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WoW, This is Ridiculous

Written by Joshua Hufton

I’ve always been repulsed by subscription-based payment models.  That said, I can also understand their necessity for ongoing services versus an individual product.  But in terms of games and entertainment, make no mistake, imposing a subscription-based model on the consumer is a bold assertion indeed.

With one-off purchases like the upfront cost of a game, there is and can be some degree of acknowledgement and forgiveness in the mind of the consumer regarding minor bugs, design missteps, or aesthetic blunders.  Many of these issues reveal themselves only after the product has been released; surfacing imperfections at this point are virtually guaranteed when a game is suddenly played millions of times over.  Usually with a free patch these issues are justifiably, and easily, forgiven.

See Red Dead Redemption or Fallout: New Vegas as a pair of recent examples.  These games were released with a slew of bugs, most of which were benign, and were otherwise fantastic games.  A free patch or two later and these $60 investments are easily redeemed, their bugs largely forgotten.

But by way adopting a subscription payment model for a product, specifically a game, a developer overtly suggests that a game is much more valuable than any similar product with a one-time purchase.  With a subscription model, it is expected a game is not only sufficiently content-rich but fundamentally reliable and bug-free as well, because, what else are you paying them for each month?

When Blizzard released World of Warcraft in late 2004, they chose the latter payment scheme.  Whereas it may be easier to justify a monthly subscription fee for a console platform in Xbox LIVE—where the service itself is robust, supports online play for dozens of popular games, and runs largely without hiccup—attempting to justify a monthly payment for a single game is more difficult, certainly when the payment is not minuscule.  It not only sets a dangerous precedent—how many games will we be subscribed to at once in the future?—but a lot of content and community support, in the case of an MMO, is not enough for a monthly subscription alone.  When an entertainment product becomes an entertainment service, there is much more to expect.

When WoW launched, I scoffed at the notion of a subscription-based game, feeling much the way I did when Microsoft charged for multiplayer on LIVE.  I largely ignored these services due to their subscription fees, jaded by the inexcusably high monthly fees for shoddy cable and mobile phone services from multiple service providers.  I bemoaned largely at the precedence these payment schemes set, worried that in the future the entertainment center of my home would be the source of all the bills: not only electricity, cable, and internet bills, but the Xbox LIVE Gold membership, the PSN bill, the Wii bill, the OnLive bill, not to mention the individual subscriptions for all the most popular individual PC titles.  Dangerous precedent indeed.

Though I scoffed, I quietly assumed that if this future were ever to take place, presenting games as services rather than products would at least benefit the playing experience.  Developers could spend more time polishing their product, releasing bits and pieces when they are ready. And by ready I mean bug-free and reliable.

World of Warcraft, despite the army that supports the game’s living, breathing global infrastructure, is markedly not bug-free and reliable.

But first a couple design qualms.  Though I am a relative newbie to hardcore PC gaming—the one exception being Starcraft—I am far from noob status when it comes to gaming in general.  I lend the qualifier hardcore here because I entered Azeroth with my first character and felt positively confoozled.  I picked up the mechanics, structure, and controls of the game quickly to be sure, but the first thing I learned was that Google was going to be a close friend.

Though a few tool-tips pop up on occasion, there is much that isn’t explained as the player begins to level an avatar: what are a Rogue’s “combo points?”  How do I rearrange spells?  How do I disable chat from strangers?  How do I learn new profession skills?  How do I make a side-by-side comparison with equipment in my bags with that which I’m wearing?  Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

Perhaps this is why the game comes bundled with a massive user guide.  What am I paying by the month for? Seems to me I should be paying Google when I’ve got to alt+tab over to find the answer to a question that ought to be shown, not told in-game.

Far too often the description of a quest doesn’t give enough guidance.  The map doesn’t zoom in far enough to be of any help finding one’s way through mountainous terrain, map markers are often vague, and several times just not at all in the right spot (see here for one particular quest where I can remember this happening.  Scroll down in the comments section to see this enlightening post: “yep, blizzard quest marker is wrong. don’t trust blizzard, trust the wowhead community. :-)”).

The landscape in WoW is massive—the scale of the game is very much a strength—but when finding one’s way up a small mountain pass to get to an objective requires repeatedly struggling up a dozen 45 degree angle slopes, working around a mountain range meticulously for a half hour for an opening to ascend, only to realize that you must be entirely on the wrong side, well, something is very much askew, and it ain’t me.

