Archive for August, 2015


New Unreal4 engineI’m harbouring this cancerous theory and It’s eating me from the inside. Did Blizzard/Activision execs and developers have a conversation, perhaps as long ago as Cataclysm (maybe even before that). Did the conversation go something like this:

World of Warcraft has been much, much more successfully than we ever could’ve anticipated. It’s help us build this brand and launch new titles. However, the development cost: financial reward ratio compared to title like Hearthstone is nowhere near as good. Warcraft produces a huge amount of revenue but the costs in producing title are enormous.

Is it possible to make World of Warcraft more profitable?”

“Yes. There are several ways we can achieve this. We can aim to reduce the development cycle: releasing new expansions more often. In tandem with this approach we can reduce the amount development we expend on the expansion. To do this we can reduce the content that we patch into the expansion during its life-cycle. We can justify this if we’re reducing new expansion more frequently.

Specifically we can reduce the number of raid bosses in each raid tier. Reduce the number of 5 man dungeons we initially release and then not add to that number across the life-cycle. Scenarios have proved unpopular so we can completely phase out three man content. The game always going to require a levelling experience and that should be the core of the expansion content.

At maximum level we can deliver progressively less content, both in terms of quantity and variety of content, in two ways. We can increase the utilisation of the development, art and encounter assets of raids by increasing accessibility. As well as introducing the tourist mode LFR, entry level raiding, we can ease access to higher levels of difficulty by using our scaling tech and making raid sizes, below Mythic, flexible. This will extend the interest in this content, beyond the in built restrictions of previous expansions, by removing the necessity to be part of organised gaming communities and guild groups. Players will increasingly be able to raid and access content whenever they want without any of the accompanying scheduling and responsibilities that were barriers to access previously.

wkarhzWe can introduce simple to develop and implement, single player, content that requires very few development cycles. Examples of this are Pet Battles and the Command Table tech we have recently developed. We can continue to move the focus of the game from difficult and costly to develop content to this more profitable content model in a progressive way to try to balance and mitigate the incoming of new players against the erosion of our historic, core player base.”

“Won’t this result, particularly in the Warlords of Draenor cycle, in subscriber losses?”

“Yes. We anticipate a pronounced drop in subscriber figures in Q1 and 2 of 2015. A drop much larger than the progressive decay of the title as it ages, demonstrated from the end of the third expansion through the fourth and fifth. However, increasing the initial cost of the expansion and the introduction of the WoW Token will offset these losses in the short term. Moving the title from it’s positioning as a traditional Massively Multilayer Online Role-playing title to new hybrid title with it’s roots in Fantasy RPG but without many of the costly to develop features, considered key components with the traditional MMO genre, will necessarily entail a significant adjustment in the subscriber base. However, we anticipate that ultimately this will be offset by a title that is significantly cheaper to develop.

Then there’s the surge of subscribers we anticipate following the release of the movie. We’re hoping to pull in a large number of gamers, not just from our traditional MMORPG core demographic, but new gamers we predict with enjoy this new accessibility in the game more than they would the MMO reward structure. With many of the key changes we’ve made to the game over the last three expansions the game is becoming much more accessible to a broader range of players. We anticipate we are going to develop a community of an entirely different demographic than purely MMO/RP one we’ve had in the past. This will facilitate taking the title forward in the direction we’ve developed during the Warlords of Draenor expansion. Without the backlash we’ve had from the MMO-based community we have had.”

In this context Warlords of Draenor, the community white noise and massive (almost 50%) subscriber loss was both predictable and to an extent desirable. Blizzard showed no surprise or concern when they announced the losses which begs the question were they expecting it and if so why? The suspicion I’m harbouring is Blizzard may have two options in mind. star_wars_pod_racer_unreal_engine_4In tandem with the movie transition their ten year old title to a place where it is of maximum profitability in it’s new streamlined form with essential new core player base. Or, if the changes they make to the game are unpopular and subscriber levels drop below a certain level a second option is to cancel the game. Many lore thread seems to be drawn together together in Legion from a lore standpoint this could be the last expansion as all these loose ends are tired off. Many people simply discount this option due to the proximity of the movie that will almost certainly bring more players to Blizzard‘s title. However, if the new World of Warcraft does not find a market in the broader gaming community and has lost it’s core MMO demographic, and, let’s face it, that is a possibility as this expansion has cost Blizzard 4.4 million subscribers before the release of the woeful patch 6.2 which may be the only content for over a year. How many of the 5.6 million subscribers will be left for Legion and the World of Warcraft movie to build on?

