In my last post I talked about how we’d lost some people from the guild recently and how dailies were the salient reason behind some of those departures. Now another guildie (and raider) has confessed he feels the same, that he just can’t face the grind of dailies, and that for him the experience of random groups in dungeons and LFR aren’t salutary, so he doesn’t want to stomach those to get his precious Valor Points capped every week. So we have another person taking a break, hoping to find his enthusiasm again if he puts a bit of distance between himself and the game.

This post, while unapologetically lengthy, isn’t simply a QQ moan. I’m genuinely concerned about the game I love, and I hope Blizzard is aware of certain problems abounding at the moment. I’ll be surprised if they’re not. I know that in some ways what follows here might seem a contradiction of what I said a few posts ago about adapting, adopting and surviving, but recent events have just got me thinking.

On Friday night, I was chatting with another guild leader I’ve known for a few years, while we waited for a Galleon fight to start. He told me he’d suffered a lot of departures from his guild, and I know that for a time his had been a very large guild, if not one of the biggest on our realm. Like our guild had some time ago, he’d seen some of his raiders hive off impatiently, because they wanted to be more ‘hardcore’ – and to form a guild for that purpose. I wonder, in the face of how things currently are in the game, how long that new guild will last. From what I’ve seen of others founded on the same notion, their survival rate isn’t high, because there is little sense of guild loyalty, and perhaps not much of friendship. Hungry raid guilds, put together in haste, often implode, and quite quickly.

But that aside, my GL friend has also found that the majority of people who are still with his guild just want to be casual or social players, and their raiding itch is scratched by LFR. He can’t field a 10 or 25 man team any more for Normal raiding, so he too is making use of LFR. All the friends with whom he’d formed his guild have left the game. He said to me, in bewilderment, (and even in typed conversation I could ‘hear’ that sentiment), ‘why is this happening? Why are people going?’ I told him that I think, (and I might or might not be right), it isn’t so much the entire player base is bleeding away, but rather that the game is changing. Guilds, I’m sad to say, aren’t as vital as they used to be for people to get the most out of the game. Normal raiding (never mind Heroic) isn’t as vital either. Some of us still like more of a challenge, but many prefer a less stressful mode of raiding. Perhaps the drama you get in guilds associated with Normal (or Heroic) raiding has also contributed to people choosing not to involve themselves in it. People can now dip into LFR and see all the end game content, and get nice rewards. They don’t have to plan ahead. They don’t have to turn up at exact times for so many hours. If they need to leave for any reason, they can just quit the raid. They won’t be letting anyone down, because others are ready in the queue to step in. They don’t end up stuck on progress bosses for weeks, when tempers and patience fray, and friendships are stretched by the tension. They don’t even have to talk to the people they team with. I don’t blame them for it really. I see why it’s an attractive alternative, especially for people with limited time to play and prepare. But that doesn’t mean I’m comfortable with the overall implications for the game. Neither are others, and that’s one of the reasons why they are either taking breaks or quitting for other games. I suspect the more casual players are pretty happy with the way things are; they have more freedom and choices than they’ve ever had. And the reality is that there are far more casual players than any other kind.

I was saddened to hear the things my friend told me, but on the other hand slightly relieved, because even though I read about others guilds’ trials and tribulations on forums, when you hear it from someone you know, it somehow makes it more real, and you realise you’re not alone with these dilemmas.

It seems to me that Blizzard is experimenting with MoP, either with an eye towards their next game, or else future expansions of WoW. Theirs has been a juggling act for the past few years, trying to satisfy their wide and disparate player base, where you have extremes of player competence, commitment, and preferences. With around 10 million customers, all with different expectations and requirements from a virtual world, it’s impossible for Blizzard to please everybody. As a company, they have no choice but to do what they must to be successful, to survive. No business would think any other way. And that must mean pleasing the majority of customers. But I don’t think Blizzard deserves to be demonised, as some players seem inclined to do to them. I believe they want to try and please as many people as possible, and to do that, they have to try different things out. I think this has led Mists of Pandaria to be the best of WoW expansions, but in some ways one of the worst as well. I can’t remember players being driven off to this extent before, relatively early in an expansion’s life. MoP has got more things for players to do in it than any previous expansion. And it’s not even a year old.

And to me this is the most important thing. People are fed up after only 7 months or so. They are having breaks or leaving. As far as I can recall, even in Cata people weren’t feeling this way only 7 months into the expansion.

It goes without saying the reputation grinds and the dailies to earn Valor Points are one of the major reasons players are losing interest. I’m probably one of the few people who isn’t hugely bothered about these aspects of the game, mainly because I have an army of alts and I was quite organised on my main character to make things easier for them later on. I dip into rep grinds when I feel the urge, and leave it for weeks now, if that urge doesn’t come. I also enjoy parts of the game some of our guild raiders don’t like particularly, such as the pet battles, and hunting for rare mounts and pets. I’m happy to do things like slaughter dinosaurs on the Isle of Giants to gather bones to buy a raptor mount, while other guildies would just be bored to death with that, and don’t have the same interests (some might say obsessions) as me. WoW, to me, is my respite after working for the day. I’m quite happy just to potter about if something more challenging isn’t going on.