Finding one’s way to an objective point on the map and navigating difficult topography was a part of Red Dead Redemption as well, and worked very well for this game as it highlighted the elements of exploration and adherence to theme.  But doing so in WoW is irritating at best, and for chiefly two reasons.  First, the map itself in RDR, while still maintaining the rustic ink-on-parchment appeal to work with the fiction, is zoomable far enough to examine and derive the proper route through rough terrain.  Second, the ambient world in RDR itself was worthy of getting lost in; there were other things to do , the landscape was breathtaking, and feeling of isolation fit well with the Wild West theme.

The ambient environment in WoW is nowhere as compelling as it is in RDRThere are few sights to be seen orbreathtaking visuals for WoW in 2011.  Spending 45 minutes struggling to find the “right” way through mountainous geography low-res geometry is not fun: it is a trial of patience.  Is it fair to be comparing a game in 2004 with one in 2010?  When we are paying up the ass by the month, you betcha.  Any number of patches could have expanded upon the ambience of Azeroth, but 50 hours in and with five toons at at least level 15, I’ve become increasingly aware one thing.  WoW is very much tailored to the veteran hardcore, an important consideration to be sure, but at the expense of newbies—potential future veteran, loyal fans, and hardcore?  No, we are left to read the accompanying paperback.

I could go on here with other minor complaints, but I’ll move onto what is more important.  Remember when I said World of Warcraft is markedly not bug-free and reliable?  Allow me to quickly cite the technical issues I have had thus far with the game (and allow me to point out the machine I am running it on, designated solely to WoW, facebook, and of course, figuring out how to play WoW through Google).

I’ve been disconnected by the server half a dozen times, and have crashed with error message “#132” closer to a dozen.  Several times I couldn’t load the launcher due to an error receiving patching information.  Once, when in the game, I slid down a mountain and upon landing was disconnected; after repeatedly attempting to reconnect, only an unsuccessful phonecall to tech support and short chat with a GM with another toon and I finally had my problem solved.  Among the sundry quest-related hiccups, another involved this quest-giving NPC being entirely invisible (see the comments section identifying the issue as a bug) only after mapping a keystroke to detect nearby NPCs was I able to speak to the quest-giver and activate the quest.

Where are my monthly payments going?

When Microsoft blew the doors open to online multiplayer with Xbox LIVE, my stomach dropped and my hackles raised at the utterance of “subscription.”  However, several years later and I am a happy paying customer; regular updates and patches have streamlined the LIVE experience into the quintessence of online gaming, something of which Microsoft should be very proud.  When a Heavy Rain update crashed the Playstation Network, it felt far more acceptable to fall back to my laurels and say, “well, I’m getting what I paid for,” because I hadn’t been paying for anything.  In this sense, PSN and WiiWare is a priveledge, and XBLA is a right—a subtle, yet important distinction.  I am actively paying for my online experience with Xbox whereas I am getting it all (mostly) for free with PSN and WiiWare; therefore I fundamentally retain a higher degree of confidence and expection in the former service, and frankly, a small part of me expects worse in the latter two because they are free.

The point is, World of Warcraft carries with it a number of both design- and bug-related frustrations, as any game does to some degree.  But WoW has also been on the market for six years, has six million subscribers, and requires of its players to pay monthly.  It is inexcusable that many of these issues—particularly the bugs—still exist.

Were there no subscription involved, these things would be far less an issue, if an issue at all, but because each and every player is pumping money into Blizzard coffers—paying for the right to play unhindered—we as players have the right to ask more of the developer, and the developer has the responsibility to listen.  Unfortunately what seems to be happening is only the veteran players are receiving the benefit of patches and updates whereas new players are forced to figure it out.

To be sure, it is the subscription model which is the most at fault here: it conveys a higher sense of expected quality, it raises expectations to somewhere close to perfection, and although World of Warcraft is a marvel and a triumph, it retains little right to be charging me by the month.

Author:

Joshua is a graduate of Full Sail University’s Masters Program in Game Design.

Check out his website – http://www.huftopia.com

Follow Joshua on Twitter – @huftopia

21 comments

  1. Connection issues? Really? I've experienced all of ONE connection issue that wasn't my fault, and that issue was remedied in a matter of I think three minutes. So while your other complaints may be valid, I encourage you to do some research on average down time, and random disconnect rate in WoW. If I remember correctly, I believe C.R. published a report on subscription services and downtimes and WoW ranked in like the top 10% of stability.

    Just some food for thought.

  2. Xbox live? You take issue with paying a subscription fee for an MMO yet you're happy with Xbox Live?

    I can only infer that you've neglected to look into similar services on the PC, which is home to Steam, Xfire, Raptr and a myriad of other applications that offer everything Live does, and more, completely free of charge.

  3. You didn't have to write all that. You could have just wrote. Hey I am a cheap bastard and I suck balls it would have come off the same way.

  4. The author of this is a whiny ***** who couldn’t find out how to do something without gps and person to hold his hand the entire way. I played WoW for a grand total of about half an hour before I figured out about 75% of his”complaints,” and I was able to figure out the rest by asking the other players in the game. And he looks at all of the negatives of the game, but completely overlooks the great, big, huge, glaring, obvious fact that a game doesn’t get 12 MILLION subscribers without being at least halfway decent gameplay wise. Sure, the landscapes aren’t as pretty as in console games, but then there is the fact that you can spend 60+ hours leveling your character all the way to max and still have only scratched the surface of the game. That is the true draw of the game, and I gladly pay for the game because it means that Blizzard gets to keep making games and polishing them to the point where you are blinded by their awesomeness.

    • Polish? With PVP balancing and rendering issues? And grinding those dungeons in the Lich King is the epitome of polished pacing. Grow Up. Until they figure out how to make WOW look less minecraft 3.0 and more like, let’s say, God of War 2 PS2 edition you can then claim polish. And the number of subscribers or participants does not equal quality of any sort. The continued run of Jersey Shore has more than proven that. Furthermore the fact that in your rant you had to seek advice from other gamers to learn the ins and outs of playing wow is a major UI interface fail, and you proved his point.
      You appear to have missed the general concept of the post Actual Gamer which was what are you really getting for your money? For your basic monthly fee $14.99 x 12 Million subscribers, Blizzard halls in a whopping $179,880,000 A MONTH. Let me type that again $179,880,000 A FUCKING MONTH! And the best they can do with all this money is that unbalanced poorly paced MMO wrapped in a turd coated buggy setting, that Blizzard placed in a box stamped it with WOW and slapped some high res pictures on the outside that you and 12 million other “wowies” continue to pay for each month without fail. With a cash flow like that they can definitely do better. Where does all that money go I wonder… not anywhere near a decent graphics engine or sound programmer that’s for sure. Take off those rose colored glasses my friend and take a good look at what you and everyone else is actually paying for. Or maybe just try to defend it for it’s actually merits like a consistently evolving world space, excellent feedback implementation, or a rated industry best tech support. Instead of bashing an education opinion with an obvious uneducated rant.

  5. no single game is worth a monthly fee.

  6. Just as a point of order, I was disconnected whilst playing tonight and I actually crashed out twice. I'd also venture a guess that I have the best computer here. Its not the norm, but it happens. The game, while I love it and have no problem paying monthly for it, is flawed. Anyone who says it isn't is either very lucky or very stupid.

    • I don't think anyone is saying that WoW is perfect. (At least I hope not) I still haven't had the DC issues that people seem to keep talking about though. Perhaps I am lucky, or perhaps I'm playing on a server that's more stable. I really couldn't give you a reason, but I'm curious as to why it's like that for some of you, and not for me.

  7. Well, WoW has some issues but there is a reason for it. Blizzard has redesigned whole areas and quests all the time creating new bugs instead of old bugs. And they have added content all the time too. For example only small part of WoW quests in 2004 and most quests have been replaced by new ones or removed from game. Most NPC's now on the game have been created years after release and old NPC's doesn't exist anymore.

    Also, originally WoW was much more difficult than it is now. Most features which make game easier didn't exist at the start. Now, Wow is childishly easy game.

  8. I've played World of Warcraft for four years and counting and have not yet expereinced more than a few crashes a year. I mean, you compare Red Dead Redemption an Single-Player RPG to a MMORPG (You see the difference?). Which leads me to thinking you are a very casual type of gamer who also thinks FPS games can be played on the Xbox(nice aiming fag).

    There is issues with the game, the charm however lies in proressing your own character and progressing as a guild. Teamwork is needed, unlike single-player games you rely to be in a good team to complete goals. Who gives a donkeys ass if I die one or two times a year because I get a error or that I get disconnected?

