During this weeks downtime, good old Gnomeaggedon had a wonderful post, where he praised Blizzard’s communication skills. You know what the contraction for “good old” is, right? Go’ld!
He frequently has wonderful posts, he is pure go’ld, I’m just mentioning that one because it’s relevant to what I’m going to be talking about.
Oh, and Gnomer, you been threatening me with a rant against one of my PvP related posts for months now. Wassup? Bring it, shorty!
So yeah, Gnomer was very impressed with Blizzard’s communication skills during the recent downtime.
Since he was nice and considerate, that must mean I gotta be contrary and cranky, right?
Sure, Blizzard had some great communication. Well played.
But how about that communication the week before?
You know, the Twitter Developer Chat communication?
Yeah, THAT communication.
I’m very happy whenever Blizzard passes on information to us concerning their plans, and the intent behind them. Most companies restrict themselves to lawyer-approved press releases that are so sanitized you can’t see controversy in them unless you really twist your inner lens ALL out of focus.
Blizzard doesn’t do that. They talk to us. The developers as well as the community moderators. So please, keep in mind that when I do bitch, it’s with a healthy appreciation that at least we have some idea of what they’ve got going on.
I’d rather be told something I don’t like, and have it be the truth, than to be told nothing at all.
Moving on to the Twitter Developer Chat, the subject of class specific quests was brought up. Will Cataclysm have them?
The bare bones answer is, yes. There will be class quests at 20, and another at 50. Or something like that. This is good news, correct? There will be something for each class.
However, the value-added answer was that there will not be, and by implication never be, extensive class-specific quests because it is too expensive for the developers to program into the game.
Why is it considered too expensive? Let’s think about it for a moment.
The amount of time spent on quests for that one class could be better spent on quests that all classes could complete. The decision has to be made, create content all classes will see, or content only one class will see, using a certain finite amount of resources.
Or, to try and clarify Blizzard’s position for us, plucking numbers from thin air, if a programmer costs $30 an hour, it takes 1 hour to design a quest and implement the programming, and 100 hours of programming time ($3000) is budgeted for new quest content, then which is a more valuable use of that $3000? 100 quests for everyone, or 10 quests for each class?
That’s the position Blizzard holds. That it is too expensive in terms of allocated resources to program content exclusively for one class that nobody else will see.
In terms of project management and budget resource allocation, it’s very convincing logic. Especially when budgeting the resources required to completely revamp the existing Azerothian world experience.
In terms of the game design of an MMO, however, especially for an MMO with an extremely aging demographic, I don’t think it’s solid foreward planning.
In fact, I think it’s damn shortsighted.
My biggest objection to that logic? The concept, at this stage in the game, that content designed for only one character class will only be seen by a small segment of the players.
Are there still any players of over two years experience in this game that have created one character, and stuck to it, never experiencing anything else?
No. Most players play one main character, and then they start a new one for a new experience in the same game.
Having made that point, let’s back up a little.
As a developer, you have a decision to make.
Allocate resources to either attract new customers, or allocate them to retain existing customers.
I think Cataclysm is a brilliant plan for accomplishing both.
Existing customers get brand new leveling experiences within a familiar setting. I personally think that there is a lot of evidence that people LOVE being surrounded by familiar settings with a fresh new little tweak.
Anyone else love long series of books, TV shows or movies, where the scenery may change, and the plot may be different, but the major characters and genre stay the same?
No, I didn’t think so. Oh no, once an episode or book comes out, there’s never a demand for a sequal.
For existing customers, Cataclysm lets us continue to play in a world with familiar rules, settings, and structure… but the rules are just a little different now, and the places are a little changed now, and the quests are a little different now, and even the locations where Herbs and Ore spawn will be a little different now. And you can fly!
Small adjustments, but overall a comfortable feeling of being at home. It’s just like having a new couch and loveseat, and a 44″ HDTV added to the experience.
For brand new customers, the advertising will entice them by saying, “You never tried WoW before, because you were worried that everyone else already knew everything, and you’d be the noob. But now’s your chance to get in at the beginning, and learn the World of Warcraft alongside everyone else. The rules are new, the world is fresh, and there are brand new races and starting areas to try. There has never been a better opportunity to explore World of Warcraft all over again… for the very first time.”
Okay, so Cataclysm brings something for both existing and new customers.
For the existing customers, though… we’ve all been here before. I for one feel like I can predict the future based on past experiences.
Right now I have every character slot filled. I have had for months.
If I want to experience the new leveling world, there are three possibilities for me;
- I delete existing characters I love.
- I start up fresh on a new server.
- Blizzard lets us have more character slots per server.
What if all my friends are on my server? Then if Blizzard doesn’t open up more character slots, somebody has to get the axe.
If the game was only a year old, or even two years old, that wouldn’t be such an unreasonable expectation. Right?
But as a long term customer of over four years, I don’t think I’m unusual in having almost every slot filled with a character I like, and in which I have invested my time to develop, train and bond with. .
Does that sound super geeky? Bonding with a character in a video game? Of course it does. Anyone that doesn’t share certain geeky video game role playing characteristics with me is even now firing up the comment page to scream “It’s just a video game, get a grip!”
