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Have We (and Warcraft) Officially Grown Up?

July 10, 2012
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As hard as an end of an expansion always is, lately I can’t help but wonder if Cataclysm is somehow harder.  Until quite recently, I found myself less motivated to log on, more bored, and finding it increasingly difficult to invent new priorities for myself while I wait for Mists to be released.  When I put this question to Twitter on Friday afternoon, I was flooded with a ton of fascinating responses on the topic (and a list of all those who were kind enough to participate can be found at the end of this post):

What I found to be most interesting was just how many of the responses I received didn’t speak so much to the differences in the game since the end of Wrath, but instead to the differences in the players themselves.  As I read through tweet after tweet telling me how much happier players are now with the way they are spending their time in-game and how they have shed the anxiety that comes with believing they have to do it all, I had to wonder:  Have we grown up just as much, if not more, than WoW has?

The Wrath 20-Something

The Burning Crusade was a time when WoW was slowly making its way out of the identity crisis faced by any new MMO into a place with a clearly defined endgame and path of progression.  BC defined what heroic dungeons, gear grinds, faction reputations, and raiding would look like for years to come.  Yet it was Wrath that took all these new systems and made them accessible to a large portion of the playerbase.

For the first time, it was truly possible for many people to get their characters to a place where they couldn’t upgrade further.  Once this happened, Wrath provided us with huge incentives for alting.  Heirlooms were released with the expansion and added to as Wrath went on.  The XP needed to level, particularly through Outland, was decreased significantly, and it was possible to take a character from 1-80 in just a matter of weeks.  Once level-capped, gearing to the point of being able to run heroics, then ICC dungeons, then ICC itself, could all happen within days or hours – depending on how determined you decided to be.  All this was an extremely far cry from the very long leveling and gearing process in Vanilla and BC.

There was a consistently expressed desire at the end of Wrath to have one of every class, or one of every healer/tank, and so on.  Players frequently set leveling goals for themselves and repeatedly slogged through the 1-80 grind, and I know that I am not alone in having quickly filled up my character slots on my home server thanks to Wrath’s easy leveling.

If WoW aged like your average human being, I would place Wrath as the equivalent of its late teens and early 20s.  It was a time when many of us were finally learning to play the game for the first time, and there was a ton to learn!  We leveled a multitude of alts so we could figure out all the different classes and roles, just like a college freshman might take courses from her university’s liberal arts core to help her decide on a focus of study.  We tried a little bit of everything – raiding, leveling, PvP, selling on the auction house – because we finally had the resources and the knowledge at our disposal to do so.

We couldn’t get enough of all the new experiences that were available to us then.  For many of us who had never found raiding accessible before, the idea of not only taking our mains through the final encounters of the expansion, but also our hordes of alts was an opportunity we couldn’t pass up.  I know that I loved the idea of getting to try out each of my healers, my tank, and even my warlock in ICC.  Wrath was a time of learning and discovery, and that desire to figure out every aspect of how the game worked kept us busy until the very end.

Unfortunately, this also made it easy for many of us to set completely unrealistic goals for ourselves.  Leveling and gearing an alt of every single class takes a lot of time, even with heirlooms and reduced XP.  Couple this with the knowledge that many quests, dungeons, achievements, and more would either be gone forever or changed drastically in Cataclysm, and we suddenly felt more like we had to keep going than we wanted to.  For many of us, burnout was inevitable, but we played on anyway.

The Cataclysm Adult

Narci perhaps best expressed the jarring shift from Wrath to Cataclysm when she said:

The end of Wrath was spent preparing for a future in Cata that turned out to be completely not what I imagined.  And really, I spent most of Cata adjusting to the question “if not THAT, then what is this game?”

I don’t know what exactly I expected Cata to be.  I know that I was excited to think that, for the first time, I would go into an expansion with a raiding guild and focus on progressing through content (hopefully) soon after it was released.  I expected to lead my own 10m group and also participate in the guild’s 25m, but the difficulty and gear check of the T11 raids quickly chased many of my 10m raiders away.  Real life intervened for both groups, and we lost more and more people.  Those best friends you make while you’re in college who you think you’ll be close to forever?  We lost a lot of those in Cata’s early days.

