Saturday, May 23, 2015

[Updated] Yep, We're Still Talking About Flying

[6.10.15] - Blizzard announced that flying will be coming to Draenor. So this post is now dumb.


I know. I'm sorry. It's happened so I may as well just out with it.

This post doesn't try to convince you what's wrong or right, good or bad about the fact we won't see flight in Patch 6.2 or beyond. It's more about how I went from praising the removal of flight with open arms to biting my nails in shock when the truth was realized: flight is really gone. And then how after more thought, even though I'm quite concerned about the ways this might change the game for me personally, I have a faint feeling that this will truly be better for all of us...once it all plays out.

When I learned that flight was not a guarantee at max level this time around, I was in the welcoming party. It'd be a refreshing change, even if we've been leveling up without flight since Vanilla (sans Cata). No flight at max level for an entire patch, possibly more? The world will be more alive, as they say, just begging to be explored. Treasures, zone events, hundreds of rare spawns, players out and about! Danger danger!

But I look now at the number of guildies online, and the number of friends in-game through and I notice two very interesting things: both numbers are much, much smaller than they were two months ago. Secondly, oftentimes half or more of those online are in their Garrison while half of those don't stay logged on for much time at all. A lot of people simply aren't getting out.

I think unconsciously I must've expected that, eventually, flight would come to Draenor. Perhaps an unconscious thought that was further reinfornced by leveling this expansion. Don't get me wrong---I loved it! While made to be explored, Draenor is definitely rugged, unforgiving terrain, something we did know going in. Somewhere in my noggin it just made sense to me that, come time to level alts, the journey would be made easier by being granted greater freedom on the z-axis.

I've now come to realize I wasn't really OK with the idea of no flight ever. I was OK with the previous status quo of leveling without flight. There's been a lot of discussion for and against the removal of flight; the one thing I can say is that, if you're of the disposition that you've never seen a convincing argument from the other side, you should probably open your mind a bit and/or look harder. And remember, convincing doesn't have to mean satisfying. We can agree to disagree while we all get to keep our heads.

You Can't Fix What Ain't Broke...

In the wake of this announcement, and without being privy to where Blizzard's planning to take us next, this is the bit I'm struggling with the most. To me, it seems Blizzard had the whole flight deployment thing figured out, if prior expansions are any indication. I know we cannot always rely on the past to properly inform the future, but the system that awarded flight at max level seemed the perfect answer. Hell, they even teased players for a bit in Draenor with the notion that flight could be added in a future patch. 

But it's come down the pipeline official, as it has before, that the ability to fly doesn't mesh with the vision Blizzard has for Warlords of Draenor---and apparently all expansions moving forward. The problem is, Blizzard has been piss-poor at articulating this vision. I've seen "sense of exploration" tossed out again and again, but by and large players don't seem to be swallowing that.

At the end of the day, I can't agree with Blizzard's vision here solely because they haven't offered me a coherent one. I won't even lump an imaginary group of players in here, but I bet they're out there. If you'd like to see PR speak justifying flight removal, Exhibit A.

The World Didn't Get Bigger, Only More Hostile

Imagine, for a moment, that flight did not exist in Mists of Pandaria. Seriously. Take a moment, go over those zones in your head: Valley of the Four Winds, Krasarang, Townlong Steppes, etc. Think of the rare spawns, Warbringers, and the like. Think about how, if at all, the lack of flight in Mists of Pandaria would've affected your approach to the game. 

It's this thought exercise that helped me realize that flight is inherently tied to how I enjoy this game, even if I don't fully understand how. What I do know is it allows me easier access to do what I want to do when I'd like to do it.

Psychologists probably have a better idea, but we don't have the time or money for that. But from what I gather, it's a risk vs. reward thing, or in this case, time/energy vs. reward. Draenor holds the same sort of content MoP did in terms of rares, treasures, achievements and the like. It's just that now, it takes a significant amount of additional effort to chase after it.

It's not that the world gets bigger when you remove flight, but rather, it becomes more hostile. Hostile in the sense that it's all of a sudden going to take a significantly larger amount of time and effort to get to that dig site on the other side of the continent than it did previously. And that seems to go against the process they've undertaken since the beginning: that of easing access to content, previously seen with heirlooms, group finder, LFR and oddly, garrisons.

This world may be hostile enough that a lot of players simply aren't bothering, and instead staying in the safe, cozy walls of their garrison with resources aplenty to be gathered, and no game play or interaction to be had. At least there it's easy to measure risk vs. reward. 

But Flight Was Always Optional

This was the argument I was the most tired of hearing from the pro-flyers, initially. "For those against flying, you never had to fly. You always had the option to travel by ground." In other words, YOU don't have to use it, but that doesn't mean it should be taken from me!

But let's be real here: did anyone, after learning flight for the first time at level 70, really say "ok but this breaks game immersion for me so I'm not going to use it?" Would anyone truly look at traveling the distance between Hellfire Peninsula and Shattrath City by ground once they had the ability to traverse the distance in a fraction of the time, and as the crow flies?

We do know players who deliberately challenge themselves above and beyond what's considered normal, such as a player who level-caps without harming anything, or a player who level-caps without leaving the Pandaren starting zone. But those are few and far between. The vast majority of us, I'd argue, will favor the path of least resistance when it comes to open-world PvE content. After all, I'd bet those who weren't hot on the idea of flight back in the Burning Crusade, but not upset enough to quit, have favored their flying mounts over ground travel since.

Was the introduction of flight nearly ten years ago truly a mistake? If it doesn't currently fit their vision for Draenor, just how does that vision differ from the vision they had for Pandaria? And once again, I want to know more specifically why the existence of flight kills that---because clearly, with Aviana's Feather, Goblin Glider Kits and the like we can still fly almost everywhere in Draenor. It seems like persistent, at-will, controlled flight is what's at issue. And that makes interpreting their vision no simpler for me.

