Blizzard sent me a “please come back to WoW” email the other day, offering me a free week of game time. I was sorely tempted – but eventually decided to just delete the email and move on with my life.
World of Warcraft was released in North America on November 23, 2004. My younger brother showed it to me at launch, and my interest was immediately piqued. Less than a month later, I picked up a copy for myself as a Christmas present, and the rest was history – I was hooked. It wasn’t until shortly after WoW’s Cataclysm expansion came out in December of 2010 that I finally quit playing a few months afterwards, which means that I was subscribed, off and on, for a bit over six years. That’s an immense amount of time to spend in the land of make-believe.
Back in vanilla WoW, before Dalaran was a floating city in the middle of Northrend and well before Pandaria emerged from the mist, it took dedication to get anything done. Banding together with like-minded players into a guild was a necessity, and the bonds you formed could make a good guild both nearly unstoppable and closer than family. Many of the friendships I forged through WoW are still strong today – I did marry my main healer, after all – and sometimes I miss playing WoW quite terribly, despite the headaches of running your own guild and everything that went along with it, such as organizing schedules, working with new players, and running the same god damn raid over and over again to gear you and your guildmates up enough to tackle harder challenges. Still, even with all the fond memories I built in-game over the years, I can’t and won’t bring myself to go back.
One of the primary reasons that I finally gave up WoW – besides the fact that the subscription-based MMORPG model is an onerous relic of a bygone age – is that the game had changed in a fundamental way that caused it to no longer be fun for me. In many ways, WoW had incorporated massive improvements over those six-and-a-half years, which made the game less of a chore to play. WoW progressed from being something that you had to invest a considerable amount of free time into in order to make any sort of progression to a more casual environment where you could spend an hour or two in-game every night and still make progress towards your goals. Gone were the days of having to spend time painstakingly putting a party of five players together and then manually run your character to the entrance of a dungeon, sometimes through dangerous terrain, only to spend hours furiously pounding your keyboard while you worked through incredibly challenging combat – instead, you can just use the handy Dungeon Finder tool, tick a few boxes, and sit in a queue for a few minutes before being teleported inside the dungeon with four others (possibly strangers), only to be teleported right back out once you reached the end. Improvements such as the Dungeon Finder might have significantly cut back on “down time,” but their inclusion definitely took something away from the feel of the game.
Back in vanilla, everything was brand new. The rewards of indulging in your curiosity by exploring over the horizon line were palpable – adventure, excitement, and big piles of phat loot – but as the game became more and more streamlined that feeling of discovery was pared down, bit by bit, until you would spend most of your time simply waiting around a major trade hub like a main city or completing your same grind of daily quests while your queue ticked down. Yes, the game was more accessible, but the sense of wonder had been drained out nearly completely: what was once a complex, time-consuming but rewarding job in the guise of a hobby that required high levels of dedication and stubborn tenacity to advance had instead become a linear, monotonous repeating cycle of simple tasks that was easy as pie but, ironically, felt like a job.
Up until the very end of WoW’s first expansion, The Burning Crusade, it was a pain in the ass to accomplish any sort of goal. Whether it was reaching level cap, attaining the top of a profession tree, endgame raiding, or simply finding someone to RP with that wasn’t an immortal half-angel/half-vampire ninja assassin from the future that was the long-lost child of two major lore characters and somehow possessed a bigger rack than Dolly Parton while being more endowed than Ron Jeremy, being a WoW player was harder than a diamond-encrusted brick. However, managing to actually achieve one of your long-term goals within WoW at that point was a major accomplishment – albeit one that had no bearing at all on the outside world – and it filled you with a hard-earned sense of accomplishment: completing a long quest line that required multiple trips through content with a party of five that was tuned to be a challenge for 10 players at a time or having the resources and tenacity to get your own nether drake mount meant something, dammit. Now, not so much.
That’s why, even though I miss my time spent on WoW passionately, I’ll never go back.