#1 - Jan. 10, 2015, 4:24 a.m.
I've been thinking about the issues with this expansion quite a bit, and particularly the comments from people saying they've unsubscribed. Sometimes they post a list of things that have them dissatisfied, sometimes they just make a small post with one reason. With the lists, while many issues might be subjects frequently complained about, there's usually one item in the list that seems to really be the trigger above everything else.
Based on what I've seen watching the forums and reading these posts, if I had to identify the main issues making people post threads about unsubscribing, it would be having "nothing to do," and the sense of being forced to spend all your time in garrisons doing garrison chores.
Now at this point, I've not said anything novel. A lot of the time, when someone does say something like this, it is met with a reply that tries to rebut the person quitting. The replies tend to point out that "there are tons of things to do, more than past expansions even" and "you are not forced to do anything, you can ignore garrison chores." The replies are not wrong at a literal level, and yet, there's no question that many players feel exactly like the people unsubscribing. Indeed, I'm not sure I like the upvoting and downvoting system for posts, but there's no denying that quitting posts stating those types of reasons for quitting tend to get a lot of upvotes.
So I think the most valuable thing to do is not to say, "are they right or wrong" but more, "why do they feel this way?"
What there is "to do" in WoW
"Nothing to do" is what I hear a lot. So, beyond the initial leveling up experience on your first main, let's look at what there is to do. I'm not posting this list as a rebuttal to "nothing to do," just as a jumping off point for looking at what people actually do vs. what they could do, and where the breakdown is between the two. So, roughly speaking, here is the list in my mind of "things I can do" in WoW. There is some overlap, but I feel like these listed activities carry enough distinction to be separate items on the list:
- Leveling up alts (leveling is relatively fast in WoD)
Organized Raiding (Normal, Heroic, Mythic)
Arenas (2v2, 3v3, 5v5)
Ashran (Nemesis quests adding a big task here with Gladiator's Sanctum)
Highmaul Coliseum FFA deathmatch scenario (Gladiator's Sanctum requried)
Normal / Heroic Dungeons
Challenge Modes (Bronze, Silver, Gold)
Proving Grounds (Tank, Healer, DPS; Bronze, Silver, Gold, Endless)
Reputation grinding for rewards
Fishing (hey, some people like it)
Pet Battles (Collecting)
PvP Pet Battles
Primary Professions (Barn makes a big difference here in adding work to do)
Garrison chores (picking up work orders, harvesting herbs / ore)
Follower Missions (potentially highly involved)
Leveling up Bodyguards (some neat rewards for this)
Collecting transmog gear (War Mill / Dwarven Bunker adding more here)
Collecting mounts (including rares in WoD, such as poundfist)
The Toy Collection (new for WoD)
Finally, as an all-encompassing category, "Achievements." There are Achievements related to pretty much everything. In some areas, they actually add reasons to do things in different ways than you'd normally do them (many acheivements in the "Quest" category, for example). In some areas, they simply reward you for completing the associated grind (like a Reputation achievement). Some achievements reward you for doing things in a manner maximally calculated to harm your group's chances of success (i.e. nearly every PvP BG achievent). And of course, there are achievements connected to all of the Legacy content you can visit from past expansions of the game.
What people are actually doing in WoW
Of course there are people involved in all of those activities. But in terms of what I see on the forums, a lot of people are saying that their typical game session (aside from maybe "raid night") is comprised of this:
- Log in
Apexis Daily (Maybe)
So looking at the typical session, a lot of things that could be done aren't being done. Some might just attribute this to the time people have to play, but I don't think that's quite right. Many people with more time to play lose interest in doing anything more during the time that they do the few things in that list.
My opinion is this: For a lot of players, they preemptively feel like it's not worth doing something if they can't make a decent measure of progress on it in that session, and that they need a certain level of stamina to meet the necessary measure of progress.
For instance, if I want to do Ashran to work on my Nemesis quests, I know the queue will probably be an hour or more. To make putting up with that queue worth it, I know my time in Ashran should be at LEAST an hour, and probably more. The moment I log in, I might feel like I have enough stamina to go through that if I queue up immediately. However, 20 minutes later, I might not feel like I have the stamina to start that process.
That's one example, but two other things play into the feeling of stamina. First, the less engaged you feel during your first block of time in a session, the larger the stamina cost will feel for everything you might do afterwards. If your first 20 minutes felt like a boring slog, it makes you feel less excited about spending another hour in the same game, even if the other things to do are really different. Second, the less structured an activity is, the more players will default to assigning it a larger "stamina cost."
Less Structure = Higher Assumed Stamina Cost
As an example of this, consider reputations. Getting to Exalted with Laughing Skull (Horde) or Sha'tari Defense (Alliance) revolves around killing mobs for reputation points. There are no daily quests or other sources of reputation. Theoretically, a person could just jump in and kill mobs for 15 minutes, make some progress, and walk away with a gain equivalent to what a daily quest could get them for reputations in Mists of Pandaria. And in terms of gameplay, they are probably doing exactly the same thing as a daily quest would usually ask of them (i.e. an NPC saying "go kill 20 mobs for me").
