In defense of new players

I was going to let this WoW discussion go but then Spinks described my humor post as “whining” and got me all riled up again. 🙂 Apparently the first commandment of MMO blogging is “Thou Shalt Not Question Anything Blizzard Does.”

I do admit that one of my problems is mixing twitter and blogs, though. I’ll be having a conversation on Twitter and it’ll inspire a blog post and without the context of twitter the blog post can seem a little unbalanced. For instance on Twitter I’ve been urging people to try out the new WoW starter areas for the lore and storylines. I don’t think I’ve said here on the blog that you should do that: so now I have. The actual gameplay is very bland and unchallenging but in between the gameplay there’s a lot of narrative and spectacle that can be very enjoyable. You can easily burn through this on a 10-Day Free pass or a Scroll of Resurrection and I do believe it is worth seeing.

But let me roll up my sleeves and get back to pissing off the WoW Devoted out there.

A lot of the pushback on my concerns about the new low-level experience is that it wasn’t made for me, it was made for new players coming into the game.

Well I have a lot to say about that.

First of all, I just mentioned the lore and the narrative. Well guess what? Those will mean *nothing* to someone brand new to WoW. The reason I enjoy them is that I have a vague sense of what has been going on in the world of Warcraft. So when I hear about the return of Malfurion Stormblade or whoever, even though I can’t remember the name enough to spell it right, he’s at least familiar to me. When the story goes on about the Night Elves losing their immortality…that means something to me from playing the ‘old’ WoW. A brand new player is going to be totally lost. A hardcore WoW player (which I am not) who is very familiar with the lore will revel in this content.

So my conclusion is that this new low-level experience is intended, at least in one aspect, to give the veterans something new.

Second issue is that Blizzard needed to make things easier for new players because the old system was too hard. The astonishing arrogance of this statement boggles me. Essentially the WoW vets are saying “Well of course WE were smart and clever enough to learn it, but those people out there who don’t yet play WoW are much too moronic to figure out such a complex game without extensive hand-holding.”

This is bullshit. Someone mentioned that 70% of people who try WoW never get to level 10, the implication being that this new, easier newbie experience will reduce that statistic. Well guess what? 70% of the people who try Farmville never get to level 10 either (I made that stat up but I feel confident the percentage is pretty high). If Zynga made Farmville easier (somehow?) would that stat go down? I doubt it. It isn’t that Farmville is too hard, that’s for sure. And y’know what? Low level WoW isn’t that hard either. It never has been.

Maybe 70% of the people who try the game just get bored? Or don’t see the appeal? Or maybe it isn’t exciting enough.

I’m thinking of the much maligned ‘casual’ player coming to WoW from Diner Dash where she (I dunno why the casual gamer is always assumed to be a woman but I’m going with it for now) has had a constant progression of challenge as she advanced through levels. Her brain is in overdrive as she constantly scans the game board and the mouse dances under her fingers as she guides Flo back and forth at breakneck pace to keep the customers happy.

Now someone convinces her to log into $15/month WoW where she finds she is mostly a passive observer. It’s pretty and kind of interesting but she doesn’t really DO very much. Combat is slow paced and no matter how nimble her mind and fingers are, she can’t speed it up.

Now, you and I know that things will get very very different later on in her WoW career, but she doesn’t know that. As far as she is concerned, after playing for 4-5 hours, WoW is kind of an interactive storybook. That she has to pay $15/month to play. So she goes back to her more exciting casual games.

In a recent post Spinks said “Maybe you have even forgotten what it was like to panic every time a mob attacked you, freak out any time you thought you might be lost, and not really understand how the genre works yet.

She may as well have said “Maybe you have even forgotten what it was like to have fun playing an MMO.” Panic from being attacked, freaking out at getting lost? Not understanding every number and nuance of the world? Hell yes, sign me the heck up, PLEASE! That sounds wonderfully fun to me. Robbing new players of that fun seems downright criminal.

Anyway… I think I’ve vented my spleen on this now. I’m not quitting my return to WoW over the new player experience or anything and I still have Cataclysm pre-ordered (Collector’s Edition, even). But, as with so many other games, when I see what I perceive as a design flaw, I’m going to talk about it. WoW doesn’t get a Free Pass just because Blizzard made it.

