Tuesday, August 7, 2012

How Ease is Killing Warcraft

While you can't blame the subscriber losses this expansion on one thing and one thing only there are a few things that stand out as glaring mistakes on the part of Blizzard that have caused some of the losses.  It has been said before by many, myself included, that warcraft is not going to die that easily and no game is going to come in and take it out.  The only thing that can kill warcraft is warcraft.

And it sure seems like they are attempting to do that.

Again, it is not one thing, but there is one thing that stands out to me looking back on things.  The ease of game play is hurting warcraft more than anyone could have ever imagined.  You would think that making a game more accessible would make it grow but it seems to be doing the exact opposite.  The more they open the game to everyone, the easier they make the little things, the more subscribers they lose.

There is a reason for that and anyone that knows RPG games will know that reason without me even mentioning it.

The grind.  Games like warcraft grew because of human addiction.  People would start playing and it would take forever to do anything.  It would create a sense of, just five more minutes.  That 5 minutes turned into 5 hours, 5 days, or 5 months.  There was no such thing as let me do this quick.

That is the key to the success of this type of game.  You need to make it take as long as possible while not too long.  It is a balance, like everything, to make the reward worth the time and make the time as long as possible.  It keeps people playing.

That is why warcraft grew like it did in vanilla.  No, not looking back with rose tinted glasses.  I did not play in vanilla.  I just know a little bit about human nature and addiction and as much as people like to say they hated the grind and they are glad it is gone, they would have done it if it were there.

It is that approach that made people play more.  It is that approach that made people feel like they needed to log in every day.  It is that approach that made people prideful in the pixels they had online because they felt like they earned it.  It is that approach that made people think there was something worth aiming for.  Even to a new player seeing someone in all those nice shiny pixels knew that if they put in the time and effort they too could have them.  Nothing was elitist, it was all time based and with time and effort you too could be decked out in all epics.  It is that approach that made warcraft grow.  The approach that everything took time and everything could be earned by everyone with enough effort if they were willing to invest it.

The grind has many beneficial factors for a game like this and for its success it needs to have some sort of time sink that the player wants to do.  If there is no time sink, the game starts to lose the interest of the players.  As we have seen this expansion.

The grind keep people doing something to get to a goal they deem beneficial.  If the grind takes time they spend time playing to do it.  If they are spending time playing to do it there is less time they have to try other games.  If they can not try other games, they can not leave to move on to them.

The grind makes people feel like they accomplished something.  The longer the grind the more time they invested to get it done the more they feel prideful in what they have done.  The more time they invest the less likely they will be to just up and quit because they have invested so much time in the game and achieved so much that was hard and time consuming to do.

The grind is an artificial way of creating content.  If people are forever grinding to get something they are less in need of getting new content.  Once people have done everything they need to do they start looking for more content.  Hence the reason most people are dreading right now in the game.

The beauty of a grind system is that you can always go back for it.  If new content comes out and you did not finish a previous grind you can always go back to it.  So saying that the majority of the player base will be left behind if the grind is too intensive is wrong.  They will just skip that grind and move to the new grind for the new content.  Then, if they have time one day, there is that old grind that is still there for them to do, as extra content.

With cataclysm everything became near instant.

The reputations were put on a tabard and as people enter the random system and spam dungeon they become exalted doing something you were going to do anyway as soon as you hit 85, grind dungeons for gear.  So it took no time and no effort.

Leveling became too quick, so much so that I would guess a nice portion of the players they lost were alt-a-holics.  Those people like to level.  If leveling is too quick people run out of things to do fast.  I know some people that have been playing since vanilla and never had more than 2 max level characters, ever.  Now they have all 10 slots on a server filled.  Even myself, I never had more than five and I am pushing 20 now.  Thanks to fast leveling.

While I do agree with the blizzard mantra that all people should be allowed to raid I do not believe in the way they added it as it takes away from content.  Yes, everyone could raid.  But not everyone is ready to raid instantly.  It is the grinding to become a raider that keeps the non raiders that would like to raid interested.

