Some of the recent talk about the upcoming Cataclysm has circulated about the notion of better player retention, to which the initial newbie experience is of course critical. By Blizzard’s own admission, most people who don’t stick with the game quit before level 10.
We all know that WoW is going to get a new starting experience with Cataclysm’s release – although the revisions to the old world will encompass every WoW player, not just those who’ve bought the expansion. Something I’ve seen missed here and there is that Blizzard has already revised the starting experience.
For those who (unbelievably,) don’t know, WoW characters start out in a subzone of their racial starting zone, which covers approximately levels 1-5. Some time in the last year or so, these starting subzones were altered so that all of the mobs in them were non-aggro.
At first glance, this might seem to have been a good idea from the standpoint of retaining new players. Most low-level fatalities are probably the result of aggroing too many mobs, after all. So by eliminating this, Blizzard makes the level 1-5 experience easier and presumably less frustrating. The levels upstairs from that have not been changed. This sounds like it makes sense.
But Blizzard did something very foolish here. It used to be, when there were aggroable mobs in the 1-5 area, that you’d end up killing quite a few of them just to get them out of the way, beyond what was required for quests. The end result is that you’d tend to leave the 1-5 area at around level 6 or 7. Now you leave at level 5, even with some optional mob-killing on the side, unless you go out of your way to grind a little.
The level 6-10 part of the starting zone was tuned with this in mind. Now you kill fewer mobs, get less experience, and hit that 6-10 area a level or two lower than what they were intended for. What this means in most of the 6-10 areas is a lot of deaths via adds, for characters who are ill-prepared to pull carefully, especially for those classes who utterly lack any ranged pulling capabilities at those levels.
So in the end, Blizzard might have made levels 1-5 less frustrating, but they made level 6-10 more so. For a development team as canny as Blizzard’s is supposed to be, this was a remarkably stupid move. However, the need to develop a smooth and non-frustrating low-level experience, which this change was doubtless an attempt to address, may have fed the decision to completely redo the old world with the expansion.