Did Cataclysm fail?

So, you’ve probably seen a number of these posts around lately, and to be honest you shouldn’t be too terribly surprised. We’re at the end of a cycle, with the last raid tier coming out soon and people already looking forward to the next expansion and the promise of bouncing pandas. The topic lately is whether or not that Cataclysm has failed as an expansion.

I figured the time is right for me to chime in on the topic, and I promise you it will be relevant to the site.

Healing Design

At the onset of the expansion, there were some very bold statements made about healing as a whole. They basically amounted to the following;

  • Shaman are the healing model that all healers will follow
  • Triage healing is vastly more important and mana is a concern
  • healing will be a lot harder and require smart decision making

So, in this regard did Cataclysm succeed or fail? Well to me the answer here is two fold. They both succeeded and failed at the same time. At the start of the expansion healing was definitely harder, mana consumption was much more of a concern and shaman healing really was the model when it came to triage healing. Note how I said at the start of the expansion. There was a bit of a problem though, once you started getting a pretty good head of steam going and gathered your gear the “model” started to fall apart. Spirit levels and regen abilities after heroic dungeon gearing were enough that some healing classes could just completely ignore the healing model. I’m casually whistling in innocence as I look at Mana Tide Totem from a year ago, I assure you. The problem exacerbated itself when some healing classes’ masteries got tweaked, and raid gear started circulating.

At this point, triage healing isn’t really used unless you’re just starting out, and some healing classes are just blowing others out of the water causing a lot of internal debate among raiding groups as to what the best healing setup really is now. Things are shaping up to be better in tier 13, but the healing model through tier 12 I would venture to say hangs at the edge of failure. We’ve been assured that the healing model will remain in tact for the next expansion, but only time will tell if that is true especially when adding a new healing class into the mix next expansion.

Guild advancement and recruiting

The new expansion brought with it the guild advancement system. Guilds earned experience points based on questing and the activity of the guild members involved. The guild was able to level up from level 1 to level 25 carrying various rewards such as XP boosts, mount speed increases and even alchemy patterns for flasks for the entire raid. It also came with some other perks like Heirloom gear helmet and cape slot items, mounts and pets as well as a Mass Teleport and Mass Resurrection. Honestly guild advancement was a huge success as far as adding perks to guilds that get rolling and stick to it and work together. Guild achievements also added nicely to this and added a further sense of accomplishment to a guild in certain respects.

The problem is that the success of the guild advancement system, however, in my eyes became a contributing factor in a problem that this expansion has had that I haven’t seen in either of the previous ones. Stagnant recruiting. Recruiting flat-out sucks right now to be honest. Any losses from people leaving the guild or leaving the game become increasingly difficult to replace. Let us face a simple truth, the game has been around for over 6 years at this point. People are taking a break. Maybe not out-right quitting, but they’re definitely going to start taking some vacation from Azeroth around this time. Before Cataclysm, replacing losses wasn’t nearly as difficult. I attribute this partly to the guild perk system. When a player leaves a guild, they lose all reputation they’ve gained with that guild. They then start from scratch just like with any other reputation when they join a new guild.

So the problem is that a lot of the guild perks don’t kick in unless you’re Honored with your guild. This can be a very unattractive prospect, especially when you consider there is a weekly cap to the reputation you can gain. Not only can swapping guilds be a daunting task on its own, but when you combine in extra things like rep to earn it adds to the heap. So, people are staying put in whatever guild they are in for the most part. Guild mergers seems much more frequent now, where whole groups of people make the commitment one way or another, but recruitment is certainly at an all time low.

Raid design, gear options, and accomplishing goals

This is another measuring stick by which to judge the success or failure of the current expansion. Raid design was a bit different this go around. In Wrath, all of the raid tiers were contained to one single zone. You didn’t have to go from place to place in order to see all of a raid tier.  In Cataclysm, the starting raid tier was divided between not one, not two but three different locations to contain all of the bosses and events. Honestly though, I think that served to make things a little better. Having different locations broke up the monotony of raiding in one single zone for however many hours a week. Some of the mechanics were fun, and the boss fights had the potential to give you at least some challenge. Overall I’d say it was a good tier. It reminded me of Burning Crusade where tier 4 and tier 5 were divided between different zones in different locations, breaking the long dredges through BWL that we were used to at this point.

