Tavern Talk Or Why Garrisons Are Killing WoW

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This article has been in the making for months. Quite frankly, since I first stepped into my garrison, something I knew very little about despite being a steadfast BlizzCon attendee. It’s no surprise that the implementation of player housing in World of Warcraft has caused some friction among the community. First off, anything will given 10 million opinions. Second, it was an oft-requested, just as oft shot down idea until Blizzard felt the designers could bring something fresh to the table. The team behind Warlords of Draenor did exactly that. Producing an instanced version of your own private army – perfectly made for app play – that would help you in battle, grow along side you, aid you in your professions and even allow you to show off to friends.

Alex Albrecht and I touched upon our dislike of the hot new feature during the Tavern Talk panel at PAX South. Sticking with the panel’s topic, we strongly felt that garrisons as implemented in WoW have detracted from the universe. Instead of taking the risk of venturing out into Draenor players can sit safely at home a few times a day to perform the rather mundane and repetitive tasks of leveling up followers, earning them (or you) new gear or grabbing profession consumables. It’s a time save, something I very much appreciate. Unfortunately this time saving mechanic dramatically alters the experience.

Not leaving my camp saves me the risk of dieing to mobs or the dirty, deranged horde. It also stops me from discovering new aspects of the world. New rare mobs, new territories, new battle pets, new undiscovered loot, new quests. All aspects that WoD has plenty of and designed very well.

Before someone jumps down my throat I understand that I am making a conscious decision to stay in my garrison. The fact of the matter is that no matter how you slice it is that even if I rebel, shun the feature and head to social hubs I’m not the only one that needs that decision. The rest of the community does to or the open world remains ultimately less populated than it previously appeared to.

Remember those dirty horde I mentioned? Well, there are players behind those characters. Players that help form memories, good or bad, when they attempt to gib my priest. That death could be the start of a beautiful friendship or a buddy adversarial relationship. I’ll never know because everyone’s safe in their garrison…

2 Comments

  1. The implementation of the Garrison concept was purely unfinished at the release of Warlords of Draenor. This was painfully obvious not only in overarching design but in simple execution.

    For example, the fishing shack level upgrades do not visually change the fishing shack in any real degree. In addition, it never actually had a “this is under construction” graphic animation like any of the other buildings. And finally, a minor bug with Nat Pagle where he comes to your Garrison as part of a quest to find him in Mists (once you reach a level 3 shack). The question is supposed to have him run out of nowhere to join your fishing shack; but what you’ll find is after you complete the quest out in Mists, he’ll already be at your fishing shack. He’ll then run up….run over to himself…and well, disappear.

    In the overarching design, it’s obvious that they intended people to share Garrison buildings and functionality. I think the original plan was to be like “Oh, you have a barn? Cool. I have an enchanter hut!”–but it simply hasn’t happened that way. They have the Invasions which allow a limited scale requirement of inviting friends to your Garrison, but it’s clear their design for this was simply not finished in time for the expansion release.

    We’re seeing more of this design with 6.1 where they’re making additional cross-Garrison events.

    But ultimately, the real question is: Do Garrisons add to gameplay? Can Blizzard truly add fun, new elements to the traditional MMORPG playstyle that breaks the mold of what an MMORPG is supposed to be? Or the basics of what makes MMORPGs fun. I think the answer to this, in the end, is that they simply cannot do that. While the attempts are valiant and it’s possible they may come out with some fun perks, the ultimate reality is that the MMORPG mold in current technology is simply not something they will be able to overcome.

    The difficulty of making an MMORPG that breaks the core MMORPG mold is akin to saying someone has successfully made an MMORPG that breaks the Holy Trinity, or an MMORPG that has simultaneously implemented an Auction-based economy, a crafting economy, and a dungeoning economy for upgrades for which no individual playstyle provides rewards that are better or worse than the others for similar levels of effort.

    The funniest thing about the crafting system parity with dungeon loot is they almost had it with very early incarnations of rare crafting reagents from raid bosses (Bindings of the Windseeker, Sulfuron Hammer, Ingots, Elementium) but for some reason completely backtracked on tying crafting loot to dungeon crawling. Instead, they’ve opted for a system where crafting loot itself will never be on par with raiding because of the perception of effort vs. reward by the playerbase.

    Anyways, I think the Garrison concept may ultimately fail in its current incarnation unless they have tricks up their sleeve they haven’t revealed yet and simply couldn’t put in at launch. I still fully support the idea that Garrisons should have been a guild resource (think Guild Halls) rather than individual resources. And it’s possible at some point they thought this, too; because the very concept lends itself much better to a Guild Hall concept rather than a Player House. Hell, your Garrison even has monuments to your achievements in it (which are super rare and so far almost impossible to obtain).

    The system you argue that removes fun aspects of MMORPGs actually moves some of the more mundane, but necessary aspects of MMORPGs to a few clicks of a mouse and simple, once-per-day management by the player. Ultimately, whether you’re doing it yourself or you’re instructing Garrison followers to perform tasks for you, it really just boils down to a time component. They’ve decoupled the requirement of the player to actually be logged in while still providing the player equal rewards for the time spent performing those tasks. This could actually be a really awesome idea if they can figure out how to fill that void in the game world, but so far they have not implemented any such filler.

