Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Horizontal expansions

I found a pair of Blizzard CM responses from the forums a few days ago entertaining. In response to the question of whether or not faster mounts on are the horizon, Nethaera wrote:

“We’re not planning to increase the speed on mounts at this point in time.”

I don’t find this particularly surprising considering my epic flyer already goes so fast that I often fly past objects, players and NPCs because they haven’t loaded into memory by the time I reach them. If I moved any faster, I would never see anything. This is really a technical limitation since the server can only provide so-much information about your surroundings in a timely fashion.

In response to post titled “Is legendary a joke?,” Bornakk wrote:

“No item is meant to last forever - everything has its limits. This makes getting a Legendary item in its prime all the cooler for those people that do, plus you can pull it out in town and players will gawk at you even if it’s an old one.”

There are just so many things wrong with this comment it’s a bit nauseating. Blizzard’s answer to mudflation is basically that you can pull it out in town and let players gawk at it. I don’t know if I have ever seen a better example of Blizzard’s callous attitude towards invalidating game content that subscribers have spent considerable effort to achieve. Note to Blizzard: If you ever wondered why players accuse you of not caring about them, it’s because of comments like this one.

On a broader note, I found both of these things interesting because they strike a common theme regarding expansions that more of the same is not necessarily better. A few months ago, Tobold discussed the sustainability of this model by making the tongue and cheek remark that ‘in 2024, the 10th expansion for World of Warcraft is released and raises the level cap from 150 to 160.’ As absurd as the idea of level 160 sounds, this is pretty much the model that Blizzard has followed through two expansions.

The issue is with thinking that progress needs to be measured vertically by adding more of the same STUFF to the existing STUFF. While this expands your game in the direction people are used to playing, it doesn’t provide a much different experience than what the player has already done. By contrast, a horizontal change that adds new content in a different direction provides more variety to a game and avoids these types of pitfalls.

So what’s an example of a horizontal change? Well, take the mount problem that Nethaera addressed. In that case, they can’t simply make the mounts faster because it would break the game. It’s a technical limitation, so they were forced to think more horizontal about other changes they could make to mounts that would make the experience richer and deeper. In turn, they opted to provide things like mounted combat and the ability to carry a passenger on your mount. These are exciting changes and much better improvements than simply increasing mount speed.

A big part of my criticism for WoW lately has been that they don’t take a similar approach to other aspects of the game. The goal in expansion design doesn’t always need to be about vertical advancement. Sometimes, it should simply be about making a richer, deeper experience for your players. Variety is the spice of life and providing more of the same just means that players (like myself) are just going to get bored with it that much quicker.

Based on the blog entries and forum posts I have read, I suspect that most people are looking forward to Death Knights, Inscriptions and new Class Abilities. All of which are horizontal changes that potentially offer something vastly different than what is included in the existing game. It's a real shame that we are not seeing more of that horizontal type of content since that is clearly what players are most interested in seeing added to the game.

Update: I just recalled that I wrote an ‘Expanding the expansions...’ entry back in June where I wrote about some of my ideas for horizontal changes to WoW.

1 comment:

Sara Pickell said...

Well said all around. The vertical expansion is a great example of SSDD and while that can be good, it usually isn't.

Of course, WoW has kind of shot themselves in the foot by making the time spent on each level too small to appreciate a significant amount of content for that level. This has kind of trained the players into the vertical gaming mindset.