My attention has been recently called to this post (The Goblin In The Tuxedo), which underscores all the problems with WoW. Although its a rather dated post (from march or april of this year), it really articulates what so many of us have been trying to say. Areans killed WoW and World PVP. Anyway, its a rather interesting read so i’m reposting it here. Its long so you’ve been warned.
In the wake of the Season 4 ratings announcement, a couple of things have become clear. One, that Arena will remain the source of the best PvP gear in the game. Two, that Blizzard is doing what they can to try to shape it into a “viable eSports platform” (to quote a recent developer interview). Clearly, the Arena will remain the focus of PvP for the indefinite future.
Before the release of the Burning Crusade at the start of 2007, PvP in WoW referred to skirmishes in the open world and organized encounters in instanced maps called battlegrounds. World PvP could mean anything, from a level 60 killing a lower-level character to a chance encounter between level 60s in a high-level zone that escalated to a mini-war as each side called in more friends. A fundamental element of world PvP is that it was random, unpredictable, and often unfair–leading to stacked retaliation on the part of the victim through his friends or even other strangers in the zone. On a PvP server, these battles could become exciting and dynamic, lasting for hours (and the rivalries created could last indefinitely afterward).Battlegrounds were an organized method of getting two factions together to fight in large-scale battles. The epitome of this was the raid-level battleground, Alterac Valley. The original versions of this map could last for hours or even days, with the tide of the battle moving back and forth. Alterac Valley used to be considered so important that people would wait in queue for hours, and if they were in an instance when the queue popped, their party members would understand if they left. The battleground’s playtime has been significantly shortened since then, but its scale remains.
Today, while battlegrounds and world PvP do exist, PvP is now encompassed by the Arena. Introduced in the Burning Crusade expansion, it consists of rated duels within small, instanced maps. After the expansion, it became clear that certain class combinations were superior to others, and that many classes had significant strengths in some formats. Over the course of three seasons of Arena, the scale of PvP has been reduced to cookie-cutter class compositions running around a pillar, the only differences between teams being the names over their heads. The funneling of MMORPG classes of different races and specs into small instances for the purposes of eSport has caused a large amount of controversy when it comes to balance, particularly for classes that have struggled to achieve the success of other classes based on representation statistics available online. There is also a contingent of people who prefer large-scale warfare on an MMO-scale, since this is, after all, an MMO based on a well-known franchise of real-time strategy games.
The problems that arise from running MMO classes through staged duels can be summed up as follows:
- Because classes are based on different roles due to their PvE roots, some classes don’t survive when matched up against classes whose role is stronger in a small-scale PvP setting. Certain classes don’t hold up well in the Arena environment itself, such as hunters and mages. Large numbers of players are enduring an uphill battle that other players don’t have to face.
- Race choice, originally an aesthetic decision with special abilities to add flavor to your character, suddenly become major decisions that can determine how far you can push through the upper echelons of Arena battle.
- Classes are able to choose different specs of talents that alter the way they are played, but in the Arena, only certain specs have viability in a small-scale PvP setting (regardless of how fun that spec is for the player).
- Balance changes for the Arena affect other areas of the game. For instance, Blizzard tested a change to the Life Tap mechanic of warlocks that would have significantly altered their itemization requirements and playstyle in a PvE setting. Only when warlock Arena representation began to recede during testing did Blizzard abandon the change. Shamanistic Rage was changed into a physical effect so that it could not be dispelled by enemy players, but the duration was halved, affecting enhancement shamans in PvE. Neither are (or would have been) game-breaking changes, but they are noticed and resented by players not participating in the Arena.
- Establishing instanced duels as the top form of PvP in the game ignores three continents of open land already populated by both factions. World PvP is significantly diminished. The scale of PvP is reduced to five people waiting around a goblin in a tuxedo.
- Certain professions are locked out of the Arena because they are considered overpowered in a rated, small-scale setting (many engineering items, for example). However, other professions like enchanting or blacksmithing–which can produce a stun-proccing mace–are allowed.
- Arenas ignore all established lore. There is no regard for faction or setting. Members of the Alliance fight other members of the Alliance undisturbed in the ruins of Lordaeron, for example–an impossible situation.
- Cheating to ensure a high rating, and selling ratings to undermine the ratings system.
- Community elitism based around Arena ratings.