I love the spectacle of the new player experience. I just think that, if anything, Blizzard will lose MORE new players with this new system since they hold the player’s hand too firmly and for too long. Most players (I think anyway) want some excitement in their games. They want to feel a sense of risk/reward. Take away the risk and it just feels boring. Remember as far as these new players know, this is the entire WoW experience.

Currently my new Druid is level 18 or 19 and still spamming 2-3 skills over and over again. Even when I deliberately ‘broke’ a quest (I left an instanced area prematurely) and got jumped by 4 mobs I wasn’t in any real danger, though I did have to self-heal. By doing just the quests you’re hand fed, you’re constantly 4 levels above the trash mobs and 2 above the named mobs. I don’t think at this point a new player would be learning very much. I *am* very interested to see how the game transitions from this hand-holding phase to “OK now you can go and make your own choices.” I hope they do it well.

Sure, give new players 2-3 hours of hand holding to get them started, but by the time the player has put in 5 hours (for normal people this is 2-3 evenings of play) they should start getting a sense of what the real gameplay is all about. At least, I think so.

When WoW subs shoot up to 22 million you can all say you told me so. 🙂

23 thoughts on “In defense of new players

  1. I wholeheartedly agree with:

    “A lot of the pushback on my concerns about the new low-level experience is that it wasn�t made for me, it was made for new players coming into the game.

    Well I have a lot to say about that.

    First of all, I just mentioned the lore and the narrative. Well guess what? Those will mean *nothing* to someone brand new to WoW.”

    I think the new player experience was designed for both new and old.

    There is a LOT of marketing team influence here. I’m going to bet that Blizzard’s marketing team saw that they may be hitting their market penetration cap, so to maintain profitability they need to focus on retaining current players and find ways to get previous subscribers to come back for more than a month or two. How better to do that than to change up the entire game, the world the old players loved so much?

    To the point of the new player, in a sense this new experience is also targeted toward them. The whole new game is very story-oriented. Every dungeon (that I’ve played so far, at least) has had story elements forced in to it, quests are story driven, NPC scenes are heppening everywhere. Those things are likely to be appealing to people who play games for interesting stories.

    And with a whole new focus on Story… wait, isn’t there “some other game” that is focusing on Story coming out soon that some think will threaten WoW’s leadership in the MMO sphere… hmmm…

    I get your perspective. I don’t agree. I’m enjoying the re-tooled experience, with the exception of the talent trees being locked. I love the new stories, and if I want difficulty I queue for PvP or Dungeons. I don’t think you are wrong in your assessments, but I do think that this change will likely do more good in the end than bad.

  2. Much of the “new player” experience I chalk up to Raph Koster’s idea that it’s the learning that is fun. You enter your first MMO and you don’t really know what to expect aside from other players and fighting monsters. I started SWG and ended up buying the strategy guide (whatever it was called) that explained all the intricacies of the attributes and skills systems. When I started Guild Wars it was a similar learning experience because GW is nothing like SWG. Same when I started WoW and the endless parade of Diku-influenced games (not a Diku rant, I promise!) because neither SWG or GW were the least bit Diku so that was “new” although being an AD&D (and many other tabletop RPG) veteran I found it much… simpler so I felt the learning aspect was over sooner than I would have liked. Even among the various Diku games, there are only very small variations in the mechanics. This would also be true if there were bunches of “clones” of other RPG sub-systems like “EVE clones” or “SWG clones” (in terms of how the mechanics work, not gameplay). It’s also one of the reasons I’m having so much fun in STO lately because it’s something completely new and different, and I’m climbing a (seemingly) steep learning curve, hence all my questions over Twitter last week. The climb can be frustrating for sure, but I’m thinking Raph was onto something with his theory. I notice once I feel I’ve “arrived” and I know what there is to know then my “fun level” drops and I move onto other games.

    As for the hand-holding… that’s touchy. I do believe it needs to be there, but the execution needs to be very careful. It’s been a long time now but I don’t remember having any specific issues with vanilla WoW’s hand-holding the first few levels. EQ2 on the other hand offends nearly every “gamer sense” I have with UI frames popping up constantly and the “silver thread” so-to-speak shooting out of my character to the NPC the quest wants me to visit. On the other hand, I’m fine with say GW putting a big flashy dot on the map where my destination is or Fable 3 having a short glowy path pointing in the direction I need to go. Maybe it’s just the fact EQ2 is touching my character with that pointer? I haven’t given it much thought other than I intensely disliked it.

