WoW: Heroism For Sale

by Wolfshead on May 13, 2008

Salesman1You’d think that killing uber bosses such as Onyxia, Ragnaros, Nefarian, Hakkar, Gruul, and Illidan would be considered heroic. Sorry, that’s the wrong answer in Irvine, CA these days. Perhaps completing a long epic quest that lets you permanently transform your character into something different would be heroic. Wrong again! Spending $50 for Wrath of the Lich King and leveling a character to 55 — now that’s what Blizzard considers to be a truly heroic feat.

Finally we have the smoking gun that illustrates how the Blizzard team has taken complete leave of their senses. It’s found in a video interview with former Star Wars Galaxies producer,  J. Allen Brack the current lead producer on Wrath of the Lich King. He explains what Blizzard considers to be the definition of “heroic”.

Here’s what he said about the upcoming deathknight hero class to G4TV interviewer Morgan Webb:

J. Allen Brack: The idea behind this is that there is some kind of heroic thing you have to do as a player to unlock it. And in this case, it’s reach level 55. So if you have a level 55 player then you’ll be able to create our first hero class called the deathknight and you’ll actually start at level 55.

Morgan Webb: Okay, so the theory is that if I have a character right now in my arsenal level 55 or over, I can go out and buy Lich King and that very second I get home I can start playing with the Deathknight?

J.Allen Brack: Absolutely.

It’s astonishing to me that Blizzard can make patently absurd statements like that and get away with it. There is nothing heroic about the proposed mechanic of becoming a hero in WoW. It seems that heroism is now for sale in WoW. Notions of challenge, sacrifice, and courage are foreign concepts to Blizzard. Asking players to have to endure any hardship toward attaining the title of hero is just too much to ask in this age of coddled, short attention span gamers.

Here are some definitions for the word “hero”. See how many of these apply to the effort it takes to play a hero class in the upcoming expansion:

  1. Myth., Legend a man of great strength and courage, favored by the gods and in part descended from them, often regarded as a half-god and worshiped after his death
  2. any person, esp. a man, admired for courage, nobility, or exploits, esp. in war
  3. any person, esp. a man, admired for qualities or achievements and regarded as an ideal or model
  4. the central male character in a novel, play, poem, etc., with whom the reader or audience is supposed to sympathize
  5. the central figure in any important event or period, honored for outstanding qualities

It’s unfortunate that they’ve taken it upon themselves to warp the definition of a hero to include someone that purchases an expansion and has a level 55 character on their account. Yet Blizzard is no stranger to mangling the English language. Their ineptly titled “Honor System” had absolutely nothing to do with true “honor”. It seems that words exist as convenient marketing tools to be twisted and shaped in order to sell more products.

The bizarre way that Blizzard seems to be giving everything away lately is a real cause for concern. It’s like they are dismantling WoW one feature at a time in order to be popular with their subscribers. They remind me of politicians who bribe people with their own tax dollars. First it was welfare epics, now it’s welfare hero classes. What could be next? Perhaps free levels for your friends?

Something at Blizzard has changed lately. No longer are the principles of good MMO game design like challenge and risk vs. reward holding sway. They are eroding away before our very eyes. Instead, they’ve developed an unhealthy imperative for doing all they can to gain new markets and new demographics. Instead of focusing on innovating the MMO genre, Blizzard seems to be more interested in creating trading cards, motion pictures, figurines, sword replicas, and e-sports then focusing on creating and maintaining a solid MMO that has longevity. What we are witnessing is the transition of a gaming company to an entertainment company.

As a person who has been an enthusiastic participant of virtual worlds for many years, pardon me if I long for better days. It seems that all that was good and noble about MMO’s seems to be evaporating before our very eyes.

  -Wolfshead

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Robert May 14, 2008 at 9:46 am

I was just about to write up a long lengthy response about how I totally agree with everything you said.

Then I realized that not only did I stop playing WoW a few months ago, I doubt I’ll ever return.

In brief, nothing you achieve in WoW has any long term benefits. The entire game from the levels, the loot, the accomplishments are all just one gigantic never-ending death march. Lots of players still enjoy the death march, they are still subscribed. Thankfully many people are wising up to how WoW has turned into a total waste of time and are leaving WoW.

