I’m not talking about real life – I would still consider myself young and stupid. I’m talking about all the stupid things we did when we first started playing WOW*. We make fun of “noobs”, but we were all new once. In Blizzard’s quarterly conference call, Mike Morhaime stated that only 30% of all Trial Accounts make it past level 10. I’m not going to analyze the reasons for this, I’m sure others will do it better. Let’s think instead about how the WOW journey began for you.
Take a few moments and drift back in time to when you first installed the game. What were your motivations for beginning to play? How did you choose your first class/role combination? How did it feel when you watched that opening video? What was your starting area like? What were some of the challenges that you faced?
WOW was something I had avoided, because I knew in the back of my mind that it was dangerous. A few months before I graduated college I found myself sitting on my boyfriend’s couch with the trial version of World of Warcraft on my laptop. I did cursory research about the various classes and decided upon a rogue – mainly because I enjoyed playing the thief in Oblivion. I also remembered that I found it easier to get up close and beat on things (button mash) than to keep at range and cast magic or shoot arrows. I chose human because it was the best looking Alliance race (and of course I had to play Alliance right?).
Logging in for the first time I felt a mix of excitement, fear, and awe. I was finally playing an MMORPG, something I had fantasized about since before they even existed. The graphics seemed well done – very stylized and not overly complex, but polished for a game that was three years old. I clicked on that yellow exclamation mark for my first quest, and watched the text scroll down (it didn’t take me long to figure out you could disable that horrid “feature”).
Killing wolves and kobolds seemed like a grand adventure. Leveling up was thrilling, and it happened so fast! Grey items to fill in various clothing slots seemed like the most epic of loot. I valued silver very highly – it was precious coin to earn my new abilities.
Trekking to Stormwind for the first time was an awe-inspiring experience. The city was vast, full of shops and NPCs, and people. Real people! I couldn’t believe how many other players were around, interacting with each other. Walking didn’t seem slow – instead it made the city seem much larger.
Amidst the magic were moments of utter frustration. Running out of bag space, quests that sent you to another continent, getting lost, getting ambushed by wandering elites in Loch Modan, dying constantly… The list goes on. My fascination with the persistent, seemingly-endless world kept me going, as well as the fact that I had friends playing.
I didn’t know much about how to play the game. I’d gone through so many RPGs without fully understanding the mechanics, and what did it matter as long as I got to the end? Button mashing, health potions, and grinding until I was a higher level than the enemies had always served me well in the past.
Let’s take a look at how I played in the beginning, shall we?
I didn’t understand the stats on gear until level 30 or so – I valued everything by how much armor it gave me.
I failed miserably at the rogue poison quest because I didn’t have auto loot on, and the mob I was supposed to pickpocket walked away with the item I needed while the window was open.
The Deadmines was a very confusing place. I thought it was an instance, but I didn’t ever actually make it to the portal. The first time I saw one of those it confused me.
I decided rogues couldn’t use swords because half my abilities only worked with daggers. I opened up with a Cheap Shot and Backstab, then Sinister Strike, Sinister Strike, Eviscerate. All those other finishers like Rupture seemed useless.
I didn’t know that grey quests no longer gave you XP. I wanted to do them all!
Auto-attack was a nightmare – I kept turning it off accidentally.
My spec was a random mishmash of points in the trees – I just picked whatever I thought sounded fun
I always ran out of vanish powder – what was that even called?
I used poisons about half the time.
I had no idea how to interrupt casters, or how to get them to come to me.
I was terrified to talk to other people.
I had no idea how to go under water, or to get back up after sinking. I almost died.
I didn’t realize that stealth didn’t work on mobs higher level than me.
I bought white weapons because they did a lot of DPS.
I thought that you had to click on the bobber the instant it splashed while fishing or the fish would get away – like in Animal Crossing.
I fell off of cliffs.
I got lost in caves… a lot (actually, I still do that, crap).
I got even more lost in instances.
My first real instance ever was the Temple of Atal’hakkar. Jardal bear-tanked even though he was a kitty at the time – he just threw on some stam gear. We actually had a really nice group of people. A blue cloak dropped and I panicked because we were in the middle of a fight and I didn’t know what to do. I rolled need, and then realized it had spellpower on it. I felt awful and was worried they would make me leave for ninja-ing it. They didn’t. It still upset me for the entire rest of the day.
In the beginning, I played WOW as solo game. I played either by myself or with a few real life friends. It was a very fascinating game, but I didn’t really get the “MM” part of “MMORPG”. There was no need to play the game extremely well, as long as I was having fun. This changes when you start grouping up, and innocence is lost. The game itself doesn’t expect much of you, until you get to end game – it’s people that have the expectations.
In the past, MMO’s have relied on the community to teach the new players. The blogging community does an excellent job of this (not so much with the in-game community unless you stumble upon a helpful guild). Wouldn’t it be nice though, if the game could teach new players?
Think about how many stupid things you did when you started the game, because you just had no idea what was correct. Without the blogging community, addons, and other WOW resource sites, learning how to play the game correctly would be extremely difficult. Even coming from another MMO, WOW’s mechanics can still be daunting to figure out.
Blizzard is making steady progression towards a lower barrier to entry in WOW. They’ve simplified a lot of things over the years, and have targeted other issues to fix. The Quest Tracker makes questing in unfamiliar territory a piece of cake. The dungeon system makes grouping simple, and less intimidating. Simplified gear stats will make comparing gear much less daunting. Mastery will encourage players to put their points into one tree because they get bonuses from it.
Blizzard fixed some of thing things I had trouble with as a noob already. Vanish powder is gone. Instant quest text is already enabled by default. Rogues start with two daggers, and other classes have similar defaults. Dazes and stuns are reduced, and mana costs are less for lowbies. Maps are in all Northrend dungeons so I don’t get lost (although they still need to do this for the others, please Blizz do this in Cataclysm).
Yes, these things they are doing might seem pointless for those of us that are experienced with the game, and have leveled countless alts. It might seem like they are wasting resources on things that don’t need to be “fixed”.
They’re doing exactly what they should. Blizzard needs new subscribers. If they can get a higher percentage of new people to stay, then they get more money. Money keeps the game going, and keeps Azeroth around a little longer. It means that they’ll more to invest in other enhancements and content.
We were all noobs once. Not every noob is an incompetent, useless casual gamer or thirteen year old. There are still people out there that aren’t playing WOW who might actually be quite good at it. They might need encouragement from a friend, or to get over its “reputation” as being a life-destroyer. If those people pick up WOW and instead of getting hooked, get turned off by tedium and confusion, then that is sad. WOW is a fantastic game, but especially depending on what class you choose, the initial leveling experience can be unpleasant.
We all had our motivations for staying, even through all the stupid mistakes we made. So give the noobs a break, and stop complaining about Blizzard streamlining the experience for new players.
I leave you with a lolcat.
*Note: I’m not saying I don’t do stupid things anymore. I just know they’re stupid after I do them.