    In general, something needs to be done about the “quest text” UI frames. Hardly anyone reads them, and those who do (I used to, once upon a time) are quickly trained by the game that it doesn’t matter anyway, just click OK and go kill stuff. The “problem” for actual new players is that “tutorial” text is also placed in a UI frame that looks just like that and often pop up at inopportune times so we’ll cancel it just to get it out of our face for that moment. Things that could be important would be “how to equip gear” then “this is what you want to be looking for in gear” and “every X levels you get a new skill, here’s how to equip it or put points into it” and so forth. After that, a lot of it simply becomes a matter of the player exercising some creativity as to when certain skills could or should be used, or finding uses for skills that perhaps weren’t obvious. But that needs to be something left for the player to do himself, I’d say.

    The other important thing would be for rolling alts, the option to skip the tutorial bits altogether rather than forcing me, for example in LOTRO, to simply remember to open the options and disable the tutorial hints for each new character. When I make the character either before or after loading into the world, ask me if I want to skip the tutorial and if necessary just add the items, XP, whatever I would have gotten directly into my character automatically and just let me do what I want to do.

  3. “I�m going to bet that Blizzard�s marketing team saw that they may be hitting their market penetration cap, so to maintain profitability they need to focus on retaining current players and find ways to get previous subscribers to come back for more than a month or two. How better to do that than to change up the entire game, the world the old players loved so much?”

    Yup, yup. I mean, it got me back. I bought WOTLK at the end of summer and put in about 5 hours before I left again. I’m already past that with Cataclysm.

    I’m a big fan of the story stuff! I just wish that the fighting I did in-between the story stuff was a little more challenging, and that I’d have a choice of several stories to work through at any given time.

    I don’t do PvP and I don’t generally have the time to devote to a Dungeon. But granted, that’s just me. I’m a casual player.

  4. @Scott – “The �problem� for actual new players is that �tutorial� text is also placed in a UI frame that looks just like that and often pop up at inopportune times so we�ll cancel it just to get it out of our face for that moment.”

    Yeah, this is a big problem and a fine line to tread. Giving the player the information they need without giving them so many pop-ups that they start closing windows in frustration.

    I too love that LOTRO lets you skip the tutorials. Doesn’t AoC let you now start at level 20 once you’ve done Tortage once, or did I just dream that? These kinds of tools, to me, make a ton of sense. Having people go through the newbie experience once (or more if they choose) but after that let THEM decide what’s fun.

  5. Yeah, I’ve heard the “hand-holding” thing a few times so far. It’s funny to me, because Blizzard got accused of this back in 2004 too — that the game was far too easy in the beginning, the exclamation marks over the quest-givers’ heads were insulting to our intelligence, and you could kill things in less than five minutes.

    What I’m wondering is that if Blizzard spent so much time redoing the 1-60 experience, then why are they still trying to rush people through it? They’ve already sped up the leveling curve and didn’t scale that back for the expansion, and the game is all but pushing them to power on through.

  6. “that the game was far too easy in the beginning, the exclamation marks over the quest-givers� heads were insulting to our intelligence, and you could kill things in less than five minutes.”

    Ha! Yup, you’re absolutely right! I do remember that.. how WoW was ‘dumbing down’ the MMO genre.

    See, maybe the reason I’m on the fringe with this one is that I LIKE leveling characters. So the fact that the track is so narrow and going by so quickly, with nothing making me thing “On my next character I’m going to ….” I feel a little bit cheated.

  7. I do think there are design issues with the way the new stuff is laid out, how it’s paced, and so on. It’s on the fast side for me, but that might not be the case for someone who just plays an hour at a time. In particular I don’t think the low level instances are hard enough (or maybe protadins in heirlooms are just overpowered) and the game doesn’t do enough to direct new players to battlegrounds and instances, as a source of more tricky content.

    I got the impression that you were disappointed, you were hoping Blizzard would direct the content at ex-players who wanted to come back to more of a challenge and they’re not at this level. But there’s a lot of interesting stuff going on with the quest mechanics, they’ve solved the issue of people hating escort quests by making the escort NPCs really useful, there are even red !s for mobs which drop something that starts a quest, and more going on in the world around the new player. And as for the lore — in the two zones I’ve looked at (forsaken and night elf) there is information in the quests or cut scenes about that faction’s history to help new players get some bearing.