So I was forced to reevaluate, just as Narci was.  Perhaps the most difficult of all Cataclysm’s changes has been the clear shift from WoW’s default being a multiplayer game to its new default as a solo game.  The addition of dungeon finder, satchels as incentive for tanks and healers to queue alone, and eventually raid finder meant that it was actually more work and more effort to raid or group with your guild than it was to queue alone.  Blizzard’s choice to focus on ease of solo play has made a lot of aspects of WoW much easier to coordinate (in that they require essentially no coordination at all), but it has also meant that we must work exponentially harder to maintain our community ties.

Cataclysm has been an extremely lonely expansion for me, and not just in recent months as I’ve found my guild growing increasingly indifferent to the game.  After the first few months of heroics and the subsequent nerfs to those heroics, it was as simple to hit the dungeon finder button as it would be to try to put together a group of people from my guild.  The original Cata heroics and the troll heroics I did for the first several times with guildmates - the Hour of Twilight heroics I have pugged since day 1.  With each patch added during this expansion, I have watched as we are given more incentive to play alone and much less to play together.

By far, the people who have had the most success with maintaining a sense of community, and who are enjoying the end of Cata the most, are those who have gone outside the traditional notion of what a group or a guild is.  Many of the responses I received on Twitter were from players who met each other outside of WoW first – whether through blogging, Twitter, or forums that coordinate raids using Real ID and Battle Tags.  By using non-traditional means to find new people to play with, many WoW players are now using these new resources to group with people who want to play like they do.  Now, because it is easier to find those people who share your interests, burnout is less of an issue for some of the community.  Those who want to run old content can find others with similar goals, as can those who want to PvP, roleplay, or just about anything in between.  Though this was also true during Wrath, being able to quickly find and connect with those who have similar interests is really something that didn’t fully develop until the current expansion.

In the years since I finished college, I’ve realized that one of the more difficult aspects of adjusting to adulthood is the lack of sanctioned, organized activities and settings that make finding new friends as simple as attending class or a club meeting.  For me, the same has slowly happened in WoW as Blizzard moves toward a model that simplifies solo play.  Finding new recruits, and developing and maintaining ties with guildmates have all been much more difficult in the last 2 years than they were during Wrath.  Much of the loneliness and isolation I sometimes feel in game now isn’t all that different from the adjustment I had to go through when I lived alone for the first time after sharing a dorm with many, many friends during my college years.  There are still plenty of potential friends and guildmates out there, but the work required to find them has changed.

The Aging WoW Player

Where were you 4 years ago?  Was your job the same as it is now?  Do you run in the same circle of friends?  How has your family changed?

All baby moonkin have to leave the nest someday.
(Thanks to Apple Cider Mage for permission to use her artwork.)

I don’t have much in common with the person I was at the beginning of Wrath, nor is there much in common with the way I play now versus how I did then.  It’s amazing to look back and think how I knew absolutely nothing about this game, and that I never would have dreamed I could ever know as much about it as I do now.  This has been more of the more challenging things to accept in Cataclysm – that, for the most part, my need to learn about the game is at an end.  I suppose a part of me expected that a new expansion would mean more to learn, but that simply wasn’t the case.  Wrath had been all about the influx of information and new experiences that I got from being a first-timer in WoW’s endgame.  That thrill of knowledge and of knowing how you’ve improved yourself is pretty compelling – and there was no way Cataclysm could hope to duplicate that feeling, because I was a veteran now.  I’d seen it all before, and the new stuff just didn’t interest me all that much.

Just like many of the others who responded, I realized that I have changed much more than WoW has.  I came into Cataclysm expecting an emotional and community experience that would be mostly the same as what I’d seen in Wrath, and then had to scramble to change my priorities when I realized this wasn’t going to happen.  Perhaps we made it through WoW’s (and, as players, our own) adolescent period in Wrath and expected the game to treat us differently in Cataclysm.  We were ready for the grown-up expansion that would take us to the next logical step in our learning and growth as a playerbase, but we only found more of the same.

