The Future of WoW, Part II: The Streamlined Endgame
In part I, I established some points regarding the nature of the financial success of Blizzard’s MMORPG, World of Warcraft. In short, they are as follows:
- The Blue Ocean in business represents a market with latent demand for a product, rife with potential for business. A company that can capture the Blue Ocean demographic is without competition, and can become successful
- Nintendo captured this Blue Ocean by releasing low-complexity (yet intricately develloped) games that appeal to an ignored demographic of non-gamers, and presented them on an innovative system.
- Blizzard did the same as Nintendo by making a high-complexity genre, the MMORPG, accessible and appealing to both the existing MMORPG market as well as the non-gaming market.
- With the advantage of expanding the existing market with vast control over the Blue Ocean, Nintendo progressively introduced more complex games to their DS system, which was met with great success. Blizzard can and must do the same with WoW.
Generationism and the myth of Hardcore/Casual
The terms hardcore and casual have been thrown around on the internet like flapjacks, and without a proper definition of both, arguments for or against each term can result in quite vocal results.
For those who are convinced by the strategies and mindsets employed by the Nintendo and Blizzard marketing teams, there lies an end to the messiness of the debate. To them, there is no hardcore or casual. There are those who play games, and those who don’t.
Simply put, the war between hardcore and casual is meaningless, because it is based on different values.
Yes, there have been arguments about dumbing down of the game, and the general response has been doom and gloom, but it is not inconceivable to think that such a response has not been seen before. Whether it is the elderly grandfather who likes to tell stories about walking uphill both ways in the snow, or the mother who raises an eyebrow in her daughter’s taste in music compared to her own, perspective comes in the context of generations.
Ah. Generations. The true crux of the argument. What initially was perceived as a rift between hardcore and casual is merely the natural social phenomenon known as generationism.
Taken from wikipedia,
Generationism is the belief that a specific generation has inherent traits which may be labeled inferior or superior to the traits of another generation. The term is usually applied to claims of superiority in the expressed values, valuations, lifestyles and general beliefs of one generation compared to those of another, where objectively verifiable criteria substantiating the claim of superiority in themselves are lacking.
Inferior and superior? Where have I heard that before? Ah yes, here in the WoW community, this sort of thinking comes accross as elitism. Due to the memetic nature of the internet and the competitive nature of video games in general, buzzwords have arised to mask predisposed thinking, with terms such as noob and leet, hardcore and casual.
Due to tapping the Blue Ocean, Nintendo and Blizzard have introduced a new demographic of gamers into the industry, and have nurtured their taste in video games based on their respective design philosophies. As a result, their efforts were met with record-breaking success. Wii Sports dethroned the original Super Mario Bros. as the top-selling game of all time, and likewise, World of Warcraft’s expansions have gone to become top-selling PC games.
All thanks to the new demographic, the video game titans have molded these individuals into a new type of gamer with different values and lifestyles, effectively creating a new generation of gamers. Effectively, the video gaming industry has reached the end of its NES-bred, technology-hungry gaming generation, and its gradually being replaced by a new generation of gamers.
Forging the New Generation: A History
It is difficult to claim that only now Blizzard has streamlined the game. In fact, over the course of the WoW’s history from vanilla up until now, radical plans were implimented to streamline the MMORPG experience. In this, not only has Blizzard made the genre more accessible, but even acceptable in society.
According to Malstrom, there are two important tiers in the Blue Ocean Strategy, two important groups of people that need to be won over in order for the full extent of Blue Ocean success to work: Soon-to-be non-customers, and sceptical customers.
Soon-to-be customers include those who are growing dissatisfied with the pre-WoW state of MMO’s, and those who are unable to play MMO’s due to the barrier of the genre. The streamlining of WoW from previous games of its kin has successfully attracted this tier of customers through the following features:
- An enticing franchise world, rich in lore
- Integrating questing with storyline
- LOTS of rewards
- Customizable character traits via talent system and professions
- eBay-like secondary market system
To those who were jaded with the MMO genre at the time, Blizzard introduced the following:
- Removing penalty from death (i.e., XP loss)
- Rested XP bonus and overall increased levelling speed
- Customizable traits via talent system and professions
- Non-instanced singular world map
With the advent of WoW’s expansions, The Burning Crusade and Wrath of the Lich King, Blizzard has addressed the needs of both the shifting demographics and influx of new generations by addressing both the “hardcore” and “casual” through the following:
- Arena PvP, e-sports
- Mounted combat via vehicles
- Phasing technology in both quests and instance encounters
- Referal bonuses (Recruit-a-friend)
- Heirloom items
- More streamlined raiding system (10-25 from 40)
- New classes and races
- Marked increase in daily quests
Secondarily, the next tier of Blizzard’s Blue Ocean strategy involved appealing to the sceptical masses. Nintendo’s “Wii would like to play” campaign garnered numerous marketing awards for destroying the social barriers between gaming nerds and everyday people with regards to socially accepted gaming.
