Repetition doesn’t create memories. New Experiences do.-Brian Cheskey
Four months ago, the World of Warcraft released its latest expansion. A few months later, the game turned fourteen years old.
Six months ago, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom hit theaters worldwide. That same month, the franchise turned twenty-five years old.
Three months ago, Doctor Who released its eleventh season. Earlier this year, in March, the rebooted sci-fi show turned thirteen years old. Last month, the franchise as a whole turned fifty-five years old.
Seven months ago, Solo: A Star Wars Story released in theaters. In that same month, the game-changing space franchise turned forty-one years old.
Each of these Intellectual Properties (IPs) have large fan bases. I’ve also discovered that the general opinions of those IPs tends to be following a similar trend. There are plenty of arguments for each IP, but mostly the issues revolve around the idea that something which was great and awesome is no longer great and awesome, and somebody has to take the blame.
I’m going to leave behind Star Wars, Doctor Who, and Jurassic World for this post. I wanted them to be here for the very important first part of my post, which is to emphasis that the current state of entertainment, both passive and active, has become static. It is unchanged. Every year I watch a Marvel or Star Wars adventure, I tune into my sci-fi adventure, and I play World of Warcraft. That statement has remained unchanged for no less than the last ten years of my life.
The WoW Problem
There’s no denying it any longer. Something is wrong inside the World of Warcraft community. The game is suffering from player exhaustion in a way that I’ve never witnessed. People leaving the game for long stretches of time and/or waiting for the next raid (or the next patch), to keep them interested.
I’ve given it a lot of thought over the last few months… primarily because I too am one of the victims of this feeling. Despite coming and going from WoW for years on end, this is the first time I’ve felt a genuine disinterest in logging in. I know a part of that is burnout; I played a LOT of WoW in the last year. Still, there’s something happening here… something that is making my mind wander…
It clicked the other day, as I watched the trailer for the Lego Movie: The Second Part. The truth of the matter is, the only real problem with WoW is that it’s WoW.
I know that sounds dumb, but hear me out.
For players like me, it’s pretty easy to identify that WoW hasn’t changed all that much. Don’t get me wrong, I understand there’s mechanical changes that have changed over time, and there’s plenty of arguments to be made about abilities or talent pruning, but at the core, if we’re honest, WoW is a game where you find a target, press 1-12 repeatedly, and wait until either you win or you lose.
That’s a terrible simplification, but the core of the MMO experience is the same as it was in 2004, if not more so, now that we have Mythic+ dungeons forcing players to interact with one another.
The storytelling in WoW is fun. I love it. I also enjoy my class. I like raiding. I like dungeons. This is all good fun. The problem, however, is that there is no new experiences to be had in this static world. The new expansion hits, you run to max level, and then the repetition begins anew.
The Expansion Issue
Meanwhile, the idea of a moving narrative helps players engage with the world that they inhabit in a game. For example, in Legion, we spent two years fighting against the Legion invasion. Each new patch was a major milestone for us, reclaiming Karazhan, then the Nightwell, then the Broken Shore, and finally Argus. All the while, however, during the lull between, our players were still fighting the Legion, an unending foe, trying to hold the line.
In truth, Battle for Azeroth suffers right out of the gate as the narrative is halted with the very theme of the expansion itself. We arrive in Kul Tiras to call upon the aid of these potential allies in a war against the Horde. We fight, we unite, and just when we get what we have been seeking we… wait… until the next patch in four months.
The war hasn’t even really gotten started and we’re left to wait for the next big thing. It takes the wind out of our sails (sorry Proudmoore). Yesterday, patch 8.1 released, and we now have access to a new chapter of the story, but after a few more hours of quests, we’ll hit the pause button again. The nature of this narrative requires things to keep moving, but the delivery of the content remains the same as ever, which makes it feel disjointed and easy to lose track.
The Content Issue
World Quests and Mythic+ were new and exciting in 2016. Now they’re comfortable, familiar, and repeating dungeons week to week doesn’t hold the same charm as it did when it was new. They’re still valuable parts of the gameplay, but they’re not weighty as they were before.
Island Expeditions and Warfronts hit right out with repetition for the sake of repetition. With no unique reps tied to either piece of content, there wasn’t even a drive to try out the new content for more than novelty sake. Only having a handful of islands, all with the same scripted events, made the experience even more dull.
As always, the leveling experience was stellar as we saw new story, new mechanics, and new elements all weaving together to create the new expansion, but then we were left in a game mode that isn’t all that different from a standard FPS multiplayer. The idea is that we do the same thing over and over with the desire to score more points, or do better than before.
Timers used to be a terrifying rarity in WoW content, at least outside of raiding, but now almost all the things you do has one tied to it. Do better or fail. If you fail, repeat it again, but do it faster. If you succeed, we’ll make it harder and you do it again.
Somehow these gameplay changes, and the lack of a fluid story, have mixed together to increase a feeling of exhaustion in the game itself. I can just put it down, come back in four months, and play the new content, then head out again. That’s not a bad thing, but that’s not making it easy to stick around.
The Time Issue
What’s worse, however, is that in years past, I didn’t mind the gap between content as it made room for pet collecting, farming old content, getting some gold for my characters, hunting achievements, or literally any of the other options that abound in the game, but that is where the danger lies for all of us.
The game is fourteen years old.
We’re past casual pet collecting. It doesn’t really matter how much they do to improve the system or spice it up for me, the core of it (collecting battle pets) remains unchanged. As a result, each time I come back to it, the system feels more familiar… more repetitive and less new. No matter how hard we try, time presses on.
So is WoW Dead?
No. Well, I doubt it. I suspect the narrative, which hinges heavily upon the story of a growing war that (four months in) hasn’t really started yet, will eventually move forward, hopefully come to a head, and the next expansion can pick a topic that is more of a slow burn aftermath kind of deal rather than a “quick quick hurry slow down!” deal.
I do think, however, that as my generation faces the notion of playing the same games, watching the same shows, and going to the same movies for nearly two decades, we are going to have to start rethinking some things. We’re ready for some new experiences and we sometimes confuse that desire as being upset that the things we once enjoyed aren’t as enjoyable any more. We want to blame someone else, but in reality, it might be us.
Food for thought… at least.
Now, if you don’t mind, I’m going to go back to reading about the Patrick Stewart Star Trek revival while playing Spyro remastered, drinking some Surge, and considering if I should watch the new Tomb Raider movie.