    You don't come on the internet, to fucking compare Xbox live to a game. It shows what a patethic idiot you are. Compare Xbox Live to Steam and then where is your fucking noob console now ?

    World of Warcraft has more content than any other game ever released, it's more bug free than any other game ever released and so far it seems it's gonna stay that way. There are technical difficulties, very true indeed – but compared to other games which are SINGLE-PLAYER GAMES only crafted for a SINGLE person to venture through at a time, it's pretty damn well done to come out with such amazing expansions (bug-wise) each time.

  9. Is it really that bad to read the instruction manual? Do you think the veterans knew everything when they started playing? They had to go through the motions as well, possibly with more difficulty, seeing as online help was limited in the early stages.
    A game that indirectly requires you to read the instruction manual has done nothing wrong. In fact, I get disappointed when I open the case of a new game and find 6 pages of instruction manual, and out of those 6 pages, 5 are disclaimers, health warnings and trademark statements.

  10. Although I no longer play WoW(far too addictive) I still see alot of wrongs in this blog post. I dont hate wow, I love wow, but its too good at sucking the irl out of you. As for the subscription.. really? Do you know how many subscription based games there was when it launched? How many there have been? Alot. If the subscription fee is too much for you, then go spend that money on a movie.. that lasts ~1.5 hours.. instead of getting countless hours of entertainment, an awesome community, extremely customizable interface, big content updates, a solid gaming experience and a wondeful story. It doesnt have to look god of war, and it shouldnt.. it simply wouldnt be warcraft with another graphical style. Another reason that it sucks in so many players is that it can be played on almost any computer.. thats an upside you know. Downside.. its like a drug. Now, Im getting back to not playing wow, almost 10 months wowfree!

  11. If the guy of the article is retarded and can't get level 2, what's the problem?
    The are other games for free, browser ones. Or maybe he could try those Nintendogs, Giulia veterynary passion etc, maybe he can play them without needed a GPS to find the "right path on the mountain"…..

    A bit make me laugh and makes me feel ok, since 1 noob less in the game.

  12. look at ll the wow kids coming in all pissed off. for some reason wow players think everyone else who doesnt play is too poor, the funny thing to me is in my eyes, a lot of poor people play wow so that they dont have to buy any other games. i have no problem with people who stick to a certain game, but real gamers go out and buy new games from other developers. there are some quality games constantly being put out on the market, and wow players just stay stuck in their 2004 mmo because all their money and time is focused on this game.

    i know wow is a good game and will probably never be topped by any other mmo, but seriously, go play some other games, some of these wow players havent played any games since wow came out and dont really know the possibilities of todays games. its okay if you wanna stay subscribed to wow, but try something else out, i know a couple people who quit wow after playing more recent games.

  13. Really have a lot of WoW dick riders here…. You can't accept for one moment that someone might have logical complaints about your savior? Your fat, greasy face must be contorting!

  14. lol@ all the greasy basement dwellers getting upset over this.

  15. I played WoW for 4 years off and on, quit two weeks ago. Not the worst game out there but it's definitely not worth the subscription fee.

    And anyone who says they don't have a problem with their constant maintenance downtime is a dirty liar.

    And liars go to hell.

  16. lol at all these fanboys, iv tried wow and find it totally uninspiring and cannot beleive people readilly pay for it. and spending countless hours on wow does not make you a hardcore gamer.

    • Exacly, playing countless hours doesn’t make you hardcore, I and other WoW players don’ t wanna be hardcore, we wanna play something that’s entertaining us , like you enjoy any other game.

      If you don’t like WoW, why bother writing a f***ing article about it?? They are getting more subscribers each day and grows for it’s 6th year, something tells me the game isn’t bad and your opinion won’t matter!

      • Here at Gamer Reaction, we encourage everyone to express their own opinions, especially our writers. If you have a distaste for something, do you just keep quiet about it? I highly doubt it. Well thats exactly why Mr. Hufton wrote this article. Just because you disagree (which you are more than welcome to do) doesn't mean he shouldn't have expressed himself just as you have expressed YOURself here in the comments. See? It works both ways quite nicely. I know I personally have written a few articles about things I don't like. For me, its rather cathartic. Like getting something off your chest. If you would like to get anything off YOUR chest blabla, I encourage you to submit something or hit up the forums. We welcome everyone!

      • WoWersNeedPuntang

        It should also tell you that the masses (of WoW gamers) are (dumb) asses. The author is right: if you're paying $$$/month for something, you should have high expectations of service.

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