It was announced that Warlords of Draenor would not include flight at “the beginning”. Players complained, as always, and discussions were had. Several things came up I wanted to think/write about.
In previous expansions, players had to get to level cap first, then they could purchase the ability to fly. This usually came a high-ish price. This is good design, in my opinion, for many reasons.
1. It forces the player to ride through the world for an extended period. It has been proven that people who fly from one place to another don’t feel the “distance” the way someone who drives does. By forcing players to level until they can get off the ground, they generally feel the vastness of the expansion world.
2. It allows for funneling the players to locations. Level design is all about how to get the player to stay within the game area and how to get where we want them to go. Keeping them grounded allows for this. It makes it so the designer can be reasonably certain the player enters a zone from a specific point, and the gameplay can be tailored to match the leveling player.
3. It’s a gold sink. If it’s something WoW needs, it’s more gold sinks. Anything that takes gold out of the economy is good.
4. They see the monsters, NPCs, hidden things much better from the ground. It goes back to exploring, but it makes it worth it to spend dev time on doing silly things like the hidden treasures of Pandaria.
Now, having said that… I am strongly opposed to the idea of waiting for flight until AFTER the first content patch of WoD. As any long time WoW player will say, the game is very different when leveling versus when at level cap.
So why is it a bad idea to be level cap and not have flying?
1. Playing with Purpose.
It’s pointless-ish for level capped characters to kill monsters. We get no exp, the gold and drops aren’t worth it, since we get more in dungeons, and generally, we are never in danger – so it’s really just a slog that takes up time. Level capped players who are doing dailies just want to get their stuff done and move on to more important things, like dungeon runs. So I timed it. It takes me about 20 minutes to fly over, do the Shado-Pan dailies, and get back to the flight path. If I only play WoW an hour a day, that’s a 1/3rd of my play time burned doing what is effectively a chore. To test, I decided to do it on mount/foot. It took me 48 minutes. MORE THAN TWICE the time. A majority of the extra time was spent riding over and back, and dealing with extra mobs in the way, since the bug island is DENSE with monsters.
2. Designed for Reality not for Flow
Stormwind is a very interesting city. So is Ironforge. Both of them are sprawling and believable cities. They have houses, shops, districts, and dozens of landmarks. But in the terms of playing a game, these are terrible areas. Logically, in a game, there would be none of the wasted space. The Auction House, Inn, Vendors, and Flight Point would all be gathered together right inside the door. Now that’s not to say they should change these cities, but rather that they need to “lessen” the impact on the players. The ability to fly over the buildings and canals in Stormwind helps ease the players passage while allowing the city to look realistic.
3. Travel Time is Wasted Time.
You know that one person, who is always late? They are constantly running behind, to the point you tell them to be somewhere 30 minutes early so they will be even remotely close to on time? Now imagine you are waiting on someone to run dailies… Or a dungeon… or a raid… WoW is a game best played with friends, but always having to wait on someone is just as frustrating as it is in real life. We have things to do! And waiting about, or just riding through the world is not those things.
Why do flight paths not fill this need? Well for one, there are never enough of them. Two, they take some of the most meandering paths. Three, it’s dead time. You can’t DO anything while flying. I am not here to watch a bird fly, I am here to do interesting things. Also, everyone has had the experience of accidentally clicking the wrong destination and having to wait even LONGER to get where you wanted to go. On my own mount, if I see an herb, rare, or battle pet along the way, I can stop and engage.
Not having flight wouldn’t bother me as much if I knew that it was going to be reasonably easy to get where I wanted to go. But spend some time in Pandaria and realize how unlikely that is. The flight path from the Shrine to Half Hill takes twice the amount of time as just flying over the mountains.
At 90 (and 100 in WoD) the player isn’t playing to explore anymore. They don’t need to kill monsters for exp. They are trying to get the things they need to raid or pvp. That does not include spending hours of time traveling about. Players will take the path of least resistance and it’s a designers job to make sure that path isn’t quitting playing. To give an example, I started playing Hearthstone one night while taking a flight path. I didn’t notice I had reached my destination until the game auto logged me out for being afk for 20 MINUTES. Having a long flight path and travel time meant I stepped away from the game, and potentially would not come back.
Time spent in the game is valuable. There is so much to do and so many goals, for players, time is at a premium. The designers need to take this into account when making decisions. Make a game, not a jogging simulator.