Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Two Murlocs

There's a debate running in the WoW blogosphere about the difficulty of Classic WoW. I had an experience last night which may shed more light on the issue.

I made a Human Warrior and was running around Elywnn Forest doing the quest that requires killing murlocs. I came across the dead body of a paladin, let's call him Dave, near one of the murloc camps. A few minutes later, I came across Dave again. He had pulled two murlocs and was at half-health. I jumped in and helped him kill the murlocs.

Several minutes after that, Dave starts ranting in General Chat about murlocs, and how when you attack one in a camp another comes, and you keep dying. The reaction in chat was not particularly charitable, telling him to form a group, or attack the lone murlocs instead of groups.

So here you have two perspectives:

  • Classic WoW is difficult. If you get into a fight with two murlocs, there is a high chance you will die.
  • Classic WoW is easy. The solution is trivial. Don't attack two murlocs.

Both perspectives are true, but I think neither perspective encompasses the whole.

In some ways, it comes back to my old posts on Small Decisions. Attacking murlocs is a small decision. The solution is trivial, don't attack two, only attack one. It's very similar to having to deal with ammo. Don't start a fight when you are low on arrows, go back to town and restock. Many of the commenters on those posts felt that small decisions with obvious solutions were a bad idea, and just busy work. For example, killing lone murlocs isn't hard. But you have to patrol more to find them, and it is more tedious.

Modern WoW has smoothed away most of those small decisions, instead choosing fewer large decisions that occur less frequently. For example, the equivalent of two murlocs in Classic might be an elite in Retail, which may happen only once in any given zone.

However, it's not obvious that this was the right decision. Many small decisions with easy solutions, and yet obvious consequences, might be better for the game than fewer, larger decisions.


  1. The resurgence of these small decisions has been interesting. They seem to agree with me, and I have already run out of ammo in the field and been there for the murloc pull fun recently. I find the regression to the small scale relaxing. I don't love every cross-zone run, but the continuous low level efforts seem to give something akin to a continuous drip of accomplishments. But I am also somebody who takes a bit of personal pride in the trivial at times, like parking really well, centered between the lines and perfectly in the spot, so I might be predisposed to that sort of thing.

    1. That's true. There's a certain satisfaction in lining things up correctly and getting things just right. However, I think the playerbase at large values speed over precision. Look at how quickly people give up on Crowd Control and go for AoE. And not just in WoW, in games like FFXIV as well.

      My observation is that given a choice betwee a slower but surer strategy, or a quick and risky one, the playerbase at large will always choose the quick and risky one.

  2. I think the small decisions are the key to why so many people are finding Classic refrreshing and satisfying. It is entirely true that the removal of these arguably trivial decision points was primarily due to endless complaints from players in pre-WoW MMORPGs and, I'm sure, although I wasn't there to see it, in WoW itself from 2005-2007 or so.

    Developers most likely beieved they were a) responding to customer feedback and b) acting to reduce customer service costs, which I recall being a huge priority back then, when most MMOs had GMs and a heavily hands-on, face-to-face CS. As usual, though, what they were in fact doing was oilong the squeakiest wheels.

    Most players don't express any opinions in any public channels. Back then the frequently quoted percentages for use of the official forums was 1% post on them, 10% read them, 90% don't know they exist (yes, it adds up to 101% but it sounds better that way :P ). Who knows how many of those players were actually stimulated and motivated by those small decisions? I know I was and still am.

    Of course, very few people chimed up to complain that things were getting easier - and simpler - or at least not until the frog was already halfway to being boiled. Most of the changes were perceived as "quality of life" changes and who doesn't want a better quality of life?

    Well, quote a lot of people, it seems, because the numbers playing all the games that got "easier" fell and continued to fall. And the new games that started out "easy" failed to pick up much traction at all. The genre imploded and no-one was quite sure why, just as no-one had been sure why it exploded with WoW.

    Well, maybe now we're starting to get an idea how all that might have come about. I hope so.

    1. Yes, that's a very good point. I agree that WoW devs are very often responding to customer feedback. In fact, I think that many of the issues with BfA happened because the devs tried to respond to what people thought was wrong with Legion.

      However, you should also remember that Vanilla wasn't the high point for WoW, that comes mid-Wrath. WoW smoothed away the rough edges from previous games, and smoothed away more in TBC, and more people kept coming. It wasn't until Wrath that they crossed a line. And even now, we aren't really sure what line was crossed.

  3. I like the continuous drip of small decisions because it lets me feel like I'm playing smart. If I make a mistake, I have another chance right away to try something different and see if that works better. The try, fail, learn, do better reinforcement cycle is quick and isn't costly, as you say.

    I've had some problems resetting my expectations from so many years of retail. I started in Vanilla, but it over time I've forgotten enough of the little things Vanilla taught you as a player. I'm thinking about what I do, which abilities I need instead of just mindless spamming abilities until I hit max level. Instead of drifting through the journey to endgame as Retail feels like, I'm engaged in the journey in Classic.

    This isn't to say that one way is always better than the other. It is nice to have an option to be more involved with the journey in a familiar environment. Sometimes it is nice to just mindless level, but I'd forgotten how satisfying it was to be mindfully leveling.

    1. Very good point about the try, fail, learn cycle. In Retail, the times you can experiment are much further apart.

  4. What's missing from your post in my opinion is that there is space between the two options you cite where you might want to attack only one murloc, but end up with more due to other factors, such as your target running away, a patrol, respawns etc. So the decision isn't just "do I want to fight one or two murlocs" but rather "if I want to be sure I'll only have to deal with one murloc at a time, what steps do I have to take to avoid runners, patrols, getting trapped by respawns in a bad place etc." - and that's a whole lot of small, non-obvious decisions.

    1. I disagree. The vast majority of potential dangers can be avoided easily by pulling to a safer spot. Dying in solo Classic always happens because the player chose to be reckless when there was a perfectly obvious cautious path available.

  5. A lot of the small decisions lead you in the direction of grouping up with people to solve the problem, and that's something that someone raised on Cataclysm and later would have trouble dealing with. The design decisions in Vanilla/Classic were to emphasize group dynamics when leveling and mucking about in general, whereas the design decisions from the post-Cataclysm world moved in the direction of (primarily) solo content until you get into defined multiplayer content (BGs, 5-mans, raids, etc). "The game begins at endgame" is the main driver of these changes, whereas Vanilla didn't have those assumptions.