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2011 – Will It Solidify WoW’s Decline?

Here we go: a predictions post. I usually avoid doing these because I don’t like being proven wrong. This time I feel confident enough to make the statement unless Blizzard changes how they roll out content. Going by their previous development history, I simply don’t how this expansion will keep people satisfied for the next two years.  

I have a few reasons for saying this, but first let me preface this post with a simple explanation: this is not a doom and gloom, not a “the Cataclysm honeymoon is over,” not a final missive from a jaded lover. I’ve been wondering about the longevity of this expansion for a long time. Now that it’s out there and we’ve had some hands on time with it, I think we can make an educated guess about the future of WoW. In answer to myself nine months ago: no, Cataclysm will not last long enough.  

So, back in March, I was pretty skeptical about the 5 levels and fewer dungeons this iteration of WoW would offer. We, of course, saw people hit 85 within a day of the expansion releasing. That’s to be expected. What’s a little more troubling is how quickly everybody else seems to be hitting it. Green Armadillo echoes my own experiences having been halfway to 83 before ever leaving the first zone. He also rightly notes that doing anything outside of questing breaks the leveling curve. This isn’t surprising given a lot of the side-ways you can go about leveling now. High end archeology gives upwards of 45k experience per successful dig. Each gathered node awards a mob kill at minimum. Questing itself is so streamlined that you can completed two dozen without every leaving small circle of territory and walk away 100k XP higher. Scott and Randy agree with GA on the last episode of The Instance, noting how much quicker the cap can be reached. Tobold also points out how Blizzard exchanged length for breadth – breadth taking the form of much needed revisions. 

This is all good for Cataclysm. Playing through it now is something I would recommend to any and all MMO players. As you’re leveling up, it’s an incredibly satisfying feeling to see that XP rise so often. All those quest turn-ins get the dopamine a-flowing. In the long run, though, I honestly believe that this will bite Blizzard in the behind. 

Here’s the thing: we just got out of two years of badge grinding and trudging through the same raid encounters at six-month stretches at a pop. Within a week, all of the raid content has been beaten and the average player is back to dungeon farming.  

How long will this sustain people? There’s a reason people took breaks towards the end of Wrath and within a week we’re back to the routine that burnt them out in the first place.  

Now, I realize that we’ll have all new dungeons and raids to run, a new world to explore. That’s true and great. For now. Blizzard’s development cycle is somewhere around two content patches a year (content meaning a new region, 5-mans, or raid). In six months, will the shiny still be there? In six months, will you still look at the world with such awe, or will you be done questing, grinding heroic Deadmines for the 40th time and plugging away at the same OS-10 style instance you were three weeks before? 

Less dungeons, less levels, means less variety and quicker burn-out. Similar difficulty and identical loot tables means the raiding game has been halved for players who partook in both. I don’t think the average player has it in them to stay with the same thing they were tired off last month… at least in the long-term.  

So, the way out, as I see it is to do one or more of these things: 

  • Increase the content schedule
    • Keep to the 90 day rule many other MMOs consider standard. Blizzard polish or not, six months between updates is too long.
  • Stick to the expansion a year rule
    • According to that leaked product schedule, they won’t do this. They’re planning 18 months before expansion four, which is 2 years in Blizzard time.
  • Wait three months and release a Looking For Raid tool
    • PuGs will fail more often than guild groups, sure, but this tool would be heralded as a success just like the LFD tool. It would empower players to raid on their own time. There’s really no reason this shouldn’t happen -or-….
  • Use phasing to let players for cross-server groups
    • This would be an alternative to the above. The technology seems like it’s there or close to it. If Blizzard is opposed to random raid finding, give players the power to find others who play on their schedule… and don’t charge them for the chance at it.

While it’s entirely likely that Blizzard will still be millions and millions of players higher than it’s best competitor, unless the above happens I think we’ll see those activity graphs begin to take a noted down-tick, continuing on from where we saw them last expansion. 

In no way claiming this chart is 100% accurate; I had another one in mind, actually, but I couldn't find it. Funny.


To be clear, I think Cataclysm is the best expansion WoW has had to date. Not only is the questing and storytelling FAR better than anything before it, the variation and gameplay are just amazing. While Larisa says she feels like a marionette, I feel like I’m experiencing the story more than I ever have in the past. This is how storytelling in MMOs should work. At least directed storytelling, like what they’re trying to do here.  

Simply put, and forgive me for sounding crass, this isn’t enough for two years. It’ll be interesting to see how they try to compensate for that.


Skip to comment form

  1. Mark

    I am having a lot of fun with the expansion but I agree with the concerns over how easy it is to level. I hit 85 6 days after getting the expansion and I didn’t play 2 of those days. I really only experienced 2 and half of the zones too and only 2 dungeons. While I will be able to sink some time into my new worgen priest and gearing up properly on my main it did feel a lot faster.

  2. Scarybooster

    I got a prediction: you will see 5 more levels in a year. I’ll give it 6 months

  3. Greyon

    …which is why I haven’t even touched by two level 80 “mains”.

    I’m back in the revamped old world leveling an alt. Why the rush? I got burnt out (running as healer) in Wrath dungeons, which became a repetitive chore.

