Another week, another feature to be removed from Mists of Pandaria. Last week Blizzard announced that in the patch 6.0.2 (estimated to arrive 10-14), the Troves of the Thunder King scenario would be going away. Technically, the keys that drop to grant access to the scenario will stop dropping, as they will be replaced by Elder Charms of Good Fortune, but the point stands that excluding the rare player who has hoarded keys, access to the scenario will be revoked. At this point, the joke that Warlords of Draenor will be a contraction, not an expansion is not even funny anymore. Between the hurried announcement of this and the removal of the cloak quests so late in the game, something appears amiss in Blizzard’s development process.
Blizzard has been steadfast in their decision to remove the cloak questline, such that the starting quests have indeed been removed in the beta, so my earlier suspicions appear unfounded. While it’s good to see that Blizzard’s motivations are something other than financial, their disappointing silence on the causes for these nerfs leave us with little more than idle speculation.
In the case of the Troves, the ostensible reason for the removal is that the scenario will be too easy to run at level 100, and provide too much gold. It will be unbalanced with respect to the intended max-level gold sources, and Blizzard does not want players to feel compelled to run old content just to keep their coffers full. The pragmatic decision would be to reduce the amount of gold provided with each run, thus preserving the scenario for anyone who still wished to run it, while removing any reason for players to feel forced to run it. So given the choice of nerfing or removing, what compelled Blizzard to remove the Troves scenario?
At this point, the Warlords launch is slightly more than a month away. Blizzard developers are busy focusing on refining all the new content that is being implemented; new builds with adjusted numbers are coming out almost daily. While it seems trivial to task someone with refining the amount of gold an old scenario would provide, it is much easier to change a few loot tables and adjust some achievements than have another set of numbers to balance. While this may be the optimal solution from a development time perspective, the true cost is the loss of the content in a game as great as World of Warcraft.
Blizzard seemed to learn their lesson about removing content after the Naxxramas drakes were rendered unavailable in 2009. The Black and Plagued Proto-drake mounts were rewarded as achievements in Naxxramas at Wrath of the Lich King’s launch, and Blizzard removed them once the next raid tier opened and players would outgear the content, making the achievement trivial. There were expectations that the mounts awarded for similar achievements in Ulduar and Icecrown Citadel would also be removed, yet that never came to pass. In that light, the fact that the Kor’kron War Wolf, which is rewarded for defeating Garrosh on normal or heroic before 6.0.2, will be retired should have indicated that Blizzard’s philosophy about removing content had changed.
It is interesting to note that Blizzard notified players well in advance of patch 6.0.2 that the wolf would only be available for a limited time, and the result has been minimal teeth-gnashing from the community. This highlights that the true flaw in Warlords development has been the communication. Announcements are being made far too late in the development process, and players are left wondering whether Blizzard is simply being callous by delaying these proclamations, or whether important design decisions are being made at the figurative eleventh hour. At this point, it is not clear which would be worse. Given either a company that is dismissive and disrespectful of their fans or a company that is experiencing a harried development cycle, the players suffer either way.
If Blizzard is struggling with Warlords development and finding removal of prior content easier than adjusting it for the future, then for as long as it’s taken to get to the 11-13 launch, that time frame may still prove too rapid. We may never know just how far behind Blizzard fell on Warlords’ development, but it seems that this expansion may prove to be the most difficult to produce.
Admittedly, most players only play through a fraction of a given expansions’ content once it is no longer live. Players will either level their characters through dungeons, PvP, or whatever the easiest zones for questing are, and barely scratch the surface of what is available. Mid-expansion max-level content, like the Argent Tournament or Firelands are veritable ghost towns now, although a desire for transmog gear, mounts, and achievements, as well as a fair amount of boredom, keeps the occasional player going back and enjoying that content. The Cross-Realm Zone technology was even introduced to ensure that the few players spread across all the realms would still encounter each other in these low population environments.
