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Feb 23rd 2012 12:36PM (If this posts twice, my apologies.) Trying to fit so many people into the Dungeon / Raid ecosystem is inevitably going to cause issues when you're riding that delicate line between how meaningful playtime is rewarded vs the sheer variety of players and how different rewards are from one player to the next.
Gear is so important because it is how you move forward and grow in this game. But what if WoW started to create new ecosystems under which the progression model was something different but still rewarding? Professions are a failed example of this, because they were designed to feedback into the raid and dungeon model, instead of becoming something unto themselves.
I think they were trying to go this direction with archaeology, but I believe they'd have to think on a bigger scale to make it work - or, to put it another way, professions would have to be compelling and involving to the extent that it could stand beside dungeons / raids as a third way to enjoy the game.
Creating these new so-called ecosystems would not be easy and would definitely be an expansion-level worth of work, but it would go a long way towards giving players more alternatives when choosing which road they want to head down.
Feb 23rd 2012 12:15PM I think one of the things that exacerbates this problem is that the meat of the meaningful content exists strictly within dungeons / raids and BGs / Arena currently. There's a lot of vertical progression but very little horizontal - you're always rising, but you're never stretching, moving around.
The idea of the Pet Battle system is actually a decent example of a new type of meaningful content, where the method of progression (collecting pets & pet abilities) is completely separate from gear, and so changes to any gear-related content have no effect on it. Wether or not pet battles will actually turn out to be an enjoyable thing is yet to be seen.
While the Crusader's Coliseum is mostly unremarkable, it too has potential in becoming new content. It could be a PVE arena of sorts, where you and two friends must rise through the ranks and conquer many different kinds of challenges, like a fight where healing is needed but each heal causes your max hp to drop by x%, or a fight where you have to chuck bombs into the audience to blow down corpses that you use to distract a hungry one-shotting Abomination.
There's probably more examples, but it really boils down to WoW needing to grow out instead of up all the time.