Greedy Goblin

Friday, February 3, 2012

Changes kill WoW

Everyone has his favorite theory what causes WoW to fall in subscriptions. They all claim that this or change deviated from the "golden age". Surprisingly, all of them are right. Not this or that change is responsible for the decline. Changes in general are.

I was in TB for a fast win to go BH. We lost. I'm not used to lose TB, since we practically owned the place. But we did not go there for long long time. Others told that TB is usually horde controlled nowadays. However we still have queue. I mean the server has 2x more horde than ally but still ally has to wait to get in. Why?

Tol Barad on most servers are often traded. It is its normal state. Then we came and changed it to 5 minute assault wins, 15 mins 100 kill, zero death crazy Slag defenses, so the horde lolkids learned that "TB is no fun". We left long ago and die-hard horde PvP-ers got it back. But the horde lolkids did not return, despite the reason why they left is no longer true. They can't change their mind as they never made a conscious decision. They did not say: "an organized guild runs a TB ownage projects, I have no chance without similar organization so I leave". They simply went there and did not have fun, so they left. They have a bad feeling about TB and it lasts.

Every time Blizzard made a change to WoW it caused bad feeling in people who did not like it and they left. Changing it back did not help. You could go to their house and tell them that "hey, WoW is no longer bad", it wouldn't help. You can't argue feelings.

Those who tried out WoW in Vanilla and TBC and found it "too grindy" or "too hardcore" are lost to WoW. The fact that 2.3 made leveling much faster, did not bring them back. It alienated some who liked leveling. When WotLK changed raiding into "accessible", it did not lure back a single guy who quit in frustration over Lady Vashj, nor the /follow "heroics" did not make those return who couldn't finish Sethekk Halls and left. But lot of people who liked Vashj, Sethekk, Magister's terrace have left in disgust. When 4.0 made the /follow command insufficient to complete a 5-man, these people did not return. But others who liked to get rewards for nothing left in outrage. When Jindo the Groupbraker introduced the dance-based endgame, none of the "i won't farm sres for Mother" people returned. But those who liked building gear left. When DS was no longer a dancefest, it did not get Larísa back, but several "l33t" left because "itz no skill anymore".

In a game, an entertainment feature there are no second chances as people are not forced to play. If my car breaks down I still must travel, so I won't throw it away. But why bother waiting for a game fix?

A change, any change alienates people but don't "un-alienate" a single one. Design a game and stick to it! Vanilla-BC could have 15M if not changed. If WotLK would be published as a new game it could also have 15M. Maybe Firelands-game too. But the "first Vanilla, then WotLK, then Cataclysm" does not have a chance.

Of course I don't say that WoW could live 7 years if it would be still 1.0. Certain addations are welcomed, but please notice that they are not changes. These are:
  • Bugfixes, balance issue fixes, graphical updates: the game was always meant to be stable, fair and good looking, these just fix errors.
  • Content patches: new flavors of the same type. If you liked questing in the Barrens, you liked Blade Edge too.
  • Optional side-fluffs: ponies, pets, Darkmoon and seasonal silliness. They are optional, if you don't like them, you ignore them.
I'm sure several managers and developers are thinking how to make Mists of Pandaria different to make people come back. My advice: don't! Stick to the current model, just give some new content and hope for the best. Don't alienate more people! You still have  8M and if they stay, they might lure some new players.


Azuriel said...

It is a pretty absurd argument.

People come back all the time based on changes. People leave because they get bored of the same old thing too. While it is indeed possible to get stuck in a rut of "We always lose TB, so why bother," it is just as likely that the lolkids don't queue because they simply stopped caring about TB months ago.

Cataclysm is over. There is going to be a whole lot of nothing between now and Mists. And you don't even have the benefit of farming HM gear to speed next tier's progression, or otherwise have carryover benefits to gameplay.

Anonymous said...

