I'll start off with a some assumptions, which are quite possibly wrong! The first is that I could play again, which covers both time and whatever mental state one needs to have to enjoy an MMO of the WoW-sort. Second is that my apartment will have working internet this Wednesday. On a side note, AT&T, if someone cancels because you can't activate for another month, and then you have room on the calender to activate sooner, wouldn't it be a good sales idea to call them rather than wait around on the off chance that they'll give you another chance because your competitor in the area is even worse?
This is a surprisingly difficult post to write. Maybe my assumption of the mental state is more wrong than I suspect. Too much seems to have, what's the opposite of rose-colored glasses?
What the hell does that mean? I'll try out the word legitimacy. Are 5-mans legitimate content, somewhere players are supposed to be? Currently they are the equivalent of teenage summer jobs. Sure, go there for a little while, but only to save up for college or a car or because you parents won't stop nagging you otherwise. If you're not in high school, or at least college, if you are somehow a 40-year-old man with a family and you are still working at McDonalds or the local park district, something is wrong. That's what 5-mans are currently. You are expected to do them, but also to be done with them and if you have to go back, it is not a nice feeling.
In a past post I suggested that having sets from 5-mans confers legitimacy.
Blue sets, what? BC had blue-quality late-game sets. They were not fantastic at all. But some pieces were okay. My paladin used a couple pieces for a while. Other classes had similar experiences. These were not amazing sets, but sets give some sense of legitimacy, they say that this tier is one that is okay to be at. Sets indicate that the devs think you will be here a while and are okay with rewarding that. LK had no instance sets, nor did Cataclysm. It says something: don't stick around and do not, under any circumstances, feel like anything you got here is worth remembering or keeping.
Not everyone is expected to, or expects to, raid
This does not mean that raiding should be some closed, elite club. It does mean that people who like playing in huge groups play in huge groups and people who do not, don't. Some of it may take the form of arbitrary barriers, using them as filtering mechanisms.
I wish I could find the source, it was recently in the WoW blogosphere, something tot he effect of: "making an undesirable activity easier does not make it more fun." Nerfing raids that people don't want to do so people who don't want to raid can raid more successfully doesn't make much sense. This ties into another aspect, the expectation that everyone can and must raid. When raids are nerfed more and more, whether directly to the bosses or indirectly through gear (currently implemented with the justice points system, badges in LK), players are sent the message that they are expected to do them. And they lose more and more excuses not to. Somehow the "I don't enjoy it" reason gets side-lined, perhaps ignored, because raids are where the gear is, and the more people get driven into them, the more friends are in them, and the more pressure to follow.
Everything became about raiding. Now certainly vanilla and BC had a lot of raiding going on and a lot of raiding content. But there was not an expectation that everyone would raid or must raid. Both had players who wanted to raid but could not due to this or that problem unrelated to skill, and so changes were almost certainly to their benefit. But I suspect that a lot of players who did not particularly want to raid were driven into it by the structure of the game. Late-game (not end-game) content was thinner, in favor of fast gearing to get people into raids. This causes all sorts of problems, such as players who lack internal motivation to raid and who must instead be driven purely by loot or social pressure, neither of which are long-term formulas for fun.
WoW has an exceptionally screwed up monetary system. Rather than a central authority that can decided whatever it wants for the money supply (there are some constitutional limits to printing money, but let's set those aside for now), meaning that it can inflate or deflate as desired (it's not a precise thing). WoW instead has a system in which every single person can print money. Imagine if everyone in the world had a printing press for $100 bills and if legally, none of them were counterfeit. Oh right, inflation! And then of course, we'd need to print even more bills to keep up. Rather than take away the printing presses, or at lest limit them to $100, the government instead releases a press for a $1000 bill. Woo, dailies!
I'll admit that vanilla had way too little gold. The ratio of vendor price + deposit to the market price needs to be fairly low (meaning an inflated market) for it to be worth the risk. Initially there was an inflation spree when they added the xp->gold conversion when doing quests at the level cap. This didn't get too far, since there are only so many quests in the world. BC brought in dailies. And then more dailies. Initially I think they were good, adding some needed liquidity, but eventually they become a self-reinforcing problem: players can't afford anything, so they do more dailies, which inflates prices more, and so on. LK and Cataclysm took the daily model to its logically destructive conclusion.