So much of what I saw on Twitter regarding the ways our attitudes about WoW have shifted reminded me of the changes we go through during the end of adolescence into adulthood.  We have narrowed our priorities, really picking and choosing among them to be sure that we are spending our time doing things that are meaningful to us, and weeding out those obligations that overwhelm us and lead to burn out.  We have both broadened and simultaneously narrowed our circle of friends, finding people who more closely share our interests but finding more of these like-minded players.  We recognize that balance is key, both in game and out, and that spending too much time on the game while we wait for a new expansion isn’t necessarily very good for us or for WoW.

The Warcraft community has grown up, and we are ready for Mists to be the expansion that sees us this way.  We are incredibly eager to learn new things and to continue to tailor our play experiences so that they coincide with our individual interests and priorities.  All that remains to be seen is whether WoW will be able to keep up with us.

Many thanks to the following people who responded to my question on Twitter:  @AlternativeChat, @GarroshHllscrm, @Lyshra, @battlechicken, @anexxia, @_Rades, @Druidis4fite, @JRWStormy, @DruidMain, @GetintheBag, @wowcynwise, @itsreallymarc, @EWOKinLA, @Aralosseien, @matticus, @DragonFireKai, @Rezznul, @BeruHeals, @catulla, @stoppableforce, @lufitoom, @Khalior, and @annanda.  Hope I didn’t miss anyone!

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17 Comments leave one →
  1. July 10, 2012 9:47 am

    Hi Tzufit,

    Man, did this post hit home for me!

    I think one of the reasons that I haven’t been able to feel like I’m enjoying the tail end of Cataclysm like the people you mentioned in your post is that the things that I want from the game can’t necessarily be put together through alternative means (e.g. Twitterland Raiding or even blogging). I play WoW to raid and it’s a lot harder or even impossible to organize a successful raid through Twitter. Believe me, I have tried.

    I think if you’re interested in more “casual” activities, and I hesitate to use the word because of the can of worms that it usually opens, you can find fun things to do with lots of great people (e.g. PVP, transmog runs) and you can stay occupied and content through the usual doldrums of an expansion.

    Personally, I have changed quite a bit with each expansion and I’m not sure the game has grown along with me to where it’s meant for me anymore. I have really enjoyed playing another game lately and I haven’t missed WoW one bit. In fact, I have to remind myself that I still have to raid once a week because I’m in a guild and I’m obligated to do that.

    The last time I took a break from the game or quit was because I was burnt out and had played non-stop for such a long time without any time off. Now I feel like it may be just time to move on, because it’s time. No muss, no fuss, no loud kiss-off or anything. It’s just time.

    Thanks for the great post.

    • July 11, 2012 1:06 pm

      I couldn’t agree with you more – it is not only more difficult to pull together a group of like-minded players to work on Dragon Soul normal and heroic fights, it is actually impossible. Because the cross realm feature was set up to disallow Real ID / Battle Tag pairings for the current raid tier, those of us who are interested in this kind of progression are simply out of luck. On one hand, I understand why Blizzard sees this as a necessity in order to preserve realm first achievements, and on the other … damn, I’d love to be running heroic DS with some of my blogging friends right now!

      Evaluating whether a game is still relevant to our interests is certainly a difficult thing to do, and particularly so with a game like WoW that has been such a large part of our social lives for so long now. I hope you’re able to come to a decision regarding WoW that makes you happy – it’s never fun to feel like you’re obligated to do something that should be a leisure activity.

  2. battlechicken permalink
    July 10, 2012 9:57 am

    Man, your Wrath assessment was so on point for me; it’s like you time crawled to a couple of years ago and expressed EXACTLY how it was. Though I’d been playing for years, I feel like I “grew up” a lot during Wrath as a player. I didn’t realize how much I didn’t know until Wrath–some of this had to do with diving into the blogging community, but a lot of it was the fact that there were suddenly so many things to try. I loved it.

