So, something totally exciting happened to me today (or maybe yesterday, according to my gmail it was 22 hours ago), but I'm legally not allowed to talk about it! I probably shouldn't even be mentioning that it's the type of thing that has an NDA. Maybe it's OK to say that it's something I've mentioned on this blog before?
And it couldn't have come at a better time. Last night I realized something. I'm burned out on WoW.
Well, not totally. I'm not even close to burned out on Ulduar with my DK, or on the occassional PvP with my Rogue. What I'm burned out on is everything even remotely grindy. Levelling an alt or doing jousting dailies just doesn't hold the excitement for me that it used to.
The feeling had been building for a few weeks, but it hit a turning point last night. I like to watch TV shows on Hulu.com and listen to podcasts, but I find that in many cases those things on their own aren't enough to hold my attention. For instance, while watching Lost or BSG requires my full magazine of mind-bullets, I can watch throwaway comedies or something like Kings or Lie to Me (both excellent new shows this season) in the background. I originally got into listening to podcasts as something to occupy my brain while walking to/from work or working at my last job, which involved lots of data entry and cutting/pasting from spreadsheets (the big benefit of this job was that I learned not to fear Excel).
Basically, I have two brains working in tandem: one that does rote tasks, and one that requires constant intellectual stimulation or it will start poking me between the eyes with a stick.
For a long time, I've been winding down in the late evenings by doing something grindy in WoW while watching a show or listening to a podcast, since neither task is enough on it's own to occupy both minds the way raiding, PvP, or a fully demanding piece of entertainment would. Originally, what I wanted to do was level up or do dailies, and the podcasts were just to mitigate the grind.
Last night I realized that now, what I really want to do is lisen to the podcast or watch the show, and WoW has become the vestigial part here.
I ended up just sitting and watching a show by itself (blasphemy!) because I couldn't stomach any more grinding.
Part of the cause for the change is the accessibility of the new raid content. I spent a lot of time stuck in Kara back in TBC, so alts became the the exciting part of the game: taking what little content you were stuck repeating over and over, and make it more exciting by playing from a different perspective and gearing up a new character in epics. RAF was the pinnacle of this alt orgy, leaving me with something like 10 characters across 2 servers over level 60, waiting to be played.
After clearing Northrend 3.5 times, grinding through it again and again just doesn't seem very appealing. With Ulduar's shiny newness available, grinding the same heroics with a new character, or god forbid running Naxx a dozen more times with that character just doesn't have the sheen I thought it would. On top of that, achievements are not shared accross characters. Why have a ton of alts if it means you have to grind 6 characters through every holiday even that you want the title for (not that I'd do this, I try to avoid holidays unless I really really want the title)?
Dailies are in the same boat: I am loaded with cash. Sure, I would like the mounts and pets, but they aren't enough to get me to grind for hours a day.
In essence, the end rewards are no longer exciting to me, so I'm not longer motivated to grind them. I'd rather just do Ulduar with the TV off, or listen to an audiobook without WoW. Unfortunately, this kind of leaves one of my brains in a bad place. What should I do?
This dovetails quite nicely into one of my longstanding opinions: Blizzard will keep paying customers longer by reducing the grind, not by increasing it.
I know this sounds counter-intuitive. Don't they want the players grinding away at timesinks, since that should force them to spend more time paying for the game to reach their goals?
The problem is, if you show players the really fun parts of your game, and then force them to repeat hundreds of hours of content they already did just to get back to those parts that are fun to repeat, they'll give up on a goal rather than volunteer for the timesinks needed to pursue it.
I think that the levelling game is a blast until you max out your first character, and it's even fun to do the second time if you try the other faction or different questlines or zones. But after that, you shouldn't have to do it again just to try a new class. I promise you, Blizzard will keep me longer if I can do Ulduar with a new class than they'll keep me if I have to grind for 50 hours to get a new character to that point. Sure, maybe I'd theoretically spend 50 hours grinding and 80 hours in Ulduar if you make me grind, while I'd only spend 80 just doing Ulduar if you gave me a free 80 of a different class. The thing that you'd be missing is that I'd never spend those 130 hours. Instead, if what you offer me is the grind to the fun part, I'll realize the fun part isn't worth the grind after 10 hours. The choice looks like one between 130 vs 80 hours, but it's actually very likely to instead be 10 v 80 hours.
Blizz have taken some steps in this direction lately, by purposely shortening the leveling curve, offering RAF, and adding Heirloom items. But honestly, they should take it a step further. They should give you a free level 70 character in starter gear on your account once every 6 months that you have a level 80 character on your account and are paying. This will go a lot further toward retaining customers than the current model, imo.
I think this would go far enough to protect the integrity of choices that you make. It's not like you can just switch characters at will. Especially considering that someone who wants to roll a new character can reach 70 in under 6 months. This would actually serve to slow down the number of people switching classes, since they'd have no reason to powerlevel their own character in 3 weeks if they could just wait 6 months for their next free 70. And they are paying the whole time, even if they aren't playing that much! It's win/win!