Well, I thought this blog deserved a send-off of some kind--I really did have a lot of fun with it when I started it now over two years ago. That statement is shocking to me, in and of itself. It's kind of hard to believe that it's been that long just since then, and even moreso, that my time playing WoW spanned nearly six and a half years (!).
I admit, I will miss the old game--the one that began to die slowly with the release of Burning Crusade. Although it had its faults, BC was a fun and expansive addition to the original game. My excitement for Wrath of the Lich King, while still a rather manic excitement for the new features being released, was somewhat muted in comparison to the upcoming release of BC and refocused on somewhat different priorities. In retrospect, beginning with the announcement of WOTLK, my excitement for the new expansion was more towards the hope that it would "bring the magic back," so to speak, rather than the incredible number of new features, additions, tweaks, and so on that so excited me about BC's release.
Then, when Cataclysm was announced and the PR campaign began to ramp up to feverish intensity, I followed it all--but more and more, I began to feel reservations and doubts about the ability of the game to really deliver an epic, original-WoW style experience.
Sadly, it was overall a huge disappointment, at least for me. In their attempt to please every kind of player, Blizzard bit themselves in the ass with a mish-mash of annoyances, blatant attempts at harnessing addictive design elements simply to secure a daily time investment from all players (not just the "hardcore" elements), as well as increasing amounts of "social integration" that fueled the natural tendencies of habitual players to spend time on the game simply socializing, rather than actually playing the game itself. This meta-game style design path was the final nail in the coffin for me, I think.
The amount of drama, elitism, ego, shameless trolling and constant peer pressure to follow the crowd, rather than pursuing whatever personal goals and gameplay styles that each individual player preferred grew and thrived under the guise of "accessibility," "social gaming," "new gameplay mechanics," "guild management features" and a host of other new design decisions that grabbed the game by the hand and took it to corporate-themepark territory. You can literally almost pick out at random any of the major features added between the time just before the launch of WOTLK and early Cataclysm as an example linked to this trend. Over time, that growing trend simply pushed me away from the game (well, again). This time, however, it pushed me away for good.
I liked the unabashedly nerdy, "come as you are," skill-based meritocracy of the original game, with its nearly unlimited avenues of play and options for creative gameplay that it had for each and every kind of player, with the occasional "incredibly grindy but epicly rewarding quest or achievement," that appealed to the gamers with more time on their hands. The original game lacked polish, it's true--but I think that's what made so many people love it. It did the important things well, and focused on the minor issues only if they presented serious problems for the important ones. This is a good way to allocate development resources, and it was incredibly successful, both for the game's developers, subscription numbers, revenue and growth--but also for the players.
However, in Blizzard's rush to meet what I am sure were top-level management-set metrics and standards for subscriptions and revenue, WoW's development focus gradually, but surely, shifted to one based on popular opinion first and foremost. Get enough players to complain about one thing and (appear to) threaten subscriber numbers, and you could always expect an irresistible push from upper level management to appease the masses rather than risk corporate revenue streams. I believe the primary reason that was, and is, driving this top-down micro-designing (micromanagement of game design) was the marketing campaign that WoW was driven on. Subscriber numbers and revenue were largely the basis of that marketing campaign: "Most popular MMO ever!" "The only MMO to reach 10 million subscribers!" "WoW now more popular than ever!" This was surely because the game had little else to promote itself with, having already started to stagnate several years ago, and lacking the innovation that made it so compelling and unique among other games on the market--as I said, shortly after the release of Burning Crusade.
Perhaps you can see how this demagogue approach to development fits in to the more blatant social integration features that gradually became a core component of WoW's development towards the end of WOTLK.
These design decisions and development paths based on social media and blurring the line between "real life" and "in game" ended up killing WoW utterly. By now, that's apparent to most of the general public. It's only a matter of time now. The game I knew is dead and buried; its current incarnation is the walking dead. And yet, despite all that I said here, I am still a little sad to see it go. Despite how much of my time the game sucked up while I was in college and after I graduated, I really did enjoy it immensely for the majority of the time I was playing it. The game, as it was then, I could easily call one of the best games ever created. That is my opinion, but I feel pretty strongly about it.
Thus--this is my formal farewell to WoW. Drums and fanfare. I had stopped playing entirely around early February of this year, but I made the decision to cancel my account for good this past April, and it expired shortly after, only a month later. It is entirely too much to hope for, but I have to hope that at least a few development houses and game designers take some note and words of warning from the path Blizzard took--large game publishing conglomerates and corporate "suits" have been, and will be, threatening every "AAA" title that will be developed from now and into the near future. There is an axiom of game development that states, paraphrased, that you can either create a good game, or you can make a lot of money. There is some middle ground between the two, but in my simplistic terms, it comes down to either luck, or an extremely long design-development cycle (throughout which you will be harangued endlessly by all manner of people who have a stake in the game's release--financiers, fans, investors, and a host of others as well). Money will always be a strong lure for successful products, but once you walk that path, it's extremely difficult, if at all possible, to leave it.
Requiescat in Pace, WoW. And thanks to the few that have, or ever did, read my blog--I miss the days when reading the latest theorycrafting posts or role play stories were a fun daily activity for me. You all made the game much more special than any "Battle.net friend updates" could ever do, and it made me feel like part of the community to maintain my own slice of it here.
Case Study: Guild Mergers
5 weeks ago