When people needed to grind gear, even with valor or emblems, and needed to get better, just so they could get into a raid group and see the content it gave them something to do.  Now, you get into raid finder, do not need any skill and you get to see all the content.

This effectively removed a fair deal of content for players.  Those same players that would do a little here and there slowly gearing up and then hoping for a group that could down content in a pug they could spend weeks, months or even a year before seeing the content they wanted.  Now, they just enter the LFR and it is done, removing another very important grind.

Grinds are good because they take time and the more time you make people invest in your game the more connected they become with it and the longer they play it.  When you give them everything they want quickly they do what they want and they move along.

And that is why warcraft is bleeding subscriptions.

For the average game player, not myself because I am a geek, but for the average game player there is nothing to offer any more.  The ease of the game to get everything you want faster and easier means that people run out of things to do faster and easier and they leave the game, presumably to find something else to do.  And that will be the eventual death of warcraft.  Them pushing people away by letting them finish thing too quickly.

The idea of ease, and letting people do all the things they want to do with less time and less effort means people are done doing what they want to do faster and they leave the game.

If warcraft ever wants to get back to the numbers the used to have they are going to need to make the game more of a grind.  As much as people say they hated that, that is what kept them playing.  Hate it or not, grinding is good design that keeps people invested in the game.


  1. This is very well written but I think you're wrong. The friends I have that left left because they were bored of the grind, and they didn't want to do it all over again, even if it was easier.

    I'm bored with the game too but I'm anxiously awaiting MoP for a bunch of new stuff to do. Aspects of the game that became easier made it easier for me to enjoy the game because, let's face it, I'm mediocre at best. LFR allowed me to see content I'd never see - until just the other day when my 394 ilvl got me into a new guild that wanted to farm DS and was good enough to pull me through despite my dying four times. Without LFR I'd have been gone for months until MoP.

    1. I hear it over and over again that people hate the grind but looking at the numbers it doesn't back it up.

      Vanilla, the game started and grew. - Huge grind, insane even.

      Burning Crusade, the game grew amazingly well. - They got the grind right, it was there, but not as insane as vanilla.

      Wrath, the game still grew but not as much. - Most of the major grinds were removed but there was still some and a lot of other things to do to fill in the loss of some of the grind.

      Cataclysm, the game lost people left and right whenever you turned around. - There was no grind left, things got finished to fast and people got bored because there was no other content to do to keep them interested.

      So while you hate grind, most hate grind, for as much as people say they hate it, they still do it and that keeps them playing.

      I might very well be wrong, wouldn't be the first time and won't be the last, but I do believe that if some sort of grind, a serious one, is put back in the game, it will not be able to hold players any more.

      I am not talking making it like vanilla again where you needed to grind resist gear and needed to grind one raid to get in the next. But bring back the side grinds of vanilla. Like the timbermaw rep. It would take weeks or even months to grind that rep to exalted. Now you get past revered just leveling thought that area. It is bad for the game, very bad, they need those grinds because those grinds give people something to do during the down time of doing other things.

      At least that is how I see it. The less grindy the game becomes the more people it loses.

      Oddly enough, that seem contrary to what would seem normal. Normal is the easier things are the more people do it. The difference is, this is an RPG and RPG players are not the same type of people that play sonic the hedgehog. Sonic people want easy, RPG people want something to do.

  2. I do and I don't agree with you. Maybe I'm just disillusioned with people generally but I think that the playerbase might have changed. I didn't play in vanilla either but I can't see the entitled, whiners of today working on those grinds.

    I personally don't think there's anything wrong with grinds, but then I do have 57 exalted reputations. I love achievements and I like busily working on things when I have time to play, but there aren't others around to do a group activity.

    I think blizz are damned if they do and damned if they don't right now. If they'd never removed the grinds then people would accept them as the norm. They'd complain because people always complain about everything, but it is what it is. If they tried to put them back in now they'd lose subscribers from that as people wouldn't accept it anymore. Some would, like me, like you. To be honest it could almost be a good thing as it'd get rid of the type of people I can't stand. It would be a subscriber loss though and the people who they lost to the game changing are unlikely to return.