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Nick McLaren May 14, 2008 at 2:57 pm

Well said! =)

Cheers,

Nick

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Trey May 22, 2008 at 9:16 pm

I agree whole-heartedly as well. I played Diablo II for quite some time before coming to the same conclusions; when WoW became big i stayed away for fear it seemed to be just a prettier looking version of the same old crap – now with new paid subscription feature! Thanks for bringing in some sanity.

Trey

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Leala June 2, 2008 at 7:05 pm

Why does one person’s enjoyment of WoW need to be dependent upon their having an item/character, etc. that is better or more difficult to obtain than someone else’s? Words like “challenge, sacrifice, and courage” are strong when used to describe play in a video game. Maybe its just that they are realizing that its not “work” people want, its “fun”. Just a thought from someone who still enjoys WoW and is looking forward to a Death Knight.

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Wolfshead June 4, 2008 at 2:32 am

I would take issue with your characterization of WoW as a “video game”. It’s much more then that when you really stop to think about it. In reality it’s a MMORPG — a massively multi-player online role playing game. Some would even call it a virtual world.

When everything becomes common and readily available to everyone then everything loses it’s meaning. For most people that engage in PVP and PVE, it’s all about working toward upgrading their gear. Appropriate challenge ensures that only skilled people aquire those rewards. If Blizzard were to just give everyone all the armor and weapons they wanted then there would be no point to the game. Period.

The “fun” as you call it comes from the fact that we as players can overcome and surmount those challenges that are placed before us. However, we also need to know that challenges are offered fairly and equally. Blizzard screwed up with arenas and PVP rewards because suddenly players realized they could obtain rewards much easier then in PVP activities such as grouping and raiding.

Is this harmlful? It sure is. Warriors found that having tank specs didn’t help them in PVP so they started speccing for DPS (fury and arms). This led to a shortage of tanks for PVE. Without people to tank the “fun” and happiness of players who want to DPS and heal was being shortchanged. Now those people have a very hard time finding groups. Isn’t their fun important too? This all happened because Blizzard dropped the ball and failed to ensure that risk vs. reward was balanced equitably across the board.

The above example is why I care about what Blizzard is doing with Deathknights. When rewards and status are handed out for no reason then you have a potentially dangerous situation in a game as complex as a MMO. As I explained in 3 articles now, it’s going to have a detrimental affect on the their MMO. Just you wait and see.

(edit: changed harmless to harmful)

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Leala June 4, 2008 at 5:48 pm

Lemme back up and introduce myself. My name is Leala, I’ve been playing MMOs for quite a while (since back in the UO days) and I’m currently playing WoW and hosting a podcast for it.

I know that in a way its more than a game, but in a way its really not. Feeling bigger and better than others in a game because of your achievements is all fine and well but it shouldn’t dictate gameplay for everyone. When you get a new item in game it should be about YOU not what everyone else has in comparison to you. I have some pretty cool epic daggers in game and I like them because they help me kill things faster, not because I feel like I am better than people who have blue daggers. Not even a little bit. I frankly don’t care about what people (who I don’t even know) in the game have or don’t have.

You can’t say that everyone plays the same way and for the same reasons because it’ll never be true. Some people could give a crap about defeating some big hard time consuming challenge while others are busting their butt every night in BT or the Sunwell.

Basically implying that PVP rewards are ruining the PVE game is a stretch. PVE is alive and well in WoW as it has always been. If tanks aren’t “tanking” its because they don’t want to. If gear reward motivates them there’s a ton of good gear available only through PVE.

And we all know at this point that the deathknight IS just a new class not some super-special-awesome-better-than-every-other-class class. They don’t want to imbalance the game. Knowing that, what does it matter how difficult or easy it is to make one. Sure everyone is going to make one at first, but only the people who actually enjoy playing it will stick with it. If a player’s DK isn’t wanted in groups they always have the option to move back to their other character who is. Its really not a big deal because that is the same way the game works now.

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Wolfshead June 5, 2008 at 8:00 pm

I know that in a way its more than a game, but in a way its really not. Feeling bigger and better than others in a game because of your achievements is all fine and well but it shouldn’t dictate gameplay for everyone. When you get a new item in game it should be about YOU not what everyone else has in comparison to you. I have some pretty cool epic daggers in game and I like them because they help me kill things faster, not because I feel like I am better than people who have blue daggers. Not even a little bit. I frankly don’t care about what people (who I don’t even know) in the game have or don’t have.

