If you haven’t noticed, World of Warcraft’s subs are going down. They even canceled Blizzcon this year. I’d link you some evidence, but I’m too lazy. While the game is definitely not dying, it appears to be on the decline.
Why? Because they’re disappointing more players than they are recruiting, that’s why. Long-time subscribers are leaving in droves, while newbies are merely trickling in. Blizzard has underestimated their consumers’ willingness to deal with a game that seems to be more interested in pleasing potential consumers rather than current ones.
When you ask an older, disgruntled WoW player why he no longer plays the game, his response is generally, “It’s too casual now.” Well, ‘casual’ doesn’t help Blizzard resolve the problem–it’s too vague. And it’s personally offensive to Ghostcrawler, who wears t-shirts often.
I will now list exactly what elements have been removed from World of Warcraft over its 8-year lifespan, and why their removal led to its current decline:
WoW is an MMO, which makes it a social game, which makes it a political game. Everyone starts off wanting to be the best tank, or the best healer, or the best DPS in the world. Sometimes they want to be the most mediocre of them all, in which case they’ll roll a Shaman. –My point is that being the best doesn’t matter when it’s easy to be the best. Modern WoW features an assortment of mods that do virtually everything for you, overly simplified character customization, and it keeps finding new ways to level the playing field with every patch, which narrows the potential skill gap and downplays a player’s ability.
There’s nothing wrong with accessibility. WoW is built on accessibility–it’s why it’s the most popular MMO ever. But there are limits. There’s a huge, massive line between accessible and reducing a boss’ stats by 30% so that everyone can kill it. Blizzard has sprinted across that line like a Kenyan.
Back in the day, when everything was inconvenient, there was no “Looking for Group” system. If you wanted to do a dungeon, you had to gather your party OH, YES, FUCKING YES. THAT WASN’T EVEN INTENTIONAL. You had to talk to people, whisper them–you had to make friendships and play politics. If a dungeon went well, you became someone’s go-to tank. If you got a special key, you’d be that one guy with the key who didn’t have to fucking beg me to run back and open the god damn Arcatraz door for him every time he died.
Once upon a time, you could be special in WoW. Now, WoW only has two special people in it: Affiniti of Blood Legion, the greatest healer who has ever existed, and that intimidating Norwegian chick who manages DREAM Paragon or whatever the hell they call themselves now. She terrifies me. I bet she whips her raiders.
The introduction of Looking for Group–and the much more recent addition of Looking for Raid–has turned WoW, an MMO, into a robotic, non-social experience where anyone can obtain virtually anything without actually socializing. In order to obtain a small amount of new subscribers, Blizzard has willingly sacrificed exclusivity, an entire aspect of their game.
Whether they’re willing to admit it or not, a great deal of gamers play WoW for the renown and access to exclusive content, like a giant robot head that you can fly inside of. God, this game is stupid. –When renown cannot be gained, the game becomes significantly less interesting to them.
The removal of the requirement to socialize also breeds a community full of eerily silent players. There’s no greater turn-off than entering a zone with a dead chat and passing player after solo player who are so shy that they pretend that you’re not even there. I just described Japan. The older WoW forced these players to come out of their shells, and they were better off for it. The newer WoW makes being alone efficient, easy, and as boring as ever.
INTIMIDATION AND MYSTERY
Why do people play horror games? Because it’s the easiest way to be emotionally affected by a video game. Jump scares are so easy to create, and yet even the bravest and most jaded among us will often react to them. Making the audience feel a certain way is one of the most difficult, but important feats for a video game to accomplish. You may not enjoy Amnesia: Dark Descent because it scared the shit out of you and then showed you the mangled penis of a 300-year-old dead guy, but it certainly didn’t bore you.
World of Warcraft once intimidated players. Newbies were dropped into a wide, completely open world, with only a simple tutorial to guide them. Back then, there was no built in “QuestHelper” to tell you exactly where to go and what to do. You couldn’t check Wowhead, MMO Champion, or Elitist Jerks (LOL who are we kidding no one goes there anymore) for the solution to your every problem. WoW was a foreign, mysterious place.
Players were once required to conquer great challenges just to enter specific dungeons and raids. They would hear whispers of what those dungeons contained, but they couldn’t enter them until they themselves were ready. Talk about a carrot on a stick: An entire dungeon that could entertain you for months, locked away, with the key just within your reach. The fact that more skilled and dedicated players were already plumbing its depths would spark jealousy in you, but excitement and determination as well. What lay within? Would your guild be good enough to kill the boss? Would the boss kill your guild?