People have been predicting the death of World of Warcraft since Wrath of the Lich King, arguably the best expansion Blizzard have ever made. One thing is certain: people hate change. Warcraft has certainly drifted, Warlords of Draenor, as far as (4.4 million, 44% of the subscribers at launch) players are concerned, was a failure. The MMO that was launched in 2005 has changed beyond all recognition, is it still the same game many of us fell in love with? Perhaps Blizzard have simply had enough. Ten years is a long time and certainly cannot have been the duration for World of Warcraft, with the unprecedented levels of success it has had, that Blizzard initially expected or planned for.

“It’s something we have talked about,” [Tom] Chilton said. “It’s something we have talked about for 10 years. I think that there are a lot of challenges there in seeing how World of Warcraft 2 relates to World of Warcraft, do they live alongside each other, does one feed into the other, what is that product, etc. These are challenges that have to be figured out before that becomes a reality.”

Gamescom 2014

unreal-engine-4-logo-transparent-wallpaper-2Perhaps if Blizzard really wishes to be the pre-eminent MMO games producer again going forward it really is time for the creaking old title to be wound up and World of Warcraft 2 to go into development. With a new (Unreal 4?) engine and a completely new approach, not an evolved or adapted approach, but a radically different and thoroughly revolutionary new take on the MMO maybe they need to wipe the slate clean. Perhaps it is time.

Blue-question-marks-wide266Flying. I understand that flying is very important to some people, even if I don’t understand why. Flying was announced for September 1 and patch 6.2.2. Then Community Manager Lore, Josh Allen, waded in with some explanation on the delay and some concession that they were pretty sure about September 1 but things can happen in development. The reaction from some (see HeelvsBabyFace) was just irrational, insane even. It was almost as if Lore had glibly tweeted that flying was being scrapped again and was never being implemented in game again. Poor Lore!

That is not what was said. More importantly we were given some insight into why the delay and what was going on. Other commentators (see BellularGaming) have considered how Blizzard could, as a company, improve their communication with their community using the example of other games producers. I think Blizzard are more than aware that they have to improve in this area. Lore‘s post pointed to the future so I’m disappointed sections of the community responded so badly. I do understand the lack of trust and scepticism that Blizzard have created around World of Warcraft though.

question-catI was thinking about this and decided that Blizzard could resolve the communication problems they’ve encounter as a result of Warlords of Draenor quite simply and very quickly. They could unequivocally answer some of the questions and address the core concerns much of the core community of players since vanilla have about the future of the title.

Here is my list of questions I would dearly love to have answered clearly:

1) a. You have the largest team of developers ever (now 220 I believe). However, there appears to have been a gradual decline in the amount of content in each expansion since Wrath of the Lich King. Would you accept that that analysis has any merit?

soccer-questions-for-self1) b. The amount of content that has been patched into Warlords of Draenor since release is significantly less that introduced during the Wrath of the Lich King cycle. Is this a good template for the way that content is going to be delivered going forward and are you still aiming for a shorter release cycle between expansion, with less support and content patches as development constantly moves forward to working on the next expansion?

2) When World of Warcraft was released content that required multiple players to complete was heavily incentivised and rewarded: raids, dungeons, world bosses. A guild was required to facilitate many of these content streams. Since Mists of Pandaria the emphasis on group content and guilds membership in particular has been side stepped and content has been liberated from the necessity to interact and develop relationships with other players. Is this a direction Legion is likely to follow?

3) Garrisons in their Draenor iteration haven’t delivered as you may have wanted. However, do you see the emphasis change from time sink, group content to streamlined, single player content continuing? Do you see as large a role for Command Table Follower missions in up coming expansions?

postit_04Question 1) b. depends in many respects on the answers to 1) a. It would be difficult to ask that question if the response to 1) a. was flat denial. I wanted to strip away all the peripheral issues with Warcraft at present and try to strike at the heart of the issue. The direction World of Warcraft appears to be taking. I don’t think I will get answers to my questions, or my answer with be derived from Blizzard‘s actions. When we get at Legion‘s launch and over the duration of the expansion will undoubted make direct answers redundant. However, it would be a revelation if a Blizzard spokesman could step forward and speak for the company.

It would be great to at least know what their plan was even it was plan I personally didn’t like.

Convenience begone!

frostmilk-cooking305864For many the simplification of levelling cooking introduced in Mists of Pandaria was a triumph. Cooking could be levelled up to 525, max level in Cata and entry level of MoP, with items purchased from a vendor in the Valley of the Four Winds. So there was no need to collect low level meat and fish, no requirement to go into the ‘old world’ and farm these old creatures and fish in far flung pools. For this reason I think the streamlining of cooking was a complete disaster.

fishingThe Garrisons concentrated professions into a very small area with a genuine mine, small herb garden and pool from which all the fish in Draenor could be caught. One of the strengths of that unloved fishing profession was where it took you. I remember fondly the hours I spent during Cataclysm flying up and down the estuary in Twilight Highland fishing. Or famously up and down the Northern Stranglethorn coast whooping over floating wreckage and riding from school to school occasionally battling crocolisk.

I remember discussions within guilds about which zone was the best for farming particular ores. Frequently the debate was about mithril and I can tell you now it was never Desolace. Wrath of the Lich King’s Frost Lotus and Mists of Pandaria’s Golden Lotus were herbs that could randomly, and much less often, spawn at the nodes of other lesser herbs. The same was true of Titanium and Trillium and the excitement of 5247b645-3217-4597-8a96-3c9eae9a1a0dfinding one of these ores or herbs made the grind of flying around for large stretches of time almost worthwhile.

Ultra rare, rare and uncommon recipes also added more to professions than they could possible detract. It wasn’t unusual to have people you didn’t know whisper you asking if you could craft certain recipes and people quickly gained a reputation, either for being trustworthy and crafting your item from the mats you gave them or for douchebaggery if you agreed to craft the mats, took them and quickly logged off without making anything. Why Blizzard would take away rare recipes and make it possible to buy everything from a vendor is completely beyond me. Especially if the crafted item is a toy, pet or cosmetic item. If the item is essential for progress then it shouldn’t be rare, uncommon perhaps facilitating a market for those prepared to put some effort in.

wpPcAlSMore fun and cosmetic items and outcomes to completing objectives within the game will make Warcraft more fun. Differentiating ourself from the 5.6 million other players by transmog-ing, customising and collecting in our own unique style can only be good for the game. I also think that there is a place for items and outcomes in the game that require time or skill to achieve. The new PvP Honor System is a perfect example of this. You can get to the top of the tree, reset and work your way back – the rewards are pureply cosmetic and do not effect gameplay and that’s just fine. But whatever Blizzard does and introduces to the game they will always run foul of one souring problem. A problem that they have conceded and grapple with on several occasions: entitlement.

56402394Blizzard has always found rewards problematic in World of Warcraft. It doesn’t matter how unusual or rare you make a drop in the game some people will grind and grind, for hours, even weeks, until they have it. Some people will just get lucky and get it first time. A few people will take issue with this. The resent stems from the idea that bad luck, or lack of skill, or inability / unwillingness to put in the time locks them out of content undeservedly when they pay for the game and their subscription.

FireflyEvery game has a system of rewards. If you do well in game you are rewarded. Rewards take different forms: unlocking the next level, special levels, upgraded or unique items. If every time you play through a game the outcome is the same and you get all the rewards then that’s not a game…it’s an animation. Why shouldn’t the game reward skill or unquenchable determination. Personally the only thing in the game I’ve really been motivated to grind in game was the ultra rare firefly from Bogflare Needlers in Zangamarsh. I finally got one.

I hate the summer…the last two nights have been too hot and my fan has been oscillating back and forth continually. Today wasn’t too bad and all in all, I have to reflect, what a good summer it’s been. My good summers always make others glum and complain though. Anyway, roll on winter.

Winter this year may have a Warcraft shaped treat tucked into it belt for me I am hoping; Legion. I cannot and will not allow myself to get excited. However, it might be good. It’s my hope that before Q1 2016 is over we will know and the collective thumb of the blogging and vlogging community will be up. I miss Warcraft frequently, but with no thought of returning and not only because I’ve vowed to abstain until 7.1 is out.

I’m looking forward to Blizzcon to see what Blizzard can actually show us. I do want to see a great expansion trailed even if I’m going to critically evaluate everything they say and take their ‘promises’ with a grain of salt (is that a truck I can hear reversing into my drive?) Demon Hunters look OK, even with two specs. I want Blizzard to be bold and say “You know what? We listened to you before and look where it got us: Warlords of Draenor. We’re going to do what we want. And two good specs is fine.” I wanted the same thing at the end of Mists of Pandaria though. I want Blizzard to accept what a lot of people are saying was wrong and then go away and be single minded in their approach. The way they were when they first released the game and while they took on new subscribers faster than they shed them.

I’m also nervous about going back to Warcraft because to really enjoy it, and get back to where I was in Wrath, Cataclysm and Mists, I will need to immerse myself in the social aspects of the MMO. Killing dragons or Scarlet Crusader filth is all very well, but talking to and having interactions with real people elevates Warcraft into more than just a game. Sadly Blizzard have undermined this aspect of the game and many good people have drifted away because of that – that has been happening since long before Garrisons, so they cannot take all the blame for that. LFR hasn’t helped, a familiar hobby horse of this blog.

When I met up with ‘WoW friends’ in Cambridge two years ago one guy told me his wife expected us all to turn up in dressing gowns. I was hoping she was coming along as I, for one, would’ve worn my dressing gown down to the hotel bar. It was a shock to discover they were nearly all as normal as we are. 😉 Ha! Normal, me? Only one couple ever rolled dice with more than six sides (and there is nothing wrong with that if you do). We spent all night in the hotel bar / pub / restaurant drinking and as my friend above noted it was amazing how little (not at all) we talked about WoW. WoW was how we met, we clicked because we had more in common: beer, curry and other shiz…

It was heartbreaking for me to discover I was the only one who thought we had become friendsfriends transcending the game. So getting kicked out of the guild was a jarring shock. Especially after being in a previous guild for a year and half, getting kicked for raging at the GM because he clearly wanted to disband (as it hadn’t become the guild he’d wanted even though we loved it), only to have them merge (kiss of death) with another guild before I could even consider testing the water about rejoining. The nice little group I’d fallen into there (some of whom I’d recruited myself) disintegrated – I left the server.

After two massive kicks in the teeth I met another “friend” while trying to keep a nice little guild afloat after the GM and her husband disappeared out of the game. My new friend ran an Alliance guild and said she liked the cut of my J.I.B so I boosted an alliance char to 90 and transferred a well geared tank and healer across to help those guys out. Again, nice people but the GM made me feel like I was at work and underperforming. Her hilarious response to me asking “Is everything OK?” is only as funny as my rambling and apologetically bumbling, Hugh Grant Four Wedding style, question. I managed to write an essay when “Is everything OK?” was probably more appropriate.

What about the lamentable guild leadership who all quit the game at the end of Dragon Soul normal leaving the rest of the guild adrift unable to recruit or withdraw anything (useful) from the bank while trying to progress through heroic DS (no, no, not true Andreas logs every few days on an alt so he can invite or get stuff out of the bank for you). Just hand over the guild reins. I mean, they probably quit as our ‘team 2’ was so close to beating the ‘A’ team raiders to downing Deathwing (wicked grin). Then after I blogged about the stupidity and selfishness  one of them rocks up here and accuses me of clearing their guild bank out. If we could empty the guild bank why would we need an officer to access it for us? Er…never mind!

They say once bitten, but people in Warcraft have given me several maulings and come back and given me a kicking for good measure. Which is not say I don’t ask for it. I can’t keep my mouth shut and if good people get thrown out of the boat I will rock it. I don’t care how I get messed around, I’ll just /ragequit and walk away. You mess with others and I’ll kick off. Not on my watch. People don’t like it when they’re doing whatever they like in their guild (pretend authority structure in a fantasy role-playing game) and treating real people badly and disregarding their time and purposes and I question everything and make it difficult for them. They really don’t. I will flame on. I don’t believe in half measures. Why have a tactful word when a massive broadside is more effective? Why rock a boat when you can sink it?

The faceless anonymity (I’m thinking of Cambridge again! /facepalm) of MMOs promotes people treating each other like crap. However, I have met some truly lovely people I wish didn’t like, in Norway or Wales, and I could talk to (and see) more often (at all). If I return to WoW and immerse myself I’ll have joy and heartbreak again (no half measures you see).

I don’t know if I can stand it.

world_of_warcraft_legion_artIn a blog post Azuriel displays an excellent table which sums up the difference in content between Wrath of the Lich King and Warlords of Draenor (entirely from data directly from the Blizzard World of Warcraft website). I’ve created a graph from the data:

graphThis illustrates what I’ve been talking about and puts real numbers to the argument that there has been a decline in the amount of end game content.

I don’t think anyone could question the conclusion that there is markedly less max level content for players in Warlords of Draenor than any previous expansion. In Cataclysm any deficit could easily be dismissed with the argument that Blizzard had undertaken such a huge job in rebuilding Azeroth and streamlining the 1 – 60 levelling content that they could be excused. So benefit of the doubt and much to like in Cataclysm despite being disjointed and Blizzard flip-flopping on dungeon difficulty after some intense forum whining about crowd control and being too hard.

lfrA lot of people really objected to Pandas…couldn’t get excited about it either way. Recently Az of HeelsvsBabyFace has argued that patch 5.2 The Isle of Thunder is the best patch ever made. I don’t know about that, but it’s an interesting argument. 5.2 content certainly rescued a struggling expansion. 5.4 and the Timeless Isle was dire however and with a fourteen months wait for Warlords of Draenor with no new content Blizzard haemorrhaged subscribers.

Now Legion has been announced and Blizzcon lurks on the near horizon. I’m concerned. My main worry is that from Blizzard‘s perspective Warlords has been quite successful. World of Warcraft is a ten year old MMO and 5.6 million subscribers is actually a massive achievement. However, World of Warcraft has been an unprecedented success by any measure. You have to ask if WoW was still producing the quantity of end game content of the quality of 5.2 would subscriber numbers be higher, would they have oscillated between 8 and 10 million with a regular churn of new and returning players and a 7 – 8 million core? We’ll never know.

demonhunter2If Warlords is still making Blizzard as huge amount of money (and it is) and has been streamlined with cookie cutter, low development cost content (command tables and Apexis Bar Fills) where will the franchise go next? There are of course two possibilities. The first I think is a lot less likely than the second. Blizzard could look at having lost 4.4 million subscribers in two quarters of figures and decide they need to up their game, support each expansion more and put in more end game content. The second possibility is that the loss of subscriber (probably long time players, from the WoW Core Community) was predictable and expected due to the amount streamlining and development cost and Blizzard is happy to continue in this vein with a still not inconsiderable 5.6 million subscribers. Most MMOs would kill for 4.4 million subscribers, if WoW losses almost half it’s subscriber based it still has more subscribers than several MMOs put together.

With games like Hearthstone making huge sums and costing next to bugger all to develop World of Warcraft is no longer Blizzard‘s flagship product. Perhaps they are tired of the franchise too. Which opens up a new possibility that Legion with it tying up of multiple loose lore ends could be World of Warcraft‘s last expansion. All Blizzard really need to do is continue the decline of end content lost another 2 – 3 million subscribers finish telling the stories they’ve created and draw the franchise to a close.

9e660fc70b4c2a1692febf804a4ae167Even if Legion isn’t Blizzard‘s last World of Warcraft expansion I predict the graph above extending on the trajectory it’s already on. That means less end game content and less support for the expansion during it’s life-cycle. Warcraft with continue to get cheaper to develop as subscribers decline so it will remain relatively profitable for some time if Blizzard do decided to milk the franchise for another handful of expansions.

