Archive for July, 2015

Subscriptions costs up 10%, the expansion more expensive, so does the game represent the same, better or worse value for money? Blizzard announces in the first quarter of 2015 that they had lost three million subscribers but was more profitable than it’s ever been. Blizzard are clearly of the opinion that Warlords of Draenor is a financial success, but does it represent good value for its customers?

We could look at the expansions subjectively and evaluate which expansion we like and enjoy or the most. I’d prefer to look at actual content, the quality and quantity of that content compared to what Blizzard have given us in the past.

There are two things that I am happy to concede (and always have been): levelling and raiding are pretty damn good. I think we can add to that the new art assets for Draenor, the art department have done a great job and zones, new character and mob models are just great. Quests lines and progression through zones, cut scenes and story development has been as good (if not better) than it’s ever been. On top of that raiding has been high quality, Highmaul, Blackrock Foundry, Hellfire Citadel all great environments, good mechanics and encounters. If raiding was bad or sub-standard then the franchise really would be finished.

Outside of raiding there has been an extraordinary dearth of content. Let’s just consider what Blizzard have done to address some of the shortcomings of the game that shipped with patch 6.0 the Warlords of Draenor release.

In patch 3.1, the first major content patch in Wrath of the Lich King, Blizzard gave us a little new raid you may remember called Ulduar (widely considered as the best raid Blizzard have ever made). They also patched in more end game content outside of the raid instance with the Argent Tournament. Dual Talent Specs were introduced into the game (a feature people had wished for a were genuinely excited to get). In 4.1, Cataclysm‘s first major patch, we got two retooled 5 mans: Zul’Aman and Zul’Gurub. 5.1, Mists of Pandaria‘s first new content, introduced the Brawler’s Guild, item level upgrades and new scenarios. The first major content patch for Warlords of Draenor 6.1 contained an new raid, of course, Blackrock Foundry…a Selfie Camera and Twitter integration.

In patch 3.2 a new small raid Crusader’s Coliseum was added. A new battleground, Isle of Conquest was added to the game. 4.2 added the Firelands raid, the new Molten Front grind questing hub, a new faction, Avengers of Hyjal. In 5.2 The Throne of Thunder daily quest hub isle opened up, two new world bosses were introduced and more scenarios. 6.2 introduced another raid, Hellfire Citadel, a new questing hub Tanaan Jungle, a new command table and more Apexis bar fill grind Dailies.

In patch 3.3 we got three new dungeons in the Frozen Halls. The Icecrown Citadel raid opened up. Due to this patch being the last major content patch of the expansion Blizzard tossed in The Ruby Sanctum raid to tide us over. 4.3 introduced the execrable LFR, Transmogrification, the revamped Darkmoon Faire Island, three new, End Time, 5 mans are added and the Dragon Soul raid. 5.3 offered a new battleground: Deepwind Gorge, and a new arena: Tiger’s Peak. 4 new scenarios entered the game, heroic scenarios were also added. A new quest campaign: Escalation was added.

Patch 5.4 gave us Siege of Orgrimmar, the new Flexible raid difficulty system, a new zone: The Timeless Isle and the Battlefield: Barrens campaign. Yeah, Mists of Pandaria had 4 major content patches.

Let’s just be clear, the 6.1 content speaks for itself, it’s trivial. Ion Hazzikostas (of Blizzard) admitted that it was more patch 6.0.5 (more of a hotfix, minor feature patch). 6.2 sounds generous until you consider that the new Timeless Isle style zone was supposed to be Farahlon (the Draenor version of TBC‘s Netherstorm) but that was axed. Tanaan was supposed to be 98-100 levelling content and it looks like it’s had a very swift overhaul for it’s current purpose. Command Tables aren’t content. There I said it. If you don’t do it in the the game, I mean if your character doesn’t go there, fight, find or interact with, if you just get a report and a reward then it isn’t content. If it happened out of sight, it never really happened and isn’t content.

So despite the hike in subscription fees, despite the expansion costing more we’ve received less. Warcraft seems to lack direction at the moment and the announcement that the new expansion will be announced at Gamescon in August (rather than Blizzcon in November) is telling. It does seems as if Blizzard have given up on WoD and want to roll out a new expansion as soon as possible. However, the earliest we can realistically get that expansion, next May, would seem to align nicely with the release of the Warcraft movie. If 6.2 actually is the last content patch it’ll be out a full year and given it’s so light on content in an expansion that started out with so little and has received no real love or attention, things look really bleak.