    However, the end of Wrath was tough for me. Really hard. The whole guild was burned out, really. We had been in ICC for too long, but we felt the need to push through heroics. On top of that, we were doing alt ICC runs, and like you said, it felt like we SHOULD because we COULD.

    This made tempers short (mine included) and attitudes indifferent, and ultimately led to me leaving my guild.

    I took time off in the middle of Cataclysm for the first time ever–actual time off, not just a raiding break. I virtually stopped playing for 4 or 5 months. When I came back, I was ready. I wanted to play. With a lot of the issues resolved, I rejoined my guild and have been happy with that decision since.

    The real change, though, was me–not the game. I came back with a cooler head and my priorities in order (in-game AND IRL). I know now how to step away. I’m almost afraid of Mists. It has everything to do with the turmoil that came at the end of Wrath and the fact that I don’t want the happy boat I’m in right now to capsize.

    • July 11, 2012 1:11 pm

      I took a few shorter breaks from WoW during Cataclysm, one during Firelands and another just a few months ago. It’s something that I could never have considered doing during Wrath, but that certainly changed my perspective on WoW. I eventually came back from both breaks because I missed the people I play with and also missed many aspects of the game itself. But taking that time off has made me much more comfortable with the idea of someday leaving WoW, or with WoW someday ending, than I was before.

  3. July 10, 2012 11:08 am

    I wondered which way your post would go as a result of the discussion last week, and I have to say I think you took it in precisely the right direction.

    Any game needs to be considered not simply in the context you play it in, but the bigger picture around your life and priorities. This post is likely to resonate through a lot of gamers, especially those who came to the game as you did.

    Nice work :D

  4. July 10, 2012 5:44 pm

    I’ve been playing since the end of 2006. I can point to quite a few things in my life which have changed during this time. During the BC and Warth expansions, I took short breaks to spend with family.

    We had a child during each expansion! :)

    This lead to multiple months off during each expansion.

    I can’t say that I “grew up” in playing the game. I did, however, migrate from an individual play style to a more group oriented play style. You see, my job requires me to be around people. When I got online, I enjoyed the isolation of questing! I only got into group play when I found some “IRL” friends who were playing as well. I ended being a raider in Wrath, though that was never my intention.

    If anything, Wrath burned me out on WoW in many ways. So much so, this expansion has been anything but a coordinated event of play on my part. I have leveled many alts, but haven’t put down any more solid roots in any other guilds.

    (The Wrath guild kind of fell a part at the end of the expac)

    Now, I’m back to the solo play. I’m back to the anonymous guy behind the toon, slaying internet dragons for a little stress relief. As I look at my WoW experience over the past 6 years, I seem to have come to a full circle – Solo – Group play – Solo.

    Thanks for a great post!

    Z

    • July 11, 2012 1:15 pm

      Thank you for such interesting insight into how we our playstyle changes over the years!

  5. July 11, 2012 12:58 am

    Oh I never saw that tweet! Oh well, you didn’t need my input because this post is so on the spot that there isn’t anything I could add anyway!

    Cataclysm has felt like the “I can’t be bothered” expansion. People can’t be bothered turning up. Or trying. People are searching for something, and they didn’t seem to find it in Cataclysm. Disappointing really, because Cata did have some gems to offer. Even Blizz couldn’t be bothered giving us an engaging storyline, and they left the exciting legendary story for the rogues only, so their guildies could not even follow to watch the cutscenes and story.

    My guild is quieter now than it ever was at the end of an expansion. I face every expansion with nervousness, wondering if it will be the last my guild faces, but there is always enough life and love in the guild to keep it alive, afloat and especially for us die hard addicts who love everything about the game, there is enough even to do it alone. Solo play has made a big come back in this expansion and maybe that isn’t such a bad thing after all.

    I don’t know what Mists will bring. I think because my attitude towards it is “Are you serious???” that I’m afraid that Blizz will bring something, somehow along those lines into this expansion.

    • July 11, 2012 1:47 pm

      Oh man, don’t get me started on the rogue legendary questline! I think it is SO sad that guildmates don’t get to participate or even SEE what the rogues see when they finally get their daggers. That sucks.

