Sounds Like a Dare

Greg Street had the following tweet recently.

gstreetdare

That really does sound like a dare more than a discussion, as it’s the core of many rants.  Still, dare accepted.

I am going to assume that he relates to WoW and his tenure but it also applies to other franchises.  Sure, CoD has made a bajillion dollars on an simple formula.  GTA and Assassin’s Creed are in the same boat.  Tomb Raider has seen multiple iterations, mostly crud for recent years until the last reboot.  Final Fantasy, ever the iterative franchise, has found glory and shame for nearly 30 years.  It’s hard to debate that the original FF14 was a positive step, or that any of the FF13 games were solid.  Diablo 3 and Starcraft 2 took two wildly different approaches – which would you call successful?  But we’re talking about separate games within a franchise stream, not the same game.  A separate game should take risks, there’s a transition break between them for players.  Mass Effect may transfer saves between games but the experience between the 3 is not the same.

When Greg talks about franchises, I see it more more along the lines of a single product.  Expansion packs and DLC for games are where this discussion truly has merit.  These games are living entities, whose beating hearts are the players within.  Certainly, after a while people grow old within the confines of the game and some new life needs to be injected.  Blizzard has traditionally focused on iterative design and that design usually takes 18 months to 2 years to be applied.  Icecrown Citadel was current content for over a year after all.  Let’s avoid the talk about SWG + NGE ok?

I think that changes over time, tweaks and system adjustments make sense.  Jarring changes, like adding/removing entire sub-systems changes the scope of the game.  It took 9 years but WoW finally figured that Pokemon was popular and Pet Battles were the result.  If I recall from previous stats, Pet Battles are currently consumed by more people than raids – so a change in direction much.  Let’s try and summarize the big changes.

Raid size changes – This was a big one from Vanilla to BC.  It destroyed many guilds and changed the way raids were implemented in every game since.  Iteratively, there have been many more changes, with the largest benefit coming from Flex Raiding.  My thoughts are that all games should support this last model.

Stat changes – Remember when you needed resists on all gear just to step into a raid?  Or magic power and healing power being different? How about armor penetration?  Stat bloat due to item levels?  All are gone in WoD. On their own, they were somewhat small changes as they coinciding with expansions which naturally replaced all your gear.  Systematically, it changed the entire way battles and planning worked and rejigged balancing.  These changes were needed, primarily due to poor planning on Blizzard’s part (ArPen in particular).  Talents have undergone a few revisions, but the near removal of the system today means leveling has little merit.  Pretty much a precursor to the “buy a 90”.

Itemization – A few things here. Item drops turning into tokens.  Valor/Honor points for gear.  Role specific drops.  Transmogrification.  All except for the last one had a rather large ripple effect on gaming.  Most were implemented to avoid the issues with raid gear allocation and the headaches of DKP systems.  Too often, an entire raid’s gear drops would be disenchanted and a group could make little progress.  How often did I scream about Shaman gear dropping on an Alliance raid…

Social Tools – These are iterative but massive in scope.  Guild levels is a small one and one that is poorly implemented.  Extremely poorly implemented as it makes no sense to be a in a guild that isn’t level 25, especially if you have an alt.  LFG came in patch 3.3 and absolutely destroyed any sense of society WoW had at the time.  The era of go-go-go was born and I am still a firm believer that WoW’s implementation is flawed at the core.  LFR was implemented because no one raided.  It was under 10% at the time, less than 1% for heroic Firelands.  It was a logical step to take, but again had a massive impact on existing raiding groups and wasn’t fully integrated.  Flex Raiding is still being tweaked but is where the natural evolution of this problem should have lead 3 years ago.

 

Now, did these things need to change?  Yes, clearly.  There were some significant design issues at the core of the game and the demographic for WoW has changed over the years.  Where the initial focus was a combination of EQ and Warcraft 3 players (young males) today’s MMO landscape is more around a 30-35 year old individual (male and female).  Time to play has gone down while available income has gone up.

Did the actual changes implemented address the design issues?  For the most part, no.  In fact, by and large, they introduced even more significant issues.  The BC to WotLK phase saw this the most.  Cataclysm took a drastic turn and simply disconnected all the systems instead, to avoid chasing down balance issues.  The big items listed above are still “broken” in their implementation.  LFR is a good idea but WoW’s version has been a cancer on the community.  The consistent focus on the individual instead of the group has been a core driver for too long and really has had a disastrous effect on the industry as a whole.

So while Greg’s tweet sounds simple, the crux of the argument is not that changes are / are not required.  It’s that the changes implemented must be quality changes that improve the game yet maintain a core vision and cohesiveness.

 

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