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The Learning Curve

December 9, 2013

Dear Reader,

It’s easy to forget how hard WoW is.  Many of us, in fact, rail against how “easy” it’s become due to convenience features, better powers earlier on, wimpier monsters, no outdoor elite zones, and the nerfing of dungeon content.  Heck, a buddy of mine and his wife were duoing dungeons when they first were learning to play because they thought that’s how it was supposed to work; she healed on her druid and he dpsed on his rogue, and they were able to finish most (if not all) of the leveling dungeons.

I’m not here to change anyone’s mind on how much easier WoW’s become, but there is still a huge challenge involved in WoW: the challenge of being a truly new player.  Not just a new player to the game, but a new player to the genre, and that challenge is MUCH steeper than many of us remember.

This past weekend, a friend of my wife’s began playing WoW (despite me telling her repeatedly not to get involved with it).  My wife wasn’t around, though, so she reached out to me to get a little help getting started.  I asked her a few questions about what she wanted, and she eventually decided to play a gnome mage.  I made a gnome monk (and later a gnome rogue, instead) to level alongside her.

I’m a patient person; I taught middle school for years and now teach developmental education, so it’s a given that if I got frustrated every time I had to repeat myself or go over material a second (or third, or fourth, or fifth, or… you get it) time, I’d lose my mind (incidentally, the larger percentage of a single profession in mental institutions is teachers.  Look it up).  She’s a teacher, too, so she knows the ropes of learning and teaching, so we got started in new Gnomeregan.

There’s a huge breadth of knowledge that we MMOers have that others don’t.  Golden exclamation marks over people’s heads don’t mean much to outsiders.  Mouse running and steering, or even what strafing is, doesn’t really register in many other places.  She’d played Skyrim before, and she playes League of Legends a good bit, so she knew in general some video game tropes and concepts.  I think if she hadn’t played those two games, WoW might have been completely unapproachable.  However, even with that background, she still had a lot of really legitimate questions about the game.

Now WoW’s done a lot to streamline the start of the game.  The many tool-tips and help boxes facilitate a player’s understanding of how to move forward, but once those go away, it can be hard to go back and review them if you don’t know where to look.  In between our first and second play session, she forgot how to track quests on the mini-map, so she had no idea how to get from the toxic airfield to the next little quest zone.  Professions, too, were baffling.  She could understand the general concept between gathering and production, but knowing why someone would choose, say, inscription over – really – anything, wasn’t clear.  The idea of “tomes” being a part of the game was meaningless to her, and glyphs weren’t anywhere on her radar, either.

I remember my early days, and my wife’s.  Both of us had an incredibly hard time mastering the mouse-steering.  Our new player did better with that than we had, though since neither Skyrim nor LoL operate that way, I’m not sure why; I suppose she’s just a steering savant.  Facing was another issue she ran into; she understands facing thanks to LoL, but spells, like Ice Nova, where facing is irrelevant weren’t really explained at all.  I saw her running and turning to face the mob, then ice novaing, then turning back around and running away, so I was able to correct that, but if I hadn’t been there, if she hadn’t had a support like that, then when, if ever, would she have learned?

So we need to remember in our conversations about how “easy” WoW is and how “easy” leveling is that not everyone finds it so easy.  It takes time and dedication to get to a point where those activities are easy, and new players may not be up to the challenge.

I wonder, too, if there’s an underlying truth here about WoW’s falling subscriptions.  Perhaps only people who have an infrastructure of friends within the game really get into it any more, and the player population has blown through a lot of those friends already.  When it was new, a specific subset of players joined.  Then they recruited their friends, then those new players did, and so on.  Once that expanding population runs out, though, how many truly fresh players are subbing in for more than the one included month?  I’m not sure whether my friend’s going to stick around or not, but we’ll see.

So, if you’re on Greymane and see a gnome mage called Msprime, toss her a hello, a piece of advice, or a few gold coins.  Tell her Stubborn sent you, and see what questions she may have.  It’d be much appreciated.

