I am woefully behind on my blog post reading, and as a result I did not read this excellent post from Bhagpuss on Inventory Full until yesterday. If you have already read that post and my comment on it, you are going to get a bit of a sense of deja vu since more or less I figure this will be a remix of some of the ideas contained therein. The post in question is in itself a bit of a remix of a bunch of OTHER excellent posts, so I highly suggest digging down into each of the posts that spawned that one as well.
This is largely going to be about my own experiences with retail versus classic players. I am going to comment again that I really think it is weird that we landed on the term retail to describe the live modern game, but that is coming from Blizzard ultimately. I’m seeing a lot of interesting patterns when it comes to the players in House Kraken. At this point we have 103 members in the guild with a smaller percentage of that total accounting for various alts. It is a smattering of people that I have known from lots of different places but for the sake of this discussion I am going to break them down based on their relationship to the live retail World of Warcraft Client.
- The Bounced – We saw them the first weekend but more recently they have returned to the fold of the retail client. Various folks arrive at this point for various reasons, but given that I am Battle.net or Real ID Friends with a lot of folks I can see them over on the modern side of the house.
- Cheating Loyalists – These are folks who are playing Classic but still very much still playing the Retail client. They may be spending a lot of time in Classic but are still logging over for raid nights and the occasional round of dailies.
- Honeymooner/Content Locust – I couldn’t think of a great term for this, but this is the group I fall into. We go hard and heavy with a new World of Warcraft expansion until we hit the cap and then at some point we fade away. Often times we revisit a few times during an expansion life cycle, usually when new content is released but similarly gobble it all up and disappear again. We love it while we love it and then we get disillusioned.
- Embittered Veteran – These folks played the game and loved it at some past point in time but had a break from the game at one point or another and never really returned to the fold. They were seemingly gone permanently until Classic happened.
In the example of our guild, the Bounced is a really small group of people who played it… turned their nose up at it and walked away. The Cheating Loyalists are another smallish group of people who are trying to play both clients at the same time. The honeymooners make up a much larger contingency, but I would say the probably largest chunk of our guild are people who walked away and never expected to come back. So while Classic is draining some resources away from the live client, it seems more to me like it is expanding the base of players and bringing back folks that never expected to be playing let alone enjoying the game ever again.
That said I am still seeing a lot of Anti-Classic sentiment coming from those who were left behind, because it is still having an effect. I imagine at this point late in the expansion cycle, it is already a challenge to pull together raids. Losing any number of players to something shiny and new means that it becomes all the harder to make them happen. Hell I am already hearing some rumblings from Tam about having trouble pulling his Final Fantasy XIV raid and wondering if Classic has anything to do with it. For me personally it has been a time and commitment thing, but I would imagine that part of it absolutely is the fact that I didn’t engage in it knowing that I would be playing Classic a few weeks later.
The angry rhetoric that I am seeing from live players however is nothing new. I’ve seen the same thing time and time again anytime something new pops up to pull players away from live. When Warhammer Online launched, we got a bunch of push back from our Blizzard Loyalist guildies that we were off venturing into another game. The same thing happened in a bigger way with Rift as several of us broke off from the pack more permanently at that point. Another big departure happened with the launch of Star Wars the Old Republic, and with it more frustrated players who couldn’t imagine playing another game.
The thing is… it sucks to be the one left behind and World of Warcraft has a phenomena attached to it that no other MMORPG has ever had. That is that World of Warcraft has a higher percentage of players who have never played another MMORPG other than WoW and in some cases play no other games. We had a lot of them in our guild over the years that were brought into the fold of the game through a friend, relative or spouse and then stayed behind when the person who brought them in continued the cycle of game hopping that most “core” gamers experience. In some way I think of Blizzard as the AOL of games, in that it brought a bunch of new people into the industry but very few of them actually trickled out into the larger world that existed past that entry point.
