Monday, July 17, 2006

WoW's Popularity = Slow New Content

While trolling the forums for World of Warcraft I recently came across multiple references to the Burning Crusade expansion containing many fixes to current problems in the game. However, these references were not being used by hopeful fans but by community mangers. It seems as if the CMs have been instructed to reply to most questions with a "it's in the Burning Crusade" response. Even a recent forum's post about class balancing was answered with "it won't resume until the expansion". I am not making this stuff up folks and I am including the blue tracker link below.

It always make me nervous when a company tells its customers that current problems can only be solved after they have more of your money. Everquest got this down to an art by always including vital functionality in their expansions but little content. Legacy of Ykesha comes to mind where they introduced more bank slots but only to owners of the expansion. Unlike Everquest though I really believe WoW is introducing a lot of content into their new expansion however I wonder at the slowness of its creation.

Most developers from Blizzard will tell you they were blindsided by the success of World of Warcraft and this has caused content development to suffer. Yet scalability has to be one of the first factors MMO developers look into when designing a game. I understand there is a big difference between 500k subscribers and 6 million subscribers but game servers are isolated machines. Account management and customer service will require fine tuning to adjust so many servers connecting to them but I am not so sure the rash of problems we've seen have been directly related to the large number of players.

I think Blizzard has become a bit jaded with its number base. I mean with 6 million people playing and their numbers only going up its obvious that not many people have followed through with threats to quit the game. I wonder if this has changed the design priorities of Blizzard? If World of Warcraft only had around half a million subscribers would they be quicker to release more casual content to keep their customers from leaving? In truth Blizzard could suffer subscription loss equal to Lineage 1 & 2 and still have more users. These kind of number have to go to a company's head and I think that is what we are seeing with the "its in the Burning Crusade" responses.

For these reasons I am eagerly awaiting the release of Warhammer Online. Not because I wish to play it over World of Warcraft but because I think Blizzard needs competition. Without anything new and big out there to steal their customers I think the developers are taking it to mean that everything they are doing is correct. The raiding game has exploded massively and smaller 20 man raids are being punished by putting rewards behind faction sinks. However, since the subscription numbers only climbed after Zulgurub the developers think that they need more dungeons like it, thus was born AQ20.

Until there is competition and subscription numbers start to reflect bad and good decisions the only place Blizzard can get feedback from is the forums. God help us all.

CM Response to Class Balance and the Expansion


Saylah said...

Yep, I tend to agree with your line of reasoning. Success can decrease motivation - overwhelming, jaw-dropping success can kill motivation AND innovation. Blizzard better what out. They wouldn't be the first company to rest to heavily on its laurels. History is paved with companies that pioneered new technology and blazed new trails only to fall asleep at the wheel. Can we all say, Wang? WordStar? Bill Gates isn't the Anti-Christ. He was just up nights thinking and innovating while the "then leaders" were sleeping and counting their money.

Not to go too far off your post, but there are lots of statistics out showing that the 40-man raid content is played by a significantly smaller population of the player base, yet this is pretty much the mean-n-potatoes for the last patch and the long awaited expansion. Hmm.

Kinless said...

I'll add to what Saylah says.

The new 40-man raid environments will test the mettle of the "ordinary" 40-man raid group.

Getting 40 people together is already feat enough. The squabbles over loot and priorities and raid times even.

Getting them together for Molten Core was something yet again. That took dedication and commitment.

Keeping them together for BWL, was another feat altogether. BWL had a habit of killing guilds.

Keeping them going through AQ40 and Naxx...?

Yes, they keep making raid content for smaller and smaller groups of people. Their direction has been to cater to an ever smaller segment of the population.

When are they going to bring the bread out for the masses of fans watching the spectacle up in the stands? See, the fans could just stand up and move to another venue, like Warhammer, if the bread is too slow in coming. What would they lose? Their shot at epics? That was denied them long ago.

Blizzard has a habit of success though. This progression might well be in the plans already.

Relmstein said...

The thing that worries me is that Blizzard might get in the habbit of putting casual (solo&group) content into expansions that you have to pay for while raid content is patched in for free.