Is WoW the WoW-Killer?

I’ve been teetering back and forth on whether or not I should write this post for awhile now.  I honestly thought I had posted my last “WoW” weeks ago.  Over the last few weeks playing another game has helped to lift the rose colored lenses I had so long for the World of Warcraft.  In the past I would go off, play another game for awhile, and it would remind me of all the things I missed.  This time however, all it has done is made me realize all the things I hated.

Death Of PVP Rivalry

Blizzard has made plenty of bad calls over the years, but it seems that recently the frequency of them keeps happening more and more often.  Of all the poor choices, the one that still sticks in my craw the most is what seems like the systematic dismantling of the server community.  In every MMO I have played, the server you play on is as much apart of the experience as the game itself.  Those that have had thriving vibrant player communities have lead to a much more enjoyable experience across the board.

The first of this decisions that has chipped away at the player community, is the cross-server battleground.  From the perspective not playing has given me, it is easy to see that this was the “beginning of the end” per se.  In the days before battlegroups, the server I played on had a fairly thriving pvp community.  The forums were filled with constant reminders of this rivalry and a begrudging respect for the players on the other side and how badly they could decimate you.

This spilled over into a nightly war that was waged starting at Southshore and ending at Hammerfall.  Almost the entirety of Hillsbrad and Arathi Highlands was taken up in a series of skirmishes to hold imaginary territory.  With the release of the Battlegrounds, this conflict was supported by seeing the guild or player you dreaded on the other side of the field.  The population imbalances however made life frustrating to players on the larger side of the divide, giving as long as 2 1/2 hour long Alterac Valley queues.

Instead of choosing to bolster the underdog by giving the player base a reason to re-roll there, like Dark Age of Camelot did.  They chose to institute cross-realm battlegroups, which instead pitted you against a series of players from other servers as well as your own.  Quickly those old rivalries began to fade, and with it a lot of the community that centered around PVP.  No longer did you know you were fighting players from your server, that you might see out in the world, instead you were just rallied against nameless faceless numbers.

Death of Communication

Prior to the Wrath of the Lich King expansion, my server had a very vibrant pug community.  If you ran heroics on a regular basis, you quickly began filling your friends list with suitable fillings.  You learned which guilds harbored good players, and which had lousy reputations.  Through this constant interaction with other players, the server community was thriving.  The leaders of each of the guilds, for the most part knew and communicated with the leaders of the other guilds on a weekly basis, each of us knowing that if a problem arose we would deal with our membership to rectify it.

The looking for group tool was never used that much, and instead groups relied on trade chat and social channels that each of the larger guilds had to fill groups.  It was a system that supported communication between players, and taught them the basics of building good groups.  All of this changed when the 3.3 patch was released in August of 2009.  The “idiot button” as I have taken to calling it, allowed players to click a button, choose a role, and get pulled into a dungeon with a cross-realm group when one was available.

At face value this sounded like a really cool change, it would allow players to fill groups without having to bother their guild members to run lower level content.  What it did almost immediately is destroy all communication and civility in dungeons.  Previously when you had to build groups from scratch, you knew that the players you were grouping with, were players that you were likely to see again on your server.  If you behaved bad enough, then more than likely your exploits would make their way to the realm forums.  On a day one server like I played on, with a long memory, getting a bad reputation meant you ended up blacklisted from pretty much all content.

Gabriel’s Theory

Since these players however you were now grouping with, were from other servers, and it was unlikely that you would ever see them again, what did it matter if you were a complete and total ass to them.  Within weeks the G.I.F.T. was in full effect, as players rolled need on everything they could, chewed other players out for minor mistakes, and generally threw all tact out the window. 

What was almost worse however, were the silent groups.  In the vast majority of these runs I go into, especially with well geared players, no one said a single thing.  We just charged forward like some out of control locomotive towards the goal line to get your “badges” for the day.  No one was willing to help anyone out that needed a quest in the zone, it was all about speed and skipping as much content as you could to get in and out with minimal interaction.

While this decimated the pug culture on my server, and eroded at the community we had built up, it did worse things to guilds.  No longer did you need anyone from your guild to do anything but raid, and as a result the vast majority of players simply ran things in this solo mode to save time.  You would have a guild full of players, none of them actually doing anything together but all running heroics.

The major unintended consequence, of this however is what pugging used to be the way you got to know potential players for your raid.  With the death of pug-culture, so died the ability for raid leaders to recruit from a pool of known good players.  So many of the players that we raided with, and ultimately later on ended up in our guild started out as players we one of us had met while pugging.

Death of the Forums

On my server particularly, we had such a strong community in the early days, that even after all of this assault we still managed to remain in contact through the server forums.  We were highly protective of our server, and Argent Dawn became adept at repelling trolls, by trolling them in return until they finally surrendered and left.  You have to understand that our server has been attacked from all sides since day one.  The first roleplaying server in the list, earns you the job of being a magnet of every griefer and whack-job with a cause.  So in return, those of us forum regulars became bandits with white hats, defending our server from invasion.

However beginning in mid 2010 the server admins began supplying crooked justice with an itchy ban hammer.  One by one, valued community members, that had supported the server since day one were given temp and permanent bans from the server forums.  If you mentioned someone that had gotten banned, you earned yourself a ban as well.  So as a result, we began referring to banning by the code word “Cream Cheese”.  This continued for months, and over time the population of the forum dwindled.

