World of Warcraft: Ghostcrawler Is Gone But Will That Change Anything?

Of course, one of the biggest inside stories over at Blizzard and for World of Warcraft is the imminent departure of lead developer Ghostcrawler. It’s hard to say the exact reasons why he’s leaving but for some it might be a major victory as his departure might symbolize for certain people in the community the downward slope for World of Warcraft. Yet in all honesty, you have to question whether or not him leaving will set the course of the game in the direction that the fans want.

Ghostcrawler is in a position similar to Jay Wilson when it comes to game development. As one of the leads, he takes a lot of flak for the way the game’s direction heads. It’s not an easy role by any means and something that it’s hard to pinpoint whether or not all the issues that result in the game moving in a certain direction are directly responsible by him. If anything, the title of lead does make him one of the more direct reports when it comes to major issues that arise from the community.

That said, a company as big as Blizzard does have other people who will offer their input to collectively engender the games we play. Some may have more input than others while others may have input that hold higher weight while not really being in line with how a game operates. Either way, it’s highly doubtful that any single developer are ultimately responsible for all decision making on rules and whatnot.

So if anything, this move might seem more symbolic but it’ll be difficult to see if the impact is what the player base ultimately wants. The biggest problem with World of Warcraft is an issue that any product with a large, dedicated and highly vocal fan base faces: drastically differing opinions on what the game ought to be. As the game caters to such a huge group of players, it’s difficult to balance so many opinions between each of these groups without offending one sect.

That said, I will offer some advice to Blizzard in this situation. The first thing is that a game like World of Warcraft really needs a vision, in terms of storyline, environment, play style and audience. With the upcoming Warlord of Draenor expansion, my personal concern about the storyline of the game is that part of the decision making process is to satisfy the alliance in terms of having their “Wrestlemania moment.” Having read the forums, I felt that there was a great deal of complaining how the last two expansions had been too “Horde focused” and that the Alliance never were able to seize the day so to speak. Because of this concern by the Alliance, it feels that Blizzard (or Chris Metzen) decided to create an expansion to move back towards the Alliance. Now, for me I have to question this move because I feel that this iteration of the game is close to an end and that the upcoming expansion will act as another segue until we get to some of the true end bosses in the game (like Sargeras, the Burning Legion, etc.). But by having the community dictate too much of the direction of the game, it really feels that it’s still more of the same rather than Blizzard having a real path/vision for where they’re taking this game.

Now, what do I mean by this? The thing is that I don’t know where this upcoming expansion is supposed to take us. Yes, we are going into the origins of the Orcs and we’ll be seeing more about the Draenai. But do we really need to go back in time? What is the purpose of this? More lore? What is the end goal? Just to fight Warcraft 1 bosses? To me this move is not just a digression but a regression. We’re not moving forward but backwards.

Yet my real concern in all of this is that the game engine is really getting old. Yes, it is a fun game and the content can be extended indefinitely. But look at how expansions are handled: it takes roughly over a year for each expansion. And each expansion just has more of the same formula, almost worse than a bad Hollywood action flick like Wolverine or Star Trek. All you do in each of these expansions is level then grind raids for hours just to get gear that becomes invalid as soon as a new patch hits. The thing is that I understand this business model but is it really relevant anymore?

And that’s where I feel having a new vision of what the game is in a new director would really help the game. I know Ghostcrawler mentioned how certain models have traditionally been successful in World of Warcraft’s success; but with him gone this theory needs to be re-examined. For instance, I would love for new content and expansions to be put out at a higher rate. It shouldn’t require over a year (sometimes two years) just for an expansion to be released. The worst part is that what you do in each expansion never really changes; just your gear and numbers. And with the item squish, talent re-works, etc. you feel as though you’re regressing in terms of power. So the whole idea of item grinding and raid boss farming really is a turn off, especially when other highly successful MMORPGs like Everquest are proposing drastically disruptive ideas to the landscape of MMORPGs (such as outsourced content building and a Minecraft-like landscape).

For me, I really would love to see World of Warcraft evolve beyond the grind. Some players (whom I believe are brainwashed through their environmentalization of practically doing nothing but these games) describe the grind as the definitive factor of MMORPGs. However, I think that these players don’t recognize why the grind exist; the grind exist just as cheap content replacement for these game companies. It’s far easier and cheaper to have people repeat content over and over and aim for items that have low drop rates to keep them engaged in the game, as opposed to creating new content in a timely fashion.

However, as the makers of Everquest will do shortly, this idea of internal content creation is actually unscalable in this highly competitive environment. Once you develop a good platform and provide tools for creating maps, encounters, etc., you can supply them to highly motivated and creative developers to create the content for you. By doing this, you essentially eliminate the cost of content generation and mostly focus your efforts on the engine, platform and validation of the content.

Although for certain when Everquest does release their next generation of their game that it will have issues, the primary take home from what they do is seeing how the community reacts and adjust their tools, platform and engine to improve upon this process. What will this mean then?

