'World of Warcraft' Changed Video Games and Wrecked Lives

World of Warcraft was not Drew’s only addiction. There was alcohol, food, and smoking, too, but World of Warcraft went on for so long, and was so all encompassing. It still casts a shadow, years later, after he’s managed to get so many of his addictions under control. He lost two jobs over the game. His health fell into disarray. Friendships would come and go.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/ywaj4w/world-of-warcraft-changed-video-games-and-wrecked-lives
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This hit really close to home. On one hand, I partly credit wow for the life I have now. In a good way. I started playing in 2005, a 13 year old Russian kid with only some basic English skills. At one point, after a year or so of playing, I remember telling a party member that I was 14 and from Russia and they thought I was joking. I can still feel the aftershocks of the rush I got from that 13 years later. I can be so good at English that it’ll mask who I actually am? Holy crap, I’m gonna do THAT then. Fellow ESL folks might relate. Language became everything to me. I took that so close to heart that I am now a published writer living in an English-speaking country, something I always wanted.

On the other hand, some of those stories are way way relatable. More than I’m conformable with tbh.

I hadn’t seriously put any time into WoW since WotLK (~2010) by the time Classic came out. Just like the good ol days it took over my life immediately. Started waking up early to play before work, going to bed at 2-3 am, not following through on deadlines. The worst part wasn’t even the hours I put into it but the fact that I’d think about it all the time, even when not playing it. There’s a thing in Patrick’s article that’s not really true: High Warlord wasn’t just a thing that didn’t affect anything in game. I’m pretty sure achieving High Warlord meant you’d get a very high-quality exclusive weapon. Which made it easier to justify. Just another hour, I’m gonna get a new cloak. Just a few more days, gonna get this enchantment. Just another month, I’m definitely gonna save up for that epic mount.

My time with wow was important, I wouldn’t change it (or most of it). But I’m really hoping that I’m never coming back.

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I re-subbed for wow classic when it came out and I realized I was falling back into old habits after a few weeks so I deleted my account just to be safe. I thought I had matured past that type of behaviour, but it turns out that wow is an especially addictive ”one of those” and I was just lucky to have stopped playing when I did.

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The high warlord grind was notoriously hellish but not honestly that weird for how mmos were back then. What happened for a lot of people was they just account shared, which is against the TOS but blizzard didn’t really stop anyone. It’s also not just cosmetic, the HWL/GM weapons were pretty good at the time and if you weren’t raiding were WAY better than anything else you were getting.

I’d be interested in what other games have led to this kind of behavior for people. I never got into WoW, but I do love Bethesda-style open-world games, which are “forever games” in their own right if you’re so inclined. Upon getting Oblivion for the 360, I was playing the game for three to five hours each night - that is, getting home from work, making dinner, then spending the rest of the night on the couch. And I thought about Oblivion all day at work, aching to get back to it.

It’s a rare thing when any media product has that kind of hold on me, and while I look back on the experience with some fondness, I can see the danger of getting completely sucked in.

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The thing that made the High Warlord/Grand Marshal grind so awful was that you lost progress if you didn’t spend as much time PvPing as other players. Basically, the number of “Honor” Points you earned (by doing any kind of PvP, but mostly from group matches called Battlegrounds) were compared against everyone else in your faction who played that week. When the servers came back up from their weekly maintenance, you might get assigned a new rank, from 1-14. These ranks could be held by exponentially fewer and fewer players per server the higher up they went. Probably 75% of the server at any point was rank 1-2, and only one (or rarely, two) people were rank 14. The carrot at the end of the stick was that at each new rank, you’d gain access to better and better pieces of an exclusive PvP armor set. Any piece you earned you kept forever, even if your rank dropped.

And that drop was the most twisted part. Unlike a normal RPG grind where you spend a set amount of time to earn a reward–like earning XP to gain a level–your ranking in WoW’s PvP system would decay if you didn’t earn Honor Points as quickly as other players near your rank. If you took a day off, or missed a bonus Honor weekend, your progress up the ladder would stall. Take a week off, and you’d almost certainly drop back down a rank. In this way, you were fighting more against players of your own faction than the opposing one. Some players would deliberately report other high-rank players to try to get them temporarily suspended. It was brutal.

Things got better towards the end of “Vanilla” WoW, before the games’ first expansion. The honor system was abolished, and players could use Honor Points as a currency to simply buy any piece of PvP gear. Then, after the Burning Crusade expansion came, a new PvP progression was added: the skill-based Arena system. Unlike the Honor system, players were deliberately limited to a fixed number of matches each week, and your rank was determined by how well you played–not necessarily how much. If you wanted the best rewards, players still had to play out an entire “season” over the course of several months, but it was nowhere near as destructive as Vanilla WoW’s Honor system.

