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.

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