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.
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.
The 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.
Even 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.
This 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.
Focusing 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.
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?
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.