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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More stuff to read

Amusing little article on Fidgit.com lists 10 possible announcements Blizzard could be making at Paris GDC. If you wanted to get your Diablo 2 fix in advance of a possible D3 announcement, there’s a new patch as of last week so you can play without the CD.

Dreamy Gamer posts some videos of Paul Barnett talking about how to get into the games industry (from Youtube).

Kieron Gillen over at Rock, Paper, Shotgun publishes the first in a series of articles based on a meeting/chat with Paul Barnett. This first one covers games journalism – we look forward to the rest of the series.

The Gonzo Scientist describes a scientific conference held in World of Warcraft.

IGN has posted a new video interview on their site.

The Greenskin and Waaagh Insider comment on the Byron Report, UK games ratings and whether it might impact the UK shipping date for Warhammer Online. We hope not. And not only do EA claim it will affect dates, Microsoft whine that it’ll cause price increases. nb. industry is good at whining.

Warhammer Alliance publishes a list of emotes in Warhammer Online, compiled by community member Satarko.

TenTonHammer has a really interesting piece about prospering in PvP, with tips to help PvE’ers prepare for the launch of the game. We might not agree with all of them, but there’s some good stuff in there.

Apparently gamers will buy anything if it’s hyped enough. A fake games marketing team tried to sell made-up games and people were keen. Someone probably started a blog about one of them already!

A frankly disturbing (but amusing!) introduction to the recent US primary season, phrased in the vocabulary of Warhammer 40k: Dawn of War. Ah.. now we understand all.

And lastly, we haven’t had any Spore creatures for awhile. Check out this viking ship with oarsmen.