TLDR: WoW’s success and failures are easy to document and availible for all to see. The changes that shaped the game, and their affects are listed below. I also offer some speculation as to the chance of Shadowlands doing well.
World of Warcraft – From consistency to inconsistency. Today, let’s talk about World of Warcraft’s history and expectations for the upcoming expansion, Shadowlands.
Topics to cover: 1.0 When did Investor influence begin affecting WoW? This part will cover the timeline + the misleading idea that current WoW is more capable of creating more revenue. 1.1 Developer’s/upper management’s failures to accurately assess their own playerbases desires: This part will cover changes throughout the years that were controversial, moving from a community driven experience – to a individualistic experience, expansion themes, and gameplay/content.
1.0) Investor influence: Vivendi Games merged with Activision on July 9, 2008 which culminated in the inclusion of the Blizzard brand name in the title of the resulting holding company. On July 25th, 2013, Activision Blizzard purchased the majority of shares from Vivendi. This would imply that Activison has had an influence on World of Warcraft since 2008, and a controlling influence since 2013. Wrath of the Lich King, the most popular WoW expansion, ran during the time of Activison’s first influence on the game. However, as most of us would guess, the expansion plan would have been laid out long before Activision could affect anything of true substance. What I mean to say is, Catacylsm would most likely be the first expansion where, if you believe that Activision was influencing the decision making, Activision would have influence over the games philosophies and decisions. Follow with the theme of financially driven decisions (possibly) taking precedence over quality, one very vocal argument I here from people who defend the current gamestate of WoW is almost always, “Well… WoW makes more money now compared to before”. My strong argument to this would be monetization differences. For those who did not play during Burning Crusade or Wrath of the Lich King, you may be surprised to find out this one little fact. Many people were still going to their local gamestops and purchasing hard copies of the expansion from the store. Additonally, there was no online shop for the game as you see it today. What I mean to say is, Blizzard had a direct financial reason to create a quality game because at the time, revenue was largely tied to subscriptions. While there are many topics I could talk about related to this, I just wanted to give some of the less involved players an idea of the timeline/talking point.
1.1) Upper management/ Lead developers failures to navigate their player’s desires WOTLK’s success will be impossible to replicate when it comes to subscriber consistency given 2020’s current MMO landscape. But what is clear is that Blizzard was, at that time, unable to identify that the playerbase, which began to flatten out, was content with that state of the game. I want to focus on the key words “state of the game”. I will be using this to reference how core design changes affected the playerbase. By properly tracking how well different, “states of the game” are doing, it was/still is possible during every expansion to identify where the curve of subscribers will flatten out. We can use this curve measurement as an indicator to players overall feelings about the following categories: gameplay(how classes play, questing experience, and the RPG in MMORPG), theme/story(The theme, and its execution + How well received it was), and content (Quality+Quantity). Look at this chart and think about what you see.
You may have looked at this chart and thought, OK. I see rapid early success in Vanilla/Burning Crusade. Additionally, you may have seen that WOTLK appears to be the most popular, although the amount of players joining do not seem as much as before. You most definitely noticed the sharp declines during Cataclysm, and WoD. Lastly, you probably noticed that MoP had a poor start, but managed to stabilize itself. Now, please allow me to share my interpretation of the why these things happen. As a disclaimer this interpretation is coming from a very simple point of view, which will value the categories I mentioned before of: gameplay, theme/story, and content.
Vanilla World of Warcraft. Man, was this expansion impressive for its time. The story of Warcraft which hyped up the games release, the revolutionary gameplay experience offered in 2005, and the huge amount of content
Burning Crusade: One of the fan favorites in Illidan leading the expansion as the number one bad guy, massive amounts of raiding content, the release of new races?! And to top it all off, new abilities that made some classes feel INCREDIBLE to play… cough Warlock cough. It is important to mention that there was a small divisive addition to the game in flying mounts. Flying mounts in Outland were one of the additions that players argued would take away from the games core philosophy, which was Community. Some players argued that by adding flying mounts to the game, players would not be interacting as often. They also claimed that flying mounts would destroy the “World”, in World of Warcraft. Players would no longer be required to explore the hard efforts the developers put into zones. Gameplay: 8/10 Theme/Story: 9/10 Content: 10/10
Wrath of the Lich King: The huge fan favorite which is contested only by Burning Crusade, WOTLK probably has the best story of any expansion to this day. It was also riding off of Burning Crusades strong performance, which set it up to be the most popular expansion to this date. Most players would probably agree that WOTLK really stepped it up when it came to class design. Most players were happy with the way their class played, and if nothing else, felt that their class was unique. Wrath also boasted some of the best content that was ever released, AKA Ulduar. But midway through WOTLK, some huge changes were made which angered a lot of players. Dungeon finder was released. The argument was the same as the flying mount argument. The “World” in World of Warcraft, would disappear if content like this kept being added. This actually caused some of the last standing veterans from Vanilla WoW to pack it up, and leave the game early. Perhaps they saw what the game would become, far in advance than the majority of us. Gameplay: 8.5/10 Theme/Story: 10/10 Content: 9.5/10
