I have played World of Warcraft since it launched in 2004. I have had some great times over the years, but Blizzard Entertainment’s clear change in corporate strategy over the previous expansion, has raised serious doubts in my mind, regarding how much they care about their players vs their players wallets.
My concerns were roused back at the marketing launch for the new Battle for Azeroth expansion pre-purchase and the pre-purchase “bonus” allied races. Pre-purchase bonuses have become a staple leading up to the launch of a new expansion with the last granting early access to the Demon Hunter Class, prior to the launch of Legion back in 2016. Again, Blizzard chose to give early access, this time to four new races, Nightbourne, Void Elf, Highmountain Tauren, and Lightforged Dreanei. What wasn’t mentioned, at all, at launch and is now hinted at in small print, following an outcry from many players, is that purchasing the expansion, on its own, does not unlock these races. You also need to gain exalted reputation with one of four factions to unlock each race. Most of which, will need to be raised by grinding daily quests. These are time gated content, only spawning at a fixed rate, and will take at least 1-2 weeks per race.
This would take a new player between 4 to 8 weeks to complete which is at least one to two months of subscription which is an extra cost of between £9.99 and £19.98 on top of the cost of the pre-order which is £39.99, and that is assuming that you are able to play every day. I, myself, having to juggle a fulltime job and family commitments, have been trying to unlock these races for over three months, and I still haven’t managed to unlock even one. Although, I am now close to unlocking both the alliance races, but not close, at all, to the Horde ones.
This has so far cost me three months of extra subscription time at £29.97 which is getting close to the cost of the next expansion, which I decided not to buy until I had at least one of the reputations at exalted. This turned out to be a good call, as Battle for Azeroth is launching next week and thanks to the time gating, and my bad luck at not being available to play when the necessary quests are up, I still haven’t reached the position where even one of these races can be unlocked. Blizzard have officially confirmed that there will be no change to the unlock requirements after the new expansion has launched. So, if you think that you’ll get the races easier once the pre-order is over then think again. You will still have to buy the expansion, along with enough game time to unlock these races. This is evidenced by the fact that flying in Draenor is still gated behind a similar unlock requirement, four years after release. For the record, I don’t mind the gated flying achievement, as me and my alts are quite happy to walk and enjoy the scenery and flying was not advertised as a pre-order “bonus”.
If you think that the money grabbing stops at 1-2 extra months for unlocking the allied races, then let’s look at patch 7.3.5, which was released back in January 2018 which added scaling to the old content, making mobs and quests scale to the players level, through Vanilla to Warlords of Draenor. As well as the scaling, this patch significantly reduced the player’s power versus the enemy and increased the XP needed to progress through all that old content, that’s six expansions and 100 levels by the way. Prior to 7.3.5 it was possible to level through this content 1-100 in around 20 hours of playtime. Let’s assume that we have an average casual player with a full time job and a family who can play an average of 2 hours a day that’s ten real life days to level a character from 1 -100 and reach the later expansions. After patch 7.3.5 it has been reported that this has doubled or even tripled to between 50 – 70 hours of playtime which for the average player equates to an extra 15 to 25 real life days which means, again, added subscription time around half a month per alternate character levelled.
But, I hear you, that’s old content, right? The new expansion comes with a free level 110 boost, so new players and those who want another alt for BFA can just use that, right? Wrong. You see it all comes back to those allied races released as the pre-order “bonus”. Once unlocked those characters start at level 20, which is back in the vanilla zones. To use an allied race in the new content, when it’s released, you will have to level them up to 110. Wait! I’m clever! I’ll use the free boost on one allied race to skip the content and not pay the extra subscription needed to level it? Uh, nope. I’m afraid Blizzard thought of that one. The allied races each come with heritage armour that can only be earned by levelling manually. Boosts won’t unlock it, and race changes won’t unlock it.
