|Are we living in a cardboard box?|
This morning, I will be trying to convince the person to my left, who has never played the game before, to subscribe to World of Warcraft. At the same time the person to my right has already subbed to the game at some point in the past and subsequently left, and I'm hoping I can take to opportunity to try and convince them too that this is the perfect moment to return to the Game. Don't expect me to sell you any great new features like quest hubs and end-game content however. That's not what this game is about.
No, really, all of that's just a passing phase.
What both of you will need to do first therefore is to leave your preconceptions at the door, because half the problem Warcraft suffers from right now is how the rest of the world perceives it. The decision also has a lot to do with you, because if begin your journey believing Warcraft's purely diversion or entertainment, you're mistaken. In fact, the moment you start talking about WoW as 'just a game' is exactly when every issue surrounding it rears it's ugly head. This isn't simply a game, it is a journey, and a lifestyle choice to boot. Not many CD's in a box can claim that as their reason for being, after all. There are a few: pick a first-person shooter and you might occasionally get close. Every fantasy title has it's core of followers, but for most who play the allure is fleeting and never really sticks, because they don't make the vital connection.
There is an ancient proverb that states:
A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.
|Beautiful and foreboding, all at once.|
What you need to grasp before you even open the box with Warcraft, before you fire up the Batlle.net website, is that this is NOT a journey you will ever undertake lightly if you want to experience the game as it should be, and it CANNOT be completed successfully alone. This may come as a surprise to all those gold farmers out there making their millions unaided across the many auction houses of Azeroth, but without the player base they'd have no game to exploit. The beating heart of this game is what makes the place as brilliant and terrible as it undoubtedly is, pretty much simultaneously, and it is is that which is the first point of contact in our task to make you want to play.
When you pick up the game and hold it in your hand for the first time [*], you bring all your existing preconceptions to the table of what this type of game (MMO) should be like. You'll use your experience of previous games, what you've been told, what you've managed to glean for yourself from literature and from mates. The biggest single issue you're likely to be concerned about is immersion: 'this game's supposed to be really addictive' is a phrase I've heard more times now from random people I've spoken to than I care to remember, and my response to this is ALWAYS the same: that's nothing to do with the game and everything to do with the people playing it. Alcohol, cigarettes, sex, sport... all these things are addictive too, it's about your reaction when it happens. If this game really were that addictive there'd not be a drop off in subs, so let's dismiss that issue and move on. What you do need to grasp, and this is absolutely vital, is that if you want to enjoy the experience as a first time player or a returnee, you should NOT do it alone.
Who you choose to play with when you begin is perhaps MORE vital than where you start playing.
|Past and present exist simultaneously. Cosmic, man!|
Once upon a time, a Server selection really mattered, because everything you did and everyone you would ever interact with lived on the same server blade as you did: you were an isolated community. As social networking has become an increasingly significant part of gameplay over the intervening years pretty much none of that matters any more: you can start anywhere and the whole game is available to you, if you know where to look. Blizzard understand that actually it does matter a very great deal who you play with, and that this motivates a great many more decisions than perhaps it was ever aware of to begin with. It has the potential to affect pretty much every single choice you make within the game. That's not just where you play, but what too: twinking alts, running raids, attempting challenge modes, making gold. All of these are governed by not only by the people doing them, but the information they generate and that a new player can access when they begin their journey, or when they return after an absence.
Yes, I'm back to you, returning player, because your choice in starting again or coming back depends more on this than anything the game can give when it loads up in front of you. It isn't Warcraft's job to hook you, it's your choice to be hooked, and that's got more to do with the people playing than it ever had at any point in the game's lifespan. If you don't mind, my newcomer friend, I'm going to briefly leave your journey to one side. I want to talk to our old hand for a moment, because their situation is actually quite relevant at this point.
|Enemies come and go, but the basic motivations remain.|
You know your reasons for leaving, and every individual's motivation is different. There is absolutely NO POINT in telling you that the game is better or worse than it was when you departed, because it doesn't matter. At it's height the game had as many subs as it did not just because of the content, but because people like you got sucked up in the moment generated by friends (and often family) You weren't just subbing for the gameplay, you came for the experience, and when that soured or went away, for whatever reason, the moment lost its lustre. This may be the grossest of generalisations but there is a basic truth woven within the words: you enjoy something when you're happy. Looking for reasons that you're not happy won't just happen inside the game, that's to do with the Real World too. In the end, if you really want to do anything, you find a way: not because of addiction or compulsion, but because YOU KNOW WHAT MAKES YOU SMILE.