On top of that, dailies take the place of farming, driving up material prices, which is not inflation itself (if you're making a list of things that the Chicago school of economics doesn't get wrong, put this at one and we'll see if we find anything else), but it encourages it, as players do more dailies to compensate. I'll write about this specific economic behavior later. Beside the economic effects, dailies just aren't much fun. They are in a dead zone between exciting and perfectly mindless. Farming can be mindless and that has its place.
Bring back spirit plate
I don't mean for paladin healers. I mean for warriors. Once upon a time plate had spirit on it and thanks to the Regeneration troll racial, they could regenerate health, at 10% of the out-of-combat rate, while in combat. This was absolutely amazing. Just think of the healing output of that over a long fight. With the removal of spirit plate, troll tanks became harder to heal. Is it any wonder that Horde raiding guilds have been plummeting since the end of vanilla? Note: that last claim is a complete fabrication. I was just trying to get in a reference to my blog title.
But seriously, bring back spirit plate
Worthless stats are a great way to counter stat inflation. Sure, the next tier is 10% higher item level, as it needs to be to attract the loot whores, but 10% of those stats are completely useless.
Resistances were great at this as well. Fire resist would get you through a couple raids. Then it became useless. This meant that gear could progress without actually increasing in ilevel. In vanilla this took the form of nature resist for AQ and frost for Naxx. I'm not claiming that Blizzard actually took advantage of this, they didn't, as gear inflation was still happening at a significant pace in vanilla.
This needs updating for Cataclysm.
Long but transient content
Go read Rohan on transient vs. extended content
I liked spending a few hours in an instance. I also like having some short instances of only a half hour or so. I believe these can coexist, that Blizzard does not need to make only long instances or only short instances. The rewards would need to be tuned carefully, to ensure that players can generally do the type of content they enjoy. That means that a particular faction should not come only from long or short instances, but from either, nor should either be specifically required for advancement, either by quest chains or raiding, except as one-time requirements. That means that an attunement could run through a long instance, but overall, a player who does not enjoy long instances shouldn't feel compelled to do one more than once, maybe twice.
Also, do the same for BGs. More specifically, bring back the old AV. If you don't know what that means, picture this: at the end of a BG there is a display of the length of the BG. My very first AV, which incidentally the Horde won (go Horde!), had lasted 25 hours. That was a short game. Yes, the more than one day, literally, was a short game. I loved that. Jump in, jump out, it was still there, with something going on. It allowed for players to play a little or a lot. In my case, a lot, with the better part of a weekend spent in that BG, often without it ending. Then someone complained about the inability to get the token for that BG and they gutted it.
Bring back the world
Did you know that there are entrances to the battle grounds? Probably not. In fact, since BC they stopped adding them. The three vanilla BGs have entrances and once upon a time you needed to physically go to them, much like with instances. Eventually Blizzard decided this was too inconvenient, and was almost certainly keeping players away who would have liked to PvP, so they added warmasters, NPCs who would allow you to queue for a BG from cities. Now we can queue from anywhere, for anything. One one hand, these promote a sense of world because they allow us to go out and see it at a lower cost. I can go farm and quest and explore without having to give up BGs and instances. On the other hand, they make some areas, such as the entrances, obsolete and add a sense of disconnection.
Farming is also important. Teleporting from one daily quest hub to another doesn't give a sense of scale or uniqueness to any place. But farming can do two things. First, it isn't structured. A player has to choose what to farm and know where it is, choose a path to get there, a path within he farming area. If I am crafting devilsaur gear, I will go somewhere different than if I'm crafting something with silithid scales, different from black dragonscales. Leatherworking is the most extreme example of this, but even herbalism and mining show some amount of specificity. Dark iron ore is only in one instance and two zones near it, so players will go somewhere different when they want that, or not.
Getting players out of the cities and into the world is most important for one class in particular: rogues. This class thrives on world. It isn't alone, of course. Any class can know the thrill of catching an enemy unaware, while they are distracted, and getting an easy kill. Or sometimes, being the one who appears distracted, but is in fact fully aware and ready to kill you. That may or may not have been me, back when warlocks had a plethora of CC effects and shamans were totally badass.
This post is long enough already and I'm not quite sure of what Blizzard can do. I've had ideas, but I don't know if they'd actually do anything anymore. Once norms are established they are very hard to change and I suspect that the needed changes would just drive away a lot of people.
Earlier I said I planned to jump into the free pre-20 to see what that is like. That plan is still planned, but only yesterday did I finally get internet and for some reason, graduate school requires a lot of time, so I doubt I'll be starting anytime sooner than Friday evening. Thankfully, having no social life gives me plenty of free time.