Motivation and frustration in TBC Raiding via the Lore Setup

TBC opens with the great premise: “You are not prepared” and Illidan enters as the grand evil and the obvious ultimate foe.

Just in terms of setup this is a truly intriguing one because it is so starkly in contrast to what WoW 1.0 was. Yes, both start off with awesome cinematics, but the first didn’t highlight the final aim, the one target. The first cinematics actually mostly shows you, the heroes (say that in a Steven Colbert kind of voice) in conflict. TBC cinematics keeps some aspects of this, draenei and blood elfs are introduced and some inside jokes about classes and gimmicks are presented (sheeping, hellfiring murlocks, ressing) but the whole story is anchored around one guy and it starts the second the movie begins with Illidan’s narrative: “Imprisoned for 10.000 years…”

As opposed to highlighting what you can do and struggles you will have, Illidan is the main character and he taunts you. Come and bring it, but I tell you “You are not prepared.”

This may seem like a small difference but it sets the stage for the expectation of the game. It’s actually not new to Blizzard cinematics. Think back to Diablo II extension “Lord of Destruction” with Baal rolling in. It was clear that Baal was the nemesis, the evil to beat and the goal of the game. One had to beat ones way through trials and tribulations and even though he may have been impressive with his army and his magic skills and his diabolic laugh, it was clear the moment you see the movie. “I can and will beat Baal in due time.” Baal appeared huge, but the gamer was certain to be bigger than him and come out as the victor, the hero.

I have read a number of people write about TBC raiding and why did the Black Temple get added when the early raiding was struggling. Why not add Zul’Aman or something else that is accessible. The choir sings the canon: “In all likelihood we’ll never see Illidan anyway”.

Where does this believe come from? Well, in WoW 1.0 there were a number of “ultimate evil guys” in the game. Ragnaros, Nefarian, C’Thun and Kel’Thuzad. The raiding scene was a sizeable fraction of the WoW population but the number of people actually seeing or possibly killing Kel’Thuzad was a very small fraction of that population. So, goes the logic, with Illidan being even worse than Kel’Thuzad, the widely advertised ultimate target of the Burning Crusade story, he ought to be just as hard to get to and beat.

And people are disillusioned. “This game is for the elite and not for casual raiders anymore.”

But Kel’Thuzad has a crucial difference to Illidan. He never was center stage of a game defining cinematics, he never taunted all buyers “you can’t beat me”, he never defined what WoW 1.0 was all about. He was just the next one in line of assorted big bad guys who deserved some smacking.

Illidan is different. He is the guy who taunted everybody and he is the guy who defines the story line, in fact the whole region and the core lore for everybody. Illidan is much more like Baal in the Diablo II expansion. And that defines the crucial difference between both WoW 1.0 and TBC on the one hand and Diablo II expansion and TBC on the other. In WoW 1.0 none of the big bad guys defined the game or taunted you into inferiority. In Diablo II expansion, the moment Baal rolls in you know that you will eventually beat him.

In TBC? Noone knows. And this is where the boundary between motivation and frustration can flip. Baal is motivating because you know you will beat him. His laughing is impressive and motivating but not actually demoralizing. Illidan on the other hand may in fact be right, his taunts may be true and you and your friends may never beat him because after all it was all your fault all along: “You were not prepared.” Just wait for your more successful gaming buddies to join in the taunt “Lol, you were not prepared, nubs.”

Will people feel motivated to stick with a game that may ultimately be based on the very possible and real premise of their lack of success?

I don’t know, but it’s an interesting proposition. I remember many years back there were games that were so hard that a lot of people would not see the end of it. In a lot, maybe virtually all games of more recent vintage the philosophy has changed, and this includes Blizzard games. If you buy the game you can sensibly expect to beat the game in a certain amount of hours and feel good about yourself by having beaten a big bad meanie.

Either Blizzards finds a way to actually convince people that despite the taunts and prior experience of WoW 1.0 they are actually prepared and will beat Illidan, or we are testing old motivational waters all over again. Can a game concept that is based on sustained motivation afford to lastingly tell its “heroes” the nagging and persistent conclusion “you lost, you were not prepared”.

1 Response to “Motivation and frustration in TBC Raiding via the Lore Setup”

  1. 1 Motivation and frustration in TBC Raiding via the Lore Setup … | - world of warcraft blog Trackback on June 6, 2010 at 11:22 pm
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