I haven’t done a /played in a while. I don’t really want to see the number of days it would show me. I know I’ve spent over a year of my life in Azeroth though. I’ve been thinking about how this game manages to gets its hooks in so deep for so long.
People love things. And WoW has so many (pixelated) things to collect. There’s gear, gold, companion/battle pets, mounts, vanity items, toys, tabards, profession recipes. Though some things aren’t even part of a collection per-say, those of us with hoarding tendencies can even make endless loops around zones to farm stockpiles of ore or herbs. Not everyone will want to collect everything (I hate vanity items and delete them from my bags immediately), but there’s something for everyone. I don’t even like pet battles but I still went around and collected every pet in Azeroth at one point. As long as there is some new object to collect, even if you have to kill something 700 times before lady luck smiles upon you and it drops, people will log in.
This one goes along with Collection, and is the one that usually got me. Achievements. For the collectors, possessing those 90 battle pets found in Eastern Kingdoms was the reward. For me, it was those five (5!! /cry) achievement points I got when I caught the last one. I didn’t give a shit about the pets themselves, and I certainly didn’t have fun for 90% of the time I spent collecting them. But those shiny, arbitrary points – I wanted them all. Of course achievements aren’t unique to WoW, or MMOs. If a game has a multi-platform release, I’ll always get it for Xbox because I love those gamer points (and the Xbox controller). The difference is, going for all the achievements in your average Xbox game will only take a couple extra hours. In WoW, the time investment needed can be absolutely ridiculous. And it needs to be, or else you’d get them all and have nothing to log in for. At one point I wanted to go for Battlemaster. Then I realized that would likely be at least a hundred hours of generally frustrating gameplay (that number is a total guess and probably a very conservative one). I spent hours going for archaeology achievements, an activity which was about as interesting as watching paint dry (and with paint, at least there are fumes).The pinnacle of ludicrousness came recently, with Going to Need a Bigger Bag. We haven’t had new content in 9 months, but people are still logging in to camp mobs, kill mobs, hate life when the last item they need doesn’t drop, and then do it all over again.
I like to raid, I like to do it well, and I want to kill things before most people. How could I ever unsub while there’s still that last big bad to kill? Of course, the raid competition bug bites many people a lot harder than me. I like to kill bosses, but I also like my 9 hour per week raid schedule. For those who are truly competitive, they not only log upwards of 12, 15, 20, hours per week raiding, they also do all the current raiding extras – rep grinds, valor capping, food farming, and consumable crafting. The truly competitive even go so far as to level and gear up alts so they can run content multiple times, funnel gear to raider mains, etc. It’s not enough to just see the content, you need to see it and defeat it first, and with that comes a lot of time commitment.
In a multi-player game, this one is the biggie. If I can take a step back, the collection, completion, and competition aspects that have kept me playing this game for 8 years seems rather inane. When the servers shut down and Jasyla the Night Elf Druid is no more, will I care that I had 173 mounts, 19460 achievement points, or that my guild was the 176th US 25man guild to defeat Heroic Iron Qon? Not likely. But I will care about all the friends I met in-game, the friendships that extended into real life, and the people I haven’t met but chat with often on Twitter or blog comments. I’ve seen a number of people over the past week or so really struggling with wanting to step away from WoW over some things that have been said by executives recently, and not wanting to leave their friends, the community of people they’ve become a part of. I’m sure that obligation is a thing that keeps a lot of people playing over the years. Wanting to avoid additional obligation is the thing that’s kept me from ever picking up another MMO habit. When I don’t enjoy playing the newest Final Fantasy game, I just stop – return it to the store if I’m feeling ambitious. No harm, no foul. But when WoW gets boring, when the healing game sucks, boss fights require spreadsheets, and we don’t see any new content for a year? Stopping isn’t so easy since it means losing a big source of connection to the community.
There is no conclusion. It doesn’t end, you never win. The story doesn’t get wrapped up. So you’ve killed heroic Garrosh? Just wait for a bit and there will be a whole new set of bads to kill (also, you didn’t really kill him, sucker, he’ll be back because we can never get enough orc bros). There will always be another quest zone, a new PVP season, a new raid instance. You may feel a sense of accomplishment now, but it will fade as soon as the next thing is released, and you’ll have something new you need to conquer.
So, I guess that’s how it happens. One day a friend says “hey, you should try this, I think you’d like it”. The next thing you know, its 8 years later, you’re still playing, you’ve spent $1500 on subscription fees, and dedicated 10,000 hours of your life to a single game but still can’t say that you’ve beat it.