    I don't know. I feel robbed in some cases where they've removed the grind. As soon as I learnt it existed I started working towards the Insane title. I didn't finish it before they nerfed it, I would have completed it eventually but the way DMF rep was it took a long time. It took a friend of mine six years. As it is I completed it a couple of months after the DMF was released. I really don't know why they did that. It's a feat of strength, something you work on as a grind, to have something to do. It's a choice, not like on the progression ladder with raids where they want people to be able to push on up.

    I think the game has to evolve in order to survive. People in the real world are wanting more and more for less effort. Those people are growing up, are playing this game, and the game is reflecting reality. It's not right but it's the way it is.

    Warcraft still has 9 million subs. Even if it bleeds at the same rate (a million a year) it'll be another eight years before it reaches what was swtor's peak. Then perhaps it'll change, they'll merge servers, rather than expansions we'll have patches to pay for, they'll increase the f2p element and add on more paid services. We've got a long way to go before anything like that happens. Subs loss or not it's still much more successful than any other mmo out there.

    1. I'm right there with you. I have 56 reps exalted myself. And damn, that DFM was annoying working up. In a way I was so pissed they made it so easy and it took me years of doing it a little here and a little there and I still was not exalted when the new DMF came about. It devalues the achievement and the game as a whole doing things like that in my opinion.

      I think I will say to you the same thing I said in the last response sort of.

      Blizzard is making the mistake thinking the game is something it is not. It is an RPG and RPG players are not the me, me, me, now, now, now crowd. RPG players need the grind, that is why they are RPG players.

      Unless they are completely trying to change the face of the game, which is possible and that is what I believe is happening, they need to get away from the xbox generation of coding for instant gratification. It is why they are hurting so badly.

      The choice needs to be made. Be WoW, the RPG, or be WoW, the xbox game.

      If it turns further into the xbox game I am outta here. If I wanted to play games like that I would play xbox. I don't, that is why I play WoW.

  3. I had another thought. I just wrote a post about the suggestion someone made on the forums for a heroic realm. Where the conveniences of LFR/LFG, ease of rep grinding, boss nerfs etc. wouldn't happen. Anyway, I was writing down a few things that I'm not happy about like ease of getting reputation, the world shrinking due to flying everywhere instantly etc. I also do agree with you that there needs to be some sort of grind added.

    However, in Mists you can't slap on a tabard and grind to exalted as you get tabards at exalted (like in TBC), they're just vanity items. You can't fly until max level and there's the new addition to the loot system called Elder tokens.

    Perhaps this is them trying to add some grind back. Stop raiders from logging on to raid and that's it. You have to grind these Elder tokens out doing dailies, scenarios, dungeons etc. before the raid. It gives you an extra go at the loot table. You get a chance for getting some gear but more likely to get some gold or a potion or something. That's something anyway.

    I think that blizz acknowledge that they made mistakes with Cata, though not in so many words, but you can kinda see with the changes they're making in Mists. So maybe there's hope. We can't get back the value of an achievement like 'the insane' but maybe they're trying to add something back in.

    1. It does seem like they are attempting to add some of the grind back in MoP which is one of the things I like about it looking at it from the outside in. I hope it works as well in practice as it seems it could.

      I am not sure a heroic realm would work. It comes down to options again. Like the 30% buff in DS now. You could turn it off if you want to but you don't. I know I don't. I could do it without it, but if it is there I wouldn't. It makes no sense to turn it off. So same would go for a heroic realm. If you have an option for doing it with the nerfs or without, the majority of players, myself included, will use the nerf. It would be better to just not have the nerf. Or create a scaling nerf that kicks in after wipes. Which would be an interesting idea.

      They did admit they made mistakes in cataclysm. The admitted the questing was a bad idea, they admitted they wasted too much time redesigning the old world, they admitted a lot. Admitting is fine and dandy, now is the time they do something about it.

  4. Vanilla WoW was actually a not very grindy game compared to what was out there. I came to WoW with my guild from playing Chinese and Korean MMOs they have a lot of grinding. All of us thought how WoW was so much less of a grind was great.

