I think it was Larissa that once commented that she wondered how much Twitter has impacted the Blogosphere – how many posts went unwritten because the conversation occurred on Twitter, and how many voices missed out on being heard for the same reasons. More and more I think that Larissa probably had a very valid point/concern. The reason I’m bringing this up is because a comment made on Twitter yesterday really got the gears in my brain churning and I thought it was a shame that those who aren’t part of the Twitter community would miss out on something so thought provoking.
Now, anyone who was listening in on yesterday’s WoW Twitter community would have had about 12 hours of very vocal commentary on the news that Blizzard intends to “nerf” Firelands content starting next week. In all honesty, after about hour 4 of the “great nerf of T12″ marathon debate, I was about ready to shut down my twitter feed to do something productive like, I don’t know, focus on work ;) However, in all that madness, there was one comment that really made me stop and go “huh”. And that is what I want to explore today.
The comment was made by Borsk, and went a little something like this:
Now, when I first read it my initial thought was “don’t be silly, of course it has to be harder”. I mean, new challenges are what keep raiding interesting and fresh…right? But the more that I thought about it, the more I realized that new challenges and exponentially increased difficulty levels don’t necessarily have to be synonymous. As I chewed it over, I began to wonder how the whole trend of current tier raid design started.
I mean, I don’t think anyone would argue that we’ve come a very long way since Molten Core and that is a good thing. If raiding over the past 10 tiers had been reminiscent to Molten Core, I daresay that many people would have found raiding to be rather droll. I, personally, enjoy many of the more interesting raid mechanics that we see in encounters today. But encounter diversity doesn’t really have anything to do with each tier trying to top the previous in terms of difficulty – or does it?
And this is where I stumble in my thoughts. How do you make new and interesting encounters after 7 years without increasing the difficulties of each tier? And the answer I came up with was “well, you can’t”. But that’s really only half true. I mean, in a sense as you improve your character you begin to find certain things easier. Which means that by default the next tier has to be enough of a challenge to keep people engaged, which in turn means that it’s going to default to being “harder”. At least in the most basic sense. And a lot of times “harder” isn’t always just in encounter mechanics, but is straight up in the difficulty level presented in the encounter, and the level of play that must be present to deal with that increase in difficulty. I think there comes a point in each tier where, in an attempt to keep things engaging, Blizzard pushes the difficulty envelope a little farther.
And here is where I get stuck again.
If the goal is to have content that can be seen by a large number of subscribers, is pushing the envelope every tier healthy? I think that it probably is, everyone should want to grow as a player and should have content that facilitates such growth. But there is also a difference in mailing that envelope across town and mailing in half way around the world. I mean, when you have the best of the best, who really thrive on the most difficult of challenges, say to you “it was exhausting”, has that envelope been pushed too far?
I know that Blizzard has said that they feel that the playerbase as a whole has grown more skilled, but I question that assessment. In truth, the players who have been playing the game for a healthy amount of time have likely gotten better at it – but when push comes to shove, there are fewer and fewer of those “old guard” left in the game. And what is filling that gap is newer, less experienced, and by default less skilled players. They aren’t necessarily bad players, they just don’t have 3+ years of WoW experience behind them.
But then who are we developing for? The old guard of experienced players with 5+ years of raid experience or the new lifeblood of the game at less than 3 years of experience? Now, I’m sure there is an argument that both of those players will play at the same level. But I disagree. One of the most common responses to people who comment that they have a challenge keeping up with me as a healer is “well, I’ve been healing as a druid for almost ___ years now!”. And I’m not being snide. There absolutely are benefits to having all that experience, be it just reading raid frames faster or having an easier time deciding what spell is the right spell for different situations, or maybe even having spent the past 7 years perfecting my UI so I can access information more smoothly. Even if I can make those healing decisions a split second faster than you, odds are good that will make a difference.
As I continue to chew all of this over in my head, my prevailing thought is “why did Ragnaros have to be more difficult than Sinestra”? (Or, whichever boss you felt was the pinnacle of T11 raiding). “Why did Lich King have to be harder than Kil’Jaeden”? And you know, I can’t really come up with a good answer for that. All of those fights were challenging, but why did they all have to be “the hardest thing ever” in their respective tiers. What’s wrong with them being of a respective difficulty…and just different? I dare say that they would still have posed engaging challenges. After all, in that “I’M GOING TO DISNEYLAND” moment, who wants have “thank god that is over, I’m exhausted” be what was associated with the victory?
Agree or disagree, I find it an interesting question. I’m curious enough that I brought it over from Twitter because I’d love to get everyone’s thoughts on the matter (and in more than 140 characters…). As such, what do you think? Do difficulty and challenge intertwine in such a way that everything must progressively become more difficult to keep it engaging? Can Blizzard still make innovative encounters without pushing the envelope quite so far?