Sincerely, and thanks,

Stubborn (a trainer)

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16 Comments leave one →
  1. December 9, 2013 12:19 pm

    Another thing I learned when my fiancèe started playing (and I didn’t learn this until around level 60 or so):

    A lot of people never use cardinal directions, and so when I said “we need to go east” she completely ignored that and instead looked where I was going, because she didn’t want to bother remembering where that was in relation to North.

    • December 9, 2013 12:29 pm

      Yes. I love my wife dearly, but she can’t navigate her way out of the neighborhood without a GPS system. Getting her to “go east/northeast” was impossible. I got into the habit of marking myself and her when we played so we could see each other easily at big distances and make it easier to keep up.

      Thanks for the comment!

    • December 9, 2013 12:32 pm

      Thanks for a response >:D

      I’ll have to try that marking thing. It also makes me think of what I started doing for looting quests: I keybound raid markers to put them on corpses with quest items. They also show up quite far away and have really helped out when we’re killing in the same general area but not right next to each other.

    • December 9, 2013 12:34 pm

      That’s basically exactly what I’ve done; the G key isn’t used, so I bound 4 marks to G, Shift-G, Ctrl-G, and Alt-G. I mark us with the two harder to press ones, then spam the other two around to mark where I’m headed and what to kill. It’s helped a lot, though she still wanders off from time to time (;

  2. December 9, 2013 12:53 pm

    Thanks for posting that, I think especially in-game that far too many people take their experience for granted as being baseline knowledge. It isn’t, especially for a player new to MMOs and ESPECIALLY for a player who hasn’t played many video games in the first place. I just wish it was easier to tell if someone is a legitimate newcomer… I’d be more likely to help if I could filter out the lazy and the trolls.

    And yes, marking is always helpful and I think I’ve figured out that other people can’t see the marks, only those grouped can… always wondered what people thought about me running around with a mark on my head, apparently that wonder was unnecessary.

    • December 9, 2013 1:35 pm

      Yes, if there were a system for divining whether someone was lazy, trollish, or just new, I’d be more than happy to go back into things like LFR or LFD. Without that, though, I think we’ll just have to keep living in fear, both of being accused of being lazy or a troll when we’re just new and/or fear of being exposed to the lazy and trollish.

      Thanks for the comment!

    • December 9, 2013 2:23 pm

      Agreed. I’ve tried to help people in 5 mans in the past but it’s hard to figure out which people are bad and which are new. I’d be willing to specifically queue for a “tutorial” dungeon or something which specifically tries to put 1-2 veterans with some new players to show them the ropes but that isn’t an option.

  3. NetherLands permalink
    December 9, 2013 1:05 pm

    Perhaps an odd question, but if the in-game questtracker arrow was too confusing, shouldn’t she be able to get to the right location by reading the Quest text and simple exploring of the game world :?

    It isn’t like the Gnomish Starter Zone is that huge, either.

    Also, out of curiosity, is her paramount concern to level up ASAP (in which case the lack of e.g. understanding of the Quest Tracker might be a burden) or does she just want to exprience a world of adventure?

    Personally I like to ‘putter around’ in games, especially new (to me) ones, for example. Not every one is an Achiever or power-gamer (Tobold had a nice piece about this and the upcoming in-game Levelling Guide and its emphasis on the gear-grind).

    • December 9, 2013 1:34 pm

      I don’t think for her it’s any of that specifically; it’s that she knows so little that she doesn’t know what she needs to know. He dearth of information and habit is so great that she legitimately didn’t know what to do to progress at all.

      As for the arrow; that’s what she’d forgotten. The arrow wasn’t registering as meaning anything on the mini-map, if she was even remembering to look at the mini-map for guidance. And reading the quest text is well and good, but being told to go to X and talk to Y isn’t necessarily helpful to someone not familiar with how far one might be expected to go (considering the distance-to-quest of the first two hubs, which are within view of one-another, essentially).

