Since day one in hearing what was going to happen with Cataclysm, I had an inkling that the expansion would be a miserable failure. The numbers don’t lie folks and the massive drop in subscriptions can be attributed to the fact that the game did a lot to alienate people. Now, some say that because it took a while to release in China, the subscription loss was due to that. However, part of that doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. I feel that people wouldn’t just put the game down temporarily and wait until it resumed.
But it’s not just that the numbers demonstrate a clear indication that the game has been on the decline. It’s the community at large that has slowly been leaving. Most veterans that I’ve known have practically abandoned the game and moved on to other things. Analysts claim that the age of the game engine has started to show. Yet there’s quite a bit of nostalgic moments for veteran players and a huge desire for the return of vanilla.
With these sentiments in mind, I argue that Cataclysm as an expansion is a horrible failure. From my own point of view, here’s a list of elements where I thought Blizzard absolutely messed up in the design of the game:
Focus on the Social Element
With Facebook, Twitter and companies like Zynga pushing the social envelope, it’s no surprise that Blizzard wanted to partake in that type of market. However, I doubt that the vast majority of employees at Blizzard have any idea what “social” means. Blizzard employees are your prototypical Star Trek types; that is, the idealistic nerd who believes that technology and logic will dictate the improvement of society. Yet these people don’t have lives. Don’t let the little snippets of blogs on their community site fool you. These people are working night and day. Hey, it’s the gaming industry and the CEO of Activision is an imperialistic asshole who only cares about profit margins for his shareholders. Given these parameters, the people at Blizzard severely underestimates what their community is composed of.
The real player in WoW on average are no life little punks who should be smacked upside the head so hard that their retardation is fixed. Okay, I’m being pretty severe here but honestly the average WoW player is the lowest common denominator of a person. In other words, some fucking idiot who wants to mindlessly get things done. They don’t care about other people for the most part because there is no consequence to their lives if they insult, grief or do something to aggravate others. That’s how anonymity on the internet works and why trolls do what they do.
With Cataclysm, it seems that Blizzard made the assumption that their average gamer is the old AD&D Friday night, hang out with their buddies over a pizza and (root)beer type. Bzzzzzzzt!!! WRONG!!!! (Insert Kevin Spacy voice). The old school AD&D Fright night gamer is the Star Trek, idealistic, intelligent person who does what he can to support his friends. But in a game like WoW which has mass appeal, this type, imo, is just the minority.
As a result, Blizzard’s clear misinterpretation of their community and influence by hard core raiders moved them into the wrong direction. Here, Blizzard up until patch 4.3 decided to take a few steps back and listen to the hard core types on the forums in revisiting the nostalgic moments of Sunwell from Burning Crusade in attempting to make a more “challenging” environment. The result was introducing more raid-like mechanics in Heroic instances that made them mostly unpuggable. In essence, they were counteracting the developments that were key in making Wrath of the Lich King a success by cross pollinating bad ideas with the wrong people.
But Blizzard’s philosophy here centered around the new guild system, which would emphasize the social aspects. You could easily see how the guild system was emphasized with a huge part being defined from Raids and Instances (of course). The idea was that people would band together with their guildies to run instances together and learn things, thus improving the bond inside of the guild, and possibly returning to the all-so-good feeling of community that supposedly existed in the Vanilla days.
Here’s the reality though about guilds. The only reason to join a guild is for the perks, so most people will only attempt to find 1-2 types of guilds. One is the casual guild that is level 25 where someone can hide temporarily, gain honorable reputation with them and enjoy the benefits. The second purpose is finding dedicated raiding guilds, which are clearing content. Thus, when you look at guilds on servers, you usually just find a few really large ones or maybe a couple of new ones that are active. If you try to start your own guild, good luck. Anything outside of using it as a spare bag space is a waste of time and effort. You’ll be lucky to progress beyond level three.
But going back to the PUG thing with instances, there’s a lot of conflict between hard core types of baddies/casuals. The issue is that you’ll never avoid baddies. NEVER. That’s a guarantee. The game is designed to allow anyone to pick it up. However, the real issue is that in truth they must co-exist somehow. Until Blizzard implements a system that segregates difficulty level on a per-server basis, hard cores and baddies/casuals must learn to put up with each other.
That said, the instances up until patch 4.3 can be thought of as horrible failures. I don’t think that the mechanics by themselves are that bad. That’s not the issue. The issue is that players must learn to cooperate with each other. That’s where the difficulty comes into play. If you’re lucky and get to play with a group of friends or a decent guild with reasonable people, these should not be a huge problem. However, the point of ultimate contention is PUGging. Since PUGs are pretty much random people, you’ll have a wide variety of people in a group. The variables in this are 1) skill; 2) gear; 3) experience with a certain instance. 1) and 3) are the problems and RFD is something that introduces more issues than solutions with regards to Heroics up until the Hour of Twilight instances.
