Thursday, January 20, 2011

Differential diagnosis

Ionomonkey from Screaming Monkeys goes House and analyses the Cataclysmic WoW disease as being a lack of choice and control. Well, House would tell him that he is doing the differential diagnosis all wrong, but besides that one has to wonder whether Ionomonkey's diagnosis is the right one. Even House always makes three wrong diagnoses before arriving at the good one just before the end of the episode.

Ionomonkey's clues are heroics, guild perks, and linear leveling zones. Of these I would only consider the linear leveling zones to be really a problem of lack of choice and control. Not being able to skip quests you don't like, or go directly to a quest you like to play it again with another character is annoying like hell (and makes me wonder how a certain other storytelling MMORPG is going to handle that).

Heroics I consider to be a problem of flow. In previous expansions people kind of naturally moved from leveling to doing dungeons to doing heroics to raiding. In Cataclysm that process seems to be a much bumpier ride. By making heroics both long and hard, a large number of people end up not even being able to run one every day, and resign to do daily quests instead. That appears unsustainable to me, because I don't see people doing the same daily quests for the next 22 months. If we believe Ghostcrawler, that actually is only a temporary problem, as the flow will appear when people got used to the new heroics, and have geared up a bit.

Guild perks right now seem to be more a theoretical than a practical problem. Due to the cap on guild experience, a large number of guilds have exactly the same level of guild perks at the moment. If guild perks work to prevent guild hopping, that is hard to see, and not necessarily the worst outcome. And while pugging is certainly less pleasant than guild runs, I don't think we are at the point where I could agree with Ionomonkey's statement that "Either join a guild that can or be done with your progression on that character.".

So to get back to House and his differential diagnosis, we would be wise to consider a wider range of possibilities, and then start eliminating those which don't seem to apply. That starts with the possibility that there is actually nothing wrong with the patient. What evidence, besides the word of a few bloggers, do we have that Cataclysm is ailing? Then we should consider the possibility of the disease being something much simpler: Burnout. Frankly, it wouldn't be the first time that a third expansion failed to really counteract the natural process of people getting bored with a game faster than the developers can renew it. I hated Shadows of Luclin. And finally there are probably a range of other explanation of what ails World of Warcraft right now. Given a list of known bloggers, one can even predict what each of them would claim is the reason for this unproven disease, from "dumbed down" to "not immersive enough" to "too many morons & slackers".

So what do you think? Is Cataclysm doing well or is it ailing? And what are the reasons for its success, or your diagnosis of its disease?

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