WoW will eat itself

With my time returning to World of Warcraft, I have come to the same conclusion, independently, that much of the blogosphere seems to already know: the thing that will kill World of Warcraft is World of Warcraft.  Their hubris will be their downfall.  This will be, unfortunately and as hopelessly optimistic as I was in starting this, my last degree of WoW.

My biggest worry when re-entering World of Warcraft after having not played it for three years was the feeling of playing catch up the entire time.  I am a very casual player.  I like to get in grind mode occasionally for loot or leveling, but I also like to explore both areas and quests.   I had plenty to explore in World of Warcraft.  However, I would be exploring mostly alone.  I saw people here and there on both my blood elf in the blood elf starting zone and death knight in the outlands, but it was almost awkward.  It was as if we did not really expect to see each other there, and secretly did not want to.  It felt kind of like meeting an old high school buddy at the mall.

On global chat and guild chat, I continually saw the nightly events for some raid (mostly max-level Ulduar), but I never saw anything for Outlands.  I tried to get a group for “ramps,” some early dungeon in the Outlands.  After 15 minutes on a Friday night, I managed to get one other death knight in my party.  I could not take this type of gameplay any longer.  It actually destroyed my will to play MMOs for a weekend.

This is how WoW will eat itself.  Players just starting or returning and 20 levels behind will hit a lonely cliff face.  At the top they will hear something of a party, but the climb is long.  This is not something a developer should want.  If anything a returning player should be surrounded with activity.

For prosperity’s sake, I want to take a look at what one of Blizzard’s main MMO competitors is doing.  Turbine is roughly following World of Warcraft’s expansion system and increasing the level cap by ten every expansion.  As with World of Warcraft, this increases the time a new player will catch up to the majority of the active player base.  Unlike Blizzard, Turbine is constantly updating and smoothing out  the early play experience.  This has dual benefits.  New players experience some of the freshest content created by developers who are intimately familiar with the game, and old players can create an alt, not just to grind up to max level, but to experience the new content.

An MMO requires new blood to survive.  Otherwise both the player base and developers stagnate.  When stagnation occurs, the shiny new grass that Developer X just planted for open beta looks all the more enticingly sweet.  WoW tourists become WoW ex-pats all the quicker, and there are plenty of new countries springing up in 2009-2010.  I kind of doubt 11.5 million is a current population statistic, and unlikely to be beat.  We’ll see if and how Blizzard ever deals with this problem.  If they do, I might be able to return.

left you with nothing but they want some more

25 thoughts on “WoW will eat itself”

  1. I think Runes of Magic will be one MMO to take a sizeable chunk out of WoW.

    They may not have the perfect balance and the endgame content yet, but they release expansions every few months and the quality of the client itself is really solid. Heck, it runs better than WoW for me, usually.

    And with the RMT/F2P model (if North Americans can get used to that) there are less reasons not to play. Especially for us casuals or people who play multiple MMOs, that’s good news.

  2. I personally doubt RoM is known by so many people or ever will be to even get a hushed smile from the WoW community.

    The idea – actually it starts to sound like some faint hope echoing from every wall there is these days – that WoW will ultimately kill itself is kind of a self fulfilling prophecy. Which product ever managed to keep such a high standard and motivate people enough for such a long time?

    The big advantage WoW still has is that i’d like to call the ‘moment of first true love’ (yes cheesy). Mine was DAoC for example and i know this has been discussed elsewhere. You can never relive that experience of what it felt like to immerse yourself into the your wirtual world.
    Add that aspect to the high standard WoW has/had (debatable) and you have that hurdle nobody has been able to overcome to far.

  3. I feel your pain, Ravious.

    I’m at a point where I’m not really that interested in the WoW end game and find it more fun to level up alts with a friend or my girlfriend. Unfortunately, it means we only play part of the game because it’s nearly impossible to get a group for any of the pre-Northrend instances anymore, and the two of us cannnot do any of them in a duo.

    Blizzard needs to add another optional trigger to instances that makes them soloable – sort of the opposite of heroic mode. Lower quality loot in exchange for being able to do it with 1 or 2 people. That way if you’re leveling up and you feel like hitting an instance for a change of pace, you can. It’s kind of a shame that the instances are some of the most interesting parts of the game and now lower level players just skip them entirely because making a group is a hassle, if not outright impossible.

