A Flight Too Far

I wasn’t going to write two posts about the lack of flying in Draenor, but the flurry of interviews and blue posts regarding it has taken me by surprise. After some thought though, I have decided to enumerate my feelings on the matter as dispassionately as possible, to hopefully serve as a more useful vehicle for feedback. I am mainly doing this for Russ Peterson:

“If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” or similar is often attributed to Henry Ford.
And the point of that statement is that there are often solutions to a problem that are not always a direct continuation of what you expect
So when you think about flying/not flying today, try to think about what you like or miss in specifics rather than the blanket feature
Like: I miss flying because I enjoy looking at the world from a high vantage point, or I don’t miss flying because the world feels dangerous
It helps us when you can give feedback about the feelings and emotion you have or don’t have, and how that affects your behavior.
Yelling at us and telling us we’re dumb for making a decision doesn’t help.
For example, it could be argued that the command table is a stronger tether to keeping you in the garrison than lack of flight.
Try to dig past the initial feeling and reaction and tell us why you feel the way you do. That’s the feedback that makes the game better.
I’m heading out early for the holiday weekend. Keep sending feedback. I will always read it.

WHAT PROBLEM ARE YOU TRYING …ahem. Let’s begin.

1) Flying gives players agency.

When I am on a flying mount, I am in control of my character. I am interacting with the world on my own time, in my own manner, and at my own discretion. While I might not always be paying attention while flying around, the fact is something could attract my eye at any moment and change my plans. Maybe I see a rare spawn, maybe I see some resource nodes, maybe I see some players in need of assistance. Flying gives me power, and yes, convenience.

2) Flying exposes poor quest design, not create it.

In the interview with Ion Hazzikostas, he states the following:

Hazzikostas gives an example: Before flying was introduced to World of Warcraft, if you got a quest to rescue a prisoner from an enemy encampment, it would play out a certain way. Players would need to fight their way through the camp. After flying, players could just fly into the center of camp, land on top of the hut where the prisoner is, free him and fly out.

“It made the world feel in many ways much smaller,” he says.

In a world without flying, the quest Ion is using as an example is still bad. If all I have to do is click on the cage, that means there is no reason to interact with the rest of the enemy encampment. Which means I will go out of my way to not interact with it. Stealth past the mobs, run through on a ground mount and use one of the handful of combat-stopping items (Treessassin’s Guise, etc), and otherwise try not to have my time sunk fighting useless mobs that only drop vendor trash.

We can instead imagine an alternate quest in which you can only release the prisoner after killing X mobs. Perhaps one of the many guards is holding the key to the cage. Maybe the prisoner won’t be able to escape the encampment until you thin the enemy ranks. Or whatever. Adding just a single extra step completely obviates the concern about flying directly to the prisoner and flying away.

3) A world’s size is dictated by volume of content, not speed in which it’s traversed.

One of the points often raised in regards to flying is that it makes the world feel smaller. I could not possibly disagree more. There has not been a single location on Azeroth or beyond that I could fly across that felt small because I could traverse it quickly. In fact, the very argument implies that one can make a world bigger simply by reducing player speed by 50%. If it takes you twice as long to run across Goldshire, does that mean Goldshire is now twice as large? Of course not.

The size of any game world is a function of what you can do in it. Which is bigger: Dragonblight or Jade Forest? Take a moment and just feel your answer.

Now, look at this:

*Jeopardy music*

*Jeopardy music*

It could very well be that Jade Forest has more quests and square footage; I don’t know how big each is off-hand, although I’m tempted to say Dragonblight. But as I leveled my druid alt through Pandaria recently, I could not help but be struck by the feeling of enormity in Jade Forest despite having purchased the BoA flight book. After spending two hours questing and gathering, I realized that I was still in the bottom third of the map. That’s how you get a big world.

Empty space doesn’t make anything bigger. If you smash Silithus, Un’Goro Crater, and Tanaris together into one zone, you’ll have a big map, but still fall short of Jade Forest’s real size by 10 quests. Three entire zones.

4) Flight Paths, no matter how quick, break immersion.

