Challenge, status or boredom? WoW’s dropping subscriptions

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.

Tier 12 Shaman gear

Tier 12 (top) Shaman gear

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?

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9 responses to “Challenge, status or boredom? WoW’s dropping subscriptions

  1. id say cause you really should NOT pay for it monthly. they make enough in everything else like transfers, expansions, and not enough change for 15 buck a month.
    also to mention .. the once Elite players are forced to start all over again every 2 years or so just to keep up with what they already worked very hard for. doing this 3 times got me fed up. and as soon as i found out people where cheating pvp arena to acquire gear, i quit.

  2. I, myself, have no real interest in elite status as a social mechanism – seeking recognition as ‘l33t’ isn’t a particular motivation of mine. I do, however, enjoy the lovelies that come with those accomplishments: mounts, gear, and other sparkly stuff. So the enjoyment that comes from accomplishing difficult tasks, for me, is in part in the challenge but largely, in part in the lovelies (think paper doll action), and largely in the socialness of the endeavor. That said, with expansions and patches, I think there’s still the *potential* for the game to be social, but the players have to initiate the sociality. It’s worthwhile, I think, to note TL Taylor’s notions that this potential in play experience extends beyond the boundaries of the game interface – I see a lot of social interaction and engagement in public forums, in meetup groups, and the public spaces of Azeroth.

  3. I think you said it right with “striving to be elite”. But I would explain what that means different myself. The focus shouldn’t be where you stand towards others. It’s about pride, a sense of accomplicement of what you did with your character, having scars of war, being able to look back at all the things you had to endure to accomplice a certain feat. It really comes down to the saying “No pain, no gain”.

    Gears are trophies, you don’t obtain them just for stats, you get them to remind you “See I was there, I did that”, ofcourse some use it to show off to other people calling themselves “the elite”, but that’s just a side effect.

    What put me off in WoW is the life duration of gear. Gear gets refreshed really fast, so then you have to “start over” since your own gear isn’t up to date anymore. That means you have to discard your old gear… I know I’m stating the obvious here, but dumping your old gear means dumping your trophies, your scars of war, your pride. And usually it’s replaced by gear that was easy to get, which has no meaning, no sentimental value attached to them, no pain no gain. With no reminders you forget about the stuff you did (unless it was really really hard).

    FFXI had a nice feature: Mannequins. As a player you had your own private room, which you could decorate with furniture and you could get some mannequins that could display your obtained gear, while you used your “new” gear. So up to a certain level you could keep your pride locked up in your room and everytime you entered you would be reminded of it.

    I’ve been cursing in FFXIV for about a year now. The development of this game is frustratingly slow. It’s a pain, but it seems to slowly get better. Hey people might even want to pay a monthly fee for it after patch 1.21 (patch 1.19 is coming this month supposedly, no idea when patch 1.20 is). All the hardships I’m experiencing now (keeping a guild community going, trying to do a raid dungeon with really unbalanced skills) are giving me a lot of satisfaction.

    It’s weird isn’t it? The “no pain, no gain” thing. Being proud of something that me curse, frustrated, irritated and having stuck through it.

    Hmm I wonder if your friend is my old friend. It sure does sound like him. If it is, tell him I said “Hi”

  4. I remember going after and obtaining the Wintersping Frostsaber way back when. It was a rare mount and I always got whispers asking what it was and how to get it. It was that rare back then and a long grind.
    Now, the Frostsaber rep has been increased per turn in, so it is much easier to get.
    I miss having the truly rare stuff, but I never thought of it in terms of being elite.

  5. I think for me, that feeling of getting something special is definitely part of the appeal. As things become less special because they’re easier to get or because they’re basically the same as things that are easier to get, they definitely have less appeal.

    I guess, though, for me the appeal includes showing them off – kind of like strutting around Org with the elite mount. It’s being able to *share* that accomplishment that makes it so much more satisfying. I don’t have the same feeling when i get, say, a rare item in a single-player game. I mean, it’s great and all, but in WoW, where people might say, “GRATS!!!” it’s all the more exciting.

