Thursday, January 15, 2009

Raid difficulty - The business case

Yeah, I know, lots of posts on the same subject this week, but A) having a theme week isn't bad, and B) I rarely get as much feedback on other subjects than on this one, both by comments and by mail. I'll promise to write about other stuff next week. :)

So, we had lots of people argueing raid difficulty this week, and there are commenters who find the current World of Warcraft raid difficulty too easy. But of course the use of the word "too" is already a judgement. And I have the impression that this judgement is a subjective one, that is people are complaining that WoW raid difficulty is too easy *for them*.

So I think at the heart of the discussion is the old battle for content. In the last expansion the casual players were complaining that the devs didn't make enough content for them, now it's the hardcore players turn. If Blizzard had put in not just one major raid dungeon (plus a couple of one-boss ones), but five, in increasing levels of difficulty, there would have been a lot less complaints, even if the first one was as easy as Naxxramas is now.

But unfortunately we suffer from Blizzard being slow to add new content. So if we look at the issue from Blizzard's point of view, who at one point decided that they didn't have more resources available to make more than one big raid dungeon for the WotLK release (and a recycled one at that), did they make the right decision in making that one easy? In absolute, business, dollars and cents terms, not in subjective "what is good for me is good for WoW" terms?

Imagine that you today had the power to change the difficulty level of the current raid dungeons, mainly Naxxramas, plus decide the difficulty level of the next raid dungeon, Ulduar. And you would receive 1 cent for every player who is subscribed to WoW in 6 months time in North America and Europe. Would you make the raid dungeons significantly harder? Or do you think that, even if in your opinion the less skilled players don't deserve those epics, they will be subscribing to WoW much longer if they have this easy raid mode available, and a somewhat, but not terribly, harder Ulduar after that?

Personally I think that easy entry level raiding adds to the longevity of Wrath of the Lich King. Ulduar should be a noticeable step up, not a brick wall, but requiring full Naxx epic gear. In the Burning Crusade lots of players quit the game after a few months, because they had leveled to 70, and found that there wasn't enough to do for them at that level, raiding being too hard for the average player. In WotLK raiding is not too hard for the average player, in fact many people find Naxxramas as it is still fun and challenging. Throw in a harder next step, Ulduar, and many, many players will have months and months of raiding fun ahead of them. Yes, the other side of the coin is that some players are bored now, will beat Ulduar in a week, and might well decide to quit soon afterwards. But as the extreme hardcore are few in numbers, there is a strong business case to be made for catering rather to the average player, not to the top. So, did Blizzard get it right this time, from the point of view of their business managers?

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