In modern WoW, virtually all bosses are progressively nerfed (weakened by the game developers) over time. Part of the player’s emotional attachment to the game is severed when he knows that every boss will eventually be nerfed so that everyone will be able to kill it. There is no uncertainty or incentive when, simply by waiting for the game to change, everything can be resolved.
One of the most feared bosses in WoW history is M’uru.
As you can see, M’uru is a fucking wind chime Christmas ornament–yet to this day, M’uru still garners more respect than Deathwing because M’uru didn’t get nerfed into the ground. M’uru didn’t have an Easy Mode, or an Easier Mode. You killed it as is or not at all. Everyone hated M’uru. I hated M’uru. But it was the fear that made me shake in my seat every time we almost killed it, and it was the hate that made me spontaneously ejaculate when it died at our feet.
I don’t think anyone is particularly scared of Deathwing when you are guaranteed to fight and kill him by entering a queue. Imagine playing all of your games with cheat codes that make you immortal. Sound fun? –Blizzard appears to think so.
When you know you’ll eventually kill every boss, there is no intimidation. When you can immediately access every part of the game, there is no mystery.
I remember the first time I stepped into Onyxia’s Lair. I and 30 others descended into the maw of her cave, unaware of what we would find within. We waited there at the entrance for 20 minutes, because the other 10 bastards were still downloading the patch. Then we waited for 30 more minutes because the GM was just about to finish his Alterac Valley, and then 20 more minutes because one of our tanks hadn’t crafted his fire resist gear yet. Ah, yes. Those were the days.
16 hours later and with only 6 people AFK, we began our assault on the fiery depths. When we reached the very pit, there she was: Onyxia, a massive, terrifying drago–oh–oh my god, where are these whelps coming from?! HELP! –FOR THE LOVE OF–JESUS CHRIST!!!!!!
Long story short, we murdered her. And then we skinned her so that we could wear her skin and scales. And then we sawed off her head and propped it up in our home city. My god, why isn’t this game rated M?
But–something happened. One day, a few years later, Onyxia… came back.
So we killed her again, skinned her, sawed her head off–you know the drill. To ensure she stayed dead, we had one of our priests perform a purification ceremony, and then I impaled the bitch with a Sword of Obedience.
… but it wasn’t enough.
She came back. –And so did her brother, Nefarian. And you’re not going to believe this, but Ragnaros came back as well. And this is going to be shocking, but the entirety of Naxxramas reappeared. And then Zul’Gurub came back. And then Zul’Aman came back. And then new bosses came out–but they had the same models as Ulduar bosses, and the same mechanics as Ahn’Qiraj bosses.
This is a very conservative and incomplete list of assets that have been reused recently in World of Warcraft. There’s nothing wrong with recycling, but when the majority of the new content is actually recolored old content, a great sense of wonder is lost. Reusing content is certainly cost effective–but at what cost? How many people have left the game because they know that, even if they stop playing for a year, they won’t miss anything? They have, after all, seen it all before. What are they going to miss? A recolored Shade of Aran, but this time he’s named ‘Filbert’?
CONCLUSION, AND WHY WORLD OF WARCRAFT IS STILL THE BEST GAME EVER MADE
Imagine being a newbie to WoW. Imagine that you’ve never played it before, and you start playing it today. You’ll enter an impossibly wide world with more content than you can fathom–and the entire game was designed with YOU, the new player, in mind.
WoW must be a mind-blowing experience for those who have never played it before. To them, none of the content is recycled. To them, everything is out of their reach, everything is mysterious, everything is intimidating, and everything is wonderful. This new player is Blizzard’s target consumer–but these strange aborigines are rare. When was the last time you met someone with an interest in video games who had never played World of Warcraft?
The rarity of these consumers is why WoW is in decline. As Blizzard caters to an extreme minority, they seem to have abandoned their majority: their long-time subscribers. They have made the assumption that their long-time subscribers would be willing to endure years of unwanted change and experimentation aimed at a specific group of subscribers who do not yet exist–and that assumption is being proven wrong.
Mystery, intimidation, wonder, exclusivity, and accessibility. These elements are responsible for WoW’s success, and the success of most video games in general. With four of the five gone, WoW’s fate remains uncertain, and–if Mists of Pandaria is any indication–adorable.