Blame the Casuals

28 Sep

So I was listening to Total Biscuit’s Blue Plz podcast on the way home last night.  In episode 31 he spends a great deal of time verbally disemboweling one of the new Cataclysm Heroics (Vortex Pinnacle) for being “too easy” and “too boring”.  In fact, with paramount anguish he claims that VP is actually easier than Wrath of the Lich King Heroics and wonders how something so monumentally horrible could have happened.

Unlike many in the WoWosphere, the ‘Biscuit seems to really enjoy difficult content.  On his website he has a 40 minute run through of Grim Batol the new level 85 Cataclysm Heroic, where he enthusiastically praises the dungeon for wiping his party repeatedly.  The video shows most of the highlights of the instance (including the corpse runs) and is a condensed version of what was in reality a 90 minute run.

90 minutes.  When was the last time you spent that much time in a Wrath Heroic?

Have you *ever* spent that much time in a Wrath Heroic?

Didn’t think so.

Something that TB really latches onto in his podcast is how the legions of “entitled adult players” have been responsible for Blizzard’s consistent dumbing down of WoW content.  In fact, he expends a great deal of vitriol and directly blames these players who seem to believe that Blizzard owes them an easy walk through of gameplay that requires no effort, causes no wipes and for goodness sakes, never makes any one feel bad about themselves.

About halfway into one of his rants about how these entitled bastions of mediocrity have ruined the game a part of me wanted to get REALLY offended.  I’m not sure why.  Maybe deep down in my creamy filling I’m one of those entitled adult players that wants to enjoy the little bit of time I do have for the game and to not spend it beating my head against the walls of a heroic 5-man.  Or maybe I was offended because I thought Wrath of the Lich King – while not perfect – was indeed the most accessible WoW expansion ever and that the accessibility to raiding and epic level gear better than at any other time in game.

But then I kind of mentally pulled back from all of that.  Was all of that accessibility good?  Were face roll heroics good?  What has the past two years bought us in terms of a viable game and viable gaming community?

Not much I think.

It’s true that Blizzard has made end game much more accessible in Wrath and I think that the reasons behind this decision were generally good. After all – why develop all of that end game content when only a handful of the most elite players on each server are ever even going to see?  From a business standpoint alone, it’s pretty dumb.  Blizzard is a company, Blizzard likes money.  Ergo they are going to want some return on all of that art and development and code that they’ve piled into their end game experience.  They aren’t going to get that return if only 20% of each server’s population are going to be the focus of 80% of the development time.

Starting around the end of The Burning Crusade, Blizzard decided to begin nerfing the difficulty level of their raid content over time.  The theory was that if things suddenly got easier,  even pugs and casuals would be able to whine and bitch their way through until the end boss.

Whether this was a good idea or not really has to do with where you stand in game world.  Pugs and Casuals thought it was great – they could – for the first time – kill Illidan or the Lich King.  Elites – were of a different opinion.  After all, in today’s world of achievements and such, there is very little difference between a guild or a player that knocked the LK down before the Icecrown Zone Buff and those that bashed their head into a brick wall right up until the buff went to 30%.

From a fairness point of view, this doesn’t seem to wash for me.

Let’s be clear here too.  I consider myself a casual.  I have a fixed number of hours that I can play the game any given day and that time can be sorely compromised by the joys of life as a responsible, working adult.  Yet despite the rather pejorative connotations of the term “casual” I enjoy a challenge, I do raid, I do arena and I make a concerted effort to be better at the game.

Because I do these things, I have enjoyed much more of the game than the average “casual”.  It also allows me at least a glimpse of how the true raiding and pvp elite see the game and how, in their opinion, it’s starting to kind of suck.

And simply put, I don’t think we’re doing ourselves any favors by dumbing the content down.  Or by making it so accessible that we virtually remove the distinctions between the hardcore and the casual raider.

Do I think “true” casuals have a right to complain that they need more to do in a game that has historically been focused on team based raid play?  Absolutely.  But the answer to that is not (I think) that we need to make everything so utterly accessible and faceroll easy.

But that’s exactly what Blizzard did in WotLK.  In fact, they’ve wrapped the whole game around ensuring that more and more people have the ability to join the dungeon finder and to run anonymous pugs with others in order to face roll easy content and collect badges for tier level epic gear.

We have, for two years, trained a completely new player base on this kind of thinking and this kind of game play.  How are they going to react to a much harsher world in Cataclysm I wonder?

And will it really be harder?  Everything I’ve read on the official forums, on blogs, and heard in podcasts is that the new heroics are wrecking people.  Trash pulls are HARD again and you have to learn the mechanics for boss fights and be on your toes from the moment you pull to the moment the boss drops.  People are going to DIE.  People are going to get frustrated and they’re going to get mad at each other and a lot of them are going to wrap up their six-sided loot dice and QUIT.

And then what happens?  Blizzard seems to be trying to unmake the monster it has been building and feeding over the past couple of years, but when the bottom line drives business, you simply can’t afford to alienate millions of players can you?

But while you might not be able to fit that monster back in the box it came in, you might be able to teach it some new tricks.  In Cataclysm, group dynamics and group play are going to be important again.  These are things that the dungeon finder doesn’t really teach well.  But good guilds and thoughtful players are going to probably step away from LFD and start doing things together again.

Which is also good.

What way forward would you choose?  Was Wrath your first WoW experience?  How would you view a “harder” game?

For those of  you that have been around a while – what do you think?  Are you ready to have to really learn content again?  Are  you ready to find yourself wiping on trash?  Are you ready to spend hours trying to clear a 5-man instance and get nowhere?

I am.

** Author’s note: Something I want to add here as I think it’s pertinent to the topic – and I’ve received a couple of e-mails about in regards to this post:  The Lich King fight is a grind.  It’s hard.  I’ve seen good players stymied by it for longer than any of them expected to be.  But it can be beat.  I think it’s important to not downplay the effort that others have put forth to close the door on WotLK content.  That said, not everyone in this game is created equal.  Some are simply “better at the game”.  As players we should be able to celebrate those that took Arthas down without the buff while also honoring those that needed the full 30%.  Making everyone a generic “Kingslayer” wasn’t the way to do that in my opinion.

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15 Responses to “Blame the Casuals”

  1. Elionene September 28, 2010 at 18:46 #

    Hmmm…

    One thing I wonder about is what the actual numbers are. No one knows but Blizzard, but there was talk recently about how a very large percentage of people who play wow don’t even make it past level 30. How many of the 11 million people playing wow have made it to Northrend, have attempted Lich King heroics, and how many of those faceroll them versus trudging through them?

    I think of players like us as “skilled casual.” We play in limited amounts, but we strive to play our class to the best of our abilities. These kind of people should be able to go into an instance and have reasonable expectancy of being able to finish the instance. Heroic or not. There should always be a learning curve, and it’s okay if that’s got some curve to it rather than a flat line. I think the last three instances they added in Icecrown fit that bill rather well. If you random roll up Halls of Reflection, you’re not guaranteed of being able to finish it without wiping. Especially if you get people who have never run it, or who are idiots…

    What I hope not to see is where they dumb things down enough for the truly casual. The people who don’t know their class, wear the wrong armor, couldn’t tell you what hit is or who stack Resilience because it sounds cool. I don’t think Wrath did that, and from what I see coming in Cata, I don’t see it happening any time soon.

    I’m definitely looking forward to harder challenges, and I’ll expect to wipe on content as we learn it, but once the gear level gets up there, and we learn what we’re doing in each instance, we’ll be able to plow through them just as easily as we do all of Wrath. I think it’s important to remember that we weren’t roflstomping every instance on day one. But the gear was easy to get and once you had it, and once you knew the instance, things kind of evened out. I expect the same thing in Cata.

    So difficulty aside, what’s missing from Wrath and some of BC are the epic long instances… like BRD, Scholomance, etc. And while I understand the nostalgia for places like those… I can’t imagine putting aside the time to run those today. Raids are the new long 5- mans now since raids are more accessible, and I think that’s a good thing.

    Er, sorry this went on so long…

  2. Windpaw September 28, 2010 at 19:27 #

    @ Elionene – no it’s cool – long responses are good responses! I totally get what you’re saying though and your point about overall numbers is very, very apt. While we tend to listen to the drone and clamor of the forums and the discordant cries from players who feel wronged by today’s content – you have to wonder – how representative are they of the overall player base?

  3. Len September 28, 2010 at 20:14 #

    I remember not even doing one or two of the BC heroics as my gear just wasn’t good enough – as a small 10 man guild, pretty casual, we only just got into ZA really and unless we fielded our best geared 5 players, some of the heroics were just too difficult!

    These days the gear you can get through heroics themselves puts you far and away above the gear level you need to be to run them.

    I think there’s a balance to be had – you shouldn’t need raiding gear to run heroics relatively easily. And by that I don’t mean a 5 minute breeze through, I mean say, half an hour or so, having to use your skills properly and co-ordinate or risking a wipe.

    I can barely remember how things were at the beginning of Wrath now, but I’m sure heroics then weren’t THAT easy, gear has just got so inflated with this expansion (and Blizzard have designed very quick instances that you can skip through). Sure players are used to a 5 minute frost run now, but it won’t be the same in Cataclysm. As long as they aren’t initially SO difficult that it puts people off playing the game altogether, people will get used to it.

  4. Larísa September 29, 2010 at 08:05 #

    Oh, there’s nothing like a truly angry rant by TB! For my own part I avoid tossing around accusations like the “entitled casuals”. there are a lot of players who feel entitled to one thing or the other. If you think “casuals” are qq:ing, that’s definitely something you can as well say about some players who consider themselves “hardcore”. “Bohoo people aren’t admiring me as I’m posing outside the AH anymore!”. Yes, suck it up and get a life!

    About the dumbing down of the game: I agree that I think some of the content might have been a tad too easy in Wrath, even though I find it a little bit pathetic sometimes when people who haven’t finished the content themselves cry about this. Come back when you’ve done LK hc without the buff, mister and I’ll listen to you.
    Another observation is: is it really the game that has become easier? Only, I mean? I think we’ve become better at playing it as well. It would be a shame otherwise, if you’ve been doing this for years! And this is definitely a problem for Blizzard to handle, to balance the game so that it works and gives appropriate challenges both for beginners and for veterans.

  5. Rena September 29, 2010 at 11:06 #

    Rember spending 2 hrs to defeat HC The Tribunal of Ages.
    Occulus took 45 minutes, because of third boss.

    Now a average herioc take about 15-30 minutes.

  6. Briganteuk September 29, 2010 at 12:02 #

    I have been involved in WOW since practically day one and I think that up to the changes in badge loot gave ilevel items of 232 when collected, the balance of the raids and hc’s were pretty good. Now with anyone able to get 25 man Ulduar gear for running an heroic was just wrong.

    I worked my way thru Ulduar before most nerfs and it was a wipeathon, hard work but nothing was more satisfying than getting a boss down for the first time. I think this is why some ‘casual’ players and pugs still find Ulduar 25 man hard going.

    I found that most guilds going into ulduar 25man were undergeared in the beginning as you had to raid naxx 25 to get gear of a suitable level to attempt Uldy.

    A few things made me turn away from wow, one was the gearscore addon as I felt this gave mediocre players a false sense of self worth. I always feel skills above gear.

    The second one was as I mentioned above the rewarding of triumph badges for running hc’s. This single act made me feel like all the hard work I had put into doing ulduar 25 man had been wiped out in one sweep.

  7. SPCTRE September 29, 2010 at 12:19 #

    I for one am looking forward to content that is closer in difficulty to Vanilla and early TBC

    That might just be the reason I was looking for to permanently reactivate my WoW account – even though I have less time to play than ever before in my life.

    Great article by the way 😉

  8. aule10 September 29, 2010 at 12:24 #

    hi windpaw i just roed what you had to say abaut tb etc.

    in some terms i can agree they did thees to please casual. what i dont agree to is it was a good thing.
    im casuel player myself and to be honest when i play a game i want to play a game with a chalenge i loved tbc and i remember wipe on ferst bos in kara for 2-4 week before downed him with my guild and i think it was great.

    when that is sayed i think bliz are beginning to loose player cous its to easy now so they want to make a endgame there is a tad harder and if they loose player for that i dont think they care much.
    when they anonced cata was comming they told it was the last expansion they would releese that means they probly will make cata more chalenging in terms of endgame contest and the 1-60 more interesting for the casual. casuel have a tendense to make lots of alt’s and play a bit of pug when 80
    in abaut 1-2 years diablo 3 wil enter the market and bliz wil have alot of incomming there.

    wow is begining to become old in terms of graphic and contest. in cata they give the graphic a facelift but not anugh and in a cuple of years that is just not anugh and in some point they will loose so many players only the hardcore and antusiaster is left and i wil say its in 2 years max. and i think bliz have made the same asuments as i doo.

    so why complain over harder endgame if the game in its self is becomming better? and no im not always agree with tb. i just se he’s point.

    sry for my bad typing hope you are able to read it

  9. Bees September 29, 2010 at 12:30 #

    Wrath has bred a generation of players who believe that the way to beat a heroic dungeon is not to keep trying until they learn the fights and coordinate properly, but simply to acquire more easy badge gear until they can steam roll it.

    This mentality has spilled over somewhat into levelling instances as well, with groups of players decked out in heirlooms to the gills kicking players in level appropriate greens for being “undergeared”.

    Someone above stated that you shouldn’t need raiding gear to run heroics.

    You don’t.

    The problem is that players _think_ you do.

  10. Monkfeesh September 29, 2010 at 12:43 #

    the shear fact that there is no longer -any- path of progression these days (hello badge system + no attunements) just massivly promotes badness – its not ‘casual’ players who are the ‘problem’ im sure there are plenty of very good, yet casual players – they just might not have the time to put into it as some of the more so called ‘hardcore’ players.. there are countless bad ‘hardcore’ players too and its usually, unfortunatly, the streams of bad players who make their way to forums to complain about how hard the game is, and in this world where blizz feel they need to make everybody happy, its in their interest, unfortunatly, to dumb stuff down.

    about the actual player numbers/numbers who get to raid etc, this kinda interests me also – since they hit ~12m players in early TBC, we’ve never heard of a new milestone being reached, i know a large part of the world hasnt got wrath yet (china) but still, i imagine the actual numbers are well down, still, if you head over to wowprogress, which i reckon is pretty reliable and take a look at even marrowgar in 25man normal ~54k guilds have killed it, even if you assume there is ~50 raiders in each of them guilds, its still less than 3 million people.. even if wow ‘only’ has ~9m (guess) subs these days, thats only 1/3rd of people have even seen the very first boss of ‘the most accessable raid ever’ which (imo at least) is still a pretty small amount. as you can see, the numbers dwindle pretty rapidly the more bosses you go through.. lk25 normal for instance ~10k guilds, even assuming they each have 50 people (which would be a lot [imo]) that have participated in the kill(s), thats down to like 1/2 a million people, which is probably 5-10% tops of the wow subscribers.
    i dont really know how looking at that, that any1, or blizz can claim todays ‘end-game’ is really any more accessable than say naxx or sunwell.. i dunno the figures, but it probably wasnt really much less of the playerbase (in percentages) who killed the end bosses of those instances before the next expansion either.

    i think we have to remember that without the so called ‘hardcores’ and the people who really are good – ripping up world firsts, really pushing to be the best etc.. there would probably be even less overall general progress than there is today – think of the countless addons and guides, videos and walkthroughs which are put together right from the ptr to the live kills by these top guilds/players – they need to be listened to too..

    anyway, bit of a rant there – in short, its bad players who seem to be good at making themselves heard, which cause the problems – not casual/hardcore players..

    end of the day though, im very much lookin forward to cata myself and do hope blizz stick with a bit more of a challenging route, even down to the 5mans/heroics. i enjoy having my brain put through its paces and having a good challenge, rather than just dribbling my way through, weather it be the first heroics or the last raid boss of an expansion – so here’s to hoping it goes that way 🙂

    also just to say – never read this bloggy thing before, i stumbled across it after following a link from TB on facebook, nice read.

    /monk

  11. Suicidal Zebra September 29, 2010 at 12:47 #

    TB was getting all misty eyed over Heroic Stonecore… he should have his ‘Cynical’ title revoked.

    As someone who approaches WoW much like a buffet – a little of this, perhaps a little of that, OMG battered pork balls om nom nom – I think we have to clearly differentiate between accessibility and difficulty. The former dictates a time-sink before your character is raid-ready or percieved to be raid-ready by your peers, whereas the latter represents the difficulty of the encounter mechanics.

    In Vanilla and early TBC 40-man raid content accessibility was abysmal for all 40-man tiers. Pot and resistance gear farming was essential, even before you took Tier requirements into account, effectively putting up an insurmountable barrier to entry for ‘casuals’ and also meant that catching up to later content was extremely time consuming should you take a break. Not many Vanilla encounters were particularly difficult in terms of mechanics however, they were just tuned very tightly and essentials like Threat Meters and DBM were in their infancy and hence pretty unreliable. A large proportion of the Vanilla nostalgia-fest is the work of rose-tinted glasses, which as (IIRC) Klepsacovic eloquently put it ‘makes it difficult to see the whites and reds’.

    Burning Crusade lifted many of the barriers to entry over an extended period of time (Loooong attunement chains, Pots being the most obvious) and improved accessibility to later Tiers by including Badge gear. There were still fundamental issues surrounding class specs that weren’t solved until Wrath (CC for hybrid DPS specs being a cause close to my heart) which artificially inflated the difficulty of particular Heroics if some specs weren’t present, but eventually the barrier to entry was one of group composition and gear rather than group+gear+time. Heroics weren’t in the main difficult, they were just highly tuned and you would often be randomly dead due to bad luck (*cough* Time for fun! *cough*). On the other hand Raids were greatly improved in both encounter diversity/complexity, noting that they still saw changes well before the ‘Pre-Wrath-Nerf-Patch’ of (IIRC) 2.4.3.

    Burning Crusades most obvious fault was the lack of an entry-level 25-man raid – the funnelling of guilds through the awesome 10-man Kara lead to logistical issues which were never really solved. The dispensing of individual-attunement chains needed to happen sooner too, but Kara was the bigger block. Character spec pigeon-holing was still a problem that was not really addressed until 3.0 hit.

    Wrath sought to solve the final issues to do with barriers to entry, and in theory Naxx-25 was to be the start of that. Unfortunately the instance was woefully undertuned for the new capabilities of each class and the encounters weren’t that difficult to begin with. Heroics were at the same reward level as Naxx-10 but in many cases were in fact more difficult (or at least complex) than Naxx, e.g. HoL/AN:OK. Yes, players did wipe in Heroics with ilvl187 Blues/Greens. The problem is that Naxx would eventually be supplanted by Tier 8 (Ulduar) whereas the idea always was that Heroics would remain relevant to allows new characters to skip obsolete raid content via Emblems. For such a model to be successful Heroics needed to have complex encounter mechanics that are difficult to out-gear. Unfortunately, in the vast majority of cases, they don’t (though you can tell that Blizz had grasped the nettle with the new IC-5 mans), and gear inflated so quickly that most content was trivialised.

    As for non-hard ICC, especially ICC-10, I really can’t defend it. I find ToC-25 more interesting, even though it has severe pacing issues because of the lack of trash. However the current Heroic model does at least allow gearing to ICC without needing ToC or Ulduar, which I think is a net positive. Allowing ‘good casuals’ to at least see the Lich King encounter is one of the triumphs of Wrath, even if the stepping stones along the way could have been more challenging from a difficulty rather than accessibility standpoint. Rejecting ICC wholesale as a challenging instance without defeating LK and the vast majority of hard modes would be a little bit premature though IMO.

    I think Blizz can learn an awful lot from Wrath, and even if Trash needs CC and vastly more co-ordination the players will adapt. Guild runs are also being encouraged via the guild levelling system and weekly caps on points will discourage endless heroic farming, the combination of which should see the LFG system being pushed into a more supplementary role. The big question mark is over gear inflation especially with regards to weapon slots and what that means for early raid bosses. Unfortunately until they do a tuning pass on the Heroics we don’t really know the difficulty level at which they’re being pitched, and no-one’s even seen the Raids yet. Fingers crossed it’s relatively high.

  12. Nycoplus September 29, 2010 at 12:51 #

    I remember the start of wrath and tbc very well. There was a huge difference, one many occasions we wiped so much on heroics in tbc that we just couldn’t finish an instance. Shattered halls for instance was pretty frigging hard. Sure the wrath heroics was harder in the beginning, but how many times did you really have to abandon a run? The only heroic that hade some challenge that you could compare to tbc was probably hol – loken. That is a fact, not an opinion.

    I’m sorry Larisa but how can a player aka tb in this instance NOT have a legitimate complaint about heroics in wrath just because he haven’t done lich king on heroic? What has lich king heroic have to do with the heroics? You don’t have beat wow on hard mode to claim that its heroics are too easy, and that certain raids are too easy. Shortly put, we have easy difficulty and hard difficulty, ofc its not that simple, but not that far off either.

  13. Talmer September 29, 2010 at 12:52 #

    I’ve been playing WoW sense a few months before sunwell came out so i wasn’t huge into raiding in BC but i did get into it and i really enjoyed the experience of working through heroics when i got good enough gear including crafting gear, the joy of my friends in tier 6 helping me through Kara. The best part of that whole process was the working towards something and always having something after that to work towards. The difference in wraith is that they took away of that working towards because you got 80 hit heroics then into TOC for a little bit and then boom right into ICC and complaining about it. So what you get now is a inexperienced force of new raiders trying to do things that they’re not ready for so what blizzard does after making everything toned down in make it even more toned down by add a buff which is ridiculous. So how blizzard killed it’s self with this expansion is making the content easier and then taking away experience that people could have used for good, so it was two bad choices for blizzard that really hurt blizzard in my opinion, and made it’s player base full of terrible people.

  14. sheppo September 29, 2010 at 12:59 #

    TB was right calling out lack of personal gain for taking down the lich king without the incremental buff. He called this out last year, maybe when news of the incremental buff came out in a blue post. Few have done it, and to be fair, why should they? i think for most it would be a genuine challenge to do that now, even after gearing up considerably since ICC was launched.

    However, most guilds that continue raiding after taking down LK in normal mode go straight in to working on heroic modes. That’s their main focus, because there’s considerable challenges and rewards to be had there. After that it’s working towards glory of the icecrown raider achievement, where of course there’s a very select mount to be had.

    maybe things would be different if there were feat of strength or a title for taking LK down without the buff.

    Hopefully a lesson to be learnt there for blizzard. Personally i liked the idea of the buff, but felt it should be possible to reign it back some.. not just have it whatever the current value was, or nothing. At very least you could progress on your own terms, or slowly over the weeks reign back the buff so you could work towards taking him down sans buff.

    as for the whole idea of heroic LK 5mans. I remember some of them being genuinely hard shortly after reached 80 – shortly after wrath’s launch. Not just in terms of the amount of damage being taken, or mitigated against, but rather some of them had mechanics that at the time were kind of cool. the key here being, ‘at the time’.
    Of course, the problem comes two years down the line when people have run them hundreds of times and massively out-gear anything the hardest bosses can throw at you. We need something more granular than normal and heroic.. or at least heroic should scale dynamically against the gear levels you have, or your groups raid-progression.. but then, so should the loots.

  15. joshua jordan September 29, 2010 at 13:01 #

    im a pugger most of the time so from my point of view i believe the content in wrath was horrible in the fact that while pugging in wrath and trying to actualy finish the majority of raids was far to easy. and in doing this and giving almost all players such similar gear that it infact made pugging such a pain to do.

    for instance to pug icc is far to hard to do because with such equal gear and completion of raids before(that were so easy a person who made it to 80 a week ago could complete) it made it harder to actually complete any run of ICC. i believe wrath had a way easyer raiding content in the fact people could complete every raid up to icc with no trouble at all.

    though i do believe that by setting the bar to far up that it will slow/ not destroy many players progression in the game. thats how it was with BC and pre-bc. people adapt and learn from playing the content. for exsample forge of souls was as hard as any BC heroic before but after a few weeks and people learned it became significantly easyer.

    so in saying that i believe in lowering the difficulty of the content at all will only hurt the game overall because in the mid to long term of the game the heroics and raids will become far easyer for the “casual” player as they do them but will make them so easy that the “hard core” players will have no content to enjoy at all.

    so think about it blizzard can severly limit the majority of content for hardcore players while making it easyer for casual player OR make it so casual player have to stumble threw content for a short amount of time to fully complete it while delivering hard and fulling content to hardcore players.

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