Recently I had a fascinating exchange over email with a few folks in response to an article on Gamastura that claimed the game is less social and the mechanics have begun to bore folks. The article basically discusses how adding content like new raids and areas is no longer interesting enough to folks – that they’re too used to the game, and thus bored even with new shiny objects to play with.
I don’t really agree. I think that a big reason why people are leaving the game after the Cataclysm expansion is because the feeling of “the elite” has decreased. Because it’s now easier to get high level gear (even if raids themselves are harder), people have less satisfaction from accomplishing elite tasks and thus are less motivated to play. I’m kind of building off Yee et al.’s work on motivations for play generally, here. My view is that striving towards something that gives you a sense of relative status over your peers is what drives many – not just the actual elite – to play.
An insightful friend and long-time player disagreed, saying that he didn’t see being elite as too important – only about 5% of people are actually “elite” in the sense that they saw high end raids. The loss of epic gear that is far and above better than anything you get elsewhere is essentially gone, he argued, and so there’s a decrease in the sense of achievement overall. That’s the loss that makes the game less appealing, he said, not changing notions of what it means to be at the top.
More importantly, he pointed out, the lack of group quests and areas you really cannot tackle alone make the world much less engaging. Along with easier instances, the fact these areas are easier mean that social collaboration and coordination aren’t nearly as vital as they once were. He said, “It’s more streamlined, true, but streamlined means you’re guided to end game without many bumps until then…. and then what?”
In his words, “After leveling (some number larger than one) alts I can now say this with certainty: no matter what class/spec you play, you’re a one (wo)man army. You can do everything by yourself – very silly in a massively multi player game. I know from experience that leveling a warrior or druid previously was borderline torture, but rewarding. Every quest meant so much more, therefore the experience was much better, even if I played less. Druids were literally useless until they got cat form at 20 and warriors could not heal at all and therefore died a lot, but they were unique.”
He continued, “The uniqueness also added to the sociability of the game. A quest is hard so you have to make friends to finish it. You’re a heal-less warrior so you make friends with a squishy-ass priest, work together, and become so much more than the sum of your parts. Each class brought something; but now when one person can take on any- and everything, why talk to anyone?”
I still felt the elite issue is important, but that it’s not so much about being elite, as about striving to be elite. So those in the top 15%, but not the top 5%, can still feel better than those in the lower 20%, etc. Without a sense of working towards socially situated elitism as such, the competitive nature of the game is reduced – akin to what he said about the difficulty being reduced.
My friend suggested that while this may be true for some, the motivation for being elite only brought a few select – although extremely loud – people joy, whereas the majority found enjoyment in progression, not just end game content. For him, it was the individual challenge that he saw as bringing enjoyment to most players, not the striving, promise, or hopes of achieving an elite status.
In short, my theory is that the possibility of becoming elite (or approaching elite-ness) before your peers was a major driver in many people’s play. For him, it was the challenge as challenge, not so much the social consequences of having achieved or conquered that challenge.
What do you think?