    I loved playing in Vanilla , but there were still frustrations, it was annoying to grind for gold to get your first mount then your epic mount (I actually would kill stuff for grey drops to vendor)something like a tiny crimson whelpling sold for 100 gold. I don't think I would enjoy going back to weeks of fishing up stoneskin eels (no pools) and gathering herbs to buy a mount. Morrowgrain for exalted was not fun,(ok it sorta was with random herbs thrown in.) and I'm someone who likes to grind I will farm stuff for hours. Still WoW was less of a grind then crafting for three months to make top armour. People did the grinding because there was nothing else and it was still less then other games.

    I think a lot of people are just bored with WoW the game that is all, if you do something for long enough the novelty wears off.Almost everyone I know is tired of WoW. and like when someone tires of something they get angry to lose what they enjoyed so they complain about how terrible it became, but in fact many just grew out of it.

    I still like the game myself, it's the only game with graphics that I can stand and the world is comfortable. I can entertain myself with whatever weird grind I make up for myself,or ones in game already that I haven't done, but I know not everyone is like me.I still don't have a max level character, but maybe soon.

    1. You make mention of graphics and I agree so wholeheartedly. If rift had the graphics warcraft does, that time of the zuls when I moved to rift for a few weeks to take a break from WoW I might have stayed gone forever. I just hated rifts graphics with a passion but I actually really like the game itself.

      The getting tired with the game itself is always true as well. People that have been playing a long time will get bored, it happens. But I think it is more than that. It is the game losing more of those people getting bored than the number of new people it is bringing in. That is why there is a loss and why the grind is needed. The new people they bring in play it like an xbox game. The start, play for 2 or 3 weeks, finish the game, move to another game. That is not a way to build a customer base, more so for a subscription based game.

  5. Grind is content - and also a way to give you a the felling of success. How good did I feel the first time after I raised my rep to friendly(!) with Timbermaw Hoold, to get the Alchemy recipy. I felt I'd achieved something. Much later, on a different char, I got it to exalted and was so happy doing the final quest.

    Grind on one character IS content. The problem I see is if you need to grind AGAIN on a different character (but they solved that problem anyway).

    So I'm with that the ease of the game nowadays is part of the problem. Oogaboogaa - I'm not against LFR, I'm just against the ease of it from the very beginning.

    They should have introduced LFR in Fireland. And then over time opened up more and more DS. With a bit more chance to fail.

    That way it happened you are robbing people of the experience of success. There is a difference DRIVING a car over a speed course, or sitting in a car driving over the speed course. Even if you'd drive slower, the experience will be far the better.

    The feeling of downing Vashj for the first time after multiple wipes was glorious - watching something happening in LFR is like watching a B-movie instead.

    Rauxis, chosen of CAT

    1. I think that is why they are sharing things. I agree. I did that timbermaw grind when it took longer, did not do it a 60 because I was not there then but I could image how much longer it was at that point. If did feel good when I did something, on my main, like you said. I did not do it on any other character. Never even considered it.

      Grind is good for content, it is not good for replayability.

      LFR is sad for that reason. It makes non-raiders and wanna be raiders think "this is what raiding is?" and just lose interest instantly. I've seen it happen to people, heard people say that. Even had people not want to raid normal because "I've already done it, why would I want to do it on a harder mode" and I can understand that. To new players, normal will seem like a harder mode, so it will not be worth doing. Just like for me heroic is just a harder mode and I do not do it. Honestly, who the hell want to do the same thing, only harder? It is stupid design and the looking for raid will keep new raiders from becoming raiders because they will see that and think "is this what raiding is about?" and never raid.

  6. From a simple medical pov, moving away from grind and offering quick rewards in great number creates addiction faster. Since getting rewards generates dopamine, feeding the brain. And the more you get the more you'll need eventually.