The use of valor points to purchase tier gear, as well as off set items, was a smart move at first. It allowed a certain gear gating of the content as players had to earn their valor points to purchase the raid gear. Keeping a few pieces as raid drops only also made perfect sense. It eliminated the fighting over tokens at least a little bit, and while it could be annoying have to wait to restock your valor, it served it’s purpose well enough I think. Listening to the developers at BlizzCon it would appear that they too really liked how tier 11 worked out and will be continuing that style of breaking up the raids going into Mists.

One of the goals for Cataclysm was to reignite the fire the propelled the game to 12 million subscribers and get people excited about the game. New graphics throughout the world, Azeroth split and changed. Entire zones looking completely different and completely different starting zones and quests for the races of Azeroth. Well, this was both successful and a failure at the same time. The new starting zones did reignite the flame somewhat, but mostly in people with alt creation.  Some old players did come back to check out the new zones and explore some of the new content, but it didn’t quite have the kick that it originally intended. Subscriber rates pretty much stayed the same, and the number of active toons remained about the same as well. It just didn’t quite have the shakeup that was expected.

So what is it? Success or Failure?

Well, that’s the whole point of this post right? The big question. Is Cataclysm a success or a failure? The answer is honestly both. There are things that Cata did exceptionally well, and things that it fell behind on. To be honest a lot of the goals were pretty damn lofty from the get go. It was ambitious and new things were tried, combined with old things that we knew worked. Not everything was ever going to be achieved just based on the pure scope of the original intent. There were things it did well, and things it didn’t do quite so well. That said it was hardly the failure that some folks seem to think. The content is still there, there is still plenty of value in the game, and for a game that is going to be rapidly approaching the age  of 7 they can boast a lot of good things. The game hasn’t really lost too many subscribers and is going strong. Oh and they still get my money every month, and I signed up for my hear subscription with free Diablo 3 “phone”.

So what do you think?

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About Lodur

Lodur is the right hand shaman to Matticus on World of Matticus, and a recruiting officer of Conquest and Co-Host of For the Lore podcast. Read more of his works at WoW Insider.

Comments

  1. Cata probably was not seen by the Activision stockholders as a success. Lots subs means lost value. In the short term though Blizz has been able to use RMT/pet store money to keep revenues for WoW around (or above) their WotLK zenith. This should scare the hell out of us because it means that Blizz has committed to replacing every lost sub dollar with an RMT dollar. If MoP doesn’t excite subscribers, expect to see more stuff showing up on the RMT store, where will it stop, you and I cannot know that.

    For the sake of the game I love playing lets hope that MoP is off the hook awesome.

    • Can you cite any numbers? Because at the last financial report (Q2) it was said, that the game has lost some subscribers, but the overall revenue from the franchise has gone up.

      On topic, I definitely share the author’s thoughts. There were loads of work put into the old zones, but it didn’t quite made an impact. And, as I see it, because of all this work, the endgame suffered a bit. Aside from mindlessly farming heroics and raiding, there’s not much to do. They have also lost the flavour of the daily quests.

      The new raiding philosophy – that hit the spot. It maybe needs a little tweaking, but it’s definitely a step in the right direction.

    • “Because at the last financial report (Q2) it was said, that the game has lost some subscribers, but the overall revenue from the franchise has gone up”

      precisely what I was referring to, the number of 15$/mo subscribers has gone down but the revenue is going up. The only other revenue stream for WoW is Box sales (new x-pacs) and pet store sales. Assuming that there is no great increase box sales at this point in the x-pac, the increased revenue is mostly pet store money.

    • pet sales, character transfer, faction changes, race changes, character customization changes. all of that counts and with the new race / class combos in cata is something a lot of people invested money in. Hell, I’m running around as a dwarf shaman.

    • Actually, if you look at the non-GAAP revenue, Q2 2011 revenue was down from Q2 2010.

