I enjoy the controversial discussions on whether or not LFR should exist. But the real question is whether Heroic Raids (or what will become known as Mythic Raids) really exist? Some numbers came out recently about the latest decline in World of Warcraft and I hope to analyze the cause behind what is another drop and the relationship between these drops, the priorities of where Blizzard sees the development of raiding content and high end raiding.
I’ve made several cases in discussing the issue behind the Sunwell raid back in Burning Crusade when it came to numbers. 1% essentially were able to see the Sunwell when it was relevant. Another point I made talked about the massive decline between Wrath of the Lich King and Cataclysm as a result of the halted progressing from the initial heroic content. These forms of what I call Blizzard’s feeble attempts to socially engineer the gaming environment have proved ineffective. At the moment, with patch 5.4 the game is still seeing a steady decline in players, which I attribute to, once again, this pathetic attempt to socially engineer the gaming environment. What do I mean by this?
There’s a constant struggle between what I want to call “hardcore players” (i.e. those who have a penchant for tons of game mechanics) vs “casual players” (i.e. those who really do not want to put more effort than necessary into the game). It feels that Blizzard has been attempting to find a good medium between both sides but their efforts have been failing with each subsequent patch. I call them out on this as we have not seen a magic jump in subscriptions in relation to the content. None of the big content patches managed to catch on fire; if anything, I argue that they more than likely pushed more people away.
I’ve talked about the situation numerous times but I think the numbers just don’t lie when we compare it to the dates. When Mist of Pandaria was first released on 9/25/2012, numbers jumped (not too surprisingly) back up to 10 million. Around 2/2013, 400k had dropped since that point in time. Supposedly, patch 5.2 made some inroads (which was released on 3/5/2013) but by May 2013, the game lost 1.3 million. Patch 5.4 was launched on 9/10/2013 but the loss still continued to 7.6 million subscribers by 11/2013. A 2.4 million subscriber loss in a little over a year period has to be alarming, especially as these big content patches do not seem to create enough stickiness for players.
With the vast majority of the game completed, we can look back at this expansion and look to see possibly why things have been an utter letdown and try to explain the psyche of these players who have quit (like myself possibly). My biggest argument of the subscription loss over time is the perception of the required time needed to invest into this game to feel as though one can accomplish anything meaningful. Since the beginning of the expansion, there just has been too many barriers to entry with senseless, horrible time consuming grinds that I feel have left numerous players feeling burnt out. Veteran players who are not part of high end progression guilds may have looked towards other titles such as Neverwinter Nights, Final Fantasy, etc. to satisfy a niche desire to breakaway from the inane grind that has characterized this game as a long winded time sink.
But I think there’s something else that Blizzard had missed as they continued building this expansion and took numerous steps backwards and that’s in defining end game content. Most of the end game content in World of Warcraft in reality caters more towards high end players than it does low end players. Things like Challenge Modes, Heroic Scenarios, raiding, the Brawlers Guilds, PVP even pet battles to an extent still remain exclusive for high end players, which might’ve sent very negative messages towards casual players.
The only hope of any sense of character development beyond leveling for the average player was LFR. However, even with the occasional troll or griefer or two, the earlier ones were more or less doable. With bosses like Durumu, Lei Shen, Garalon, General Nazgrim, Dark Shamans, Galakris and Garrosh, the situation would slowly degenerate into nearly undoable, especially as queues would grow onto the neighborhood of hour plus waits. Then once you entered with a group, you would have no idea whether or not the group could handle the content. Patch 5.4 was probably the most offensive since over time, as groups grew geared and more experienced, they could gradually down the content and queue times would become reasonable. In patch 5.4, the problems never were addressed early on especially as the game developers wanted to sell flex rather than LFR, thus focusing on a huge part of their core audience far too late.
In short, as people once again realized that they would run up against new walls, they simply pulled their credit card out of the machine and decided to go elsewhere. Since the Timeless Isle grows quite repetitive quickly and people who lacked cloaks felt shunned, it seems only natural that a huge portion of the population just read the situation as a giant “fuck you!” from Blizzard’s development team.
So why am I connecting all of this to Heroic Raids?
My belief is that Heroic Raids/Mythic Raids as we know them are a complete waste of time. To me they are an absolute waste of development resources and that these resources should be devoted strictly to tuning LFR and what will become normal (i.e. flex) raiding as well as churning out content at a far higher pace.
Now, hold on. These are some really outlandish remarks. How can I make such a bold face proclamation?
Ultimately, it’s all about numbers when it comes to this type of game. You can look at someone who does howto videos on LFR vs Normal mode vs Heroic content and easily see that the number of views for LFR far exceeds Heroic content. You can go on wowprogress to see how many guilds have successfully downed Heroic Garrosh and you can even watch people grow frustrated and see all types of personal issues erupt as a result of the inability for most people to handle Heroics.
