Even the genre’s long-standing veteran is susceptible to crippling design woes. Is it too late for Blizzard management to reinvigorate the ageing end game?
Every game has an end. Regardless of how clever the developers try to be about it, at some point the player will stand up and walk away.
As humans, we are condemned to eventually find boredom in the things that once amused us. It’s far from being a negative, but the experience is far from being the most pleasant – particularly when it comes to our favorite virtual worlds.
World of Warcraft has held the attention of millions of players over the years, but even Blizzard can’t prevent their players from leaving.
Just as career moves are often made on the impetus of keeping things fresh, the desire to depart from well-trodden virtual fields in search of greener pastures is an infinitely-recurring sensation.
Even though the world of Azeroth has been built up over the last decade to include just about every sort of diversion imaginable, players still oscillate between surging back for new content and cancelling their subscription when they’ve had their fill.
This trend has seen Blizzard attempt to cater to their players by creating more “seasonal” content. The manner in which the game’s design has gone is something like this:
Blizzard release new content. Players return in droves to burn through it. The content inevitably reaches a point where it is no longer new, exciting, or challenging, and thus becomes stale. The players which returned now go back to cancelling their subscriptions, and the cycle begins anew.
Now, while boredom and burnout are unavoidable, they can be stemmed by design in a manner which can offer players a much larger variety of things to do, and avenues to progress through. The biggest problem with WoW right now is that Blizzard remains hell-bent on funneling their players into one or two endgame zones and one raid for progression.
Let that sink in for a moment. In a game that has had over a decade of development and countless tweaks, improvements, and iterations, the mainstay content of every expansion becomes one max-level zone and whatever the last raid tier of that expansion.
With the player’s attention funneled into such a narrow path, it’s no wonder that WoW has the same endgame problems that its always had.
Sure, Blizzard have added just about every form of vanity item imaginable, peppered across older content, but this is mainly a stop-gap in the form of a light-hearted diversion. WoW is, and always will be, an RPG.
The concept of player progression and continuous improvement is at the very heart of the gameplay; players want to be rewarded in a manner which gives them the sensation of becoming more powerful.
That sensation is always clearly present during an expansion’s early days – but when it becomes relegated to running one raid across four difficulties, it becomes less of a world to explore and more of a job.
It’s easy to understate the difficulty of the task that Blizzard are faced with. Finding a way to keep old content relevant doesn’t happen overnight – but it is possible.
Imagine an Azeroth where one could log in and pick any location on the map to play in – and be rewarded in a manner that could still push their sense of progression forward.
It sounds like a fairy-tale, but the reality could be closer to us than we believe. If the rumors of the upcoming expansion are to be believed, we may see Blizzard incorporating an upgraded World Quest system in old-world Azeroth.
If they do – which they absolutely should – we will see the largest reinvigoration of Old-World content since the days of the Cataclysm.
In fact, one would not be remiss for viewing the halcyon days of the Cataclysm as a small step in the right direction. Where Cataclsym changed up old and stale levelling zones, WoW is now at a point in its lifecycle where it needs much more than just a casual revamp.
The future of Blizzard’s virtual world can still be a highly-compelling and expertly crafted experience for millions of players over the world – but so long as the game’s design continues to funnel players into two-to-three endgame activities like in previous cycles, nothing will change and Azeroth will find itself in greater peril than anything the lore nerds at Blizzard could come up with.