If you love World of Wacraft, I really do urge you to send a strong message to Blizzard: This is not acceptable. Get as much as you want out of the current content you’re enjoying in 6.2 then cancel immediately. Why? There is unlikely to be new content and what we’ve had is sub-standard and too little. Cancel and withdraw until more, new content is released, probably not until the new expansion and patch 7.0. Fingers crossed for that and don’t believe any of the Blizzcon hype.

There are options…

Gul’dan? Have you cut one?

I stopped subscribing and playing Word of Warcraft two months ago so why am I still blogging,why am I still whining about the state of the game? I still love WoW, I played for nine year uninterrupted, I want the game I loved back. Blizzard could turn it around, there are lessons they could draw on from their past that could restore this game to greatness.

I’m also not ignorant of what is happening in game. I still read patch notes, watch Blizzard‘s Q&As, follow devs and community managers on social media and consume a lot of YouTube content by vloggers. I still care about what happens to the game. The consensus amongst fans seems to be that WoD is a failure, Blizzard haven’t delivered enough end game content and that if it wasn’t for the WoW Token (game time for gold) Blizzard could reasonably expect to shed another two or three million subscribers this quarter.

The sad news from Blizzard seems to be that 6.2 is the last major content patch of the expansion. Ian Hazzikostas himself admitted that Blizzard had talked up 6.1: it was more of a hotfix patch with a couple of new features (Twitter integration and the selfie camera) tossed in. It should be more correctly considered patch 6.0.5, not a major content patch as “6.1” implies. So if 6.2 is the last major content patch then in all fairness, given Hazzikostas‘ own admissions about the first (6.1), then Warlords of Draenor has only really received one major update of much needed extra content.

garrisontierprogressionrltThat content was not compelling. The story of Warlords of Draenor is the failure of endgame content. The Garrison has been an abject failure. Blizzard have always talked about getting its player-base out of the capital cities and back into the world, making it feel alive, dynamic and populous. Then they design Garrisons that confine people in a space smaller than a faction capital, phased on their own with only NPCs for company. Garrisons have destroyed professions too: no one goes gathering profession materials out in the world because everything can be quickly farmed in the Garrison with little investment of time or effort. Hammering the nail into the coffin of professions, rare recipes have disappeared and everything can bought from a vendor (in your Garrison). This convenience has trivialised professions and severely hamstrung the in-game economy. The trade in crafting materials is all but dead. If Blizzard could’ve been bothered to complete two faction capitals for Draenor they would’ve been empty, even the bank and auction house since you can have both in your Garrison.

The Garrison is even worse as a piece of content as it has introduced a Facebook style mini-game: the command table. You select minions to do missions for you. The content simply doesn’t exist. Worse still, a re-skinned command table was implemented at a dockside, near your Garrison, to start naval missions. You yourself will only step on a boat to take a Ratchet to Stranglethorn like taxi ride to Tanaan. It took 30 seconds to ride from your garrison to the Shipyard command table, someone whined about the inconvenience so Blizzard said “Fuck it, then,” and moved the new command table into your Garrison so you don’t even have to look at their new shipyard art assets to kick off the new virtual naval missions. Instead of a command table in your Garrison Blizzard should just give your character a rock to sit on and a mobile phone to set their minions to work (perhaps tweeting minions instructions now we have Twitter integration).

Apexis dailies you say?I suspect when they planned Warlords Blizzard envisioned that Farahlon (Draenor‘s Netherstorm) would be a Timeless Isle/Isle of Thunder style zone of catchup content. Tanaan Jungle was to be a level 98 – 100 levelling zone. However, delivering anything like an expansion a similar size to The Burning Crusade, with the largest development team ever, proved too much. When WoD released Tanaan was unfinished. Farahlon, the Ogre Isle, customisable, moveable and placeable Garrisons, in multiple locations in several zones, Trophies and Monuments were quietly dropped from the game (and the map in 6.1). Tanaan has been clumsily reused and retooled as a level 100 Timeless Isle zone without any of the finesse. I hated Timeless but Tanaan is even less well implemented, the flying u-turn might actually resolve some it’s issues. Essentially, the problem with Tanaan is the the problem that has dogged the entire expansion: poor: old fashioned reputation grinds and Apexis Bar Fill Dailies.

