Not Garrisons

One of the recurring themes across various forums concerning WoW’s shocking 2.9 million sub loss is “Garrisons did it.”

Garrisons offer too much convenience. So much that Draenor went from populated to empty in a few short months. Nerf garrisons. (+239)

On the surface level, it’s easy to agree. Everything in this expansion pivots around the Garrison, from the 2nd Hearthstone to its more centralized location, to the mission system, and beyond. And as many people have pointed out, Blizzard went from being worried about player housing siphoning people from the capital cities and sequestering them into instances to… encouraging players to stay in their instanced Garrisons. Why leave? There are no daily quest hubs or relevant reputation factions to farm, and grounded travel limits your vision to the immediate horizon.

But then Grumpy Elf made me realize what was actually missing:

5) Valor / Justice:

This is the biggest, single most missed thing in the game right now.  So much is connected to it that I imagine that you do not even realize it.  Valor was a carrot, one we kept chasing each and every week.  It was a motivator, something this game is lacking at the moment.

For any game of this type the key to success is to keep up running the wheel and points did that.  Be it valor to get the weekly cap or justice when you wanted to convert it to honor or buy heirlooms.  Collecting points was a good motivator.  It gave content repeatability.  At the moment you can hit 100 and really have absolutely no reason to do dungeons except to start the ring quest line but with valor, and associated valor gear, for a fresh dinged character it would once again be worth doing them, ring or not.

What’s the first thing you think about, in terms of casual content in MMOs? Raids? World PvP?

Or, you know, dungeons?

Grumpy Elf is absolutely correct here in pointing out that dungeons in this expansion are a joke. Why would you ever run them? You can bypass the gear check for LFR with crafted gear and questing, the former of which you can craft with… wait for it… Garrisons. And that’s what is going on: Garrisons replaced Dungeons. Where do you get raid-level gear this expansion, without having to raid? From your Garrison. Where did you get raid-level gear without raiding in every other expansion thus far? Dungeons. QED.

I can even see where Blizzard might have thought they were doing casuals a favor. Casual players are most likely DPS who were stuck with 40+ minute queues to do the one activity that allowed them character progression at the level cap. LFR certainly gave them a bigger target to aim for, but that’s only once a week. Dungeons were every day. The current system is also really good for alts, as who has time for multiple 40+ minute queues, right?

Well… it was a bridge too far.

The other possibility, which is really more alarming, is simply the lack of content, period:

  • No new races
  • No new classes
  • No new battlegrounds
  • No new capital cities
  • No new profession
  • Remaining professions gutted
  • Farahlon cut
  • Tannan pushed back to 6.2
  • BRF pushed back from launch
  • Ashran is a complete failure
  • No daily hubs
  • No reputation factions to work for rewards
  • Only five new leveling zones (Shadowmoon and Frostfire are basically faction specific)

The original post is too large to quote in its entirety here, but “TiredOfYourShit21” makes an unassailable argument that WoD quite literally has less content than any other expansion ever released. And this time Blizzard doesn’t even have the moral excuse of Cataclysm, where people kinda forgot about the all the new 1-60 content when doing their calculations. For Warlords, expansion price went up, content went down. Maybe, maybe you can argue that the new character models represented a lot of “effort capital” that would have otherwise gone into the game elsewhere. But the truth is more likely that all that effort went into the Garrison instead of dungeons or anything else.

I dunno. I’m still playing for now, but it’s definitely more in the sense of completing a Bucket List than anything else.

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Posted on May 11, 2015, in WoW and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 17 Comments.

  1. Dungeons made me quit before the first month was up. I had my fill of them while leveling and their Heroic versions weren’t harder or even much changed. As far as I can remember, there weren’t any extra wings or side bosses added. The mechanics didn’t even seem to changed that much.

    Worse, they no longer had any real progression value once I got through them all. They remained somewhat fun, yes, but somewhat fun isn’t very good when there is nothing else to be gained. Without reputation or tokens or quests to do, I lost all interest in waiting around for raids to drop (especially when I have grown less interested in raids, generally-speaking). I felt Garrisons were a waste of time and with nothing else to do in the game for me, I moseyed on.

