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No Flying? No Problem! How Blizzard's Controversial Draenor Decision Benefits WoW Players

Players are angry, but they don't really have the right to be. Blizzard's decision to restrict free-flight in high-level areas benefits players.

Since 2007, higher-level World of Warcraft players have been able to freely fly around Azeroth's continents, forgoing the in-game taxi services used by lower-level characters. The rules for flying in new zones were simple: hit the level cap for their associated expansion, and you can take to the skies. However, with the MMO's latest expansion, Warlords of Draenor, developer Blizzard began limiting players' freedom of airborne movement. 

Tanaan Jungle is Draenor's newest addition. Flying - even for level-100 toons - is forbidden here, as it is in all other Draenor zones. Although Blizzard initially indicated that flying might come to the expansion in a later patch, in a recent interview with Polygon, lead designer Ion Hazzikostas stated that the developer has no intention of bringing free flight to Draenor.

The majority opinion seems to be that this is a bad move on Blizzard's part. World of Warcraft's subscriptions are down nearly 30%, according to their first quarterly report this year, though some attribute this to recent price hikes. While the outcry could be attributed to a vocal minority at work, recent tweets include threats to leave the game if Blizzard doesn't reverse its decision.

While the initial restriction of flying in Draenor was experimental, Hazzikostas confirmed that the World of Warcraft team liked the flightless version of the game more. Despite the backlash, Blizzard's rationalization is sound: flying makes the world smaller, less dangerous, and less mysterious. It also makes players more likely to avoid confrontation, as in this example from the Polygon interview:

Before flying was introduced to World of Warcraft, if you got a quest to rescue a prisoner from an enemy encampment, it would play out a certain way. Players would need to fight their way through the camp. After flying, players could just fly into the center of the camp, land on top of the hut where the prisoner is, free him and fly out.

The belief that WoW is better without free-flight, he said, will direct future development. For players, this means that whatever high-level realms Blizzard adds in the future probably won't give them the option of free air travel, though Hazzikostas "doesn't discount the possibility of adding flight options in to specific expansion ideas or zones that would benefit from it."

The question still remains: is all the player backlash really warranted? The answer: no, not really. Here are three ways the Draenor decision will actually benefit WoW players.

1. It Doesn't Allow High-Level Players to Rest on Their Laurels

After spending countless hours grinding through various challenges to max out your toon's level, you might feel that you deserve a break from PvE play. This is your retirement period, your free time to relax and enjoy the game at your own pace.

Blizzard wants players to interact with Draenor, to the extent that they're forcing them to.

If this is true, then what was the point of Blizzard creating new zones at all? Developers of any game, WoW included, don't log their own grinding hours just to bring players a product they can fly right over, without ever actually experiencing it.

Tanaan Jungle is a high-level zone filled with challenging enemies. The former WoW players who cancelled their subscriptions because of the Draenor controversy have done so specifically because they have no interest in coming into contact with the new environment; they'd prefer a leisurely, risk-free experience.

But Blizzard wants players to interact with Draenor, to the extent that they're forcing them to. That they have to force them in the first place says a lot more about the WoW community than it does about the game itself.

2. It Could Significantly Improve Lag Problems

One of the worst things about playing WoW on a highly populated server is the sudden, severe drop in frame-rate that comes with entering social areas like Orgrimmar and Stormwind. Even on low-population servers, a group of flying mounts hovering over an area is certain to rain down lag upon players grounded below.

Maybe you don't know what I'm talking about. If you've never had this problem, chances are pretty good that you're playing WoW on a high-end, maybe even custom-built, PC. Congratulations on having the money to fork over for such a project, but that isn't feasible for most of us.

Restricting free-flight in Draenor means more players can explore its new zones uninterrupted by lag. Although this may not be any issue for the many players who view WoW as an investment, it's a welcome change for those who aren't financially able to upgrade their hardware.

3. It Isn't Rolling Back Players' Rights

In reading the collective outcry on Twitter and the Blizzard forums, one argument is all too common: "We've had flying since 2007, so why take it away now?"

We've already addressed Blizzard's reasons for choosing to make Draenor a no-fly zone, but the sheer prevalence of the question above warrants a direct, third-party answer. And here it is: Blizzard isn't rolling back your right to fly. Yes, you've had the freedom to fly where you pleased since Burning Crusade. You've used it in all the areas released prior to Draenor, and guess what? You can still fly freely in all of those areas.

Blizzard didn't allow flying in Draenor and then revoke the privilege, and the developer isn't taking away players' freedom of flight in pre-Draenor zones. Tanaan Jungle and similar areas don't allow flying, and never have, while other zones continue to provide players with the opportunity to glide through the skies at their leisure.

Ultimately, the facts won't matter in this case. The players who have abandoned the game in recent months are offended for no reason, and will probably continue to be. Despite mounting evidence that the decision is good for WoW, it doesn't appear to have been good for Blizzard, and may even have leave the company foundering.

Published May. 28th 2015
  • Durinn McFurren
    Contributor
    I'm obviously coming to this quite late but I want to make a couple of points.

    First, I understand the desire to ensure that in areas where max level players are questing, they can't just, as in the example, fly in and rescue the prisoner. But making it so you can't fly in any part of Draenor? Back in MoP, starting with the Isle of Thunder and continuing with the Timeless Isle, Blizzard came up with a great compromise, wherein the max level daily zones were flight-free, but max level players could fly through all other zones. I think that would be a much better solution than getting rid of flying entirely. Even prior to IoT, there were a few places in Krasarang where you would quickly get knocked off flying mounts by griffens or by anti-aircraft guns. So there are multiple ways to implement this kind of 'no flight near the daily quests' thing while still allowing max level players to fly through the lower level zones. Getting rid of flight, far from making me experience content more, actually just makes me never go back to explore low level zones because I don't care to waste time on a flight path and then toddling along on a slow ground mount.

    Second, these examples show that players DID have to encounter the new zones when they came out back in MoP, because those new zones were made flight free. So this idea that people cancelling their subscriptions did so because they didn't want to actually encounter enemies in Tanaan is not very persuasive to me. We encountered new enemies without flight in MoP. The difference was that we could fly to the outskirts of the daily zone. Although I don't remember these mobs being challenging at all; even on TI the only ones that were at all hard were the ones you were supposed to fight in a 5 man group and anyone in LFR gear could easily solo them anyway.

    Third, part of the problem is that WoW is very inconvenient when it comes to world navigation. I've played other MMOs without flight, but they all included some form of teleportation. Sometimes you had to pay to use a teleporter (e.g. in Rift) and sometimes not (e.g. Wildstar), but in no case did you have to pay and then sit there twiddling your thumbs while waiting for an in-game taxi to fly you (granted Wildstar does have taxis as well to take you around a zone once you teleport there). I'd miss flight in WoW less if it were quicker to get around the world in some other way.

    Ultimately, the lack of flight was just one reason I left WoW. The bigger reasons were the lack of much of anything interesting to do outside raids (maybe that has been fixed in 6.2), my hatred of garrisons, and my tiredness of the tab target, 'ranged are turrets' combat that WoW offers - after discovering Wildstar's combat, WoW just wasn't that interesting to me.
  • gamerchick_4930
    You start the "article" with an insult. Why should you expect any respect from people who actually play the game?
  • Sean_7192
    Tanaan Jungle must be something else then. If what you say is true it would literally be the first zone in the game to have challenging mobs that can't be steamrolled by a same level character in quest gear.

    I've never experienced any serious lag problems that could be attributed to people on flying mounts. Yes my PC is custom built and yes it still cost less than what your average computer illiterate person will pay for a new HP at Walmart, all while having much better performance.

    I don't care about the issue either way but you don't make very strong arguments for your case.
  • Kristian Wilson
    Correspondent
    I can't find your comment here, although I did receive an email containing it. My response is below.

    I'll agree that most players who have left WoW didn't do it just because of the Draenor flying decision. However, that does seem to be the main talking point among Blizzard's ex-fans.

    I can see where you are coming from on the issue of cross-country movement. However, I still file that under my point about high-level players being allowed to rest. The idea seems to be that, once you hit max level, you trade in boots for an easy chair, and I'm just not a huge believer in that.

    Ultimately, I do think Blizzard will reverse the decision. A 30% drop in subscribers is a 30% drop, regardless of how massively popular your product is. The company can't disregard that.
  • David_1336
    The only sort-of point that you made is that when new content is released it's best to experience it on the ground rather than flying over it. I completely agree that the _first_ time you experience the new content, it should be on the ground. Henceforth, you've already experienced it, and you should be able to be airborne.

    WoW has had that basic idea since the inception of flying. No flying until max level guarantees you experienced all of you leveling from the ground. They've even restricted flight in new zones that are released, with varying issues. Once you've reached max level, done all the quests, and are playing around on alts, players really appreciate the ability to do things a little more efficiently. I have 11 level 100 toons, I don't leave my garrison, because traveling from point a to b is a huge hassle without flying. I've seen every speck of draenor from the ground, there's nothing new to explore.

    Of course, once they said "No more flying" I said "No more subscription money" I hope that me and the millions of others voting with their wallets will convince blizzard or the stupidity of their choices.
  • Kristian Wilson
    Correspondent
    I'll ignore that dig in the first sentence because you've been the most respectful commenter yet.

