Monday, May 18, 2015

[WoW] One Day I'll Fly Away; Leave Draenor to Yesterday

Flying in Draenor is a pretty hot topic all around. Folks who want it back are vocally vociferous, and folks who're happy where things stand fire back with almost equal fervor.

The reasons the devs dropped flight in Draenor was largely due to design considerations. Bashiok illuminated this a year and a half ago:
Flying trivializes combat. A lot of people like to say we're trying to force world PvP, or that we just really want people to look at the pretty trees we made, but those really aren't the reasons that drive this same decision we've made every expansion. Flying allows you to escape or enter combat at-will. There's a reason why flying isn't allowed in dungeons and raids, or battlegrounds and arenas, and that's because it would trivialize the core mechanic of the game in those areas - combat. For much the same reason it trivializes how content is approached in the outdoor world based on the simple fact that you can lift off and set down wherever you like.

So that's the main reason. But sure there are a lot of other problems it can cause for content design such as zones having to get a lot bigger because flying mounts can travel so quickly (and thus making ground travel in them take much longer), it reduces the impact of elevation within zones, it completely removes the ability for us to pace or present content in any structured way, and in general removes our ability to determine how and when players approach a situation, see a vista or location, or charge into/out-of a combat situation. It just greatly reduces any gameplay we want to create by allowing infinite choice in how content is approached to best suit a player's intention to (usually) avoid that content.
I completely buy into that reasoning for leveling, and heck even max-level solo content (note to the reader: there's a big "but" coming later). When you're playing D&D, your players often go off-roading, and circumvent all your planning. In a tabletop RPG, this is something that should be run with and celebrated. In a video game, however, you don't have that flexibility as a designer, so you try to ensure that players approach your content in a relatively narrow, controlled set of circumstances.

As a player, yeah, that kind of sucks. "The man is limiting my gameplay! I don't like the man's gameplay!" I kid--mostly--but there's a grain of truth in that if you give players a method to circumvent content and go straight for the goodies, they'll take it.

But here's the rub: what unique max-level content is there in Draenor right now that isn't instanced?
  • Apexis dailies
  • Garrison quests
  • Elite hunting/trapping in Nagrand
  • Treasure hunting
Which is to say, not a whole lot of variety.

Most of those, aside from treasure hunting, could be mitigated by introducing no-fly zones, perhaps on the days the dailies are active. "Flying riles the beasties, so no flight except on designated paths!" "Go kill a bunch of Socrethar's army, but watch out, they have anti-air batteries!"

Treasure hunting itself can be fun. I enjoyed it a lot while leveling. But at the same time, those folks who're using addons/maps aren't really doing the content as intended anyhow, and good luck seeing treasures hidden away on the ground while you're up in the air if you're not using those maps. It's also 7 months into the expansion, how many folks are still treasure hunting at this point? Probably more than 0, but I imagine the grand majority of the player base is done with it.

And finally, garrison quests. Blizzard originally claimed that garrisons weren't required content, but by that measure, neither are raids or 5-man dungeons. You're missing out on most of what Draenor has to offer as solo content if you skip your garrison. So why not just gate flight in Draenor at the end of the garrison quests? They can keep the design principles intact for those quests, and give players another carrot to finish that storyline. I mean, we're talking basically 3 months worth of weekly quests to get flight, so it isn't like folks could get it straight out the gate when they hit 100.

But interestingly enough, when I asked Twitter what they wanted to do with flight, it had little to do with Draenor-specific content.

Archaeology was the primary response, which technically has Draenor specific artifacts to uncover, but other things are just soaring through the air, gathering, fishing, pet battling, so on and so forth. Fishing and gathering are mitigated to an extent by the sheer number of resources the garrisons provide. But Archaeology...

This tells me that Archaeology is broken content as is. I agree with Yoco that it was clearly designed with flight in mind. Perhaps it should be redesigned to be less random, and allow you to spend more time at a site to reduce travel. Right now it's basically an excuse for Blizzard to send you cross-continent on a whim. Rather, perhaps it should be a more engaging mini-game unto its own so that it doesn't need to lean on "combat" as the gameplay, as it sounds like a number of people don't care for the two to be mixed.

With 6.2 coming out, and Tanaan being the new content, they could easily put a no-fly zone around it and allow for flight everywhere else, allowing the designers to keep current content as designed, and letting players explore Draenor to (mostly) their heart's content.

While I agree with the designers about flight basically wrecking content, that Pandora's box was opened, and closing it is exceedingly difficult. I mean, how often do you hear people complaining about the lack of flight in Guild Wars 2? Wildstar? Final Fantasy XIV up until the devs announced that they were adding it?
AlternativeChat is giving some sass here, but at the same time, there's a kernel of truth in that statement. If WoW had never had flight, the conversation might not even exist. Turning back the clock on that decision might be a massive mistake.

