Guest Post: Is that it for the story of Warcraft?

This is a guest post by former WoW blogger Honorshammer on the state of the game and his theories on why the player base has decreased. Interesting read and another take on yet the state of the game.

Blizzard’s recent conference call for investors had the blogosphere churning about the announcement that WoW lost about 5% of its player base and it back to pre-Cataclysm levels. Everyone is giving their opinion to explain why this is happening. Unsurprisingly, most everyone is taking something they don’t like about the game (too hard/too easy/too hardcore/too casual) and pointing at that and saying “see, i was right all along. People are leaving because of x.” I’m moderately guilty of this myself to some degree, and I will acknowledge that up front.

But I think the player base is too diverse for there to be one factor that has flipped a switch and led to the decline. There are likely a myriad of factors, and in this post I want to touch on one I don’t see getting much play in this discussion, the possibility that the story of WoW has simply been played out.

I was introduced to the Warcraft universe through Blizzard’s excellent Real Time Strategy games like Warcraft III: Riegn of Chaos and Warcraft III: The Frozen Throne. It was my enjoyment of those games that gave rise to my initial interest in World of Warcraft.

In those games Blizzard’s developers introduced some incredible characters. Jania Proudmoore, Kael’thalas Sunrider, Lady Vashj, Sylvanas, Illidan, and of course, the big guy himself, Arthas became fan favorites.

During Vanilla, WoW was still fresh and there was the sheer joy of exploring a new world. We met Jania in Dustwallow Marsh, and Sylvanas in the Undercity. The other major lore characters were still on the horizon, calling us to become powerful enough for their notice.

From the very beginning in Burning Crusade, we were taunted by Illidian’s “You are not PREPARED!” The developer’s made it very clear were on the path to fight him. First though, we fought Kael’Thalas in Tempest Keep (and Magister’s Terrace), and Lady Vashj met her end in Serpent Shrine Caverns. Finally, in what was originally the last raid of Burning Crusade, we got our payoff and fought Illidan himself. Part of my motivation for the guild hopping of my BC days was my desire to see these character’s story arcs to their conclusion. It was like I had started a book in Warcraft III, and now I wanted to finish it. Not doing so would have been like listening to a song that didn’t resolve.

Wrath made no bones about its primary nemesis. This was it. The path was laid out to the Frozen Throne. We would face Arthas himself. From the moment you got off the boat in either Howling Fjord or Borean Tundrea, Arthas was there, taunting you, urging you on to a final confrontation with him. For this player, Arthas was the penultimate antagonist. Ever since we witnessed the amazing cut scene of Arthas running King Terenas through with Frostmourne, we wanted a piece of him. My anger was ignited when in his blind passion for vengeance he took up Frostmourne killing my beloved Muradin in the processes. Through the levels and expansions, one thing had remained, the quest to confront Arthas.

By the end of Wrath, my avatar stood over Arthas’ lifeless body. The character who adorned the cover of box for Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos (Human edition), Warcraft III: The Frozen Throne, and World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King was dead. His arc ended. And with his arc ended, the developers had finished the arc of every major villain from the Warcraft III games. The story was told.

What would propel us into Cataclysm would have to be new villains. World of Warcraft was now going to have to have to stand on its own story, and not simply finish the story begun in Warcraft III. I believe for a portion of the player base, World of Warcraft did a poor job of communicating its ongoing story. Our characters needed more motivation than we have been given. We need more than ‘he’s got duh perps, yo” to raid week after week in search of the next villain. We never got the connection to Deathwing that we had felt with Illidan, or Arthas. Arthas called to you from two expansions away. Deathwing whispers can barely be heard the very expansion we will confront him. Too much of the story was obfuscated outside of the game in comics, wikis, and novels. Our characters set out to defeat Deathwing more out of duty than raw passion.

So once the new zones have been seen, and the new dungeons run through a couple of times, we, as players, came back to the question of our motivation. Before, the answer had been to stay on the course to Illidan, or to Kael’thalas, or Arthas. Now the answer now was to prepare for Deathwing. For whatever reason, some players found that answer left them unmoved.

