(Warning: This has turned into a pretty long rant fest. The thoughts and ideas have been rolling around in my brain for a while. Blizzcon announcements and a recent Twitter conversation with @Thephauxden shook them loose to run amok on my blog.)
The first MMO I ever played was World of Warcraft. My husband had already won the battle to get me to play PC games with Baldur’s Gate and Neverwinter Nights. Those had become old and I hadn’t replaced them with the many other games he was playing, most of which were FPS. The lure of having a game to play online together, along with several of our friends talking about how fun it was, got me to try it. I didn’t look back for several years, only dabbling briefly in other MMOs like LoTRO. When he would take some time away from WoW to play some single player titles, I stuck with my trusty MMO.
That all changed early this year when I could no longer say it was worth my time or my money. It wasn’t easy to walk away from my remaining guild mates or my responsibilities as an officer or the things we’d worked really hard to accomplish, but walk away my husband and I did. Several of our friends from the guild left at about the same time. Happily we’ve stayed in touch with at least a few of them. I still miss many of the people we left behind and regret abandoning them, but they know how to find us and we’ll always welcome them in new games. Still, it wasn’t my idea of how things should have ended.
In the early days of WoW, we hung out with our real life friends and took our time leveling characters. We didn’t push to get them to max level until we all joined a “casual” raiding guild. We finally had a compelling reason to max out a character and had an absolute blast in Karazhan. We’d just started in on those pesky trolls when Burning Crusade came out and we left raiding behind for a while. Life was good, we had goals, we had reasons to get characters to max levels, we had some interesting new things to run them through. Our pace of leveling may have been a bit slower than others, but we eventually caught up and started in on the BC end game.
Things went a bit south as things often do in guilds. The guild with RL friends went through a couple of names and a couple of configurations with sporadic dungeon running and raiding in between. We discovered that our attitude toward casual versus the attitude of our GL toward casual never quite meshed when it came to having alts. When we got sidelined several times from raids, we started doing some PUG raiding. Turned out that our definition of casual really didn’t match our GL’s when it came to running with another guild and when we got the Us or Them talk, we picked Them. It was one of the best decisions we’ve ever made.
The new guild was one of those great combinations of a casual guild that still managed to do really well. People excelled as if it were a hard core guild, but without a lot of the attitude and drama associated with that kind of competitive atmosphere. We weren’t aiming for server firsts, we didn’t have a nemesis, we weren’t trying to be the first in rankings on our server, we were just trying to have fun and figure out the fights so we could down bosses. Raids were organized well and sign ups were handled fairly and loot was distributed objectively with a minimum of fuss. Wrath of the Lich King hit and we had our glory days, often showing up pretty high in the server ranks despite our casual mandate. We had a blast and the people in the guild were a lot of fun to raid with. Best of all, they were altaholics like us, so we had multiple characters getting to see raid content.
With pugging for 25 man raids and having an alt-friendly atmosphere, plus several 10 man groups running, we also met a lot of really great players in other guilds. Many of them were in the really high-stress, hard-core raiding guilds, but wanted a change of pace, so they put their alts into our guild and just had fun with us. We got to benefit from their experience and they got to laugh a little bit. People got all the raiding they wanted and we could spend the time gearing up many different alts within some of the easier raids, giving people the chance to change up roles for some of our runs. Our more progression-oriented people got to focus on hard mode content, giving them a few new challenges to strive for. The next expansion took too long to be ready, and we were really itching for the new content.
Killing the Lich King had gotten boring and Flame Leviathan was a snore by the time Cataclysm was released, and we were all really ready for some new content. People were a bit burned out and enthusiasm had waned. We were struggling to get our usual 25 man group to all show up, the flakes were getting more flaky than usual, and the 25 man raid became a pain to organize. Then we heard that raid lockouts were changing with the new expansion. We had to make some painful decisions about the size of raids the guild would support, and it was decided to drop the 25 man raid for a while. That was the beginning of the bleed out. Cata kind of hit us like a flaming brick wall.
