What ultimately made me stop playing WoW wasn’t so much the new content or the failure in clearing it, but rather the monotony of clearing the old. Let me explain for those not familiar. When you kill a boss in WoW, it drops 2-4 pieces of loot. This can be class specific armor, or a weapon, or jewelry, or whatever. Your average dungeon has 7-12 bosses. A raid dungeon is typically cleared once a week due to reset timers. A raid group has 40 people. Each player has 19 slots of possible gear that can be worn at any time, not to mention extra sets of gear for certain battle roles (such as resistances, damage absorption, damage dealing, etc). There are also special “recipes,” and other miscellaneous items. You can do the basic math–and get the idea of how long it takes to gear a raid force. There is a huge amount of competition for scarce resources.
Because of the fact the game is persistent, most people are raiding for the awesome items that come from the bosses for their own gain (we call the exceptionally greedy ones “loot whores”). From a team perspective, you need those awesome items to help clear the harder bosses. As a result, every week, you need clear “farm status” content–that is, the bosses that are easy to kill, in order to obtain equipment to advance the individual, and advance the team. The result is exceedingly complex loot distribution systems, drama over who gets what, and a need to kill the same bosses over, and over, and over again. Every week. Every month. Every year.
And that’s what finally made me snap about WoW, and MMO games in general. I’ve written about the “time sink” concept in an MMO, focused on WoW. In short, because the game developer wants you to stay subscribed to the game, accomplishment and character improvement takes time. End game raiding is no different. Every week was the same thing–clear all of the current dungeon that is on “farm status” as quick as possible, to accrue loot. Then go die at the hands of whatever the new boss is. The original freshness of bosses, excitement of a new fight, eventually faded to the frustration of killing the same boss for the 20th time, or worse, the same “trash pack” (random dungeon monsters) for the 200th time.
The monotony was crushing. And what started to dawn on me is that it would never end. This is the formula for an MMO: spend time to get items. Whether you play for the 5-10 man content, or the 40 man content, or the PvP, you will devote X hours of play for Y items. I’m sure Blizzard has worked out what that formula should be, and it’s on a white board in a design room somewhere in their headquarters. And although I value the “persistence” of my character, eventually it’s the same stuff: get better items to tackle the next dungeon, where I’ll get better items to tackle the one after. OOOH! The ring of excellent power to replace my ring of great power! 10 more awesomeness points! Too bad the whole game is scaled such that I’ll never notice the difference!
Whether you do PvP, or PvE, it’s a mind numbing grind. PvP stops being fun when you have to do it 6 hours a night to stay competitive. And on the internet, there’s always someone who has more time than you. There is always someone who is better.
And ultimately, for me, I could no longer rationalize that same formula. The awesomeness of new content was probably 5% of my experience. The other 95% was grinding the same shit. I loved my guild. We had a great time. I’ve met some of them in real life. We almost had a get together in Atlantic City. Ventrilo and TeamSpeak have made connectivity greater than ever. I loved being able to talk to people. Some of the best times weren’t in the game, but what was said over Ventrilo. In fact, I’d say it’s the people that kept me around as long as they did. I had, and still have, a fierce loyalty to our raid leader and my class lead. They’re both awesome people. In fact, one of my biggest regrets is that I speak to them less now that I don’t play. I value them not only for their in-game skill, but the fact they were both very cool people. And they’re just the tip of the iceberg in terms of friends I made.
But the game was work. I say I had the best sense of accomplishment, as opposed to fun, from my days playing WoW. This is because the game was work–it was a goal to achieve, a task to finish. It was not really “fun”–not in the sense than an FPS or whatever is. It was a sense of accomplishment one gets similar to playing on a sports team (bad analogy, we’re all geeks reading this, none of us play sports). We were a team–to the point of being run like a business and having to buckle down and kick ass or risk having our time wasted. You feel good when you win- but you feel worse when you lose. And when you lose, fingers get pointed, and people fight. This is fun, to a degree, but there’s a pressure that goes with it that ultimately wasn’t for me. It wasn’t the same fun other video games give. It wasn’t care free.
