Something I appreciate a lot about blogging is that you get a bigger set of opinions about a given topic or game.
In WoW, my guild has diversity of opinion to a point – there are people who only really enjoy raiding, who enjoy raiding and world content, who enjoy dungeons and raiding, and those who enjoy all of the three main pillars of WoW. Everyone in it enjoys raiding, though – it’s a raiding guild, who could have imagined?
Yet here, writing about the game, I get a readership that covers a broad swath of the game and outside of it. For a long while, I had more non-WoW players than WoW players in my readership, and that was before the current downturn the game has been on! I’ve seen a fair share of bloggers change interests, and one thing I always find fascinating is why.
I try to write delicately about WoW here for the most part, which, if you’ve only read my recent posts on WoW, might surprise you, but it is my goal, at least. A big part of why I do that is simple – my opinion is only representative of my thoughts and feelings, formed as they are through my experiences. That sounds basic and almost dumb to spell out, but I do so for a purpose. I have stuck to a guiding principle through the current era of WoW – I don’t like the game at the moment, but I also don’t think it is bad. Not objectively, at least. Subjectively, sure – I’m not a fan, I think it’s gone in a lot of bad directions, but I think that it does a disservice to merely write the game off and pretend that no one could engage with it authentically.
A big part of that comes down to perspective, and a realization I’ve had over the last few months. I’ve been in the habit of lying about a part of my WoW enjoyment, at least to myself.
If you’ve been reading my posts for a long time, firstly, I appreciate that, but secondly, you’ve probably seen me say some variant of a statement like, “I’m gameplay focused in WoW, and the story doesn’t matter to me in my overall enjoyment of the game.” I’ve said it probably a dozen different ways, but the sentiment is pretty clear – if I have fun playing the game, I don’t care how awful and weird the story around that gameplay is.
But, of course, the kicker I’ve come to realize is that this statement is bullshit.
I do care about the WoW story, which I proved multiple times in separate posts often adjacent to the above sentiment, as I would say I don’t need the story to be good and then write a 3,000 word lore analysis. It’s proven in my move to Final Fantasy XIV and how much I cherish the lore and story there and how it enriches my gameplay. I want to not care about the lore in WoW, because it has been the weakest link in the game for a while now, but in truth, I do care. If raid design changes and decisions were a primary motivator for me getting out of the game back in December, then lore is probably a solid number 3 on that list, behind a general disgust with Blizzard due to…well, everything. There is a large, single reason I will expand upon in a post later this week, because it will be a big one.
I think that’s something that I notice across the board, though, and not unique to me. Everyone has a thing they like in the game, and a thing that they notice missing that affects their enjoyment unexpectedly. A lot of my guildies try to follow the story and hate it, and it does have an impact on excitement for patches and new content. A lot of people I know who play world content almost exclusively feel the pinch of things done for raiding gameplay, because it impacts the design of open-world content and scaling, both positively (catch-up gear is generally easier to get now than it was in the past) and negatively (day one in a new zone can feel really bad even in LFR gear because stuff is designed to provide a challenge on day one to everyone, including the raiders running around in 245ish item level currently). Things in the game being good have knock-on effects, as do things when they are not good, and it is counter-productive to silo everything and analyze it that way. “Raiders” aren’t the reason the game is bad, and writing screeds against them only portrays you in a negative light. Likewise, anyone still using casuals as a putdown in 2022 is a moron, because the vast majority of most MMO players are not hardcore content-pushers by most publicly verifiable stats – they’re people who log on for a couple hours here and there to blow off some steam in a wide variety of content.
I think that there is a contingent of WoW player that is still happy in 2022 and their voices are often unheard, not because they are ignored but because they’re happy and playing the game. Most people I know who post about the game, whether on a blog or social media or just in a guild Discord server, are hardcore in some way. They really enjoy their time, to such an extent they must share it (how I started here, in fact), or they are having a hard time finding their way to the fun, and so they share. Most people who are happy with the game just play it, and most people who’ve truly given up on it just don’t. There’s a middle-ground of people where I feel I fit – I dislike the game at present, but I still have a hope (perhaps foolish) that it can get better and that 10.0 will be a good step forward. I’ve seen a certain amount of community responses to the current state of the game and its place in the broader genre that is interesting because it is new to WoW to not be the number 1 game in the MMO space, and I do have some thoughts on writing that up separately.
I bring all of this up now because of two things – firstly, with the 9.2 patch out and raid day tomorrow, we’re going to see a lot of reactions and dialogue coming out and I think the perspective matters a lot on that content, but secondly, because 9.2 is the last major Shadowlands patch and I fully expect that by the end of March or middle of April at the latest, we’ll get a 10.0 announcement of some sort. There was a gap of around 45 days between that last patch of WoD and the Legion announcement, our only non-Blizzcon expansion announcement to date, and so I expect to see a similar template here – whatever the fan response to the new story ends up being, Blizzard needs to set a path in front of the game for it to walk down if player interest is to be maintained, especially since this patch is likely going to linger for a while (my bet right now is that 9.2 as a full content structure, including the tweaks of 9.2.5, will last about 15 months).
There is a lot of interest in what comes next for WoW right now – a lot of fans that have written off Shadowlands for various reasons but are waiting eagerly to see what 10.0 brings. I am one of those – I’ve been writing about my disenchantment with the game not as a cudgel or insult to those still playing (something I think I’ve captured well in most of my writing on the topic), but because there is still a part of me that has a hope for what comes next. Intellectually, I know this is baseless – the team hasn’t meaningfully changed and while 9.2 PTR brought a lot of positive changes to that specific content, there is little reason to believe that it represents a shift in how the team thinks about all content to come – but I still have that lingering hope, against any logical reasoning. However, I think it doesn’t benefit us to pretend that WoW isn’t being enjoyed by anyone right now – there is still an audience there, and while it seems smaller than it ever has in some ways, realms are still populated and people are finding things to do and enjoy. Ultimately, if WoW continues on its current trajectory, it will become more and more of a niche, but it is still a large, populated MMO with a total player count that a lot of games can only dream of – and discounting that is intellectually dishonest, as is pretending that a subjective assessment of the game carries weight with the playerbase at large.
In the end, what I find so interesting right now is that there are a lot of perspectives that are broadly in alignment – that the game needs a renewed energy to carry it forward into this new, more competitive MMO and gaming space, and yet if you look at the 10.0 wish lists, “leaks”, and all the other various bits of opinion out there, there are both a lot of different ideas and yet a lot of commonalities – a lot of raiders wanting a grounded return to Azeroth and adventure, a lot of world-content solo players wanting things that stay true to that older WoW formula but keep some of the modern conveniences, and a broad agreement that what the game is today is not meeting the potential of what it can be. For 5 years in blogging about the game, that doesn’t necessarily surprise me, but I do think it is the most overlap I’ve seen in interests, and that is a surprise.