Blizzard posted a “post mortem” on the dungeon and raid encounters for Cataclysm. Outside of the confused, constant redesign of the talent tree and character classes by Ghostcrawler (who, imo, is also partly to blame for various problems in Cataclysm), Scott “Daelo” Mercer might be considered one of the people responsible for World of Warcraft’s subscription loss as he was identified in this article as being the “lead encounter designer.” I’m amazed that the interview wasn’t conducted from a cardboard box near Skid Row as this person should’ve been fired along with the other 600 recently.
So why am I so harsh in my criticism for this person’s efforts? I would say that one of the biggest issues and potential sore points in this expansion were the instance encounters. Upp’ing the difficulty challenge at the behest of hardcore raiders wanting to reclaim the glory of TBC was probably the game’s nail in the proverbial coffin. Now, if you haven’t read my WoW rants about the failed social bet Blizzard attempted to make, go back and read it. That said, let me explain how heroics essentially created subscription loss.
The biggest problems with heroics were a combination of the massive time sink, LFG, requiring good players (pre-nerf), the poor assumption about people in LFG and the overall grind that in end essentially told non-hardcore players that they could not progress far into the game. First, the initial heroics were long, hence being time sinks. Two of my friends who quit the game mentioned giving up in instances are numerous wipes that took a few hours. The two friends in question, I can consider, fairly reasonable players. However, both have jobs, families and lives so a three hour instance just isn’t feasible. One ended up staying for a bit longer, but ended up migrating to PVP.
The second problem was combining the hard mode style tactics into LFG. I tried a few heroics out and my assessment was that they were equivalent to the Sindragosa raid in difficulty from ICC. Meaning that you at the very least required coordination and some level of skill. Most people in LFG probably were used to old heroics from WOTLK. People back then were still having problems figuring out simple tactics even in the three ICC instances. So increasing the difficulty level for PUGs made absolutely no sense. Anyone with half a brain could see light years away how this expansion would fail just in this design alone.
The thing about LFG is that you’re getting a broad range of people from around the world into a tiny team. I’m going to say that the average person in this world doesn’t know how to communicate on any effective level. So imagine some casual geeks, drunks, drugged out high school students, adolescents, ESL types, etc. all grouped together. I think you’d have a better shot at winning the lottery than seeing these types manage to get along.
Regardless, the objective of being part of this team is mainly knowing what your role is. Assuming that you’ve gotten this far in trying LFG, we can assume at the very minimal you understand the basics of tanking, DPS and healing. But that’s where you have to presume the most common denominator, which is that someone on a keyboard can press a few keys. Many people won’t install Deadly Boss Mods (DBM), read WoWhead for the encounter, check out Tankspot for how-to videos, etc. They’re going to enter them raw just to check it out.
However, if you get the impatient type who assumes you know everything, have max gear, and possesses an attitude problem (which many people do in LFG and LFR), you’re bound to run into a large number of difficulties in expecting encounters to go smoothly. I think that some of these designers don’t play in the game just as a regular observer. In my estimation, they have no concept of reality when it comes to what their audience truly is like. In doing some research, I pulled up this guy’s mug shot and it’s clear that he probably is (was?) a table top gamer at one point and probably a Trekkie. Hey, we all idealize how the universe out to be, but there’s something called a reality factor. This guy apparently doesn’t seem to perceive it.
Lastly, the thing that I noticed was that the people who quit mostly attributed ending their subscription because they hated the grind. Here’s how I believe the average gamer perceives this type of game. You level up your character to 85 (or whatever max level) then you’re left with limited options in terms of progression. You could go farming or max out your professions (utterly boring), focus on PVP or try raiding (assuming that you want to focus on a single character). Maybe do some achievements too. More than likely though, you’ll probably want to do most of the cool content just to see the end of the story. And of course, you want to get more gear to have a sense of progression for you toon because you already maxed out your toon in terms of levels. I mean, where else can you go from there?
We’ve been taught that the game essentially is one massive grind. But what happens when the grind becomes utterly frustrating where you just realize that the people in the game suck and that you’re never going to get anywhere because you’re just going to have to spend way too much time just to get a single item? That’s what killed my friends’ motivation with the game. I do have a few other friends who still play but they’re teenagers with tons of time on their hands and no responsibilities. So they can handle the 2-3 hour instances with numerous wipes. However, the ones I know who play purchase play time. To me this is a pretty big indicator when it comes to how you structure your game.
