I don't seem to be the only one going through this - there are certainly guilds both on my own server (Thanks, Lal!) and elsewhere (Thanks, Vid!), that seem to be going through the blahs but maybe all of this is symptomatic of something even bigger. There is a feeling of malaise in the game. I can't put it any better than that. I'll try and identify some of the problems I'm personally having.
- The cities have become gaming lobbies and the world feels absolutely empty.
- We perch on stores and roofs in queue for Dungeons, Arenas and BGs. There is little reason to leave cities save to a raid portal instance and then hearth back home.
- For me, even farming isn't enough to go out - I can simply make a good amount of money from buying raw goods and flipping them into crafted gear for a good deal of profit thanks to having nearly all professions covered between my alts.
- Leveling through Dungeons and BGs - I'm leveling a new Horde character to pass the time and I realized I never have to leave the city. I could just go tank and get instant queues, satchels of goods, gold, experience, and never ever quest. Running the occasional BG here or there can help ease the dungeon grind as well.
- World PvP is dead due to this. While completing Tol Barad dailies which I do on alts out of sheer boredom, I'll sometimes see flagged Horde and I'll always engage them, but seldom get suport from other players, and if there are more than a couple of Horde characters flagged and camping me, I quickly give up.
- I can't remember the last time I raided a city or the last time my city was raided. Moon Guard used to have some pretty epic City PvP even as late as last summer were the Horde organized massive attacks often again every major city while holding reserves to safeguard against retaliation - I miss the days of murdering Blood Elves till the streets of Stormwind ran red with their blood.
- The more WoW makes life easier the less people have incentive to log in. This is directly responsible for diminishing player logins.
- Once you can cap out your weekly allotment of Valor and Conquest, once you've out of raid days, there is very little you can accomplish in the game.
- Archeology I think was meant as an insulator against this failed utterly due to the boring mind-numbingly grindy nature of the profession. When Blizzard has worked so hard at removing grinds from practically every aspect of the game, it was a huge mistake to make Archeology the epitome of everything they are trying to eradicate from WoW - a dull, repetitive, unrewarding and punishing task.
- Guild XP and achievements are a huge psychological hurdle.
- If you're not capping Guild XP every day (we certainly aren't, not by a long shot) then it hangs over you as you see bigger guilds with more people progress past you just due to sheer scale. And leveling your guild is directly responsible for making the most efficient use of guild perks like Cauldrons, which makes working to get those recipes a waste till you're of a level high enough to make efficient use of them anyway.
- The really grindy guild achievements are utterly psychologically crushing. I cannot remotely begin to convince my guild to work on the Fishing from thousands of pools to get the Feast because guess what, they barely log in other than to raid. Using guild achievements as a motivator when they don't even reward XP is no easy task, and the reward from that achievement is directly tied to our ability to be more efficient.
- Guild XP and achievements are also making it harder and harder for guilds to do stuff like merge or consolidate in order to become more vibrant. People feel like the guild is something they worked on now and don't want to abandon the work they did to try and field a bigger team or merge and make two weak guilds stronger. Having to re-earn Guild Rep from scratch doesn't make this any easier.
- 4.1 is shipping with no raid content and no new Arena season. For the first time, there is a major content patch which offers nothing to end-game players, especially those who've completed the normal mode raid progression.
- Using Heroic Raids as another tier to extend content is a remarkably cheap trick and I can't believe they pulled it a second time. I could see why they said Heroic ICC was another tier- fine, I get it, they needed to expand the time frame to work on Cataclysm. But to do it again and with only one new Algalon like encounter - it smacks of retread. Heroic Raids are an optional level of tier and gear and content, not a necessary one by Blizzard's own admission.
- If you look at the game, it is obvious that the massive bulk of effort went into the reforging of Azeroth (Questing more so than graphics wise but you see what I mean). Honestly, most of us were going to roll an alt once or twice, but most of us have enough alts at this point. We don't need more alts.
I could continue but all this leads me to a very cynical conclusion.
This expansion really feels like it skimmed on the end-game content, perhaps realizing that at the age of the game, it is unlikely to retain the really long-term hard-core players for long. The expansion then, was a direct attempt at attracting a new core of players rather than invest in the amount of time, energy and honestly, downright daunting task of keeping Warcraft interesting for players who have been in the game for years and years and know everything about it.
And that leaves me feeling cold. It is as if Blizzard has used up all the time I could devote to the game and rather than work to keep the game fresh and interesting and attractive to me and my friends, it has chosen to focus rather, on new players.
This is a total conspiracy theory conclusion of mine naturally, but it makes sense from a business perspective - the Return On Investment in reinventing the end-game or expanding it is not much higher than getting new players with a polish and scrub of existing content, and at endgame, more-of-the-same is a far less risky proposition as you can assume a good number of older players will stick around for old-fashioned content even if it is a bit anemic.
Now, all that said, I am actually happy with the game and enjoying it! I'm also glad to see posts like the ones I linked to above which are trying to get some kind of dialogue going between the players and (hopefully) the developers so that we can fix the problems with Warcraft.
I hold out hope that as the lower-level game is brought up to par to attract new players, we will once again see a stronger focus on the end-game and have moments like Icecrown Citadel and Ulduar. I remain, despite all this QQ, optimistic about the game.