I’ll admit that I haven’t paid too much attention to the presence of heirloom items in Warcraft. Not being level 80 until recently and not being an alt-aholic I felt it wasn’t an issue of interest. However, the recent introduction of the Tome of Cold Weather Flight caught my attention. Then this post showed up at Shy at Wow and got me to thinking about heirlooms. The more I thought about Warcraft heirlooms the more I found my distaste for them growing.
A two-tiered structure
Let me say up front that I don’t have any concern about heirloom items in their rawest form; that is to say bind-on-account items that can be transferred to lower level alts. The basic idea itself is nifty. The problem that I have is that the latest developments in heirloom items—the Tome of Flying and the 10% exp bonus—creates a two tiered player structure.
The problem adding these two features to heirloom items is that they are fundamentally unfair to new players. By new players I refer to players that have never played Warcraft before. With the implementation of these features some characters are given a leveling and economic advantage in the game for no other reason than the fact the account owner has created at least one level capped toon. That’s wrong.
It’s important to differentiate this reality from what is happening in other areas like the level reduction in mount availability. Being able to ride mounts at level 20 effects all characters equally. The introduction of the new quest helper and equipment manger features effect all players equally. Heirlooms items don’t; two level 68 characters—equal in experience, equal in equipment, and equal in player skill—yet one will have an inherent and unassailable advantage over the other by being able to fly in Northrend.
In particular this change will have a huge impact on gathering professions. How do you think a new player who is on their first level 68 toon is going to feel when they reach for that Tiger Lily only to have it plucked out of their grasp by another level 68 who swoops in on their flying mount. I’d be angry. In is one thing to have flying at level 77 apply to all; it is a vastly different thing to have flying apply to some characters and not to others. The net result is that the rich get richer and the newbies are put at an even greater disadvantage.
I recognize there is a sense in which alts already have an advantage over newbies in the sense that the players behind them have an experience base the new players haven’t developed yet. And these alts tend to be better funded in terms of gold and equipment. But I think those realities are different from heirlooms. First, the development of player experience is not uniform and it’s not something Blizzard has deliberately implemented. If anything, a mod like quest helper is a nerf to player experience and helps level the playing field in that regard. Secondly, gold transfers to low level alts don’t really speed the leveling process that much. Equipment purchasable on the AH at low levels is rarely better than what one gets from loot or quest rewards, assuming you can even find it on the AH anymore. While it undoubtedly has some impact on the leveling process, I don’t think it’s significant. Besides, gold is so freely available now it’s a moot point. My level 54 alt has more than 12K gold all which it has earned itself.
What appears to me to be happening with heirloom items is a shift in developer focus from character development to account development. There are solid game life-cycle reasons to do this. For one, it’s almost always more profitable to retain a current account than to entice someone to create a new one. If giving you a few in-game rewards like +10% exp and a quicker access to flying mount convinces you to renew your subscription, it’s smart business sense. In fact, in a sly and subtle way it’s another incremental form of micro-transaction like Refer-A-Friend. Yet, unlike heirlooms, Refer-A-Friend had the redeeming feature of bringing new blood into the game.
At the heart of what bothers me about heirlooms items is this. Blizzard is saying that they deliberately want alts to have an advantage over newbies. And they are not being shy at wow about it. Nothing could be more in-your-face than flying. No one but you can see exp gains; most people aren’t paying attention to how fast others level. But everyone can see you fly. When your level 68 toon is riding around on his horse or raptor and the level 68 toon next to you is flying the message being sent in unmistakable: you’re the noob; you don’t count.
This is why I can’t agree with the commentary at Shy At Wow. It’s true that Blizzard can’t take away from one’s past experiences in an absolute sense. But that misses the point. The point of heirlooms is the relative value of future experiences. In this sense the term “heirloom” is a bit of a Jedi mind-trick. Heirloom items are not achievements, they are not laurels, they are not keepsakes. They are designed to give select players real in-game (not vanity) advantages in the future. With heirloom items—and flying in particular—Blizzard is saying that the future experiences of long-time subscribers is more important than the future experiences of new subscribers.
Maybe that’s right. Maybe for the overall health of the game Blizzard needs to give long-standing accounts this advantage to keep them in the game. But as someone who just recently leveled for the first time through Northrend I can’t say that idea of having to ride on my mechanostrider through the tundra while others in the low level 70s are flying around taking cobalt ore from me is a situation that would have given me a thrill. Maybe it would have prompted me to level faster but somehow I think /ragequit is more like it.
5 days ago