I want to think that the Honor system was the result of poorly thought out design decisions. But after the first few months, they had to have known what it was doing to people. The honor grind was in place for over a year before it was changed out, and even then, it was only removed because the new expansion was about to make the rewards irrelevant.

The most bitterly ironic thing was that the PvP gear earned this way was never refreshed for new content updates over the course of Vanilla WoW. Two years into the game, a High Warlord in full PvP gear would have virtually no competitive edge against an opponent in PvE gear from the latest raid. (High-level PvE raiding required a huge time commitment–don’t get me wrong–but you never lost your progression by taking a break.)

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By the way, the timing on Patrick’s article couldn’t be more relevant: the Honor System is being re-released as part of WoW Classic tomorrow morning.

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That’s definitely my recollection from playing back during vanilla, though my impression is that the whole way it played out varied a decent amount from server to server, especially since most of them were “self contained” communities outside of the battle group system (I think that was around prior to the pre-TBC patches that overhauled things, but I could be wrong). At least, on the server I played on (Tichondrius / Horde), there was essentially an established community treadmill you’d get on once you hit something like rank 9 or 10 on your own, with extremely regimented grouping/playtime requirements/ceilings. Because the system was based on honor points per week relative to other players on the server/faction, everyone “on the list” was assigned some total to hit so that nobody had to play 24x7. Players that would ignore the established social system would basically get blacklisted from all the organized groups and it made it almost impossible to make progress. When it was “your turn” to get high warlord next, you’d do something like 40hr/week of PVP wins, as rank 13 would do 38hr/week worth, rank 12 would do 36hr/week worth, etc (this was all based on the actual weekly honor point gains, not hours played). I never put in the time to get past rank ~8 or so because it didn’t interest me, but I’ve got a couple of real life friends who did hit high warlord without ruining their lives since the horde side of the server went “this is stupid, how can we organize around this”. Chatting with folks over the years since it sounds like this was definitely the exception, and not the rule.

With all that fun anecdote laid out, it still strikes me as a system design where (like you alluded to) it sounded real good on paper without thinking through or correcting for how it’s actually been used by players. When half of a major server has to “game the system” to not ruin lives, things have gone way off the rails.

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While I do have some fond memories of the old vanilla WoW PvP rank system (as someone who never got near the highest few ranks), there’s a good reason they dumped it. At the very top (High Warlord/Grand Marshal depending on your faction), having to be precisely the #1 person on your entire faction for the week was just a nightmare waiting to happen.

I am curious as to how it will go on the new WoW Classic (as mentioned earlier in this thread, this exact old PvP system from the article is being patched into the reboot this week) now that everyone is going into it with the “smarts” of people who all understand exactly how the system works now. I suspect there will be a lot more gaming of the PvP system than there used to be, with different guilds colluding over Discord.

Slight correction, released in a few days (Thursday), today is layering removal.

I feel like a lot of people just ignore the fact that private servers have existed for almost the whole life of WoW and we know exactly how people will react and behave to the pvp system because of that, the top ranks are controlled by a cabal of win traders basically.

From a completely uninvolved (at this point - I haven’t played since late Cataclysm) perspective, I’m curious how this will actually play out now that everyone can “see” the history. Mostly any organized system around this sort of thing is to reduce the amount of time anyone has to spend in an unreasonable system grind (“Hey if we all do this together in this way, we have to dump less time into it”). For better or worse (probably mostly worse) that means you have to (pretend to) get along with whomever is running the system/groups. In those cases, it seems like the alternative to running through the established social system (given the gameplay systems designs) is to just dump maximum unhealthy hours a week and hope you come out on top enough to rank up.

There wasn’t actual “win trading” going on at high ranks in vanilla when I was playing (that I’m aware of on my server/faction!), but the way this was framed felt like “this is how this has to go, because otherwise everyone is going to have to destroy their life to make progress”. If you were running in an organized group you’d always net more gains over the same period of time versus running solo, which matters because all the ranking is relative to other players’ efforts. That lead into trying to get into the most reliable/frequent groups to maximize time invested, which lead into setting up social systems around it to minimize time spent “doing work” since it was all relative to others.

In retrospect it feels like the high level PVP community on my server/faction essentially unionized because measured/concerted collective effort of 40hr/week was better than 130 hour “work weeks” for PVP rank, but I’d imagine most of those folks now would balk at that characterization.

I probably have a decent amount of ‘rose colored glasses’ looking back on it since it’s been so long, but I’d take a “not great” cabal running the ranks with everyone investing “doable” time over Drew’s story from the article.

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