If air dropping into a camp to rescue a prisoner vs. fighting through the camp for the true experience is trumped by flight, that's not flight's problem. That's a problem for the quest designers. At the end of the day, I think this was a bad decision. Unless they've got something better planned...

But You Can Stand on the Shoulders of Giants...

Old habits die hard. It's like if I had to drive six miles every night to play soccer, and then I lose my car. Now I'm faced with the prospect of biking. I'll likely cut down on the number of nights I'll play soccer, just to save time and energy. So it is with flight for me, I've realized. I've been conditioned to lean on the ability to take to the skies when it comes to how I interact with damn near everything in game. It's a practice I've been utilizing fully for nine years. That's a long friggin' time.

Then I saw the above tweet and had to take a step back. For argument's sake, friends, let's say we're split 50/50 on this. Why would Blizzard choose to remove flight, something that deeply upsets half of us, and makes the other half shrug? It doesn't seem wise...unless they've got something better planned. Improving upon existing systems or ideas is something that Blizzard is famous for. They've got the shoulders of their own giant, World of Warcraft, to stand on, in addition to the slew of other MMOs and RPGs that have come and gone (and remained) since.

As much as I really don't agree with this choice right now, I'm eager to see what they're going to do next. I really don't think we're looking at the removal of flight anymore; I think we're looking at the replacement of flight.

At least, I really hope we are.


  1. Great post. Two comments.

    One. Regarding "Why would Blizzard choose to remove flight, something that deeply upsets half of us, and makes the other half shrug?" Oh if the other half were only just shrugging... On twitter and the forums, you have the anti-flying crowd just as vehement about their position as the pros. Both are trying to shout down what they perceive to be opposing viewpoints. Neither side is behaving well or even allowing for the fact that both opinions are valid. It's more like a triad of reactions with non-judgmental shruggers caught somewhere in the middle in wait-and-see mode.

    Two. I have always played the achievement game. Pursuing Battle Pet, Archaeology, and other "collectible" achievements during xpac lulls between patches. I'm not doing that this xpac. Travel is too much of a pain in the ass for me. It's not fun for me to spend as much time riding to a dig site as it is actually digging. And it's certainly not fun for me to travel to Trainers for daily Battle Pet quests. Those two activities, among others requiring extensive travel, that I once fully enjoyed in previous expansions are simply not something I am interested in pursuing in WoD. And the *only* reason for that is there is no simpler way to do them, i.e., flying. Somehow, I don't think that's the reaction the devs were shooting for when planning out WoD.

    Am I quitting WoW over it? No. My sub is paid through December via tokens. But I am certainly not as engaged in the game as I have been in the past. I only log in to raid two nights a week and, if I feel like it, I'll log on to do missions and collect resources every few days. That's it. Anything else that I would normally do during the lull between content patches just takes too much of my time for too little reward. That's been *my* experience, my opinion. And I don't pretend it's one that anyone else has to share, FWIW.

    1. Though I didn't put it out there fully above, it sounds like your experience exactly mirrors mine. Thank you for your thoughts! :)

  2. Great post, Ross! I wonder if we had some way to remove flight from our memories, if we'd go out and play the game. If you always biked to the games, you wouldn't mind it. Ignorance is bliss, in a sense. I wonder how many truly tried to play the game and how many just said forget it. No way of knowing, of course.

    On much deeper level, I do worry about the effect modern society has on us in an "instant gratification" world. Is the game really worse because it asks us to take a little time or effort to do things or have we been too conditioned to want things NOW? Philosophical questions with few answers, but it does concern me anyway.

    One other note: I expect my own perspective is skewed. I honestly find travel easy in Draenor. But I also have zero fear of riding through a large pack of mobs. If things get hairy, I just pop Detterence, Disengage and Feign Death. Then I get up and go on my merry way. My class choice affects the way I view danger in the world. Even on the ground, very little threatens me. Especially with Heroic raid gear and a pet. So, I find the ground interesting and fun. Dodging those mobs isn't dangerous, but it's entertaining.

  3. I really hope the past part is true, that they have a replacement planned. But I don't personally hold out much hope any more.

    ""If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses." or similar is often attributed to Henry Ford" What Ford gave with the car was progress, a way to travel faster. It was a faster horse, but a mechanical one.

    They haven't provided progress, they've provided a regression, and none of their PR answers explain why. As one example, the 'immersion' issue. There are NPCs in Shat'trath that mount up and fly off the platforms, while I take a lift down to the ground. That's not immersive, that's the opposite.

    I hope they do have a replacement, but I very much fear it will be a rehash of WoD. WoD is the Timeless Isle writ large, and I never liked the Timeless Isle. I have no intention of buying the next expansion, and I've been continuously subbed from almost the beginning. The direction of the game feels like regression to me, and I don't want to go back to how the game was in the beginning. I like the improvements and I don't have any wistful nostalgia that the old ways were better.

    They've lost me as a customer and it isn't because I want "instant gratification". Iw ould spend hours flying around idly in game doing what took my fancy. I didnt' fly because I wanted something now, I flew because I enjoyed it and I was out exploring the world.

  4. If Blizzard really wanted us to explore the said "caves", they could have simply hidden a questline for Draenor flight book in those arcade places and be done with it.

    It's just fascinating how people tell that flights will bring back joy of exploration even with the current lack of content. And Blizzard says: No, you don't understand. Flights will kill your exploration spirit. Ain't it clear now who is right? Players just don't go anywhere, sitting in Garrisons and waiting for raids. Spirit of exploring is just blooming between mine, herb garden and townhall.

    There's no motivation to explore. Ground content is too little, repeatable, unrewarding and dangerous to get too.