If you want your pre-order bonus in full, you have to level all four races from level 20. So, let’s add that up, that’s four times half a month’s subscription to level all the races (two months) plus the one/two months it took you to unlock the races in the first place, which adds up to between three and four months of real life play time, which equates to between £29.97 and £39.96 in extra subscription. Let’s also not forget that Blizzard have at least four more of these allied races planned which will also need to be unlocked and levelled, costing a player, potentially, the same again.
Now, I’m not oblivious to the attempts online games are making, these days, to keep players playing. I can see that Blizzard are doing the same. However, a lot of the tricks they are using, like time gating, originated in free to play games, where you can pay to avoid the time gate. In this game, players are already paying to play the game, both through the cost of each expansion and the monthly subscription, and the content these “bonus” races are locked to is not new content. It’s repeated content, either as dailies or replaying the previous expansions. Next thing you know, Blizzard will be adding a token that you can purchase to skip the levelling content, and go full free to play, except being gated by purchased content and a monthly subscription, of course. Oh wait… would that be the level 110 boosts in their store, selling at £49 each?
Look, the boosts have been in the store for years now. I haven’t minded them, to date, because levelling characters the old-fashioned way was still a viable, and a not unenjoyable, option. I’ve now levelled over ten characters 1- 85 and seven 1- 110, and the content, particularly up to Mists of Pandaria, is just not enjoyable to me anymore. I have done it to death and from the forums I can see that many other veteran players feel the same. These are loyal players that have stuck with the game, in many cases for a decade or more, being used as cash cows. At least, that’s what I feel like right now, as Blizzard Entertainment’s corporate strategy has clearly changed to: drain as much money out of their players as possible while spending as little in development costs as possible. This is just not acceptable to me.
It has been confirmed by the game director in an interview with PC Gamer found here, that levelling after the bugs of the 8.0 pre-patch is functioning as “intended”, which is an open admission to the cash grab tactics listed above. I can’t in good conscience continue to support a franchise which is now gearing itself to emptying players pockets while giving as little as possible in return. In a world where the average gamer is getting older, and now has a fulltime job and a family, increasing the grind needed to access current content, goes against the trend needed, when the average player has less and less time to devote to gaming. Perhaps, the focus should be on providing less time consuming but better quality content that players can enjoy at their own pace, around their day to day lives, rather than a pace dictated by the developer.
There are many solutions that Blizzard could implement to fix the levelling issues introduced in patch 7.3.5, some of which I have suggested below:
- A Quick fix would be to buff the XP bonus granted by heirlooms which was reduced to 50% back in 3.7.5 at the same time the amount of XP needed to level was also raised which resulted in a double whammy of levelling speed nerfs for veteran players. The simple solution is to buff the XP back up to at least 200% or give the player a choice as to how much XP boost they get with a slider option.
- Another quick fix would be to give an optional XP boost, activated and deactivated in the options menu, to players based on the number of max level characters they have. So those who have completed the content numerous times can progress faster to the endgame content.
- A longer fix would be to perform a level squish and reduce the max level from 120, as it now is in Battle for Azeroth to a max of 100 and make all previous expansions available at level 60 and the current one only at 90. This way players can pick and choose expansions to level in and avoid the older expansions where desired. Many complaints are regarding the level 60 -80 brackets currently tied to the oldest expansions of The Burning Crusade and Wrath of the Lich King, which are really showing their age when compared with the current content of Legion and Battle for Azeroth.
- Another longer fix would be to revamp the older two expansions TBC and WotLK giving them a graphics lift and smoothing out the levelling experience as many complain of long distances between quests, uneven XP gains and low quest item drops which all makes levelling through these expansions a hellish experience.
If nothing else then, for the love of Elune, Blizzard, just make the first two expansions, TBC and WotLK skippable. Nearly all the complaints on the main forum and Reddit are relating to those expansions. Time has moved on, yet the levelling experience of those zones are stuck in 2007 and 2008 respectively.
It saddens me to see this recent change in direction from Blizzard, from caring about the game experience to only caring about the revenue it generates. I have been a devoted World of Warcraft player for over a decade with my subscription never having been cancelled. However, I will not be playing the next expansion and if this trend continues for the next few months, my subscription and my World of Warcraft journey will end here.