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The Lost Quadrant

September 21, 2011

Dear Reader,

Apparently there’s been some debate about skill levels in WoW.  While I usually try to avoid piggybacking too much on others, Gaz’s post at Mana Obscura made me think about something I’d read recently that I wanted to share (and it seems Game by Night beat me to it, too).

I’ve believe that the skill levels dipping in MMOs is both completely logical and, in fact, totally necessary to avoid a complete priesthood developing.  Let me explain with a quote from, yes, Raph Koster again (I’m done with the book in class now, so it will soon trickle out of my memory).

The historical trend in games has shown that when a new genre of game is invented, it follows a trajectory where increasing complexity is added to it, until eventually the games on the market are so complex and advanced that newcomers can’t get into them – the barrier of entry is too high.  You could call this the jargon factor because it is common to all formal systems.  Priesthoods develop, terms enter common usage, and soon only the educated few can hack it.

WoW – and many other MMOs – are suffering from this right now.  The entry level, which seems mindlessly low to those of use who have played for years, is still too high for newcomers.  It’s easy for us to forget since things are so smooth for us now, but I remember being extremely frustrated with trying to get my character to move, look, target, and attack with just the mouse buttons.  It wasn’t something easily done, and I think that on top of NPCs, quests, mobs, and the environment in general can be a little overwhelming.

Rohan said it well on his blog a few weeks back on the same topic (oooh… I saved it this time so I wouldn’t forget!).

…it is not trivial to start playing WoW, even before you get in game. You have to buy a copy or download a multi-gig client. You have to set up and create a account.

All of this on top of the actual work getting to learn the game can be daunting, as well as a bit of a turn off.  If you’ve waited an hour or more for the client to download only to feel stymied by the first thirty minutes of the game, it’s already going to be a bit of a disappointment for a casual gamer who can usually load up Plants vs. Zombies on Popcap in matter of seconds (I don’t know how you’d not have played this game yet, but if you haven’t, it’s great – far superior to the WoW version, which sucked).

Here, though, is the practical application of all this.  I think Blizzard is now or will soon be faced with WoW’s greatest challenge, a restructuring to four tiers, one more than they currently have.  As the game playing populace ages, WoW has to adapt to the facts presented by the recent study (that I’m sure you’ve all seen) that can be summed up slightly inaccurately like this: about 50% of game time is by players under 18, but about 80% of money spent is players over 24.

We don’t have as much time as we want to game.  The very soul of this blog centers around that nature, the nature of the Part Core Gamer (capital letters for effect! and authority!).  WoW, however is making it harder and harder to practice in for raids.  In what I can only call an moment of brilliant and extremely rare, non-controversial insight, Gevlon summed up the problem (I’m paraphrasing here) saying that you used to be able to be good at your class (by practicing through leveling, dungeons, and earlier raids) and progress, now you have to practice on specific bosses to progress.  A lot of us simply don’t have time for that anymore.

Blizzard has to come up with a four cornered approach, which on a graph would have time on one axis and skill on another.  Players with a lot of time and a lot of skill have a game to play – it’s end game raiding.  Players with little skill and a lot of time have a game to play – they can level over and over.  Players with only a little time and a little skill have a game, too – they can do little “30 minuters:” end game normal dungeons, achievements, and world events a little at a time.  Right now, though, players with little time and a lot of skill have nowhere to go.  We’re the lost quadrant.

As more time passes, we’re forced further down the skill axis from lack of playing or lack of interest due to our feelings about our in-game efficacy (that’s a another correspondence, dear reader, to be sent to you soon).  We start feeling daunted by the height of the of the entry bar into raiding, and we start to have conflicting emotions about the game, whether it’s disappointment, burn out, or boredom.  Then, we’re gone, and our quadrant continues to atrophy.

At any rate, WoW needs to work to solve this.  It needs to create a four tiered approach that allows for each quadrant to have their own game.  The top-end raiding is great for the time+ skill+ group.  Leveling is great for the time+ skill- group.  All the little 30 minute activities mentioned above are great for the time- skill- group.  We need a fourth tier, though.  We need an activity that’s engaging, difficult, and fun but doesn’t take four hours three nights a week.  We need short raids that are based on people doing well at their classes, not, as Gevlon terms it, the dance.  I don’t have time to learn the mashed potato, I can’t do the twist (look it up, young ones).  My quadrant wants a game to play, too.

