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Newcomers in the WoW community

David Bowers

Most games have a beginning and an end -- if people want more, the developers produce a sequel. But games like WoW are different, of course, because everyone is paying by the month in order to play together, and the developers are constantly adding some new content revising the old.

As time goes by, though, a rift appears between people who have been playing a long time and people who are just getting started. Not only does the game development company have to make some hard decisions about whether it's more important to keep people playing every month or to get new people to start from the beginning, but the old players have to figure out how the new ones are going to fit into the social system they've developed.

The Burning Crusade tried to appeal to both sorts of gamers, with added content for both ends of the player community, but Wrath of the Lich King is taking another direction, with most of its content only for people who are ready to leave Outland behind. But the patch 2.3 changes reveal a different strategy for attracting new WoW players: rather than adding new content to attract new players, Blizzard can just make the old content faster, more streamlined, and get new players into the new higher-level content more reliably. Will this keep new players coming? Does Blizzard even need new players, financially speaking, or are they content to just try and keep all the existing players subscribing for as long as possible?

Either way, a more vital issue is at stake: As the WoW community has gotten older, we have noticed some old-time WoW players like to complain about "noobs" a lot, in a way that doesn't leave any room for new people to join in on the activities. For a newcomer, it feels like an exclusionist attitude. The "noobs" are running around in all the wrong gear, using all the wrong strategies, precisely because no one has interacted with them enough for them to learn how things are done here. Some aspects of WoW are not at all easy or intuitive, and it's counterproductive to blame the noobs instead of reaching out and lending a helping hand where appropriate.

But the problem for the more welcoming old-timers is that actual "new players" are so hard to come by, and those few are so disconnected from the rest of the community. I imagine new players have a hard time making friends as they level up these days because the leveling experience just isn't the same for all those old-timers coming back though with alts. New players may witness closed-off groups of alts rushing past them through the old content, and wonder why no one is talking. Many old-timers have gotten so focused on their own goals that they no longer see the value in finding and welcoming new players into their ranks. Even if they did so, the time-investment of helping them catch up and assist them in your goals in the past has been prohibitively high. The leveling speed increase with patch 2.3 should help -- but will it be enough?

There are two issues at work here -- first of all, there are some players who are too stingy to want to help anyone, calling every "bad player" they see a noob, but I suspect these are in the minority. Far more numerous are those who are just focused on their own end-game endeavors, too busy to pay newcomers much mind. Even if they were to encounter newcomers, they feel as though they don't have anything in common, or any mutually beneficial activities to pursue together. In such an environment, how can a community grow and thrive? What does Blizzard need to do to address this situation? New races and low-level zones in The Burning Crusade were very nice, but just how did they really give newcomers and old-timers a chance to mingle more?

Whether or not any of us has many chances to meet new players, all of us know someone who is new to whatever aspect of the game we are currently working through. Rather than just blowing such a person off when they make mistakes, it's crucial for old-time players to be patient and encourage them through their questions and concerns. The best of us all started out as new players, after all, and only progressed by learning together with others. Such learning is what the game is really all about. One needn't pamper a new player by doing things for them, of course, but guidance and encouragement go a very long way. Reaching out to help them learn the important things is something that can not only make them a better player -- it can make you a better person.

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