While your post makes a lot of sense, it fails to address one very important point: at some point people get tired of playing the same game over and over. Sure, there are those who have played CS 1.6 for since its release in 2003 and still do, but most people who played CS have moved on to other games because they're bored with CS. The same would have happened to WoW if it didn't change. Sure, new content in the same style would have kept people for a bit longer, but eventually they would be bored with the same style of content.

New content patches and especially new expansions always excite me. They bring changes to the game and shake up the routine. I like learning new raid bosses, adapting my play style and maybe even changing specs due to buffs/nerfs or gear upgrades. Changes are what makes the game fresh and exciting.

Not all changes are for the better, but without any changes the game becomes old very fast.

Péter Zoltán said...

I don't think that noone ever comes back if things change according to their preferences. Blizzard can pretty well trace who is and isn't back. If people would not come back on changes, they would pretty much stop all major changes forever. But this is not the case...

Clockwork said...

@Azuriel: Nothing in WoW, but I suspect they'll time D3's release so that it helps fill the void until Mists...they did give it away for free to people who signed on for a year. Plus, no reason to compete with themselves when they can draw it out.

Also there's no proof that people don't come back over time...I left just after ToC came out, then came back when LFD was introduced because it added a new feature that I made use of.

In the end we have no idea why the players who left did's probably just as likely to be due to a feature changing as it is to: guilds falling apart (they're among the strongest anchors), finding the gameplay no longer compelling, running out of content, a new game coming out that interests them more...and the list goes on.

Betty said...

Grinds are what killed it for me, being a very active raider in WotLK I just couldn't bring myself to grind mobs/dungeons to get the rep/points etc I needed to get back into raiding. Sure it may not have been that much, but I would have been much happier if Cata was just a set of new raids @ level 80.

Péter Zoltán said...

Also it's the biggest changes that drive away the highest number of people and these are the hardest to revert.
For example: if you quit because you dislike the theme of the next expansion, there is not much Blizzard can do. By the time an expansion is first presented, it is already in a very progressed state, they cannot and will not change their minds like "oh you don't like pandas? OK we will do nagas instead"...
Lots of things, for example difficulty can be adjusted anytime, easily.

So the post is mostly right. It is definitely easier to lose a customer than to make her come back. On the other hand, changes are unavoidable. How many people would still be playing patch 1.0? I guess not much, really. Maybe the game would not even exist anymore if they never released a patch or expansion.

So in the long run the lack of changes would kill the game just as much (or even more) as changes do. Blizzard's task is to implement changes that net the biggest gain (or the smallest loss).

Anonymous said...

Will at the first look it, your arguments make sense.

But i tell you my story:
I started back in Classic, quitted for vanguard, because i got bored.

Then mid BC i reactivated my account again, played till mid wotlk. And left for aion, because i really got bored.

A half year later, i was done with aion and were looking for a new game... nothing on the market. How about cataclysm? Sure, lets try it.

I played cataclysm from start on and now left because of swtor.

If they wouldnt have changed anything with their expansions, i wouldnt have come back!
And i know soooo many people that came back for cataclym and left 1-6 month later.

They gave it a last chance with cataclysm, they failed.

Cathfaern said...

If you don't like the grind, but like raiding, you should come back to WoW now... you can get from fresh 85 to LFR geared character in 3 days (and not with 8hour/day playtime). You don't need to grind any reputation (well maybe except the shoulder and helm enchants, but you can use the tabard while doing dungeons and heroics).

Inquisitor said...

What about those who are disaffected, but haven't actually left? Surely you have a chance to retain them with a change?

Anonymous said...

I quit WoW mid-Cata and came back specifically because of LFR. There's a change that brought at least one customer back!

Jessica said...

I'm not sure I left WoW over the dancing issues. Indirectly perhaps I did, in the manner that dancing might have contributed to the decline of our guild, old core members leaving. But in the end I think it was more about a lot of veteran players getting bored with it eventually and I decided to quit too rather than start all over again, getting into a new team, finding my role etc, rebuilding what was lost. For me the attraction of WoW was a lot about the team work. The randomness of temporary pugs could be fun occasionally but was unsatisfying in the long run.

