Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Cataclysm: Triumph of the Social

The big picture take away message from Blizzcon 2009 is simple: solo content is dead. The real cataclysm is not to the the physical geography of Azeroth but to the entire game experience. Solo questing as a major game mechanism is finished and guilds moves to the center of the game play experience. Love them or hate them what Gevlon terms the social have won a decisive victory in the future of Warcraft.

The Guild


The key development in Cataclysm is the new guild system. As Ghostcrawler said in the Game Systems panel, "They want people to be in a guild. The game is more fun when you're in a guild." As a de facto matter, the only question will be what guild you will join, not if you will join a guild at all. While it will still be technically possible to engage the game as a single player the penalties will be so decisively punitive that only die hard masochists will try.


The list of already announced guild bonuses include:


(1) a straight up 7% additional gold and experience for guild members over soloists.

(2) guilds will earn experience separate from player experience which will be convertible to gold
(3) significantly reduced repair costs for guild members over soloist
(4) Crafted guild heirlooms that will fit any gear slot and be soul bound to that guild
(5) The complete elimination of the need for the gathering professions for guilds as they will be able to by such items directly from specialized guild vendors.

One thing that remains unclear is whether the gold the guild will earn will be freely distributable to members or can only be used within the guild for crafting heirloom items and buying from guild vendors. But this is only a question as to whether the huge benefit to being a guild member is in direct cash or indirectly though potions and other crafted items. If that was not enough to kill solo leveling the panel made it clear that once you are in a guild they don't want you to leave. If you purchase stuff for the guild you will not be able to take it with you. No more ninjas. Again, Ghostcrawler, "we don't want people to bounce around from guild to guild." All of this focus on the guild will be enhanced by the new guild user interfaces and a new Looking for Guild tool.


Once this is understood its easy to see why there are only five levels to the expansion. More levels means more quests which means more soloing. Rather, to get players into situations where they group the amount of levels have been reduced from ten to five and the additional resources switched from questing to raids. Cataclysm will launch with four full new raid instances as well as two revamped version of old world instances. To balance this lack of solo action the designers have placed an increasing emphasis on the visual identity. There will reforging, which will allow you to changes the stats on individual items; the new talents trees are designed so that the player picks talents to be enhance the visual actions of the characters rather than game stats; the coup de grace being that the dance studio is finally becoming a reality.


Cataclysm


In one sense, it's difficult to argue with these changes because they certainly put the multi back into multi-player. Yet one of the strengths of Warcraft was the way it appealed to both the people who wanted to participate in a guild and those who did not. This reality has now been swept away in a maelstrom of historic proportions. Players have been asking for a new class and they, in effect, got one: guild manger. The new guild leveling, achievements, and talents; combined with the huge in-rush of previously unguilded players, will complicated guilds so much that the administrative burden will increase significantly. My own suspicion is that we will see the advent of a few super mega guilds on each server as the penalties for casuals not belong to a guild are so strong they will have to go some place.


The other big shake out will no doubt be to gut the auction house. I give props for this evil genius move which I did not see coming. The primary way to get rid of gold sellers is to create a system where there is nothing to buy. If you can't eliminate supply, eliminate demand. In effect, the new guild system turns each guild into its own mini economy with no real need to interact with the rest of the game. The guild vendor system effectively guts the gathering professions as a means of individual wealth accumulation as raw material will be able to bought from the vendor. This leaves only crafted items to be exchanged. But with the guilds being able to create full gear sets of heirloom items there will be no need for crafted gear of any type before end game. The primary buyers of gold were always the casuals who had more money than time and those guilds struggling at the high end who needed to buy consumables. The casuals will now have no need as the guild will become the endless nipple and the high end guilds will be able to now buy directly from the vendor and craft their own. Again, like soloing I don't mean to suggest the AH will die out completely. But the days where someone like Gevlon will be able to amass a fortune are dead and gone.


The whole cataclysm is so profound that it's hard to argue as to whether it's good or bad for the game. Warcraft is simply not the same game anymore. It's not so much an expansion in that sense as a discontinuity. I entitled this the Triumph of the Social but it easily could be called the Genocide of the Soloist. Welcome to the new WoW, most definitely not the same as the old WoW.

28 comments:

The Rokk said...

"The big picture take away message from Blizzcon 2009 is simple: solo content is dead."

I took away something else from the message - Alt-ism is the way to go. They're re-vamping the 1-60 game, changing quests and quest hubs, and adding two new races for players to level up. I think they're still going to be plenty of solo content for us to throw ourselves at.

I don't see that not being in a guild will be a game-breaker. There will be definite perks to being in a guild, but it will by no means be any more necessary than it is now.

