(A shorter version of this post appeared in the comments section of WoWinsider’s article ‘Warlords of Draenor: Gameplanet Interviews Alex Afrasiabi’ on 9th March 2014.)
In a recent interview with gaming news web site Gameplanet, Blizzard Creative Director Alex Afrasiabi slipped in a little morsel about the contentious issue of flying in WoW. For some time I’ve been reading the arguments for and against flying in the game and Blizzard themselves have apparently spoken of regret about its inclusion in the first place. The main arguments against flying mounts concern the world being made ‘smaller’ or players not being so immersed in the detailed landscapes Blizzard have created. Some anti-flying players even go so far as to say flying mounts trivialize the game, making it too easy to avoid hazards on the ground, such as mobs you might have to fight through to get to a destination. The pro-flying brigade has its own arguments, of course. I’m among the latter and will give some of my reasons below. Speaking of flight restrictions in the game, (areas such as Isle of Thunder and Timeless Isle), Afrasiabi’s words were “I feel like we can learn from this, in that is there a world where we have no flying, but people love it? You know? Is it a possibility? I think it is.” I’m not sure if what he said came out exactly as he intended – he did *appear* to imply Blizzard are thinking of a world entirely without flying, or perhaps he just meant Draenor – but there are lots of reasons many players would be unhappy with such a decision.
First, (but not necessarily the most important), people have paid real money to buy flying mounts from the Blizzard store. If flying was removed from the game entirely, which I sincerely hope was not the implication in Afrasiabi’s words, would those mounts disappear from players’ mount collections or just still be there as ground mounts – in some cases immense, awkward and totally inappropriate for ground travel? Anyone who’s tried to ride Heart of the Aspects or the Iron Skyreaver on the floor must surely agree they are not the most… er… elegant of ground mounts. No one in their right mind would use them for anything other than flying. That’s what they’re designed for, as are many other mounts in the game. I think it’s highly unlikely Blizzard would refund disgruntled players who’d bought flying mounts from the store if they were suddenly grounded or – worse – removed from or made inactive in the mount journal.
It can’t be denied or ignored that a lot of people really love their mount collections. I assume the alleged 50% who are eager to see flying go don’t care about collecting mounts, so their removal or greater restriction wouldn’t affect them one bit. And as is often the case with some, usually vocal, WoW players, if they’re not into something, they have no consideration whatsoever for those who are. If a player doesn’t like flying, they’re not forced to do it. They can still potter along on the ground if that’s their wish – so they shouldn’t try to impose their preferences on others. I know I’d be far from alone in being gutted if I lost all the beautiful flying mounts I’ve spent so long farming for, or had them reduced to wing-clipped, lumbering-about-on-the-ground travesties. If flying went, it would please those players who want to go back in time to when travel was tiresomely lengthy, but it would infuriate all those who think flying is one of the best additions the game ever had.
I find it hard to believe that players are split right down the middle on this issue. Just among my friends in WoW alone I know it’s more like two thirds enjoy collecting mounts – especially flying ones – and a third aren’t that bothered about them. And of that last third, I can’t think of one who’s said they want flying totally removed. Players still flock to kill Huolon on the Timeless Isle, more so than the other rare mobs over there, and that’s not just for the skinning potential, is it? No, it’s for the Thundering Onyx Cloud Serpent he might drop.
Once players have been given something they like, it hurts to have it taken away. Mass summoning springs to mind; our guild misses that a lot and we still grumble about it as we’re trying to congregate somewhere quickly. But that pales in comparison to the issue of flying mounts. As many players have said, if we’d never had flying, or the awesome mounts that came with it, we wouldn’t miss it. But we *have* had the convenience, and the sheer buzz of taking to the air. We *have* had the awesome mounts. We’ve had the showy phoenix of ‘Ashes of Alar’, we’ve had a host of different types of beautiful dragons, we’ve had gryphons, and hippogryphs and sinuous cloud serpents. Taking all those away would be a huge and controversial step by Blizzard. I imagine it would cause uproar and subs would take a damaging hit.
Another thing to consider is that not everyone wants it to take five times as long or more to get to a destination. Flight path taxis can take you all over the place on the ‘scenic route’, or they might not drop you really close to where you want to be. I’m sure a lot of people log on sometimes just to do a short stint of archaeology or to farm mats for their professions. Flying certainly helps to get the best of your time with that. And whether the purist players agree with me or not, I don’t want to go back to having to hack my way through lots of annoying little mobs to get to a mining node or an archaeology site.
Flying is fun for a huge part of the player base. Pretty much everyone will agree that it’s fine to restrict flying while leveling so you’re more immersed in the landscape that first time through it. I had no objection to that in any of the expansions that included such a restriction. But I do want to fly when I hit top level. I want to admire the mounts I’ve collected and enjoy riding them. And again, as many have and will say, the leveling content gets pretty exhausted in the fun department when you’re doing it on your fourth alt and beyond. It’s not unusual nowadays for people to have more than one account with a bunch of alts at top level. I can’t help thinking that Blizzard are just being stubborn forcing players to go through a whole expansion again and again without the convenience of flying. Once, yes, twice or maybe even three times… but after that, it’s just tedious.
Ultimately, I’m rather gob-smacked about what Afrasiabi said. If Blizzard are so against flying, why are flying mounts almost exclusively the prestigious rewards for completing difficult game content? Why do so many tricky raid bosses have flying mounts in their loot table? Why are flying mounts even on sale in the store if Blizzard are hoping to discourage their use?
Never mind the players, I have a feeling this argument might have been going on for some time between the developers, and maybe *they* are split right down the middle about it. But even so, ‘Mists of Pandaria’ was chock full of new flying mounts – fabulous ones at that – and we had quite a few new ones in the Blizzard store during this expansion, not to mention the fact that the Collector’s Edition of ’Warlords of Draenor’ will include a flying mount. This doesn’t make any sense to me. If Blizzard are so against flying, why do they keep feeding our addiction? If that’s simply to take it away, I’d really have to think seriously about whether I’d continue to play. Mount collecting is one of my favourite things in the game, and I’d feel devalued as a customer, if not betrayed, if that enjoyment was axed simply to please those who dislike flying or to force me to have a worm’s eye view of the world every minute I’m playing. We should all have the choice to play how we want to play. We pay for that privilege, don’t we? Blizzard do so much to improve the game and provide more and more content, which has resulted in a rich and complex world, and with many more players having access to a greater amount of content. I simply can’t see why they’d want to take this backward step and rile up a lot of their customers in the process.
I’m trying to convince myself that Afrasiabi just worded it a bit wrong in that interview. I hope he simply meant flying will be restricted until top level in the new expansion, and all of our alts will have to wait until then too. At worst, perhaps he was telling us in a roundabout way that Blizzard are still considering whether flying will ever be allowed on Draenor, even though previously we’ve been advised it will be reintroduced with patch 6.1. The idea of it being removed altogether is pretty much unthinkable when you consider all the points I’ve explored above. Whatever the outcome, while I’d prefer something similar to how it was in Wrath for alts’ to obtain flying, I’d rather wait to get it on every single one of my alts than see it go altogether.