I was spending 20 hours a week raiding. I scheduled my life around it. I gave up going out with friends. My roommates kind of understood my raid schedule, but were a little confused by how I could play so much. I ate a poorer diet because I had no time to cook real food. At one point I was dating two girls at once, and playing WoW, and dumped one of the girls because I didn’t have enough time for WoW (also cause she was crazy, but WoW was a factor). Try explaining to a girl you’ve started dating why you’re mysteriously booked Sunday to Wednesday. Or why you need to be home from dinner by 8. In retrospect, living the “double life” was insane. I wish I could have explained it to people close to me better. But if you’re not a gamer, you just don’t get the MMO addiction. They would have thought I was completely crazy. There was solace with my fellow gamers, who were all making the same sacrifices to play. At least they understood it (could I be more emo?).
If I hadn’t been buying gold (it was more time efficient for me to buy gold, given what I make at my job, than to give up more time), I would have had to devote 30-40 hours a week playing to have the necessary gold for the requirements for raiding (repair bills, consumable items for bosses, etc). That much time would’ve been too much for me. It’d have broken me. Spending real life money prolonged my experience. It’s something I don’t regret. I was already spending so much time, and time is money. But looking back, I could see why people think I’m crazy. I probably was.
The final nail in the coffin for my experience in WoW, and possibly MMO’s, is that the time sink concept doesn’t appeal to me anymore. An RPG like Final Fantasy is filled with content. The time sinks are optional. Because they make their money once you buy the box, and that’s it. There’s no need to fill your time with meaningless tasks to keep you busy. It’s different in an MMO. The MMO has two major ingredients as their success formula: time sinks, and character investment. We’ve discussed time sinks. It’s the character investment though, that’s the killer. Much of what hooks a person to an MMO is the same thing that’ll keep people with a significant other who is clearly flawed: the concept of investment. Having dumped XX hours, days, years, into the relationship, be it a person or game, makes you not want to “break up,” because you’ve put so much into it. The fear of “losing it all” is incapacitating. Losing invested can’t prolong a flawed relationship forever, and eventually, you will break up. And I did.
Part of me wonders if this is it for me and MMOs. I’ve always intellectually known about the time sink concept. I’ve always understood the grinding. Each new MMO has a honeymoon period where you ignore this. New scenery, new places to explore, new characters to get skills with. It doesn’t get repetitive for awhile. And WoW’s rich quest system, at least initially, made the game seem more like Final Fantasy than it did Everquest. But there is a finite limit to this. You run out of quests. You cap out. And like any curve approaching infinity, you get to a point where you work and work for minimal improvement. But work you do, because everyone else is, and you want to stay ahead. You get so caught up in it you don’t stop to realize how crazy everyone is. And the sole sane person surrounded by crazy people is the one who looks crazy.
Originally, the expansion was a slam dunk for me to purchase. Even after I initially stopped playing, I assumed I’d come back. The expansion has more PvP, more content, especially the 5-10 man. I could play a few hours a night for fun. But the more I thought about it, reflected on my life without WoW, the less I want to play. Sure, there will be a honeymoon period. New dungeons, new fights. New zones.
But ultimately it’ll be the same thing. The new experiences that will seem so fresh will become stale. The awesomeness of dropping bombs from a gryphon will become painful as I do it for the 1000th time. PvP, initially an exhilarating rush, will become monotonous as I battle to achieve my 1,000,000th honor point to buy the Sword of 1,000 Truths. Only to find that I’m battling people who already have it because they play more than I do. The new 5 and 10 man dungeons will be great, but ultimately it’ll be killing the same boss, hoping the item I want drops, and then rolling against someone else for it. Just so I have new gear to go to a new dungeon to repeat it.
This experience may appeal to others. Perhaps I’m overly jaded. The amount of new content in the expansion is supposedly staggering. Perhaps I’ll extract another six months, or even year, before the inevitable sets in. But given all the other things out there: other video games, going out with friends, enjoying commitment free time–I find it a hard decision to rationalize. Ultimately, I find my love affair has passed. Although the ex girlfriend, or perhaps it’s my mistress, World of Warcraft, wants a second go at it, I find it easier to say no. I know her ways–and ultimately know it’s a dead end. But at least I’ll always have the good memories.