Also, the perks that guilds obtain depend entirely on how aggressive the guild itself tries to unlock them. So if twenty-five "casuals" decide to form their own guild, it is still up to them to unlock everything that needs to be unlocked. Small guilds will have to be motivated if they want these perks. If not, it'll be no different than it is now.

Of course, that's simply my understanding of it. I'm sure, as time goes on, more information will be provided and I'll choke on my words... or the bile brought on by something else in the expansion.

Everywhere I turn, this expansion is living up to its name.

Klepsacovic said...

Wow, guilds mean something now other than bank slots and a calender now. This is pretty awesome.

Dan said...

This has some serious effects to goblins who rely on M&S and (sorry to say this, but it is true) gold selling gatherers for their supply of raw goods in their conversion into finished products.

Will this expansion kill Inscription and Jewelcrafting (as prominent examples) as goblins know it?

Saithir said...

Solo content would be hardly dead with all these people rolling alts with new races/class combinations, and revamping of zones and quests. There's the additional resources, not only in the raids and dungeons.

I also don't see where you got the idea that the guild changes would gut AH and gathering professions. There was one example in WoW.com's live blog about frost lotuses and that's all, and I'm not really sure if that's a blogger's wording or something Blizzard said, as that panel was not on stream unfortunately. Still that's one component of a recipe with 2-3 different materials needed, what about the rest?

Point 2 about guilds is not really true either - they're talking about guild currency, not straight gold. It seemed to me like that's just a different kind of currency for the recipes of the heirloom stuff and guild bank slots. So you don't have to spend X thousands of gold on your guild bank, you can use your points amassed while leveling your guild instead.

Stabs said...

Hmm, I don't see it that way at all.

In 2005 WoW was primarily a soloing levelling game. They're trying to get back to that.

I don't think it will work because I don't think people will be happy to pootle along levelling slowly but I think the main new attractions are chances to take a new alt through a re-vamped zone.

Guild levelling systems already exist in games like EQ2 and there, tbh, it's mainly the guild leaders who care about them.

As for Gevlon there is a disconnect between the way he uses the word social and the way the rest of the English-speaking world uses it. He means parasite. He wouldn't consider his raid guild "socials" even though they play together, use Vent and help each other altrusitically.

I don't think the type of player he calls social will benefit from guild levelling. They will benefit far more from cross server pugs where they can upset 4 people and never see them again over and over.

Ziboo said...

I can see the 80-85 lvls being more group/raid/instance content, but if they completely revamp in favor of the majority of the content 1-85 being group, the game will die.

EQ2 does guilds in a great way, something that has been missing from WoW. If you didn't/don't raid why be in one?

Looking forward to the expansion and following with great interest what they're going to create!

KiwiRed said...

I think you've read a bit too much into a couple of the guild revamp announcements.

For one thing, while they've referred to a "guild currency," that guild experience earnt when the guild has reached level 20, they've not once said that the currency is gold. I'd expect it to be something new, along the lines of arena or honor points, and not exchangeable (either directly or indirectly) for gold.

Elimination of gathering professions? The example they gave was a reagent that could be used instead of Frost Lotus. That still leaves multiple herbs which would need to be gathered, it would just reduced the actual-gold cost of raiding if a guild wishes to spend it's currency in that way. Nothing has been said about how quickly the guild currency is earnt, nor how much it will cost to purchase anything with it.

I would think that these changes wouldn't excessively reduce the quantity of gold entering the ingame economy, as the personal cost of raiding would be reduced (although we've no idea at this stage of what scale of reduction this would be), leaving more gold for personal spending. If they can add replacement goldsinks (pets or other vanity items for example) which require player-harvested materials, they can compensate for the reduction of the raider market quite effectively.

I'd also have to disagree about solo-play necessarily being hard-hit by these changes, as I've never found the 1-60 grind to be particularly group-friendly (although it's possible they may change that in the new Azeroth). I'm pretty sure while there may be extra benefits to being grouped while leveling in future, they'd be shooting themselves in the foot if they nerf the solo-experience.

Elnia said...

I think there is an important distinction between solo content and soloing. You will still have a quest to kill ten rats. But you will now do that quest with heirloom items crafted by your guild and using consumable bought and crafted by your guild. It changes the entire focus of the game.

How many people can say today they get anything material from their guild. No one. As Klepsacovic says they are glorified IRCs and bank slots. I agree that the full extent of the the changes remain unknown. But you're deluded if you don't recognize this as a fundamental shift in game design philosophy. Frost Lotus is just the beginning, it's not the end.

spinksville said...

I wouldn't read this much into it, but I'm also wary of how the changes to guilds will affect server communities. I'm uncomfortable that you get rewarded for your choice of socialising.

Plus all this stuff sounds great fun if you actually run the guild and get to choose how to spend the talent points. But as a regular guildie ... mostly it penalises you if you want to switch guilds.