One thing I feel that empowering more people beyond a company’s internal resources will do for a game is cut down on the grind aspect. Right now, if I have a major issue in World of Warcraft and other MMORPGs it’s the grind. What exactly is the “grind?” To me, the grind is merely imposing numerous barriers to force players to be funneled through a very slow moving process to accomplish certain goals in the game. Take leveling for instance. Leveling in Mist of Pandaria prior to the 5.2 experience nerf was horribly painful. There were just so many useless quests that at the end of the day served nothing more than giving a few gold pieces. The vast majority were forgettable and had me constantly asking myself, “What’s the fucking point?”

I feel really bad for the people who took the time in coming up with the quest lines and flavor text. But the bottom line to me was that leveling just was a horrible, meaningless chore. If I do a quest line, I want my actions to have true impact upon the environment and that each thing I does something significant. I don’t want to pick up an arbitrary 12 acorns or kill 16 goats just to get 4 hooves that drop once every 6 kills because the game developers want me to take 10 minutes to complete that section of the hub. It’s just a horrible waste of time where it becomes quickly forgotten. But that’s the vast majority of the leveling experience in Mist of Pandaria. And this is a huge aspect of the game that needs to change.

What about loot and raid bosses? If content is open to the public to develop, then there isn’t any solid reason for people to farm bosses over and over on a single toon just for loot. I really hate the idea of killing the same boss over and over just to get an item that you really need. It’s tedious and boring. Not to mention that there’s just far too much effort required to down a boss. I mean, you have to watch videos, read guides, etc. You never get to experience learning how to fight a boss on your own because someone else has done the work for you. It’s like being in high school again and your teacher telling you to just read the Cliff Notes for studying for an AP literature exam. And with the add ons, you might as well just have all the answers on a piece of paper that your teacher writes up for you during the test. In the end, I just don’t find this a really enjoyable experience as the game gets older.

Instead, I favor just making the bosses difficult enough then having the players get the loot for their toon once a boss dies. It happens in most non-MMORPG style games. I think it’s far better because you can put more effort into getting that particular boss down rather than repeating it over and over every week and then doing the same thing for each of your alts. If more content can be added quicker, then people won’t feel bored after they kill all the bosses in a few days for that tier.

Also, my concern is just on the sheer amount of time required to spend in this format. World of Warcraft does not feel like a “real world” to me. The environment itself is pretty boring since there aren’t that many ways you can interact with it compared to say Ultima 6/7 or Skyrim. Yet the way you spend time in the game is just ridiculous and usually for no good reason. Beyond the grinding aspects, you have things like travel. Take for instance Blizzard’s stance on flying. Their feeling is that flying trivializes combat, which is why they won’t allow it until people reach max level (as explained for the upcoming expansion). That’s fine but the idea of “trivializing combat” is another way of saying, “We want you to waste more time by going through a frustrating experience so that you have to deal with this overpowered elite that you accidentally aggroed so you can die and be forced to walk back to your corpse.” This isn’t “trivializing combat.” This is just “wasting time.” For example, when you get that one quest that opens up the Vale of Eternal Blossom, you pretty much need to run all the to the Temple of the White Tiger because they eliminated the flight paths. I mean, what was the point of that? The only thing it did for me was make me really frustrated in that rather than having the convenience of a flight path, I had to spend an extra 10 minutes navigating to a spot that I have seen on numerous occasions on all my alts. Was that really necessary? Was adding 10-20 minutes a good experience for me as a player who has already encountered this content?

But it’s situations like those where the time wasting factors just don’t add anything to the game outside of forcing a player through this horribly narrow funnel that isn’t fun nor useful. I mean, the only thing positive you can say about a person who would walk on foot to the Temple of the White Tiger is that he’s persistent. But does it make you a better gamer or person? Not really. Maybe some asshole decided to do that to increase world PVP but as a player on a PVE server, I just was annoyed more than anything.

Again, I have to go back and question whether or not removing Ghostcrawler will give players what they want. I don’t think so. I do think the public analogies he would make were poor but he’s not alone in those decisions. I think his faults from what I understand is that his background is more on war strategy games that deal with resources. He didn’t really sound like a good RPG game developer, which is where class structure makes a huge difference. Maybe the removal of the talent tree was probably a bad idea; but has anyone actually gone back and messed with the older talent tree? I do on occasion and my first comment is that the old talent tree did suck. The problem with the old talent system was that I think they wanted to incorporate the Diablo 2 skill tree along with adding special abilities to define a spec. However, because of the level limits, you could never truly get a really solid spec that could be customizable; worse yet, people who did not understand builds probably ended up creating frankensteins for specs, which would hurt their performance.

Removing both incarnations in the talent trees was probably a decent idea because neither really served the purpose that people want, which is the truly customizable specialization. For that, I think they should look into what I have suggested (and the announcement at Blizzcon seems like it’ll go in that direction), where you enhance certain abilities rather than unlocking other talents down the line. To me it just makes far more sense. I mean, you have the glyph system and the talent system. What’s the difference honestly? Sure the minor glyphs are cosmetic but beyond people who enjoy having their toons possess a certain glow, no one really gives a shit at the end of the day. People want and need function, not form. They want things to happen along with choosing what those things that happen do.



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