I think you're right though that the people who feel that they are done with wow not are that likely to come back because of changes into that panda game expansion.

I think many will happily jump on the next MMO that Blizzard comes up with, the mysterious thing I assume they're still working on (if this hasn't changed since I left, I haven't kept up with the news to be honest.)

As of me: I doubt I will. The MMO world was fantastic to try out but I'm very happy where I am now too, watching and blogging about movies.

But you never know. I know one thing for sure though: no panda world for me.

PS I'm a little bit touched that you still have me in mind, referring to me in a post like this)

Anonymous said...

You are both right and wrong. Changing the style from the current style would lose players. That doesn't mean though that should they add a "big news" feature that it wouldn't attract a larger population then the ammount lost by past changes.

Lets take your TB example. Since the Lolkids have left TB has become noticibly harder for you as there are now a proportionately more hardcore group there now. However should Blizzard patch in the ability to fight on Dragons and for control of TB you would see a reemergence on Lolkids who would now notice that you have left TB making it more likely for them to win and thusly making it more fun.

Gevlon said...

@Inquisitor: yes, changes might save them. The early nerf of FL and the announcement of DS being different might saved a lot.

@Jessica: the effect is rarely direct. FL broke lot of prospering guilds simply because lot of raiders who knew their class and were ready to do the effort became useless as they couldn't take 2 steps left in the 0.1 second when they had to. If you ever choose to come back, you can always join us. Not much of close friendships, but we play without idiotic stuff.

Dangphat said...

Gevlon your argument is well grounded in business. Management on change is one of the most crucial commercial areas to get right.

In general people who have a historical link to a process will resist change if it is imposed upon them. Even if that change is actually an improvement when viewed from a neutral perspective.

In industry you talk about empowering people to change. This is a bullshit way of letting the customer or your employers make suggestions for improvement in an iterative process that slowly improves the company from the bottom up. This way they feel part of the change and will therefore embrace it. The fact it may well be what the company management or advertiser wants anyway is irrelevant.

In WoW they can change but they must make it feel like it's change that comes from the player base. Now they have tried to do this over the years but it has often come from forum posts and possibly tickets. They may have ask the GMs sessions, and Blizzcon as well.

It doesnt feel at the moment like they are listening to what the player abse is asking for at the moment.

They do need to change (or boredom will drive people away) but it needs to be the right change and it needs to come from us.

Eaten by a Grue said...

By this logic, no company should ever change anything about their product. Someone might not like it.

sam said...

No Azuriel He made a very valid point about how changes to individual pieces of content permanantly run off players. After Starting WSD in vanilla wow and discovering that Horde premades meant I won nothing most games I quit and to this day even when my kids and friend beg me too I won't play WSG. I know it would be better with a premade, I just have bad memories associatted with it and I won't PVP at all. I'd rather give up video games than deal with your average PVP player. I'll be that way in every MMO I ever play from now on.

Starcraft I love playing against other people. I can do that all day long.

People come back for the stuff they have good memories attached too. They avoid the parts of the game that have bad one. When more parts of the game have bad memories than good memories they are then lost permanatly. constant change accelerates this. Every major change to the game creates winners and losers. The losers are then one step closer to being done with the game.

Bristal said...

"A change, any change alienates people but don't "un-alienate" a single one."

I was extremely alienated from raiding in Cata. Zero kills in FL, few in any other raids until very late. PuG access was very poor.

Enter LFR and I'm 5/8 in DS. Getting to practice and see the content in easy mode made me a more competent and confident PuG raider.

Consider me unalienated.

Anonymous said...

Always winning TB without competition is also boring. Generally the player wants competition, conflict, challenge. Some player want free candy. Blizzard needs to cater to both because -as WotLK has proven- players like free candy.

They simply need to cater to all types of players. They catered too much to specific groups in both TBC and WotLK. Blizzard summed the problem up much better: "I think it's really going to be about playing the game the way you want to play it, without feeling entirely like you're missing out on valuable rewards."