Anytime random people group up and must cooperate to solve a problem you have to make it dirt dumb. People ridicule WOTLK’s content for being far too easy, but even when I was doing randoms back then, you still had idiots who barely knew what to do. So why introduce even harder mechanics if your lowest common denominator could not handle it back them?
Revamping Vanilla Content
I was actually pretty mad at how Blizzard killed all the legacy content because I missed a lot. I know part of the thing Blizzard wanted to do was make questing easier, especially in creating two new races that would start from the bottom. Veteran players who probably were sick of repeating the same old quest lines now could essentially play a whole new game with the improved questing in the old zones.
However, in my experience, most people who leveled from scratch only did enough up until the point where they could instance grind. The people I see questing usually are just new players, while my veteran friends stick themselves into dungeon queues once they hit the right level. And as I level my last under-60 level toon, I’m at the point where even the “smoother” questing system is just plain boring.
But I think the revamping of the world was just a horrendous error. For one, although the questing improved in terms of organization, flow and story lines, I felt at times the quests were far TOO linear. Although I started in WOTLK, I enjoyed the old zones because you could pick and choose which quest lines to do. Yes, you can do some of that in Cataclysm, but I found the experience more restrictive. Worse yet, there were some quest chains that prevented you from finishing a zone and those quest chains might’ve contained some real shitty quests (any of the Black Ops wannabe quests are prime examples).
The other major issue in revamping all the old zones was that I think it took away from developing more 80+ level content. Right now, I’m on my 7th toon in working up to 85 (she’s 80 now). I’ve got two choices for levels 80-82. And I’m not really excited about either anymore, but I’m utterly sick of doing Mount Hyjal. Then once I’m done there, I’m pretty much stuck in Deepholme, then Uldum and finally Twilight Highlands. 4 fucking zones for leveling? It wasn’t bad the first time through and I thought it was fun. By the 4th time, I wanted to jump outside of a window from the new Tokyo Sky Tree building.
So if the old content that veterans supposedly would find appealing in being revamped really isn’t being used and that not enough development time was given to the new zones, then isn’t that whole situation just a gigantic waste of time? I think the old questing zones were fine because they were simple and probably allowed more flexibility and discovery compared with what we’ve been given. Sure, there was an occasional area that stood out (Silverpine Forest, Mulgore, Southern Barrens) but I think it was just a colossal waste of effort that could’ve been better spent on developing higher level content).
Cute Game Mechanics That Really Isn’t Cute
It seems that expansion after expansion, Blizzard has tried to re-invent the basic game engine by providing more and more cute game mechanics.
Stop. Seriously. Stop.
I play WoW because I want to play WoW. I don’t play WoW because I want to play Call of Duty or Joust. I want to mindlessly grind and do simple quests so that I can level up, get some gold, gear and achievements then go to bed to deal with my job the next day. I want to play WoW because I want to experience more storyline, not watch some cheap knock off from Indiana Jones that a fanboy over at Blizzard decided to make into an epic storyline. I got into WoW because the basic game was fun.
I don’t think the squirrel quest was great, nor the run around like a buffoon as some stupid oversized worm is trying to spray the area with fire. I want a simple game that I can turn my mind off to, maybe play with some friends and not have to fight with people because there’s some prerequisite of watching lengthy videos and doing all types of pre-work just to enjoy a game.
That’s what this game has become. You don’t allow things like buying in game items that improve my character. You keep nerfing areas that allow me to make a little money in the few spare hours that I have. You keep screwing around with the game so that it’s an unrecognizable strategy game as opposed to an RPG.
I don’t give a fuck about hard cores. Those people can find a volcano and jump in naked. If they want a hard game, they can go play something like LoL or a shooter. Leave WoW alone. Give it back to the RPGers not the action game buffs. I don’t give a fuck about doing combos a la Street Fighter. If you want to go play Street Fighter, GO FUCKING PLAY STREET FIGHTER.
Screwing Up the Talent Tree
Why oh why did you fuck the talent tree up? It honestly was fine as is. Two arguments came into play in the revamping of the talent tree. One was to force players to pick more “obvious” choices when it came to talents, which was actually (and supposedly) a hint to bad players in trying to get them to make the “right” choices. In this case, I seriously doubt that shrinking the talent tree would prevent a bad player from making a bad choice. A bad player by definition is one who does little to improve their game play and so the issue isn’t the game design, but the mental state of that player.
Second, the idea was to streamline the talent trees and remove “useless” abilities like increased damage, etc. Instead, the “useless” abilities would be moved into mastery where the lazy developers could easily tweak the numbers from one place once they noticed an imbalance supposedly occurring.