I’m going to quote Ion again here:

“The world feels larger, feels more dangerous,” he says. “There’s more room for exploration, for secrets, for discovery and overall immersion in the world.

Two paragraphs later:

He also promises that Blizzard will continue working to improve its network of taxi flight paths in the game to prevent any major frustration from this change: “The goal is to maximize convenience in getting from point a to point [b] but retaining as much of the gameplay and depth as possible once you do get to that point.”

Faster, more numerous, and more direct Flight Paths seems to be the “compensation” for removing player flight, but it is a poor one. Do you know what I do the moment I click on a Flight Path? I Alt-Tab out of the game and go browse websites. Blizzard has to know how common a phenomenon this is, as they introduced a loading screen into WoW for players who Alt-Tab back into the game after their character finishes a taxi ride.

Immersion is about a consistent experience. For me, there isn’t anything that breaks me out of “the zone” more than a long, non-interactive loading screen from which I cannot escape. I mean, thank you for the Exit Taxi button, I guess, but there’s such a huge delay between seeing something interesting while on the FP and actually getting back there, that there’s no reason to bother. I will Alt-Tab out of even a 60-second flight because that is 60 seconds of me not actually getting to play the game.

I have no doubt there are players who get on their flying mounts and just auto-fly forward while AFK in the same way I do on Flight Paths. But again, immersion is about a consistent gaming experience. There is 100% immersion from me questing one moment, to flying back home the next. There is zero immersion while I browse CNN.com while the game arbitrarily dictates how quickly I get to my destination.

5) Exploration is discouraged with lack of mobility.

Ion and others mention how flying diminishes exploration, but it is the exact opposite in my experience.

“While there was certainly convenience in being able to completely explore the world in three dimensions, that also came at the expense of gameplay like targeted exploration, like trying to figure out what’s in that cave on top of a hill and how do I get up there.”

There is a threshold to how inconvenient an activity can be and still feel rewarding to pursue. An example of this is Archaeology: I have all but abandoned trying to obtain Zin’rokh (troll sword) and the Ultramarine Qiraji Battle Tank (Tol’vir mount). When I look at my Archaeology map and I see dig sites scattered across continents and focused on races I am not even pursuing, I feel like giving up on the entire profession. If it were even slightly less insane an undertaking however, I would continue happily farming away.

In the example of “what’s in that cave at the top of the hill,” I have to ask a few questions. How do I even know there is a cave at the top of the hill? Does a quest send me up there? Is there a rare spawn? Does it contain anything of any relevance to a level-capped player (as leveling characters never traditionally have flight anyway)? I ask these questions because the world is riddled with empty set pieces and half-finished content. If I navigate my way to the top of the hill and the bottom of the cave and there is nothing there, I will be hugely disappointed and far less likely to risk my time in the future.

In fact, the majority of the time you are punished for exploring. When we talk about navigating up that hill, or any hill, there is typically only one path that’s intended. I can’t count the number of times I saw what appeared to be a shortcut or “hidden path” in Shadowmoon Valley that ended up being a decorative piece of impassible terrain. So now I get to take falling damage and walk clear around the base of the hill to find where the designers wanted to “target” my “exploration.”

These days, if a quest asks me to go to the top of any hill or down inside any cave, I skip that quest and move on.

6) The world has never been less dangerous, even without flying.

I honestly do not get what people are talking about when they suggest lack of flying “makes the world more dangerous.” The danger of the world is completely independent of your method of travel (unless you are a druid). What is going to kill you? Pulling too many mobs? Having a patrol run into you while fighting something else? Guess what, you are already on the ground. Unless your health was so low that the 1-2 hits you might receive after you escape on your ground mount would kill you, the danger is identical.

I suppose there is an increased risk from falling damage, but many classes have means of negating it with simply class abilities. Or the Goblin Gliders. Nevermind just hearthing out.

There has been some talk about how removing flying mounts encourages more world PvP. If it does, I haven’t seen it. Sure, you are stuck on the ground, surrounded by impassible 5-foot slopes and such. But so is the other faction. If someone wants to go around hunting for trouble, they literally have to hunt – being stuck on the ground limits your sight horizons. So in many scenarios, I feel like there is less world PvP simply because those who want to be engaging in it can’t find targets who might just be over the next ridge or behind that tree.

7) Flight is a tremendous reward for reaching endgame.

Has there ever been a bigger carrot than unlocking flying again at the endgame? I haven’t seen one.

The only thing I got at the end of Draenor was a Level 3 Garrison which, considering how useless many of my professions became, did not actually help me much in terms of increased buildings. I suppose there are raids and heroics dungeons and such, but I get instantly teleported to those so… yeah. Compared to fundamentally changing how I interact with the expansion’s world (i.e. flying), there isn’t a whole lot to look forward to for that last ding.

8) Flying mounts look terrible on the ground.

Some of the most rare, most prestigious mounts in the game look absolutely terrible on the ground. While I do not normally advocate for past achievements dictating future design, I think it’s worth acknowledging that people spent hundreds of hours farming, say, the Pandarian dragons, and are now stuck watching them writhe on the ground like a wounded snake. I have the Ashes of A’lar, and I pretty much will never get to use that mount again, as it looks dumb hovering over the ground.

9) The Water Strider Problem.

Indeed, for all intents and purposes, I only have one mount this expansion: the Azure Water Strider. The ability to traverse rivers, lakes, and oceans makes all other mounts (aside from the Crimson Water Strider) functionally useless. Why would I use the Raven Lord – a mount I finally got after five years of farming – when it would limit my mobility and ability to navigate terrain? Even flying mounts apparently sink like stones.

If we really are going to be glued to the surface from now on, you are going to have to address the Water Strider problem for the nine classes that can’t just ignore it. I unlocked that mount back in Mists on a lark, and it turned out to be one of the best decisions I ever made for this, and potentially all future expansions.

10) Suspicious of the future.

This last point is kinda out there, but just stick with me for a second.

I think it is pretty clear that Draenor wasn’t intended to be a permanent no-fly zone. I say this not only because of the various statements from Ion and other Blizzard designers – who made it clear that no flying was an experiment that “could go either way” – but out of the basic design of the world itself. For example, the vast tracks of empty, quest-less terrain throughout Shadowmoon Valley recall the design of similar future-flight zones like Dragonblight. The biggest clue however, comes from the fact that we can fly a little bit here and there with items like Aviana’s Feather and the Goblin Gliders. We would not have had that ability if Blizzard didn’t fully generate 3D terrain throughout Draenor.

So here’s my theory: Blizzard is removing flying to cut future production costs.

In a world without flying, or restricting flying to specific areas, Blizzard is free to replace large swaths of the map with 2D sprites and skyboxes. This is the exact reason why you still cannot fly in Silvermoon City: the city outside the narrow roads simply doesn’t exist. Stormwind had the same issue prior to Cataclysm, if you’ll recall, but they did spend the manpower to construct a fully 3D space. They had to, because otherwise every character with a flying mount would immediately see the seams of the gameworld.

On one hand, there’s nothing necessarily “bad” about this sort decision in of itself. If you can’t physically get to somewhere, there is no reason why you should be upset that it was a clever skybox instead of fully functional rendered terrain.

On the other hand, if true, it would make Blizzard disingenuous to the extreme. And, you know, this particular explanation (e.g. cut costs) makes more sense than the ones we have been presented thus far. Flying has been spun as this big “problem” that there needs to be a “solution” for, but where is the actual problem? When did it start occurring? Did anyone honestly think Northrend was “too small” because of flying? Was there anything more impressive than Icecrown Citadel in terms of set pieces seen from a flying mount? If Northrend was a no-fly zone, I guarantee that 95% of ICC would have been sprites.

World of Warcraft is the most successful MMO ever made and has maintained that title for over ten years now. Despite that fact, and the sheer volume of cash flow, Blizzard has never been able to release expansions faster. How long was the last raid tier in Pandaria active again? So Blizzard has every incentive to cut as many corners as they can to push content out the door faster. We have seen that time and time again in Draenor, and I suspect we’ll see more of it in future no-flight expansions.