New player, let me tell you something about myself. I've gamed for a very long time, in lots of different ways. I remember personal favourites, and they still make me smile, even (in some cases) after 30 years. If you want to play ANYTHING as a dispassionate outsider that is absolutely fine, but I guarantee you that unless you're prepared to give that little bit extra to what you do, you'll never really enjoy anything as much as you could. Warcraft's Community (deliberate capitalisation there) allows you to do that, if you'll let it. It is very easy to find great places to be and wonderful people to interact with, but you have to take a chance on the unknown, because for you, even after eight years of this game, that's what this is. You don't know what's going on. Fortunately for you however, I can help you, because you see that person over there? Yes, the individual who unsubbed and is wondering whether to come back? I think what you two need to do is get together and talk.
The community spirit in Warcraft is not simply its greatest strength, but it's biggest flaw, mostly because the Internet is a harsh place when the default state is hostility. What needs to happen to facilitate change is for people to move out of their comfort zones and make changes. I'm not going to spend hours trying to convince returnees of the merits of individual aspects of gameplay: there is no point. How you play is SUCH a subjective experience I'd be on a hiding to nothing. To the returning player I say this: leave the past behind. Learn not simply from the mistakes the game has made, but that you have too, and clear the slate. Start with a fresh perspective, and use everything you know to help a new player start their journey. Don't taint them with your preconceptions and criticisms, go back to a L1 character and remember what made you fall in love with the game to begin with, and then pass that on to the new player because this is the BEST WAY EVER to learn a game, from a person who's done it before.
|Let the past and the present come together for a better future.|
To my new player, I'd urge you to go find an old player to mentor you. Spend time in the Community, join Twitter and seek out Facebook friends. Talk to the people who left, and find out why. Look beyond the criticisms of zones or playstyle experiments, and understand why people stopped liking the game and why people still do. Read guides on being a GM, or playing the class you want to take up, before you even download the experience. Most importantly of all, don't accept the first Guild invite you are given, make the choice of where you are guilded as one of THE most significant choices you will ever make. Ideally, ask your returning player friend to make a Guild with you, and maybe a couple of friends that they know so you can ask your mate who was keen to play. Start from scratch, start again, and see what new things the game has to teach you, because I can guarantee that even now, you will be surprised.
Living inside a game is never healthy. Living life with blinkers on is possible, but never ideal. It's your life, and you've only got one, and therefore what you do here really does matter a great deal. That means if you want to play, you need to give something extra: it won't mean you have to stay glued to a screen, but if you enjoy it then the odd time that you do is perfectly acceptable. If things stop being fun, don't just assume that the game is to blame, because I guarantee that's never going to be the case, though I doubt I'd convince you otherwise, because sometimes its easier to blame the virtual world than it is to do that to yourself. If you've never played, or are thinking of returning to the game... or maybe if you're thinking of leaving, remember that Warcraft is only part of a larger equation that involves you at its heart. For things to work therefore, you have to want them to, and no post I'd ever make will ever truly convince you of that. In fact, most people gave up reading after my first four lines, so for them, I'll sum up my argument for them in three.
If your heart isn't in playing Warcraft, you won't ever really enjoy it. Decide to immerse yourself in the experience, and there is something for everyone. You just have to find your place: remember to take a friend along. In fact, take as many as you can.
[*] If downloaded, use your imagination.
[*] If downloaded, use your imagination.