However, I do think Blizzard could have made the dailies less of a chore for people. We know the gating of certain factions, and patterns and recipes for professions, never mind epic gear, being locked away behind those factions, was a cause of major frustration for an awful lot of players. Blizzard themselves have admitted the dailies could have been organised better. When the Isle of Thunder dailies came out, I really enjoyed them. A lot of them were fun rather than boring; they were certainly more entertaining than the previous slew of dailies we’d had. But… As the Isle has opened up while the storyline progresses, the dailies have become harder. Now, they involve elite mini-bosses to kill, and they are very difficult for some classes to do alone, so you have to hope other players are around when you’re doing them. If players are required (or encouraged) to do these endless repetitive tasks, at least let them be painless and fun… like the first Island quests were. The fact that the dailies now involve some quite punishing mobs to kill means it’s difficult to take newly-minted 90s over to the island in starter 90 gear. And even now, with the Island being relatively new, you can’t guarantee others will need to fight the mobs you want, so you either have to hang around waiting, hoping someone else will turn up, or hope another guildie wants to do their dailies at the same time of day you do. If, in fact, you can find a guildie still prepared to do them. The Island dailies came too late to prevent some of our players leaving the game, and even though the new content seemed at first like a great rescue act, now it too has become rather an onerous slog. It’s a pity newly-90 alts can’t confine themselves to doing the less difficult quests we started off with over there. But now, everyone is steered towards the harder section, whether they’re geared for it or not. Many people I know in the game now just won’t do those quests on their mains. And of course they have no desire whatsoever to do them on their lesser-geared alts.

So that’s one reason why people are becoming disenchanted.

For raiders, I believe the other main reason is the difficulty of the Normal raids. I can’t speak for Heroic raiders; perhaps they are happy with the way things or, if they are dissatisfied, it’s because they always want things to be even more difficult than they are. But for a lot of Normal raiding guilds, they have run into progression walls, amplified by the fact they’ve lost raiders because of the dailies problem. If we’d been able to take our best team to every run, we’d have been fine. But as it stands, some of our best raiders are now gone, and those who remain are constrained by family and work commitments to a large degree. It often feels like we’re banging our heads against a wall. If other guilds are in the same position, and I know a lot of them are, is it any wonder some just give up or resign themselves to LFR? If we lose a few more people, we won’t be able to raid either. Quite honestly, we struggle to get a 5 man dungeon group going some nights, and not because there are too few people online. Guildies just don’t seem that keen on doing them anymore. We get Valor Points to buy better gear for our characters, but when we’re stuck in the middle of Heart of Fear, hampered only by the fact we can’t get 10 good players together for a run, there’s little incentive to improve that gear.

I’ve not seen the game in this state all the time I’ve been playing. It’s my virtual other home, and I love its landscapes and peoples, its histories and its lore. It has inspired me, and even comforted me when real life has been hard. Therefore, I’m worried about the way things are going. I want to rise up and meet the challenge, if such a challenge exists, as I’ve said in a previous post, but the population leakage over the past month has been quite noticeable. It seems to me that all it would take to fix things is some quite tiny tweaks. Some aspects of the Isle of Thunder revolutionised the concept of the daily grind, but then it became the same old grind again. I see the idea behind making the quests progressively more difficult, and if they had comprised a one off quest line, that would have worked admirably, as in the excellent solo scenarios on the island, but they are not good as daily quests. No one really wants to do tons of dailies, so if we have to, to gain access to other things we do want, why continue to make them such a chore?

It’s occurred to me as I’ve been editing this post that I’ve done more moaning about WoW recently than praising, but that really is because I think Azeroth is a wonderful creation and I care about it. I care about my characters, because I’ve had these virtual friends for eight years or so. I’ve seen them grow and evolve. I care about my guild and my friends, and I don’t want to see more of them go, these people I’ve seen every week for years. I know for many of them the friendships they’ve made in the game are now probably more important than the game itself, so it says a lot when they feel they can’t play anymore, that they’re only turning up online to chat to people, which they might as well just do on Facebook or similar. That, to me, is not only sad but scary. It’s like the Old Guard of WoW is being forced out; a different, utterly casual, generation of players is taking over. These players might not be guilded, and might not care about committing to progression in the game; both of these being aspects that were once the backbone of WoW, if not every MMO out there.

Times are changing, and while I appreciate that this has to happen in order for the game not only to survive but move on, I don’t think it should be at the expense of losing all the players who sustained the game and enabled its growth. But then, we don’t know what Blizzard might yet have up its sleeve, and maybe some new content is around the corner that will change things again, and that will entice players back. I really hope so.

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