Going Home Again

Tobold is by no means the first person to point out that Warlords of Draenor’s free level 90 character is a “doubling-down” on vertical progression. I mean, I don’t see why anyone would claim that even vanilla WoW was anything other than vertical progression given how you couldn’t grind your way to max level via the Westfall boars, South Park-style, but whatever. The thing that profoundly bothers me in these sort of debates though, is this sort of nonsense:

So we are being told that when the expansion comes out, World of Warcraft will be all about levels 90 to 100. You will play nearly exclusively on the new continent, maybe sometimes visit the capital cities for some features, but will have no reason whatsoever to enter over 90% of the zones of World of Warcraft. If by some server glitch the old zones ceased to exist, most players wouldn’t even notice. I find that rather sad, so much wasted space and potential.

I literally cannot understand this line of reasoning. I understand what is attempting to be said here, but it seems so far removed from reality as to be unintelligible.

First of all, the post-Cataclysm world still exists. Even if we are going to assume that there will be a lot of brand new WoW players coming into the expansion – which we have no reason to believe there will be, at least in comparison to returning players – the fact remains that the world and all of its quests will still be there for that new player’s alts, at a minimum. Assuming, of course, that this hypothetical new person even enjoys questing in the first place. And if they do, there is nothing stopping them from questing from level 1 to 100 while saving the instant 90 for some other purpose. Meanwhile, the returning veterans who quit in the middle of an expansion they presumably didn’t like are being asked to… what? Spend a few dozen hours slogging through 2+ year old content to get to the stuff they were actually excited enough to resubscribe to see?

Secondly, how can the old content ever be considered “wasted?” All of those zones and quests have been utilized, extensively, by millions of players for years. How much more utilized does it need to be? And how? And why? Even in horizontal progression MMOs, where do you find people? Where the new things are. The odds of you finding someone running around the mid-level zones in Guild Wars 2 is approximately zero, unless there happens to be some kind of 2-week patch dragon dropping off a treasure chest every three hours. You’re not going to find an EVE veteran mining Veldspar even if Veldspar remains a critical component of crafting spaceships.

Content obsoletes itself. That is not a problem, that’s linear time working as intended. Novelty only ever decreases, at least in terms of crafted content. Hell, how long can you experience interest in even procedurally-generated content like in Minecraft? At a certain point, even the weirdest terrain formation is reduced to its constituent parts at a glance – it sure as hell isn’t as impressive as the first time you laid eyes on your future mountain fortress location.

Time marches on. Just because you don’t hang out at the playground or swing from monkey bars anymore does not mean they are now wasted content, even if no one else ever uses them again. They existed in a time and a place and served their purpose well. Is that not enough? Were you not entertained?

It always seems the greatest irony in MMOs are those players who wish for living, breathing virtual worlds that never change.

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Posted on November 12, 2013, in Philosophy, WoW and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 21 Comments.

  1. I agree. I occasionally hear people lamenting that e.g. the MoP farm will become unused as soon as WoD comes out. I supposed it’s true that it detracts from the “virtual world” aspect some, but at the same time do you really want to have to go back to Pandaria all the time to mess with your farm? Keeping everything focused on the newest expansion keeps the scope reasonable, both for Blizzard and for the players.

    • I’m not even sure how the farm being all the way on Pandaria is a knock against the virtual world aspect. If you want to commute across time and space to maintain your crops, you can. If people were expecting the farm crops to be updated, well, how does that even make sense within the fiction of the world? You can’t grow Sungrass on the farm already, so why would you be able to grow alternate universe Felweed or whatever?

  2. I’m not sure Azuriel if you really understand Tobold’s gripe with an insta lvl 90 character (or if you are just not expressing it properly). It is not so much about content obsoleting itself that he was worried about (otherwise the post would have tackled that issue). The real worry was the fact that he (like me) views MMOs as virtual worlds and those worlds (used to) operate under simple rules like ‘the more you put into something the more you get out of it’ or more important for this discussion ‘every character has to go through every step of the game/ world no matter what, no matter if it is your 10th alt’. This made MMOs operate like a real and breathing world, but by taking out a majority of that you have simply made the game (WoW in this case) into a glorified lobby (which it has been since X-realm LFD) instead of a world. After all if we wanted a lobby we would play every other multiplayer game on the market but if you want a world to share with people you are pretty much left with MMOs and when that genre takes away the principles that underlie the concept of a world it is a pretty sad day for me.

    The world is there to be explored that waqs what it was made for but if you incentives people not to do so through your gameplay and design choices it makes one wonder what the world does there in the first place. I for my part don’t want a glorified prop serving as a world.

