Thursday, June 23, 2011

How I learned to quit WoW (and start caring about SW:TOR)

When Bioware first announced that the third installment of their Knights of the Old Republic (KOTOR) franchise would be an MMO, I was excited. Then I went back to farming one vanity item or another in World of Warcraft (WoW). At the time I was enthralled with WoW, and although the prospect of doing all those WoW things - but with a lightsaber! - was intriguing, I couldn't see myself abandoning my friends and family (or at least, those of whom played on my WoW server). Then Cataclysm happened.

In the last year, my wife, most of my friends, and both of my brothers have cancelled their WoW accounts. Their specific reasons for quitting are varied, and while outside influences have had some affect, the underlying cause of their cancelled accounts has been WoW's failure to keep them engaged. My best friend quit because he wanted to be challenged by hard content, but could not devote the 12+ hours a week to the raiding scene and its endless iterative wipes. My middle brother quit because he could no longer find himself immersed in the game (teleporting from point to point and fighting raid monsters with no quest engagement to buttress his motivation). My youngest brother got sick of the tedious minutiae of choreographed raid encounters (sometimes he just wanted to be able to smash something really hard and not have to worry about all the other things going on). My wife got tired of the seemingly binary difficulty scaling; fights were either too easy, and thus boring, or way too hard.

I don't entirely blame Blizzard for losing the devotion of my friends and family. Blizzard must have realized that they had saturated the market for MMO players, and so they developed the Cataclysm expansion as a way to open up the market and get new players; most of their resources seemed devoted to cleaning up the early game. However, they made two major errors in the development of Cataclysm. Firstly, they did a terrible job timing and marketing the expansion. They needed a wedge to break into the mainstream and needed to time this expansion with something, anything, to bring their product to a new audience. The long-awaited WoW movie would have been perfect, but a massive toy and merchandising campaign or a kid's cartoon show would have worked. Instead they published some second-rate novels, and a bunch of manga. This error should be self-evident, but if it isn't let me clarify by pointing out that everyone I know that reads franchise novels or manga is already playing WoW. This does nothing to open up the product to new markets, and doesn't even help keep the majority of consumers hooked, which leads to their second big mistake: They ignored and alienated a large chunk of their consumer base.

By the end of the Wrath of the Lich King expansion, WoW was a mature game. Every player I knew in the game had multiple max-level characters that he or she was at least somewhat attached to. So when Cataclysm came out with five new max-level zones that were almost completely linear it was guaranteed to both damage a player's immersion and become boring. Cataclysm was sold as an expansion of choices. The talent trees were being redone to do away with cookie-cutter specs, pve roles were being expanded to allow a group to 'bring the player, not the class,' and raids were being offered (and theoretically balanced) for both groups of 10, and groups of 25. Choice is good! But when you're saving the great pillar of happy rocks from the evil nihilists for the 4th time, and being lauded as the one great savior of the whole wide world (of Warcraft!) for the 4th (or 40th, if you've ever done any other questing) time, it rings a bit hollow. So Blizzard managed to whiff at the whole expanding the market thing, while at the same time devoting nowhere near the resources necessary to keep their current customers happy, and as a result everyone I know quit the game, and nobody that I know started playing.

So where does this leave SW:TOR, and why am I suddenly passionate about a game that isn't out yet and hasn't released much information? Well, this post is TL;DR, so I'll have to write another one...

1 comment:

  1. TL;DR...

    Just kidding. I'm your middle bro, and I'm totally stoked that I got a shout out!