Monday, February 22, 2010

Content distribution

I had a lot of fun in World of Warcraft this weekend, leveling up my paladin from 68 to 71. I found that the Dungeon Finder would let me do random Wrath of the Lich King normal dungeons starting from level 69, so I ended up getting my first emblem of triumph before even reaching level 70, which given the fact that you can't use them before level 80 is somewhat silly. But compared to the really, really bad loot Blizzard hands out as reward for the random Burning Crusade dungeons, the emblems are an improvement.

Anyway the reason I had so much fun was that I moved to Northrend at level 69, and found that in Wrath of the Lich King Alliance has a lot of quests that Horde doesn't have (and vice versa). Big improvement over Burning Crusade, where nearly every quest had a carbon copy on the other faction, or was a neutral quest for both sides. But landing in Howling Fjord as Alliance for the first time starts you right with a bunch of quests in an area Horde never goes to. And later, in Dragonblight, I even got a quest with a cutscene showing how Arthas found Frostmourne, a sequence that Horde doesn't get at all. So right now I'm highly motivated to visit all the Alliance-only places of Northrend and see a different side of that expansion.

Having said that, I did notice that I skipped a huge amount of content of the Burning Crusade while leveling past 70. And I realized that the same had happened at level 60. The thing is that content in World of Warcraft is not distributed evenly over the levels. Blizzard is very well aware of the fact that it takes them on average 2 years to release an expansion, while even slow players can reach the level cap in a few months. Thus a majority of players for the majority of the time of an expansion will find themselves at the level cap, and Blizzard needed to provide a lot more content at levels 60, 70, and 80 than at the other levels.

Only that once the next expansion comes out, people aren't stuck at 60, 70, or after Cataclysm 80 any more. When you reach a previous level cap, there is a huge amount of content for that level available. But unless you would lock your xp at that level for a while (and who would do that?) you're going to level past that content before you have seen even half of it. Or, due to every expansion bringing mudflation, with much better items in the new content for the same level as the previous level cap, people move to the next expansion before even having hit the level cap in the previous one.

Worst hit are raid dungeons. There simply aren't any regular level 60 or 70 raids any more, thus Molten Core at 60 or Karazhan at 70 just aren't going to happen. Also eliminated are heroic dungeons, because a normal level 70 WotLK dungeon gives better rewards than a heroic level 70 BC dungeon. Even the normal dungeons for levels near the level cap end up not all being visited, my paladin certainly missed half of the level 68-70 BC dungeons. Then of course there is all the non-dungeon level cap content, areas full of daily quests and reputation to gather, which aren't going to be used by somebody leveling past. I didn't visit Skettis or the Isle of Quel'Danas with my pally, and I doubt once the next expansion is coming out many people will do the Argent Tournament.

In short, by their slow expansion cycle Blizzard ends up producing a lot of content which isn't going to be used once the next expansion hits, not even by new players or alts leveling up. Maybe they should recycle more of the stuff, like they did with Naxxramas. Have all the old raids be available in a version in which the mobs are upgraded to the current level cap, but drop only emblems, or, even cooler, their old epics in a bind-on-account version.

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