Personally I don’t care what gear other players have. All I care about is that they earned them in a manner that is fair and equitable. Proper game balance is all about ensuring that rewards match the risks inherent in obtaining those rewards.

The problem is when create an reward structure that has a low risk with a high reward — you’ve created an unhealthy situation that will start herding players into those low risk situations. As I mentioned above, this is exactly what happened with PVP rewards vs PVE rewards. The unintended consequence is that there are fewer protection specced warriors these days. With fewer tanks, you have a situation where it’s much harder to get groups and raids going. How can you not care about the fairness and appropriateness of Blizzard’s reward system?

Basically implying that PVP rewards are ruining the PVE game is a stretch. PVE is alive and well in WoW as it has always been. If tanks aren’t “tanking” its because they don’t want to. If gear reward motivates them there’s a ton of good gear available only through PVE.

Lots of people have been complaining about the ease of obtaining PVP rewards. It’s one of the hottest topics of discussion right now on most WoW forums. It’s perfectly legitmate to talk about it and complain about it. Of course people who PVP don’t want the gravy train to stop. That’s human nature.

When players stop wanting to “tank” then it’s everyone’s problem. Without enough tanks the whole notion of PVE breaks down. Blizzard is ultimately responsible for this problem as they have created the system that has discouraged warriors from choosing tank talent specs.

And we all know at this point that the deathknight IS just a new class not some super-special-awesome-better-than-every-other-class class.

I disagree. Most people don’t know that Deathknights will be just another class. In fact Blizzard is banking on the fact that most players will not read the fine print. Most people believe then when you attach the word “hero” to something it will be special, unique, and more powerful.

They don’t want to imbalance the game. Knowing that, what does it matter how difficult or easy it is to make one.

If the so-called “hero” class it not heroic in it’s power then what exactly is heroic about it? Wouldn’t it make sense that a heroic deed or quest would be a component in obtaining the right to play this class? At least there would be some legitimacy in one aspect of the hero class being called heroic.

To sum up the facts about the hero class:

1) no heroic deeds need to unlock it or play it
2) hero class will be very common as practically anyone can create one (98% of subscribers probably have at least one 55 character_
3) no heroic sense of power — it’s just a normal class
4) hero class starts at level 55 and given 45 free talent points, free green and blue gear, exclusive class quests and starting area and free mount

Conclusion: hero classes are “heroes” in name only

If Blizzard was honest they would not call the Deathknight a hero class. However, they need another reason to sell the expansion. Calling it a hero class is the only way they can justify allowing hero classes to skip 55 levels of content.

Please answer these questions:

Will you feel like a hero because Blizzard powerleveled your Deathknight for 55 free levels? Is that what being a hero really means?

At least have the honesty to say that hero classes are completely unheroic and that Blizzard should just offer them as a normal class without the “hero” title. That would solve the problem once and for all.

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Leala June 8, 2008 at 12:27 am

Ok. I give up. haha This isn’t going to go anywhere. I appreciate how solidly and strongly opinionated you are. Despite the fact that I think you are exaggerating something that you see as a problem and lots of other people do not.

And it really doesn’t matter what either of us think is right or wrong for Blizzard. What they think is right is what they are doing, and personally I’m happily going along for the ride.

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Wolfshead June 8, 2008 at 8:58 pm

I’m glad we can agree to disagree in a way that is mutually respectful of each other. I think we both care about WoW it’s just that we are seeing things from a different perspective.

Ultimately I too believe that it’s all about “fun”. Everyone defines fun in different ways. The nice thing about an MMO is that there are usually many ways for players to enjoy themselves. Some folks find that raiding for 4 hours at a time to be fun. Others just like fishing and crafting.

As far as hero classes are concerned, it’s pretty clear now that Blizzard is giving them as a gift to players. It’s Blizzard’s way of throwing an olive branch to those players that aren’t as hardcore as PVE raiders and PVPers. Blizzard realizes that their MMO is aging and the “hero” class is their way of saying “thank you”. It’s much like a loss leader in retail sales that attracts customers into the store. I still disagree with what they are doing but I can appreciate why they are doing it. Only time will tell if my predictions are correct.

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