      I don’t think that solo play making a comeback is a bad thing, but it does feel a little bit counter-intuitive for it to be the norm for an MMO … a MASSIVELY MULTIPLAYER game. More convenience is a great thing, though, and I can’t say that I miss how difficult it could be to get together 5 capable people for a daily heroic before the advent of the dungeon finder.

      *shrug* As you may have guessed, I’m a tad conflicted on all this. :P

  6. July 11, 2012 1:19 pm

    I have been looking forward to this post since your Tweet. I also feel this way. I am NOT the person I was when I started playing back in Vanilla. Back then, I was an undiagnosed bipolar, late 20′s, obessed with having a child because I felt it would complete me. I was extremely unhappy and I used WoW as an escape from my depressing real life.

    During BC, all of my RL friends got into WoW and I started to raid. We fumbled around for a bit, made our own guild and started going. We hit a high point in Wrath but then it was a steady decline for the end of Wrath and all of Cata.

    The officers (myself, my husband and our two best friends) told ourselves that if our guild wasn’t doing well by Feb 2011, we would call it and move on. We never did. We just couldn’t give up. It took a year later (and a lot of heartache and pain for a lot of people) for my husband and I to give up and leave the guild and server. And I found out yesterday that our guild we put our heart and soul into for so many years, they are disbanding and transfering off server by the end of the month.

    I agree with Navi that this is the “Can’t be bothered’ expansion. No one seems to want to try. The player base is growing older and getting out of game responsiblities and those always come first.

    However, there are people out there with the same goals that you have. You just have to find them first. And honestly, it’s awesome when you do.

    • July 11, 2012 2:02 pm

      I agree, I certainly have found myself using WoW less as an escape during Cataclysm than I did in Wrath. Perhaps it’s because I’m happier with where I am now, or because I’ve forced myself to see that doing so wasn’t the healthiest way to react to stress. It’s certainly hard to even compare the emotional tie I had to the game during Wrath (all be it for unhealthy reasons) than the one I’ve had since Cata – and it strikes me as probably a very good thing for me, though not particularly for my relationship with WoW.

  7. July 18, 2012 3:45 pm

    I think this is doubly-interesting conversation in this day of virtual worlds — not only do we have our own lives (memories, experiences, and future goals) to wrangle, but our characters’ too-
    http://science.discovery.com/videos/through-the-wormhole-what-makes-us-who-we-are/

    During any big life transition, I try to remember to ask myself, “Am I running from or to?” It’s a toss-up sometimes.

  8. August 2, 2012 11:01 am

    I read this post a while ago and found myself coming back to it today because the very same questions you ask have been swimming in my head. There has been a huge difference for me between the end of Wrath and the end of Cataclysm and it took me by surprise.

    Wrath was filled with optimism, wanting to level alts and such. Cataclysm felt like a disappointment and it has succeeded in dampening my spirit of the game overall. Unfortunately its to the point that I’m finding it difficult to be excited about the upcoming expansion.

    When I first started playing WoW I was in graduate school and life was stressful with no time for anything. WoW was a wonderful escape and it honestly helped me keep my sanity throughout that time. Things are different now – and roles have sort of switched for me between the two worlds. My profession irl is incredibly rewarding and I’m excited to get into it every day – and WoW on the other hand seems boring, grindy and tedious in its end-of-expansion days.

    I completely agree that WoW grows and changes just like its playerbase. The big question for me will be whether I’ve outgrown WoW or whether WoW’s new attitude in Mists of Pandaria will fit with who I’ve become now. I think it’ll be a tough question for me answer. :)

    • August 7, 2012 2:43 am

      I just love this comment. <3

      Wrath really DID have such a sense of optimism, with everything being accessible to "casual" players for the first time. As one of those casual players who never thought she'd get to do things like own a tier set or run heroics, or RAID!, I was just so happy to get a chance to try all those new things.

      I hope Mists will manage to bring back some of that feeling of wonder I had when so much was brand new for me in Wrath. I hope this isn't a permanent loss of innocence kind of thing.

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