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Social Progression vs. Gear Progression

In yesterday’s entry I hinted around the idea that players often want the newest gear because they want to look ‘cool’. I’m not necessarily speaking to just the aesthetics of the gear itself either. Many people want the latest and greatest for the ‘standing in town on the mailbox’ effect. It’s the idea that people are inspecting them, drooling over their gear, and wishing they could be just like that cool guy wearing the newest items.

Gear Progression is about being able to go past the gate standing between you and the next tier of content. It’s the treadmill. Gear Progression is the mechanism through which MMOs halt the speed at which players consume content. The actual stats on the gear and what it adds to your character matter far less to people than what they feel from being the “best Paladin on the server.” Such a notion does not imply that you truly have the skill, but rather you got the items to drop for you first. You are the cool guy standing on the mailbox and that makes you the “best.”

Once we understand that people seek Social Progression over Gear Progression we can begin evaluating other ways in which players can achieve the social side without having to raid or run on one type of treadmill. Social Progression can be weaved throughout a game. What if players sought after being the maker of the finest weapons in the land, or provider of the rarest gems, or the guy who has the coolest new pets following him around? These social transactions can take place all around us in a virtual world and achieve the same level of goal setting and progression as raiding without the need to always go through raiding.

Outlandish Gear

wow-tier-17

World of Warcraft started the whole crazy gear trend. Gear in raids has always been more elaborate, but when it comes to massive shoulder pads, flaming eye-hole-thingies, and ridiculousness, WoW remains king. The preview for Tier 17 (sheesh) was revealed by Blizzard today. Is it outlandish (pun intended) enough for you?

paladin-original-cats

Paladin from Dark Age of Camelot

The point of today’s post is not necessarily to discuss WoW latest fashion trends. I’m thinking about gear in general. On one extreme there’s WoW. The other side of the coin is realism with basic chainmail, leather, etc. It’s plain. There’s something authentic about it, especially if wearing it matters more than looking cool in it. More on that tomorrow.

I like somewhere in the middle. I remember the raid gear in EverQuest and Dark Age of Camelot. Those looked just cool enough for me. Ornate enough to stand out yet at least within the realm of fantasy believability.

What do you prefer? Do you prefer the glowing eyes and flaming swords or the realistic metal?

The Ebb and Flow of WoW

As predicted by anyone with a pulse, WoW subscription numbers (fuzzy definition as you’ll see below) are up after the launch of Warlords of Draenor.

World of Warcraft subscribers include individuals who have paid a subscription fee or have an active prepaid card to play World of Warcraft, as well as those who have purchased the game and are within their free month of access. Internet game room players who have accessed the game over the last thirty days are also counted as subscribers. The above definition excludes all players under free promotional subscriptions, expired or cancelled subscriptions, and expired prepaid cards. Subscribers in licensees’ territories are defined along the same rules.

Warlords of Draenor had a day-one sell-through of 3.3 million copies. I believe that includes pre-orders, etc. To me the 3.3 million number is telling. The next sentence is wild and highly speculative without any claim to accuracy. I think 3.3 million is probably the rough number of North American players who can be considered part of WoW’s ‘core’ group of players, with probably 1 million of those drifting off late in the expansion cycle.

Let’s evaluate why their numbers surged.

People like new content. When there’s no new content subs go down. When there’s new content people come back and play. This isn’t indicative of a game succeeding or failing. This is indicative of people wanting something fresh to play.

Orcs are cooler than pandas. Warcraft hearkening back to its roots, pandering (not pandaing) to its lore and fans, works best.

The MMOs launched this year have sucked. While some of the MMOs (ArcheAge) had redeeming qualities, and others none at all (Wildstar), the collective result is a resounding “Blah!” People are/were desperate for something to play. WoD was the easy place to throw $60 for a month of something to do. It’s a SAFE bet. Few people are going to pay that box price and first month’s sub and feel cognitive dissonance. If anything, people are going to play WoW longer now because it rescued them from a state of suck.