I guess we'll have to see how it goes.

Azryu said...

I really don't think this is going to be as bad as people portray it to be, unless it was the landscapes of WoW itself and the nostalgic feel of the old lands.

Otherwise, as far as guilds go, you could do without and be just as you always were.

Of course, guilds will look very much enticing.

Larísa said...

I for one am very enthusiastic about the fact that they're finally recognizing and awarding the tremendous work that is done by the stable guilds, who go manage to deal with all the challenges running a guild means and stick around for long. It was about time! But then I'm not a solo player. It's possible that I wouldn't be as happy about this if I was.

I think you're pulling this to its edge. I doubt that this will kill solo playing - there will be loads of content available - and even if you don't get access to some of the guild benefints, the game is so casual friendly these days that you won't have a hard time anyway.

And I disagree vehemently that this is the death of the greedy goblin. Absolutely not. There will always be ways to make gold. As there always will be new theorycrafting to be made for those who're into this (yeah, there are those who claim this will kill theorycrafting.)

I also disagree that WoW will be a completely different game. Other bloggers have said the same and I don't get it. When I've installed Cataclysm and is logging in for the first time, I'll bring out Larísa, head for the new levelling areas and start doing my thing. There will be quests to be done, big dragons to be killed and most of my guild will (hopefully) still be around. Cataclysm is changing a lot, but it defenitely still will be WoW I'm playing.

Hirvox said...

Hmm.. according to the official systems panel recap, those guild reagents are only used to craft guild heirlooms, so unless guild heirlooms have no other ingredients and they are best-in-slot then "The complete elimination of the need for the gathering professions for guilds" will not ensue.

kyrilean said...

I disagree that soloing is dead.

How many soloists are in your current guild? I would argue that just because you're in a guild it doesn't make you a social.

I've belonged to a few guilds now, but I've only ever grouped up with guildies for 5-mans or raids. Never questing. Although I belong to a guild I'd consider myself a soloist.

Saywha said...

Yeah, there's a lot going on here that's wrong or way over analyzed. I just had to stop in to point out that even if all gatherable items were being sold via the guild vendor they would NOT destroy the gathering economy on the AH. Gathering items would still be traded freely and most likely profitably on the AH. Only the highest price you could sell gathered items for would be slightly less than they could be bought at the guild vendor.

That being said guild vendors are only going to be selling items for crafting heirloom items that will be purchasable via guild currency.

Were we watching the same panels? Because there's a whole lot of wrong in this analysis.

Copernicus said...

The meaning of "solo player" differs depending on what perspective you take. I'm a guild leader and I consider myself mainly a solo player.

You may want to define your version of solo, so we're all on the same page.

Jessabelle said...

While I do agree with a lot you have said, I think it is too early to take it quite so far. The few details that have been released regarding plans for guilds could easily change or be modified, and there is still a lot of information that we don't know yet.

Regardless, one of my big concerns is out this will affect guild alliances. Why ally with other guilds and share the potential achievement bonuses, or miss out on them entirely?

I withhold my final judgment, however, until there are more details available.

Darraxus said...

You can be a solo player and still in a guild. I do a lot of solo things. Just because you can type in green text doesnt mean soling is dead.

There have always been two paths for leveling. Instance and Questing (pvp now as well). This will not change.

The guild changes are small perks for guilds. It is not a game breaking mechanic. Heirlooms in this expansion ended up being ilvl 187 or some such at level 80. That is barely raid viable.

I honestly cant see where you are coming from. Being unguilded is not going to hurt you. Being guilded will provide small benefits.

River said...

As a little pink pigtail gnome told me we got alot of time to speculate, and see what actually will be in place when the expansion drops.

I think it's to soon to see HOW this will effect the game on the social aspect.

Elnia said...

@spinksville, Larisa, etc. I do agree that it's too early to tell the full details. But I just see this as "the handwriting on the wall". It's possible that this could turn out to have only a minor influence on the game. But I don't think it's likely. Look how drastically instances changed in BC. Some people liked it some people hated it but I don't think that anyone now says that it wasn't a big deal and that the trend did not continue in WotLK. In that sense I put as much weight in Ghostcrawlers words to reveal Blizzards designs as I do the actual facts. Saying that they want people to be in guilds because it's more fun is not the type of statement you make if you are just tinkering around the edges. It's the type of statement you make when you are preparing people for more to come. In other words, I think you need to look at the facts in light of the stated intentions, assuming them to be accurate. That's why I started off the post quoting GC. It's possible that I am reading more into the intention of GC words than what is there. But taking them at face value, I think they are more likely to portend big changes than not.

@Darraxus and others. That's simply not my definition of solo gaming. If you are in a guild you are not a soloist. You may in fact do and enjoy solo activities, but that does make you a soloist any more than being in a political party and voting for the opposition now and then makes you a political independent.

