Yesterday, Blacksen analyzed Cataclysm’s failings as a way to explain the recent dip in Blizzard’s subscriptions. It’s an excellent read, and if you haven’t seen it, I strongly recommend you do so.
While I was reading it, I began thinking about how these failings had not only affected the game, but the community as well. I think each of the failings he examines hurt the players both in their feelings about the game and also about how they dealt with each other. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the most complaints we’ve had about community occurred at the very time the game started to lose customers, so I figured I’d steal his ideas and piggy back off of his post to discuss how the failings hurt the community.
While it might not seem obvious at first, Archaeology being so poorly implemented did hurt the community. Each other “secondary” profession helps high-level players at a 1:1 rate, in that each fish you catch can be cooked into a useful food, each bandage you weave can heal you, and each recipe you cook can give you health or buffs.
Archaeology’s different, though. A vast majority of it is completely useless. It functions a lot like gambling, in that the promise of a future reward keeps you doing it long after you really should have stopped. If you go catch fish for a fish feast, you’re guaranteed a great buff, but if you keep digging up elven ruins, you might just keep getting old nightgowns.
This gambler’s mentality is extremely prevalent in the game. It’s the reason that boss drops aren’t tailored to classes that are in the raid group. It’s the reason you PvP in messy BGs. It’s the reason people craft, make, or buy fortune cards. Hell, it’s why people stick through tough periods, like this one, when the game is only “eh.” People just keep hoping to get lucky with the next dig site/fortune card/BG group/Expansion. However, it’s almost a predatory system that keeps using that tactic to get people to play. Sure, you don’t have to pay your subscription or buy that lottery ticket, but a certain kind of person is drawn into the gambling mindset by the offer even being there. On top of that, it reinforces the “drop the PuG group; the next will be better” mentality, creating more fragile groupings with less committed players, which also hurts the community.
The greatest problem with this system is that people end up wasting an enormous amount of time trying to get things that there are no guarantees for. Sure, this was always true with ultra-rare drops, but this system has formalized it, made it more “necessary” (for completionists, achievement hunters, or people who want the BiS for every tier). Each disappointment adds to bad feelings about the game, which translates to the game community, as well.
Tol Barad and the lack of a Capital City
I’ll discuss TB in the next section more, since I want to focus on the lack of a single capital city. Sure, it means we don’t get to see our opposite faction “buddies” anymore, but it has an effect beyond that. While most people spend their time in Org or Stormwind, everyone used to spend their time in Dalaran and Shat. Even within our own factions, people are geographically spread out, creating a gap in seeing people from time to time. Before Cata, a “legendary” fellow who’d been around forever, had all the achievements, had multiple legendaries and server firsts was always around in Dalaran, and I’d wave at him or say hello, and he’d say hi back and maybe we’d converse a bit (I’d done some nostalgia runs with him from time to time. Now I never see him. I don’t know if he’s just quit, or doesn’t really like Org, or what. Sure, I could friend him (and should), but he wasn’t really a friend. He was truly just an acquaintance, someone for whom I might fill a slot, and we traded only pleasantries from time to time. But that’s gone, since I don’t see him anymore. Out of sight, out of mind.
Broken PvP System
The new PvP elements of the game, both Tol Barad and the Rated BGs, have done a lot to hurt the community. There’s been a lot of division based on changes that have been made, whether or not win trading was the “right” thing to do (though obviously it was the profitable one), the importance of min resilience in rated BGs, and so forth. In other words, it’s drawn even more lines between players than there were before, which is the very definition of hurting the community. Tol Barad is so poorly designed, so poorly executed that it’s become a symbol of the frustration people feel with Cataclysm. That frustration boils over into resentment, then malice, and eventually explosions.
Guild Leveling and Isolationism
I think this is the change that hurt the game the most. The mixing of players before, moving from guild to guild, or even guild alliances has been struck dead by this. Since you can’t possibly have enough members of two guilds in a group for both to benefit, you either play with your guild or you, well, don’t. If you’re not playing with your guild, it’s a lot easier to develop a “screw PuGs” mentality and end up treating other players poorly, and if you only play with your guild, you lose the chance to meet good new players. This really severs the WoW community from its original intent, to play a game with your friends and meet new people. When do you really ever meet new people any more, except in PuGs, from other servers, who you’ll never see again?
So you see, dear reader, that Blacksen’s analysis works not only on the functioning of the game, but also on the spirit of the community. As we’ve become disinterested, frustrated, or resentful, we’ve taken it out on others. How we feel is not necessarily the designers’ faults, but they certainly didn’t make it easy to feel great about WoW anymore.
Perhaps the next patch will be a winner; I’ll just have to wait around and take my chances. Wait, isn’t the house always the winner?
P.S. Sorry about the link error; it should be working now.