With the realid debacle, another group left the forums as well.  Some of us took up refuge, and tried to salvage what we could of the community on another forum, but in the end the real wages of war were already spent.  The general civility of the community, and willingness of player groups to work together was just gone.  We had been holding onto the skeleton, holding onto our pride, and the exodus off the forums just allowed us to salvage a bit of our dignity. 

Blizzard had fairly thoroughly broken our server community.  There were little shoals of players, scattered here and there through social channels, and trade chat still lent it’s way to the occasional successful pick up raid.  But for the most part, the general sense that we were all pulling towards some goal was gone for good.  All the elders of the community, the day one folks, found themselves backing away and becoming less active, only to be replace by the loud brash trolls that took our place.

Last, Best Hope… Dashed

With the Cataclysm expansion, death watch for the server community began.  The change to unified raid lockouts had many consequences on our environment.  In the past, we had been able to go to 25 mans with our raid, and attend 10 mans with various groups of friends.  At this time, our guild lead a thriving non-guild based raid as well.  With the changes to the guild system, and the introduction of guild only achievements, it pretty much signaled the end of that era for us.

For the most part, one by one, the smaller satellite guilds that made up our raid merged into House Stalwart.  With it introduced a slew of new personalities, and issues.  More than anything however it caused us to draw inwards.  While it revived the guild groups, it completely destroyed the concept of grouping with the community at large.  Everyone was pushing to get that guild experience, guild levels, and more importantly guild achievements.  I freely admit, I had a lot of hope that this would be the era that changed things and re-established the community of guilds.

What happened however is the last of the server community has all but dried up.  There is little communication between guild leaders anymore, let alone players from other guilds that they do not already have on realid.  The focus on the importance of the guild, has caused a great internalization, shrinking the size of the server to the constraints of the members of your group.  Our server forums are all but dead, and the faces that are there included none of the players that had been there for literally years.

The Final Nail – The Point

I am sure by now, if you made it this far you are wondering when I will get to a relevant point.  Well here it comes. This week a few things were announced that caught my attention, even though I have not been terribly active on the wow websites anymore.  The biggest of these is the announcement of a guild transfer and rename systems.  This will be the final destruction of what is left of what it is to be on a server.  No longer will guilds need to worry about their reputation, or attempt to help the general server community.  If you get a bad reputation, change your name.  If you end up on a low population server, uproot your guild and make the situation worse.

On top of this being bad for the servers, this is a flat out money grab on the part of Blizzard.  Think of in these terms.  You are in a guild that you love, and have worked to help level it to 20.  Your guild leader decides it is best for the group to move to another server.  Now you have to make the decision, do I leave the guild and lose all the work I have put towards getting exalted and getting all these cool perks, or do I have to pay $25 per character to follow.  If larger guild decides to move, blizzard gains several thousand dollars for performing what I am sure is a scripted process.  I’m a developer, you don’t offer something like this if you don’t have an automated tool. The price of these services has long been nothing more than a convenience tax.

Also this past week, it was announced that a brand new mount would be sold on the Blizzard Store.  So you mean to tell me, that all they can release is recycled dungeons…  but they have plenty of time to code up a new money generating mount?  I don’t begrudge them selling items, because that is pretty much something we will have to deal with, but what I do begrudge them is the fact that since the merger with activation it has been one money grab or another.

Time for a Change?

At this point I am just sick of the game, and sick of the company behind it.  I had been a loyal supporter of Blizzard and WoW for years, but what I keep seeing I don’t like, and haven’t liked for a long time.  Being removed from the game just let me realize how badly I disliked it.  I have given over the guild I spent six and half years, and little bits of my soul building to a friend and fellow officer.  As well as that major step, I’ve given away all my money and anything of value on my characters.  I have reached the point where I will never play WoW again.  I would quite honestly rather play nothing, just hang out, read books, than play World of Warcraft again.

I hear a lot of rumblings of the same from friends that they are just tired of the game.  After 6 years of playing, it is feeling really old, and with the lack of positive direction from blizzard it seems hopeless.  Larisa of the Pink Pigtail Inn, who has often been a cheerleader of the blizzard cause (or at least more positive than me), is starting to show doubt that the community might be off the rails.  I think things are changing for Blizzard, and hopefully for the sake of those who are left… they will realize that we are not just numbers.  We are not this inexhaustible supply of willing fan boys, that will gobble up everything they offer.

There has been a lot of talk about Rift, and its impact on the community.  And while I won’t belay the fact that it is a freaking amazing game… I think what you are seeing is more than that.  Rift won’t be the WoW-Killer, in fact there will NEVER be a WoW-Killer.  When WoW came out, it was touted as the Everquest-Killer.  Everquest has kept chugging with a smaller but equally devoted fanbase, and has released 9 additional expansions since 2004 when WoW came out, the last of the expansions in October of 2010.  Once an MMO reaches the point of sustainability, you simply cannot kill it, it will keep going so long as it has a loyal following.

What I feel will ultimately be the end of the game, for the most of us are the poor decisions Blizzard continues to make.  It has trained a player base, willing to put next to no effort into the actual gameplay itself, and is resigned to setting up a bunch of cups for us to knock down in the form of raid content.  They spent so much effort, redoing the old-world, but have made the content so easy that you can get from 1-85 in 2 days played.  The entire focus of the game has been on the fictional virtues of the end game, with no focus from the player community on the journey itself.  I guess at the end of the day, I miss the journey.