    I also have actually played with people who were such nervous gamers that they really did freak out if they had too many buttons to press or were facing in the wrong direction when a mob attacked. People like that need the most gradual level curve you can possibly imagine. I’m sad that parts of the game really aren’t aimed at me (ofc I liked it better when everything just about was) but you aren’t the casual gamer who only plays Diner Dash (or something slower) any more than I am and only time will tell if Blizzard’s aim is true.

    My main thought is … well if this game isn’t really aimed at me, what is? (But then I am very much expecting that the high level new stuff in Cata will push that thought back abit.)

  8. Hmm interesting take on things.

    I am what you would call a WoW veteran and I am full of praise for the new starting experience, sure its not as challenging as I would like but I appreciate that its been crafted with a wide audience in mind and I take from it what I can (In my case the interesting lore changes/additions). I actually had two people in the forsaken zone moaning about mob difficulty and when I inspected them they had full heirloom pieces, the mobs are not tuned to twinks they are tuned for noobs who are a couple of levels below or level appropriate in some cases.

    I would say WoW is as easy or difficult as you make it, there is hand holding there if you want it and sometimes you do want to finish quest lines but I dont buy this ‘always 4 levels above trash mobs’ or moaning about been spoon fed. Break away from the path and find a new more challenging zone, because there is a big red arrow doesnt mean you have to go there. Go out and find something which can take you on and make you use your abilities to their full potential.

    Lastly I’ve noticed that your last few WoW posts have been fairly critical which I respect however with this in mind are you still going to play Cataclysm at launch? Im not saying you shouldnt but from the last few articles I can’t help but think you will hate it and therefore waste your time and money. From what I’ve played of the beta the difficulty doesn’t really kick in till 80+ due to dungeon runs consisting of BoA twinks.

  9. Great post! Personally, I don’t feel like the new questing areas are any easier than they were before the Shattering, but they *have* removed a great deal of the tedium, imho.

    I remember starting new characters in DAOC, and it took me a full 2 hours to reach level 4 — and that was knowing exactly where to go and what to fight in my area. In 2004, in Vanilla WoW, you reached level 6 in just under 30 minutes. And 2010, in the Shattering, it’s still just about the same, maybe a tad less. The point I’m trying to make is that this doesn’t seem that different than the original WoW, in terms of difficulty — especially with respect to combat at the new levels. I never felt really any closer to death killing defias outside Northshire Abbey than I do fighting naga in Darkshore now.

    It’s an extremely difficult line to trace — that of ease of entry versus challenge. For me, the difficulty of combat, and the actual gameplay that you participate in when questing in WoW feels pretty much teh same as it always has. And I liked that before, so I like it now. But now instead of cherry-picking 42 quests from a single hub without a bit of context, the quests are doled out in a progressive manner, a few at a time — which I love, because I spend more time thinking about each quest. They’ve added some variety with the vehicles and turrets and such, and of course the subtle use of phasing makes you feel like you’re progressing a bit more (Astranaar is no longer burning for me).

    So for me at least, with the difficulty of combat and challenge of gameplay feeling about the same as it was, but the context in which that gameplay occurs being greatly improved — hehe well color me happy. 🙂


  10. I wonder how much of this is Blizzard, and how much is player-driven? A LOT of the changes I’ve seen over the past several patches seem to be driven as much by player-mods as by Blizzard developers themselves. Many add-ons have gone away because of Blizzard incorporating that same functionality into the game. So I see it as “forced add-on usage” more than a desire for marketing to acquire new players. Just because we are smart people that can figure out the game doesn’t mean there isn’t a market for a dumbed-down experience, otherwise people would create add-on content. Or maybe not “dumbed down” but rather more akin to laziness. I’m a lazy healer and don’t want to run my thousandth dungeon run for justice points to buy my UberStaffofKilling, so I’ll use an add-on that does all the thinking for me instead. The more Blizzard incorporates those into the game, the fewer places for the Gold Farmers and Hackers to get their grips on player account information. The disadvantage is people like me that hate add-ons are now basically forced into using them. I can’t avoid or turn off the “dumb down” experience (in most cases, there are a few new features you can turn off).

    My two cents. 🙂

  11. Interesting points Gwyn.

    I sometimes wonder how WoW would be if it wasnt the most dissected MMO in the world. I mean it really has been cut open and practically every detail exposed. Hell videos and tactics of boss fights from Cataclysm are already out there.

