[UPDATE: June 10, 2015]: So okay, we can fly…soon. Blizzard devs have since taken all the feedback on this heated debate and crafted an excellent compromise to ground questing/exploration that will in Patch 6.2 lead to the ability to fly. Read more on their official Dev Watercooler blog entry.
Summer comes. It’s a perfect time for that nice cold glass of refreshing Kool-Aid. For nearly a decade, my fridge has been stocked with a summertime mix of Blizzard Warcraft Kool-Aid, cherry with an orange slice.
At this point, we feel that outdoor gameplay in World of Warcraft is ultimately better without flying. We’re not going to be reintroducing the ability to fly in Draenor, and that’s kind of where we’re at going forward.
Ion Hazzikostas, design lead for World of Warcraft, hammered that proverbial final nail in the coffin that is the ability to fly in the game. It was with utter disappointment to a lot of people, myself included.
In his interview with Polygon, Hazzikostas reasoned with what I’m sure was a difficult internal decision to make.
Having looked at how flying has played out in the old world in the last couple of expansions, we realized that while we were doing it out of this ingrained habit after we introduced flying in The Burning Crusade, it actually detracted from gameplay in a whole lot of ways. While there was certainly convenience in being able to completely explore the world in three dimensions, that also came at the expense of gameplay like targeted exploration, like trying to figure out what’s in that cave on top of a hill and how do I get up there.
He furthered with a gameplay scenario:
Before flying was introduced to World of Warcraft, if you got a quest to rescue a prisoner from an enemy encampment, it would play out a certain way. Players would need to fight their way through the camp. After flying, players could just fly into the center of camp, land on top of the hut where the prisoner is, free him and fly out. It made the world feel in many ways much smaller.
So now that we’ve heard from Hazzikostas, who used a media channel to break the news, let us hear from me. You see, like many others, I have played this game. I’m not a veteran so long as others who decry being “vanilla” babies, as I began my forays in Azeroth during The Burning Crusade. Needless to say, quite a number of years. I have seen the ups and downs of Warcraft and support Blizzard in nearly every decision because I always feel that as a customer (and customer only) there are a lot of pictures I’m not privy to in order to make informed decisions. Therefore I TRUST Blizzard when it decides to take a course of action, even when it is not popular. I think that bears bolding and repeating:
I TRUST Blizzard when it decides to take a course of action, even when it is not popular.
So why is it different this time. Why is this ONE thing so detrimental to my happiness in this game? And why is it important for others as well?
Because unlike most, as a public relations professional, I don’t buy into corporate messaging — I can spot PR crap from 50 paces. And ALL of what Hazzikostas spewed to Polygon is corporate PR messaging bullshit that does NOT speak to the fact that for years (YEARS), people had a certain level of expectation for the game based on the availability of certain features. People spent a lot of time farming mounts, collecting them, SPENDING REAL MONEY IN THE BLIZZARD DIGITAL STORE on them, and for what, so that they could no longer be usable in current and future content. And let’s just get this out of the way:
- You can still use them in old content where you could before.
- They still have ground mount functionality.
“You can still use them in old content where you could before,” is NOT a valid excuse (not argument, but a SAD excuse) because you cannot use them in their full functionality for current (and now, future) content. Essentially, this now becomes the virtual version of a DEFECTIVE PRODUCT that still continues to be sold. So let me ask you, in what world or universe that hasn’t been visited by Spok or Sulu would it be okay to offer a product, BREAK IT ON PURPOSE, and say, “eh, well, you were able to use it properly when you first purchased it, and you can still go back to that old content to use it again, you just can’t do so going forward”?
No world. No universe. Because it is BAD BUSINESS to sell defective products to people and expect to get away with it.
So okay, no more flying. I could deal with that reality IF:
- You gave me game time equivalent to half a month for EACH flying mount I possess that required a boss drop, a reputation grind, or an achievement grind (like that WHOLE YEAR I spent getting the world events mount — the FIRST one I ever possessed with max flying speed).
- THEN, you offered a 50% refund on ALL flying mounts purchased through the store; and,
- dropped the ones currently being sold by that much.
That would be the only way for Blizzard to make good on this decision. If you don’t want to develop future content around this feature, fine. But don’t negate what I (and countless others) worked really hard to achieve, or the money we worked hard to earn to spend in your store for something that is now essentially BROKEN.
“But it hurts the game design, questing, and exploration.”
Bullshit. It didn’t in Pandaria, Lich King, or Burning Crusade. Let’s first address why this statement was (kind of) true in Cataclysm.
Going back to Hazzikostas’ reasoning about executing a quest in which you swooped in, landed, completed the objective, mounted and flew off, this was true of Cataclysm. This expansion was the only one in which Blizzard experimented with a no-gating philosophy on flying and therefore designed the zones and quests with flying in mind. People did exactly as Hazzikostas explained because that’s how the expansion was designed. Was it fun? Eh. I wouldn’t have attributed the flying as being the reason Cataclysm was a bit dull. Really. In all honestly, I enjoyed the expansion. Deepholm remains one of my favorite zones to this day. I said this then and I’ll say it now…people gravitate toward where the capital hubs are. In Cataclysm those were Stormwind and Orgrimmar. People didn’t leave during endgame because those are where the portals were. For an expansion focused on returning players to Azeroth and even changing the zones, confining people to a single city was not a good decision! ALL cities should have portals so people could be in any of them, not just the two main ones.
