I’ve been thinking a lot about this statement, and I’m now comfortable saying it. Recently, many debates regarding raid design, instance design and general game design have seen me feverishly participate and reform opinions that might have been coalescing in other directions. Thanks for that have to go to the brave and the bold that populate the hotbed of frustration and angst that form public Internet forums. That said, sometimes the wails of the serial malcontent resonate with me in ways I never thought possible.
With the preamble out of the way, here’s the statement:
I never enjoyed gaming more than when I played level 70 content during World of Warcraft’s first expansion set, The Burning Crusade.
It’s not an easy conclusion to draw when most of the time since then has seen me believing that the game should be hard, it should be exclusive, it should be teaching people to play and it should be a learning experience. I still hold true to some of that and shall ever remain so, but it wasn’t those things that made my Outland exploits so enjoyable.
No, it was the ability to log in and play high-class content I enjoyed with the people I enjoyed playing with.
This is something of a shout-out to some of my old buddies, but also a reminisce for the sake of my gaming future. Unfortunately, I’m a basically disagreeable young man who cannot simply “accept” things. I’m one of those who is perennially curious to figure out exactly why things do what they do. Sure, I may not always come across a clear or lucid answer, but I honestly believe even the hunt to be enjoyable and rewarding.
So we come to The Burning Crusade and what exactly it was about it that enabled me to just log on and play this high-class content. The “quality” of heroic dungeons and raids (or dungeons in general) is a nebulous term that leads to the most subjective assessments a gamer can make. But I loved the content itself, and the fact it let me play with my friends on my own timetable made it very, very special. If I logged on and got asked to do the Shattered Halls for the Savagery enchant, I’d be all over it like a tramp on chips. It didn’t really matter who I played with, it’d be fun and I could do it all again if I was in the mood. If someone who wanted to do the instance for a similar reason was to jump on midway through, it was no problem. We could do it again later or, if I couldn’t be bothered, we could do it the following night.
And the answer peers into view.
”… we could do it the following night”.
It’s impossible to say what caused the subscription bleed from World of Warcraft, largely because there is no “one true cause”. But as I sit back in my chair thinking of the number of times I’ve heard statements like “I play to have fun” or “I want a game and not a job”, or even “I just play because my friends do”, it’s impossible to ignore that the complaints have typically been accompanied by “having nothing to do” or “not having enough content”.
The answer is becoming clearer.
What people are actually saying is that they’re logging on and not finding enough of the things they like to do available to them. As everyone is now pretty much shoved into raiding because the entire game is aimed squarely at it, the Cataclysm expansion has given raiders seven bosses a week at worst, and thirteen bosses a week at best. Yet, during my time in Outland, I could log on any night of the week and have access to a choice between thirteen raid bosses every. Single. Night.
So there’s my culprit, ladies and gents. The weekly lockout.
During a week of dungeoneering, I had the option of tackling ninety one separate bosses that dropped raid quality loot for me. That is an absolutely staggering number when you consider my options are now limited to eight. When you also consider that I could do any one of those bosses whenever I chose, and with whomever I chose, the linear style of current raiding looks stifled and bland in comparison. Now of course it’s understood that dungeons are not the same as raids, but as someone who’s always loved competitive and challenging PvE, it’s absolutely incredible just how little of my favourite content now exists. Not a single one of the current dungeons are worth my level 85 time, and the eight raid bosses are dull and unimaginative.
This is not mentioning the fact that I have to plan my life around being online at the same time as the other raiders in my guild are, rather than simply logging on and getting stuck in whenever I like with whoever happens to be online.
A dear friend of mine suffers from a debilitating physical illness that sees her availability to play peak and trough quite dramatically. From one hours end to the next, her physical condition can change for the better or worse and dictate whether she wants to do some group content. If the weekly raid time came up and she simply wasn’t up to it, she’d be waiting and hoping that next week would come without incident. Back during The Burning Crusade, endgame dungeons were wonderful because she could simply announce in guild chat that she wanted to play a dungeon and those with the same urge could group up and enjoy playing together for a couple of hours.
Unfortunately, Blizzard is short-changing everyone with their current plans for World of Warcraft. Everyone is shoe-horned into raids because that’s the only “viable” content, and this immediately puts the entire PvE playerbase into each other’s hands with regard to planning their lives to raid. The weekly lockout forces players to be on time or miss content, something that has seen a solution with the hideous creation of a “looking for raid” tool, a mini-game queue that dumps random players into a gutted raid experience with all depth and challenge removed.
At this point, it’s understood fully that bringing back the Outland model won’t work as the community has moved on; but doesn’t that imply that the community will have moved on from the need for a weekly lockout?
Ultimately, what’s the purpose of it and what is it designed to achieve? It was fine having a weekly raid lockout during a time when there was a lot of other viable content to play, but with that no longer the case (and not going to be the case in Pandaria) why is it still around?
A cynical person might argue that game developers don’t want their players gearing up in less than a week, thus keeping them playing longer. But even then, there are ways to achieve that goal without giving players six empty nights while they wait on Wednesday maintenance. Gating has been a successful method of holding up progression in the past and, even if it wasn’t implemented, only those at the top of the tree would burn through content in a week. The vast majority of the playerbase would have access to viable content for a lot longer.
Another argument, of course, is the amount of time required. If three raid nights are needed to get through thirteen to fourteen bosses, nightly resets make this impossible. But we live in a game world with short raids and extended lockouts, something that makes this particular argument null and void.
I could just be sounding off again, missing the point and making a hash of what little sense I’m speaking. But it seems to me that there is no real requirement to maintain a weekly lockout anymore and all it’s doing is inciting frustration and keeping people from doing what they enjoy most.
Playing content, developing their characters, putting themselves in control.
Am I forgetting something?