  4. Blizzard has been working to speed up the leveling process, by things like announcing that they are making traveling easier in the next patch, so you can get to and from places faster. Their recruit-a-friend accounts also have a really fast leveling speed increase, so that people starting from scratch can level up fast with their friends. In my group of friends, low level instances are usually done with a max-level character soloing the instance with a group of low level characters in tow to loot all the stuff – it doesn’t always seem like the best way to do it, but it works for gearing them up at the lowest levels.

    WoW’s biggest competition is probably Blizzard’s other games (ie. new games in the starcraft & diablo series, and whatever MMO is coming after WoW).

    WoW just doesn’t have a ton of people leveling because a lot of players already have multiple high-level characters, and don’t feel the need just to level up another one, and the lower level experience is just kinda stale because there aren’t really any new areas to explore that we haven’t already quested to death…

  5. “An MMO needs new blood to survive” I really think you have hit the key flaw in the business strategy of WOW-like mmo’s. WOW managed to dodge this problem for years because the number of subscribers was still growing and Blizzard were still opening up new servers – new servers gave new players a good experience. Once numbers stabilise and you are no longer opening up new servers then the new player experience fails.

    EVE is one game that has got this right. The new player experience of EVE is famously intimidating but it still feels fresh. The newbie zones are teeming with players and full of life. You feel connected to the EVE universe from the moment you log in.

  6. That’s what killed WoW for me too… I played for 3 months last year, then got tired of encountering people with a shopping list of quests that did not match mine, and thus were uninterested in grouping with me. Of encountering people that were only interested in completing their shopping list, and not go exploring zones of the map out of the common-trod road (how many Elites did I discover that way… How few could I kill alone…). Of, the rest of the time, playing alone in a supposedly Massively Multiplayer Game.

    In Guild Wars, opposedly, every time I tried to find people to do some of the instances, I found some! That really made things different.

  7. I don’t think WoW will kill itself. If anything it will stop itself from getting bigger by putting off newcomers. Blizzard is the only one who can kill WoW and they’re not going to do it on purpose. But yeah, lol @ RoM taking anything from WoW.

  8. Personally, I’m more shocked at how empty the Northrend zones are. Sure, chat channels are busy, but my reroll is at 76 and I rarely ever see anyone else questing in Northrend. This on Whisperwind, a very old and well populated server.

    Let’s just do away with levels as content and create content as content.

  9. I actually had a similar experience with LOTRO. I resubbed to Moria to see what the fuss was all about, and made it to level 63 before the whole … lack of people thing just got to me. And also, LOTRO questing isn’t actually as fun as WoW for me or I’d have gotten through solo somehow.

  10. The recruit a friend program is really the way to go if you are starting from scratch. Have a friend invite, and watch the levels fly by. The benefits stop at 60, but having a friend reroll with you makes it that much better.

    I am looking forward to the changes coming with the next patch. Mounts at 20, faster ones at 40, and flying by 60? Faction discounts on the training as well? I am an altaholic, so these are just another way to make my leveling speedier.

    You mentioned you have a deathknight. Once you are able, collect those shards from the Northrend instances when the Wintergrasp buff is up. It is not impossible to get the 200 shards needed for a pair of bind on account shoulders before you reach 80, and they give an experience enhancing bonus that doesn’t quit at 60. Heck, get the cloth ones. Then all your characters can use the same pair. The stats might be wonky for a warrior or rogue, but who cares if you only had to buy one pair to help out your whole account of characters?

    Sure, WoW will not last forever. I think it is doing quite well to have lasted the 5 years it has. Does it have a few more years in it? I think the developers are making a lot of the right moves needed to get there.

  11. For the record, I don’t think WoW is dead. I would bet that it has gone past the pinnacle without a revolutionary change… so it is possibly dying (but I have always hated that bit of vernacular). I think that it’s next 1 or 2 expansions, or however long, are likely going to still be best sellers.

  12. Well I hope WoW doesn’t die just yet, because I have yet to get around to playing it. I’ve kind of been working on the assumption that it’s always going to be there so I can play everything else first.

    Currently it would be somewhere around 7th or 8th in the line of MMOs I want to try but haven’t gotten around to yet. I’m not worried, though, I reckon WoW has a good few years in it yet and no doubt I’ll eventually fit it in somewhere.

    (And if Runes of Magic, one of the blandest, flattest MMOs I’ve played in a decade, impacts WoW’s numbers to any serious degree, then maybe its time really has passed).