But in practice, with no structure, most players just see a potentially very long grind, low gains, and feel like it's not even worth it if they're not doing it for an hour straight. Because the commitment at any point in time is more open-ended, it feels like it has to be a larger commitment. The most efficient way to farm is to join a group, and who wants to join a five-man group and go through the travel time just to stick around for 15 minutes? And if you're in a group, you know you'll feel some pressure to stick around to keep the pace up for rep farming. It's not a question of them being right or wrong, it's just that they default to assigning it a larger stamina cost and needing a larger block of time to make it "worth it," and then do not consider it worth their own time to engage in it. So only a sliver of players really engage with that content (fortunately, that sliver can find each other pretty easily with group finder to form groups).
Content outside stamina range = content that "does not exist" to the player
The stamina calculation goes on in players' minds constantly. And, if an activity is something they find themselves never doing, then they start to feel like that content is not content "meant for them." So that initial block of time they log on is very important, it sets the tone for what they feel like they can do. Optimally, people would vary up how they spend their initial time. Some days they would log in and immediately proceed to do heroics, or immediately proceed to Arenas, or Rated BG's or Ashran, or immediately proceed to challenge modes or pet battles or many other things. But in practice, the variety is not happening. In practice, they fall into a pattern of doing garrison chores, not feeling the energy or drive to do anything more, logging out, and feeling like there's no content for them.
Forced to do chores
As mentioned earlier, one of the immediate retorts to people saying they feel forced to do garrison chores is that they are not, in fact, forced to do garrison chores. While some people describe Garrisons as a prison, other people wave the complaint away by essentially saying, "if it's a prison, it's your self-made prison." It's silly to get bogged down in a fight over whether something is "forced" on a literal level, because of course it is not. But it's not silly to ask why something feels forced. So the big question is, what makes people feel "forced" to do something in WoW. In my opinion, two things can trigger the feeling of being forced.
- 1. The activity improves your gear to the extent that ignoring it means you will be routinely excluded from advancing in higher end content, and you cannot obtain the same upgrade through other reasonable methods.
2. The activity is time-based, and failing to take advantage of it when it is offered means losing out permanently on some advantage.
The first category is a criticism that Blizzard is keenly sensitive too, and I would say they made quite an effort to make sure that gear upgrades could be obtained from many varied sources. This doesn't mean that higher end content doesn't slowly narrow down to providing gear solely through high end activities (i.e. mythic upgrades require mythic raiding), but for someone who just hit level cap, they have a numerous methods to obtain gear upgrades.
The second category is the one I think tends to be more present and more damaging, but also tends to be overlooked. People hate the sense that a reward dangled right in front of them will be lost permanently if they fail to act. The Garrison chores are a perfect example of this. Anytime you fail to act, you give up a reward. The reward is sitting right in front of you, requiring you to do nothing more than interact with it to pick it up (minine nodes, herb garden, work orders). The more accessible a reward is to your initial log-in point, the more you will feel like the "right" way to play is to engage with it. Not doing the task to get the reward makes you feel like you're stupidly giving up a gain, and no one likes to feel as if they're playing the game "wrong." So you feel compelled mentally to engage that content.
And if you have alts... oh boy. People with alts might find themselves wrestling with whether it feels like the right thing to do is to get the "rewards" in the Garrison on each new character, despite the drain and lack of fun they feel. It's easy to say they shouldn't feel that way and they don't need those rewards on all their characters, but the question really is about what the game is making them feel like.
Tying the problems together
There is a lot to do in WoD. But post after post describes feeling forced to do chores and feeling like there's "nothing to do" in the game. My experience doesn't exactly match that. I myself feel pretty engaged in a variety of content, and I've gotten somewhat used to ignoring my garrison chores when I feel like doing something else. Yet I don't feel like those posts are stating things incorrectly. I think the experience they describe is what an uncomfortably large number of players are feeling.
Players are logging on, feel compelled to go through their Garrison chores, getting those rewards that are placed right in front of them... Even though that very content is not fun and drains their stamina for engaging in other content. It reduces their stamina for engaging in other activities that absolutely require large blocks of time to give a reasonable hope of success. And for activites that don't absolutely require large blocks of time, so many of those lack structure that the player defaults to assigning them large blocks of time for what it would require to be "worth it" (i.e. very few players want to make a trip for an unstructured rep grind just to grind for 15 minutes).
This all leads to the ultimate result of:
Do Garrison chores
Feel unenergized to do more
"I feel bored, forced to do garrison chores, and like there's nothing to do."
And the longer this goes on, the more the player feels the lack of energy BEFORE they do their chores, because their mind is already anticipating it. Whereas before they felt lack of energy to do things after the chores, soon they feel a lack of energy as they are logging in. They start to feel like they are forcing themselves to log in to do something they don't enjoy.
THOUGHTS FOR IMPROVING THE SITUATION
More structure is needed for other content. In another thread, a blue post recently talked about how dailies are not viewed as inherently good or evil, and also talked about how many players only have a little time to play and others have larger blocks of time, and they want to design for everyone. Now, that's a fine statement. But I'd add something more: Daily Quests should be viewed as potential structure. Indeed, all quests should be viewed as potential structure. One-time quests, weekly quests, and daily quests.