    You need to play a certain class? We have a mod for it! You need to know the boss fight? We have a mod for it! Need to know when something procs? Ah WoW has that now 😉 Add to this sites like Elitist Jerks, You tube etc and everything is out in the open with cookie cutter specs, taped raid tactics.

    All in all it comes down to human nature on making the path as easy as you can, you can fight against it but yet you do feel at a disadvantage. Without some of the tools above and without researching mechanics of mobs/bosses Im sure WoW would be more challenging……

  12. I’ve noticed that the leveling seems to be going by fairly quickly. However, I don’t think that the leveling itself is going that much faster than it used to, as much as the new story and the new quests are making it SEEM like it’s going by faster.

    Back in the day, when every quest was “go kill 10 kobolds” or “go collect 10 boar gizzards, 5 bear lungs, and 5 eagle beaks”… leveling was tedious. Only 1 in 4 boars would drop a gizzard, which meant you were spending 4 times as much time grinding out those boars to finish the quest. Plus you had FedEx quests that would take you from Westfall to Stormwind to Darnassus and back… again, it was a timesink, and it took longer to level.

    These days, every boar drops a gizzard, the FedEx quests have been removed completely, and the quests themselves are so much more interesting and fun that I’m not constantly checking my xp bar to see how long it is until the next level. I’ll just be playing, having a blast, and suddenly realize that I’m 4 levels higher and need to go train.

    Also, the dungeon XP was too high and they are in the process of fixing that (if they haven’t already), because they realized that right now if you’re questing + instancing, you’re likely going to outlevel the zones way too quickly.

    As for the handholding… WoW was due for a “new player experience” revamp. I think they’re counting on folks getting friends/family to play, particularly the social gamers coming from Facebook (just look at the cross-Facebook marketing with the Darkmoon Faire website). Those folks will likely need those extra tooltips and handholding, at least starting out.

  13. Blizzard seems to have agreed with critics that starting areas are too easy. There’s a named mob in each starting zone (1-5) that can come close to killing you if you are unable to heal yourself. This is not a bad thing. Players should feel they can die, and they should also be given time (levels) to learn how to use new abilities.

  14. I believe Blizzard will not be able to evaluate the success or failure of the revamped Azeroth until months from now.

    Oh it’s new, it’s shiny, it’s great!!

    Just like almost everyone praised the LFG tool at its inception…

    I am an altholic and my answer to revamped Azeroth is at best meh. Trivial quests are even more trivial but this is (currently) somewhat mitigated by the new scenery. There is no possible immersion for me in a risk-free environment.

    I will continue to level an alt or two 2- and 3-manning level appropriate dungeons, and investogate other unusual playing style and see how fun they are to me.

    I can always quit with no regrets if I ever determine WoW is no longer the game for me.

  15. Sorry I ran out on the conversation. I was recoding an plugin for a site and had to focus. That happens so rarely at my job these days. 🙂

    I think I do need to do a post about what I like about the new experience, though I fear it’ll be ‘more of the same’ to anyone who reads other MMO blogs. But clearly I’m projecting the image of something who is miserable playing, and that’s not even remotely the case. I just think they took the streamlining and difficulty reduction too far, but that doesn’t mean I’m ready to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

  16. I have yet to experience the NLE, having only had time to look around the new landscape on one of my maxlevel toons. I can sympathize with you, Pete. I remember the excitement of discovering MMO worlds in general and cutting my teeth in Coldridge Valley. I was addicted to “the Glow.” Four levels in thirty minutes was great, it kept me playing long enough to get hooked on the game. I liked the fact that I had new abilities to learn within a quick game session. My character trained as I learned the gameplay. And the stories–some cheesy, some epic–all great to read. Of course, I am the guy in the museum reading all the plaques on the displays. Without the story behind why I needed those gizzards, it was frankly a pretty repetitious, tedious game.

    Yet I continue to play, because of the story, because of the beauty of the world, and the fun of the gameplay. But especially because of the friends I have have made online. I still get in over my head on occasion, but far less than those early days when Hogger was too much for me.

    I miss that excitement. I haven’t really experienced in any game since. STO, LOTRO, and AoC; they’re all ok, I reall ylike STO. But none of those worlds have the charm of Azeroth.

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