Is World of Warcraft Simply Too Big?

There’s a perception out there that the World of Warcraft community is so entitled that they will simply never be happy. And to be fair, I think that there are some players who will just complain no matter what.

My warlock in Thunder BluffBut I think the reason that WoW fans seem to complain about everything is more complicated than that. I think our love/hate relationships are partly down to how the game is designed.

I’m starting to think that WoW’s success may be strangling it. One of the great strengths of WoW is that it has a broad appeal. No matter what kind of player you are, there are bound to be parts of the game you love. But that also means that no matter what kind of player you are, there are bound to be parts of the game you absolutely hate.

I worry that the more Blizzard tries to please everyone, the more they’ll end up pleasing no one.

An impossible balance:

I don’t really want to turn this into a “casual versus hardcore” post. Not that I don’t think that’s a worthy discussion to have, but it’s a topic for another time.

But Blizzard’s attempts to balance casual versus hardcore players perfectly illustrate my point. They’ve been trying to strike a balance where both sides are happy forever, and it just isn’t working.

My warlock showing off her town clothes in the Vale of Eternal BlossomsThe two viewpoints are just diametrically opposed. You can’t have a game that’s offers exclusive prestige and still lets everyone see the content. You can’t have a game that offers enough grind to keep people constantly busy and is still enjoyable for those who want to play more casually.

Mists of Pandaria is a really excellent example of what I mean. The impression I get is that Blizzard desperately wanted to address every complaint from Cataclysm with this expansion, even when those complaints are directly contradictory.

The result is a game that is both incredibly casual and incredibly hardcore at once. And it’s not a happy marriage — it’s more a confused Frankenstein monster cobbled together from disparate design philosophies.

On the one hand, I’m very grateful for things like valor points, the Raid Finder, and scenarios. These are all Godsends for players like me.

But on the other hand, we’ve got absurd double or triple-gating on valor rewards, endless reams of obligatory dailies and rep-grinding, and a concerted effort to increase downtime and decrease convenience. These things all make the game feel more like a second job, than, well a game.

My warlock engaged in an aerial battle over the Isle of ThunderEven ignoring a lot of the content I can’t bring myself to care about, I’m still so overworked on my main that I rarely ever play alts. On the odd occasions I do have time, I usually play another game instead to avoid total burnout. Most of WoW’s longevity for me has come from alts, so this is really sucking the fun out of the game for me.

But I’m sure that people who want to play heavily on just one character are quite happy with the current set-up.


I submit that WoW’s players tend to complain a lot not because Blizzard gets so much wrong — although they do — but because they get so much right.

Everyone has something they love about the game, but everyone also has something they hate that prevents them from fully enjoying themselves.

I know this is true for me. For me, WoW has always been a good game held back from true greatness. And every time they address one of my complaints, they find something new to upset me. The entire history of the game is one of two steps forward and one step back.

My rogue surveys her domainThis is a large part of why I’ve become such a game-hopper lately. I’ve been a fan of the Warcraft franchise for the lion’s share of two decades; I want to be able to whole-heartedly love this game and run around telling everyone how awesome it is.

But I can’t. Every time I start to truly love the game, Blizzard throws a proverbial wrench in the gears and takes the game from “brilliant” down to “just decent.” And it gets exhausting after a while.

Get off the fence; we’re at War(craft)!

This is why I say WoW’s success is strangling it. It’s become so big that its mass appeal is no longer a good thing. Pleasing ~10 million people with differing tastes is just absurdly impractical.

And I should clarify that I mean it’s being strangled creatively, in terms of its quality as a game. I’m not saying WoW is dying or anything. It’s popularity is in decline, but it’s still head and shoulders above all its competition in terms of raw success as a product.

At the risk of making this a “my game is better than your game” thing, I can’t help but think of The Secret World. This is a game that embraces its role as a niche MMO. It’s a game for story fans and role-players. Yeah, it has a couple of raid bosses (literally — two) and some PvP, but it’s not a game for hardcore raiders or PvPers, nor does it claim to be.

The Temple of the Jade Serpent in the rainFocusing a narrow niche has made it much less financially successful than WoW, but it’s made TSW’s players very happy. Most of the threads on WoW’s official forums are angry rants and “I quit” posts. Most of the threads on TSW’s official forums are gushing praise and “How can we get more people playing this awesome game?” posts.

I can’t help but think that WoW would be a much more highly regarded game if it just picked one identity and stuck with it. Either say, “Yes, this is a game for hardcores. No more welfare epics for all you baddies” or “Casuals are where it’s at. Scenarios, five-mans, and cheap epics for all!”

They actually did come pretty close to the former in early Cataclysm…

Of course, they’d alienate countless players, but those who stayed would be much happier than they are now, I’m sure.

It’s a dangerous thing to ask for, since there’s no guarantee Blizzard would side with me. On the one hand, WoW got most of its success by being more casual-friendly than other MMOs of the time, but these days, it is in many ways less casual friendly than its current competition, and the impression I get is that the developers prefer designing a game with more hardcore players in mind.

Paladins is glowin'!Of course, it’s all academic. Blizzard is a business before all else. They won’t make any radical changes for fear of losing the money.

But still, it’s interesting to imagine what could be.

What do you think? Does WoW simply answer to too many masters to ever achieve true greatness? And if Blizzard was to ever focus on one niche, what do you think it would be?

New article:

My latest article at WhatMMO is Top 6 MMO Minigames. One of these days, I’m going to have to go back to Guild Wars 2 just to check out the keg brawl.

7 thoughts on “Is World of Warcraft Simply Too Big?

    • Some would; some wouldn’t. I think it would alienate a huge number of people, but those for whom the game was now specifically catered to would probably be pretty happy.

      The “casual/hardcore” thing was just an example, too. I’m talking more about just focusing on a niche. Even among casuals or hardcores, there’s still a lot of variety, so even just picking one side there probably wouldn’t result in a clarified design vision.

  1. Agree with all of this. I’ve been playing since vanilla, and while there was a laundry list of things, back then that I wished Blizz would address, I was generally happier with the game overall than I have been in several years.

    I miss the days when killing a boss meant something…when being a realm first (or US first) was a rush. I also miss some of the simplicity…there wasn’t a thousand different ways to spend your time. You could achieve all of the important things on your main and then replicate at least some of it on your alts. And I won’t even get into how lame the boss encounters are now compared to then. The Illidan intro still gives me chills. I still get a rush remembering lock-tanking KJ.

    Having said that, my biggest complaint in MoP is actually the valor points. Where they tried to balance almost everything else, they tunnelled valor points into one avenue- rep grinding- which was always a huge bone of contention for a lot of players (myself included). I hate rep grinding, and won’t do it (I did enough for a lifetime in TBC and WotLK), so that means my valor points are useless.

  2. There is a huge community of complainers, getting to the point that people are making a profession of complaining about WoW.

    With patch 5.2, I find Mists has reached a really nice balance between hardcore and casual gameplay. With Mists, Blizzard had a clear game design, if you want raid gear, you need to raid. While Blizzard did put in methods of filling in at odd piece of gear, the winning move to gear through lfr, normal and heroic raiding. Grinding rep and VP is great for the single piece, but really painful if you are expecting to full gear through valor point gear. Which is a big change from Cata. With the previous expansion, you could buy raid level gear, simply grinding heroics through the expansion.

    On my server (low pop) we have two or three hardcore progression raiding teams. Would you really eliminate all the causal content? Leaving my server only for the 30 or so progression raiders.

    Personally, I have two characters (lock and mage) for the normal raiding content, raiding for about 4 hours a week. Additionally, I have two more toons that I put through lfr content only, keeping my hand in melee and healer raiding.

    I’ve also found Mists has two really nice paths of gameplay. One is epic storylines, revealed through questing, dailies and scenarios. The other is through fun group content, be it world bosses, harbingers, summoned mini-bosses, rare spawn bosses, group quests, lfr 25 man raids, normal 10 man raids, normal 25 man raids, heroic 10 man raids or heroic 25 man raids.

  3. Well, one of the problems is that “hardcore” and “casual” are self-identities, not game play mechanics.

    It can’t be programmed any more than programming social behavior into a game.

    Everyone who plays games for entertainment are “casuals.” Just because you sit on your butt playing more hours than the next guy doesn’t make you “hardcore.” True hardcore players don’t have time to whine about the game – they know how to challenge themselves and don’t need to be spoon-fed content like baby food.

    I would only identify someone as “hardcore” if they 1) were paid to play games and/or 2) knew how to challenge themselves to push game content and mechanics to the next level (without exploits/cheating) like the DK who solos Cata raids (that’s a REAL hardcore player.)

    Blizzard might be making the mistake of buying into the whole “casual/hardcore” fallacy with the wild fluctuations of over-tuning/under-tuning encounters.

    They should just focus on a smoother progression from questing/dungeons/LFR/raiding increasing the level of difficulty/gear as one progresses, keep adding in optional content (e.g. world bosses) and ignore all the casual/hardcore baloney.

    • Well, it’s certainly true that casual and hardcore are subjective terms. I know a lot of people would consider me hardcore based on the amount of time and passion I put into the game, but I would disagree.

      I somewhat regret bringing up the casual/hardcore debate, actually. It seems to be distracting from my actual point, which is that WoW’s appeal is so broad that Blizzard has reached the point where nothing they do will please everyone, or even necessarily a majority.

      The casual/hardcore thing is just an example. It also could have been PvPers versus PvEers, raiders versus questers, etc..

  4. Pingback: Rediscovering an MMO: SWTOR | Origen Studios

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