Darraxus said...

Like I said, this is supposed to just be a perk. If you are your definition of a "solo" player, it is not going to make a whole lot of difference. You will not need to worry about mass resurections or summons which are the meat of the guild tree so far. It will help being in a guild, but will not hurt to be out of one.

Longasc said...

All my chars have two gathering professions.

Really cool that they want to eliminate the need for guild members to buy any of the stuff I gather?

I cannot believe the 5 points that you listed in your article.

I mean many players are guilded and are still not part of the guild, they are just in the roster but nothing more.

Now giving players an incentive to join a guild with many guild advancements is cool? Sounds like a forced pseudo socialization.

And this from the guys who basically allowed people to solo from 1-80? This is really odd!!!

Carra said...

And I just saw a reason to play solo (although in a guild) again: a revamp of the old content. Solo playing isn't dead, being guildless is.

But you do have a point. Guilds will probably be merging. Really small guilds can not offer the same benefits as larger ones.

SolidState said...

> "The game is more fun when you're in a guild."

Kinda depends on the guild, doesn't it? If your guild sucks and you despise the GL and officers, making it harder for you to gquit doesn't sound like such a hot deal.

Also, GLs are already absolute dictators. Only currently it is very easy (in terms of what you give up) to leave them. Give them more power and more perks and you might end up corrupting them, as Pugnacious Priest recently blogged about.

The way I see it, Blizz are going to have to tread carefully if they don't want to suddenly ruin the game for many people who will find it not really fun to play in a post-apocalyptic WoW where GLs of large successful guilds wield enormous power over them.

Tesh said...

"In effect, the new guild system turns each guild into its own mini economy with no real need to interact with the rest of the game."

If they are really pushing that direction, then sell us private servers already and screw the whole "massive multiplayer" dog and pony show. (And let us defray the "costs" of maintaining a server, effectively letting people choose how much they want to pay for the game by letting them choose whose server to pay for.)

KT said...

I don't know ... it depends on what kind of a solo player you are. I am, mostly, because I don't have a lot of time to play. But as a consequence of that, all of these changes involving guilds don't really strike fear into my heart. If you care about how much money you have relative to other people, or how fast you can get to level cap or what advantages you have in raiding, then yeah. But I'm guessing most of the casual solo players don't really care much about those things anyway. I know I mostly play the game for fun and relaxation and take my time (I have no characters at level cap yet) and it doesn't matter to me. I'm sure there are many others like that as well.

Woffshead said...

I don't believe that soloing is dead in WoW with the release of the new expansion. If anything Blizzard finally come to their senses and realized that guilds are the backbone of the MMO experience.

Too often Blizzard has recklessly torn asunder guilds with the release of each expansion raiding requirements.

Solo players will not be penalized, rather they will continue to get the red carpet treatment that they have gotten for the last 4.5 years. No other MMO has offered so much freedom and self-actualization for solo players. No other MMO has asked so little from soloists but given them so much.

If you solo in WoW then it is by your own choice. Do it and be proud of it. You are no less a player as a soloer then you are as a guild member if that is how you want to play your character.

Woffshead said...

I don't believe that soloing is dead in WoW with the release of the new expansion. If anything Blizzard finally come to their senses and realized that guilds are the backbone of the MMO experience.

Too often Blizzard has recklessly torn asunder guilds with the release of each expansion raiding requirements.

Solo players will not be penalized, rather they will continue to get the red carpet treatment that they have gotten for the last 4.5 years. No other MMO has offered so much freedom and self-actualization for solo players. No other MMO has asked so little from soloists but given them so much.

If you solo in WoW then it is by your own choice. Do it and be proud of it. You are no less a player as a soloer then you are as a guild member if that is how you want to play your character.

Oakraven said...

Good lord let me count the ways you got this wrong (1) a straight up 7% additional gold and experience for guild members over soloists. {that is applied to the Guilds XP bar and "Guild gold" not to the player}
(2) guilds will earn experience separate from player experience which will be convertible to gold{BZZZZT Elwrongo the XP comes from the top 20 earners in the "7% solution, Guild XP converts to "Guild gold" only when said XP is maxed]
(3) significantly reduced repair costs for guild members over soloist{that only kicks in at the current "Cap" IE after your top 20 grind to get it}
(4) Crafted guild heirlooms that will fit any gear slot and be soul bound to that guild{that you did get right but the folowing is laughable}
(5) The complete elimination of the need for the gathering professions for guilds as they will be able to by such items directly from specialized guild vendors. {who only sell the reagents needed for Guild only recipees, every thing else you will need to buy or harvest yourself(they even said AT THE PANNEL that you will still need to harvest everything you need for regular traidskill items}

needless to say the Comprehension fail is strong with this one.