Hardcore vs Casual: there’s trouble in World of Warcraft

Into the Shadowlands.
World of Wacraft Shadowlands Hardcore vs Casual Header

Originally planned as a follow-up to Warcraft III, World of Warcraft saw Blizzard take a bold step into the unknown. It wasn’t the first game in the MMO genre yet brought in millions of players, taking the world by storm in 2004.

With World of Warcraft: Shadowlands having recently launched, casual and hardcore players are at odds with what they want Blizzard to bring to the table.

Casual players are somewhat of an untapped market for Blizzard, resulting in nerfing high-level gear in the name of accessibility. Whilst there’s an argument to be made for an MMO opening its doors to a more extensive subscriber base, hardcore players have grafted for similar items just months previously.

We’re investigating the current problems World of Warcraft faces in the wake of its eight expansion. We partied up with Amber Stott and Samuel Minett-Monro to get both a hardcore and casual player viewpoint.

Let’s get into it.

World of Wacraft Shadowlands Hardcore vs Casual Covenants

It makes sense for players to work/grind for high ranking gear by running endgame content. For MMOs such as WoW, however, new players need a taste of what’s to come. Boss fights in the latest expansion have a lower “soak” count, making for a more manageable challenge. New players also have access to quest storylines and friendly neighbourhood guilds, which sounds quite accessible in itself.

TSA: Is this a case of Blizzard giving too much to players? Or is it more a case of hardcore players being sore about working so hard for now readily available loot?

Amber: No matter what Blizzard does, someone will be unhappy. Blizzard gives too much to the casual player because they are panicking due to the long wait for new content since Shadowlands initial release. Instead of giving us new content, they have just nerfed certain aspects of the game and given us Valor points.

Samuel: Comparing February 2005 to now, Blizzard is giving away too much to casual players. Fortunately, the game’s balance is not solely dependent on loot any more as it was back in the day.

The skill requirement for WoW’s endgame is praised highly in the MMO community regardless of your allegiance. Skill caps ensure that even if a more casual player gets very lucky and comes across perfect gear unless they are as skilled as the endgame players, they will not compete. That goes for raiding, Mythic+ or PvP.

You also have to consider many cosmetic rewards in-game that a casual player will not acquire unless they reach the same level as those hardcore players. Currently, the balance is excellent for new players to experience some endgame content whilst ensuring hardcore players have plenty of in-game rewards for their extensive-time played.

World of Wacraft Shadowlands Hardcore vs Casual Raid

Finding a Balance

Regardless, it’s clear that hardcore players are feeling the failure of Blizzards balancing act. It’s no secret that Blizzard have bowed down to the majority vote of fan demand, which isn’t always in the game’s best interest. With this in mind, overall revenue is down 61%, with users down by 41% from November to January, according to Superdata.

TSA: With a post-expansion release period being the peak time for the WoW community, do you both think this is the product of lousy community management? Let’s not forget the monthly to bi-monthly forced subscription switch.

Amber: Subscription drops after an expansion release are entirely average for any expansion release that I’ve known since I began playing in Wrath of the Lich King, so I guess this is expected. I’ve found this expansion is like marmite; you either love it or hate it. I love Shadowlands. As for the subscription, the switch has been received poorly by the entire WoW community, and I feel that Blizzard are trying to rinse people of more money.

Samuel: The overall revenue drop is an expected trend that matches the previous few expansions. The fall looks higher than average due to a much bigger launch of this expansion than the previous few. In many ways, the last year has shown that Blizzard has started to listen more to their players.

A few heavily disliked prior expansion systems have been removed, the RNG-heavy Titanforging and Warforging being two. In the run-up to Shadowlands, they extended the game wide experience boost during lockdown to all level up our alts easier. The many limitations they planned to put in the new Shadowlands feature “Torghast” on the run-up to launch were fiercely rejected amongst the community, and Blizzard yet again listened. It was a nice change compared to the silence received during the last expansion. The shift in bi-monthly subscription only is an unfortunate one.

It’s worrying that Shadowlands didn’t spice up the numbers for Blizzard like expansions usually do. With the removal of the popular monthly subscription model, things aren’t looking great for fans. The Legion expansion period brought a new patch out every 77 days, with Shadowlands lagging at over 200 days.

