The Lost Quadrant
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 Battle.net 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?)