I can only speak for myself. I am still actively playing World of Warcraft, and I have no plans to quit, though I am playing far more casually than I did previously. Before killing Arthas, leaving would have felt like leaving something unfinished, like putting down a good book only halfway through. But now, the book feels read, and leaving a natural progression when the next good book is published.

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About Matticus

Matticus is the founder of World of Matticus and Plus Heal. Read more of his columns at WoW Insider. League of Legends player. Caffeine enthusiast.

Comments

  1. Tuethis says:

    It’s possible, I suppose, that the loss of subscribers is due to the players not having a RP connection to the villains, but it seems unlikely to me. For most people, the lore is just some crap that you have to skim past to read the quest objective.

    My instinct is that there must be something about the game-play of Cata that is different from Wrath that is causing players to lose interest. I won’t bother to further speculate as to what the change is but something made Wrath a more popular game than Cata. Could be story but that doesn’t explain why I’m letting my sub is running out soon.

    • Wrath had accessible raiding content, Cata will not until about 4.2 at the earliest so people can start to be reasonably geared for the entry level raids.

      Are raids in 346 blues possible, yes, do you have any margin of error, not really and that is the key issue.

    • Waiting for the impending 30% nerf to everything.

    • “Waiting for the impending 30% nerf to everything.”

      I hope not but lets face it, one thing that was different about Wrath was that it was more “accessible”. When people stop progressing (not just raiding) they will get bored and leave. Cata @ launch offered less diversions for people who are not raiding and the raid progression is more challenging and therefore limited to a smaller audience. seems like 4.2 will add lots of non-raid content which should help keep the (growing) non-raider population busy for a while.

      At this point I think it depends on the politics at activision/Blizzard. If the Blizzard WoW folks are going to go to bat for the more challenging Cata style game, they might be able to keep the current tuning in place through 4.2 and beyond. If they are weak-willed on the issue, I am certain that the stock-holders/activision execs will be clamoring to make the game more accessible once again.

      we shall see, (btw I my sub is lapsing because I don’t have time to raid right now and I got bored trying to find other stuff to do)

  2. Ya we may not get that motivation again until we go after Sargeras, or maybe Azshara.

  3. While I’m sure that is true for some, I just thought I would throw out that I still have no idea who Illidan is or why he was even worth killing. Kinda seemed to me that he was doing an ok job running Outlands. (Though clearly the quest givers disagreed. Not one seemed to make the case for him, only kill kill kill.) Though I wouldn’t know, I didn’t read 90% of the quests, or finish WC3 (though I was told he was more ambiguous in WC3).

    That said, I loved BC, and BT in particular. T6 and SWP were some of the most fun I have had raiding.

    Arthas was known even to a total nitwit like me, but I felt Ulduar (with its totally irrelevant, interchangeable old god boss and star-dude) was far more epic.

    So for at least some small subset of the community, the issue I have with Cata is that the raids just don’t hold the game play genius of Ulduar or the epic-ness of BT. That is my subset anyway.

    Yet HM progression continues, and I still like running my guild. I do long for the days when hard-modes made sense though. Namely Ulduar.

  4. Well said. I have seen similar opinions voiced on other blogs recently.

    The lore part might not apply to everyone, but I think the “epicness factor” is still in play. Even if you never really paid attention to the lore (I was a huge lore nut, so that doesn’t apply to me) chances are the average raider knew a little bit about the bosses they were going up against, and the “magnitude” of their actions in context of the lore. It may have been subconscious, but I’m pretty sure it was there somewhere.

    WoW is a game with a storyline which explains the presence of each expansion and new instance. Cata is not only attempting to start a “new story arc,” but its also doing so by completely changing the old stuff (old Azeroth.) New content and new graphics may be exciting at first, but a lot of the reason I made new characters and liked just wandering around at times was the nostalgia of seeing the zones where I leveled up. Now they’re different, and gone. It’s like removing the roots that originally grounded you in the game world.