World of Wacraft Shadowlands Hardcore vs Casual Lore

The Importance of Lore

When it comes to WoW lore, plot, and narrative structure, Wrath of the Lich King is held in high regard by many players. It also brought about some fundamental changes to WoW’s design, such as 10-player raids, raising the level cap to 80 and introducing the Death Knight class.

TSA: It’s clear that interest has dropped for WoW since the release of Wrath of the Lich King. Is this down to a lack of innovative features or narrative? Let’s bear in mind the impact of COVID-19 delays the gaming industry has experienced in general.

Amber: I feel something about Wrath; even now, it still gets spoken about with such nostalgia. I couldn’t say what it was as there wasn’t one specific feature or any particular storyline. Still, Wrath of the Lich King’s content just absolutely hooked people and blew newer expansions out of the water regarding player popularity. I now feel like they are trying to generate more interest in the game as it was back then with an emphasis on the features such as Mythic+ and Solo content such as Torghast to keep players interested.

Samuel: There are many different reasons for the decline since Wrath; I think one of the main ones is simply that a few of the expansions since Wrath have been very poorly received. Cataclysm and Warlords of Draenor are the worst ones, from what I have heard from the community.

One of the main Warcraft storylines wrapped with Wrath of the Lich King, bringing a sense of closure for For some OG players. The second expansion also ended that organic sense of discovery that came when assembling groups to tackle dungeons and raids. Looking for group (LFG) tools are now an MMO standard though they replace player interaction with matchmaking queues. The grouping process became a mostly silent procedure with no social interaction.

Character development and Valor points

With Shadowlands incorporating Wrath of the Lich King content, it’s clear that Blizzard respects WoW lore, source material, and what fans want to some extent. Once players hit level 60, character development is enriched as you align with one of four Covenants, each offering class bonuses.

Meanwhile, Cataclysm era patch 4.0.1 introduced Justice and Valor points, which expanded on the previous expansions Emblem system. Getting better gear is the main focus of most MMORPGs; Valor points aid such quests. These allow players to upgrade Mythic+ equipment from level 184 to 220 in Shadowlands.

TSA: The problem is with Valor points this time around is the time it takes to acquire them. From a hardcore and casual perspective, are there better alternatives? Could Blizzard have approached this better?

Amber: With so many ways to get decent gear in Shadowlands, I feel Valor points give the dungeon farmer a way to get decent upgradable gear without having to farm for other currencies outside the dungeons. So I think it has given the player who enjoys dungeon farming money to allow the upgrading of gear they get out of Mythic+. But the Valor cap and the lousy weak cap increase still makes this challenging to upgrade lots of equipment.

Samuel: There are many different sources to get gear. This expansion, PvP, raiding, and M+ all provide a stable and time-friendly way to get a few pieces of equipment a week, also. For the very casual player, you get upgradeable gear from completing the story that can be upgraded to 197 using a relatively easy to gain currency from solo content.

Valor is helpful on top of what we would be doing anyway if we were after the gear from Mythic+. One change they could make is to increase the amount of loot that drops in raids or M+ by one would mean more members of the group would benefit and have less chance of doing group content and not gaining anything.

World of Wacraft Shadowlands Hardcore vs Casual Arthas

A Blizzard of Player Issues

The world’s most popular MMORPG will always have its share of controversy amongst its community. Still, it would be nicer to see an accessible experience that’s inclusive of all play styles.

TSA: To close, how does the World of Warcraft’s future look for your play styles?

Amber: With new raids and new dungeons on the horizon with the latest patch, I feel it will give me new content to farm, and new obstacles to overcome. Providing Blizzard still keep high-end rewards for high-end players, giving me something to work towards and achieve.

Samuel: Blizzard is catering very well for the casual player currently. The one concern I have at the moment is, as you have previously mentioned, we have been waiting longer than usual for new content for this expansion. As a casual player, it is nice to get new zones as storylines regularly to get too repetitive. If they keep the updates coming regularly and allow us to get gear via the different routes, I will be happy to continue paying my subscription.

So, what comes next for World of Warcraft? Blizzard will no doubt continue listening to the community, delivering new content and features that will attempt to appease both hardcore and casual players. It’s too early to discuss yet another WoW expansion just yet though we could see one roll out at the end of 2022. At the same time, Blizzard is juggling World of Warcraft Classic, which recently (re)launched the Burning Crusade expansion. In summary, WoW is in a strange place.