Thursday, January 12, 2012

The Elekk in the Room

Remember how busy the Old World was when the Shattering happened?

Toons swarmed over the Vanilla zones like ants on a picnic, investigating the new quest lines and the leveling experience.  Many new alts were created, and a plethora of blog posts were written about the new zones.  This fed into the excitement surrounding Cataclysm’s release and for the first few months after, keeping Kalimdor and the Eastern Kingdoms busy.  Blizzard’s gambit to revamp the Vanilla zones paid off in spades.

Or did it?

I’ve spent the spare time I’ve had in between battlegrounds catching up on my Eastern Kingdoms’ questlines, and what I’ve noticed more than anything else is how empty the zones are.  There are a few farmers around and maybe one other leveling toon out there.  Some zones, such as Arathi Highlands or the Hinterlands, are completely empty.  In fact, it seems like the only busy zones in the entire Eastern Kingdoms are the starter zones.  I’ve cruised up and down the Ghostlands right before Christmas, and there was nary a Horde toon around.  You’d think the sight of a Draenei riding on a blasted Elekk around the Dead Scar would bring some L85s out of the woodwork, but that didn’t happen.

Is it possible that all that work to revamp the Old World was wasted?

Think about it:  we’re back to where we were in terms of leveling zone population from mid-2010 in a bit over a year since 4.0.3b dropped.  It’s the equivalent of a kid ripping open Christmas presents, playing with them, and declaring “I’m bored!” an hour later.

Are there no players leveling toons?

Well, there might be toons being leveled, but there are LFD and BGs as alternate routes to max level.  Additionally, we can’t simply state that there aren’t any new players, either, because new players are typically shunted into the new, empty servers.  However, on servers that have been around for a while, there are definitely very few players leveling toons through questing.

Which again begs the question:  was the revamp worth it if very few of the existing player base take advantage of the options presented?

Now Mist of Pandaria is on the horizon, and without a further update –aka more money spent on these zones that have seen little long term interest— the Vanilla zones will be once again out of date.  A new player to WoW will end up scratching their heads if they try to level via questing.  (“I thought Mists of Pandaria was about Pandas!  All I see are all these Deathwing references!  And who’s Illidan and that Lich King guy?”)

I believe that the revamp was a bold move, but incomplete in execution.  Furthermore, by performing the revamp Blizzard set itself on a course where the story of Azeroth is told in a jumble, not in a series of sequential chapters.  A revamp is pretty much an all-or-nothing scenario, especially when you mix the expansion’s new zones in with the original Vanilla zones.  No amount of hand waving can make a new player forget about Outland and Northrend --especially when you have to pay for them!


  1. Hi there! :D uhm from my understanding, very few of the zones mention deathwing as well. I'll give a simple illustration. From azshara to Barrens, the horde side quest chain actually focuses on the battle with the alliance. There's only a small mention with the Kalecgos quest chain there. But by and large, the story of the entire zone revolves around the conflict between the alliance and the horde.

    Don't forget as well, the connecting patch between expansion might fix this problem as well :)

  2. @LifeDeathSoul-- True, not every region has a Cata influence. There's the Hinterlands and Hillsbrad, and I'd also throw the two Plaguelands zones into that mix, since a lot of the quests there have more to do with a post-Lich King Lordaeron than Deathwing himself.

    That said, there's enough Twilight's Hammer/Deathwing stuff out there that will need fixing. The main quest chains in the Badlands and Darkshore would have to be thrown out, and the Searing Gorge's quest chains would need to be severely altered. ("You're taking orders from Ragnaros? Wha'choo talking 'bout, Wills?"). Certain zones, such as Thousand Needles and Feralas, would also need some cleanup given the Grimtotem influence in the region. Oh, and while the Goblins' and Worgen's intro stories could work in a post-Cata world, it would still be an anachronism. (See: Draenei and Blood Elf starting zones.)

    One zone that would survive most expansions intact would be Ashenvale, although there's one quest chain there that would need to be pruned. And, ironically enough, I'd put Arathi Highlands into that mix, as untouched as it was by the Cata updates.

  3. Hi - I propose that there is another factor to consider, when wondering why you see fewer characters in leveling zones.

    Leveling speed.

    Characters level a lot faster now than they did in the Original Game. As a consequence, they don't spend as much time in any level or zone, so it is harder for characters to bump into each other.

    I'll fabricate some numbers to illustrate this. Suppose that it takes 3 hours to gain a level. Also suppose that you are in a zone that has 5 levels worth of quests, and while you are working on this, newer (younger) toons enter your zone at the rate of one per hour. It would take you about 15 hours to finish the 5 levels in the zone, and there would be about 15 people in the zone (either people above you, or below you, but 15 over all.)

    Now only change one thing - suppose leveling is three times faster, suppose that it only takes an hour to level. Everything else is the same, you work through your 5 levels in that zone, new toons still arrive at the rage of one per hour. But because people only spend 5 hours in that zone, you only see 5 people overall.

    Leveling speed makes a difference - making leveling two times faster or four times faster has the effect of thinning out the zones, since people speed through the zones more quickly.

    I do agree that dungeons and experience in battlegrounds have pulled some people out of zones... but it is important to note that zones will be thinner just because of the all leveling speed changes made since the Original Game.

  4. @Anonymous-- You make some good points about how the change in leveling speed pushes people through zones more quickly.

    That said, with the 10 million subs out there, does that mean that most of those 10 million are all at max level? If that's the case, then why spend money on lower level zones and instead of directing your focus on the end game, where most of your subs are?

    I've been an advocate of wanting a consistent experience throughout WoW, but from a purely business perspective, it seems like an inefficient waste of time of development money, particularly since it seems that not much will happen to those zones in MoP. Imagine Ashenvale flooded with Pandaren, and you get the point.