This is why easy mode raiding, normal mode raiding, and hard mode raiding (4.3) is a success instead of easy and hard (ToC), normal and hard (4.0), and hard (Vanilla and TBC). Though as far as I am concerned normal and hard could be a little bit less forgiving, harder. And perhaps wiping in LFR isn't a bad thing either, but the minimum of a full PvP player without PvE gear and who has +7 str on hands because "ffs I am lvling enchanting lol" is something which should not even be allowed to enter LFR.

Anonymous said...

Blizzard's changes to the game aren't enough to explain subscription numbers. Players' lives change. The industry has developed good games on the F2P model. Mobile, casual and social games are far more popular than they were 5 years ago. The world economy has crashed and there's still a lot of uncertainty.

All of these factors play a role and are beyond Blizzard's control. The game market has evolved in important ways and any explanation which ignores this can't be taken too seriously.

Matt said...

There is truth to this. One thing the developers need to quit changing is the talent system. I really don't see why they didn't just leave it as it was in Wrath. Add a few more boring 1% dps talents. People love them, contrary to received wisdom. Now they're mucking around with it further in MoP.

However, one thing they need to change badly is the entry price. It now costs 90 dollars for a new player to start WoW. Unsurprisingly, the new players have slowed to a trickle and no longer outweigh the attrition. I assume that Blizzard knows this, so maybe they believe there are simply no more new players to be had.

As it is, I quit once because I moved and got divorced, another time because I got laid off and when I moved to another job WoW inexplicably bored me. The final time was because I didn't want to pay 40$ for another expansion. It almost sounds ridiculous, but even now that keeps me from coming back. $15 a month for years and they still slap me with that $40 fee to continue.

But there was another factor...they changed Paladins and I didn't really like it. So there you go.

Betty said...

@Cathfaern honestly it seems like a bad time for me to return. Far too close to another total reset and no chance to get into any competitive raiding.

Yaggle said...

I agree. And the worst changes of all are big changes to talent trees. Guess what? They are changing again. More will leave.

Botter said...

Changes make people come not the other way around. It is the rule not an exception. Every time the game changes the subscriptions grow, with the exception of Cata when the changes were mostly undesirable.

I use myself and other like-minded people out there, we stopped during the FL era, came back for the LFR feature, which was good but soon became boring enough to stop playing until maybe the next expansion since the next patch doesn't introduce something new.

Althouh for some the nerfs seem to be a good reason to try out the normal and hard modes. Honestly, we have seen the conclusion of Deathwing's story. Why bother seeing it again? Certainly not for progression, because we DID see him fall, thats good enough, and definately not for the loot, since everyone knows that the new expansions greens will be better than the best current best in slot.

Currently we are enjoying SWTOR, for some reason Gevlon I don't think you will like it, unless like myself and my fellows who are considered Star Wars geeks (who isn't). There is a good in depth story telling in the game from very different prospective depending on your class. very engaging story and very interesting quest system.

Kimmo said...

I personally feel that the problem is simply lack of quality content. The senior developers were moved to work with Titan, after all, and the new ones just can't capture the magical feeling the game used to have. That's just not something people can easily point their finger at so they blame the change instead.

Anonymous said...

"I agree. And the worst changes of all are big changes to talent trees. Guess what? They are changing again"

Yeah, instead of a huge tree where you either make stupid mistake or decision and have to respec or you use the cookie cutter spec without using your brain you now have 6 compelling decisions to make; 6 times you have to make a choice between 3 very good talents (not all for your "main role", which is even more interesting from a mix-maxing point of view). Decisions you want to alter depending on factors like soloing or grouping, PvE or PvP, BG or arena, progression raid or farm raid, difficult end boss XYZ or heroic dungeon, and so on.

The robot will copy Elitistjerks. But there won't be a static "BiS talent tree".

The pro will use his own brain instead and adapt when necessary. Expect some heavy "respeccing" from these people.

