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Casual content convenience

As someone who writes about World of Warcraft for a living, something I do a lot is read the Blue Trackers. These systems watch every blue post, and collect them all into one place for your convenience. Just occasionally, there'll be funny ones that catch my eye, like this one from Senior Community Rep Jonathan "Zarhym" Brown:

Zarhym
I disagree with everything you didn't say.

And on this occasion, the thread he was responding to actually got me thinking. You see, the OP was jokingly taking one of the arguments that people make, the predictable ones about how everything was better back in the day, and isolating a key component of that argument: convenience and time spent.

The TL;DR on the post is that the game is now too easy, because everything's too convenient. It's worth noting, again, that the OP is entirely joking. He specifically spells out that one "issue" with the game as it stands is that you no longer need to sit in Trade for 30 minutes to an hour or more to get tanks and healers for your dungeon runs. You can now sit in capital cities, or even quest, while you wait for the LFG tool to do all the work for you. Terrible, right?

But is this a bad thing about WoW as it stands? In order to assess that, I feel that it's a good idea to go back through the way WoW works as a game.

Breadcrumb Quests

WoW's game model is known, in some circles at least, as a breadcrumb system. It's not a game like, say, Portal, that you can complete. So instead of that one reward at the end, WoW rewards you along the way. Instead of the odd reward of running out of game and perhaps unlocking some bonus content, you are always chasing small wins. It might be a piece of gear, or maybe a level up in reputation, perhaps a mount, or a pet, or a crafting recipe. Whatever it is, you're chasing small rewards that come regularly.

The key of this system, like the trail of breadcrumbs Hansel and Gretel laid to guide them back out of the forest, is spacing. If rewards are too far apart, you'd lose your way, or in terms of WoW, you'd lose interest. If it seems like grinds are too hard or too long, you might be the sort of person who sticks at it, but others will give up. In part, it depends on the reward. Is it something cool? Is it something coveted? Something really special? Then maybe a long, unrewarding grind is just the ticket. But if it feels like the gaps are too long in between small wins, you'll lose interest pretty fast.

But the same applies if the gaps are too short. We've run the gamut of these two extremes in MIsts of Pandaria, with the early parts of the expansion putting those breadcrumbs way too far apart, and the most recent patch giving us the Timeless Isle. The Timeless Isle, in my opinion, is a great example of what happens when the breadcrumbs are too close together. You head over there, maybe you follow a chest guide, maybe you don't, but either way you'll be drowning in armor tokens within a couple of hours.

And once you've got everything you need, you never go back there again. Why would you? Even if you don't get everything you need in the first few days, and with the celestial groups available via oQueue and the coins dropping by the hundred, you easily can, there's not a great deal to hold your attention. The Timeless Isle is fantastic, in my opinion, it's great to be able to gear alts in a hurry, it's great fun, but it's definitely not enduring content. There are some rewards, sure, like the mount from Shaohao rep, but the grind doesn't reward enough breadcrumbs, despite the loaf you get at the end.


Content Hurdles

So now that we've established how WoW's reward system works, how has it been put into action? The key here is hurdles. Let me explain what I mean. The notion of hurdles is that they are things you have to get over to get to rewards. Want that Shaohao mount? Be prepared to kill hundreds of Yaungol. That's the hurdle.

And as Mists has been an expansion of such experimentation and vast change, we've really seen a huge variety of hurdles, a big one being time. The removal of the daily quest cap was brought in with the start of Mists, allowing players to do up to around 48 dailies per day. Despite that, as ever, there were only a few dailies available per faction. Thanks to the gating of the other factions behind the Golden Lotus, there was a huge time hurdle here. Not only did you have to do the quests, but you had to do them at a slow rate of eight or so per day.


Personally, and this is just me, if I had to do 300 quests to max out my Golden Lotus reputation, but could do them all in one day, that would be far more appealing than dailies. Even if I had to kill the Mogu twenty times of those 300. I wouldn't do them all in one day, probably, but just the fact that I could would help a great deal. The limitation and time sink involved in dailies is a huge part of the hurdle, of the inconvenience. And when the other three time hurdle grinds are hidden behind one time hurdle grind, that's a huge bar to get over for content.

So the rewards have to be worthwhile, but the problem with the dailies in 5.0 is that they rewarded items, such as enchanting recipes, that had been obtainable with only minimal hurdles before. Think back to Cataclysm, when they were simply purchased from vendors for Maelstrom Crystals or other materials like Shards. Now, they're behind a considerable grind. Convenience is considerably reduced.


The casual convenient gamer

Convenience is something, that with the exception of the example above, has been largely increasing through the life of WoW. As that forum thread's OP jokes, you used to have to stand in trade for hours to find a dungeon group, and now you carry on with your WoW life while the Dungeon Finder does that work for you. The same is now true of the Raid FInder, and systems outside WoW such as oQueue. All of these increase convenience.

Several other changes have done exactly the same, the removal, for example, of weapon skill-ups. The changes so that quest followups pop up for you. The addition of more graveyards, the placing of quests so that less travel is required. The removal of multiple spell ranks, the addition of dual spec, flying in the old world and new worlds. The ability to change talents and glyphs without visiting a trainer. Spells that are earned automatically without trainer visits. Quest objectives and quest givers marked on the map. The simplification, twice, of the talent system. The addition of AoE looting. The dungeon journal. Dungeon maps for every instance.

Of course, there have been changes that have had the opposite effect, too, like the removal of rep tabards. But, largely, the game has shifted towards convenience rather than away from it.



And every time these changes are made, there's cries of "catering to the casuals". Do these quality of life changes really make WoW a game for casuals? To take the forum OP's joke at face value, does it really make a game more hardcore if you have to fly to and from your trainer to respec every time? Does it make a game more hardcore if you have to level up weapon skills? Does easier access to groups to get rewards make everything more casual?

To me, these things increase convenience. They're quality of life fixes that make it way easier to actually play the game. They bring rewards closer, without necessarily making them easier to obtain. They make hurdles lower, not in difficulty, but in time. And time isn't what separates the hardcore from the casual, in my opinion at least. Convenience is a good thing, unless it negatively affects gameplay. Have Group Will Travel is a good discussion to have, as it was incredibly convenient, but potentially had an adverse effect on the game.

And why is it a good thing to make the game more convenient? Because you're cutting through the dross, cutting through the chores and the downtime, and maximizing your time spent working through the forest to get to the breadcrumbs you're after. People love convenience. People love playing games. Fewer people love archaic systems and grinding.


Filed under: Analysis / Opinion

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