What Blizzard needs to keep casuals playing in Warlords

Being called a casual in World of Warcraft is sometimes -- okay, often -- tossed out as an insult, but let's face it: a lot of the gamers fall under the casual banner. They have jobs, they have families, they have kids, and they can't necessarily afford to spend countless hours a week focused on a single game. It's not that casuals want free epics or need to learn to play, it's that MMOs can demand a lot more time than the average adult has available for gaming. No matter how much we love Warcraft, spending time with family and working enough to pay the bills has to come first. (After all, if we can't pay the bills, we can't play in the first place.)

This is especially true in World of Warcraft which is approaching its 10-year anniversary. Players who started playing in their early teens are now college graduates working for a living, while players who started playing during college may be starting (or growing) their own families. Demands like that just don't leave a lot of time to game -- and they definitely don't leave time for a game that forces you to sink a lot of hours in before you can start having fun. Even those of us who enjoyed doing 40-man raids back in the vanilla days -- complete with the grinding for repair money, resist gear, potions, flasks, and everything else you were expected to do to be part of a raiding guild -- might have trouble making the time these days.

World of Warcraft is more casual-friendly than it used to be, and by necessity: many of the playerbase are more casual than they used to be. But while it's more friendly to casual players, there are still plenty of things the game could do to keep the casuals around from level 90 and beyond -- so let's talk about what Warlords of Draenor needs to keep new and casual players in the game.

A better learning experience
Whether you're level 1 or a newly-boosted level 90, World of Warcraft currently does a pretty middling job of helping you find your feet. Though brand new players typically have a quest that asks them to use a specific spell on a training dummy, but that's a long way of helping you figure out how to play. And despite recently added crash-course videos to get players on boosted 90s started with new classes, it's not much.

To get players into the game -- or back into the game -- the game needs to help them find their feet. Especially for tanks and healers (neither of whom have crash course videos), the game needs to offer a helping hand in learning how to play. Even the death knight starting experience -- which I think is a great way to gently introduce new death knights to the game -- mostly leaves randomly clicking buttons on your toolbar until you figure out what works.

Easing players into the game isn't just about introducing new spells slowly like the death knight starting area does: it's about helping them figure out which spells to use when. Though players with more time are willing to devote hours to hunting down class information, newer or more casual players don't necessarily have the time or interest. After all, why dump limited free time into learning how to play WoW when you could be having fun in another game?

An easy learning curve is especially true for players who left during Mists or Cataclysm -- the game has changed enough to feel completely new to those players. No matter how appealing Warlords of Draenor is, if more casual can't figure out how to get started, they aren't likely to stick around.

More customization options
For all that the game has added lots of options to customize your appearance with transmogrification there's still not much you can customize. Even with the upcoming upgrades to character models, there are only a handful of options you can choose from to customize your look, and that means that many of the game's characters look the same. Combined with the fact that many players use the same popular mounts (especially when new ones have been released) and the same favorite transmogs (like paladins in tier 2) and that means you might find yourself with a lot of in-game twins.

When it comes to in-game housing -- which WoW sort of has with garrisons -- you probably won't find yourself with any options at all. Like your farm, your garrison won't have a unique look (though alliance and horde garrisons will each have their own designs). When you compare this to other recently released MMOs *cough*Wildstar*cough* that allow you lots of options to create a unique character and a unique home, WoW's lack of customization options really make the game feel its age.

Even if you've been playing the game since launch, your character and your accomplishments today are, essentially, the same as anyone else's. For all the hours you may have spent in WoW since the game launched, there is nothing unique about you and nothing that makes the game feel like it's yours.

And for those of us who have been playing that long, it's a shame that there's nothing of us in the game.

An easier way to game with friends
WoW has added a lot of ways that make it easier to play with your friends, from sever merges to cross-realm zones. But it still doesn't change the fact that if you, by chance, rolled on a different server as a friend -- or you've made a friend on a different server -- your only way to play with them full-time is to start over or to pay Blizzard $25 to move your character to a new server.

We live in 2014, and you're telling me I can't play a virtual fantasy game with my friend because I picked the wrong server name on the day I bought the game? (Unless I pay Blizzard $25 per character, of course. Do not ask how many times I have done this in my WoW career -- I don't like to think about it.) Even with the forward strides Blizzard has made, it seems like players are very much kept apart with artificial walls that make it more difficult to play with the people you want to play with.

Yes, there are concerns about crowding and server load, but with instancing technology and Blizzard's budget, it seems like this is a hurdle that could be overcome.

Let's work on this, Blizzard, to make World of Warcraft an even better game for those of us with jobs, families, and lives beyond the virtual world we call home. We love WoW, but we don't have the time to make a full-time commitment to it.

Just because you're a newbie doesn't mean you can't bring your A-game to World of Warcraft! Visit the WoW Rookie Guide for links to everything you need to get started as a new player, from the seven things every newbie ought to know to how to get started as a healer or as a tank.