If this is the real reason, I wish Blizzard would just come out and say it. Because if it is the case, we already lost the debate, and nothing we say matters; we are no longer debating design philosophy, we are debating dollars. And that is one argument players are never going to win.

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Posted on May 25, 2015, in Philosophy, WoW and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 13 Comments.

  1. Flight is Tychuses’ cigar. “We’d rather cut costs than deliver something many of you want/feel is necessary.”

    I think it is a sound argument.

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  2. I can’t speak for WoW because I have never had a character there that was high enough to qualify but I can say that in other MMOs that allow flight, flying is an end in and of itself. I spend a great deal of time (many hours) just flying around, looking at the view and taking screenshots.

    It’s also one thing not to add flying to your MMO but to add it and then remove it is plainly crazy. Who ever thanked anyone for taking back a present they gave them earlier?

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    • Exactly! But the craziest part to me is that none of the “reasons” being offered have at all been relevant or convincing. There is no flying in Battlegrounds, for example, and that is something I can fully get behind. I don’t think anyone has ever had a problem with the lack of flying up until you hit the level cap for the expansion. And people are even fine with no flying in specific endgame zones that are recently introduced (Timeless Isle, etc).

      But no flying anywhere relevant from now on? “Targeted exploration” isn’t even close to being enough of a reason. It is a solution in search of a problem.

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  3. Hmmmm VERY VERY good take on the developement cost thing. I like it. It’s the only explanation I have read which makes 100% sense.

    All the other “reasons” feel to me as complete bullshit. I mean, if they want people out there in the world and on the ground, they could simply give some good reasons to be there. From a gameplay/progression point of view, right now, flight or no flight there’s absolutely no reason to wander around.
    Exploration: what? The terrain interaction sucks, treasures are conveniently located by looking at the points on the map, rare spawns by a skull on the map, pets by a nice paw mark which already tells you if it’s the one you’re looking for.
    Challenge: none whatsoever, anything you can meet out there is a complete faceroll. I mean, on my rogue reroll I just vanish and on my blood DK everything just dies…. (on my main, well, I kill them by mistake).
    Activities: daily quests are conveniently located at the destination point of a flight path. Actually, the NPC could just teleport me there, it’s not like I risk making any interesting encounter on my way there….
    Farming: everything and some more can just be obtained from the garrison. Lacking that, the garrison produces so many gold that unless you need massive quantities you can buy whatever you need from the AH.

    If they were to clearly state that it’s to cut developement costs I could agree or disagree, but at least I would not fell like being bullshitted.

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    • I’m both hoping and not hoping that the cheaper development cost is the reason for the change. If it is true, that sucks, but at least it makes sense. If it’s not true however, that means the Blizzard devs are making huge changes in the basic gameplay formula just because… they’re bored? They want to “shake things up?” They want to dictate every angle from which a player could engage outdoor content?

      If those were my options, I’d rather it be due to cutting costs.

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  4. I honestly do not get what people are talking about when they suggest lack of flying “makes the world more dangerous.”

    I think I’ve got it. Next expansion will take place in an alternate universe Silverpine Forest, and there will be Sons of Arugal like everywhere, ganking you left and right.

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    • I know, right? No one can even say “well maybe you get dazed off your mount” because Blizzard specifically added an ability to become immune to that. If you have time to break out the flying mount, you have time to break out a ground mount. Ergo flying is entirely irrelevant to any consideration over the danger of the world.

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  5. First off, pure oppinion/guesswork from me. I would suspect they will keep adding stuff like avianas feather to provide some amount of limited flight going forward. I hiiiighly doubt they will go back to a 2d layout, even with regular flying mounts disallowed. Does anyone know if stuff like timeless isle was build as 2d or 3d?

    I am one of those who really get behind the arguments in favour of removing flight. Having recently dabbled on a vanilla private server, i can attest that without even a ground mount even something as small as stormwind is large! and certain zones are just huge. Of cause the actual size of an area doesnt change just because i move slower, but the perceived size really really does.

