What's Next for World of Warcraft?
The World of Warcraft franchise is starting to show its age. With the wide variety of MMOs that are currently on the market and the fact that more and more of those games are going free-to-play, WoW veterans are slowly starting to realize the grass is kinda greener sometimes. There's also the fact that the game itself, and its community, are aging. World of Warcraft: Mists of Pandaria was an extremely solid expansion if not one of the game's best expansions, but with so many other options out there, the game and its community definitely need a little "oomph" in order to continue doing well.
It seems that Blizzard Entertainment is fully aware of this fact as well. With their recent announcement of Project Titan being pushed back a few more years, the team even added that, "We're using this opportunity to shift some of our resources to assist with other projects." World of Warcraft is also seeing much quicker patch updates now than in past expansions, which is undoubtedly part of the team's plan to ensure the grass in other MMOs doesn't look too green.
The new update pace is a step in the right direction, especially after the super slow updates during the latter half of World of Warcraft: Cataclysm. The direction of some of the recent updates currently in development is also something that's worth giving a few props to the development team for, in my opinion. The developers seem to be learning from their mistakes.
Now, if you've been gaming for a while, there's a good chance you've noticed that game developers never like to admit when they've made a mistake let alone work on trying to reverse that mistake. Instead, they'll usually cover it in enough PR-speak to coat your local shopping mall and call it a day.
One of WoW's recent additions that completely changed the face of the game is the "Looking for Raid" system. The feature was added during the tail end of Cataclysm, but there's a solid portion of players who are still up-in-arms about LFR. Most say it takes away the "massively multiplayer" part of the MMORPG acronym, since LFR fights are fairly watered down mechanic-wise and the raid itself is entered via an automated queue.
I can't help but agree with the sentiment. Sure, completing LFR raids is quick, easy, and generally painless, but is it really fun to complete a group activity when you don't need to communicate with the group whatsoever? Is it fun if you can effectively faceroll your way through the content (and ignore mechanics) without anyone even batting an eyelash? And what about the players who are only in LFR to grab loot and cause problems for the rest of the group? Group kicks then become a necessity, which most certainly isn't very fun.
For those of us who grew up playing online games, LFR leaves a lot to be desired when it comes to socializing in an online game. There's something to be said for needing to spend at least a few moments planning strategies and ensuring folks are somewhat on top of their game. After all, don't we play video games to at least somewhat challenge ourselves?
Most of the WoW players who share the same opinions as I simply dedicate themselves to a raid group where that challenging, group-driven content is still the main focus of the game. And yes, believe it or not, despite the simplicity of LFR content, the Normal / Heroic raids in Throne of Thunder and even the earlier tiers of World of Warcraft: Mists of Pandaria have been downright challenging and even at times rough for smaller, tight-knit guilds.
It's towards those smaller, tight-knit guilds that Blizzard is aiming their next, big feature coming in patch 5.4: Flex Raiding. Flex Raiding will essentially be another raiding difficulty that will allow groups to experience the social requirement of forming, organizing, and planning out their raids without requiring X amount of raiders to log on every day. The fights themselves will scale to the size of the group and loot will be somewhat automated in order to reduce the chances of loot drama. The difficulty will be somewhere between LFR difficulty and Normal difficulty.
It's a nice compromise, really. In the announcement, Blizzard admitted the following: "While Raid Finder mode is extremely accessible, it doesn’t provide smaller groups with a tight-knit social experience while progressing through the content." Sure, there's PR-speak in there, but the admittance of the fact that World of Warcraft's community needs a bit of help is there. That, to me, is an excellent sign.
In 5.4, we'll also be seeing something called Proving Grounds, which will give players an opportunity to test out their DPS, healing, or tanking skills in a solo environment with mechanics similar to those they would face during a raid. With any luck, this will help new players gain confidence in tanking and healing and ensure those who want to move on from LFR can do so without running into too many bad community apples.
We're also going to be seeing Virtual Realms, which hasn't been detailed in full yet, but seems to be a feature that will temporarily fuse realms together in order to allow players to share the Auction House and join in arena teams, raids, and dungeon / scenario groups together.
A large part of the emphasis on all of these coming features seems to be placed on community. Community is vital to any MMORPG, no matter how old or young it is. As any current player will tell you, World of Warcraft's community isn't what it used to be. With a little help from Blizzard and a few mindset adjustments, however, it might just be possible to get the game's community back on track. And that's when the real fun begins again.
Laura is a freelance video game journalist and sci-fi/fantasy LGBT author who's equally passionate about the games she loves and the stoof she writes about. Stoof is a word, right?
[Other Features +]
MORE FROM GAMEDYNAMO