Clear Measurable Progress

Ah finally a gaming post to break up the writing obsession. I had a spare few minutes yesterday, not long enough to really do anything but long enough that I started clicking round all the sites I check for updates everyday. The Grumpy Elf has a sidebar where he links to other blogs, this updates somehow with their latest post. I clicked on a couple and one of them made me think, and not even really about what they had written.

This blogpost said that they had boosted a level 90 Horde for the Double Agent achievement, that they might finally try and see the game from the other perspective. This reminded me that for a long time this was a goal of mine, to complete Horde Loremaster. When I quit Warcraft I didn’t even feel like doing this, I was just burned out of the game completely I guess. My perspective had narrowed and focused so much on endgame, that it tainted every other aspect of the game.

This in turn made me consider again my number one complaint about Warcraft’s direction. It made me think about the games that I do play and what they have in common. The answer is very simple – clear measurable progress.

The form of progress
I check WoWInsider every day barring unusual circumstances. I don’t read every article but I always read ‘The Queue’ where readers questions are answered. On Setepmber 28th the question “Will we ever see an alternative advancement system for those who don’t want to raid but want to continue to grow their toons?” was asked and the response by Anne Stickney, the Queue writer of the day, annoyed me greatly.

“I always get confused by this question, largely because it’s hard to picture exactly why you would want to or need to advance your character’s gear or weapons beyond a certain point if you aren’t raiding at all.”

In my opinion levelling in Warcraft is designed to be rushed through. Maybe back in Vanilla it was considered part of the game, but for a very long time everything has been designed around endgame. You can even buy boosts to the current level cap now, in addition to the ‘free’ one included in the Warlords expansion. I’m sure that there are some people that enjoy the levelling process in Warcraft, I am not one of them. That isn’t because I dislike levelling, in fact in Marvel Heroes and Swtor that is all I do, I just don’t like levelling in Warcraft.

I don’t consider levelling to be an advancement path, for some it might be, it definitely is for me in other games. However, pretty much everything in Warcraft is designed around gear drops, gaining upgrades and the corresponding stat increase. There are side games like Pet Battles and like with levelling it’s entirely possible that the pet battle aspect is someone’s whole game. However, Warcraft is primarily a combat based game whether that’s PvE or PvP.

The top PvE content is raiding, and raiders are rewarded for their success by gear drops. The highest difficulty of raids drops the best gear in the game, until the next tier or expansion comes out and then the process starts again. The top PvP content is either arenas or rated battlegrounds, I think it’s arenas but I don’t PvP so I’m not sure. However, when you PvP you gain currency, honor buys starter or previous season gear, conquest buys the best gear. If you want to compete for a top rank then you need to grind the points for the best gear.

Now in that ‘Queue’ response the writer says that the player doesn’t need gear if you aren’t doing the top content. However, I would argue that the prevailing attitude of the game says that you do. Even when levelling, arguably the start of the game, players are rewarded by gear upgrades. The top players hunt gear, the have BiS lists, they want upgrades and this trickles down. Whatever your content level, if you are taking part in dungeons, scenarios, daily quests, one of the four raid difficulties, the new garrisons, everything rewards gear. Therefore the game itself is saying you are progressing if you get gear. You might not need higher gear to complete the content you are tackling but it might make doing so faster, it might make it easier, beyond that it is a measure of progress.

When I play Marvel Heroes I can log off saying “I got x hero to level y, going up z levels”. When I play Swtor I can log off thinking that I progressed further through a zone, I completed another aspect of the class quest, I went up a level etc.

At level cap in Warcraft, you login and then what? Well if you are a raider then you would down bosses, occasionally find gear upgrades. If you are a PvP player you can look at your ranking, you can get to point cap each week. There are clear goals to aim for. However, if you don’t raid and don’t PvP what do you login for?

In the past there were dungeons that dropped gear but they also rewarded points. They rewarded both justice and valor. Justice bought starter or last tier gear, Valor bought gear the same level as normal raid tier. It wasn’t tier, there were no tier bonuses and it didn’t cover all slots. However, you could login, run a dungeon, maybe get a drop, gather some points. You could then look at those points and buy gear. Valor was capped so you could only earn a certain amount each week, so you couldn’t deck yourself out day one, it was a slow process but it was clear measurable progress. Points aren’t just awarded by dungeons either but the point system gave players a target they could aim for.