The guild leveling system was introduced, and those wonderful alts from other guilds ended up having to say goodbye as they got their mandate to have any and all game time go toward advancing their own guild. We couldn’t run 10 man raids to learn fights, gear up and progress, then support the slower 25 man raids that kept our guild together and gave us all the chance to raid. We had to start picking and choosing who could raid and who had to sit out.
Pugging started to get grim. Dungeons were tense. The path to raid ready gear was grindy and not alt friendly at all. Without all of our well-geared alts and none of our allied guild options, we lost the flexibility we needed to fill crucial support roles. We had to tell people they couldn’t raid because their gear wasn’t up to snuff. We had to organize guild fishing events for gods sake, just to get the perks we needed to support raid equipment. I had to watch a bobber and click a mouse for HOURS to stay competitive.
The laid back people from our WOTLK raids who were never quite as dedicated as others, but still a lot of fun, started to really negatively impact our ability to progress. Our members in Australia and New Zealand with lag issues started causing wipes. Frustration was building as we couldn’t get past the nit-picky mechanics of certain fights. Our kills shots became less frequent and people’s sense of accomplishment at boss kills turned into a sense of relief that we could finally progress. Some guild members started thinking mean thoughts over whether everyone was being dedicated enough. Some couldn’t handle a game making them think and act that way and left. Others had families and kids and couldn’t dedicate the time needed to get raid ready in the brave new world of Cata and had to quit outright. There was no middle ground, there was no flexibility. People stopped logging in. A few of them left for hard core guilds. Instead of letting us decide how hard core or casual we were going to be, Cataclysm tried to force us to become a hard core guild, and it took the joy out of our experience.
I don’t care how beautiful the scenery will be in the next expansion. I don’t care how many new pets and dungeons they will introduce. I don’t care that there will be a new class to play. I don’t care how beautiful the music will be. I don’t even care that I can’t tell if the bears are supposed to be deadly serious, or Panda Fu-ish. I’m not tempted to play, not because I’m mocking their ideas, but because they didn’t learn their lessons yet. I know that the path to getting the new pets will be soul-crushing repetition. I will only get the shiny new toys if I do daily quests over and over again for months.
WoW doesn’t know how to be a game that supports both casual and hard core players anymore. Pandaria is all window dressing. Rather than being a game that really hurts you if you stand in fire longer than you should, it has become a game that ruthlessly murders you and then all of your friends if you sneeze while standing in fire. I’m a pretty dedicated gamer and I play for many hours a week. I can’t even imagine how frustrating things were and will be for people who can only play a few hours a week. I can’t blame many of our old guild members who lost their incentive to play when they had to budget how much time they could spend in the game.
WoW’s end game has become a prison of booze hauling, reputation whoring, pygmy whacking, ore grinding, weed picking hell. Maybe a bit dramatic there, but not far off the mark. The game had me jousting with annoying and buggy mount mechanics and even though I really hated it, I did it over and over again. When whacking pygmies and blowing up “Natzis” loses its fun, and even the concept of becoming a giant ball of flame rolling over hundreds of screaming crazed gnomes feels like a chore, you know you are wearing the demon dancing shoes while the devil fiddles and laughs.
Have they changed the guild leveling and achievements system to support guild alliances and smaller guilds? No. Have they changed the raid lockout system to let people raid both 10 and 25 mans in the same week? No. Have they put some sanity into the reputation grind and stopped making it into a job? No. Has anything they’ve announced been more than shiny new fluff that will be consumed in 5 levels for max characters and then put them right back to the same old faction grind? No. Do I think that the game has changed enough that our guild members who left can come back and play on their terms but still feel like they can succeed? No. Are they giving people a full 10 levels of content before they are right back to the end game grindfest? No. Will I pay them to force-feed a certain play style down my throat for my own good whether I like it or not? No.
You have no idea how relieved I am to know that the next MMO I will play has fantastic voice acting and storytelling. I am so ready for a lot of great RP in my MMO! But even if I didn’t have SWTOR to play when WoW’s next expansion comes out, I wouldn’t go back. It would take some really fundamental shifts in the game to make me test the waters again, and I just don’t think the developers have figured out where they went wrong with players like me. I don’t believe that they even care that they lost players like me.