The Troves of the Thunder King and the Legendary Cloak quests are current max-level content that few players will focus on going forward. These removals hurt now because the content is still relatively fresh (especially the cloak), but the number of players who would have run Troves on a weekly basis during Warlords would have been negligible. While these decisions are seemingly hurting a small percentage of future players, the true damage is felt amongst Blizzard’s community relations. While only a handful of players may seek out the scenario and find it missing, everyone presently following Warlords‘ development knows it has been removed, and that knowledge, and the disappointment and mistrust it generates, is the legacy of these decisions.
Furthermore, by removing the content, Blizzard is also removing any ability to remediate the situation should they change their mind. Had they left the content in game, players may have suddenly discovered a quick way to inflate their bank account, and Blizzard could easily issue a hotfix to address the issue going forward (especially given that the new CASC file format is supposed to make such live hotfixes easier.) Whenever asked about updating old content, Blizzard’s stock answer is that they want to work on new content that the majority of players will encounter. There is no way Blizzard will ever waste the development time to reintroduce these features.
While Warlords of Draenor may usher in a new era of shorter, costlier Blizzard expansions, it is Mists of Pandaria that is breaking new ground. Mists is establishing that when players purchase an expansion, they are paying for the right to play that content for a limited time. Mists will probably be rolled into the WoW Battlechest, as is the process for old expansions shortly after their predecessor launches. Thus, it is not as if new players will miss out on content they paid for. While it has always been true that the game is subject to change, the true value of what we are paying for is defined by Mists’ devolution. If you wanted a legendary cloak and a speed-run for loot through a short dungeon, you not only needed to pay $40 for Mists of Pandaria and $15 each month, but you needed to be actively playing World of Warcraft between September 2012 and November 2014. The bulk of Mists‘ content will remain in the game going forward, but anyone unlucky enough to miss that window is paying a cost not easily perceived.
I’m still holding out optimism that someday, Blizzard will reintroduce the ability to claim these items. When I created a level 90 character on the beta for the sole purpose of scouring Pandaria for the quest givers who would once pass players a mysterious note from Wrathion, finding them present but without the orange exclamation mark was heartbreaking. An MMO like World of Warcraft is always better with more — more items, more quests, more things to do and more stuff to get. It is disheartening to see that Blizzard has backed themselves into a corner where leaving things in the game is no longer an option for them. I would like to think that they are planning Warlords content with the idea that they will need to adjust it in the future, but their comments about the legendary quest in Warlords indicate that it too will have an expiration date. One can only hope that witnessing all this content vanish does not cause the players’ love of the game to have an expiration date as well.
Lords of War concluded with the story of Maraad, Warlord of the Tentacled Face Clan. http://us.battle.net/wow/en/blog/16081850/lords-of-war-part-five-maraad-9-26-2014
IGN put up a short about the making of Lords of War. Blizzard behind the scenes videos are so boring. It’s just people repetitively moving their hands while waiting for a timer to finish. http://www.ign.com/videos/2014/10/02/world-of-warcraft-lords-of-war-behind-the-scenes-video
PVP Season 15 to end soon. I always worry about who’s going to die in the season finale! http://us.battle.net/wow/en/blog/16071433/pvp-season-15-ending-soon-9-30-2014
The subscription fee for WoW is being raised in China. Pay more now that the game is not as focused on ripping off your culture! http://massively.joystiq.com/2014/10/01/world-of-warcraft-increases-fees-in-china/
Blizzard released Official Dungeon Previews for Warlords. Hopefully these dungeons won’t have to hold everyone over for two years. http://us.battle.net/wow/en/blog/16198765/warlords-of-draenor-dungeon-preview-training-day-10-2-2014
Brawler’s Guild is going away in patch 6.0.2 but coming back with Season 2 at Warlords launch. I’d do it, but I keep getting blood everywhere when I try to RSVP. http://us.battle.net/wow/en/blog/16096016