  13. I’d like Blizzard to revamp a lot of the earlier gaming experiences in WoW. I know they can do it – Dustwallow Marsh is a fantastic zone with very smooth quest leveling. Unfortunately they haven’t seemed to have touched much of the rest of the game and it’s a pretty lonely experience. Plus they really need to add more quests and even out the leveling some more – I get fed up gaining a level in a zone then not being able to do any more quests for another 4 levels.

  14. Interestingly, there’s a very good chance that the old world is where the next expansion is going to be. The two main contenders are the Maelstrom (a sea-based expansion) or the Emerald Dream. In either case, the devs have dropped hints that players will be spending a lot more time in the old world when the next boxed expansion drops.

  15. A zen thought: If the content has become irrelevant, does it matter if you can’t get a group for it?

  16. You say that every expansion and extra 10 levels it becomes that much harder to catch up with your friends at max level. However unlike other MMOs, Blizzard actually scales xp needed to level and gained from quests with the current number of levels to max. They ensure it takes the same amount of time to get from 1-endgame whatever the max level may be.
    Next patch theyre also changing mounts so you can ride them from 20, and fly through all of Outlands to make it even faster.

  17. Blizzard has done allot over the last couple of years to smooth out leveling… too much in most minds. Saying that they have not compared to another game like LOTRO which I also play is completely incorrect.

  18. Checking back a few posts, it looks like you’re playing on Kirin Tor, which is three-and-a-half years old.

    I wonder if younger servers might have more new players in them?

  19. @Alucian and jmet: Smoothing the leveling curve is a poor band-aid at best. At the end of the day a player still needs X more experience to get to the new max level.

    @jmet: If by “a lot” you mean quicken the pace for people to get through the lower levels. I agree. That still does not affect the problem I had of it still requiring a lot of “work-time” to get to the “fun” and being lonely nearly all the way.

    @Platypus: that is a good point. I chose Kirin Tor because it is where an open guild I wanted to be part of hung out. New players should be easily directed to new servers. The experience may have been more fruitful.

  20. But “being lonely” isn’t Blizzard’s fault (much). When content is “done” – and apply your own definition of “done” there – people naturally move on, and while it’s fine and very common for people to go back as alts or to help someone, even that has a limit; yes it’s nice to go see movies with friends, but after a guy has seen it twenty times and you haven’t, we can’t blame him for not wanting to go with you.

    You’re coming in years later to the party and I honestly don’t know how much blame we can rest at Blizzard’s feet (or any dev’s feet for that matter) because their design doesn’t contemplate giving year 5 players the same populated experience as the year 1 players had.

    Mind you, I’m not saying it’s your fault. It isn’t even a fault per se, but the fact of the matter is that when you come in on the tail end, after most people have done most content, you will feel lonely and that’s the nature of the beast.

    I don’t think the solution is to revamp old content to make it somewhat attractive again to high levels either. Or rather, it’s not a complete solution. Whatever you revamp will be consumed again, this time probably faster, and at the end of the cycle you’re back where you started with players not wanting to go back because there’s no reason in God’s green earth to do so (yet again).

    A younger server might have helped with things, but it’s no guarantee either. Much of the population might have transfered and might have done the content already in another server, and while it might make sense for those characters to do it again, it might make zero sense for the players.

    This is all kinda academic anyway. Everybody knows what type of game WoW is, everybody knows by now that the push and flow is to get people to the end game asap, it’s been like that since day one. We shouldn’t be asking the apple tree for pears. If I were you (and mind that this is coming from a soloist, so that’s the bias I fully admit) and if I was interested in leveling up, I’d go for the path of least resistance and stick to it until done. You forgo seeing some content, that is absolutely true, but we all know in many cases -save for whatever xp you might need and get from kills and quests – it is completely irrelevant content anyway. So what’s the point of getting a little ticked about not finding groups for content that doesn’t matter anyway. I’d be pissed if I was unable to access group content which is completely crucial to continue, but since you can perfectly go ahead and do 1-80 by yourself, I don’t really see a show stopper here.

    But that’s me, and this is just opinion.

  21. I suspect the mount changes announced for patch 3.2, designed to make levelling that much easier, are in fact the tip of the iceberg, and we’ll see more easy-levelling changes before 3.2 hits the production servers.
    These changes will serve the dual purposes of enlivening the mid-level zones, as well as giving incentive to endgame characters to keep playing (and, of course, paying) by making it easier to keep busy levelling an alt or two.

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