    I can understand and aggree with the point that the easy unlimited flight wow flying mounts offer, makes certain types of quest design invalid. Stealth used to be a hugely important mechanic exactly cause it allowed what flying mounts allow. Getting to an objective without fighting the way back and forth. I dont think the issue is fixed by requiring a certain number of mobs killed, as the “challenge” to be overcome is fundamentally different if kill x mobs is tagged onto it (no stealthing, no clever maneuvring, no waiting for someone else to clear, etcetc).

    I could go on, but typing on my ipad is tedious so i will just skip to the second point.

    Is this a good thing for wow specifically?? As the game is currently… a lot of the potential gain from not having flight is null and void. For instance when was the last time you werereally afraid of mobs? Even if they are dangerous mobs (i guess there are a few of those around), either you have a quest to kill them, in which case you are killing them anyways, or you ignore them. The world is not designed to be a dangerous place for us (short of ganking maybe), we are heroes. Which means that unless they drastically change a lot of the rest of the gameplay/worlddesign/incentives to do stuff, this basically amounts to taking away what a lot of people truly enjoy, without even getting the benefits. If people do not have a reason to be IN your world, it really!! Doesn’t matter whether they can fly or not, so might as well let them.

    Now on the other hand, if they DO get the rest of the game “fixed” so that you have a reason to do non-instanced content at maxlvl, then i think no-flight is definately the way to go. From a design perspective that is,.. From a PR perspective, I’d be crying… All those flying mounts people bought/grinded/earned over the years… “Yeah you know what, useless”.

    For your list of problems i can aggree with 6-9. But most of them have roots in other design decisions, that could in theory be dealt with no matter whether flying is allowed or not. For 1-5 i actually disagree with your conclusions, for 10 I just think im too optimistic to aggree.

    Tldr: from a design perspective i can understand and am very much in favour of no-flight in a mmorpg, there are just SO many things that blizz needs to change to actually get the positive effects from no-flight, and theres so many negative effects that they get right away. Chief amongst them the lashback from taking away something a lot of people really like/have paid for.

    Thanks for the post, nice read, even if I did disaggree with most of it :-)

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  6. Very good post.

    Now the next question would be, what makes them lose more subscribers in the long run. No new raid (which only the majority cares about anyway) for a year or no flying? I know that I never cared about timeless isle or the stupid troll isle because of no flying.

    And I reduced my PvP pet battling because waiting on the queue is extremely annoying while just standing in your garrison. During MoP you could fly over the valley of the four winds and enjoy the view and relax.

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  7. Why I want to fly. I love to just fly around enjoying the scenery, if I discover ores and herbs as I fly over them that is a bonus. On a taxi flight I wouldn’t be able to stop and collect them, and it’s too much bother to remember where to go back to. Also I’ve discovered some beautiful hidden places in areas I would not otherwise have been in. Like the person who browses the internet while on taxis, I’ll wander away from the computer to make a cup of tea or do something else. It’s boring just watching a flight you have no control over. In Draenor I very often give up on trying to get treasures or find some quest places because I quite simply cannot figure out the way to get to them. The maps are not very clear and very often I spend more time following dead ends than actually achieving things. It can get very frustrating to know I can’t finish something because I can’t reach it. It’s easier for me jumping down to places than it is trying to jump up to something that is two or three times higher than my character can actually jump. In the Timeless Isle I was quite happy to try reaching all those chests at the end of ropes and things, in Draenor I don’t bother.
    As for world pvp, I didn’t do it before, I’m not going to do it now so flying won’t change that.
    Yes I know there are flight pints all over the place but I’ve lost count of how many times I end up the wrong side of impassable mountains ranges and get lost trying to get round them.
    Flying in Draenor will add to my enjoyment and immersion in the game, making me more likely to get out of my garrison, rather than just doing the dailies and going back to Azeroth for some freedom.
    I don’t always use flying when I can. If I’m in the mood for it I’ll indulge in some solo RP and only use appropriate methods of travel for my story, be it land mounts or on foot.
    I don’t have to be flying all the time, I just want the choice.

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  8. The best way to save cost on world content is not to make it 2D. The best way is to simply not HAVE world content. That’s the direction I see them moving in.

    Maybe flying’s going away because all that will be left will be instanced content in which we have always been restricted to the ground.

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