Legion may offer Demon Hunters, Artefact Weapons, Class Orders and huge lore characters and fan favourites but I have no optimism. I remain unsubscribed until patch 7.1. If that seems particularly cynically and sceptical to you well, we had high hopes for Mists of Pandaria after the problems of Cataclysm we were happy to excuse because we trusted Blizzard. silly-kotaku-rant-3When Mists of Pandaria didn’t deliver the sort of quality the company that produced The Burning Crusade and Wrath of the Lich King we were enthused and re-energised by Blizzcon 2013, Warlords of Draenor had obvious echoes of The Burning Crusade and would be a triumphant return to form. Warlords of Draenor is an abject failure and Legion me be the triumphant return we hoped this expansion would be but I will wait, watch and decide then.

xpacsTwo days until the Gamescom announcement of the new expansion, sixteen months after Warlord of Draenor was announced at Blizzcon. I thought this might be a good time to recollect my feelings about past expansions and the point I’ve at.

images.duckduckgo.comI have four World of Warcraft Collector’s Editions. It’s also fair to point out that because their delivery always seemed to be delayed, or I anticipated it might be, I have usually bought the ordinary box release or the digital download too. That’s not a small investment in the Warcraft franchise right there. Factor in the  subscription costs and I think I’ve bought the right to express my opinions about the game, both from a simply financial perspective and also as one who has played for nine years (without a break Internet) and has loved most of the time I’ve spent in game.

When The Burning Crusade (TBC) released I was excited like everyone else, but I admit I was far from done with the vanilla game content. I had rolled a handful of characters: a warrior, a warlock and a priest, but only the warrior was max level and I freely admit that my only experience of raiding was as a tourist and a place-holder. I’d been was taken and shown inside (mostly with the instructions to stand very close to someone, don’t touch anything and don’t even look at mobs) Zul’Gurub, Black Wing Lair and by some freak chance Molten Core and either I was experiencing deja vu in Naxxramas 25 or someone had dragged me into Naxx40 for a laugh.

World of WarCraft B.C.: Collectors EditionI loved TBC, OK I knew nothing about how to play the game, but that just made the world seem more magical and huge. Even waiting around in Hellfire Peninsula for Hellboars to respawn outside Thrallmar was exciting. Zangarmarsh is still one of my favourite zones, but I’ve always loved fishing. Shadowmoon Valley was emerald and ochre, gloomy and terrifying. Karazhan was the best raid instance Blizzard have ever made. The bosses were varied, with interesting mechanics (such as mechanics were back in our game-playing childhood). I tanked it then ran my warlock through and the rest is, as they, say history.

There is a never-ending argument between entrenched factions as to whether the progression path of Warcraft was better in ‘vanilla‘ WoW and TBC or post-TBC. I can go either way to be honest. There is something in the argument that attunements and gear only being available in raids and the gear from the previous tier of content being essential to tackle the new tier. This does create a real feeling of progressing through an epic journey. Blizzard talk about making us excited about loot and making it relevant, raid loot from the previous tier was absolutely essential to current raid tier progression. You were on an journey from the first raid tier to the final boss of the expansion and the number of people that could reach that pinnacle became progressively small as time went on. Whole guilds fell at the wayside. On they other hand, if you lost a raider in TBC you lost a key set of gear and bringing a new player through meant either running them through previous tiers and farm content to gear them up or, increasingly often, poaching a highly geared player from another guild. Sunwell was rightly called the guild breaker for this very reason.

WotLKFor me Wrath of the Lich King (the only expansion I don’t have the Collector’s Edition for!) was the perfect balance of these two positions. You went on an epic journey through Northrend pursuing one of Warcraft‘s ultimate lore characters: Arthas Menethil. You fought your way through Naxxramas, Ulduar (widely considered Blizzard finest raid) the Crusader’s Coliseum and finally the set piece showdown with Arthas in Icecrown Citadel. To enable new and returning players to access the latest raid tier, without weeks of frustrating grinding through old content, Blizzard introduced Justice point gear that was good enough to step into raids in. Wrath made all aspects of the Warcraft end game accessible without showering the player-base in gear for merely turning up.

cataI bought the Cataclysm Collector’s Edition simply on the strength of how much I’d enjoyed Wrath. With the benefit of hindsight, despite the major problems that Blizzard introduced during the expansion, most notably the Looking For Raid abomination, I consider Cataclysm (Cata) more of a misstep than an out and out failure. There was some very compelling gameplay, questing hubs, 5 man dungeons. Immediately after Cata our thoughts were of how potentially bad LFR was going to prove and how bad Dragon Soul had actually been, with possibly the worst final boss fight and expansion conclusion ever. I bought the Mists of Pandaria Collector’s Edition because I genuinely believed Blizzard could turn it around.