I don’t want WoW to be “hard” again.  I just want WoW to acknowledge that their players are changing.  I don’t want to exclude anyone, see, because I’ve felt excluded for a year now.  I don’t want WoW to be inaccessible to new players due to difficulty, and I don’t want raiding to be accessible to everyone regardless of skill.  I want the game to truly be for everyone, not just a priesthood.  Koster continues his previous thought with this

Every once in a while games come along that appeal to the masses, and thank goodness.  Because frankly, priesthoods are a perversion of what games are about as well.  The worst possible fate for games (and, by extension, our species) would be for games to become niche, something played by only a few elite who have the training to do so.  It was bad for sports, it was bad for music, it was bad for writing, and it would be bad for games, as well.

Some will disagree, but I don’t think I could have expressed my feelings better.  I don’t blame those who would disagree, either.  I didn’t use to feel this way; it’s only since I moved to Illinois and had to take on two part-time jobs that I’ve opened to this perspective.  That’s the insidious nature of success, you see.  When you’ve got it, you don’t see why others don’t.  It’s only by being pushed from the inside to the outside that you can really gain the perspective you need.

I don’t want MMOs to become niche.  I want them to become universal.


Stubborn (and impressed – is this a record for most outside references to a single WoW issue?)

16 Comments leave one →
  1. Lowtec permalink
    September 21, 2011 11:37 am

    Depende on how you define skill in WoW but I would put PvP in the fourth quadrant. The time commitment is lower than raiding, counting continous chunks of time. And I would put the skill requirements even above raiding.

    Thing is I don’t like PvP at all, and apart from your rogue leveling adventure you don’t seem to either. Luckily I have the time to commit to 3 raids a week, otherwise WoW propably wouldn’t be a compatible game to me 🙂

    • September 21, 2011 3:07 pm

      I agree, actually, but like you said, there’s some (or perhaps more than some) that dislike it. In fact, I’d argue that PvP supercedes the graph, because anyone can do it in whatever time frame they have. Lord knows some of the people I met were not in the skill+ hemisphere. With PvE, though, or even just playing (like world events), the amount of challenge you can get is directly proportional to the time you can put in, and I think that’s losing some of the old gamers.

      Thanks for the comment!

  2. September 21, 2011 12:45 pm

    “You used to be able to be good at your class and progress, now you have to practice on specific bosses to progress. A lot of us simply don’t have time for that anymore.”

    I mean.. yes.. sort of. I didn’t quite get this when Gevlon said it, either. 🙂 People will do a lot better on a “dance boss” with 2 or 3 practice attempts, but how long does that really take? 30 minutes? Although I haven’t done Firelands myself, in my experience dance bosses really just boil down to watching where you’re going and not standing in bad things, which are skills that a player starts developing from the moment they create a character.

    I’m not saying that it’s oh my god so easy (I died A LOT on Heigan in the day), but it’s not exactly some crazy specialized skill.

    • September 21, 2011 3:16 pm

      I didn’t like the word “dance,” when he used it, as it is to representative of Heigan. However, the more I thought about it, the more I figured he, like I, was using the word more broadly than that, in that every boss that has a ton of mechanics to avoid (whereas Heigan was really focused on that one mechanic) is a “dance” boss. So for Heigy, yeah, a few sessions and you can nail it. For Shannox, though, who really is another dance boss – three mobs to deal with, damage spikes to heal through, aoe damage to avoid (thanks to Rohan for an easy reference), it can take more time than 10 people in a guild who can only come together a few times a week have.

      So for clarity’s sake, I probably shouldn’t have used Gev’s word “dance;” I probably should have called them “pattern bosses,” but that would have needed an explanation, too, in an already long post. Every major PvE boss at the moment shares that quality; there’s no more where everyone just being good at their classes is enough. If 2 or 3 tries to get the bosses down were all it took in the current patch, there’d be a lot more guilds with a lot greater progress than there are.

      I agree that it’s not a specialized skill, but I disagree that you learn it from the moment you create a character. I’m not sure when you last leveled, so I may be telling you things you already know, but the leveling game is mindlessly easy (to an experienced player), and environmental awareness is almost completely irrelevant in it. You get no practice at that until you hit your first “real” dungeon, though it can be argued whether that’s your first cata normal or your first cata heroic. So I agree that it’s not specialized, but it is something that takes practice, and each boss is a different patter set, so each boss requires their own practice, and that time adds up a lot. If you figure 2 or 3 attempts on a boss with 1 big mechanic, then bosses with 2 or 3 big mechanics, which I think is round number for Cata, it probably means 15 to 30 attempts using exponential possible mistakes and bad math (on my part).

      So for those of us without a lot of time, it stinks.

      Thanks for the comment!

  3. krel permalink
    September 21, 2011 12:46 pm

    “we start to have conflicting emotions about the game, whether it’s disappointment, burn out, or boredom. Then, we’re gone, and our quadrant continues to atrophy.”

    This is me. I pretty much fit that fourth quadrant perfectly – I’m good at it, but I don’t have the time. I unsubbed from WoW a few months ago, and I’m now playing World of Tanks. 15 minute matches, so very short time commitment. It’s not a twitch game, and Tanks Don’t Jump. 🙂 Requires a fair amount of strategic and tactical thinking, and a good player can really shine, but if you can get a little teamwork going you can steamroll the other side which is always fun. 🙂

    • September 21, 2011 3:18 pm

      The only thing keeping me in WoW right now is my 10 x 85 challenge. I’d unsub if it weren’t for that. When I reach the end, there’s going to be a real period of soul (and game) searching to see what’s next for me. For now, though, I’ve got my anchor that keeps me coming back. 6 down, 4 to go.

      My buddy, who’s in the same boat I am, doesn’t really like PvP games. His genres of interest are actually VERY limited, so the amount of games we can experiment with are, as well. WoT is out. Basically anything that’s not go RPG character progression (even if it’s limited) and a FPS or WoW-ish perspective is out. Anything not Co-op is out. If only Fallout 3 or Obsidian were Co-op, we’d be golden for a while, but instead, we’re hopping f2p for now.
      Thanks for the comment!

    • Krel permalink
      September 21, 2011 3:59 pm

      Yeah, I hear you – milsim isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. It’s a great example of a fremium game done right tho.

      I was really, really looking forward to SWTOR as an alternative to WoW until the fact that it’s tank-healer-DPS came out. VERY disappointing – I suspect it’s going to lack content for the same fourth quadrant as well.

      Hoping I’m wrong though. 🙂

    • September 21, 2011 5:07 pm

      Me too, and me too, and me too (; I hope they can come up with some innovation instead of us ending up with World of Star Warscraft, and while I’m sure there will be SOME innovation, I hope it’s enough to make for a truly new game.

  4. September 21, 2011 1:01 pm

    “I don’t want MMOs to become niche. I want them to become universal.”

    such small a wish. 🙂
    hehe…in essence I agree, I’d like everyone to be able to co-exist in the same game. I’m not so sure whether it’s really possible anymore though; if niches are in my future, so be it.

    • September 21, 2011 5:55 pm

      Hey, we can all wish. I’ll keep the most tawdry ones to myself, but for now, I think this one’s still sharable.

      I do think it could happen. I think those of us who’ve been in game for a while could easily get back into raiding if the situation changed, either we got more time or raiding became more something that could be done in half hour or hour segments.
      Thanks for dropping in!

  5. Masith permalink
    September 28, 2011 5:48 pm

    “I don’t want MMOs to become niche. I want them to become universal.”

    I actually used to think this about games in general and I am begining to wonder if I should of been careful what I wished for. The real dream for me would be for the mmo market to develop enough critical mass to be able to support different games for the different types of player.

    As a great man said

    “You can please all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot please all the people all the time.”

    If you try to make a universal mmo you I suspect you will find it impossible to please everyone.

    • September 28, 2011 5:54 pm

      It may be that I come to regret this, but from where I’ve been and where I am now, I still feel that inclusion is better for survival than exclusion. Some bloggers who think a lot of themselves are very exclusionary in their rhetoric, but in the end there would be no industry if not for the vast diversity of game players. Making only one group happy at the expense of all the others has a ton of negative side effects, failure of the game being the most logical one.

      We’ll see. I’m not sure any of this will come to pass, anyway, or at least before I really finally lose interest. Only time will tell. Thanks for dropping by!


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