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Nothing Gold Can Stay: Change and the game's development

Matthew Rossi

There was a time when the following were all known truths, enshrined in the game by its developers and its players.
  • Raids all require 40 people to run.
  • To run a 5-man instance, you have to assemble the group via friends or through people on your realm.
  • The only acceptable warrior is a tanking warrior.
  • The only acceptable tank is a warrior tank.
  • Hybrids heal. If they don't heal, they're not hybrid. More importantly, if they don't heal, you don't bring them to your group.
  • In order to understand how to use a weapon, you must learn how from a trainer and then go out and attack things with it hundreds of times.
These are just a few of the sacred cows that WoW inherited from other games and at one time treated as if they were bedrock assumptions, virtually built into the DNA of the MMO genre. And to paraphrase, if you meet the ancient MMO truth on the road, WoW must kill it.

I would argue that in nearly every case that the development team has looked at a truism (even one enshrined in their current design paradigm) and decided to change or remove that sacred cow, it has been for the good of the game. Perhaps this has not always been the case, but certainly very often.

Let's look at some sacred cows currently part of WoW either through inheritance from older MMOs or that it has grown itself over the course of the past seven years.

  • Armor and weapon types should be confining and class-defining.
  • The distinction between hybrid and pure classes is valid and worth preserving, and pure classes should perform better at the role they can perform than hybrids.
  • Professions should require a long process to level, and a player choosing to switch professions, even at max level, should have to go back to leveling zones and gather materials to do so (especially for a gathering profession).
  • PVP and PVE content should use the same basic set of abilities, and they should function as similarly as possible in both scenarios.
These are just a few assumptions -- and to be frank, it is neither my intention nor my implication that simply because these exist that they should be changed. However, it is my implication (now explicate, due to my stating it here) that everyone should challenge these assumptions and decide for him or herself if they help or hinder the game. When discussed rationally, such ideas can and have in the past changed the game.

Accessibility without dilution

Development is always after the holy grail of accessibility while avoiding dilution of the game and its milieu. All changes have to be considered in terms of their context and the fallout from making the change. A change like removing weapons skill and the process of leveling it had essentially no repercussions at all save that if you had a warrior in your group who'd never used a two-handed axe before and one dropped, he no longer had to go to the Blasted Lands and try and find an unkillable mob to beat on for hours.

It may be true that rogues are in fact not the top DPS class in the game and that it has in fact been good for the game and the majority of its players. It may be fact that rogues have such a varied and powerful suite of abilities that dominance of the DPS charts is not necessary for raids to continue bringing them to groups, and the same holds true for warlocks, mages and hunters.

This doesn't mean the developers can embrace this shift, as it may have ramifications for game balance, player demographics, and encounter design that are as yet unseen. It doesn't mean they can't, either, if it turns out that all the seeming positive effects of abandoning the pure > hybrid DPS balancing system outweigh those potential changes.

No change should be adopted simply because it would be a change. No change should be opposed on those grounds, either. What is good for the game and its players is the ultimate goal.

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