Looking back on it, I applaud Blizzard for the legendary questline they have provided us through Wrathion as Mists of Pandaria progresses.
As a first grand attempt, I think it has succeeded in it’s largest challenge; how not to alienate the players.
Going into this expansion, Blizzard was faced with the eternal question, “How do we keep people from unsubscribing after they complete each dose of new content?”
It’s got to be the toughest challenge any company can face in this age of jaded gamers.
We gamers have many options for our dollar and our playtime, and the politics of playing have gotten ridiculous over the years.
Just one small aspect of it; there are undoubtedly players who will refuse to play World of Warcraft because it is an MMO with a monthly subscription payment system.
Think about it. There are players, I’ve spoken with them, they could play WoW, they like the game itself, they can easily afford it, but they are philosophically opposed to financially supporting any MMO that uses a subscription model.
In this kind of gaming climate, how does a company that uses a subscription-based system keep people from dropping and coming back?
In years gone by, we saw one method; bribery. “Sign up for a year of WoW, locked in with legal agreements, and we’ll give you a neat mount and a free copy of our new video game when it releases next year.”
What was the result? Many folks accepted the agreement, I among them, enjoyed the mount and Diablo III, and continued on. It didn’t affect my decision as to resubbing, because I knew I wasn’t going to unsubscribe anyway.
My wife, on the other hand, debated over it for a very long time, and in the end did NOT take the one year agreement. She did not want to be locked in to the game for a whole year, if she finally drifted away entirely.
The funny thing is, she did not then and still has not unsubscribed. Not once. But she refused to close off the option to unsubscribe. She wanted control over the choice of paying to play the game or not on her terms.
There was quite a lot of cynical irritation and red-hot rhetoric when the one year plan was announced. Who needs that kind of mess in their Public Relations department? Who really wants to see more morons and malcontents swear at Ghostcrawler as if it was his personal intention to piss people off?
For Mists of Pandaria, instead of a one year agreement, we’ve had a very different strategy.
The first part has been the increased rate of content releases. There has never been this amount of content released in such a short span of time. Blizzard started the expansion by promising an accelerated content push, and they have delivered.
So, lots more content to do, new content coming fast and fresh, less opportunity for someone to blow through it all and get bored, followed by an unsub. Right?
As part of the first wave of that content, there were many, many factions with gear upgrades, reputation gating, and daily quests. Many, many faction daily quests. There was a bit of a blowback on that, we could see where it was headed. It just felt too harsh, it needed some adjusting. Which came, there have been constant tweaks as we go. The Valor cap system and the changes to it have been amazing. The Commendations for alts have been nothing short of brilliant.
Another thing that was introduced to much discussion was the legendary questline from Wrathion once we reach level 90.
So much to do in this questline, gated by progression and drops from Raids that could be done in normal or Looking For Raid, and by grinding reputation with Wrathion.
Staged progression, that required continuous investments of time. You didn’t have to log in every single day to maintain progression on the Legendary questline, but you almost have had to log in and maximize your progression every week to stay current.
I started on a different character than the one I play now. I started on the chain on my Hunter. I am now completing it on my Warlock, and at the point I switched, I was about one month behind the progress of everyone who had stayed perfectly current. I am, right now, still 6 Titan Runestone drops from completing the current stage of the questline, when most of the folks I play with have their cloak or are only one or two stones away. So, even though i have continued on it to the best of my ability every week, starting one month late has me still one month behind.
I’m not going to call the Legendary Questline a perfect win for keeping subscriptions up. I’m calling it an excellent first attempt, and a wonderful work in progress.
The implementation has had it’s problems. Some items of the questline were only useful if you had been lucky enough to get the corresponding item to mate it with in LFR, something that was certainly hit or miss. Raise your hands if you had a gem or an extra socket long before you got a weapon to put it on? Yeah, me too.
Overall, I have enjoyed the questline.
Yes, I know it is meant to keep me logging in each week to try and get drops from weekly raid lockouts, completed daily quests to gain Wrathion rep, and maintain my progress. But that’s okay.