Part of the problem at the moment with World of Warcraft is that the game’s mechanics are pretty limited on average. There’s only so many timed events, dots, GTFO the fire, etc. type of mechanics you can do. However, the way the game is progressing seems more like very poorly structured versions of these in a deceitful attempt to make it all seem challenging. I don’t see any of these mechanics as being really challenging but more as pointless and utter wastes of time. Why not just focus on one major mechanic and have bosses do basic mechanics that we have seen leading up to the boss?
I can go on for hours of how most of these encounters just are really poorly built with no rhyme nor reason except to exist as a stopgap en route to the real end boss of a patch and the loot to get you there. Add the loot farming aspect and it’s like being forced to go on endless blind dates in a hunt for a wife for a forced marriage situation done by your parents. When you look at things from a distance, you end up realizing that this situation is pointless….especially if you have done it a million times.
The heroic raids end up catering to those who are very goal specific but more than likely have no real care for each other. To me that defeats a huge portion of why I want to play an MMORPG. I like the idea of raiding/pvp’ing with friends because we have similar goals but I don’t want to be in a death march in order to achieve that. That’s what heroic raiding is and what much of the current end game content feels like. Anyone who has worked in companies with death marches know that the best scenario is simply to quit. And that’s how I feel what we’re seeing in World of Warcraft.
But the heroic raiding mechanics (or rather more challenging mechanics in general) are trickling into what ought to be “casual content.” For instance, General Nazgrim should’ve been nerfed big time right after the mega failures in the first week. There should have been an analyst examining the average time spent per fight, the number of wipes and looking at each cause of death and correlating that to players that return over time to that instance. If there was, that person should be fired on the spot for doing a poor job in coming up with a recommendation fast enough. LFR was one of the few things that could keep casuals engaged in the game but just like Heroics during Cataclysm, that avenue was cockblocked.
Hey, but why penalize heroic raiders? Actually, I’m trying not to but I do think that Heroic/Mythic raiding really has a niche spot. And that spot only exist in global competitions. Perhaps, what really needs to happen is to get a very tiny team of developers that specialize in competitive content for Heroic/Mythic raiders. I mean, in some ways Blizzard already does something like this when they have Blizzcon and create their invite only raids for certain guilds. So perhaps the solution is just have these people devoted to these situations and keep it exclusive. In this manner, the content is kept exclusive for the people who really deserve it and work hard for it as well as give them the appropriate recognition.
Going back a step, I want to talk about making the content easier overall by reducing the number of mechanics so that the amount of content can get pushed out faster. I think a huge problem in Blizzard is that the content is generated just too slowly. Despite the memo saying that Blizzard is creating content/patches faster, the meaty content patches people look forward to are created at an alarmingly tepid pace still. I think at this point most people simply accept that the basic game won’t change much between patches so creating amazing raids to me is just a horrendous wastes of time. Instead, I think people would prefer to be immersed more into the visual world with more storylines inside of the game and simple encounters rather than raids that they’re expected to run for half a year. Raids can still be epic in scale but the encounters themselves need to be more fundamental, especially if they are expected to grind at the encounters for gear for months at a time.
Also, I theorize that if content feels doable, people are more likely to band together to do the content rather than if the content is more difficult. Here’s the idea. If content was pretty simple but just required numbers of people, then anyone could feel that they could join. Think about encounters like Sha of Anger, Galleon or Nalak. Those were pretty simple but people had no issue joining up because most of those encounters were simply about numbers. The same could be said with regards to the Timeless Isle rare elites. The thing is that there isn’t a lot of pressure which makes those encounters fun.
When I watch people in Heroic Raids, I feel sorry for many of the people. The raid leader especially can mean the difference of the success or failure of the raid. I think most raid leaders would prefer not to act like assholes but as encounters grow more difficult in nature, these raid leaders are forced to show a side of their persona that they probably would not normally like showing. Either way, it’s really not a fun position to be in on both sides. And considering that this is just a game, why not treat the situation like that?
Unfortunately, I feel that there’s a misguided philosophy in Blizzard where the prevailing thought is that harder content means tighter bonding. That’s not the case. I think there’s a higher risk at the opposite occurring because of the combustible nature of humans. Most people are anti-social as is but a game like this really needs to do more to relieve tension rather than increase it unnecessarily.
So what happens to the truly high end progression people? I’m going to be frank in saying that unless you’re a top 10, it ain’t worth it. It’s like someone once told me about going for an MBA; you’re essentially wasting money unless you attend a top 10 university. No one really cares past that point. And it’s a hard pill to swallow. In this case, it’s just a massive waste of time and effort.
The thing is that I do believe in exclusive content for high end players but that situation should be very limited and created for showcasing talent at specific intervals (i.e. competitions). The content needs to be flattened far more and generated more frequently. The fact that there are too many mechanics that probably make encounters far more difficult than necessary, requiring too much tuning at this stage in World of Warcraft’s lifespan is simply the wrong direction. People need to once again be able to perceive the ability to do things on their own merit and be able to trust those around them to handle their piece. They cannot perceive that their time is fruitlessly wasted as a result of things that make them want to tear their hair out, especially in relation to self progression.