    However, there's us completists out there. Sure, hate the grind, I do it slowly, I can't grind something more than 7 minutes on average at a time. But I'll eventually get that Ogri'la rep and so on. 8 more rounds of quests which I assume I'll be done with in a couple of months since I can't seem to make myself want to do those 4 quests. Grind keeps players on since it gives them something to do, surely. Since we lack content atm here's something to do, basically, finish off achievements and all that. As boring as it is, as annoying as it is, it's still some goal to reach and it's (sometimes) less boring than doing nothing (i.e. run in circles around Org / Dalaran).

    However I think the drop in subscriptions is more due to overall lack of content, really. Most people were 'lost' in Q2, 1.1 mil, was it? Or something similar. Not everyone enjoys grind and some people would rather take a break than artificially prolongue gameplay, I suppose.

    What I've always thought keeps people playing this game is multiplayer activities, the social aspect of a group, a raid, a guild associated with Mumble / TS / Vent / Skype etc

    1. I think you are missing one thing with the doctor analogy. If you give everything easily it losses its addiction creating ability.

      Just like people that start working at a candy shop. The owner says you can eat everything you want and the new workers stuff their faces and once they do that for a few days it losses its interest and they don't eat it any more.

      They do not feel the dopamine rush because there is no reward to getting it because they can get it all the time.

      Yes, giving things at the start really fast to hook someone and then making it really hard to get it later is the hook of addiction and how addiction works and is how these games are built. Giving it easy all the time makes the people lose interest.

      The social aspects of the game is what would make me quit, if wow doesn't push me away itself. The people in this game have to be the worst community I have ever encountered and I have played dozens of games like this. No community has ever turned me off as much as the warcraft community. I think that is because this is the only community I have ever been part of that has absolutely no moderation. Hence the reason it is so horrible.

      Outside of my guild I have absolutely zero interest in talking to anyone in game. I am not in the game to be social, if I wanted to be social I would go on facebook. I am in the game to play the game.

      The social aspect however does keep people around. Like I stayed around just because I felt my guild needed me. If not for that, I would have been gone.

      With that said, I would gladly play a solo player WoW and never speak to another person in game. If I want to be social there are other places for that, I log into wow to play a game, not to chat.

    2. The community... it's a strange thing. When I look back at this game I realize it's changed me, most of the time I think to the worst, it made me be bitchy and mean and far less nicer than I used to be. But as an mmo it played on my protector guardian personality. I like tanking because I like sort of protecting these pixels that are my friends' characters. And I've met so many interesting people, I've bonded with them, helped them out, extended my RL friend circle to them, it's amazing. Some people I've met are disabled or have had bad life changing experiences and it feels good that they're able to open up and see things with new eyes and try different things. I don't know, hard to explain...
      I've played the game solo a bit at the start, got bored fast, after having the experience of RPGs like Baldur's gate, Planescape Torment, the Final Fantasy series, Septerra Core, Knights of the Old Republic and so on, WoW felt bland and quite bad in comparison; then did an instance in a group. Gnomeregan, it took 3 hours. I still remember, yes, because I felt that was it, that was how this game should be played. With people around to interact with them. And not the social-less environment that is LFD, where everyone wants to get out as quickly as possible and get involved as little as possible. It's odd nowadays that people speak in a random but I like it when they do and not because of the chat but because it feels like there are actual people behind them pixels. I meant social in the purest aspect of realizing you're doing activities with other people. And when extending it to voice, it gets even better. At least for me. I... gladly never speak to another person in game? But... what could I say to this? Wouldn't you miss your guild? Wouldn't you miss your raids? And your raid leading? Would you really stick around for more than it requires to see the content once if this was a solo game? Would you actually be compelled to have like 8 thousand quests under your profile statistics if this was a solo game? but so many better solo games out there, with full speech and epic stories, with elaborate systems and everything. Not that I wish to speak for you, but I don't think this game would satisfy you as a solo game tbh, I may be wrong though.

    3. I am sure I would play differently without the social interaction of my guild. But it is not required. I would still have 8000+ quests done. I would still have every achievement I could get solo. I would still play as often as there was something for me to do solo.

      When there was nothing left for me to do I would leave. So you are right, it is the interaction that keeps me playing, but that interaction, even when I do enjoy it, is not necessary in my opinion.

      I play games to get away from people. Not talk to them.