Haters gonna hate. The “stop liking what I don’t like” crowd will roll on through. Ultimately nothing changes. WoW is successful. Business models are irrelevant. Good games sell. Good games retain players. Whether it’s 1, 3, 8 or 10 million players — it’s more than most games can say they hold on to longer than 3 months.

Now, promise me none of you will be surprised when WoW’s numbers fall in 3 months.

Why I’m Not Playing Warlords of Draenor

I’m proud of myself. A WoW expansion is coming out and I’m not going to jump right in and play again. Every time an expansion comes out I think, “Ooooh! I love Warcraft and the world and the story and it’s all so awesome!” Then I play and that magical illusion I create in my mind dissolves quickly. My thoughts turn away from Orcs vs. Humans and glorious cutscenes and imagining epic adventures. I start thinking, “Time to log in and get that loot. What’s my gear score?” My immersion is shattered and I quit a month later.

I’m going to avoid shattering my illusion this time and pretend everything is just as I imagine.

Speaking of Warcraft and fond memories, have you checked out Blizzard’s Looking for Group documentary? It’s an hour long but worth watching. They start right off by giving all the right props to UO and EQ for inspiring them to stop their current projects and go the route of an MMO.

My memories of WoW will always be better than what I’m actually thinking while I play the game. Realizing that, I can honestly say I love World of Warcraft. I just don’t love playing it.

Quit Wall

I coined the phrase ‘Quit Wall’ in a WildStar post I wrote the other day, and thought I would elaborate a bit on what they are and maybe how they can be avoided.

What is a Quit Wall?

A Quit Wall can be any of the following. I’ve added a quick example in parenthesis after each.

  • A point where players feel like they are halted and unable to progress (Don’t have a large enough group to participate)
  • When the game radically changes from one style of play to another (Questing from 1-50 then having to raid in end-game)
  • A natural breaking point in the game where players feel like they have nothing to do (Ran out of quests and content)
  • Drastic changes in difficulty (This one seems obvious)

Recent Examples of Quit Walls

Destiny – Graev wrote yesterday about Destiny and included a very clear explanation of the quit wall. When players reach level 20 the only way to progress is to grind tokens to purchase gear. This has to be done in the form of dailies in order to get to level 26 and participate in the “end-game” content. This isn’t how 1-19 was played, and radically changes the game. If you don’t want to grind, you can quit.

WildStar – This Quit Wall was so obvious it caused me to stop playing before I reached level 30. The end-game of WildStar is all about “hardcore” raiding. When you level from 1-50 you do nothing but quest grind solo. When you reach level 50 you have to form large groups of players and do raids. If you don’t have the numbers, or (before it changed) didn’t want to work your butt off you get attuned, you had to quit.

World of Warcraft – The huge gap in content before WoD releases can easily be looked at as a Quit Wall. It’s like a huge wall in front of players and unless you want to climb that wall and overcome the lack of things to do you can quit or … I guess you’re a masochist at that point.

How to Avoid Quit Walls 

Themeparks are more prone to Quit Walls than sandboxes, but even a sandbox can have a point where you have to climb some wall the devs have put up or quit. The point for developers here is that players do not want to feel like something has suddenly popped up in front of them halting their ability to continue enjoying your game.

Create a consistent experience designed from the beginning. The very idea of ‘end-game’ lends itself to creating Quit Walls. Avoid having an ‘end-game’ and have the entire game circle around itself and create a virtual world wherein players are constantly progressing and the world is constantly fueling their ability to play the way in which they have always played.

Sometimes certain Quit Walls are unavoidable. Even some of my favorite games have had them. When you reach a point where you feel like you’ve done everything… that’s a Quit Wall — albeit a less intrusive one.  Combat those Quit Walls with constant development. That’s why I’m okay with paying a subscription to a game that continues to expand and grow. I can’t perceive that wall — I don’t want to.

And finally, avoid designing a 3 monther. 3 Monthers are 3 Monthers because of Quit Walls.