The Learning Curve
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)