That’s fine, you don’t get it, and perhaps that means you represent the sane point of view.
I can only say that when I look at my level 73 Shadow Priest with maxed Jewelcrafting and Tailoring, I know that I may not feel like playing the character because I don’t currently enjoy her playstyle, but I have too many memories tied up in playing that character with friends. Great times with Legatum Ignavis in Karazhan, uber time spent PvPing in Alterac Valley with my wife to get the awesome PvP epic gavel (which she still carries), even time spent training Jewelcrafting that I just don’t want to lose by deleting her, even though I don’t intend playing her any time soon.
To paraphrase Roy Batty, “All those moments would be lost in time… like tears in the rain.”
Cut down to it, if I want to hang with all my friends, and they don’t feel like server changing, then I have to kill a long time friend. Digital or not, it’s not cool. I’d much prefer to allow the character to remain, perhaps not logged in by me, but I can imagine at the loading screen that my Priest is out there in Azeroth, somewhere, sipping ale at the Pink Pigtail Inn and sharing stories of Mind Flaying some poor Rogue in Alterac Valley back in the day. Just waiting in pleasant retirement until the day her old friend wants to melt faces once again.
So, technically, limited replay value in the leveling experience, yes? Us oldtimers don’t have tons of empty slots to fill up.
But that’s okay, let’s move past that and assume that most people will eventually fire up a character on another server to experience the changed world. Or delete people. OR, perhaps they’ll take their max level characters and go questing the old world from scratch. Hopefully, all quests will be reset so you can do it all over again from the beginning.
So you do that on one character. Leveling or questing content from 1 to 60.
And then you do it a second time.
What have we learned from 5 years of playing?
Doing the same quests on different characters year after year gets damn old.
We play multiple characters in the hopes of experiencing something new.
And you tell us that content for one class is too expensive because it wouldn’t be seen by enough people? REALLY?
Sure, if all you’re looking at is the next three months, you might be right. Are we really planning on the game only lasting three more months?
Inevitably you want to see the experience from the other faction. Why? Is it because they’ve got better classes? Not anymore. Is it because they’ve got races you like better than the ones you first picked? Probably not, what races you went with first are the ones you liked best. Except for folks that like the brand new races, and none of the others on that faction.
It’s to see new quests. To take part in new storylines. To experience something new and fresh.
Well, if there are no class specific quests or content, I mean real class content different from the rest, then what you have is playing a different class through the same old thing you’ve already seen five, ten, fifteen times.
If each class had it’s own rich content at some point, or a little thread that wound it’s way through all the levels that had some good story to it, that would to me add something special for the long term player. Something new that playing that class brought besides a new way to trigger a ranged or melee attack.
I’m not thinking of the next year. I’m not even thinking of the next two years. I’m thinking of where we are now, and how short sighted it feels to hear a developer say that class specific content is too expensive for the return on investment.
When World of Warcraft was originally being developed, going headfirst against Everquest II, they invested in their plan. They couldn’t know how it would turn out, so they brought their ‘A’ game and did the best they could to anticipate what would really attract and retain customers long term.
None of the magazines or news agencies at the time considered WoW to be the big thing that would dominate the world. Everquest II was regularly reported to be the stronger contender for next gen MMO, simply because of the experience and popularity of EQ1.
During that initial development, clearly somebody over at Blizzard thought about differentiating the class gameplay experience in ways other than just stats and playstyle.
Somebody clearly thought that investing resources into making each class leveling experience have something special, something new. Some reason to draw you into the 1 to 60 game all over again, and extend your subscription that bit longer.
They invested at that time in class specific content. Special quest chains to unlock class defining abilities. Rogue quest areas and Ravenholdt. Warrior chains for kick ass weapons. Level 50 class quests for items out of Sunken Temple.
It really does feel like one person had that vision, but spent more time with one class than another. Different classes have content implemented at different levels. In some cases, all the class chains consist of are “go here and do this” to get an item that would have been a decent upgrade. Others have big epic feeling chains that bring special mounts. Even the Hunter class had the raiding gear chain that brought the bow and quiver of awesomeness.
It doesn’t feel like the attention to the classes was balanced, but more like one person had a vision… and then in mid stream had their attention shifted, or their resources pulled, and nobody left shares that same vision going forward.
It’s too bad. I know that, having done it already, I don’t personally look forward to questing through everything for the third time and saying, “What now?”, knowing that the plan is for all classes to get the same basic experience.
When it comes to investing resources in improving the replay value of World of Warcraft, a game meant to be a subscription based long-term gaming experience… I just don’t agree with the idea that class specific content is “too expensive”.
Really, when it comes right down to it, I’d rather they had the opposite opinion; that investing in long term replayability at all levels of content be something they make a high priority.
I know that Blizzard has done a fantastic job on the Cataclysm content. I’ve seen the screenshots, I’ve read a few of the beta reports, and by all indications, one thing you cannot accuse Blizzard of is being cheap on developing new content or redesigning the game.
I guess what it boils down to is my objection to the game design philosophy lurking behind such statements. If you’re going to be a subscription based game, you’ve got to be keeping your eye on things that will improve replayability, and keep your customers in it for the long term.
Saying class specific content is “too expensive” feels, to me, to be back-asswards to that concept.