Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Embrace the Treadmill

So, there's been a refreshed wave of complaints and praise about the concept of Mists of Pandaria. Some people don't like the theme, which I guess is a valid opinion to hold, albeit one that I find a little odd that in a game that sends you fully grown and domesticated dragons in the mail (What's the shipping cost on that? I can't imagine the hazard pay the Azerothian Postal Service Earns.), people are drawing the line at anthropomorphic pandas. Other people take umbrage with the new features, such as the minipet battles. I for one look forward to sending Stevie the Squire to bleed for my honor in the Ring of Death.

There's another wave of complaints. People whine about the game being a perceived pixilated hamster wheel. Level up another five levels, grind through the heroics again, and get back into raiding/PvP shape. Wooooooo...

This is an MMO. If you wanted a defined end state, well, Diablo III and Mass Effect 3 will both come out soon to sate your hunger for single player games with multiplayer tacked on. And threes, lots of threes this year. MMOs, particularly subscription based MMOs, are a treadmill. The entire plan is to make it so that you can't "beat" the game, and then shelve it until the sequel comes out.

Which brings us back to the people complaining about the expansion. I think they're right. Why should we pay $50 for a box that lets us keep running on the treadmill we're already on? What's the point of another five levels that endgame players are going to blitz through blindly in less than a week, and tacking on another five levels for a new player to wander through? The barrier to entry gets taller and taller, and as a result, the leveling content prior to the current expansion get stretched thinner and thinner, to the point where current players can go from Winterspring, to Hellfire, to the Borean Tundra, to Hyjal without spending more than a few hours in other zones. Level 58-80, and new players miss 90% of the content that exists in those regions.

The current leveling model is an annoyance to established players, and an increasingly insurmountable barrier to new players, whom Blizzard must court to feed Azeroth the bodies it needs to sustain its grim rate of attrition. Why? What's the point? What's the purpose of leveling in the modern World of Warcraft?

Is it to teach players how to play in endgame content? That was one of the old ideas behind it, and one that Blizzard attempted to return to in Cataclysm, introducing quests that simulate raid mechanics such as LoSing casters and dodging void zones, but the penalties were so light that the majority of player bulldozed their way through the quests without learning the intended lessons. This idea is further undermined by Blizzard's tendency to give players abilities right before they hit the endgame, that completely and fundamentally alters the manner in which the player plays their character, which pretty much obliterates most of what they learned prior to the acquisition of that keystone ability.

Is it to increase the power of the characters? They slapped differing scalars on ratings at different levels, leading to the rather humorous reality of a level 80 tank dinging level 81 and losing 60% of his avoidance, or fire mages just now crawling back the levels of crit that they had in Naxx. It's not like you're getting a talent point every level now, either. Come MoP, you'll only be getting six points total, and they're stretched out in a doldrum of 15 level gaps.

Is it a vehicle for new content? It is, but it's not the sole vehicle, and while leveling is failing at all its primary functions, those other vectors, raiding, dungeons, and daily hubs, not only do just as good a job of delivering new lore and content, but they also serve their primary purposes of providing gear, gold, and incentives to come back.

Now, I'm not advocating the death of leveling content. I believe that it should be returned to its roots. Leveling content should be difficult. It should introduce players to mechanics that are seen consistently throughout the endgame. Void zones, LoS, Interrupts, DPS and Heal checks, 3D maneuvering, and kiting should be introduced to players, and reiterated throughout the leveling experience. It should have real consequences, too. If you stand in that void zone when it blows, you should die, and the game should tell you why you died, and let you try again.

What I do want Blizzard to kill off are these little leveling breaks between raid tiers for each expansion. I'm here for the treadmill, not for cross training. You don't run for a half hour, stop and stretch, then run for another half hour, and stop to stretch again, repeating ad nauseum. You stretch to prepare yourself for your run, and then you run until you're finished.

Questing is not the sole province of leveling content. Questing can work as an excellent means for moving the story along. The 4.1 ZG/ZA questline was an excellent example of moving the storyline along through quests that were available only at the level cap.