At the launch of Mists of Pandaria its Burning Crusadeesque reputation grind, linked, as it was, to essential gear rewards, was as bad, if not actually worse than the daily grind of patch 6.0. The first content patch for Mists, 5.1, fixed a lot of those issues and gave people alternatives and content that was interesting and compelling. One of the worst aspects of the patch 6.0 reputation grind was the Apexis Fill Bar Dailies. A new currency collected from the worst kind of mob grinding to fill up a bar of meaninglessness as quickly as possible. If you were designing a major content patch to get people to unsubscribe you’d put in another command table and more Apexis Bar Fill in a mob packed, cluster fuck of a zone. Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to 6.2!

WoD is a shambles, but what can Blizzard do? It’s easy to complain and whine, harder to criticise constructively and try to offer solutions. You’ve had the critique here are some possible solutions. To attract me back to WoW Blizzard is going to have to undertake a radical overhaul and rollback many of the worst changes they’ve introduced. I think that Warlords of Draenor has illustrated that Blizzard simply lack the leadership, single mindedness and courage to take the decisions necessary to save World of Warcraft. It would mean admitting they have been wrong about so many aspects of the game and, after all the 2014 Blizzcon hype for Warlords, trust in Blizzard is at an all time low. Warlords has been so awful so I think Blizzard should just gamble, they have nothing to lose.

Professions need to make a comeback. Many, many people really enjoy gathering out in the world. Encourage people back into Azeroth, pepper new expansion zones with essential herbs, ores, cloth and leather as normal and make some recipes dependent upon ‘old world’ materials that will have people out in the old world grinding old mats! Give people rewards (they don’t have to be balance breaking or even DPS increasing) to promote professions again. Cosmetic, tradeable crafted gear, pets and mounts available from gathering and crafting (like the Geode that dropped randomly from mining in Cataclysm).

Introduce small scale, fully customisable player housing. Make it cosmetic only, make it fun, let people mount trophies and the heads of slain enemies like an achievement gallery. Give people a desire and a reason to visit other people’s and show of their own. Make this ‘garrison’ fun but not essential, like the Tiller’s Farm plot.

Some people do like rep grinds. Unshackle them from the drudgery of being necessary for progression and give them fun, cosmetic rewards like the Ogri’la, Sha’tari Skyguard or Sporeggar in TBC.

Controversially now: make 5 man dungeons compelling, rewarding content again. Make the drops exciting and blue items rare and valuable for levelling, make heroic gear useful for end game. To incentivise 5 mans again make them challenging and fun. To do this Blizzard will have to reintroduce jeopardy back into all it’s content. Warcraft redefined the RPG genre by removing the often punitive consequences of dying. Lately, dying in WoW has become increasingly rare with players able to solo multiple same level mobs and even max-level elites with ease. Increase the chances that incautious, badly playing people will fail and die. Heroic 5 mans need to return and test the coordination and skill of five cooperating players.

Epic, purple gear shouldn’t be the new green (common gear), it has increasingly become that. Non raiders are decked out in gear that trivialises even end game content. Raid gear should only be necessary for raids and for the most part only be available from raids. Catchup “token” gear needs to be that: gear that can get you through the door of the current tier of raid content, but needs to be quickly replaced. It shouldn’t be better than the heroic gear from the previous tier!

LFR needs to go. Blizzard wanted to make raiding, and all their, quite frankly terrific, end game content, accessible to all. However a lot of people don’t want to raid….the closest they want to get is LFR and Blizzard describe it as tourist mode. LFR is not raiding, the mechanics and tactics are non existent and the skill level required to progress and get pretty damn good gear is faceroll level. It is not an advert for raiding.

Flexible raiding fulfils most of the true remit of LFR while retaining some vestige of tactics and mechanics. You can actually learn a lot about raiding and particular encounters from Flex. Flex encourages an interest in Heroic raiding, but it also sets the expectation in players that they need to bring their ‘A’ game, work with others, coordinate and cooperate. This may sound more difficult and demanding, but it is so much more fun!

To assist accessibility without unbalancing raid instances Blizzard needs bespoke 10 man encounters like the monumental Karazhan. UBRS, LBRS, Zul’Aman and Zul’Gurub (OK, it was a 20 man back in vanilla) are perfect templates for this approach and were wildly popular when current.

