Friday, January 17, 2014

No More Heroes

Communications breakdown can mean only one thing...

It's the most brilliantly simple of fait accomplis, when you think about it.

People want to play Warcraft,  but in the main that means End Game. Getting there is tedious and demoralising when you have four previous expansions to plough through and the content is out of step with current development trends. There isn't either time or resources to go back and change that content to give it updated relevancy. Therefore it makes far more sense to eliminate the need to interact with that content completely, as it is has become impossible to remove because it is ingrained into what the game has become. The solution is elegantly simple. Just give people max-level characters now, and then everyone can do 90-100 together when the new Expansion launches.

Oh, and once the Expansion's established, allow people to buy L90's so they can play Warlords instantly.

So, that's the Future.

The gaming world sees things in extremes, in black and white, and rarely, if ever, accepts major change without throwing a hissy fit.

Looking back on November, the article from which this quote is lifted seems like a lifetime ago. I remember how I responded to that idea too, with dismay and disappointment. I was very careful not to be in any way hissy, because the writing was on the wall even before we had Warlords on the table. I'd said before, in these pages, that I thought the purchase of max level characters would signal the End of All Things (TM) and yet... the reality is that this is the future. I am not Blizzard's target demographic, and if I was and I had the cash... well, yes I'd buy into this, because this is now how the game is played. It used to be about other things, back in the day, but now it is about convenience and focus groups and online surveys, and if those are telling Blizzard to offer a service they can make money from on top of the Subscription Model, would they really not try and capitalise on that?

There are going to be a lot of sad and angry people this morning, of that I'm fairly certain. The fact remains: this is a game that is entering it's 10th Year, with a film tie-in soon to begin production. To maintain the level of quality and consistency in both content and perhaps more importantly customer service that the player base has become accustomed to requires a sizeable and continuous financial commitment. If this move will help Blizzard continue that, then so be it. As long as the system can be regulated to ensure people don't abuse it via the means of bots and 'farmers', then there is no reason why it shouldn't happen. The problem could come with people buying 90's 'off the shelf' and having no idea of how to play them... but there's still 10 levels to complete before you're maxxed in Warlords. In what I think is both a significant and inspired move you'll get your 'free' 90 when you pre-order the game digitally to give you a chance to gear it BEFORE the Expansion arrives. Blizz even suggest you could go for your Legendary Cloak in that time, which says to me it won't be long before that happens and that they too understand that just having the character is one thing, but actually being able to play it is something else entirely.

Don't look for fault, look for answers.

You could argue, as Cyn the Infinitely Wise points out, that a lot of us are using the system to do exactly what Blizzard are now offering without the need to drop the cash. This is the key here: those of us who have the time can put in the hours. If you're able to buy what you need, is it wrong to not offer the service because of the objections? Does this move simply indicate that Blizzard are fulfilling a need based on considerable customer feedback and demand? Well, yes it does. No giant spaceships are arriving to destroy the Planet. The Apocalypse could well be imminent, but frankly I think I'd be better off not knowing it was so I could enjoy my last days with the people I care about. The fact remains, people want to buy stuff to play games with, and after a decade I reckon this is one game license that could actually survive that kind of change and grow from it as a result.

Two things will now dictate whether this move is successful:  just how good will Warlords be, and how many people might consider pre-ordering the game to get their hands on a free 90 once the offer hits.

I'm thinking we might not have that long to wait on at least one of those fronts to find out.


Andy Farrell said...

Like you said, even if you buy a pre-made 90, you still have 10 levels to get through, which will take most people at least a week, I reckon. That's plenty of time to learn the basics of a class you might not have played before.

Sure, some people are going to try tanking something for the first time at 90, and they're going to fall flat on their face, but that's true of anyone who tries to tank for the first time.

I suspect never-played-the-class-before 90s are going to be in the minority, and it'll be no great hardship for everyone else to help them along a bit.

Jonathan said...

The longer this franchise goes on, the more it's going to have to do things like this to encourage new people to play. "Hey, buy this shiny new game which you can play in x months' time once you've caught up several other expansions' worth of gameplay" just doesn't work any more, we can see that from the subscription numbers.

The key to making this work is ensuring insta-90s have the tools to learn how to play their class when they step into Draenor, a subject you've touched on before!

marathal said...

I too am not the demographic this will cater too. If there is any fallout from it we will quickly see the ramifications. It is a shame to see 8 years of content put into the junk drawer, they showed how they have the ability to phase in current content/story into the old in the Barrens, so the means is there. But I guess their thinking is the desire may not be. Old content is old. It is a hard reality that people do not want to have to go through all we have in the last several years to catch up, despite the enormous reductions in how long it takes to do so. The end game is the focus, the rest for those achievement/lore seekers or those looking for something else to do besides the current. I have 11 characters on my one server, I play 1 the rest are profession/banker alt's. I may raise 1 to max just to get the opposing faction second class max level achievement.

One thing that occurred to me is the Stay Classy guild achievement, how simple it will be to just get that 8th guild tab. I trust they know what they are doing will make sense in the long run.

As for the pre-order? Yes I will, but not just for the early 90.

Andy Farrell said...

It is a hard reality that people do not want to have to go through all we have in the last several years to catch up, despite the enormous reductions in how long it takes to do so.

The time reduction is part of the problem: even with the redesigned quest chains, even without heirlooms, you'll still out-level the zone before 'completing' it.

Blizzard have stated that they want the amount of time it takes to get to max level to remain the same regardless of what the actual level cap is. So, on the one hand, each individual level lasts a shorter time, while on the other hand, the time required to finish a storyline etc. stays the same. The inevitable result is gaining levels faster than the content was designed to support.

One solution might be to increase the level range in each zone, so for instance Westfall became a level 15–30 zone, with quest XP rewards built around that, but then you have the problem of mobs with very high differences in level within a short distance of each other, making it potentially very dangerous to explore very far lest you get 1-shotted by something 15 levels higher than you.

Raymond Hafner II said...

One of the things I've highlighted on twitter and on the official forums and other fan sites is that for new and returning players and for some who want alts 100 levels is daunting enough stop them in their tracks from actually leveling a toon.

So that would mean in case of new and returning players they just won't buy WoW or subscribe which not only hurts Blizzard, but it also hurts the rest of us.

We lose the chance of playing with a friend or guildie and with less income Blizzard has less incentive and less resources to provide a WoW experience that has been in almost every case top notch.

R said...

The question that I haven't really seen asked yet is how many players have stopped playing the game, at least in significant part, because they wanted to level another toon but didn't have it in them to spend the 50-100 hours to do it. I have to imagine it's greater than zero so contrast that to the number of players who will cancel their subs due to the addition of an optional paid service. Blizzard's doing that math and since their test out paid 90s, it seems that we have the answer.

Personally, I won't buy any paid 90s regardless of the price... I enjoy leveling well enough and I do have the time to do it. Those who don't for either or both reasons will now have an option that suits their needs. This is a good thing overall, most or all players can focus on the aspect of the game they want to play.

The only way I can see this failing on a significant scale is if Blizzard takes note of all of the "leveling is still too fast, even without heirlooms" comments (here, there and everywhere) and makes leveling SLOWER at the same time that they introduce paid 90s. Increasing level ranges is fine but turning a 50 hour process into a 100 hour process to do the same thing (say, double the XP requirement for each level) and they'd be asking for trouble.