So what I'm proposing is that Blizzard embrace the treadmill nature of the endgame of WoW. They need to acknowledge that they create two games, the leveling game, which is largely a solo game, and the endgame, which is both a single player and multiplayer game. They need to create a leveling game that serves their purposes, and then allow that to stand on its own. Once players complete the leveling game, the basic training of WoW, they should be at least competent at the class they leveled. That's when they hit the endgame. They've finished their stretches, and they step onto the treadmill. Content updates should come every six to eight months, and should introduce multiple levels of content. There should be a set of daily quests for solo play, along with quests introducing the new multiplayer content. There should be about ten to twelve new five man bosses, in two to three new dungeons, and a new tier of raids with ten to twelve bosses. What there shouldn't be is thirty hours of solo content acting as a barrier to entry to the new content. They can realign the talents when needed, and introduce new zones, new abilities, and new BGs as needed. You don't need a new expansion to do that. You just need a patch.


  1. The thing about leveling; all the difficult quests, the dodging the void zones, LoSing the casters, that could be fun the first time around. But on your fourth or fifth alt? Please.

  2. Yes, but that's why Blizzard implemented guild leveling perks, and heirloom equipment. Players on alts can push through leveling content with alacrity, while new players get experience in the mechanics. We're also talking about rather basic mechanics. Take three steps to the left when the huge targeting reticle shows up. If it's trivial for you the first time around, it'll be trivial the other times, especially when you know what you're looking for.

  3. Would you play a mage in WoW if to get maximun crit (without help from gear) only if you did all the "crit" quest, or only if you gained a miniscule amount of a percentage if you crit something?

    I don't know what the solution is.

    Trivial for some can feel insurmountable to others. There needs to be some emphasis on it though, I agree... but more important than difficulty is gradual training on that skill.

  4. Couldn't agree more, but I think we're a minority.
    In conversations with some folks, they seem to believe that levelling is necessary because they "like the ding" when they level up. They want to outgrow old content and go back and smash it..

    But really, they're just too obstinate to be able to divorce these things from an arbitrary numebr next to their name. You get better gear, you still outclass things. You get better gear, you still "ding".

    Especially giving the poor state of quests in Cata, (not design, but story and substance sucks), what IS the point of these 5 levels of mandatory quests each expansion? Everythign we can get by levelling we can get without it.

    Blizz has painted themselves into NEEDING to provide a new continent, a new class or race, new profession, new grey gear and green gear that nobody ever uses.

    Stop wasting development time on half-assed and un-needed tedium, stop releasing new boxes and just tell your story. Look at quests as something fun to do, not something you need to do to increase your number, just so you can get back on the treadmill you were on a month ago!

  5. The entire plan is to make it so that you can't "beat" the game, and then shelve it until the sequel comes out. ''

    Isn't that however exactly how current Raid Progression works? Once the current Raid is on farm, the game is basically on the shelve.

    Also, isn't 'Expansion' and 'Patch' just a matter of semantics?

    Both involve adding new content to 'progress' in, both intend to follow the rule of Planned Obsolessence (more extreme in case of Expansions as Patches are provided for free), the only difference being the type of content (Patches are predominantly Raider-only content, despite only about 2% of the player base being actually interested in progressive Raiding)

    To paraphrase the poster above me: stop wasting development time on Raiding content, if all Raiders would quit tomorrow, not only would it save tremendously on Development costs, the internet would be less drunk from all the whine the 'PvE progression fiends' bring into the world, and MMO's could be virtual worlds again.

  6. Funnily enough, their original design philosophy WAS to release any and all new content as patches. Since people already paid them through subscription, expansion packs seemed tacked on and unnecessary.

    In their defence, the first expansion, the Burning Crusade, made a lot of sense to release. They needed the fresh start that the 10 new levels brought, to bring about an endgame that wasn't bogged down by aged mechanics and learning mistakes.

    From then on, however... the Burning Crusade endgame stood up a lot better than vanilla did, and would probably stand up well even today. To bring in an entirely new continent was sweet... but ultimately something a couple patches could've handled fine on their own.

    Would a second expansion be needed? Eventually, yes. Eventually, the game would be littered with too many raids to be managable by anyone outside the raiding elite, and even the wonderful mechanics of BC would require replacing... but not that soon. Not even near that soon.

    In the same vein, Cataclysm could still need a few more years of service. Not because of the content that is here, but because of the content that should be here. Cataclysm rushed to its end, just as it rushed to come out. As mentioned ever so many times, numerous storylines remain unfinished, from the Gilnean war, to Neptulons fate... even the main storyline skipped a few chapters. When did we recognise Benedictus as a traitor? Where did we get the idea of using the Dragon/Demon Soul? How did we convince the Bronze Flight to go against their very purpose to get it? Why did Deathwing attack Wyrmrest Temple? How did we know he would? How does Nefarion and Onyxia fit into all of this?

    so many questions left unanswered... :(