Boy, I had no idea what I was in for.
First, let me just start by saying that it has been a little more than week since “The Shattering” patch hit World of Warcraft, and while I haven’t personally made a new character to try out the changes yet, I’ve been reading up on a lot of opinions coming out of the blogosphere. What I noticed is that amidst the feedback both positive and negative, the one consensus seems to be that the starting zones are way too easy — the terms “hand-holding” and “on rails” tend to come up a lot.
Love it or hate it, I gotta agree that the new Azeroth was clearly not designed for us. Instead, Blizzard has remade the lower levels of WoW with a wider audience in mind, hoping to make the experience more streamlined and intuitive for newcomers. That said, is it even going to make a difference?
Reading Pete of Dragonchaser’s recent post made me contemplate the “spectacle of the new player experience.” On the whole, I find myself agreeing with one of his many points — that perhaps Blizzard is indeed treading a fine line here by coddling new players and making the early game too easy, and ultimately this will end up hurting player retention numbers instead of helping them. On the other hand, I also think that many of us who have been playing MMOs for a long time forget what it’s truly like to be a newbie. Even I find it hard to recall my first days of WoW sometimes, and that was only a handful of years ago.
This is why I was so excited last week to hear that my best friend will be picking up the game (I guess that Thanksgiving weekend Blizzard sale was just too irresistible to pass up). She’s not a “casual” gamer by any means, as her tastes range from games like Rock Band to the more recent StarCraft II, but never has she taken the plunge into an MMO. So what this means is, not only will she be new to WoW, she will be new to the entire genre period.
I figured, what an opportunity to analyze the new player experience! My interest piqued, I asked if I could do a series of blog posts about her newbie adventures, and fortunately for me she agreed to be my guinea pig and provide me with her thoughts and opinions.
* * *
Character Name: Saalua
Race and Class: Night Elf Hunter
Jar and I have been talking about her getting into WoW for days now. I’d originally wanted to step back and play the “observer” in order to avoid interfering with her new player experience, but when I messaged her the other day asking about what class she planned to to make, and whether she would prefer a DPS, Tank, or Healing role, she wrote back with “WTF, speak English please!”
That was my first clue that maaaybe I would need to get a little involved.
So last night she finally got the client downloaded, installed and ready to go. She direct messaged me asking me which server I was on, so I answered, “Silvermoon. Make your character there, then let me know your name. I’ll come find you then.”
Moments later, I get her reply: “I’m Ilthalaine. I don’t know where I am!”
I quickly do a /who Ilthalaine from my main to try and go rescue her…but there were no results. Boggled, I asked if she was sure she was on Silvermoon. Apparently, she wasn’t. Or maybe she was. I don’t know. Because when everything was finally sorted out and I went to the Night Elf starting area to find her, I saw that the first quest giver where you start the game, his name is Ilthalaine. I guess to be fair, you are like, almost right on top of him when you spawn. I was like, “Um, Jar, did you think the quest giver’s name was your name?” She was like, “Oops, yes!”
Damn, if that’s not a /facepalm moment, I don’t know what is. I’m going to make fun of her forever for that one, but that’s okay, she knows I still love her.
Anyway, I invite her into my guild and taught her the basics of communicating with people in the game. And I mean the real basics. When everyone said hi to her she couldn’t say anything back at first, because she had no idea to type /g to talk in guild, or /p to talk to your party, etc. I think she was a little embarrassed, but my guildies were very welcoming and pitched in with the instructions, and one even admitted to my friend that it took her several days to learn to speak in different channels when she first started the game. That stuff really isn’t as obvious as we think. After that though, Jar was able to figure out a lot on her own, including several emotes.
Later on, we shifted the conversation to our guild vent server, to make things easier. Getting that set up was an ordeal too. In fact, according to Jar, the whole new WoW gamer experience was an ordeal, in her words, “a geek out to the usability/gamer side of my brain.” And guess what? We didn’t even start questing yet. Questing can wait, first we gotta let her get a good feel for the MMO world.
That said, I definitely think we take the new player experience for granted. Even with the new changes, for a total newcomer to the game (e.g. the casual gamer checking out an MMO for the first time) the learning curve is still steeper than we think — which is something I did not initially expect. But between bouts of laughing my ass off at Jar’s noobishness, the memories started coming back; the times when I was the confused nubcake, when I was the one overwhelmed by the shear size of the world, who didn’t know what LFG or WTB or any of the myriad of acronyms meant, who didn’t even know how to switch servers. In order to get the entire WoW experience, there’s just so much for a new player to take in. There’s like even a whole new language to learn.
In fact, now that I think about it, the only way I was able to get into WoW was probably because I had my brother to advise me and answer any noob questions I had. And now the tables have turned and I’m playing the role of the guide, helping someone else take their first steps in Azeroth. Jar even admitted she thinks this would be a lot harder without knowing someone in the game. She had this to add:
On the flip side of having someone take you around WoW you dont really get a chance to relish in your own n00bness to figure it all out – it’s like you’re in MMO bootcamp with people telling you to do things and you have to figure them out right then and there as opposed to being able to just wander around aimlessly if you were playing on your own. Which wouldn’t be as fun. I remember the first time I played I ran around killing stupid creatures for like an hr to level up, which wasn’t very exciting.
She also said something else that made something in my mind click. Before she signed out (and I thought it was funny how she was sooo worried that the game wouldn’t “save” when she left, just like someone used to single-player gaming) she wrote, “Although, I’m enjoying my n00bness in WoW more than the game itself so far.” The enjoyment for her may be in the actual learning, upholding the theory suggested by Raph Koster.
Still, I’m a little relieved she rolled a hunter, a very new-player-friendly class and very fun to play. I think she’ll have a blast with it…if she keeps playing. Hopefully we’ll finish up with WoW Basics: 101 tomorrow and get some questing in, and we’ll see if we can make a MMO gamer out of her yet!
Also, since in all likelihood she will be reading these posts, any advice or suggestions to someone who’s just starting out on MMOs would be deeply appreciated.