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The Decline of World of Warcraft & How It Can Change

Boyish culture critic and gamer, someone who would probably fit all the stereotypes of one.


World of Warcraft, arguably one of the most popular games to have ever existed, has dominated the market of massive multiplayer role playing games, or MMORPGS. Romanticized by the likes of South Park in the episode "Make Love, Not Warcraft," the game would not only be an icon in the MMORPG community. Rather, it would also become an international cultural phenomenon, recognized by players, angry parents, and fans of the genre alike from around the world. During the height of the game's popularity, it would boast a subscriber count of 12 million people, a number equating to half the population of Australia.

Fast forward to 2021, and despite almost 16 years of age, the game still has an active player base, with the game’s last expansion, Shadowlands, selling 3.5 million copies on its launch day. Despite an impressive legacy and the generation of billions of dollars in revenue, many critics, from famed YouTubers to professionals alike, would point out the title’s general decline in the last several years. This is after eight successive expansions which has bought about much needed updates and changes to the title.

The relationship between the game’s developer, Blizzard, and consumers in the Warcraft franchise would also come to sour in the last several years. With allegations of intense monetization, lack of progress, and general laziness on the part of developers, there has been resentment amongst players and fans of the series.

So What Went Wrong?

The decline of World of Warcraft, depending on how you interpret it, began during the later stages of its second expansion, The Wrath of The Litch King, released in November 2008. Although the expansion itself was a success, the game was essentially at a creative cross roads to its future development. Blizzard released its subsequent expansion, Cataclysm in December, in 2010. The third expansion would also come to be well acclaimed by the majority of players, especially with regards to its story telling and scale. However, some changes to the game were scaled back, essentially pointing to a business as usual model for upcoming content.

The business as usual model for the game is based on the repeated use of its four core game play features, which are also hallmarks of many mainstream MMORPGS today.

  • Questing - This is essentially accepting an in-game task by the game itself, telling you to accomplish things like "kill this monster in place x" or "save the damsel in distress in place x".
  • Raiding - Fighting monsters with a team of other players, each player has to contribute to a style of fighting to maintain the team's progression and survival. The monsters will then drop rewards for players to move on.
  • Farming and skilling - Repetitive tasks a player has to do to accomplish a goal in a game, normally associated with the game's economy. These include, for example, picking herbs from the ground, mining ores and creating potions.
  • Earning gold - Where players earn gold for spending to accomplish objectives in the game.

To explain this in context, World of Warcraft is essentially a large, open world environment where players ultimately achieve to gain a higher level relative to their peers. They do this by accomplishing quests, killing monsters with other players (dungeons and raiding) and earning money. Of these features, only earning gold is considered a truly open ended option for players to choose how they want to go about addressing how they should do so.

During Cataclysm, for example, a player could reach the maximum of 85 levels in the game. Once you managed to reach this 85th level the playing objective switches from gaining character levels to gaining levels in weapons and armor, which is how you rate players on their accomplishment. The way you achieve this is by questing, raiding, or paying for the said, weapons and armor.

Through 2006-2020, the game released eight expansions, which essentially has recycled this concept indefinitely with very few major changes.

When it comes to thoughts on progressing the acclaimed title, there are generally two sides when it comes to the scope of changes players would want to see in the game. On one side, there are those players mainly concerned with improving the game's existing gameplay model. These players would want to see essentially the same content, but edited and delivered in a way which makes the game more meaningful and competitive. On the other hand, there are those who want to see the game drastically overhauled, with entirely new gameplay features. This article will explore the latter side.

How can WoW be different?

For players to have a good experience, arguably a MMORPG should ideally offer:

  • A compelling journey, so players can feel like the achieved progress as a character.
  • A compelling virtual environment, one which ideally, a player can interact with, or attach some nostalgia, and can explore.
  • A healthy player to player ecology, one which encourages friendship, rivalry and interesting interactions among players.
  • A sense of impact on the world, where player decisions can influence other players and the environment in the game.
  • An economy which reflects a player's contributions, which can change.

In almost every point above, the way it all interacts in WoW is around its core gameplay concepts, questing, raiding and farming. There are only a few gameplay options, such as making gold and player versus player combat which players can go about open ended.

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The Dark Moon Faire Model

Surprisingly, a rather popular content in the game was the Dark Moon Faire, a sort of in-game amusement park where players can hop on virtual rides and partake in mini games like go-kart races and shooting galleries, games that would be seen in a real life faire. The Dark Moon Faire would serve as a somewhat interesting and fun experience for players, allowing them to explore the faire itself and also allowing players to interact with the faire's unique environment. Players could also otherwise relax from a tedious life of adventuring and form social experiences with one another.

Yet for all of the faire's fun and entertaining features, the features that make it special would be rarely seen beyond the faire itself, amongst the wider world of Azeroth.

These features include the extended use of three themes.

Social Ambience

Social ambience is one of the most important facet for a successful MMORPG, establishing the setting where players can form social relationships. For the most part, World of Warcraft has not progressed as a title when it comes to developing this. Much of the virtual world still feels the same as it had a decade ago, with hubs of activities in major cities and settlements providing to some extent the much needed ambience for the game. There are also the occasional festive events for players to enjoy, such the Winter Veil and Hallow's end for Christmas and Halloween respectively, yet beyond this, developments are few and far in between.

The Dark Moon Faire would serve as an outlying example when it comes to the content provided to players by the developers. The faire, otherwise resembling a real-life faire, is an atmospheric bonanza for players to explore, relax and settle in. From its purplish, fire-lit theme, to the abundance of exciting, cool and gimmicky activities, the faire certainly has the ability to make the player feel like a kid again. Amongst this is the casual social atmosphere that you can find amongst players, all soaking in the ambience, something which is hard to find the world of Azeroth.

Environmental Interaction

Azeroth, besides it's beautiful landscape, the world is essentially a barren wasteland with no real purpose for the player beyond a certain level. Yet within the Dark Moon Faire, this is not the case, as the faire is filled with a host of fun objects like ridable rollercoasters, racing tracks, fireworks and merry-go-rounds. Although these environmental objects do not serve much of a purpose outside the faire, they would come to be defining in setting the fun for players, rather than being inanimate objects that most objects are in the world of Azeroth.

For the most part, the environment of Azeroth often reminds the player of its potential, if only the developer would come together to invest in developing them. Places like the Alterac Mountains, starting zones like Teldrassil and Dun Morogh often brings about a sense of nostalgia amongst the players who visit them. Yet these places serve no other purpose in the scheme of things, sitting idly as the years go by. Had Blizzard come to develop these areas with environmental objects as seen in the faire, this would otherwise provide older areas with a much needed incentive to make them interesting to players once again.

Mini Games

Mini games as the name implies are smaller, sub games or activities within a larger game. These may include activities like racing, puzzle solving or playing virtual Whac a Mole. In many MMORPGs, mini games serve as a staple of gameplay, providing interesting gameplay mechanics to players.

World of Warcraft itself would come to feature various mini games, the majority however would come to support the game's quest line and reputation system. Other titles like Final Fantasy Online would come to be more experimental with the concept of mini games, allowing players to gamble in virtual casinos.

For the most part, World of Warcraft's use of mini games pales in comparison to its competitors, being mainly directed towards grinding. A few exceptions exist however, in the Dark Moon Faire, mini games would come to provide players with fun activities, also providing incentives and rewards for players to participate in them. Although this concept is not alien to the wider game, the scope of its application within the faire and how it blends with the game's environment and ambience is something quite unique.


A New Model for the World of Warcraft?

In many ways the Dark Moon Fair represents the development potential of World of Warcraft, being an area within the game where radical approaches to making the game fun can be tested by the developers. Perhaps the Dark Moon Faire can serve as an easily replicable template to developing the future of the world of Azeroth? This model could have been the holy grail to an alternate vision of the game's development path in the last several year.

Gnomeregan: A Case Study for Redevelopment

Amongst the world of Azeroth and its many interesting places, Gnomeregan stands out as one the most undeveloped area in the game. The underground city, once the thriving capital of the gnomes, is now abandoned. Home to many interesting and fun mechanical contraptions, the dungeon has always been popular amongst players alike, yet for the most part it remains isolated from the game, with no real purpose.

Can Gnomeregan then be developed with the Dark Moon Faire template? The development of the city could see it revert from a dungeon to an active social hub, with the inclusion of the three themes to attract players.

  • A focus on mini games: It is not difficult to see Gnomeregan become a hub of mini games. With its mechanical and engineering themes, the city could host a myriad of mini games revolving around puzzle solving and excavation. These games can range from unlocking engineering artifacts, to killing invading troggs whilst hopping in a gnomish bipadel tank. Gnomeregean could see itself become the location for several mini games, otherwise providing players with meaningful rewards.
  • A compelling virtual environment: Players could expect Gnomeregan's environment to be similar to its dungeon but with new additional features. Amongst the city players could also expect to encounter objects like mechanical lifts, connecting players between different floors of the city. You may except to find tubes that could transport players from place to place, places that are otherwise inaccessible. There could also be a stop over connected with the Deep Rum Tram. The lowest floor on the city could feature an excavation site for players to explore and a new dungeon.
  • A focus on social ambience: Aside from its engineering and mechanical theme, players could expect to find an ambience in the city focused on working, you may except to see players otherwise leveling their professions or hanging out in the upper floors of the city. These players would have chosen to literally stay out of the light, so to speak, preferring the underground space that Gnomeregan offers.

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