    If they’d put some real energy into rethinking dungeons in the next expansion, I might play again. That’s really the thing about WoW that I do enjoy the most. More than just the carrot-on-a-stick, it was always a more relaxed and subdued way to play coop with friends or meet a few strangers. With them so reduced in value, I found zero social or gameplay reasons to continue playing. I hope they address it.

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    • I remember chain-running dungeons all throughout Wrath, all on different alts, in order to maximize badge gain. Had three tanks and two healers at one point farming DPS gear with the badges. While I don’t think I’ll ever be that invested in gearing up again, at least there was some sort of incentive.

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  2. I can’t really buy the no new content thing, since none of that new content saved Cataclysm or Mists from sub drops. The reason WoD’s drop is so large is probably because the spike was so large. We’re regressing back to the mean after the hype. I’m also skeptical of anyone saying people are complaining left and right, because they really aren’t any more than usual. Blizzard’s problem is apathy, not anger.

    I agree that valor/justice removal was unnecessary, but I doubt it really made much difference. There are no fewer ways to grind for gear in WoD than there were before, and the valor/justice mechanic specifically didn’t save Cata or Mists from their sub drops. Dungeons were pointless in BC once you were done with drops, and that didn’t stop anyone then.

    In the end, when you think about the number of people who want to play a subscription MMO where you do organized PVE for gear progression, 7.1 million is higher than I would expect.

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    • I can’t really buy the no new content thing, since none of that new content saved Cataclysm or Mists from sub drops.

      You can look at the chart yourself. While Cata and Mists weren’t “saved” from sub losses, the decline was a lot smoother. The first quarter after Mists released still held onto some of the recaptured subs, for example. It lost them eventually, but again, it took longer than this sudden spike and loss.

      There are no fewer ways to grind for gear in WoD than there were before […]

      You can get raid-level loot or loot currency from dungeons in Warlords?

      Dungeons were pointless in BC once you were done with drops, and that didn’t stop anyone then.

      Badges were introduced in (late) TBC. By the time Sunwell was released, people were farming Heroic Mechanar every day. I would know – I was one of them. TBC also had that heady time period where you could get raid-level loot from farming BGs/Arena and use those same items to good effect in raids. Season 2 weapons were huge for progression.

      It’s true that a more robust dungeon situation won’t magically solve all the retention problems in WoW. But there is no way to look at the Warlords endgame and not see how little there is for a non-raiders to do to progress their character(s). And this was not the case in prior expansions.

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      • Yeah, the chart shows subs dropping all through mists and cataclysm past the initial expansion spike. That new content didn’t save them, the only thing that brought them back up was the next expansion hype cycle. The decline was smoother because the spike was lower.

        You can’t grind dungeons for gear anymore, but you can grind your garrison, and I’m not at all convinced that dungeon running was any more fun. It’s just a means to an end, and there aren’t any fewer means than there were in the past. It’s more likely that people don’t care about the end anymore.

        Exactly, badges were useless for most of BC and subs went up. In fact, there was even less (read: almost nothing) for non-raiders to do in BC until 2.4 brought decent badge gear, and subs went up the whole time. Almost every single complaint about content you could make about WoD you could have made about Vanilla. But subs went up in Vanilla and now they are going down. Something in the theory is lacking.

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      • Purely anecdotal Matt, but I unsubbed when they announced no new 5-mans. Be it habitual or because I actually enjoyed them, but the lack of any real content for small groups is what drove me away. If I had to guess,it’s that HotS and Overwatch are eating up a large chunk of the available content creators’ time.

        As for sub drops, notice that there’s a pretty steady number of people from June 2013 to March 2014, that’s half of SoO’s life and half of ToT’s life, coupled with the addition of 4 new scenarios, heroic scenarios, IoT, IoG, Battlefield:Barrens, Brawler’s Guild updates, and Timeless Isle. Maybe not compelling content, but content nonetheless. There hasn’t been a single content patch like that this expansion till now, and even then it’s much smaller, primarily focused on the final raid instance. I think it’s fair to argue that they haven’t really earned the full price of an expansion, let alone the extra $10 they got for it.

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      • No new 5 mans doesn’t explain the general trend though. There were no new 5 mans in vanilla, and subs went up. There was only one new 5 man in BC, at the very end, and subs went up. Contrast with Wrath, with 4 new 5 mans and subs staying steady, and Cata with 5 new 5 mans (admittedly 2 recycled) and subs dropping. Then we’re back to mists with no new 5 mans and subs dropping.

        That’s the problem with all the explanations, they don’t fit all the data. For example, one issue I have with WoW these days is the alt-unfriendliness. Compare the glacial pace of alt progress in Mists or WoD with the end of Wrath or Cata, where it was easy to level up an alt and get a lot of serviceable dungeon gear. But I have to admit that it doesn’t seem to make any difference. Subs dropped in Cata, while back in Vanilla, where alt-friendliness wasn’t even a concept, subs went up.

        Going back to the graph, if you ignore the expansion hype spikes, it’s nearly a perfect curve peaking at Wrath. We’ve gone through any number of sweeping design and philosophy changes since then, and it doesn’t seem to have made any difference either way. The best explanation for the WoD drop is that a lot of people got hyped for the good old days, insta-90s let them jump right in, and then they discovered that they didn’t become 8 years younger and all the reasons they quit before are still in force. The reason for the decline is most likely the lack of new players, who have other games they’d rather play.

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      • Hmm, I don’t think you are listening to what I said (incoming ramble). It’s not that there was just small-group content added, there was A LOT of content, either added in patches or extant, during the retention and growth phases of all previous expansions and vanilla.

        *Vanilla drops with 18 dungeons, adds 2 later (Mara and DM), modifies some end-game dungeons to be 5-man from 10, not to mention leveling during Vanilla is the primary content, and most raid patches had factions associated.

        *BC drops with 15, introduces Heroic Dungeons, adds one at then end, and gives a valid progression system with pvp gear as a boost to stepping into raids, not to mention factions added with attendant gear.

        *Wrath drops with 12, adds 1, and then 3, all with Heroic versions. ICC is the first raid instance where all faction content is inside. It’s also arguable that leveling zones have more content (story and quests, especially lore related) in them than any subsequent expansion.

        *Cata drops with 9, 7 of which have non-heroic versions, and two of those are rehashed content. The added content is only heroic, first two are rehashed content with sub-current raid gear, and the ONLY new content until Molten Front. The only alternate gearing path is the TB raid instance.

        *MoP drops with 9, 4 were level cap only, 3 rehashed content, but we do get 6 scenarios. And lots and lots of dailies. I do believe I covered the content after drop well enough.

        So, we get to WoD, and what do we have? 8 dungeons, no new content outside of drop, except three raids, for 7 months. Content that issued at drop was tiny in comparison to any expansion before it.

        Content retains people, hype pulls them in. I would go so far as to argue that the world was their oyster when Cata hit (sub retention was high across the expansion line, hype was mixed), but the lack of similar levels of content, and the ease at which it could be gone through set us on the downward slope that we see. There’s an inherent tension between harder/easier and content length and this tension is played out constantly. We’ve got people complaining from both sides on the forums and twitter, so maybe there’s no way to balance difficulty and content except to really put in more content. Yet it takes time, money, and people to make content, hence my statement that I think Overwatch and HotS are eating WoW content. Certainly makes sense from a purely money point of view: WoW brings in money, but the others are growth items, WoW isn’t anymore, and might cost too much to chase to make it more profitable than it is, so they are better off making games that no longer bore them or that interest them more, and have greater potential growth. Maybe the decline is inevitable.

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      • @MattH

        Completely agree with the above.

