Account-Wide Achievements and the Fall of Azeroth May 29, 2012Posted by Stormy in Uncategorized.
*watches tumbleweed blow by*
The final major patch and raid instance of Cataclysm was released six months ago. The beta for the next expansion is up, and we’re expecting to hear concrete details about the Mists of Pandaria release within the next couple of weeks. Meanwhile, Diablo III is going strong, diverting three million people’s attention away from World of Warcraft. At least on my server, Orgrimmar is a ghost town. Trade chat is nearly silent, the Auction House has been picked over worse than Best Buy on the afternoon of Black Friday, and guilds from A to Z have hung up “On Hiatus” signs.
It’s the post-expansion doldrums, for sure. I tried Diablo for a bit–and actually enjoyed it–and I’m forcing myself to learn rudimentary web design in my spare time, but my first choice for filling my non-working hours is World of Warcraft. It shows in my characters. I have six 85s and various other lowbies in various stages of completion. I’ve been working on Loremaster off and on since mid-Cataclysm, and I’ll be finished long before Mists is released.
Behind the scenes there’s a conversation raging over account-wide mounts and achievements. For many, account-wide achievements are being hailed as the savior of Azeroth, the solution to all our problems, a chance to throw off the shackles of our overly-convoluted warlock rotations and play our paladins. Never again will you be forced to stare at a character you don’t like just because she’s your “main.” You’ll be able to hop over to your shadow priest to get that achievement, and receive credit for it on every single one of your characters! All hail the Great and Powerful Ghostcrawler.
…but it’s not that simple. Every two years or so, the folks at Blizzard Entertainment are kind enough to grace us with an expansion pack that transforms–and more importantly, expands–the game we know and love. Expansions stave off boredom, greatly increasing the opportunities we have to level characters, grind reputation, explore territory, fight battlegrounds, and kill bad guys. The world grows ever larger, and the opportunities to do stuff in Azeroth expand as well. There is always, for better or for worse, something to do in Azeroth. Expansions keep people coming back. When Mists is launched, thousands of long-dormant World of Warcraft subscriptions will be reactivated, and people you’ve long forgotten will come out of the woodwork to experience what’s new and exciting in-game.
Account-wide achievements, on the other hand, run the risk of shrinking the world to one tenth of its current size. Once I complete Loremaster on my priest I won’t have the luxury of turning around and doing it again on my druid. Once Mists is launched, I won’t have to bother running heroic Culling of Stratholme for the drake on my paladin and mini-priest, because they’ll already have it. Our friends Baron Rivendare and Anzu will be cast aside, with far fewer characters needing to run those instances to farm mounts. The Kalu’ak, bereft of all the extra fish from people competing in the fishing derby, run the risk of starvation. Rather than an expansion pack that greatly increases the volume of opportunities to be pursued in Azeroth, Mists of Pandaria, with its account-wide mounts and achievements runs the risk of being the Great Shrinkage of 2012.
Furthermore, there are those who would suggest almost completely eliminating the concept of leveling. Sure, the leveling of 2012 is vastly different and far less taxing than the leveling of old, but when you tired of your warlock it provided something to do for a few weeks: level a druid. I would agree with Cynwise that from a lore standpoint it makes perfect sense: my priest, tired of bending shadow magic to her will, could run off and join the Argent Crusade and train to be a paladin. From an engagement standpoint, when one can simply log into battle.net and throw down a credit card number every time they get bored, it shrinks the game. This is one step away from being able to log into battle.net and purchase a fully-leveled character complete with best-in-slot gear and fully-exalted faction reps.
Surely someone’s bound to post a comment to the effect of “the plural of anecdote is not data,” but here you go: at launch, Cataclysm included six new zones and six new reputation factions. Sure, I took three days off work when Cataclysm was launched so I could immerse myself in the new world, but my first character consumed the questing available in these new zones and hit level 85 in less than a week. With only six factions to grind and the benefit of faction tabards, a hardcore dungeon runner could have ground all six factions to Exalted within a couple of weeks (and many did so, for the then-best in slot raiding gear and enchants). Within two to three months, my main character had exhausted quite literally all there was to do in the newly-expanded Azeroth–at least until the launch of the Molten Front, which took something like 25 days to complete, thirty minutes at a time.
The Old Republic: A Cautionary Tale
Last fall the launch of a new game revolutionized the MMORPG industry as we know it. Hailed as the WoW-killer, Star Wars: The Old Republic took the gaming world by storm. Gamers had anticipated the launch of SW:TOR for years, and for the first time, executives at Activision Blizzard shook in their boots. SW:TOR presented a real challenge to World of Warcraft. “The sky is falling!”, cried Blizzard fanboys and fangirls. “WoW is dead!” cried the commenters at WoW Insider. Six months later, SW:TOR‘s subscriber numbers are spiraling. Of the 1.7 million people who signed up initially, 400,000 have already quit. The most-cited reason for quitting? Once you hit level 50, unless you love playing Huttball for the 600th time, there’s not much to do. Amid cratering revenue, Bioware just announced a massive layoff of game developers at the studio that created SW:TOR. Developers who could have been working on the next great expansion are instead preparing to pound pavement. When players run out of things to do, they stop paying for the game, and eventually the game withers.
Time will tell. The release date for Mists should be announced shortly, and this fall will be do-or-die time for Blizzard and the WoW community. Will derivative Blizzard iterations of Pokemon and FarmVille be enough to keep people coming back to–and paying for–World of Warcraft? We’ll see.