    • When has WoW ever been any different? There has never been a reason to go back to Westfall past level 20. And by the time I was questing through that area back when I started, the zone was empty of all players, so it being a “glorified lobby” was already true. Someone playing through Westfall in vanilla vs me doing so in Burning Crusade are night and day experiences, without even getting into any XP gain/talent/quest/etc changes in the meantime.

      Living and breathing worlds change. That is incongruent with the idea of “every character has to go through every step of the game/ world no matter what, no matter if it is your 10th alt.” I get the whole resentment for someone being able to skip “paying their dues,” but it’s pretty nonsensical since it occurs by default. Be happy you experienced the world in a way no one else ever will be able to; you got your prize, your reward for your labor.

      • While WoW was never really the posterchild for the kind of game Lostforever and I would like to see it still had it’s moments of feeling like a world and not all of these solutions actually involved you going back to places.

        Anyway some examples of this:

        You had elite dragons in Wetlands and Feralas that were lore and not level dictated meaning that zone already felt like a part of the world and people would go (I know I did as far back as in BC) take a crack at them at higher level as they seemed out of plce and thus interesting.

        Duskwood and Moonglade had the Nightmare Dragon world bosses

        You had to go to BRD for some very specific Blacksmithing and Enchanting items

        Atunement quests taking you to places like BRD and Desolace again

        Legendary quests taking you across the world as well as class quests

        Having nooks and crannies in dungeons and zones that you had to go out of your way to see but no quest would tell you how to do, making and old zone seem fresh as you discover new things. Examples of this is the Heart of the Mountain quest in BRD where you have to track down the picture of the warden and find the warden for the key. A zone example would be the Tower of Azora or a graveyard in duskwood on the way to Deadwind Pass that is in a very scenic spot but has no gameplay function (yet people still have theories about it), same as the various dragons in several caves like the one off the coast of Silithus. Another Zone example is the old “Lands End” of the coast of Tanaris.

        And I do think that the world was a glorified lobby (as much as it is now anyway) because of small inconveniences such as travelling to dungeons and no automated LFD tool, group quests etc. Maybe I was lucky but back before Xrealm and everything I had no trouble fnding and seeing other players running around, but then again maybe Bronzebeard was a utopian server.

        So yeah there are some things WoW used to have that are not even mentioned by Lostforever as tools to get you to go back to zones.

    • Roguekish, I agree with you completely.

      It is correct that one of the many differences the original game had with later iterations was that Zones were less level-bound and more ‘actual places’ you could revisit for Quests (or mats) like the many Dungeon Quests, the aforementioned Dragons, Class Quests and what not.

      Though of course this was summarised by certain players as ‘too much travelling, not an easy levelling flow’, and sadly the ones who are focussed on the endgame have won out, despite the irony that for their playstyle, MMORPG’s aren’t even needed or the best option, games without levelling or ye olde Boss-Level games would be.

  3. “It always seems the greatest irony in MMOs are those players who wish for living, breathing virtual worlds that never change.”
    What do you mean here? Those who wish for living breathing world actually don’t want change to that world?

    I am one those people who wants living breathing world and I complain zones are being wasted in MMO. What do I mean by “wasted”? In most theme park MMOs you get “wasted” zones in that you go and play in the swing and thats it. You never go back. If there are no new players (including alts) then they remain empty and wasted. A “zone” doesn’t really go to “waste” in a true living world.

    Take your play ground example. In the real world, when I am kid I will play in the swing. When I am a teenager I will play say football in the field next to the swing. When I am very old, I will go for walks in that play ground and I see some other kid is playing in the swing and some other teenager is playing foot ball. If no one wants to play on the swing or football then some property developer will move in and demolish it and build flats! You will never see empty *wasted* playground ever (not close to where live anyway!). This is an example of living breathing world, nothing is really wasted.

    I think it’s due to poor design that we have “wasted” zones. I think zones in MMO can be made useful for all levels of players at all times. The level of usefulness can vary but they can still be useful. Its lazy design that gives us “wasted” zones.

    • I think it’s due to poor design that we have “wasted” zones. I think zones in MMO can be made useful for all levels of players at all times. The level of usefulness can vary but they can still be useful. Its lazy design that gives us “wasted” zones.

      Care to provide an example?
      Because I don’t see how it could work. And not just from a game design point of view, but from a player’s point of view: games are an endless search for something “new” to learn and discover, if the only possible activity is to go back to see the same story/visit the same places then it won’t work. And if the zone changes so much that it’s unrecognizable then it’s no different from a new zone, while the old one sits in a corner unused.

      • I think you are looking at this from “game” point of and not from a “virtual world” point of view…

        My home town is great. I had lot of fun there when I was a kid. I wanted to see different places so I made it a point to move to different town when I went to university. Then to a different town when I got a job etc. However my home, uni or work towns are not “wasted” on *me* still. I go back for various reasons. This is how real *world* works and when people say old zones are wasted they are thinking out load why can’t our *virtual worlds* work the same way.