In reading the forums, I noticed a ton of protests from what appeared to be “hard core” raiders and such. Hopefully, Blizzard takes their complaints with a grain of salt. You have to realize that these people only make up a very tiny fraction of the entire game’s population. Most people who will play casually don’t give a shit enough to bother posting. And I think many of these people probably have far too much time on their hands (maybe as dedicated gamers) or don’t have a time consuming real occupation. But who would you choose to design your game around? People who don’t have jobs or people who have jobs and can pay for a monthly subscription?
Some of the comments were plainly absurd. For instance, one person felt that heroics were all about wiping. Or that guy TotalBiscuit believes that failure is part of a game. Now, you have to realize that these people are not normal people. They don’t have real jobs nor families (at least they don’t appear to) so they can get away with spending a great amount of time wiping. But I think these people are delusional and have no concept of reality. Let me explain why.
I already established that the game is a giant grind fest. There is absolutely no denying this aspect. The problem is that it, indeed, requires a great amount of time for anyone to devote in order to achieve anything significant in the game. Never in my life have I ever played a game that requires so much time for me to devote just to get one simple item. An item that can take me anywhere up to two weeks to receive. TWO FUCKING WEEKS FOR A SINGLE ITEM THAT WILL BE REPLACED. Yet I need that simple item to make any progress into the game. So for me to make progress, I need to devote additional time. Maybe the item might drop but other people will grab it, despite not really needing it. So I might have to wait another few weeks before getting it.
Now, people like TotalBiscuit don’t understand the concept of “time is money.” They seriously don’t, which is why they want hard mechanics in the game. They feel that people should get guilds. Some of us aren’t that lucky and have to deal with the cards we’re dealt with in playing with subpar guilds, average players, etc. But here’s the thing I don’t understand. Why is wiping for several hours such a great thing? How is that great game design? How is draining between 10-25 people’s time simultaneously a great thing (outside of Blizzard making more cash)? I think this desire is utterly selfish and damn egotistical for a loud mouthed Brit to be saying.
On the other hand, someone as gullible and naive as this Scott Mercer seems to have bought into the forums or players like TotalBiscuit. But the thing is that your populace who might’ve started 7 years ago in its conception may be working now and raising their families. They can’t afford to wipe for 3 hours at a time just in the hope of getting a single piece of gear.
Here’s the other thing. Many of the old school players I think were horribly brain washed into thinking what “WoW ought to be.” The ones that don’t smoke crack will tell you about the 40 man raids that were grind fest that led to a piece of paladin gear for the horde (back in the vanilla days). That type of game design is just a plain indicator of lazy design. That said, these old school people are now trained into believing that every little thing must be painfully earned “because that’s how they did things back in the old days.” Again, I think this whole grind fest thing is a horrible point of game design. It doesn’t scale into real life, although it might give Blizzard money initially.
The bottom line is that people want to play a game maybe for a few weeks then move on to the next game or thing in their life. If people finally realize that a game is utterly pointless and wake up some day, then they’ll simply move on. That’s what 1.8 million subscribers poignantly stated with their dollars. The point of a good game design is to allow people to play and enjoy it, not to frustrate and want to maim other people. If you create a game that lacks any point outside of dangling a carrot, you’re aiming for a short life span.
In the case of World of Warcraft, they need to better design the game to balance between the grind and challenge while providing a point at the end. I think part of Cataclysm’s problem was that everything seemed to need a “mechanic”, which in turn made the game too complex and diverted resources from developing content towards bug fixing. Here’s a dirty little secret: you honestly don’t need to make every little thing special as long as the story is good, progress is shown, new things are discoverable and people are having fun. And the second dirty little secret about good game design is that simpler is better. The people begging for more mechanics really are smoking crack. They should play Street Fighter online.
Regardless, I think this guy should be fired immediately. Someone has to account for all that subscription loss. Also, my friends aren’t coming back to the game so I blame this idiot for making a ton of terrible decisions.