Why is that game so popular?
Match three, find the hidden object, these are very basic games that have made a killing on platforms like Facebook. They are free to play but they have a cash shop where you can buy lives or whatever it is you need to play, you can also buy boosts or the ability to skip waiting time. They make millions, because they work on feeding an addiction.

There is always another level in front of you, or more stars to collect, something more to do. People are impatient, they want to progress now, so they dip into their wallet so that they can continue playing, can continue progressing. There is a very clear ladder of progress, people can see what they have done and what they have in front of them.

This applies to all games. I think to myself “Oh I’ll login and get to x, or complete y” as it gives the game session structure, it means I feel I have accomplished something and that makes it feel worthwhile and positive. There’s nothing more disheartening about a game than logging in, playing for hours, and achieving absolutely nothing. Occasionally this happens like in a raid night, you wipe the entire night and so no bosses die. Well, mostly with this scenario there’s the comfort of knowing you’ve learned something, so next raid night that boss will die. This isn’t always the case, Garrosh I’m looking at you, but for the most part if you raid in Warcraft then there is a ladder of progress to keep you playing. It’s if you don’t raid that you run into trouble.

A note about perspective
I wrote a post once, saying that opinions of a game may vary depending on the approach taken to it. Swtor was once criticized for having a poor endgame, I’ve no idea if that is still the case, but the game got a lot of bad reviews for it. Personally I’ve never reached Swtor’s endgame so I have no idea whether it’s good or bad, it doesn’t affect me. My opinion of the game is formed based on the part that I’m interested in. I only play part of the game and I’m happy with that, it’s what the game is to me.

I played Warcraft for a few years and I played pretty much every aspect of it. I liked doing a lot of different things in game. While I loved dungeons, the currency system, and the measurable progress this gave my alts, I also spent a lot of time in ‘old’ content. I would go back to content released in previous expansions and solo old raids, hunt mounts and pets, complete achievements. However, in Mists I focused more and more on the endgame. As dungeons were gutted, and LFR was king, I didn’t have any alts to play. Even levelling them to cap bored me as there seemed to be no point, I couldn’t play them once they were there.

I just had my main, and I do love my paladin, but raiding became Warcraft to me and when I got burned out on this, I got burned out of the entire game. This was entirely down to my perspective, the way I approached the game. I started playing seriously and it tainted everything about the game. I got annoyed about one aspect of the game and that translated to being fed up with the whole game. As much as I resent having to pay the box price, and then the sub, I will be returning for Warlords and more and more I’m starting to wonder, whether the break will have rejuvenated the old content, in addition to now having new content to play through.

Maybe I will finally play my Horde and see the storylines from the other side of the fence. If I’m just playing casually, then my whole approach will have changed and maybe what used to bug me so much, will no longer be an issue, and I can enjoy the game in a simpler form again. However, I could just be getting nostalgic. After all back before I turned into a more serious player, the game was still new to me, there was still so much unexplored. I turned serious about the same time all those achievements got marked complete. That won’t have changed. I can’t turn back the clock and see everything through new eyes once more.

This post wound up being more about Warcraft than I originally thought. I guess I do really want to see a change in direction back to how it was when I first started playing. I wonder if that makes me one of those “in my day it was better” complainers? I’m not saying it was harder back then, in fact I’m saying the opposite. It was easier in some respects, but there was also clearer goals and something for the non-raiders to aim at.

Gear isn’t just for raiders, they might need it for the stats but everyone needs it for the feeling it gives. Upgrades matter, they are the standard of progress in Warcraft and should be available to everyone. Warcraft’s playerbase is very diverse but it feels like the options available, are narrowing to suit only certain playstyles. The Grumpy Elf sometimes asks “do the devs actually play this game?” and it does make me wonder. Maybe they do play but they all play the same. We can only see things from our own perspective after all, which is why people make statements of opinion that sound like fact. They believe everyone thinks as they do, when of course they don’t.

Bring back currency blizz, it helps in so many ways.