Timeless Isle may not be my cup of tea, but the unfolding zone phasing and story of Mists of Pandaria‘s Isle of Thunder was innovative, Blizzard could use this model while learning from the mistakes they made in Cataclysm‘s Molten Front and the Argent Tournament in Wrath of the Lich King. Even the Battlefield: Barren’s in Mists of Pandaria offers an interesting use of phasing. Blizzard has a mechanism for taking players back to ‘old world’ zones and making them relevant and contemporary again. Alliance and Horde fronts could open up all over Azeroth as scuffles break out and full scale battles erupt from patch to patch, pulling content and events all around the world. They don’t have to be big, phased events like the 5.3 Barrens event either. A handful of quests, opposite faction bashing, slipped into the game for one patch, in any zone at random. Encouraging people out to discover where the fun, new stuff is dropping. Daily, repeatable, catchup content doesn’t have to be a simplistic bar fill exercise.

There are so many new and innovative ways to create compelling and fun new content drawing on what worked in the past. With 220 developers, World of Warcraft‘s largest team ever Blizzard has the resources to create an expansion with all these features and more. One thing is certain however, if they persist in following the path they are now on, they’ll be lucky to have three million subscribers left at the end of the next expansion, never mind losing that many in three months.

hellfire_citadelApparently I’m a butt-hurt WoW-hater. I’ll never understand why criticism of WoW (like a lot of things) is received in some quarters as a personal attack. Clearly I played WoW for nine years and blogged about it for half that time. I don’t hate World of Warcraft, I loved World of Warcraft! So why do I insist on attacking it? Well, this once great franchise has been in steady decline since the Wrath of the Lich King expansion and nothing would make me happier than seeing that trend reverse in the way that the hype suggested the Warlords of Draenor expansion would make it. All this blog has ever done is trying focus on discussions points about what might be wrong with the game. Sometimes I’ve suggested how problems might easily be solved, but I’m not a game designer, I’m a gamer. My role is to play and provide feedback, if there are problems game designers, not gamers, will ultimately solve them.

Let’s briefly recap where we are. Blizzard left us stranded in Mists of Pandaria with no new content for thirteen months! Why was 5.4 Siege of Orgrimmar with us so long? Blizzard claimed it had committed it’s entire team to working on the new expansion. This team, now 210, was the largest they had ever had working on on World of Warcraft. So explain some things to me.

eq54axThe Warlord‘s launch was clearly rushed. If it wasn’t why was it so buggy on release: people could not get into the game, garrison phasing was broken and some things plain didn’t work. Apparently there wasn’t time to finish two functional capital cities, the Tanaan Jungle levelling zone, add full garrison customisation (selecting location for example) and the Ashran PvP zone shipped with all the problems that beta testing had uncovered. Players discovered a dearth of end-game content, and several mind-boggling, old school, reputation grinds, the garrison facebook game and the Apexis Crystal grind.

So to the apologists that claim Warlord’s is packed with content let me counter with the question is it engaging content? Let’s put raids to one side. Blizzard makes great raids, period. If Blizzard made a bad raid (and they have, Dragon Soul for example) it would be an aberration, an exception and far from the rule. I want to look beyond raids. Beyond raids we have essentially two things to do. The Garrison mini-game and Apexis Crystal grinding.

Garrison mission

This is your game now…

questlistWhy am I calling the garrison, Warlords’ “killer” feature, the all-new player housing, a mini-game? Well, like a facebook game you can spend fifteen minutes playing it, then log off and come back tomorrow. Instead of questing or gathering and crafting yourself you can send out your minions to do it for you, they can even get you some decent epic gear. Rather than creating varied content for you to play through Blizzard has created virtual content. You pick a missionfollower from a list, pick up to three minions, for a list, and send them out to complete that mission. When the timer runs down you can “complete” the mission from a list and collect the reward. Your minion are all upgradeable in two ways: weapons and armour. Instead of doing fun stuff yourself you can sit in your garrison getting fat and sending out anonymous minions to do it for you unseen and un-coded. Now that’s cheap content. Cheap content that has destroyed professions once and for all.

Everything else in the game is mob grinding. You can do an Apexis Daily: go to a zone, grind mobs to fill up a bar, gain currency and reputation. Or you could grind rare mobs and search for treasures for reputation and currency. I did one Apexis grind for a faction I didn’t care about then I went to check out the faction Quatermasters just to see what was on offer. The rewards and the sheer number of Apexis Crystal Shards required made me lose interest immediately. The grind’s pain in ass : reward ratio was too skewed.

Ion and Josh

Poor Lore, I really like Lore.

