WoW: Acceleration

Oleari is now level 40, which gives her the right to purchase faster mounts (and the skill necessary to ride them). I’m told that in older days, this was a major purchase, something people had to save up for. For my part, it barely put a dent in the cash that had piled up in my account simply as a result of doing quests. Revisions have made this aspect of the game easier, and many other aspects as well.

Raising your reputation with the various NPC factions became much easier when faction-specific tabards were added to the game. The tabard used to be a purely decorative item, a display of team spirit, but now, they can effectively display your sponsor’s logo instead. Raising your cooking skill at high levels used to involve practicing advanced recipes that use rare spices you have to hunt for, but now you can raise it a point or two every day through a simple daily quest. And, of course, there’s the rapid rate at which new characters gain levels now. I’ve been playing for only a little over a month now, and I haven’t been playing every day, and a largish chunk of that time was spent with other characters than Oleari, but still, I’ve reached level 40, advancing at a rate of more than one level per day. And that’s without ever actually trying to level. That’s just the result of playing the game and pursuing quests, many of which were actually too low-level to yield any experience.

People can complain about this, about how the newbies don’t know how easy they’ve got it. But I think it makes a lot of sense for an ongoing MMO to accelerate like this, partly because it gives the newcomers a chance to catch up, but mainly because the reasons for not speeding things up vanish over time, as new content gets added. When there wasn’t a lot of content yet, they had a motivation to space it out, to make sure that the players didn’t exhaust it too quickly. If they lost players who were frustrated by the endless grinding, they probably also retained players who would have left if they had nothing more to do. But now, there’s enough content to last a new player for months even if they consume it as fast as they’re comfortable doing. So why not give them access to what they’re paying for? It can only lead to fewer players deciding that the game is a waste of their time and money and terminating their accounts.

There are a lot of ways that WoW‘s dominant position is self-reinforcing, and this is one of them. Any new MMO challenging it will have the handicap that it hasn’t spend the last six years developing new content. I recall this being cited as a particular problem with Age of Conan, its lack of stuff for advanced players at launch-time. But was WoW any better when it was new? From what I’ve seen, the dedicated players are generally pretty adamant that WoW has gotten better over the years and no longer deserves its early reputation as a pointless grind-fest. Which is to say that even the die-hard players admit that it did deserve that reputation, once upon a time.

3 Comments so far

  1. Merus on 15 Feb 2011

    “Which is to say that even the die-hard players admit that it did deserve that reputation, once upon a time.”

    Oh, absolutely. The game had some terrible quests – keep an eye out for Hemet Nesingwary, who exemplifies some of the terrible quests that used to be in WoW. He had a quest chain in Stranglethorn Vale that had you kill 12 of every kind of animal in the zone, AND find 16 unique pages of a manuscript that dropped randomly from any monster in the zone. (The idea was that you had to trade the pages you got duplicates of and acquire the pages you couldn’t get to drop via other means.) I’m told that he still exists, but is much, much more reasonable.

    He’s still in Outland. He offers a very similar quest chain there. (He’s also in Northrend, which has a kill quest for old times’ sake, but you can tell their heart’s not in it.)

    That said, WoW’s big innovation in the MMO space was its expectation that players would do quests to level up as opposed to heading out to an appropriate zone and grinding on monsters, as was done in Everquest. These days, Outland feels like a major step back, but when it was released it was very exciting because it was an entire continent built from the ground up around questing, instead of it being retrofitted onto already built zones. The introduction of daily quests at around the same time is the same kind of deal – most of the important reputations in ‘classic’ WoW were advanced by performing repetitive actions for as long as you could stand it, while the daily quests parcel it out.

  2. Starmaker on 16 Feb 2011

    WoW’s success is in its apparent fairness. Essentially, WoW is communism – not the political system of the Soviet Union, but actual communism. Work, and you shall receive. Play, and you shall receive, too (but somewhat later than if you worked).

    Blizzard doesn’t sell gold and has put restrictions in place to prevent item sales; items that come with special editions are not gameplay-changing in any way. They have got rid of titles for Realm First! achievements because players complained. The only commodity that the game demands from the player, beyond a reasonable subscription price, is time.

    The success of WoW is deeply rooted in very basic ideas such as the action-consequence link (“why we do things we do”). Generally, people want to know their actions matter, and it’s no less true for videogames – the primary complaint leveled at them is “a waste of time”. Not that other types of entertainment – movies, books, music – aren’t a waste of time, but those are blatantly passive, while videogames demand real-life effort, which causes certain people to demand real-life results, the retrogrades! ;-)

    MMORPGs suffer doubly from this expectation: even in-world, the player’s actions effect no changes on any meaningful scale. Not only I lack the option to, say, support Illidan, I can’t really kick his ass out of the Black Temple permanently, unless the devs redesign the area (without any input from me).

    So the devs do their utmost to compensate in other ways. A rise from “pants and a sharp stick” to the opulence of purplz. Reputation (do quests, and I will like you). Mounts for everyone. Phasing. No XP rollbacks. XP bonuses for the time you spend logged off – it’s impossible to overestimate the effect of this tiny bonus on a player’s peace of mind.

    And acceleration, of course. WoW wouldn’t be popular if it constituted purely “escapism for losers”. While it’s no secret that some people use WoW as a means to escape their dreary daily life, there’s no reason for them to lord over those with more diverse interests. Put simply, the more interesting is the life you lead in general, the less attractive MMORPGs are – not just relatively to other types of entertainment available to you but in the absolute sense. Less time to grind means you character is less awesome. Being the all-powerful leader of the Alliance (/me waves her hand) is *absolutely* better than being the butt-monkey, regardless of whether one’s day job is flipping burgers or screwing supermodels.

    So awesomeness is made to not be directly proportional to time spent. On the other hand, we still want for our actions to matter, and this is why we have acceleration and easy mounts and shiny purplz and thousands of achievements. The players are free to have an unofficial hierarchy based on the latter, but the elementary needs – gear and transportation – are available to everyone. Loremaster’s Colors is the WoW equivalent of Lenin’s Red Banner of Labour. I’m dead serious here, WoW is the closest model of communism that has ever existed. (And for a good look at capitalism, try Lineage II or ZT Online. Or, better yet, don’t.)

  3. malkav11 on 16 Feb 2011

    I still associate grind with the mindless repetitive murder of monsters that one did in oldschool MMOs like Everquest. World of Warcraft has never been that. Even the worst designed quests (and they were much worse, back in the day) were a huge step up from that. The grindy bit of WoW is at endgame, and that’s gotten better but is still hellatiously grindy.

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