Friday, June 5, 2009

WoW Insider was bored to tears in March; one temp fix

Okay, I know, I'm kinda beating the horse to death, but looking for guides on Naxxramas before hitting the dungeon, I found a bunch of choice burn-out quotes on WoW Insider's Ready Check from this past March:

We go through the motions of complaining about the looks of the new armor, watching live streams of new bosses and chattering endlessly when any tidbit introduces novelty into the dull sameness of WoW endgame. Yet a few weeks into the PTR schedule, with Ulduar right around the corner, some players are sizing the content up and thinking "is this it?".

Those players are going to leave, sooner or later. There's something keeping them playing, from social ties to the responsibilities of leadership to deep-seated psychological problems driving them away from their real lives. Yet there's a tipping point, and chances are if you're at the stage where nothing in the game seems exciting any more - not even the shiny new stuff - then that point will be reached sooner rather than later. Do you really want to spend the rest of your weekends from noon til night fishing ingame, just so you have enough food banked for Ulduar?

That's a long quote, and I don't feel bad at using it, as there's quite a bit more. I think the quote about fishing is particularly timely. Yes, Jennie, apparently Blizzard does want you to spend the rest of your weekends fishing. Might as well make fishing an iPhone game, huh? The comments over on Restokin where people are suddenly very happy to have something to do while spamming the Trade channel makes me wonder just how much time folks are spending on this game when they're not coming close to "playing" in the traditional, twitch video gaming sense. The answer is, um, lots.

Ms. Lees seems to hit the nail on the head (or at least confirm my increasing suspicions) when she says...

Yet there's this increasing sense that Blizzard's losing us. New content isn't up to expectations, people aren't frothing-at-the-mouth excited about every drop of PTR news, players are leaving right, left and centre and the mood is turning a little sour.

So far, there hasn't been much answer from Blizzard. There are certainly good answers, however. I'd like to see some sort of random item generation that also forces players to find matching pieces held by someone else. It could be very simply -- if you have piece A1, you get a green triangle over your head. Folks with A2 have green squares. A3 green circles. Whatever. But replace A1,2,3 with some interesting names. Put some lore behind the pieces, even mention character names in other characters' quest screens. Perhaps pyramid the pieces somehow, making each level a bit more exclusive. And while you're at it, pyramid scheme the pieces. Make it so that everyone who runs a lowbie quest meets somebody who has finished the end game so that they get their pieces upgraded or whatever, and make it worth the more hardcore player's time. Drive player interaction. Make certain players part of the lore. This will, not surprisingly, make people give a rat's arse about the backstory. Right now, even a Choose Your Own Adventure book does a better job of making its readers/players feel central to the plot.

I'd also make some NPC's puppets, played by Blizzard employees. A little role playing would go a long way to make Jaina Proudmoore seem like more than a Chuck E. Cheese automaton. Seems like it's pretty obvious that these sorts of human controlled, necessarily unrepeatable cameo appearances of the sorts of characters we often see only on rails in the Caverns of Time or the extended "cut scene" in Stormforge when Katrana Prestor became a dragon, when changed into direct interactions with players make for the most memorable pieces of game lore (even better version of Lord British's death here -- and a good list of the top 5 most memorable events in MMORPG history, with each one arguably being something that players created, most obviously so. Read it. You'll get the point; good gaming means engaging with the developers (the gods?), and one of the most obvious ways to do that is through exploits).

There's an infinite amount of life left in WoW, I think, but it's going to take a new approach to game development, and a real out of the box thinking for the next expansion. I think we all realize WotLK is essentially just TBC all over again -- it's just more. More. WoW needs to give players that sense of overwhelming wonder that it did when we started years ago, and that's coming much less often.

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