6.1 Hotfix / Content Patch debacle. Now it’s not me being unfair, Blizzard have admitted (Ion Hazzikostas in the recent Q&A to be precise) that 6.1 was a mistake. They gave the patch too much of a fanfare and calling it 6.1 elevated it far above it’s status. Reasonably enough people expected a content patch (with some content) and the resolution of some of the problems with the new expansion. This is not without precedence, point release patches (.1, .2 etc) have always been new content introduced into the game, indeed 5.1 addressed some of the early problems that, the alt unfriendly, Mists of Pandaria, and it’s initial reputation(s) wall of grind, had. They also gave us new maxresdefaultand compelling content with the Brawler’s Guild and new scenarios. 6.1, or 6.0.5 as Hazzikostas would prefer us to think of it as, delivered…well, er…the delayed new Blood Elf character models, a new tab in the Toy Box for heirlooms, Twitter Integration and the Selfie stick

Er…WTF Blizzard? OK, so they messed up. 6.1 was more of a hotfix patch and they threw in some dev’s pet passion projects that a couple of them had been working on in their free time (according to Hazzikostas again in the Q&A). So the real 6.1 content and problem resolution patch would actually be labelled 6.2, right? Er…

A shipyard! Fantastic!

A shipyard! Fantastic!

Patch 6.2 (the real 6.1?) arrives. Finally Tanaan (which must have been somewhere near completion last November when WoD was released) has been reworked as a Timeless Isle style zone. To complement the Invasion of Tanaan we have a new garrison feature: a shipyard with themed naval missions. A new raid, of course, as every even numbered patch has a new raid: Hellfire Citadel is back. Blizzard have given us a new dungeon difficulty Mythic (like the old Heroic dungeons) and the bonus Timewalking events.

To be honest they’ve listed the Adventure Guide under new content when clearly this is more appropriate at the bottom of General Changes, under UI. Shocking Blizz, talk it up. 6.1 Mythic dungeons are simply the existing dungeons turned up (if not to 11 then to about 5) a bit. It worth noting (thanks again Mr Hazzikostas) that even Blizzard concedes these dungeons are Mythic in name only. So what about this Timewalker dungeon thing? Well, they’re only available at weekends (!?) and they are so ridiculously tuned so that level appropriate characters will struggle harder in them than did back in the day when the content was new (in The Burning Crusade) and level 100s can faceroll them solo. What a valueless waste of time.

mqdefaultTanaan was all but ready eight months ago so adjusting the mob and difficulty levels for well geared 100s can’t have taken any time. However the entire zone is a giant Apexis Crystal grind – exactly the kind of uncompelling and repetitive content the player-base was looking forward to getting a break from. Exactly the type of content I wasn’t doing immediately after release…


A new command table! Fan-fucking-tastic!

Shipyards. Shipyards underline and reinforce all the criticisms of garrisons. Naval missions sound great, right? You will never see one however, as you send your minions out on them and the closest you get to a ship is crossing to Tanaan, even the opening Invasion event is no more exciting than getting on the boat at Ratchet. Seriously, another (re-skinned) command table in lieu of actually playable content?

Needless to say the raid content is great. No argument. Raiding in WoD is keeping most raiders playing.

So this took eight months to create? Finishing one zone? Adding another command table, a building and some new follower virtual content? A UI enhancement? Re-spinning old and existing content that no one will be interested in? Eight months? Please don’t excuse your lack of creative content by telling us 6.3 will be the last content patch in Warlords and the dev team (the biggest WoW has ever had) are now working on the next expansion!

Is this how Blizzard is going to continue with the franchise? Rush release new expansions for the holidays, call their hotfixes content patches, don’t develop new content or address in game issues or support their expansions fully after release on the grounds that they are now working on the expansion to follow? It’s simply not good enough. Garrisions and facebook style command table virtual missions are no substitute for engaging, out in the world content that makes Azeroth feel like a lively and vital MMO world in a vibrant franchise. Three million subscribers said “No, this simply isn’t good enough,” to Blizzard‘s game after only three months of Warlords of Draenor. The second quarter figures are due out soon, I predict a plateau of subscriber numbers around 7 million as Blizzard starts gold selling and milking it’s community for all it’s worth. The cynical new, over-priced, WoW Token becomes available and you can trade gold in the auction house for game time bought with real money, more expensively in Token form from the Blizzard Store.

If we want to fix World of Warcraft and twist Blizzard Activision into creating real content for the franchise then there is only one way to do that. Hit them where it hurts – in their wallets. Unsubscribe today, save WoW!


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