      So while I agree with your basic premise, that those two options are available, new players may not even know that those two options are available.

      Thanks for the comment!

  4. December 9, 2013 2:26 pm

    “I wonder, too, if there’s an underlying truth here about WoW’s falling subscriptions. Perhaps only people who have an infrastructure of friends within the game really get into it any more, and the player population has blown through a lot of those friends already.”

    Yeah, Blizzard’s said as much that the vast majority of people who quit do so before level 10. It’s really, really easy to forget just how hard WoW is for people not used to video games — I tried to teach my father a year or two back (who hadn’t really ever played a video game) and it was an exercise in frustration. I was very patient, of course, but even the idea of WASD or click to move was something we had to go over half a dozen times.

    Honestly, the simpler and easier Blizzard can make the first few levels and improve the controls/tutorial, the better. So so so so easy to forget what it’s like being new.

  5. December 10, 2013 6:22 am

    Dear god, you just wrote down my experience with introducing my neighbour to the game.

    He’s not a stranger to games, he plays Total War Rome alot. But mmo’s are a complete blank to him. I’m a classic WOW day one starter, and over the years I introduced my brother and 4 friends into the game and tought them all from scratch.

    And you are 100% correct in asking ‘Is the game today really so easy?’

    Because it isn’t. Not for someone completely new to the game and genre. There is so so much information that is coming your way as a new player, it is just to much to learn. Add to that the ‘often’ toxic environment you get, and well, people just say screw this.

    My neighbour did. Even though I didn’t overload him with information (often you do this in excitement and enthousiasm for the game) and played alongside him with a fresh character without rushing or heirlooms, he couldn’t grasp it all.

    That is why I love meeting new gamers / people ingame. They often have no clue and just remind me of my experience when I started playing mmo’s many moons ago. To be a newbie again, the joy :-)

    • December 11, 2013 12:02 pm

      Yes, the curse of knowledge is a live and thriving in the video game community. We take for granted so much of what we know that we forget what it’s like to not know. The bar is getting higher and higher for entry into these games, and the subs are falling lower and lower as a result.

      Thanks for the comment!

  6. December 10, 2013 7:53 am

    I have this theory that playing MMOs has become harder (in terms of entry and handling) in fact, not easier, exactly because of all the markers and popups and highlights and early choices thrown out you from every corner. it’s the kind of informational flood that’s overwhelming for genre newcomers. it’s even wearying to veterans. why do we need to learn so much at once so early into the game? what happened to pacing?

    In WoW 1.0. there weren’t nearly so many things to learn for the newbie straight from the get-go. there were less distractions. all you had to do was choose a character and learn to read quest text and work your way from ? to !!. after a while, you’d discover your trainers.

    everything else came later, one after the other. MMOs should really leave low level players explore in peace and not unload the complexities of all mechanics on them right away. keep it simple and repetitive at the start – I guess from that PoV the early quest design in FFXIV makes more sense, too.

    • December 11, 2013 12:01 pm

      I completely agree. I think the information overload is pretty bad now, and while I understand why they think that’s a good teaching strategy, it’s not. Even as a WoW vet when I first loaded up 5.0 I felt overwhelmed.

      I like the idea of just letting people explore the starter zone, then providing them with information as they come across things, rather than directing them what to come across. What do new players REALLY need to know? How to move and attack; that’s about it. As new things happen, they can be offered help, like when they first meet an NPC, how to talk to them, or how to accept a quest, but not all at once in the first tiny room (like the gnome start).

      Thanks for the comment!

  7. Matt permalink
    December 11, 2013 5:28 pm

    I recently read something like “people who aren’t willing to research the bosses and watch videos shouldn’t be in raids”. I then thought about how strange that sentiment really is. If you went back to my 8 year old self playing Contra or Mario and told me I needed to watch a video on the bosses even to attempt them, I’d have given you a big WTF look. It’s just something else that sets MMOs apart–Ridiculously complex and opaque boss mechanics.

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