        One thing I will say though, is that I believe Blizzard had a compelling moral argument in Cataclysm that they did have as much (or more) content as previous expansions, but 50% of it took place in the 1-60 zones. And all that stuff was released before the expansion technically came out, and for free. Doesn’t mean much for people (like me) that had all level 60+ alts, but I can appreciate it in a way.

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      • I do follow you, but I think it’s wishful thinking. I quite agree that you need some minimal level of content to hold any interest, but WoW clearly exceeds that level and it is yet unproven that beyond that level it makes any difference. The content released during Mists didn’t stop subs from dropping. Wrath, which had the largest amount of and the most accessible content, merely held subs level where Vanilla and most of BC, where the endgame was literally raid or die, saw huge increases. For that matter, the present content is simply worlds better than something like Molten Core. I suspect that is part of what drives the reduction in dungeon releases. But you are right that during Vanilla (and some of BC) everything was fresh and new and people were content to piddle around leveling. That gets at the heart of what I’ve been saying this whole time.

        WoW’s problem is that no one cares anymore. The point at which you no longer care what your level or your itemlevel are, WoW holds no more interest. Blizzard can give you new scenery in which to increase your levels some more, but they can’t make you 8 years younger to care again. Nor can they make WoW “cool” again. The old players have quit and the new players are playing LoL or Minecraft. WoW is like a relic of a past age for younger gamers. Nothing can hold back old age, and WoW is old.

        If it were all about content, then the players that quit WoW would have found another MMO that suited them better. But they didn’t for the most part, instead the MMO market just shrank along with WoW. These people don’t care about grinding group PVE for gear anymore, they have other things to do. In the end, everything dies. The notable thing about WoW is how long it has lived.

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      • To some extent I can agree, even if I haven’t really enjoyed any of the new content in those zones, and not for a lack of trying. Vanilla zones had a temporal depth underlying them that is totally missing; every zone seems completely divested from its previous state and the fact that they’ll never revisit them means that is all lost. Sad really.

        The last time I was in Azshara I would say it had barely more people in it than pre-Cata versions did and I played on pretty populated servers (high to full), so I’m not even sure it was worth it. Which feeds into that idea that it’s not worth going back and changing them. Maybe if they had phased each zone and made the level 80-85 content overlay with the original level 10-60 content. Maintain the lore for players leveling, but create content for the new xpac that is actually relevant for the majority of players and fit the theme of the current content.

        This isn’t to say that Cata was a total failure, just that the majority of the new content points to the short shrift they give to long term storytelling even now.

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      • The content released during Mists didn’t stop subs from dropping.

        Go here. It’s helpful for my argument that it’s interactive. I made that initial argument that June 2013 to March 2014 contained a huge amount of content and there were no sub drops because that’s what happened.Took a ton of content, but maintained them. And as I said, content keeps people in the seats, but it’s hype that brings them in. The best time for Blizzard to hype things is at the beginning of an xpac, unless you think that the BC climb was primarily from the Shatner et al. commercials. ;)

        Which actually gives us something to look at, if advertisements can hype the game enough, where have the new ones been for the last few months? Maybe the ones who really “don’t care” are the current content creators.

        I quite agree that you need some minimal level of content to hold any interest, but WoW clearly exceeds that level and it is yet unproven that beyond that level it makes any difference.

        Maybe I am misunderstanding what you are saying, but 2.9 million subs lost isn’t a “difference”? I mean I think we can all agree that there’s been a pretty steady long-term decline in subs, but I think it’s because of lack of content and have at least presented some attendant data. The only thing you seem to think is driving it is inevitable changes in demographics and tastes in games, yet if “no one [in game] cares” why was there a sudden surge of 2.6 million people into the game? A surge that seemed unexpected and also hadn’t been matched since early Vanilla.

        Something happened here and Blizzard lost the thread. I think they Molyneux’d themselves and oversold the xpac, pretty much as a BC do-over, and once people realized there was less content than BC or Wrath by pretty much double, they unsubbed. Most of the other xpacs had more initial content and that would explain the steady drop in subscriptions instead of this sharp drop.

