This question is being being increasingly raised, after several questionable decisions and dodgy patch releases in their MMORPG World of Warcraft. First, was the decision to release the first four allied races as a pre-order “bonus” behind a grind fest of repeated and time gated content. Time gated content isn’t new to games or even to World of Warcraft. It’s particularly common in free to play games, where a player is usually allowed to complete levels or claim rewards a certain number of times a day, and then pay a fee, bought with real money, for any repeat access beyond the advertised free limit.

Now, it’s certainly true that Blizzard is not guilty of directly charging players to complete time gated content. However, World of Warcraft is not a free to play game. Players pay a subscription for the “privilege” just of being able to log in each day. In this case, time gating content could be seen as a rather sneaky way of forcing players into maintaining their subscription for longer periods by making something attainable much faster without time gating, take a couple of months of daily logging in to achieve.

That, on its own, isn’t really the issue. I have maintained my subscription since the game first released and, to date, have happily payed my monthly subscription, whether I log in daily or not. However, the content that is being forced on players to unlock these characters is repeat content, which the player has to do again and again and again. There is also very little variety in the content, with it usually consisting of kill so many mobs or one rare spawn. You can’t even just run through the storyline quest chains a few times with alts, to farm the required reputation to unlock these races as it is character based and not account based.

This, to me, makes no sense. I’m supposed to be convincing these races to join either the Alliance or Horde, so why does it matter if I use one Alliance or Horde character or multiple to grind the required reputation? I’m not asking them to join me, as an individual, but my faction. Certainly, from my view point, this seems like a blatant cash grab by Blizzard to increase subscription income end expansion, when subscriptions have usually dropped to their lowest level, as players await the release of the next instalment. Blizzard have confirmed that these unlock requirements will not be reduced or removed when the next expansion releases on August 14th.

Along with the allied races pre-order “bonus” are new armour sets only received by levelling an allied race all the way from 1 – 100. Cue of the release of the infamous patch 7.35 where they nerfed the XP boost of heirlooms which were originally added to allow players, already with max level characters, to boost the levelling speed of alts. Along with the scaling also introduced in 7.35, which matches mob level to player level, in turn, reducing the player’s power versus in game mobs, slowing levelling speed to a crawl. This was most noticeable in dungeons, where players complained that runs would take double the time and reward less XP than pre-patch. Even the most diehard fans of this change, do not deny that the time to level a character from 1 to 100 has increased substantially. And in a subscription model, as that which fund World of Warcraft, time equals more subscription money pouring into Blizzard’s account.

Blizzard’s claim in nerfing the heirlooms and slowing down levelling through the old content is that they wanted to return challenge to the game, and to encourage players, new and old, to take their time and enjoy the content, as players did when that content originally released, which in some cases was more than a decade ago.  Here in lies the problem. Games have evolved a lot over the last decade both in terms of graphics and in design. Modern games are more streamlined, more engaging, have greater variety of gameplay and generally give the player greater freedom to play the game as they want to play it and at a speed that suits them. The early expansions of World of Warcraft now feel, look and play very outdated.

Now, if this slow down came with the release of new content, like in the Cataclysm expansion which brought the original zones up to date and refreshed the content. It’s likely there would be less complaints, but it didn’t. There is also the debate that all that really has been done to produce this so called “return of challenge” is to increase the enemy’s health pools making it take longer to kill them but, ultimately, not more rewarding. This has been further exasperated by the release of 8.0 which has introduced a stat squish which has made mobs take even longer to kill and in many cases, has made quests designed for solo play to not be complete-able by a single player. There are even reports of normal mobs that can one shot players. Blizzard have claimed that these cases are due to bugs caused by the stat squish. These issue, alone, may be incompetence on blizzard’s side but still begs the question as to why the old content, with the stat squish applied, was not tested before the patch was released.

So, are Blizzard incompetent or money grabbing? Well that is for each person to decide on their own. However, my view is that they are a little of both. Looking at the combination of the release of the allied races and heritage armour, as a reward for levelling through the old content, together with the decrease in the speed of progression through said old content this seems to stink of corporate strategy, designed to con more subscription money out of existing players with as little development costs as possible. I’ve never, to this point, questioned my continued investment in this game. However, this blatant move to squeeze players for all they have got, instead of producing new and exciting content early in the game to entice in new players or to streamline the game and make it more new player and repeat play friendly, seriously questions how much longer I can support this franchise.

I have not yet purchased the next expansion, Battle for Azeroth. I have had the privilege of playing it during the Alpha and Beta testing, and there are certainly some good as well as not so good design elements. The zones are very well designed. They look amazing and have a great atmosphere. However, I found the storyline to be generic and lacking in depth and the rich lore that Legion wowed me with.

It does concern me that Battle for Azeroth may turn out to be another low point in the World of Warcraft franchise, like Warlords of Draenor. It seems to me that rather than giving more freedom to players as to how they progress in the game, players are being funnelled into the same repetitive and tedious levelling experience. Veteran players, those who have stuck with the game long term, are getting older and most, like me, will now have full time jobs and families. While spending hundreds of hours levelling and gear characters was once a welcome time investment that is not now the case for many gamers. By making content more time consuming, Blizzard seems to be going in the opposite direction that their changing player base needs, and this will likely hurt them in the long run if this direction continues.

So, what would I do to correct the current imbalance and state of the game? I would buff heirlooms back to previous levels and introduce some non pre-order bonus incentives to those who choose to level without them. I would make every aspect of the game award a similar level of XP per hour played, be it fishing, pet battling, pvp, profession levelling, questing, dungeons or raiding. This would give players complete freedom on how they get from level 1 to 100 and to reduce necessity of grinding through a single style of play from start to finish. I feel the above could be done with very little investment and would vastly improve the levelling journey.

I implore Blizzard to take a long, hard and objective look at the state of their game, and for each developer to create a character from scratch and level them to max. What? The developers are too busy with their day jobs? Well, so is the average adult.