    However, I think Blizzard may be doing this deliberately – they have put in so much content, that players have two options: either quit the game OR run alts through the revamped old world. That’s what I’m doing, and anecdotal evidence also suggests many others are as well.

    More importantly, I think we need to do away with the concept of “a main” toon that we spend years playing.

    ***Cataclysm is not about the endgame***

    Cataclysm is about fostering community within the player base. As gamers we live in a Blizzard universe – WoW, SC the coming “Titan” – not just in WoW.

    Let’s look at the infrastructure Blizzard has put in place prior to Cataclysm:

    >> the Real ID tool allows you to be in contact with your friends regardless of character/race/faction.
    >> the guild levelling process rewards people and the guild as they level, not just end game. So you can level your alt and gain perks and contribute to guild
    >> the have revamped Battle.net that allows you to connect with friends in SC2 as well
    >> the new community forum/site

    Blizz is working hard on the social/group dynamics of the game – if Wrath was the xpac that brought raiding to the masses, Cataclysm is the xpac focused on social engineering.

    Blizz has a plan. The way to keep customers in this game is keep them loyal not just to their brand, but to the guilds and community they belong too. The reason may of us are playing WoW after 4-5 years has a lot to do with the friends and community we’ve become part of. Sure, we love the game and epic loot/mount rewards.. but it is the other people that matter to most players.

    Any company would love the fan base Blizzard has, who will snap up any title. Some of us have been paying monthly fees for over half a decade! Talk about loyalty.

    Blizz is smart enough to know we’ll burn through the content fast. Of course they know this. So they’re ***pushing players out of their focus on the endgame*** and across different parts of WoW: into archeology; into rated BGs; into alts and revamped the old world; into guilds with a reward structure… all the why allowing social bonds to remain or me strengthened.

    It is not longer are “main” we put all are heart and soul into. What matters is the individuals player and how well integrated they are into the community.

    When we look back in two years, we’ll realise that Blizzard changed how people played WoW: it became a more multifaceted experience, with people less about focused on one toon, gearing them up, raiding and then waiting for the next tier of raiding.

    They’ve filled the world with so much more, and I suspect the average player will start to spread themselves across multiple toons on different servers.

    Cataclysm is all about the “social network”.

    WoW is Facebook with a fantasy GUI.

    1. Chris

      Thanks for the well thought out and informed comment, Greyon. I’m doing the same thing you are: taking it slow, not rushing to get in every dungeon. A buddy of mine went around finding all the entrances today so he could queue for all the randoms he was geared for. I thought about doing the same but decided not to. What’s the rush? The quicker I get into that dungeon grind again, the quicker I’ll be burned out on it again. I’ll discover them as I level and keep the new content on a trickle to last as long as possible.

      I also think you make a really strong point about Blizzard pushing people out of their comfort level. I have to wonder how effective that will be though. Instances are the single most defining characteristic of WoW. It’s “the real game,” because players have been trained for years to see it as such. Adding more options in is always a good thing, but when players are assessing the different options at 85, I can’t help but think some of the “less exciting” options might not get as much weight.

      Another emphasis they seem to be making is on the story. Every zone has a central storyline that players can’t ignore now. Their use of phasing also lets them evolve the storylines in ways that weren’t possible 6 years ago. More than ever, there’s a good reason to complete every zone: the story is as much a reward as the loot or XP.

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  4. emyln

    You’re right, but here’s what you’re actually missing in your analysis.

    Getting to heroic instances is no longer a piece of cake. Getting the gear for it and rep is going to take quite a bit of time. (Although hard core raiders already qualified after 1 week) This is just for Heroic versions of the dungeons and does not include 10/25 man raids which are VERY much harder than Wrath. Just hit 85 and want to check out Heroic Deadmines? Nope! Not unless your gear qualifies for Heroics.

    While I understand that many people don’t do raids and even skip the instances, it has become very popular with the Dungeon Finder tool. And at least 50% of population do Raid.

    Also the new secondary profession Archeology is pretty time consuming as well.

    Still, I agree that none of the content will satisfy for 2 years or even 18 months. The degree of difficulty will ensure things to do for a lot longer than a month… if you’re into instances and raiding.

    1. Eliot

      It strikes me that this is fundamentally moving the same grind that people are tired of earlier, rather than later. Tired of grinding badges until the end of time? Well, now you have to jump through our hoops to START grinding badges!

      I’m not sold on this, is what I’m saying.

    2. riki

      The “pre-endgame” transition at 85 is a mixed blessing. I thought Cataclysm went at a much slower pace than Wrath. It does seem that, like what Greyon said, the idea is to bring players closer together, by adding new challenging content and integrating the new guild leveling, reputation, and achievement system.

      Earlier in Wrath, we’ve got pseudo-elitists who thought that “gear is everything” and demanded over-geared groups to do raids and heroics, then wonder why their ToC10 run ended up a total failure. People felt that they were entitled to their epics and would rage-quit on a single wipe.

      It took me a bit of time to get to that magic number, iLvl 329, though I’m glad that there are several different ways to get that kind of gear, if you have the patience for it. But then you need even better gear for the raids, looks like…

      But now I’ve been helping fellow guildies more often instead of just doing things on my own through quests and the Dungeon Finder. We’re even seeing people helping each other out on “solo” quests, even from outside the guild. So hopefully the community on each realm will improve in the long run.

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