    And I’m not entirely sure they can. The reality is that I think Blizzard has reached a point in their game world where the very essence of what makes World of Warcraft tick needs to be rethought to really add additional core elements of gameplay. Special zones such as Alterac Valley, Ashran, and Wintergrasp prove that they are limited by simple fundamental problems with what players think is “fun” and what they actually want to implement. It’s painfully obvious they wanted to integrate PVP into the direct game world itself. In fact, AV was never supposed to be instanced off in its original incarnation. But what they found was it wasn’t so much fun on servers where populations were massively unbalanced. So they went with and kept with the concept of limiting players in a particular zone.

    But all of these limitations combined ultimately resulted in the very limited role that Garrisons play today. They can’t make them a core part of the game world and the environment because it would be too “breaking”. They can’t make a zone where every player stakes out a spot for their Garrison due to limitations in the game technology. They simply can never step outside of the bounds of what World of Warcraft has become.

    And should they? If anything, their decisions have proven to be incredibly lucrative. Compare that to games that do try to break this mold; either by making world PVP a core component of the game (which ultimately ended up in lots of pissed off players due to the imbalance: http://massively.joystiq.com/2008/05/31/age-of-conans-guilds-encouraged-not-to-pvp-in-groups/); or by making dungeons and raids so difficult and targeted to the hardcore raider that casual players are ultimately left out (Read: WildStar).

    In each case, doing things in a manner in which WoW isn’t doing them, in a manner that seems so obvious and desired by each player archetype has ultimately resulted in games that just don’t reach anything close to WoW levels of success.

    So for all the things they seem to get wrong at a fundamental level, they somehow manage to get right…

  2. More thoughts! I think a lot on these types of things.

    I ultimately think the concept of the Garrison will either evolve into Guild Halls or will go the way of Guild Achievements. Which was yet another failed attempt at attempting to break the core of what makes MMORPGs “fun”.

    If we rewind a few years back to vanilla. One of the core tenants of the WoW experience was to level up, run dungeons, find a guild, get into a 40 man, and then go jump into those big, bad raids to kill the crazy dragon or large fire elemental. Guilds were few and far in between, and were very large for a reason: they needed to be in order to fill a 40-man roster.

    Over the subsequent expansions, they ended up reducing the guild sizing requirement by cutting back on the fundamental reason why people joined large guilds in the first place: raid sizes. They eventually got to a point where 10 man and 25 man raiding offered up the same loot, and then players eventually began to split into hundreds and thousands of smaller guilds. Why bother joining a large guild when you can pick up a few of your friends, find a few other players, and have access to the same reward as the previous 40 man raids?

    To combat this change, they implemented the Guild Achievement system. This was intended to encourage players to join larger, established guilds–and to coalesce into larger guilds to earn achievements faster. I’m not really sure ultimately why the achievement system failed, whether an implementation issue or a fundamental design problem (probably a bit of both), but it never quite worked out to encourage players to form the hulking guilds of vanilla WoW because one of the core requirements to form a guild, raid teams, didn’t actually require any of those achievements present.

    That said, the flexible raid system introduced during Mists, and I consider to be perfected in Warlords of Draenor, is probably the best thing that could have come from the failed “Guild Achievement” system. Someone (or someones) at Blizzard went back to the core of what made guilds required, and opted to improve upon the core raiding concept. What we’ve resulted in, even, was a silent launch of larger raid sizes (something they originally said they were never going to do) which allows for raid sizes up to 30 players.

    Ultimately, most guilds end up with a Core 20 for Mythic progression, and on farm nights and downtime nights allows them to bring up to 10 additional friends or players for Normal and Heroic raiding (casual raiding).

    And this revisit to the idea that raid sizes had to be smaller to accommodate more casual levels of play and instead allows for auto-tuned difficulty of the encounter has paid off. WoW saw the largest influx of players with the release of Warlords of Draenor. By a simple modification one of the most core tenants of the game which finally provides a true answer to the dynamics of casual and hardcore raiding, while being rewarding and fun for both styles of play. They even went back and adjusted another psychological aspect of risk vs. reward: and that is to reward the players whom are super hardcore items that look dramatically different to the “lesser” items. They revisited very core and simple psychology of raiding in WoW and I would say at this point perfected it. The WoW raid environment has never, ever been better. Above average raiders don’t necessarily feel the “need” and pressure to run 10 and 25 mans for loot (and raid 6-7 nights/week), and nobody is feeling like they’re getting shafted on reward by not being able to field large raid groups. And the elites of the elites can bask in the glory of the reward of the best looking and most powerful items in the game–and so far, it makes EVERYONE happy.

    Whomever thought that up should really get a pat on the back for it, because it’s an incredible feat and one that Blizzard spent the past 6-7 years getting completely and utterly freaking wrong.

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