        What I am saying is that MMO need to add new zones etc so that we have something new to discover but they don’t have to invalidate the old ones. The minute they completely invalidate an old zone the MMO becomes a game and not virtual world any more.

        So how can you add new zones but still keep the old one “useful”? Here are some simple things I can think of,

        1. FF14 has low level and high level mobs in the same zone. So the same zone is useful to you at different points in your life (swing, football, walk etc). A low level fate pops and passing high level can down level and take part where by mixing with low level players.

        2. Make high level crafting recipes require low level mats as well. Again the high level player needs to go back to old zones.

        3. Down level a player when they go to an old zone like GW2. So they can do content in the old zone but still get xp to their current level.

        These are are small things but lot of small things add up to make the “virtual world”.

      • @lostforever

        What I am saying is that MMO need to add new zones etc so that we have something new to discover but they don’t have to invalidate the old ones. The minute they completely invalidate an old zone the MMO becomes a game and not virtual world any more.

        But… artificially keeping old content relevant is the most game-y thing the designers can possibly do. All the down-leveling thing did in GW2 was allow you to hit the level cap grinding easy mobs while avoiding the empty mid-to-late game zones with their super-annoying undead. Keeping beginning resources relevant at all times – the EVE Veldspar example I made in my post – is fine, but it’s not as though any veteran player is ever going to feel a need or inclination to mine it. Veldspar is for the newbies/bots to mine; vets have the access to more experience/ships/wealth that allows them to go after more lucrative gains. And while I have not yet played FF14, I absolutely hate when designers put high-level mobs in beginner zones because it just signals to me that they’re getting away with creating half as much content. “Welcome to this zone. You can’t quest in half of it, but don’t worry… you’ll be back.”

        At the base of things, I guess my ultimate point is that all these calls for “virtual worlds” are incongruent with the actual structure of these games. These zones have stories and quest hubs and narratives. These games have dozens (or hundreds) of discreet character levels. While some attempts can be made to mitigate it (e.g. down-leveling, etc), it is pretty much the ultimate lipstick-on-a-pig moment. We’re both ultimately here for new content, and that tells me you’re less interested in virtual worlds – whose primary component is people – and more interested in recycling old zones because… empty houses are depressing?

        Maybe I’m off base. Maybe my own inclination towards wanting my games to be fun games is making me lose sight of some special distinction. I don’t actually think I’ve played anything resembling a virtual world as is being requested. But then again, if such a game happens to be out there, it seems to me that it has to necessarily be a small world, with a very narrow focus. I don’t see how else you get people to still want to be mining Copper Ore five years later otherwise.

      • @lostforever: all you suggest would be better obtained by simply removing levels. Then all content is “at the level cap” automatically.

        BTW the real world has a lot more wasted zones for me than Azeroth. Apart from being just too big for me to visit entirely, most of the zones are completely useless to me except sightseeing. And I don’t really find it a problem…..

      • I think that the crucial question here is “where should I play today?”.

        In a themepark like WoW, this question virtually always has a correct answer, so the choice is trivial. If I’m at level 13 in vanilla, I should be in Barrens or Silverpine; if I’m at level 80 in 4.2, I should be on Molten Front and/or raiding Firelands. When Blizzard tried to give players choices between level cap activities in 5.0, they just ended up doing everything instead (and swiftly burning out as a result).

        In a sandbox like EVE, answering this question involves making interesting choices. Should I mine in a popular high-security system where there’s little risk but also little reward? Should I explore sites in remote constellations, avoiding competition but spending time to travel and risking an ambush where no help will arrive? Should I poach deep inside the enemy territory, stealing resources from my foes but inviting terrible violence if I get caught? Or should I be the killer, ganking all of the above and then some?

        There are many factors that allow this to work, but two stand out the most: world PvP and player-driven economy. World PvP provides a dynamic threat level: as a zone rises in popularity, killers gravitate to it in search of easy or valuable prey, which in turn makes other zones more attractive in comparison. Player-driven economy, in which there’s no vendor trash and everything is worth exactly what someone else is going to pay for it, provides a dynamic adjustment to values of activities: if zone X gets ‘goldrushed’ for component Y, the market gets flooded, the price of component Y drops and the popularity of zone X follows.

    • What do you mean here? Those who wish for living breathing world actually don’t want change to that world?

      Well, to be honest I’m not sure what exactly they want. For example, you mention that these zones should not sit around being “wasted.” But your solution is to annihilate them, remove them from existence and replace them with something else entirely. Isn’t that a worse waste of resources? The zone already exists, and will continue performing its function as a questing area on into perpetuity for whatever players trickle through. It is not as though we’re running out of virtual real estate here.