The experiment was both a success and failure. A failure in quest design to allow flying, but a success in the sense that it made it easy for Blizzard to go back to the content gating philosophy it had practiced before. Let’s examine that.
The Burning Crusade
The first expansion and the first expansion to introduce flying. Two and a half years after Warcraft’s launch, we got flying. Not a lot of people had the best flying because it was EXPENSIVE. Gold was scarce early on and was a genuine grind to not only earn, but KEEP. I had guildies that didn’t get max flying until close to the end of Lich King. But that’s how Blizzard wanted it, and it worked. You had to EARN the ability to fly AND purchase a mount that could do it.
Burning Crusade took place in Outlands where flying was useful because it was a broken land. Literally. Bits and pieces of debris flying around, alien spaceships drifting in the nether, entire hubs of things to do when you were able to finally fly. That design philosophy carried through to…
Wrath of the Lich King
…and the mountains and peaks of Northrend. Lich King gated flying once again to cap level players who then needed to spend another 1K gold to “learn” the ability to fly in the cold winds of the land. This too made sense because by the time you were cap level in the beginning of the expansion, you were just starting to quest in Icecrown. You explored all you could by foot, but now you could fly and explore the rest. There were things to do on ground, challenges to be had, and a fair amount to do in the sky as well.
Mists of Pandaria
Again with gating: cap levels, pay a gold fee. This forced people to quest and explore on land, hit cap level and explore even more. Mists of Pandaria was my favorite in terms of design philosophies for flying because we got a healthy mix of both being able to fly, and being grounded. There was even a twist that harkened back Burning Crusade with the daily rep grind to gain a new kind of flying, that of Cloud Serpent riding. Which was fun (the first time, anyway)! Watching my Cloud Serpent grow, getting food, helping others, racing with it, gaining its trust and then getting to keep it and ride others. It was pretty much the only daily rep grind where I felt compelled to do complete it. AND like the Netherwing rep to which it nostalgically reminded, there was a grindy shortcut (collecting rare spawn eggs) if I decided to skip ahead.
The grounding of mounts came on three fronts, the Isle of Thunder, the isle of giant dinosaurs, and Timeless Isle. I liked Isle of Thunder because while it was small, it felt large when on a ground mount. AND the reason you could not fly was revealed in a cool questline that introduced you to the island. I LIKED THAT. A cool scenario questing experience that explained to me why I couldn’t fly by allowing me to do so, shooting me down, and then saying “oh, well, guess we’ll have to stay grounded here.”
But in all these cases, flying did not take away from our experiences. Blizzard had proven they could control (well they control it all anyway, really) when and where people could use the ability WITHOUT it feeling like they were purposefully preventing people from using what they had enjoyed using for years up until the release of…
Warlords of Draenor
I had previously written that I was happy with the initial inability to fly. Even more so when it was revealed that it would not happen for a patch at least. Quest, explore, see the land….and then stay confined to your garrison. Blizzard wants to blame flying for the reason the “world felt small” but I think a whole expansion without it has revealed FLYING WAS NOT THE REASON. The world feels small now. What’s their excuse now?
Which is sad because I like garrisons. It really was (is) a nice concept. I just think TOO MUCH was tied to the feature, so much so it made staying in them too easy. People have a flight path taxi in their own garrison to take them where they need to go, it really doesn’t matter if they have to “fight through camps” to get from point A to point B, because it’s just taxiing there, doing what you need to, and garrison hearthing back.
Well you CHOOSE to stay in your garrison instead of going out.
Well, no, I went out and when I was done, I stayed in the garrison. That was about two months after launch.
NO FLYING MEANS THERE ARE OTHER REASONS THE WORLD CURRENTLY “FEELS SMALL”
At this point, if you want it to feel big again, allow people to fly. They’ve explored what they wanted from the rest of Draenor, you can STILL close off flying in Tanaan Jungle (like in Isle of Thunder, have an opening quest scenario the reveals anti-flying turrets, or some sort of pollution debuff that prevents mounts in the sky, etc). People will just have to fly AROUND it like they had to with Wintergrasp in Northrend.
Taking out and no longer developing content to allow for flying is lazy because it’s saying the designers are not up to that challenge, when really, they ALREADY had systems in place that were a good medium between when we were allowed to fly and when we were not (as seen with Mists of Pandaria).
If you’re interested in sounding off to the developers, the community managers have allowed a thread to extend beyond the forum cap to get everyone’s opinion. If you WANT it back let them know. Will it change anything? Probably not for this expansion, but if enough people give positive and logical (!) feedback and not just whining and bitching, things might get changed. It is, afterall, Blizzard’s corporate mission:
And if you’re aren’t experiencing that, sound off. In the meantime…a nice R&B ballad to inspire you: