that 7.2 is the “deep breath before the plunge”. I have to admit, I am kind of excited about what 7.3 might bring, even though that is a long ways away.

      I am not a player who is easily bored in this game. In fact, I can recall maybe only one time about midway through WoD that I actually felt bored. Even in the last few dragging months of Mists, I always found engaging things to do. So although I can grasp the intellectual concept of players leaving the game because they are bored, it is so far not something I can relate to. Still, I know it is a fairly widespread phenomenon at certain points in expansions.

      What I can relate to is your comment “…felt so hopelessly behind that they just threw their hands in the air and walked away.” To me it is this, rather than the possibility of boredom, that is the single greatest flaw in Legion. And it is in this that I take issue with Blizz’s implementation of “content”. There is no doubt that Legion offers many, many more things to do than WoD did — and possibly more than any other previous expansion. But my perception is that few of these things are truly optional for players like me who have come to expect a certain personal progression path for each expansion. I feel like I simply cannot get to the same level I could previously unless I drastically change my amount of play time as well as my entire attitude about side aspects of the game such as alts and professions.

      Is this bad? Well, it seems bad to me, almost like a breach of an implicit contract that has been in place ever since I started playing WoW. But it is probably not bad from Blizz’s perspective, in fact it borders on brilliant if you remember that active player hours per month is a metric of game success now. Nor is this change bad for anyone who does not have a similar approach to the game as I do. If I were more willing to simply abandon my previous expectations and happily bow to Blizz’s dictates of how the game must be played now, I would not have such frustration with Legion. But I am stubborn. And I do not like the feeling that if I slack off for a few days and fail to keep up with the avalanche of “content”, then I will feel as overwhelmed as your guildies who expressed their frustration after being away for a couple of weeks.

      To me, what Blizz has introduced with Legion’s “content” is pressure and stress in the game, insofar as one can use those terms for an activity designed to fill leisure time. And they have done this by making their cascade of content a requirement for nearly all game activities, instead of a rich range of optional play. “You wanted content? Well we got yer content right here, and we are going to cram it down your throats.”

      I still think on balance Legion is a much better expansion that WoD, no question. And there are plenty of great, fun things to do, which of course is why we all play. But I am troubled by this darker aspect, this trend towards narrowing the game’s play style options, this highway-construction approach that once you have picked a lane you must stay in it for the duration.

  3. gnomecore says:

    It’s about choices I guess. People may choose NOT to do some activity. Like in WoD I’ve given up on grinding reputations and did them only on my main when tokens were introduced. In Legion I would skip any Mythic dungeons – no one makes me run them ever, not even profession quests. I think I did only two Mythic dungeons in the course of the whole expansion. If you don’t feel like doing it, don’t.

    Broken Shore questing are pretty boring. They know it and they try to vary them: there could be different quests on the same spot the other day. Still, I just grinded up to flights with my main, and I will hit Exalted only by major 1,5k quests on my way to Loremaster achievement.

    Major questline is a bit dull I guess. There’s no emotional uprise for the story advance, and I don’t anticipate Tomb of Sargeras raid with eager. But maybe it’s just an emotional undertow after we’ve slain Gul’dan. He was such a great villain figure that everything after him seems very bleak, even Kil’Jaeden or Sargeras himself.