By all appearances, World of Warcraft is still rolling along, with large number of subscribers. Dalaran is laggy, which is no fun for us but is a sign that its filled with players. Cataclysm is on the horizon.
And yet, I have a feeling that not all is well. I have no scientific data for this, only anecdotes. This is the third pre-expansion patch that I have experienced. They always bring frustration and annoyance as add-ons break, abilities change, and mains become alts and alts become mains. However, unlike past expansions, I don’t find that there is a corresponding sense of excitement as new shinys are introduced. This feels different to than the previous pre-expansion patches.
In guild chat this weekend, here are some things I’ve heard.
Once person in my guild has played a hunter since vanilla WoW. He said, “I just can’t motivate myself to log onto my hunter right now”
There is a druid in my guild who loves to heal so much that she never even got dual spec, sticking completely with resto for all of Wrath. Her resto druid is her only level 80, also. She decided to check out moonkin spec this weekend, not because she’s excited about the new Eclipse mechanic, but because she’s frustrated with resto.
There are an assortment of players in the guild who are less than thrilled with the state of their mains, and are exploring which alts they should switch to.
All of that is anecdote. Now we get into speculation and hypothesis on my part.
I think that there are a number of factors at work here.
(1) The two-year wait between expansions is finally wearing on people.
There are a lot of people out there who are bored with WoW. Some of them have been playing since beta, which is more than 6 years now, and they are just plain worn out. Others started playing in Wrath, but have been running ICC several times a week for nearly a year and are simply fed up with the repetition. I think that some of these players have been hanging on, hoping that Cataclysm would revitalize their interest in the game.
Instead, what has happened is that they now need to re-learn their class. Or maybe they are a ret paladin and they have watched in post-patch raids as mages and warlocks double or even triple their damage output. I fear that for some this is the “last straw” and is the final factor in their decision to give in to their waning interest.
And don’t get me started on the druid tree form debacle.
These players were on the verge of quitting, anyway. This might just give them the final nudge.
(2) Wrath was too easy, and players are spoiled.
As we all know from the QQ in Trade chat, blog posts, forums, etc.. Wrath was too easy. Players who knew essentially nothing about their class could still muddle their way through raids. Players who did know a lot about the game still didn’t have to work very hard at picking up a new class or spec. Attack rotations were easy, mana unlimited, threat limitless.
Now, in the post-patch world, its all changed. Rotations are not simple or obvious. Tanks are having mobs pulled off of them. Healers are finding it hard to keep tanks alive. Raids are wiping on farm content. Classes that once led the damage meters are falling behind.
The frustration that this has caused, on top of the buggy instances and add-on nightmares, are making the game very difficult to play. Still, all of this has happened before. So why is this different?
(3) The kicker is that Blizzard didn’t give us the fun that we got in previous pre-patch expansions.
Lets look at the previous expansions for comparison.
Vanilla -> Burning Crusade: In the pre-expansion patch 2.01, talent trees grew from 31 point to 41 points. New spells and abilities were added. Players respecced into their 41-point talents right away, which tended to make them overpowered for current content. Most classes got significant overhauls, but most of them were improvements over previously existing flaws. It was the first expansion, so it had a sense of novelty to it. Much fun was had playing with new abilities. The fun distracted us from the frustration.
Burning Crusade -> Wrath: In the pre-expansion patch 3.02 talent trees grew from 41-point to 51 points. New spells and abilities were added. Players respecced into their 51-point talents right away, which tended to make them overpowered for current content. Also, existing raid bosses were nerfed which allowed guilds to run content that was previously out-of-reach for them. Much fun was had blowing through Black Temple and Tempest Keep in advance of new content. The fun distracted us from the frustration.
Wrath -> Cataclysm: In the pre-expansion patch 4.01 talent trees were reduced from 51 points to 31 points. Some new abilities and spells were added. Players respecced, but found that it didn’t make them any more powerful than before, and in some cases less powerful. Existing raid bosses are not changed (although Chill of the Throne was removed) so we’re still playing the same content at essentially the same difficulty as before.
And there is where I think Blizzard messed up. They didn’t give us anything all that exciting to balance the frustration of relearning our class. All we got were mostly lateral changes, with not a whole lot to get jazzed about.
What motivation do players have to re-learn their class? Are they going to study Elitist Jerks and pore over talent trees and reforging options just to go kill Marrowgar for the 200th time? Once the expansion is here, we’ll learn our classes through the leveling process. We’ve just got to hold on until that point.
Sorry, Blizzard. This patch hasn’t excited us. You’ve got a month and a half of damage control to do now. You need to find a way to hold onto people’s interest until Cataclysm gets here.