Back in 2004, an MMO was made as a follow-up in the popular Warcraft series. Done with real-time strategy, Blizzard decided to expand the world they had created with World of Warcraft. It has been 17 years since then and to say that they found a gem would be an understatement.
World of Warcraft has survived multiple console generations, massive changes in technology and multiple attempts by others to replicate their formula. But nobody has been able to replicate the longevity of WoW. With Shadowlands Chains of Domination (also known as patch 9.1) releasing to the world at large on June 29, it is another part of one of the most impressive feats in gaming. A game that is still interesting after all this time and in a lot of ways feels fresh and new.
“Being in touch with the game, playing the game ourselves and listening closely to our community [are the keys to longevity],” Ion Hazzikostas, Game Director of World of Warcraft, said to UPROXX. “One of the challenges of continuing to evolve and update World of Warcraft is striking a balance between sort of catering to the desires for people who have been playing the game for 15 years in some cases and are still looking for something that is this mix of, you know, not too drastically different from what they’ve grown accustomed to, but fresh and new. And not just a retread of the same old, same old while still keeping the game accessible and bringing in new audiences where we can.”
This is a problem that more developers are going to come across as major games move in a more service-based direction. Focus too much on keeping the original adopters happy and it will eventually become too inclusive for new players, but those players are also your biggest fans. Ignore them for new players and they will eventually leave. The average lifespan of even the most popular games, however, is usually about the length of a console generation. WoW is a PC game that has been walking that line for four of them.
“I think one of the ways we’ve done that is to have our expansions and all of our updates to the game be a mix of sort of the evergreen, bread-and-butter foundations of World of Warcraft.” said Hazzikostas “Like our outdoor world, questing storytelling five-player cooperative is 10 to 30 player cooperative raids and player-versus-player content. But also have brand new features that are focused and restricted to a specific expansion such as the roguelike tour, or Tower of the Damned. That’s one of the centerpieces of Shadowlands.”
Shadowlands, and patch 9.1, has been one of the biggest updates WoW has ever seen. It took a 17-year-old game and made it more streamlined. It used to be that when a player entered into WoW they started in the exact same tutorial areas that players had been using since launch. They then had to play through essentially every expansion to try and reach endgame content and play with their friends. If they managed to get through all of that, then they could start playing the game the way it was intended to be. That became something developers saw as too inclusive, so they added level squishing: A way to help players level up faster and reach late-game content sooner. Basically, players can now experience more of WoW faster. It even featured a new tutorial area for players so they can get a better idea of what modern-day WoW is like.
“I think we realized that over time as we add new content to the game and new contents of the game at successive updates, that the pacing was starting to breakdown,” said Hazzikostas “We were having to rush players through all that content so they could get to their friends, so they could get to the current endgame in a way that made it feel really disjointed, and so the level squish wasn’t just about reducing the number of levels or making it faster, but allowing players to pick one of multiple expansion storylines to play through so that they could have a single cohesive storyline and a well-paced experience that would segue them into the current expansion.”
A game as massive as WoW needed something to bring in new players because there are always going to be people that want to try it after years of hearing good things. Even if it’s just to see what it’s like. A new tutorial area is a good place to start, but a lot of these changes also offered replay value for longtime players. Creating a new character in the past meant going through a decade-plus of expansions just to reach the same point as their current character. Now it’s way more feasible to make repeat playthroughs fun.