        I guess my complaint is that it’s their fault, not the player’s. If they provide enough content, players will stay. It just may be that “enough” is more than they want to produce, or more than they realistically can produce, so if they are at fault, it’s not terribly world-breaking. We’ll never know if my hypothesis is true short of them making an xpac with tons of content on drop, which is then followed by more content on a very regular basis. And the pattern is certainly trending the other way.

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      • The only thing you seem to think is driving it is inevitable changes in demographics and tastes in games, yet if “no one [in game] cares” why was there a sudden surge of 2.6 million people into the game?

        Because nostalgia is a powerful force, and insta-90s reduced the barrier of re-entry. We all acknowledge that Blizzard sold Draenor as a return to the good old days. A lot of people believed this, and thought they could come in and it would be just like it was then, just like their memories. But it wasn’t, because it never is. It’s like playing Super Mario Brothers today. I used to play it for hours as a kid, but couldn’t go for more than about 10 minutes now. The game hasn’t changed, I have. If there were new players then that wouldn’t be as big of a deal, but there aren’t.

        Also, the surge of 2.6 million in was matched by 2.9 million out. Only Blizzard knows for sure, and they aren’t telling, but I suspect that the former and the latter are largely composed of the same people. You even see the same thing when Mists was released, albeit less dramatic. If you disregard the expansion spikes, you can trace a nearly perfect curve from mid Cata all the way up to now. If I’m right, then we’re back on curve and sub losses will resume their slow but steady decline. If not, then they should keep dropping precipitously from here.

        But the real problem with the content argument is that it can always be made, no matter what the situation. Mid 2013 to early 2014 was fairly level, therefore there was enough content. But suppose instead there had been a larger drop. Then there was not enough content, QED. Without a definition of “enough”, there’s no way to actually falsify this theory. My theory, that there are no new players and old ones are fading away, can be conclusively disproven simply by sub numbers bucking the trend and increasing. Or by Blizzard releasing detailed breakdowns of sub demographics, but that’ll never happen.

        Lastly, I don’t think it’s anyone’s fault. Well I do think Blizzard makes some strange design decisions, I just don’t think they could turn the tide by making different ones. Nothing is forever, not even WoW, and ten years of mass market success is already unprecedented.

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      • My theory, that there are no new players and old ones are fading away, can be conclusively disproven simply by sub numbers bucking the trend and increasing.

        The funny thing is that I technically agree with you that decline is inevitable, market saturation exists, and so on.

        That said, I disagree with you in two areas. First, we knew back in 2011 that there were more ex-WoW players than current WoW players. The disparity has likely only gotten worse. So, really, the theory of “no new players” cannot really be true; this is doubly so when you consider churn rates that basically mean you have complete turnover (or close to it) every year.

        Second, as I pointed out in that old article, while decline is inevitable, the magnitude of decline can be diminished. I mean, if it can’t, then we have to come to the conclusion that it doesn’t matter what quality work Blizzard produces, in which case they may as well not spend any money on anything. Which is what I suppose they do at the end of every expansion, but nevermind.

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      • Now there’s an interview up on Venturebeat, in some ways they get it, but the details seem to be lost. Mythic dungeons, Timewalking, and even the Adventurer’s Guide as “new content”. Rehashed, recycled content and being sure people “know where to go” isn’t new in my book, but I think that’s been pretty apparent this entire thread.

        It’s also apparent that raiding-as-content is pretty much the new focus, pushed pretty hard since Flex dropped.

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  3. Dungeons, if you zoom out a tiny bit, are just a form of forced-group content, which is one of the major ways MMOs separate themselves from other genres. And forced-group content is often what extends people with a game, for many reasons. Social hooks, increased difficulty due to playing with others, a better-justified reason to grind X to get to Y, etc.

    To go back to your previous post, WoD hype was mostly about WoW going back to what people liked about it prior to its declining days/expansions. Sounds like WoD didn’t really deliver, especially if dungeons aren’t a major focus of end-game grind.

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