We’ve all seen the signs before: ‘limited time only’ the words say, usually with a McDonald’s McRib sandwich plastered on it. We all scoff, the sandwich comes back like a zombie next year, and we continue to dismiss the idea of it truly being a ‘limited time only’ experience. This is not so different with MMORPGs and their holiday events. Holiday events come along like the seasons they represent with mini-games, encounters and goodies, but we don’t truly find it devastating if we missed out—it will all come back next year. However, what if a feature, a paid one, was truly here for a limited time only… should players be punished for the lack of participation?
Months prior to the release of World of Warcraft’s Warlords of Draenor expansion, Blizzard announced that certain features of Mists of Pandaria were to be phased out. The endangered features included Challenge Mode dungeons, the questline for the Legendary Cloak and heirloom weapons that came from defeating Garrosh Hellscream. Except for the heirloom weapons, Challenge Mode dungeons and the Legendary Cloak were much vaunted, advertised features of Mists, and understandably many players expressed outrage over the news. Blizzard responded with two lines of thought: that there is contextual difficulty involved in certain content and subscribers should be rewarded for participating.
Except, it’s disingenuous to claim that paid content has an expiration date due to balancing issues and/or to ‘reward’ the playerbase.
Arguably, you can compare Challenge Mode dungeons to PvP seasons. There’s competition on topping the leaderboards, rewards exclusive to that season, and it makes sense to close it down when there is a new ‘season’ incoming. However, that’s where the comparison ends. From one PvP season to the next the same battlegrounds and arenas are open, and most importantly—balance is constantly in flux. There is no contextual difficulty with PvP seasons. Blizzard frequently tweaks everything from gear to individual classes, and to say they won’t retrofit Mists’ Challenge Modes for the Warlords’ environment in the spirit of fair play is just baffling; especially when their latest raid, Siege of Orgrimmar, was adjusted for a Warlords’ format. Now consider that Mists’ Legendary questline requires no tuning, and is being completely excised.
To put the removal in perspective, it includes all scenes with unique NPCs, solo-player scenarios and unique objectives that supplemented the main narrative of Mists; the Legendary quests were a companion piece that added personal depth to your character's journey. Sure, you can argue that it’s old content at this point, particularly with an expansion that’s been around for over a year, but it’s such a big chunk of the Mists’ experience that it’s almost a crime to remove it for new or returning players. It’s not like World of Warcraft is operating on Guild Wars 2’s “Living Story” model either, where the world continuously evolves for the sake of immersion. One of World of Warcraft’s strengths is its older content, where players can tackle 10 years’ worth of content at their leisure. The problem is the calculus that Blizzard considers content experience equal to rewarding players.
It’s one thing to make certain items unobtainable and as a “Hey, I was here” memento, it’s another to reclassify the journey to attain said item as a ‘reward’. You can’t expect subscribers to stick around just to yank the metaphorical rug underneath them. There are better incentives to entice player participation in content than a deadline. RIFT and Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn rewards subscribers with items and pets on daily to monthly basis, for example. There has to be better ways to engage and reward players than what was done to the Legendary questline.
Ultimately, is there a case for limited time only content? Maybe, just not for the reasons that Blizzard has stated in regards to Mists content. There is value to participating in limited time only events, but only if it truly warrants being around for a brief time. A good example of this was Final Fantasy XIV’s Lightning Returns storyline, the Final Fantasy XI and Dragon Quest FATEs that popped up for a month, disappeared, and came back a few months later. The events were short, fun, and didn’t interfere with any central stories or competitive activities, which made it perfect for being ‘limited time only.’
Major set pieces should never be a ‘get it while you can.’