      • @Azuriel

        “But… artificially keeping old content relevant is the most game-y thing the designers can possibly do”
        If a game is organically designed in such a way then it is not “artificially keeping old content relevant” since its never “old” content. The play ground and the towns in my example are never “old” content. Their purpose have changed for me but they are still relevant and not old.

        You are right in that there is no point asking for this kind of stuff in a game like WoW but they are not designed that from ground up but then again I don’t believe this kind of small touches can only to be in “a small world with very narrow focus”.

        Having said that we do have different ideas as to what we want from games. For example I have no issues with high level mobs in low level zones or evening mining copper ore at max level. I love idiosyncrasies like this in my games!

    • Well they could create new zones or constantly revamp the existing ones. The advantage of new is that it is new, whereas a revamped zone doesn’t have that novelty. I think two years in a set of zones is enough though; we don’t need ten years and can move on.

      • @Azuriel

        See my reply to Helistar. I am not saying destroying the old zones at all or replace them with something new. I am saying that MMOs can be designed in such a way that a zone is useful to someone during various stages of their MMO life.

  4. WoW has been about endgame since Burning Crusade. The last time I remember participating in any activities with friends at any level before cap was back in vanilla. I think at this point if you are really interested in the MM portion of WoW it’s going to be raiding, arena, bgs or whatever else is at max level these days. Asking people who have not been on for a long time to slog through 100 levels of unrelated content just to get to the point where they can play with their friends is asking too much. I think the level skip is a good solution to that.

    That said I do think they are “wasting” an inordinate amount of potential content and could take some cues from GW2. Blizzard’s open world is large and has a ton of stuff to do that can be a lot of fun, but is very hard to synchronize with friends right now. If they had some sort of setup like the GW2 they would open a lot of options for player such as:
    – Running older raids or dungeons.
    – Actually completing zones of interest while questing without them “expiring”.
    – Participating in the older content with friends who are newer/lower level.

    With GW2 I had a buddy who started 3-4 months in. I was able to grab a set of crap gear on my capped character and run around with him participating in whatever he was doing then go off and do my own thing when we each wanted to move onto other things. In contrast I have tried to do the same with him in WoW and it turned into rigid rules about what was going on when with what characters. End result was just waiting a month for him to just catch up to cap just so we could start participating in activities together normally. I would have much preferred to just take my end game character and do BRD runs with him or whatever else he was doing without 1 shotting everything in our path.

    • Now that I think about it, I would agree with you about synchronized leveling with friends. The two buddies I still have playing WoW were trying to convince me to go PvP with them… but they’re level 46. That’s probably not going to happen; I don’t even remember if Blizzard ever did the BG auto-level thing or not.

      That being said, it’s not like I actually want to go through those zones again, for the 8th time. How about letting people up-level instead? :p

      • Sounds like they are at least addressing up leveling with the “free character to 90″. I’d go as far as saying they should just let you make a new level 100 character with entry level gear for 25 bucks in the store. I guess that would offend the folks who feel like you have to “earn” your capped character. Seems silly though as the requirements people look for when anyone doing anything competitively focused is build decisions, and pvp/raid achieves.

  5. Even if we ignore the idea that some people enjoy levelling and/or are genuinely new and will level through the old content as intended I think saying players “will have no reason whatsoever to enter over 90% of the zones of World of Warcraft.” shows a lack of understanding of what people do in WoW now.

    I hate levelling, and in any expansion I basically just PvP until I’m level capped again. And what do I do at 90? Amongst other things, I go and run old raids and dungeons for pets and transmog gear. I work on the new post-Cataclysm Loremaster title. I fly all around the dang world levelling up pets for pet battles and just general collections.

    WoW can almost always use more emphasis on getting out in the world and less on sitting in Orgrimmar waiting for a queue to pop, but thanks to pets and transmog I think level capped folks are out enjoying these old school zones more than ever before.

  6. Personally I think the free-90 is a nice compromise; I know plenty of people who left WoW because they didn’t want to have to level AGAIN but might have liked having multiple characters. At this point WoW (and most MMOs) are basically two games: the leveling game and the max-level game. Some players love one and hate the other, so Blizz has to cater to them too.

    That said I don’t think Draenor is signalling any change that wasn’t already there; since Burning Crusade players have spent the majority of their time in the new areas. Coalesced realms were supposed to help address the “dead” feeling of old content. Maybe they could invent quests that send you to older zones and somehow make that still interesting (or challenging). I mean, otherwise pet battles, archaeology, and transmog are all that keeps people going to old content.

    I also agree, content is never wasted so long as it is or was used extensively. The closest they ever came to wasted content (IMO) was Naxxramas and Sunwell, both of which have since have had, respectively, new life breathed into them or are accessible to higher level players