WoWJan 13, 2017 3:00 pm CT

You are not the world – Game design and player experience

“I can easily do X without more than a few hours a week time investment.”

Any time someone uses a personal example and applies it to an entire game mechanism, they are taking personal experience and applying it universally. This is faulty for several reasons. Games like World of Warcraft have a wide and varied player base and it is almost impossible that every single player will ever be 100% happy with any game system or mechanic, even if you yourself are.

Legion is an example of this. Many players consider this to be one of the best expansions (if not the best) in World of Warcraft’s long history. Yet there are individuals who have problems with various systems and how they interact. You may disagree with them, and even have personal examples on why they’re wrong. But here’s the rub — neither of you may be wrong. Whether we’re talking about Artifact Knowledge and Artifact Power acquisition, Mythic dungeons and profession gating, staggered raid releases, Class Order Halls and the campaigns, missions or some other mechanic of this expansion, four different players can have six varied opinions on each of them and all be right from their perspective.

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The old names no longer bind us

One of the difficulties in discussing these issues in Legion is that we still use terms that are no longer actually very relevant or descriptive. The terms ‘hardcore’ and ‘casual’ have been melting for years, and now they’re amorphous blobs with very little to recommend their use. Does someone who managed to get 10 alts to level 110 and is now getting them all through their Order Hall campaigns, unlocking hidden artifact appearances via pugging Mythics and Raids when he or she can  a casual? Does someone who raids Mythic Trial of Valor and Emerald Nightmare but only plays six to eight hours a week really count as hardcore compared to that previous player?  And these are just two examples of different ways the game can be played. One player may be maxing out gold acquisition, putting as much effort into professions and capping on gold as possible, while another just logs on, runs some World Quests, and then switches to the next character. Neither raids. Neither runs dungeons much except when it’s strictly necessary to their stated goals. Yet both play for four hours a day or more. Are either of them casual? Or hardcore?

So we have that false division. Instead of two camps, the player base is now divided into all sorts of varied experiences and play styles. When one player sees a forum post (as an example) claiming that the poster feels constrained to grind as much Artifact Power as he or she can because of the incremental benefit it would grant his raid, it’s understandable that the experience may not be universal. I have friends I used to raid with on progression who love the way Artifact Knowledge and AP work. I have friends who have never raided progression who love it. I have friends who are pushing realm firsts and hate Artifact Power and how much more time they feel forced to put in just to keep up, and others who are too busy running every Mythic dungeon they can get to even think about raiding and are swimming in AP. There is no one true way to answer any question about the AP system. Its granularity is extremely diverse, it can be played via constant World Questing, dungeon running, and the mission table. No two players are going to have the exact same experience with it.

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How we play

Likewise, some players have absolutely no difficulty with profession gating this expansion. I know players who simply hopped into group finder or did Mythics with their guilds or friends list and knocked all of that out. Others are struggling. Still others looked at the profession system and didn’t feel like the rewards were worth the effort you had to put in to achieve them. Still others will likely start really working on professions when we’re in patch 7.3 or beyond it, depending on if there’s a content lull in Legion as there has been in other expansions.

None of these are the wrong way to play, but all of these approaches and others I haven’t mentioned have to be coexistent in the design of the profession system. It needs to support, to a greater or lesser extent, all of these potential choices. World of Warcraft in 2017 is a game that has to enshrine player diversity in its design because it can’t afford not to. There are players who play the game in hundreds of potential combinations (one could be a casual raider but an obsessive mount and pet collector who works on professions as a side activity but loves archaeology, or one could be a Mythic raider who barely even knows what battle pets are, has a few mounts, loves the profession system and never even touches archaeology, or…) and the game has to work for all of them.

But the secret is it can’t work for all of them all of the time. It can’t give everybody everything they want at all times. It has to manage your investment. Some things have to be hard to achieve for you, and the game has to manage how hard they are to achieve, to walk that line between this is so hard for me to do that I won’t even bother and this is achievable and sometimes it has to be okay for some things to be out of some players’ reach.

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Why your reach must exceed your grasp

This isn’t me telling you you’re wrong to think X system doesn’t work. Sometimes X system really doesn’t work. It doesn’t work because it doesn’t meet enough people’s needs, or it does such a good job meeting too many players’ expectations that alternatives are trivialized. The Garrison in Warlords essentially replaced so much gameplay that it was, effectively, too good and thus was broken. Things can break in a whole host and variety of ways in a game with this complex and shifting a player group, and thus what’s great for you might actually be terrible for you. Flying can make the game so much easier that you completely avoid all of the challenges on the ground you’re meant to face. World Quest gearing can be good enough that you never even try a dungeon. The problem may not be widespread enough to affect everyone, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t affect you.

Likewise, what affects you doesn’t necessarily affect others, or enough others, that it’s a bad design overall. Using myself as an example, I find myself unwilling to invest the effort into professions in Legion due to the Mythic gating. But others don’t mind at all. Not all systems can possibly please all players, so the question becomes, are professions failing too many of us, and are we presented with enough alternatives to compensate for it?

Personal experience is useful, but it can’t cover all the variables of a game like World of Warcraft, especially not as it enters its 13th year. Always keep that in mind.

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