Each step of the way has brought more than the mechanics of a drop hunt or a rep grind. There have been cutscenes, story development, a sense of building a relationship, taking part of a developing story, and along the way completing solo scenarios that are new and fresh, just like the Warlock Green Fire questline but there for everyone to see.
There are a few reasons I think it’s not quite perfect yet.
First, while it’s kept me engaged in the game week by week, it’s had the effect of pushing Cassie further away.
She was too busy with work stuff to play much for a few months. When she had time and came back, she felt that she was so far behind everyone else that it would be too big of a pain in the butt to try and start now. The weight of everything out there to do, all the grinds that have to be completed weighs on someone who hasn’t started it yet. There have been adjustments, more frequent drops for earlier stages, reduced Valor requirements, etc but it doesn’t change the feeling of being too far behind to ever catch up.
Especially when she sees that I’m doing it every week and I’m still over a month away from getting a Cloak, assuming I continue to maintain my lack of luck on Runestone drops.
So as much as it kept me going and giving me a reason to do LFR wings long after my gear was past it, it has pushed her away and given her greater reason to feel disconnected with the world of WoW. She now feels like an outsider, watching other people engaged in this massive questline without her.
The other reason is simply the length of each stage of grind. Some of them haven’t felt too bad, but the initial Valor grind. That sucked. That was like a wall of “I don’t want to Valor cap anymore” to push through.
I did it anyway… TWICE before they reduced the Valor needed, but it was still brutal, because it let me feel like if I did not Valor cap by God every week, I was not performing up to expectations. No, there were no real managers supervising my performance. But it left that feeling of work going undone if I didn’t Valor cap. Did some people let that wall o’ Valor stop them? I imagine some might have looked at it and said, “nope, nope, nope.” At least until the amounts were reduced.
I think if, in the next expansion, they continue along the same concept, a massive questline progressing a story in the same style, with the same kind of rewards at each stage, it will be a winner. I really feel this is part of a winning idea. I have yet to see ANYONE bitch about the existence of the questline or the way it draws you into playing every week (or almost every week) to stay up to date. After all, it is entirely optional, and open to anyone, all that is required is you put forth the effort and enough time to run your LFRs and some dailies once in a while.
You’ll notice I haven’t talked about the star of the show, the prize at the end of the rainbow. The Legendary whatsis that is ostensibly the point.
That’s because whatever the final reward is really doesn’t matter, and if it’s kept a secret so much the better.
At each stage of completion, we’ve gotten something pretty cool. Something that was a big enough upgrade to make exchanging it for a drop from the next content patch a big decision, but not so big that it was still overpowered two content patches later.
Now the new Cloak is a big enough iLevel that it is clearly a worthy goal that will last long into Siege of Orgrimmar and even beyond. The rewards we are getting are useful, different, powerful enough to feel like sizable boosts without being too ridonkulous, dahling.
In short, I think the way they’ve planned rewards for the questline is great. And it’s clear why there haven’t been items other than gear improvements, too. Some people might not be interested in pets, or mounts, or titles or transmog gear, but everyone can benefit from powerful gear upgrades.
They could, in the future, implement other versions of this Legendary questline targeted at pet collectors. We’re getting the Celestial Tournament in the next patch, and it’s always possible we will see a Legendary Pet questline develop that would keep us fighting new and different challenges, collecting special training food drops, achieving special training goals, and while the final reward could be a Legendary Pet some of the intermediate stage rewards could be learning how to teach your pet to “fetch”, “roll over” or even “play dead”. You know?
I know there has been a lot of argument about the death of WoW, and the loss of subscribers, and such in the community. What I’m trying to say is, when comparing how Mists of Pandaria has played out with Cataclysm, I truly prefer Mists. I love how things have progressed in this first rough run, and it is clear Blizzard is learning a lot as they go.
The Legendary Questline is only one thing they added in this expansion to help retain players. Don’t forget the entire system of Pet Battles that was added as well. If they take the lessons they’ve learned running this in live and improve on it going forward, I have nothing but hope for the future of WoW.
I know that’s not a very popular position to hold, but this is one Bear that’s happy with the way the game is playing out, even IF it will take me six more damn weeks until I get that spiffy cloak, too!