To make the tree more streamline, they shrunk the overall size and provided a very small amount of remaining points once the main points were used up on one side. The result, imo, was far less choices and more cookie cutter specs. Honestly, unless you’re blind as a bat, most talents for a given situation should be pretty obvious.
For me the problem overall was that I felt in eliminating points at every level and forcing a player to go down one whole tree, you really created a limited environment lacking choice. Truthfully, I think they should’ve just added another level or provide an extra 5 points that a player could’ve used to go down a secondary talent tree spec. Instead, all they did was just make it easier for them to manage.
Blizzard Admitted It At the End
You know a game is pretty fucked up when the game producers themselves pretty much do a reset. That’s what happened with Patch 4.3 and what will happen in Mists of Panderia. Blizzard themselves admitted what a clusterfuck of a decision it was for them to listen to the complaining 1% hard core raiders/gamers as opposed to vast majority who don’t really go to forums because they don’t give a shit. The way Blizzard admitted of their horrendous decisions is that the difficulty is pretty much being shot down with the Hour of Twilight instances, the Raid Finder difficulty setting and how the heroic instances of Mists of Panderia was described as being, “equivalent of WOTLK heroics.”
You can’t deny that Blizzard themselves realize how big of a hole in their foot they shot when they have to backtrack in their decision making process.
So what happened?
The problem is that Blizzard only listened to people on the forums complain. Those people more than likely are the semi-hard core to uber hard core types that give a big enough shit to bitch and complain (hey, I make my voice heard there too on occasion but I won’t classify myself in that area; I’m just attempting to help teach Blizzard how to develop a good game because god knows that a stupid fucker like Greg “Asscrawler” Street can do anything right). But numbers speak louder than anything and obviously the stats being reported with the dollar figures at the top of the list indicate that some poor decisions were made.
The thing is that the few that make their voices heard such as elitists raiders, forum participants and video makers over on youtube are NOT the vast majority. The average person, imo, is just some guy at their home who gets 3-4 hours at most a week to play the game. They barely know how to play the game because no one has volunteered to teach them. They don’t know where to look and have been shunned on trade chat or other areas because a lot of people in the game have no etiquette nor social skills. These people simply want to have fun and try different things. It would be great if everyone could see every piece of content and beat it. However, if only the elitists assholes are the ones attempting to convince Blizzard that they’ll be paying their bills, you got another thing coming.
Let’s be honest here. How many elite raiders do you think really exist? I can give you that number which is around 1%. That’s the number that got to see Sunwell in BC and I’m pretty certain those are the top raiders in the world. Yet when you read on forums, etc. about which was the best time in the game, generally you’d hear about BC and Vanilla. So I imagine there’s a connection between those two which had a profound influence in the design of Cataclysm.
But if only 1% got to see something and are the ones appealing to Blizzard, doesn’t that mean that Blizzard is spending a ton of resources just for 1% of their audience, which probably is connected to their revenue loss? In other words, you’re spending tons of resources for development just so that 1% of your population can go around bragging about it on the servers to demonstrate that they’re cool. I’m going to guarantee that the 99% out there don’t give a fuck or even know how to give a fuck about the 1% that think they’re cool (kinda like how the 99% Occupying Wallstreet could give a fuck less about these bankers’ homes).
I can tell you right now as a developer myself that I’d prefer having a LOT of people use my stuff rather than a tiny minority. If I spend hours upon sleepless hours of building something, I would like to know that many people can appreciate it and saying that it’s useful, gives them pleasure or somehow makes their day as opposed to it not ever seeing the light of day. Trust me. Anyone who cares about how beautiful a piece of code is as opposed to it being useful or making money is so full of shit that they are the ones that should not be hired. It’s completely flawed thinking.
There are those that do admire challenges. For them, I think hey good for you. Guys like TotalBiscuit who think that losing is part of the game can be losers (like I think he is). Most people don’t have 3-4 hours wiping on a single boss. Heck, the goblins themselves summarize this situation: Time is Money, Friend. You take my time, I take your money back. If you’re a professional gamer, good for you. I’m glad there are people in this world who can afford the luxury of sitting at home just playing games all day and get money. Most of us can’t. Those that don’t understand or sympathize simply are out of touch with reality. Yes, it’s not our special needs but the vast majority of our needs.
The thing is that I knew a lot of people personally who quit because they ended up realizing what a time sink WoW is. I don’t think they minded as much during WOTLK because they didn’t have to put as much effort in. But when you have to give up a portion of your real life just to play a stupid game, then it’s time to call it a day.
And that’s why Cataclysm has been a total failure. Sorry Blizz, but try again with Mist of Panderia.