    So the display of my accomplishments puts me into a social category, says something about me socially, is part of demonstrating my “legitimacy” in that space. I hink that’s part of what I think of when i think of “elite.”

    Truth is, I’m in no way “elite.” So really, I’m just talking about this distant notion of what those “far above me” are like.

  6. Elite in WoW has almost always been a state of mind & not much else. You have & still have your best of the best players who consistently plow through content quickly & efficiently.

    Gear does mean less & less as the game gets old. Used to you spent months trying to get your tier sets in a largely time consuming raid with a legion of other people, but now you can get nearly raid equivalent items in a 5 man heroic that only requires a fundamental understanding of mechanics to complete. Raid mechanics are tired & dull. Every raid that is released since Lich King has had 3 golden rules: 1) Don’t stand in the fire 2) Group up with the Raid Warning appears 3) Spread out when the other Raid Warning appears.

    Because everything is so easy to get & you spent so much time solo, player quality is worse than it ever was. The majority of the population has no idea other people play a role in a party situation.. They are doing what they did on the long (boring) grind to max level: mashing 1-3 hotkeys. Playing a healer in a pug group is comparable to the pain of childbirth. Every tank just grabs every mob they see (regardless of their gear quality), getting smacked in the back, standing in 3 different fire rings, not spamming their cooldowns, & eventually blaming YOU for their untimely demise. DPS are mashing their biggest hitting move on (formerly) crowd-controlled mobs while standing in poison clouds & using strange combinations of letters not recognized by civilized human beings to try & communicate with you as to why they are dying. But this makes me sound bitter.

    In the end ANY game is fun or not based on who you play with. Raiding can be fun enough when you are with 9 other friends (friendly acquaintances) & stick to a relaxed schedule. Battlegrounds & arena are always fun when you run with your best bud & laugh until it hurts because no one can kill your Paladin duo (& drinking games don’t hurt).

    I think the reason for any loss of Azerothian population is simply due to time. Play the same game for half a decade & of course it gets boring. Friends start to leave perhaps due to lack of interest, or maybe because of responsibilities that seem to pile on as we age. & without friends you’re left conquering baddies with some guy named Xrougekilllerxxx. But that’s the lowly opinion of an uneducated game junkie, but I could be wrong (Partially stolen from Mr. Miller).

  7. @morphus, no, that was a different friend :)
    @Ryan: i totally agree that really the fun has a lot to do with who you play with. maybe for me it’s not so much quality of player, but quality of person. i remember, for example, one guild leader patiently talking a fumbling Lan through Ulduar who kept just giving advice and explaining strategy over and over, in spite of repeated wipes (yes, you, Ryan). It was terrific fun in spite of the fact that I was pretty clueless and definitely not being a good player.

  8. @Lantanasham: Oh well it seems he got the message anyway.
    @Ryan: What you said made me think of a point that has been bothering for a long while now. You would expect that game series mature. That they become harder, more in depth, because your fans are already used to previous titles in the series. But in reality the only thing that seems to get better is graphics.

    When I think waaaay back to the days of when I played NES, SNES games. I remember feeling so betrayed because their sequels were made for a younger and younger audience, while their fanbase was growing up. For instance I was just disgusted when I got Yoshi’s Island…

    There seem to be different factions on the FFXIV forum. I could say there is a Casual versus Hardcore war, but the problem is that they’re not really opposite factions. Casuals fight for the time aspect, Hardcores fight for the difficulty aspect. Many fans don’t seme to notice this difference, but I’m under the impression that SE does… it’s still a bit early to tell. However Dzemael Darkhold, the first R50 dungeon, is more mature than what I’ve seen in previous titles (even if it was a bit short). I just hope they can keep it up for new content;

  9. Nice post, keep them coming :)

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