    The other point I’ve seen brought up is that WoW just isn’t “the game to play” any more. I don’t subscribe to the “WoW killer” beliefs but these days the stereotypes (and maybe even stigma) associated with gaming and playing WoW in particular may be discouraging people from continuing to play, especially now that their original reasons for playing/renewing sub may have been removed.

  5. I have to partially agree. Arthas was a VERY well-known character, and our raiding guild had a large % of our apps say “I want to see Arthas dead” during Wrath. It really drove people to want to raid and take a part in it.

    Maybe Ragnaros will bring some people back, but the other big villians of the WoW universe aren’t touched upon enough honestly. I’m sure other lore geeks like me squeed during the Hyjal questline [bringing back the ancients!? oh yes!] and would like to know where Sargeras has been hiding, what Lady Azshara is plotting, and whether or not Kil’jaeden is just biding his time.

    But a large % of the userbase (imo) don’t buy the comics, the books, or even read the quests to begin with.

    What personally annoys me, and this is with every expansion so far, is that they basically make WoW a whole new game. I’m tired of having the entire world flipped around, stats removed, added, and regen models reworked. I just hope this is the last time they do this and they’re finally happy with their game.

    I’m sure a lot of people have their reasons. I’m due for a “WoW-break” but I have a guild to help run and don’t want to give up on the community and friends we’ve made along the way. Although as more of our friends leave the game, and the server not getting many new people it’s been increasingly frustrating. 🙁

  6. I feel the same about the lack of connection to the current story. I never played Warcraft III and didn’t start World of Warcraft until Burning Crusade shortly before Wrath. As my wife and I leveled through Azeroth and Outlands, I enjoyed the stories and exploring this huge new world (though it didn’t feel as huge as Star Wars: Galaxies when we had to walk across contintents).

    In Shattrath, I felt a connection to the Aldor, whom I viewed as the good guys (We’re playing Alliance) and wanted to help them out. I didn’t get into much endgame stuff as Wrath was around the corner. With Wrath, I felt like we delved into what made Arthas tick as we saw his downfall. By the time we hit the Icecrown area, I could tell Arthas was a bad mofo. I couldn’t wait for the Citadel to open so we could bum rush him.

    By contrast, I feel nothing toward Deathwing, other than gratitude for cleaning up some things around the world. Through the various new questing areas, I have dislike of a few NPCs, but Deathwing hasn’t really affected me. I have little info on his background or motivations.

    Now, I will admit I didn’t read each quest through each area, but I didn’t in Wrath either. Be it by cutscenes or whatnot, I understood the story and cared about it.

    I don’t for Deathwing. But I hope the new questing hubs will change that.

    • When I left WoW, I was feeling very sympathetic to Deathwing and his goal of total destruction of Azeroth. 🙂

  7. smeedsc says:

    To start, i’m not bashing newer players, nor am I crying over the “golden days” i’m just outlining where the community and the people that comprise it now come from and the differeneces of what they’ve come to expect is.

    Let us flash back to tbc. the largest boom in wow’s history. Was anything but casual, but the casuals had something to do, there were tens, the new bgs, and many many got together with smaller guilds, worked on gruuls and later mags ssc and tk and when attunemnts got lifted hyjal and bt. Everyone was happy. For better or worse thats what the vanilla grindfest turned into and the world of warcraft bloomed.

    enter wrath, by toc most of the vanilla players I knew, even those who didnt hardcore raid quit playing. Blizz filled that gap with lots of free loot easy raids, and a completely different mindset. LFD (horrid tool it destroyed server community as well as accountibility) so now their subscriber base is a mix of older players longing for the good ol days, and the wrath babies in easy mode.

    Now in cat they nuked what alot of us loved and had fond memories of old azeroth, they gave us difficulty levels again, but left the wrath babys lost and confused.

    thats where we are at now. and why wow is dying. blizz tried to serve two masters, one of which was the quick bucks they got via wrath babys, and the loss of subscribers, whose gap they filled with quick buck measures.