      (GAAP revenue defers certain revenue over succeeding quarters, so the GAAP Q2 2011 figure includes a large contribution from deferred revenue from box sales in Q4 2010.)

      So, no, they are not sustaining revenue in Cataclysm. Subscription + extra service revenue isn’t making up for declining subs.

  2. I agree Lodur, with your take on how Cataclysm Succeeded and Failed at the same time. I still enjoy playing this game and will continue to for the next year with my free Diablo 3.

  3. The other area where guild perks really hurt was the genesis of new guilds. You need people to build guild experience , but without the perks, its very hard to start new guilds. Many players are in mega guilds just for perks. I would have to say that the guild system had some unfortunate unexpected consequence.

  4. To really get an accurate assessment of success or failure, I think you’d have to spend many articles and thousands of words addressing each. You touch on some good points, but I think there’s a lot missing here. Then again, I guess WoM focuses on healing and raiding, so those are all the points you need to address. =)

  5. If I had made a business decision to totally re-vamp the low end experience, and put a huge amount of developer hours into replacing fully functional content with newer “entry point” content, and my subscriber numbers were flat or had gone down a bit, I don’t think I’d describe that as a “success.” Some current subscribers are leveling alts instead of unsubbing, that’s nice. The real question: are we getting floods of new players that stick with the game? If the answer isn’t YES! then from a business standpoint I think the decision to spend resources revamping instead of spending those same resources making “new high end stuff” (whatever you envision that being) was the wrong one.

    • I don’t necessarily agree with that. For one, how you are going to attract new players if the content they initially experience is dated (all the way back to 2004)?

      Most of my real life friends who tried WoW quit because they hated the leveling experience, so improving that is likely to attract more players.

      Of course, at the same time, other elements of the game shouldn’t be ignored–the end-game, production quality, general game play, etc. Revamping the old content was a start, but I really think all of those needs to be addressed, as well.

  6. I wish Cata did more to push PvP forward. Sure there were two new(ish) bgs at the beginning and they introduced RBGs, but after that there was nothing. With SC2 taking off in the world of esports, you would think that Blizzard would try to do the same with RBGs (aka spectator mode!). Blizzard could also do with less recycled content. I mean so far, 2 of the 4 raid instances are kinda remakes of old PvE instances. Even the new BGs were just smaller versions of existing BG types. I hope they show PvPers some more love next expansion. Three new BGs is a good start 😀

    • That reminds me – they definitely failed to bring a decent successor to Wintergrasp

    • I agree, and for me (and others I’ve talked to), the rated BGs could have been that thing to get more people involved. But they basically just made it just like another Arena. They needed to make it more accessible and allow you to queue for it until you hit some certain rating level where then you’d have to form a serious team to continue.

  7. Cataclysm jumped the shark.

  8. Right on lodur … I think you nailed the major flaw in this expansion. “how difficult” it has been to keep a raid team going …

    I think this is down to a combination of factors which made it increasingly difficult to sustain raider numbers , Locking players into guilds with guild reputation keeps them out of the player pool a player tired of slow raid progress or the drama of their current guild doesn’t think ill just try somewhere new as they cant get over the hurdle of grinding some serious Rep in a new guild instead they wind down there play time and stay in their guild meaning recruitment is as dry as the barren’s pre deathwing.

    Another key factor is based on the age of wow … many of the older wow players are getting to the age where Life’s responsibilities are getting more focus were loosing players to fatherhood 🙂 (grats “darkest” but unless he train’s that nipper up to be his off tank we’re down another raider) Considering someone 16-18 when wow launched is now pushing 25 further diminishing the skilled player pool before we even consider how hard it is to find skilled ” geared ” and mature raiders who aren’t tied to their current guild by the ball and chain of guild Rep.

    Combine this with those few younger raid members who’s raid experience started with wrath and don’t have the patience to spend hours wiping on Hc baleroc getting frustrated with ” slow progress” .

    keeping a solid raid team together has for me been the biggest failing of Cata

  9. After Wrath, I found Cataclysm was missing a really compelling villain, and as such, I just couldn’t get into raiding again after the massive high of taking down Arthas

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