The moron will pick anything and never look back, "cuz its hard lol"

The whiner will complain about it everywhere he can. "Not again new talent trees, God forbid any changes in a new expansion!!"

If there is anything I look forward to in MoP it is the new talent system. Finally an assasination rogue can use shadowstep. Finally every spec, every class gets to make a choice between very powerful (perhaps even imba) talent choices which are game changers. Even the frost mage can keep some of its powerful talents. At a price: he won't have certain other spells.

And no, the 1% DPS increase choices are NOT interesting. Everyone takes them. Even utility decisions are sometimes stupid. For example, if you have an unholy DK you have desecration talent. In some fights like TOT4W this is a bad talent. What do you do when you are an UH DK? You need to respec.

Matt said...

And no, the 1% DPS increase choices are NOT interesting.

Of course they aren't, at least not in the sense that Blizzard now intends, where something is interesting if and only if it represents some sort of balanced tradeoff. But I never said 1% dps talents were interesting, I said players like them. And they do, which is why they always take them. People like to do more dps. I like when my frostbolts or whatever hit harder.

The fallacy in Blizzard's reasoning is that choices aren't fun unless they are agonizing choices between equal alternatives. Not true friends, not true. You used to level up, get a talent point, and spend it in some dps talent. And that was it, no thinking required, which if you think about it is really all a talent system needs to be--some way to progressively improve and specialize a character as it levels up. And to top it all off, most specs ended up with a few leftover points that could go more or less anywhere with little effect, giving you a little bit of personalization.

But that's not really the point anyway. Let's say that the talent revamps have been, in the abstract, unqualified improvements. It still doesn't matter. Getting back to the original post, you could rephrase it as "people quit because things that were familiar become foreign". The talent system, whatever its flaws, was the way it was for 6 years and people had become familiar with it and accepted those flaws. But then blizzard revamped it, and is now revamping it again, and that familiarity is gone. Who knows how many people will quit because it is the straw that broke the camel's back.

In general, Blizzard gives much too little weight to familiarity when deciding on changes. When they made heroics harder, they didn't think about all the people who were used to logging on for an hour, doing the daily heroic, saying hi to the guild, and then logging out again. Suddenly, all those people were put into an environment they weren't used to, where they were unable to do what they had been generally happy doing, and many decided that the game had moved on and quit. Note that this is aside from the abstract consideration of whether heroics should have been harder, of which all sorts of cases could be made.

Giannis said...

I agree with your post..


People who left after ICC patch because they didn't liked the new wow of gear reset and easy epics for everyone never came back..

those that leave the game now because they are "bored" they come back only to get the free epics of the new patch and then leave again..if this is the community that blizzard build the changes for then congratulate to them

the core community, the people that loved the strategies and the vanilla/tbc are gone forever..I am not surprised that Vanilla private servers are full and this is not because people are not willing to pay for a times that there are lots of free to play games out there..

Anonymous said...

It may not make people come back. But it may make new players stay, and not leave after trial.

Anonymous said...

Your post neglects natural attrition due to RL changes. People play but stop playing as life gets in the way, new groups come in and old groups leave. What players look for in a game changes as their life does as well. A player who loves grinding at 15 may find they hate it at 20 as they have to work and can no longer afford to sit around all day grinding virtual coin but would rather play a different gamestyle.

Ideally you want a game that can cater to multiple markets without alienating any one market. Of course it is difficult to build different paths into one single game and WOW has never really bothered to try, instead they basically build a series of minigames tied around a theme and force to to progress through the main game to get to them. That model works well for stand alone games so it is likely that's hwere the idea originated but a game that is very successful at providing significantly differnet paths all with their own versions of advancement that can be done conpletely independantly of each other or in conjunction if you prefer would be EVE online. The problem with games likje EVE is they are unpopular because they don't hand hold you along and don't give you and obvious end goal. It is instead up to you to set your own goals. That kind of open system should make all players happy because it allows you to set yourself the goal to do whatever you like the most but instead it confuses most people and they leave before they even figure it out.