    I dont’ see how they’ll ever fix it, especially given their penchant for repeating mistakes of the past. (rollover in dev teams and poor management practices are a big big part of that)

  8. On the one hand, I agree. On the other, Deathwing has, in some way, been a hand in each expansion to date.

    For vanilla, we have Redridge Mountains, Searing Gorge, the Burning Steppes, Silithus, Ahn’Qiraj, Blackrock Depths, Blackrock Spire, Blackwing Lair, and Onyxia. For Burning Crusade, a good chunk of Shadowmoon Valley (remember, the Twilight Dragonflight was all originally due to the Black Dragonflight – Deathwing’s dragonflight). In Wrath, we dealt more with the Black and Twilight Dragonflights, though this is mostly limited to Dragonblight and the Obsidian/Ruby Sanctums. Throughout all of this, there’s the Twilight’s Hammer at every turn.

    But why don’t we really *know* Deathwing like we did Arthas, you ask?

    Well, for the old vanilla content (as well as the BC/Wrath content), it was rarely explicitly stated that it was Deathwing’s doing, or related to Deathwing in some manner. I think this is they key point that Blizzard forgot when revamping the old zones. Moreover, even though Arthas was prominent in Wrath quests (much like Deathwing is now), there was a lot in the old quest content that foreshadowed Arthas even beforehand. There wasn’t much of that leading to Deathwing (I can remember offhand more looking to Azshara than I can to Deathwing, for that matter – naga are EVERYWHERE).

    In fairness, too, we had an entire race (Forsaken) that were created *because* of Arthas. We don’t have the same deal with Deathwing because that’d just be ridiculous (though, it would be awesome to play as a dragonkin, just sayin’). Again, this goes back to foreshadowing – Blizzard knew eventually we’d hit Deathwing, but they didn’t pronounce it well ahead of time like they did with Arthas.

    To that end, I’d also want to note that a lot of these old zones (and the BC/Wrath ones) are missed. For one, you don’t get halfway through Redridge – even sans BoAs – without leveling out of it. Two, Searing Gorge and Burning Steppes don’t have as much to do with the Black Dragonflight as they once did. Three, SMV is skipped because it’s a level 68 zone – and people are heading to Northrend by then. Four, everyone hates Dragonblight. Five, there’s little to no lore surrounding OS/RS to tie it into Deathwing. And lastly, all the raids (AQ, BWL, Ony, BRS, OS, RS) aren’t really current content – just BWD, and even that makes little sense if you haven’t actually done BWL and Onyxia before.

  9. A very solid post. I spend most of my in-game time making gold cause that what has been motivating me the most since early Wrath. The gaming grind is the same and I haven’t even run all dungeons once. Got 1 85 and bankers at 80-83 farming poseidus or doing other gold missions.

    1 of the major factors to why I feel so disconnected to the content of the game, even though I still love it is, that Deathwing, the last boss, felt more present before the Cataclysm launch than after. The cut scenes while questing were mostly annoying and the heroes are dull. The Wrathgate was the best cinematic and Storm Peaks was the best questing zone, lore wise imo. The game is over, but i’ll stick around. Possibly out of habit than anything else. Time tells the tale.

  10. boozychef says:

    I’m one of those leaving. My subscription runs out of time/money in about 10 days.
    For me it’s just boredom. The time spent doing stuff in game has exceeded the rewards I now get from it.
    outside of raiding, there is really very little to do that will occupy the mind. apart from the dailies, you can spend just as much if not more time waiting around as what you do engaged in meaningful activity. just think, how many more people do you see just standing around the cities waiting for their raid/dungeon/bg to pop?

  11. I cancelled my sub in March, and I played since just before BC dropped. I don’t care much about lore, I liked the group dynamic of 40/25/10 man raids and getting awesome gear to due a better job progressing.

    For me Cata started out very fun til i hit 85 and realized how destroyed Disc Priests (my only 80-85 toon) were in heroic dungeons until you get to high ilvl.

    My 15 man guild started to fall apart as people got bored, or got fed up with the heroics. We downed BH TWICE. I pugged in to a 25 TotT and that is all the raiding I saw. I was top ten on my server in WotLK gear wise, now in Cata I can’t even see the content.