It'd be interesting to see how many folks have actually left the game due to a lack of flight. The plural of anecdote is not data, and the sample size/methodology is flawed, but I have only 1 person on my Twitter feed that responded who isn't currently playing, and no flying was but one of many pieces of information he used as impetus to quit. So I guess the question for many players is, where's the straw?

WoW is back to the same level of subscribers as it was before the expansion launched, and only Blizzard has the list of reasons people reported for leaving. But unless Flying was a major issue, I don't see them bringing flight back as long as it's performing the way they expected with respect to players and content. But as mentioned above, I don't see a good reason why flight restrictions couldn't be carefully lifted, which still allows for Blizzard to maintain their design considerations. #WoW, #Flight, #GameDesign


  1. I'd be fine with them making flight locked behind the Garrison line but only because I've already completed it. I'd imagine those stuck behind it wouldn't be so welcoming. Partly because you really are stuck waiting until next week. Plus it would be kind of unfriendly to alts since you would need to do it 11 or so times (depending). However that could easily be fixed by making it so you get flying the first time you do it on an account.

    As for "required" content, I've always hated when Devs (and some players) disingenuously claim that something isn't required as an excuse for its issues. Garrison's aren't required but if you don't do them you're missing a huge chunk of the intended content and you're going to be at a massive disadvantage. I mean it's kind of like saying that equipping gear isn't required. Sure no one is holding a gun to your head and forcing you to, but if you don't...

  2. It'd be interesting to see how many folks have actually left the game due to a lack of flight.

    I've not left specifically for flight, but more for a general fatigue of having played a long time, but I won't lie and say that no flight had zero impact. I don't want to repeat what I already wrote elsewere: I don't see what no-flight added to the game. I can get everywhere as fast with gryphons, I can just stealth and go past mobs, and even if I aggro, with raid gear I can roflstomp anything on my way.
    I'm now on Archeage, which as a game sucks (garbage PvP, pure P2W, RNG crafing, abusive cash shop), but exploration and glider flying in a world with cryengine-level lighting effects is just better at giving me what I'm looking for at this time.

  3. Almost my entire WoW identity revolved around being a Druid, and flight form was a major part of that. I did the questline for it back in BC, and as such it remains an integral part of my experience. It tied me to the game in a unique way.

    If I had continued to play WoW through Warlords, I would have felt that loss keenly - as keenly as many resto druids did when they lost perma-treeform, I dare say.

    I agree with the sentiments of your twitter poll: the use of flying, for me, was the feeling of freedom and sheer joy of flight. I would often fly across Pandaria, or from Org to Thunder Bluff, instead of jumping on a flight path, simply because I enjoyed the freedom. It did make Archaeology, fishing, and gathering much easier, of course, but I don't know that I would have missed that as much.

    To paraphrase the famous Alamo, "Durid is for flight!"

  4. I also loved flying with my druid and I did leave the game because they removed the ability to fly in Draenor. One of my favorite things to do in the game was to fly around picking herbs. Doing that in old content areas feels pointless because the market for the older herbs is pretty limited and I've spent so much time in the older areas that it's less exhilarating now. When they add flying to Draenor I will renew my subscription but not until then. Adding flying back in BC was one of the greatest changes they made to the game, what a thrill it was to fly for the first time. I can't imagine why Blizz chose to remove such a marvelous feature of the game for the new content instead of planning the new content to include flying. It looks as though they were simply being cheap and not wanting to expend the work hours that it would take to make the area flyable. My feeling is that once you get the flying ability it should be permanent and applicable to all areas (excluding dungeons/raids/BGs which are meant to be more challenging) and not have it taken away every time they come out with an expansion. For those who don't want flying I say just don't fly, no one will be removing your ability to use your ground mounts, but you think that my abilities to use my flying mounts should be removed just because you don't want to fly? Makes no sense. Now I can't enjoy the fun and simple aspects of the game because of a crazy, almost religious attachment that some people have to beliefs about the evils of flying. This is basic wow snobbery: trying to force everyone else to live by some limited notion of how you think the game should be played.

  5. Flight is freedom. This set of devs doesn't like players going off the rails.

    They are like the GM in the brilliant DM of the Rings webcomic over at Shamus' place. Players must stay on track.

    I find that sort of game design distasteful, especially in a game that ostensibly has a "world" to explore, not just a channel to be good cattle in.

    I'm emotionally attached to my Druid and Flight Form, yes. I'm just as emotionally attached to good design, and flight is one of the few things that I care about in the *World* of Warcraft. Take that away and it may as well be any other generic combat-heavy fantasy game.