This year, two competing MMOs are set to be released that have a lot to offer large-scale PvPers. Because of its recent PvP stress test, Age of Conan is currently the most talked-about, and later this year, we will see the release of Warhammer Online, perhaps WoW’s biggest challenger given the history of Warcraft itself (the first game was originally supposed to be a Warhammer game). Both of these new MMOs will encourage large-scale world PvP in ways WoW does not–city sieges, realm control, ransacking, trophies, conquering towns, and huge rewards for killing enemy leaders. Guilds in Age of Conan can build their own fortresses and battle against other guilds. Warhammer features a tier-based level of control for a realm that leads to outright invasion of the enemy capital, and Mythic has brought back keeps from Dark Age of Camelot. Keeps are NPC-guarded forts that players can fight over, complete with siege weapons and bosses. Guilds can claim the keeps and place their tabard for rewards, so these locations act like miniature battlegrounds taking place day and night in the game world.Because of Blizzard’s focus on smaller-scale battles, the Arena has potentially pushed WoW into a corner when its larger-scale competitors are released to fill the niche that Blizzard has left unaddressed. The problem will manifest when players are able compare a typical evening of PvP activity between WoW and other MMOs and find WoW lacking. Age of Conan players will be leading large-scale sieges on enemy fortresses using group formations to provide buffs, while WoW players will be waiting around a goblin in a tuxedo. Warhammer players will position their tanks in keep entrances to block out invaders while their teammates dump hot oil from above, while WoW players will be waiting around a goblin in a tuxedo. The worlds of the others games will be alive and full of activity, compared to WoW in which most PvP is taking place in instances, and much of the world is empty except for those who are leveling, ganking lower-level players, or doing daily quests.
The much larger scale of battle in Warhammer will mean your choice of class and specialization will be less of a factor in determining your ability to contribute to the war effort (in fact, everything you do including PvE quests will contribute victory points to your realm), because the dynamics of a large battle mean anyone can find a fun, useful role. This remains true in WoW battlegrounds, where a shadow priest, balance druid, or enhancement shaman who would normally have difficulty in the Arena is able to have a good time in Alterac Valley. Unfortunately, the Arena has compartmentalized talent specifications into “PvE spec,” “PvP spec,” “utility spec,” and so on.
Competitors are also implementing features to address common player problems. For example, dual-targeting was recently added to Warhammer which means you can have a hostile target and a friendly target selected simultaneously, reducing the targeting work that some classes must do in large-scale combat such as healers (and some spells will utilize both targets). Guild control is improved to make it not a chore to run one, and guilds can even form named alliances with each other. WoW still ships with many of the same interfaces and controls it had in 2004, to the point that addons exist to replace not just unit frames, but the quest log, inventory, profession dialogs, and more. It all makes Blizzard look slow and conservative when it comes to keeping up to date with the playerbase and its needs. Warhammer will ship with 20 scenarios (instanced PvP zones equivalent to battlegrounds for players who want a quick PvP game), and starting at level 1, a player can just click a button in the interface to enter a queue. In four years, Blizzard has only released four battlegrounds. The Arena runs just three maps.
WoW’s reduction of PvP scale has given its competitors a huge opportunity to attract players hungering for PvP on a scale befitting a massively-multiplayer online game. Blizzard has given no indication that the Arena will be de-prioritized in the coming expansion pack, and given developer statements on eSports, it is likely to remain as-is. While the other MMOs will reward players for forming armies, taking cities, and collecting enemy heads as trophies, WoW will demand an army of five members maximum of a particular group composition waiting around a goblin in a tuxedo. Blizzard has decided that this is the route they wish to take with the game to provide for an eSports platform. The exact intended goal is unclear. Televised battles on Korean television? Worldwide tournaments? Is it worth the sacrifice of scale in exchange for pointless, composition-influenced duels?
The information released so far about the next WoW expansion doesn’t offer much in the way of a response to these new competitors. The expansion will offer 10 more levels and a new battleground that is not instanced like the others, which comes off as a tacit admission that the playerbase is wanting more large-scale PvP in the open world. No other info has been released about the new battleground’s objectives or mechanics beyond the existence of siege weapons. Unfortunately, a level 70+, expansion-only battleground is not going to compare to the integrated, tier-based RvR system of Warhammer. Like other battlegrounds, it will be another area in which players are funneled out of the world and collected in a controlled location that has no effect on the world outside of victory buffs, and the Arena will continue to be the source of the best PvP gear, legitimizing it as the “true” PvP game-within-the-game.
The demand for MMO PvP has evolved toward larger scale fights taking advantage of the existence of thousands of players in an online world, but WoW has moved in the opposite direction in pursuit of a reduced-scale eSports platform, hurting non-instanced PvP and violating the original spirit of the Warcraft franchise which was once a very brutal story of “two factions battling for dominance.” Just how many players leave WoW for the dynamic battlefields of Age of Conan and Warhammer will indicate how much of the WoW playerbase is disappointed in its current direction, and how well its competitors fulfill their needs. I personally believe WoW is in trouble, having pushed itself into a corner with the year-long focus on the Arenas and leaving an opening for competitors to snatch up frustrated WoW PvPers who are hungry for huge, lore-based battles. Speaking for myself, watching videos about Warhammer’s player-controlled keeps already looks more fun than any WoW battleground I’ve ever been in, and I’m excited to level a goblin shaman and ransack dwarven cities…
Link to the original thread: