When the expansion was announced at BlizzCon, I wasn’t thrilled. My reaction was something along the lines of: Mists of Pandaria? We’re going to have PANDAS running around? SERIOUSLY?

I decided I could probably deal with that, despite not being thrilled with pandas, to the point where I now no longer say “sad panda”, but rather “sad moose”. However, that, combined with the changing talent trees and abilities and such left me doubtful that I would really enjoy very much at all in Mists of Pandaria.

Still, I said, I would wait to see if things were as bad as I thought they would be, by checking out the Beta. I signed up for the annual pass so I’d get guaranteed Mists of Pandaria Beta access and a free digital copy of Diablo III. People who have noted my overall unhappiness with the announced details of the expansion have asked me if I plan to continue playing.

To them, I have said “right now, the plan is to keep playing and keep raiding, unless something significant changes or Beta is terrible.”

So I have basically told people that my viewpoint was that everything would continue barring huge changes/proof that said changes are terrible in Beta.

And then, on Wednesday evening, Blizzard announced incoming nerfs to Dragon Soul, both normal and heroic.

I sighed. And then I resigned myself to the fact that, unless the Mists of Pandaria Beta absolutely blows my mind in terms of PVE play (especially raiding), this is my last expansion of World of Warcraft where I will be anything more than a casual player.

Let me be very clear — I am dedicated to my guild and our raid group. I will continue to raid, continue to lead the guild, up to when Mists of Pandaria is released. But after that? I’m really not so sure what’s going to happen. Until release, I’ll stick around and continue to be a source of holy paladin knowledge, will still do a podcast with Majik, will still lead Apotheosis and will still raid with Choice on my off-nights. Beyond that, well, I’m not thinking I want to be a part of the upcoming expansion, which is a shift from just twelve hours ago. Earlier today, my thinking was optimistic: “Hey, unless things in Beta really suck, I’ll probably keep playing.” Now, it’s more pessimistic: “Hey, unless things in Beta are really AWESOME, I’m probably going to quit.”

The reason is the ongoing nerfing of current content.

For those of you who are brave, the complete rant is below, but that’s the short answer.

(Bear in mind the following is all my own opinion. And you should be respectful and read the comment policy before you comment, lest I leave your comment to rot forever in the “Pending” section.)

First, let’s talk about the nerf itself. From the Blizzard announcement:

During the scheduled server maintenance on the week of January 31, the Dragon Soul raid will become enveloped by the “Power of the Aspects” spell, reducing the health and damage dealt of all enemies in the raid by 5%. This spell will grow progressively stronger over time to reduce the difficulty and make the encounters more accessible. The spell will affect both normal and Heroic difficulties, but it will not affect the Looking for Raid difficulty. The spell can also be disabled by talking to Lord Afrasastrasz at the beginning of Dragon Soul, if a raid wishes to attempt the encounters without the aid of the Dragon Aspects.

The Good: It’s a “small” nerf to begin with. It will progressively grow stronger over time (about once a month, they said). It can be turned off. All of these are miles better than the previous Firelands nerfs, which was a flat nerf to everything all at once.

The Bad: It’s still a nerf to current content. It affects Heroic difficulties. Disabling the nerfs is likely not an option for my group — it’s the equivalent of all of us not flasking or attempting to 24-man an encounter instead of 25-man it; it’s just silly not to take the options available to you and your raid group. It’s too soon to see nerfs, the content will have only been out for 9 weeks. The nerf to current content is still what’s driving me bananas, particularly current Heroic content.

Let’s look at Blizzard’s history of nerfing encounters.

Wrath of the Lich King

The first raid-wide nerfs hit Icecrown Citadel. A 5% buff to the health, damage done and healing done (soon incorporating absorptions done) by players was called Strength of Wrynn/Hellscream’s Warsong and was added on March 2nd, 2010 and was raised by 5% approximately every four weeks, culminating in a 30% overall buff to these attributes. Icecrown Citadel was released with Patch 3.3, released on December 8th, 2009. Of course, ICC was gated. For a time, only the first four bosses were accessible. Then the Plagueworks opened up on January 5th, 2010, allowing access to Festergut, Rotface and Professor Putricide. The Crimson Hall, home to the Blood Prince Council and Blood Queen Lana’thel, became available on January 19th, 2010. The last wing, Frostwing Halls, containing Valithria Dreamwalker and Sindragosa was accessible on February 2nd, 2010. Once all end bosses of the various wings were defeated, one could access the Lich King encounter, so he was unable to be accessed until Frostwing Halls were cleared.

From the time the instance was first released until the 5% buff was added was 84 days, or nearly three months.

The 30% buff to players came in after several months of slowly raising the buff by 5%, approximately every four weeks. The date it was raised to 30% was July 20th. From the time the instance was first released until it was nerfed as much as it would be until after 4.0 dropped was 224 days, just about seven and a half months.

The buff worked on both normal and heroic difficulty and you could turn it off if you wanted to.

Tier 11 Content

Tier 11 content, that’s to say, Blackwing Descent, Bastion of Twilight and Throne of the Four Winds was released with the launch of Cataclysm, December 7th, 2010.

While tweaks were made to enable encounters to be less random and more manageable, no raid-wide nerfs or buffs were seen until Firelands launched on June 28th, 2011. That was almost seven months later, at which point every normal encounter in Tier 11 content received a ~20% nerf in boss hit points and damage done by those bosses. Heroic modes were untouched.

Tier 12 Content

Firelands, the sole instance that comprised Tier 12 content, was launched on June 28th, 2011. While small adjustments were made to the instance’s encounters during the first few months (especially the first), it was announced on September 12th that the following week (September 20th) would see substantial nerfs to Firelands, along the same lines as was seen to Tier 11 content after Firelands had launched. These nerfs were heavy-handed, game-changing nerfs that affected both normal and heroic modes and could not be turned off. These hit 84 days (almost three months) after Firelands had been out.

And now we come to Tier 13 Content — Dragon Soul.

After being out for merely 9 weeks, they will start progressively nerfing the instance. While yes, it can be turned off, I don’t know that many raiders will take advantage of that option. What looks better when recruiting — 2/8 HM (no buff) or 5/8 HM? Further, while I understand their reasoning, nerfing the instance itself, as I argued when they nerfed Firelands, is just plain stupid. I understand they don’t want people to feel less powerful outside of the instance, but come on. As I said previously, regarding Firelands:

When you nerf the boss’ health, you don’t leave anything to chance. You don’t increase players’ DPS or HPS output, you just flat-out make the encounter easier. Less damage is required and the fights will likely end more quickly. But none of that is due to the players’ efforts. That’s 100% a design decision that makes the fight easier by requiring 20% less damage done to the boss. That doesn’t even take into consideration any nerfs to the damage output of the bosses.

The same argument holds. The onus is not on the players to be intelligent in terms of the game or class or the instance. The encounters just become easier. How is that a good thing? “Hey, we noticed you’ve wiped 54 times on Heroic Hagara, so we’ll nerf her for you.”

The Peter Principle is a fascinating concept that I believe can be applied directly to WoW. It essentially states that you keep getting promoted (in a job environment, typically) until you reach your personal level of incompetence. The theory is that if you, for example, start out sorting mail in the mail room and show promise and various other attributes for more challenging work, perhaps you’ll get to be a receptionist. And, if, as a receptionist, you show promise, etc, you might be promoted to a job in sales. And if you do really well in sales, maybe you’ll become an account manager. And if you do really well there, you might work your way up to an executive position.

But as soon as you no longer show promise or no longer excel at what you’re doing, you no longer get promoted.

Nerfs to current raid content feel like that.

“Oh, hey. You made it all the way to Heroic Rhyolith, but didn’t quite get him down. I guess you can’t do it at that level. Here. Have a nerf.”

That is the system around us telling us we’re not good enough to get to that next level on our own. That’s like hitting our own level of incompetence, except that in WoW, incompetence (or, to be slightly nicer, the inability to kill a boss) is usually just a matter of time. Farming the bosses you can already kill and changing strats or practicing strats will eventually get you a kill. It just won’t be quick.

The blues freely admit this is why the nerfs are happening:

For any number of reasons a group may be having difficulty on a specific encounter each week, and our intent in adjusting the content is to ensure the ability to keep progressing, enjoying the content, and gearing up. [...] Very few players are willing to suit up, buff up, do all the necessary requirements to raid, jump in, and then do no better than they did last week for hours and hours, only to return next week and do the same.

My concern with ongoing nerfs of current content (for having done this two instances in a row makes it “ongoing”) is that it’s catering to those people who are not willing to suit up, buff up, etc, etc. And honestly? I have no interest in playing with those people.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again — I like a challenge. I loved attunement quests, no matter how crappy they were to do (doing Jailbreak twice in a single night for Majik because he was a dumbass and died? Not fun.). I loved working out strats for encounters in Burning Crusade raids, which, at the time, were incredibly punishing (Vashj, Kael, Bloodboil all come to mind off the top of my head). We were nowhere near server first, we were over a year behind in most cases. But we persevered and worked through it. The only nerfs we took advantage of were attunement removals (except the BT one, because we needed the necks for shadow resistance) and the 3.0 nerfs because, dangit, we weren’t ready to stop raiding yet. (Still, we were 4/5 Hyjal and 5/9 BT when 3.0 dropped.) By and large, Vashj was pretty similar an encounter when we downed her (on June 2nd, 2008) as when SSC opened up in 2007. There had been no 20% zone-wide nerf. No stacking 30% player buff. Nothing of the sort.

There was a measure of pride there. I still wear my Hand of A’dal title because of what it took for us to kill Vashj and Kael and finish the Vials of Eternity quest.

Those were my favourite days of WoW; pushing hard to achieve something, even though I was months behind others, knowing that, apart from minor tweaks and slight adjustments, the encounters were basically the same as they had been when the server first guilds had done them. (Until the 3.0 nerf, anyhow.)

So I read the news on Wednesday night and I shook my head. I went through Wrath, largely without my Apotheosis peeps, spending 6 months (at least) in three separate guilds — first to Resurgence of Bronzebeard, then to Proudmoore to raid with my RL Friend the Resto Druid, then to Choice of Skywall and then back home, to Eldre’Thalas, to see if I could recapture the Burning Crusade magic in Cataclysm.

Cataclysm arrived and with the T11 content nerfs, my faith in Blizzard was shaken. When the Firelands nerfs arrived, I was furious and my trust in Blizzard eroded. And now, with the announcement of Dragon Soul nerfs, despite the fact that Looking for Raid exists *for* those people who will not make the efforts needed to raid seriously, I have to admit that my faith in Blizzard is shattered. My trust in the developers of World of Warcraft is gone. I am obviously not the type of player they want playing their game. And that’s what’s so very shocking to me. I am a good player. I am a community asset. I am a guild leader, a raid leader, a healing lead. I write a blog dedicated to the game that has had hundreds of thousands of visitors and pageviews since December 31st, 2009 (and more before then, but I don’t have any data before 12/31/09). I co-host and produce a podcast dedicated to the game.

Yet community assets like myself are apparently no longer people Blizzard cares to value. The dumbing-down of the game, particularly the first few levels of the game, plus the incoming changes to talent trees, are all for the more casual gamer. We were all stupid in WoW, once upon a time (I had a dagger equipped, in my 40s, on Kurn, that had an on-hit proc, for example.) but those who cared to learn more had all kinds of resources, from Thottbot to WoWWiki, from long-time blogs like Blessing of Kings to sites with maps of all of Azeroth like WoW Cartography (a now-defunct site).

It’s clear that Blizzard believes most of its players no longer care to put all that effort into learning the game, so they make it easier. I feel Blizzard feels similarly about learning raid encounters — can’t get it? No worries, wait for the nerf, then you’ll be able to stomp it and move on.

I submit that those of us who are more serious in our gaming are not happy with this. I certainly am not.

While, as I mentioned before, I am in it for the long haul through Dragon Soul, when Mists of Pandaria launches, barring any extremely pleasant surprises, I will hang up my raiding hat and I suspect strongly that I will stop playing shortly thereafter. I play the game to raid, after all. What’s the point of levelling, gearing up in dungeons and making the most of myself if I can’t go out into battle and try to take down bosses?

I could still do that — but why bother, when 9 weeks in or 84 days in, they’re just going to make it easier for me?

I’ve long felt that Blizzard is ignoring its population of older players. I have been playing WoW since October of 2005. This doesn’t grant me any in-game advantage, and that’s okay, but those things that I “grew up” with, like attunements, like keys, like epic class quests, like epic instances without the novelty of a “heroic” mode… those are the things that kept me interested in the game. Those are the things that helped grow the game to 11 million players. Precious few of those mechanics and concepts remain. Is it any wonder why people are quitting? Is it any wonder why I now believe this to be my final expansion? The game is unrecognizable. The playerbase is maddeningly lazy and unwilling to put forth the effort that so many of us old-timers did and their laziness is affecting us.

So I read the news. I shook my head. I sighed in resignation as the realization dawned on me that this game is no longer for me. Sadly, it hasn’t been for quite some time. My glory days are essentially over. I’ll never again have that moment of elation that I did when I downed Lady Vashj for the first time, having cleared SSC completely for the first time. I’ll never want to beat the crap out of Majik for failing his attunement quest and needing to do it over again. I’ll never have another epic quest like the hunter quest at level 60.

It’s Blizzard’s sandbox, as it always has been. They have the right to do whatever they like. And after Cataclysm has ended, it’ll be time for me to finally speak with my wallet, take my toys with me and go home.