Cataclysm: This expansion had everything it needed from to be a major hit. It had a dope expansion theme, and the hype of coming off of three HUGELY successful iterations of WoW. In many ways , Cataclysm is the most ironic expansion of them all. It created not only a Cataclysm in the game’s world, but also in the community. During this expansion the gameplay was generally considered good, but there were some major philosophical design changes. First of all, the leveling experience. The leveling experience was revamped in Cataclysm, which outraged a lot of players. The reason was not a simple as, “change made people angry”. It was tied to the fact that the leveling experience became so much easier, which meant ALTS were becoming much more viable. To many, this was a huge issue. Before this, WoW was not a very alt friendly game, and people often took pride in having that, “one main character” with, “all the gear”. Having a single main tied players to names, and names to classes. During past expansions, it was very easy to recognize your friends on the server and the famous guilds. You didn’t need battle.net because players did not often switch servers. Players also, did not generally have multiple mains. This created a strong sense of community in the minds of many. On the same topic, the more divisive additions to Cataclyms were probably the mass usage of Real ID, the store purchasing of server swaps, cross-realm, and pruning. Some examples are, the talent tree pruning of 71 talents to 41, certain servers dying because of realm swapping, making players spend at least 31 points in a particular talent tree (which removed a lot of weird spec variations), WoW also loss Attack Power, Spell Power, Mp5, defense, and weapon skill. For many, Cataclysm destroyed a lot of the RPG in the MMORPG. Gameplay: 7/10 Theme/Story: 8/10 Content: 8.5/10
MOP: This expansion never had a chance and even if it did, it never would have reached the same success of the former expansions. MoP’s gameplay was considered very fast paced, and chaotic. For many players the gameplay was very fun, and for others it was overwhelming. A bright spot about this expansion was that fact that pve had never enjoyed such a high skill cap before, and many casual players became interested in the success of world class raiding guilds. PvE players were able to express their skill during this expansion. Despite these bright spots, MoP still lacked in some of the major categories I originally outlined. Theme: Many players who were already sore about Cataclysm’s massive changes were unable to give MoP a chance simply due to the fact the theme of the expansion theme was not as interesting as before. Additionally, many of the systems that were causing huge issues in cataclysm surived into MoP. For many, this expansion was just doubled down version of Cataclysm. Something that put the nail in the coffin when it came to the RPG in the MMORPG was Cross-Realm. Cross-realm was the singularly strongest dissuador of server communities, and to many was the final straw necessary to quit. Gameplay: 6.5/10 Theme/Story: 5/10 Content: 6/10
WoD: Blizzard finally reconciles with their mistakes! Pruning will be removed! The RPG in MMORPG will come back! World PvP and community will matter again! Except none of it happened. WoD was the expansion that had the most hype and most disappointment. If you are noticing a trend it is probably that, despite classes being fun, there is less content, worst expansion themes, and the RPG gameplay is all but gone. WoD took all of this to the next level, while removing classes being fun. There was little to no content in WoD throughout the expansion, garrisons were horrible, classes were pruned to the point of pure misery for most players, and the expansion theme, despite exciting many players, proved to be a giant orc slaying session. The only positive quality of this entire expansion would be the raiding. The raids in WoD were well put together, and many players enjoyed them. Gameplay: 5/10 Theme/Story: 5/10 Content: 4/10
Legion: Blizzard corrects the easily correctable issues, and lets the underlining issues continue to plague the game. The doom of the legion is finally upon us. Players have been talking about the day when we would fight the legion for a long time. So in this way, well played blizzard. Players generally enjoyed the expansions theme, especially since we were coming off killing a giant amount of orcs. Legion also improved the gameplay of most classes! This restored players faith in Blizzard a little bit. Unfortunately, the problems that have affected the game since Cataclysm’s design shift still plague the game. Gameplay: 7/10 Theme/Story: 8/10 Content: 6.5/10
BFA: Battle for Azeroth. WoD 2.0 or WoD 0.5, depending on your perspective. This expansion was another failure for Blizzard for simple reasons. The expansion theme was similar to that of WoD in the sense that it focused on the conflict of players, rather than a big bad guy. In a game where the RPG in the MMO doesn’t exist, this will never work. Additionally, the GCD change, class pruning, and horribly designed Azerite systems made BFA feel worst. BFA failed in all three of my categories in this respect. The initial expansion theme was shallow, the class mechanics felt worst, and the game-play was unfulfilling and repetitive. This expansion had almost no positive quality in the eyes of most players. Gameplay: 5/10 Theme/Story: 5.5/10 (start) 6.5/10(end). Content: 3/10
Shadowlands: An upcoming expansion with a lot of prayers. Players have been waiting for Blizzard to release two expansions in a row that would be considered decent since Wrath of the Lich King. At the moment what we do know about Shadowlands, is that the expansion theme is already receiving higher praise compared to BFA. Additionally, classes are being (unpruned
Gameplay: ?/10 Theme/Story: ?/10 Content: ?/10
Thanks to anyone who read this, Stay informed, and enjoy your time playing World of Warcraft.
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