And I think when people look outside their Garrison, they see a lack of structure, and it makes everything seem more daunting, more of an open-ended commitment, and overall less attractive. Part of the missing structure is narrative. That is not to say that every zone is not full of story. There is story everywhere. But at level-cap, it feels haphazard and unorganized.
The Garrison Campaign gives you the quest chain in each assault area that kind of ties the story together. But the Campaign quest is automatically offered from week to week, there is no effort to "earn" the quest. On the other hand, the dailies for Apexis feel unrewarding, and do not feel like they play into a sense of building towards anything. Meanwhile, reputations for factions intimately involved in these areas are completely unrelated.
Shattrath is an example of this. Grinding exalted for Sha'tari Defense does not carry any story, or any requirement, other than killing a ton of mobs in an unstructured fashion. Doing the daily quest for Apexis crystals does not play any role in whether you get the Garrison Campaign quest that finally sends you to the city to deal with Socrethar, the big villain leading the Sargerei forces. This narrative arc could have been a very fun experience at level-cap, and instead it feels very underwhelming.
My advice on the structuring process would be this: First come up with a narrative for the story of an area, then structure that narrative to have players work towards the narrative's climax, then make use of blocks of time with frequent, natural stopping points. A very good example of this would be what was done in Patch 5.1 with Lion's Landing and Domination Point. You did dailies that awarded reputation, and hitting certain reputation numbers (not just "honored" or "revered", but actual a series of reputation points within those bars) opened up quests that moved a larger narrative forward, until you finally hit a narrative climax. I don't expect every narrative to be as good as that one was, nor do I ask that every structure be identical, but I do think that is probably the current gold standard when it comes to structuring "casual" world content, and content design should always try to match the sense of narrative build-up paired with frequent stopping points shown there.
A solution here is difficult. But I think the "chore" aspect of Garrisons needs a serious appraisal, because it seems like a festering wound on the forums. They can't be eliminated entirely, and I don't think people necessarily would want it eliminated entirely. There is some aspect to the chores that can feel fun, and people don't like having a reward yanked away from them. So here would be my suggestions:
1. Change the mine and the garden.
Aside from the highly negative impact they had on miners and herbalists (which is only tangential to what I'm addressing), I think players view these chores with a growing annoyance while feeling like they "should" farm these. And I think it gets worse for people with alts.
The change I would enact would be to remove spawns for anyone who is not of the appropriate profession (miner / herbalist). I would also remove work orders from the mine and garden for people not of those professions, as the work orders feel incredibly redundant. This does not mean those buildings would lack purpose. I would change the benefit of those buildings to simply be that as you upgrade them, they slightly increase the rate at which the Garrison cache fills. This makes sense narratively too - the workers are creating resources for your Garrison out of the raw materials. If you assign a worker to the building, I would probably make it so you obtain one cart per day from them of ore from the mine and an herb of a particular variety from the garden (this way, for instance, engineers could still get ore for their gears from the mine, and tailors could still get their gorgrond flytrap needed for hexweave daily).
Additionally, I would make it so that workers assigned to a building do not have to come from your Active Follower list, they could come from your inactive ones. It makes more sense anyway that inactive followers are the ones sticking around in the Garrison not going on missions, so why shouldn't they work in a building?
2. Work Orders need reduced frequency.
I think the pick-up and put in of new orders is too frequent, and drives a sense from people that they should "check in" with their Garrison, further distracting from non-Garrison content. Changing the system now may not feel very viable, but if there's a way, I'd look into finding a method whereby players had longer periods between feeling the "need" to check in. I know I personally will sometimes go days without picking up my orders, then I receive a bunch from the next batch I pick up, and for me that's more fun than if I had been picking it up more frequently and putting in new orders (despite this meaning that I ultimately obtain a bit less over time).
I would look into finding a method to reward players for waiting longer between pickups. Perhaps it could be tied to whether you have a Follower assigned to the building (maybe he adds a passive bonus the longer he has to "polish" finished product or something). It seems counter-intuitive to reward people for being LESS diligent in checking work orders, but I think it's exactly what the system could use.
3. Follower Missions need longer options.
When I first heard of the follower system at Blizzcon, I remember talk of there being missions that might take "a week" while others would take a day and others mere hours. Currently, nothing takes longer than a day. I think it's time you look into creating Follower Missions oriented around being days long or even a week long. I think you should consider offering multiple of these missions at the same time AND consider requiring more than just 3 followers.
In other words, Follower Missions could use missions where people have the option to treat followers as a WEEKLY activity rather than a DAILY or semi-hourly activity. It might not mean sending all your followers on weekly quests, but the more you send on long-term quests, the less followers you have to manage the other days of the week.
I know this post is probably too long. With a post this long, I realize I might not even get one reply because it simply turns people off from reading the whole thing. Still, sometimes I like to write to order my thoughts on a topic, which can make it feel easier to engage such topics in other posts with shorter comments.
I hope someone finds this post to have been worthwhile to read. Thanks if you did.