WoW fights back: stripey mounts, and PvP keep sieges

We haven’t written much here about the new Warcraft expansion or how it will square off against Warhammer in the upcoming months. As MMO gamers we’re very aware of the various glittery offerings that are being laid out for our delectation. Certainly I have more of an interest in WoW than Arbitrary does and I’m fairly sure that I will want to play Wrath of the Lich King at some point, even if it is just to check out the new class and play through the new levelling areas and quests.

But even though it is in pole position in the MMO game with millions of active (and mostly happy) subscribers, many of whom don’t need any encouraging to buy the new expansion, there is some pressure on Blizzard at the moment. Mike Morhaine commented in an interview recently that they did see some players leave the game for AoC but 40% later returned. That means that 60% didn’t return. And that’s from a game that was widely acknowledged to have been launched too early and with major issues.

The release of a new expansion also puts them in a more fragile state for retaining core players than you might think. Blizzard like to ‘reset’ the end game with each new expansion. That means they take the opportunity to rebalance classes — in some cases quite majorly — so as well as all the fun new content which they do so well, it means that many people’s beloved characters will play quite differently after the expansion than they do now.

The new death knight class raises the spectre for existing players of, “will this new class replace mine or make it harder for me to get groups?” Tobold talks about this with respect to his warrior, and since I play one also it’s been on my mind as well.

This uncertainty about how the balance will play out at the new maximum level and the prospect of having to go back to levelling and re-optimising a character for endgame which may not be in demand after all is quite a mental barrier. If players were already feeling burned out on the grinding and raiding and grinding and instanced PvP that is Blizzard’s endgame, a new expansion is an ideal breakpoint for them to switch characters or servers, or take a break for a few months and maybe come back later (ie. when any bugs have been ironed out and any overtuned content sorted out). The last months leading up to a new WoW expansion are also a time when people typically cool on the game, because it is effectively going to be ‘reset’ soon.

This does mean that releasing a month or two before WotLK is a good time for WAR to catch some of these players, and at that point it is down to the game itself to grab people and make them want to stay. And that Blizzard is under some pressure (from its shareholders at least) to retain customers, and particularly those who are most likely to want to stray.

In light of this, lets check out some of the new announcements they have made recently.

1. We know a lot about the new achievements system. Achievements in the current beta are all neatly listed on websites already, which (to me) removes a lot of the fun. People love achievements though, they like them on their XBoxes, they like them in their MMOs, they like them in RL. So sensible move there.

2. They have announced a new recruit-a-friend scheme. And it’s a doozy. Get a friend to play for at least 2 months and you can grab yourself a cool stripey unicorn mount, and triple xp for both characters when you are grouped with your friend. (Note: that’s triple xp bonus on a game that had already reduced the xp needed quite severely to level from 1-60.) Aside from trivialising the 1-60 game to an almost insane degree, and irritating the people who already had recruited all their friends, this is a very tempting offer to keep people in the game right now if they have new friends or family who they might want to play the expansion with. It also rather encourages dual accounts, but that’s another issue.

Also, if players do leave to try WAR, this new scheme makes it very easy for them to open a new account and level a new alt with a friend if they do decide to go back to WoW.

Oh and needless to say, it’s only in the US that this invite-a-friend has currently been made. In the EU we always feel like second class citizens in every game ;P

3. Lake Wintergrasp. We’ve heard from Blizzard about their plans for introducing more world PvP into the game. Up until now, it’s been quite ineffective. Partly because a lot of the playerbase isn’t interested and has better things to do.

Jon Wood from mmorpg.com takes a look here at what they have planned. Keep siege, destructible bridges, flying war machines, prime farming spots for whoever holds the keeps, keep siege becoming active at pre-known hotspot times so people can plan around being there, among other things. It looks good. And it looks as though they have taken ideas from existing games (DaoC and Lineage for the keep sieges, CoH for the mayhem missions with destructible landscape) and added some polish of their own.

What it doesn’t do yet is look as though they’ve got a way around the massive realm imbalance on some servers. Or the fact that most of the players on PvE servers have typically opted out of world PvP and don’t have much practice or expertise in organising themselves for it.

I’m not yet convinced as to how the player base will take to this. You can lead a horse to water with all sorts of rewards (and Blizzard is a master of reward-induced MMO play) but is the player-base interested and will they find it fun? Driving players via rewards is a different approach to designing the game about RvR from the ground up. Even if the new minigames are fun, players may feel pressed into a type of game that they hadn’t wanted to do previously. Not all will enjoy it. It’s also just one zone, as opposed to the integrated RvR that pervades all of Warhammer.

I think that if Lake Wintergrasp turns out to be hugely successful, we will see Mythic pushed to raise their game in future expansions also, and that could be a good thing for all of us players.

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8 Responses

  1. Conversely, Mines of Moria is due to launch in November and hasn’t made any brash announcements except the two new classes (are you listening Blizzard??!) and other stuff about what’s in the expansion.

  2. I am actually currently subscribing to WoW even though I haven’t logged in for about three weeks (I know, the six month deal seemed like a good idea at the time.. ) and even then, it was the first time in a month or so and only lasted a few minutes. I thought I’d be more excited about the Wrath of the Lich King than I actually am.
    I think I’ll possibly play it but it might be a good few months into the release.
    Moria and Warhammer are much more appealing to me.
    Moria because I have a lifetime sub to LotrO and it is one game that is quite casual/fluff friendly and seems perfectly suited to popping on and off – and because it’s Moria!!
    And Warhammer – just..well.. because
    *cough* there’s a beta and I’m in it.

  3. Re-read it here and around the place. Seriously, Blizzard should just sell cool mounts and pets, and levelling services. They may as well 🙂

    Actually, it’s cleverer than that, now they get to boost their subscriber figures at just the point in time they may lose a few to WAR. Not only do they get extra cash, but they get to say they had less of a drop in numbers (assuming anyone moves from WoW to WAR and cancels WoW sub for it).

    Which is why I don’t tend to get into these things, I have a nastily suspicious mind.

  4. well what hasn’t been mentioned is the whole level 1-60 triple XP and the good farming area on keep take makes things even easier for the gold farmers which infest the game.

  5. Typical WoW. They can’t make activites fun in and of themselves and have to turn it all into a grind of somehow to keep players interested.

    I really wish they would stop treating the leveling game as the chore and the max level gear treadmill as the apparent source of endless entertainment.

  6. Seemed like a desperate move by Blizz to me. Honestly, I was just about to start another account and boost some toons to 60 just because it would be so ridiculously fast…until I saw the Warhammer release date. I think I’ll spend my time and money on some new content instead. 🙂

  7. Don’t forget the mounts! no they are avialable at level 30.

  8. Interactive/destructable terrain features does not a siege make. Blizzard will have its work cut out for it if it’s trying to compete with Mythic in world PvP/RvR and sieges. Mythic has been offering that as a major endgame focus in DAoC for years, and they really know what they’re doing on that front.

    I suppose the triple-XP thing will help with new players, but most new character that I run into in WoW are just alts. Still, it may net them a few new subscriptions, even though the market is pretty well tapped out.

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