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When Change Comes Knocking

Victor Barreiro Jr. Posted:
Interviews The Devil's Advocate 0

It’s been around three weeks since the last Devil’s Advocate, and I’m lucky enough to have an editor who was cool about my asking for a brief hiatus. While some of you may have expected me to disappear, and while I still haven’t really found a lot clarity regarding life in general, I have realized that I do enjoy writing my thoughts out and reading thoughtful responses to issues.

Today’s Devil’s Advocate deals with a recurring theme in MMO gaming: the reception a fan base has to change. Aside from a short backgrounder on games that have changed some intrinsic part of their systems and received some backlash, there are two main issues regarding change I wanted to discuss.

The first thing I wanted to talk about was The Lord of the Rings Online’s upcoming Helm’s Deep expansion and how word of the class changes might appear to people who are casually observing the forums for a short period. The second thing I wanted to discuss, also related to LOTRO, is how their community management team has appeared less than stellar in handling the reactions.

NGE and Cataclysm

While there are likely some other games that have garnered a negative reaction due to changes in their systems, few have had such differing reactions as the changes made in Star Wars Galaxies’ New Game Experience/Enhancements and World of Warcraft’s Cataclysm class changes (which also got changed further in Mists of Pandaria).

I’m going to shorthand the history of SWG a bit, so bear with me. Prior to the release of the NGE (Pre-NGE), the game had a 12 main professions that you could specialize in and then gain further expertise in, with some subprofessions thrown in, such as a politician that could create and manage player cities.

In the NGE, released nearly eight years ago and whose patch notes are outlined on the Star Wars Galaxies Wiki, the class development systems were altered rather significantly from pre-NGE. You were more or less given the option of being shoehorned into a particular class, and some classes weren’t exactly combat friendly. The struggle of becoming a Jedi in pre-NGE, which I’ve been told required some doing, was replaced by a button click to simply become the class.

These changes came two weeks after an expansion, leaving many unprepared for the changes. People left, communities died out, and the game simply wasn’t the same as before because the fundamental changes to class systems were so drastic.

Regarding World of Warcraft, we have a less drastic scenario, but it was one that also needed to be discussed. By Wrath of the Lich King, the WoW class advancement systems had 61 points to distribute across three trees. This seemed like the norm for numbercrunchers, but it also created a bit of skill bloat for players, making gameplay a bit more difficult for us less than speedy keyboard users.

Cataclysm addressed overfamiliarity with the world and skill bloat, revamping vanilla-mode Azeroth and culling the talent trees into 31-point systems which were a bit like the systems in Vanila WoW. Mists of Pandaria changed that even further, but to focus on Cataclysm, let us just say that in comparison to the NGE, the changes were not to the liking of players who reveled in complexity, but enough people stayed because the game offered something that people liked.

A mix of other factors likely led to a decrease in the game’s playerbase – not enough to slay the Deathwing that is WoW perhaps, but enough to leave the naysayers with a long-standing “WoW is dead and the sky is falling” vibe (though hasn’t that always been the case?). 

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Victor Barreiro Jr.

Victor Barreiro Jr. / Victor Barreiro Jr. maintains The Devil’s Advocate and The Secret World columns for MMORPG.com. He also writes for news website Rappler as a technology reporter. You can find more of his writings on Games and Geekery and on Twitter at @vbarreirojr.