Imop enjoyed aspects of Mists of Pandaria. The patch 5.0 end game content was toilet however, dailies, dailies, dailies and mandatory, seemingly insurmountable, rep grinds for multiple factions. Most of us abandoned all pretensions to level alts the end game rep grind would make gearing then completely unattractive. 5.1 went some way to alleviate this and MoP did have a fine levelling experience, pet battles were a fun distraction, the Farm was an interesting and fun new mini game and professions took an interesting turn with cooking completely reinvigorated. There was a lot to like. The Isle of Thunder cemented this and with excellent use of phasing it unfolding as we achieved certain objectives, opening up fresh daily quest areas and advancing the story. Some people like the Timeless Isle, but I’ve always considered it a shithole.

The Timeless Isle offered a new style of content: a mass grinding area that offered rare spawns; hidden treasures; world bosses; all packed into a heavily populated area. The best thing about it was people were there and you were forced to band together to kill many things. Ultimately it only existed to shower gear down on the player base and introduce a new catchup mechanic to replace the increasingly problematic Valor point system. To be honest I always wondered who Valor points were a problem for, I had no issue with them especially as they kept 5 mans (of which MoP launched with eight and no more were ever added) relevant and people constantly running them, up until and including during Cata.

Blizzcon 2014, forever Hypecon in my heart, sold us the idea of an epic old school expansion: heavily populated with Orcs, a classic warcraft race; and featuring Outlands before it became Outlands; with giant lore characters: Durotan; Blackhand, Gul’dan et al. Garrisons were introduced to us, customisable player housing where you could do a raft of interesting things and would form an important questing hub for players. Seven new zones were going to be available at launch, as with TBC, and the Netherstorm zone, Farahlon, would be coming in a patch and we’d also see the Orge Isle and discover Ogre history, culture and lore.

The ‘non-promises’ of Hypecon failed to pan out. Tanaan was pushed back from launch, Farahlon, Ogre Isle and the capital cities quietly disappeared and Garrisons destroyed professions and consequently knee-capped the economy and trapped players in ever decreasing circles of boredom. Command Tables introduced a Facebook style mini-game and the other end game content was an appalling amalgamation of old fashioned reputation grinds and a new “Bar Fill” mechanic. Tanaan Jungle was patched into the game with 6.2 and had been amateurishly retooled as a below par (even by Timeless Isle standards) Timeless Isle style zone.

Vanilla_Eastern_Kingdoms_Loading_ScreenSo here we are mere weeks after the single Warlords of Draenor content patch and Blizzard are announcing a new expansion. This could fit with two equally valid interpretations. 1) Blizzard accept that WoD is an abject failure and want to get over it and onto something new, drawing a thick black line under the whole sorry business. It’s impossible to guess what is happening internally at the franchise, whether the problems are caused by Activision or strictly within Blizzard. 2) Blizzard anticipated losing three millions subscribers in Q1 and they’re happy with the way the franchise is developing after ten years with the WoW Token buoying income. The streamlining and simplifying of the game is well under way to welcome the Warcraft film, non-MMO, non-core demographic, gamers to game.

What do I want from the new expansion? For the first time since I first started playing World of Warcraft I am not looking forward to the new expansion. I’m not going to buy a Collector’s Edition and I won’t buy the expansion at release. I won’t buy and re-subscribe until after patch 7.1 and we can realistically assess the end game content and where the game is going. The things I want from the new expansion are predominantly negative: I want LFR ripped out of the game; I want the command table tech abandoned and follower missions scrapped; I never want to see another bar to fill; I want Garrisons to be scrapped; I ‘d like tertiary stats jettisoned but that’s less important.

sylvanasThe other things I’d really like to see in a new expansion reverse some of the ideas we’ve seen become part of the basic game: I want to see professions make a triumphant return in much the same way that they were pre-WoD; I want to see the economy reinvigorated by reversing the decisions that stripped it, for example, restoring rare drop recipes; I want to see levelling and end game content that is challenging even outside of raids; I’d like to see less emphasis on gear and epic gear become epic again; I’d like to see legendary Legendary items that not everyone gets; I want good game play to be rewarded and bad play to have disincentives. This is no longer what World of Warcraft is, it’s a radically different game from the one we played during Wrath of the Lich King. Personally I want it go backwards to what it was, but I suspect Blizzard intend to continue in the direction they began in Wrath and have iterated in WoD.

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