    Blizzard ruined it for me with the yo-yo nerf/buff/nerf to my class. With the “no room for error” heroic dungeons and raids.

    I’m done and unless they give me a free 7 day trial after 4.2 I will never play that video game again.

  12. Penultimate doesn’t mean what you think it does. You probably want ultimate. Unless Arthas was your second favorite boss.

  13. For starters, a little background information about me. Despite my current intolerance for the game, I still read every article and replay that this post has because this is where I feel a true connection to the WoW community.
    I started playing this game back in BC, to be more specific, roughly 1 year after its release. I picked a Warlock. Mainly because I did my research before hand and heard they were fun, and also they frustrated the bejesus out of many a wow palyer.
    That being said, I knew nothing of wow lore. My baby brother actually made me start playing as a way to connect and interact with him whilst I lived 4000 miles away.
    Instantly I was drawn to the game after watching a friend of mine play. He was lvl 66 and got ganked by a lvl 70 horde in south shore.
    I laughed at him, his reply was ” watch this “.
    In less than 5 minutes, there were roughly 60 alliance kicking the crap outta the 40 horde that showed up. And we all know how this battle escalates and turns into an all day World pvp event to be remembered.
    My point is, team work is gone. World pvp is gone. If i get ganked now, i go somewhere else. Its too much trouble it seems to get more than 3 people in 1 area. Either we are too “Leet” for our own good, people have stopped caring, or the lack of motivation and domination of a certain area is gone. As if none of you remember the nagrand and halaa pvp non stop.
    So easily I get side tracked. Back to the personal information, I recently quit wow for roughly one year.
    I left after being the first alliance guild to kill arthas/ the LK in 25 man. We did this back in march of 2010.
    I was geared to the tits, i leveled up alts and they followed suit.
    I had 4 toons that could pull over 15k dps in icecrown without the buff.
    Seems to me, that this game caters to noobs too much. Not only that they remove what is important and what unites us.
    Whether you are horde or alliance, we need our pvp element. Even if yo uarent a pvper. You need to get involved in it to feel like you are truely a part of the game. (dont get me wrong, i dont RP) But seriously, how can you connect to any game and strive for greatness when you have no ties, no loyalties and the bullshit they have come up with like having enemy faction characters on the same account on the same realm. They are turning this into the sesame street version of the world of warcraft. I know in real life, our world is at war constantly. But who wants to play a game where everyone gets along?
    I WANNA KICK SOME ASS!
    Finally, I spend a lot of tiem learning my characters. I sit and read through ej.com for hours on end, i also theorycraft and use simcraft until my fingers bleed. Do you really need to change everytihng about my character jsut because you are planning on a major flood in eastern kingdoms and a major fire (not really logical imo to have both in the same area but ur blizzard and you do what you want). Point being, leave my shit alone. I know what i like. I played my toon for 5 years. and you changed it again. Why do you think people quit? Not because they’re bore. Only because you let the classic wow content become irrelevant and obsolete. /Ive see the lack of creativity lately and to be honest, I love it. Bring back ZA and ZG bring back KARA. This is what wow players live for. We dont need new bosses. Give me old shit thats HARDER! not just the omg im in blues and this is hard bs. But the Sunwell shit that still to this day wipes lvl 85’s. STILL LIEK THAT OLD TIME A ROCK N ROLL!
    Wow is like elvis mixed with franks red hot. We love that shit and we want it on everything. Gimme more old content that is challenging, and stop trying to fix shit that isnt broken.

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  15. wow guru says:

    Hey Matticus,
    Great post. I am also a avid wow player and I still play MoP. I believe the story is really progressing and we have started on the upward climb to a better WoW. However, I am extremely busy and to earn gold and also level my characters I use a safe <a href=”http://wow-fishing-bot.net/fishingblog/how-to-make-gold-with-fishing-cooking-and-a-wow-fishing-bot-part-2/”>click here</a>and also a safe <a href=”http://wow-bg-bot.com”>wow bg bot</a>. I hope you keep writing and long live World of Warcraft!

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