There will always be a group of players who whom World of Warcraft live client is the only thing they care about, and cannot really see why anyone would care about anything else. For that group of players they will also always view anything that pulls players away form the thing that they love as a hostile action. However as I said above in our own guild… the vast majority of players where not active Warcraft players. In so many cases these are players who had been gone from the game for years if not over a decade. They are arriving back at the doorstep and walking inside because the game has returned to a state where they actually enjoyed it. For this group of players the classic design has been a poisoned well for a really long time, and in truth pulling these players back in can only be good for Blizzard as a whole.
The problem with modern WoW is that the design has become super limited to a set of activities that have been deemed to be the pinnacle of gameplay. In many ways the game as a whole is a cattle chute leading to the abattoir that is the end game raiding grind. If you take raiding out of the picture completely, there really isn’t much game left for the players who have no intent on raiding. I remember reading an article about Classic WoW and contained within was some data behind raiding. It was said that less than 10% of the players of the original game had ever completed a raid and less than 3% had set foot inside of Naxxramas.
I think they took this data and tried to figure out ways to slowly shovel players towards raiding. There were a bunch of missteps in Burning Crusade, because they seemingly came up with the calculation that 40 players was too big of an ask, and by lowering the numbers to 25 more players would have access to raiding. With Wrath they dropped this down to 10 players as the entry point, as well as adding a bunch of catch up mechanics late in the cycle to pull players towards being geared enough to participate. Cataclysm saw the introduction of Looking For Raid and a watered down version of raiding that could almost serve as a practice mode. With Pandaria the gear design became more formulaic and more dependent upon the item level, sanding off a lot of the interesting effects for the sake of utilitarian simplicity.
Over the years the other methods of playing the game suffered for the push of getting players into raids as soon as possible. Sure there are players who make an entire game out of pet battles, or knocking out achievements or financial player versus player actions on the auction house with gold making. However right now in Classic it feels like the world is massive and full of possibilities. For me personally my game method of choice was running dungeons with my friends and making new friends through pulling people together for groups. I liked meeting people out in the world because it was so often that we grouped up to complete objectives.
In theory Mythic dungeons should have been my jam, but they were permanently ruined with the introduction of the timer mechanic. I hate being on a timer, because it feels like I am locked to doing a thing for a fixed amount of time. I also loathe the “big pulls” and “pull faster” mentality that arose in World of Warcraft. I like to chain pull, but I like doing it on my own terms while taking into account all of the arguments of healer mana and damage output. I set what I feel like is the fastest sustainable pace, but having that timer makes me feel like I need to constantly play loose and fast or else I am sacrificing the potential reward at the end. While this changed eventually and you always get rewards regardless of how long you take… knowing the timer is there still soured the experience.
Classic has been a breath of fresh air for so many of us, and a remembering that there was a time when we wholeheartedly loved the gameplay experience. There is a certain characteristic of the gameplay that makes it almost impossible to be truly optimal, and in that there is a freedom. Sure you can play better, but every aspect of the game is fighting against you building something perfect. Everything from the gear to the ability specs all has an aspect of wiggle room in it and acceptance that you just can’t stack only the stats that you want without getting some things that are not super useful to you. As an example see all of the great rogue daggers with caster stats on them, and the tanking gear that for some reason inexplicably has heaps of spirit.
The game pushes back against us in a way that the modern client doesn’t. We can’t achieve perfection, but we can achieve “good enough”. It is in that lack of optimal game-play that I revel and the potential that it presents of lots of different divergent gearing choices. There are so few items that exist in the game that are just universally better than the item that came before it. Each time you are making an interesting choice to give up this in favor of that. The wide range of what is usable gear also ends up pushing you to go off on a journey to find this or that item that might change the way you play the game, rather than always narrowing your focus to a smaller and smaller group of activities.
To those players who don’t get the joy that this represents… I am sorry. Let us have this moment, because it gives us a glimmer of hope that maybe we can have MMORPGs again to play along with all of the MMOs we presently have. There is this quiet trend of letting players roll back the decisions and play the original core experience. While there is a huge dose of nostalgia in that experience, it is honestly more about returning to a style of game play that is just poorly supported in the modern grind to the endgame experience. It is my hope that someone will catch onto this trend and start building new gameplay experiences that draw heavily from what worked so well on the games leading up to World of Warcraft, and that was sadly forgotten after the industry fixated on chasing its success.
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