    I agree that flying makes things much more efficient, because it saves players time when traveling. However, because the flying ban only applies to Draenor and the expansions to come, and will be lifted in select zones, it really isn't that detrimental to play; had Blizzard erased flying entirely, it would be an entirely different story.

    And because flying is only a small part of WoW - it's a mode of transport, after all, not the entire instance system - its exclusion from Draenor doesn't seem worth quitting the game, and certainly not worth publicizing your departure on Twitter. Players who quit solely because of the new flying policy, and proceed to act as if their decision is the only viable one, seem more like they're throwing hissy fits than making logical choices.
  • Capn Prat
    1. With any class, I can just run through hordes of monsters without stopping, only to stop at my intended destination. How is this any different than flying over and landing on my destination?

    2. I played for a few years, many years ago, on a potato computer. Even then, I would have traded some lag spikes as I entered CITIES to keep flying. On this point, I'd also like to point out that while I have a custom built PC(myself of course), I STILL get lag spikes when entering into Warspear on Kil'Jaeden.

    3. No, they're not rolling back our rights as we can still fly in the old zones. You're right about that. However, they set a precedence. They set the expectation that we would be able to fly when we hit max level. And then they've taken that away. So yes, we DID lose something.

    "Ultimately, the facts won't matter in this case. The players who have abandoned the game in recent months are offended for no reason, and will probably continue to be. Despite mounting evidence that the decision is good for WoW, it doesn't appear to have been good for Blizzard, and may even have leave the company foundering."

    The facts DO matter in this case. And one of the biggest facts is that we have the money, and we want to play the game that makes us happy. I have loved this game for 10 years, and there is a LOT that I still love about it, but the garrisons did some damage for this expansion. There is no denying that. The lack of flying did some damage this expansion. The lead designer saying that WoW probably won't have flying from now on did some serious damage to the franchise as a whole in my eyes. These things were offenses to me. I was offended by them as a paying player. I had a reason, multiple even, to be offended. To say that we were offended for no reason shows how narrow minded you really are, but can we ever really expect more from someone from the rural South?
  • Kristian Wilson
    Correspondent
    At this point, I don't think any of you can make a reasoned retort without resorting to the ad hominem. Good on you, bro. Slow clap.
  • Mrman_2317
    The idea that flying breaks WoW is one of the dumbest arguments I have ever heard. Sorry, but the game didn't feel broken to me in BC, WotLK, Cata, or even MoP. If you were hating flying so much I have to wonder why YOU stayed through all those expansions. Personally I loved all those expansions, I had a great time.

    Oh but that lets us "set on our laurels" eh? "Blizzard wants players to interact with Draenor" eh?

    And there it is, the most ridiculous argument in this article. Allow me to call your attention to the elephant in the room.

    Garrisons
    Where you can level up, earn gold, win raiding quality gear, and never have to leave your base at all.

    "what was the point of Blizzard creating new zones at all? "

    Indeed, I'm asking myself the same question. With garrisons we can do away with the entire PC version of the game and just play from a smartphone. Just think of how much THAT would cut back on lag!

    As to your final point, I'll give you that one. I can still fly in all the old zones. I can even still farm all the old flying mounts like the one I finally just got out of Icecrown about a month ago, or that super cool phoenix I won a few months back. Boy, I sure was looking forward to using those in WoD after the YEARS AND YEARS or work I did to earn them.

    What! I can't?

    Cya.

    Enjoy your smartphone game. err I mean garrison
  • Kristian Wilson
    Correspondent
    Where did I ever say I hated flying? I loved flying. I'm just mature enough not to abandon a game because I dislike an expansion or disagree with a decision over which I have no control.
  • jamesTkirk_3630
    "The players who have abandoned the game in recent months are offended for no reason"

    How about 1 min of research? There is a litany of complaints/grievances against the current state of the game.

    Lag problems? Is this even a real article?

    Kristian WilsonMay 29, 2015, 2:27 am
    CONTRIBUTOR
    Guess we know which race you rolled. Stay away from the voodoo, buddy.

    Really? Your calling him a troll for making a valid and legitimate statement. His statement in no way was a troll. Its factual data. Yes, perhaps you should do a little research before you write articles. Also learn what a actual troll is.
  • Kristian Wilson
    Correspondent
    I addressed his concerns within the article, but, as this piece is specifically about the benefits of the Draenor decision, I didn't dwell on them. His statement was not "valid and legitimate," but was rather a series of insults lobbed because he does not agree with me. That's definitive troll behavior.
  • wow_3473
    "The players who have abandoned the game in recent months are offended for no reason"

    How about 1 min of research? There is a litany of complaints/grievances against the current state of the game.

    Lag problems? Is this even a real article?
  • Kristian Wilson
    Correspondent
    Guess we know which race you rolled. Stay away from the voodoo, buddy.

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