Blizzard has done likewise with the following:
Whether your favourite of the series is Mr. T’s Night Elf mohawk warrior, William Shatner’s Tauren shaman, or Vern Troyer’s gnome mage, The What’s Your game? campaign also won numerous media awards for marketing.
Not all of WoW’s success of combating the no-life, addictive, “serious business” predisposition of MMORPG players comes from official campaigns. Word of mouth and accidental memes can become positive phenomena as well. I’m sure you remember this:
When Leeroy Jenkins becomes a jeopardy question involving World of Warcraft in a non-negative light, you know something’s right with the game. To this Denver reporter, Leeroy has done a lot for the genre by becoming a e-pop culture phenomenon, suggesting that the endgame is more lighthearted and accessible than its hardnosed, meticulously planned, mathemagical stereotype implies; that it’s okay to be part of a raiding environment because it’s okay to screw up.
The Future of WoW: The Streamlined Endgame
Here we are at the crux of my piece. What exactly does the future hold in story for WoW, and its audience? The reason why this series of posts has been more of a history lesson than a speculative post is because one can predict the future based on trends set by the past. In the case of Blizzard, making the Blue Ocean and Disruption strategies work imply that they will continue the trends that they already set forth.
Whether you’re a a vanilla vet, a BC boomer, or a Lich King learner, you are playing the game partly because of the massive amounts of content that the game provides in comparison to others. The lore of the game is rich and deep. The mechanics are easy to pick up, yet it takes a bit more to understand the math behind it and become “skilled” at the class. And most importantly, the game itself fosters a wonderful social community.
Blizzard will make PvE endgame more accessible. Blizzard wants you to experience the lore, all the way up to the resolution of the Lich King’s tyranical campaign. But they want you to do it with friends. I expect them to make the raid dungeons an experience, rather than a barrier to the next level.
They have done this already with Naxxramas and Ulduar, making them marked steps up in difficulty, but remaining relatively doable with the right knowledge, coordination, and gear. With each step in progression, the gear gap becomes quite large, so by implementing more available second-to-top-tier gear options with each patch, people that are not constrained by time will be able to experience the content with less time investment. This has happened already with emblems of conquest, expect this to happen again when Icecrown is released.
Blizzard will continue to make the trek to endgame much faster. The interesting thing about the levelling curve is that the time it takes to gain 10 levels in the 1-60 range is much different than going from 60-70 and 70-80 respectively. With each passing expansion, levelling to the cap from 1 becomes much harder. To alleviate this, expect levelling speeds to increase even further, through continued use of incentives such as referrals and by continuing to lower the XP requirements to ding at intermediate levels (ie, 60-70, 70-80).
Blizzard will make PvP even more accessible. They’ve already done this in the twink department by freezing levels and isolating twink and non-twink participants in instanced battlegrounds. Expect this to be furthered by the use of heirloom items being best-in-slot (or close to it) for these endeavours.
Eventually, each equipment slot will have an associated heirloom item, resulting in transferrable twink battlegear. The niche of each bracket will become more accessible, and provide an excellent PvP alternative to level-capped combat.
Older generations will move on, newer generations will proliferate. In a way, this has already happened naturally thanks to way time changes people and their lifestyle demands, just ask BRK and Phaelia. By the time the next expansion is released, I fully expect the vast majority of vanilla vets and a good number of BC babies to move on to other games or other lifestyles.
The LK loomers and will become the wise sages of Azeroth, and with the streamlining of the endgame, they will be nurtured into the next generation of raiders, becoming the new “hardcore.”
Retired veterans will come back. Again and again. It’s world of warcraft for crying out loud, they always do!
People will still QQ. The thing about generationism is that it is cyclical. Those who grow up listening to the lament of previous generations will eventually become the lamenters themselves. And with the constant shuffle and return of ex-gamers thanks to the accessibility of content, expect generationism to continue as always.
WoW will become fully customizible. Forget about name and hair changes. Race/faction, and even class changes will be made possible. Blizzard has the resources, and it makes sense marketing-wise. It’s only a matter of time. As slippery as this slope is, Blizzard will be willing to go down it, because it fits the vision of accessibility. (EDIT: having pre-written this, this actually turned out to be right, except for the class change thing. Score!)
In lore, Thrall will marry Jaina. I’m so sure of it, yet I find it quite hilariously unlikely. If it does, I’ll eat my hat!