Failure, Challenge, and the Decline of WoW

This essay is a collaboration between Wowhead CM Perculia and guest poster Hamlet. Hamlet has been raiding since 2005, and is best known as the author of several Druid guides on Elitist Jerks. He can currently be found on Twitter at @HamletEJ.

Update: Their replies to comments can be found here and here.

Introduction

If a game asks nothing of its players, what’s left of it as a game? It’s a harsh question, but it’s also the most informative lens through which to examine WoW’s current problem. Somewhere along the way, WoW has betrayed the spirit of games, by abandoning the fundamental concept of applying oneself to overcome challenges.

While we were writing this post, Blizzard implemented nerfs to the Firelands content, causing a newly invigorated furor over the appropriate difficulty level of the raiding game. The ideas we’re writing about though have been brewing for much longer, and if anything, we worry that the timing of this post will make it look like an obvious or even trite rehash of the WoW news item of the week. What we hope to express, however, are thoughts on the direction the whole game has been taking for a much longer period of time, at all levels of play.

We can’t talk about this without cutting through a number of well-worn forum tropes, none of which we find informative on any point: “casual vs. hardcore,” “risk vs. reward,” “people want to see all the content,” “raiding is easy” (that one could merit an equal-length post all on its own), and all the others you’ve seen. Let’s simply look at how WoW gives any individual player their perception of progress as they continue to play the game. The players’ perceived progress is the beating heart of the MMO experience. No matter what walk of WoW life you’re in, you log in hoping to add something to your character sheet before you log out again, something tangible when you log in the next time. Though the reward mechanisms vary between low-level and max-level WoW, they all exhibit the same pattern: rewards have become increasingly detached from the player’s ability to overcome challenges.

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