Level design trumps PUG elitism
December 29, 2008
When Keen complained about public five-man groups in World of Warcraft (WoW) being ultra-selective about who to take on instance runs, we weren’t overly surprised. Despite Keen being a (purportedly) skilled player, his gear was determined to not be up to snuff. If anything, Blizzard has shown us that gear is the ultimate barrier-of-entry for end-game play. With over 11 million players, WoW sports a population that can, apparently, afford to be picky, particularly when most players are in relatively organized guilds in which it’s easy to do an instance run.
Gear has become so easy to achieve - how can it possibly be a barrier of entry for a FIVE MAN?
In the early days of WoW, pre-raid end-game instances were new, and not everyone had the skill necessary to help beat one. (Also, few people had compiled the gear originating from these instances.) Now, however, the skill required to plow through an instance is much less, and since the late pre-Burning Crusade days, the emphasis on gear, in part because of its availability, is ever greater. This, compounded with the fact that most end-game players have numerous alts, means that familiarity of end-game instances is very common, which means that players simply don’t wish to take the risks they used to. That is to say, whereas in the old days, players would bring along anyone remotely capable of tackling an instance, nowadays, players only want people familiar with instances who stand the greatest chance at success.
This phenomenon is very similar to what we saw after people first reached end-game in WoW and had the time to level their first alts. Generally, these players didn’t want to struggle the way they initially did, so instead asked their guild-mates and online friends to use their end-game characters to run them through a low-level instance. In this way, alts could farm for gear without danger of wiping like they might by running with characters of similar level. In effect, instances stopped being challenging, and instead became nothing more than a short time-sink for blue gear.
In the same vein, with the availability of ueber-gear characters, why take along a player who doesn’t have the gear, when a short wait will bring along a player who does? In other words, the state of the game is such that players can afford not to run an instance if it means running it later with a group of people who are practically destined to succeed. After all, these players can simply play an alt while waiting for a better group to show up, and ultimately, a better group will unless we’re talking about an end-game raid instance. There are simply too many players at end-game with above-average gear for a risky instance run to be left to chance.
Fortunately, there are a couple things that can be done to rectify this situation despite the way WoW has progressed over two expansions. One simple solution would be to disallow two characters of the same account on the same server. Or, better yet, instances need to be limited to a level maximum. For example, high-level characters should be barred from running low-level instances, or temporarily reduced in power so as to make their power “appropriate” for the instance. Similarly, end-game instances could have gear limits, in which characters cannot enter a given instance if their gear is too far “above” what the instance calls for.
Regardless of solution, Keen’s recent experience is just one more example of how WoW has degenerated over the last couple years. Here’s hoping Blizzard makes note of these problems and considers these issues in their next MMOG iteration.