WARNING: The following blog post only sort of pertains to WoW. I got off on all sort of rambling tangents that are, nevertheless, (at least hopefully) interesting and entertaining. It is devoid of embittered cursing and is safe for all audiences. ;)
Not too long ago, I got into an argument on a message board. This shouldn’t come as much of a surprise to you, Dear Reader. As all my readers ought to know by now, cruising message boards and making inflammatory statements is one of my favorite hobbies. Not only is it a great way to express humor, it’s also a great way to bait people into a debate (or well, usually an argument, but one dares to dream).
This particular argument stemmed from a debate about the hotly-contested decision to remove flying from current content during Warlords of Draenor. Anyway, during the course of this argument I commented that one of Blizzard’s biggest flaws in designing content is its inability to grasp the shifting baseline. The guy arguing with me didn’t just disagree, he accused me of making up the concept out of whole cloth. It’s a real thing, I promise you.
I wanted to explain to him exactly how much I wasn’t just making this all up, but I was fairly certain he was a troll, anyway, at that point, but even if he was legitimately stupid, every effort I made to explain the concept unraveled into a long-winded mess of scattered threads of thought. Not entirely unlike this tangled ball of yarn you’re reading now.
Well, anyway, it occurred to me that it was all just too much to fit within the scope of a single post within a thread about flying. My solution, as it often is, was, “Well, why don’t I just blog about it?” And so I am. I’ll try to keep it brief and interesting, so bear with me.
In WoW, as within the real world, there is an aspect known as the “standard of living.” Basically, the standard of living is a measurement of how well-off you are within a given system. Like all such systems, the standard of living has a shifting baseline. As the economy grows, the standard of living increases. Things that used to be considered luxury items eventually become mainstream, and then just standard/expected.
Cars, Televisions, refrigerators, and microwave ovens are excellent real-world examples of this phenomenon. All of these items used to be exclusive to only the wealthiest homes, but now it’s hard to find a home without them. When first introduced:
- The television was first mass-produced in the USA in 1938. It sold for about $190 (or about two months’ salary of an average American at that time). Adjusted for inflation, that would be nearly $3,000 in today’s dollars.
- The automobile was first commercially available in 1885. It sold for around $1,000 (or about three times the yearly salary of an average American at that time). Adjusted for inflation, that would be around $24,000 in today’s dollars.
- The electric refrigerator was first mass-produced in 1927. It sold for just over $1,000 (or about the yearly salary of an average American at that time). Adjusted for inflation, that would be $12,600 in today’s dollars.
- The microwave oven was first commercially available in 1947. It sold for about $5,000 (or more than twice the yearly salary of an average American at that time). Adjusted for inflation, that would be around $49,000 in today’s dollars.
The same concept applies to WoW. In Vanilla, simply having a mount was a rite of passage all on its own, and having a fast ground mount was a true status symbol. But ground mounts aren’t special anymore. Now everyone and his brother gets a mount at level 20, because it’s the new standard. Each successive expansion has expanded the economy, made players wealthier, and thus increased the standard of living. Getting 280% flight used to be a long, hard slog and an enormous gold sink. Now it’s almost unheard of that somebody won’t have at least 280% flight on their main and fairly common for somebody to have purchased it on all or most of their alts. If somebody says “I only have slow flight on this toon” there’s an instant and unspoken question: “Why? Are you new? Are you poor? Do you have too many alts? What’s wrong with you?” This is the shifting baseline at work.
This is what Blizzard failed to understand with their Guild Perks. They repeated time and time again that these were just “perks” – not necessary to play the game, just nice little bonuses. Except that when you design the game to be balanced as if you have them (which they did), then they are NOT bonuses, they are the standard. People naturally adjusted to this new standard and came to expect the perks. Leveling was balanced around having the guild’s 10% bonus. Leveling without it felt slower, like you were being punished for not being in a big guild. The same applies to the discounts, bonus mats, instant mail delivery, etc. Can you play without them? Sure. Do you feel like you’re “slumming it” – somehow playing below the normal, or beneath your accustomed standard of living when you play without them? Of course you feel that way. Because you are.
The problem with the no flight decision is that for the first time, the expansion is taking a big step backwards in the standard of living. Things that have become the standard, baseline expectation are now being *removed completely* and it’s only natural to feel that this is a hassle, inconvenience, or otherwise negative experience. Imagine that your washing machine or microwave oven were suddenly and forcibly removed from your home. You could still use these devices, but only at a laundromat or some sort of newfangled microwave kiosk. Would they still be as convenient? Would they still feel like as much of a labor-saving device? Or do they suddenly feel like a chore? Are you now starting to weigh a cost-reward analysis about whether it’s even worth the hassle of using a microwave or washing machine? How long before you start to look for other options? That’s the obvious natural progression for those disenfranchised by the no-flight decision. At what point does the slow movement, the dazing, the dismounting, the forced combat with trivial mobs, all become too much of a hassle for what is supposed to be a form of entertainment? In short: when does the bad start to outweigh the good? That’s not a conversation you want customers to be having with themselves if you are in the entertainment industry. Especially if you’re operating under a subscription model.
Don’t get me wrong. I get why Blizzard is doing this. No flight means they can push out smaller zones with less content (less art, fewer quests, fewer creatures, etc.) in an attempt to make it appear that they’re delivering on their promise of “more content, more quickly.” I understand that cutting corners to decrease the workload is cheaper than hiring enough programmers to meet that workload. But, Blizz, the cheapness is starting to show. The year-long content drought at the end of the expansion, the laundry list of removed/reduced/delayed features in the new expansion, the stagnation, the gimmicks (CRZ, server merges, no flight)? It’s all piling up to a point that the average Joe is starting to notice. That guy in the tinfoil hat isn’t looking so crazy anymore. In short, we’re on to you.
It’s time to pony up, Blizz. Dip into those billion-dollar yearly profits and hire a new team. Just one new content team. Yes, there will be a slow-down as the old team helps the new team learn what to do. But guess what? That reduction in output/quality is temporary (and easily defensible/excusable to your customer base). Unlike your current plan, which is both permanent and smacks of greed. Just see if it works. See if that increase in creative talent, differing opinions, new ideas, and helping hands translates into an increase in quality and productivity. Find out if making a better product might get some folks to come back and try out the game again. See if maybe they decide to stay because the infusion of new blood has led to innovations and a genuinely more enjoyable game. Do things the right way, instead of the easy way. Just this once. What’s the worst that could happen?