The Internet exploded this week as Blizzard announced that they are working on a way to let people change factions in World of Warcraft. If you are unaware, WoW has always been a 2-sided dynamic, built in part on PvP play between the two factions of Horde and Alliance. On PvE servers, players have always been able to create characters on both factions, but on the PvP realms, once you created a character on one side you were locked out of the other. (I want to say all realms were like that at launch, but if they were it has since changed.) Of course, like their server transfer, this faction change will be done for a fee. In the announcement, two key pieces of information are missing. First, how much will it cost? Second, how will it work?
Personally, I don’t care about the first question. No matter how much it costs, I’ll never use it, just like I will never use their server transfer. But the second question interests me greatly, especially as it relates to a couple of posts I made previously on the idea of limiting a player to a single character per account. (I sometimes feel bad about not continuing that series, but no one agreed with me and I even got a couple of emails to the effect that I should never be allowed to design a game or even work in the game industry.)
So, let’s take a look at what I consider to be the only two logical solutions for changing factions in WoW.
The first option would be to leave the game as it is and simply let the user change their race. Since they introduced the Draenei and the Blood Elves in The Burning Crusade, every class is represented on both sides by at least one race, so it is possible as there are no gaps. However, that means that any Alliance Paladin, Human, Dwarf or Draenei, would have to switch to be a Blood Elf in order to go Horde. The main issue that I have here is for people like myself who actually choose race before class. I tend to always play human in any game, mostly because playing as a fantasy race just doesn’t appeal to me much. I want to be “me” in another world, not to be someone else. If this is the method they choose to use, I would never use it because my choice of race is actually more important to me than my class. While I might jump at the option to make my level 60 priest a level 60 paladin, making my level 60 human a level 60 undead, troll or blood elf is unappealing. Of course, I am probably in the minority, so for many players a race switch would be just fine as long as there are options they won’t hate.
The second option is the more complicated one, and that is to let the player keep their race and to just change the side they belong to. Now, if Blizzard is lucky, this could be extremely easy and every character has a single bit flag that says “0 = Alliance, 1 = Horde” and all game interactions build off of that. The chat channels, the side you play on in Battlegrounds, who you can attack, which NPCs will talk to you, etc. That would be awesome. However, given that the game was likely built with the idea that faction was the ultimate dividing point, I doubt that bit exists. So, either Blizzard will spend the next few months implementing that bit so they can flip it, or they’ll have to come up with a more complicated and convoluted solution. Being able to keep my race would appeal to me, seeing as how I identify more closely with my race than my class in these games, but I think it could also cause more damage to the game. Right now, in PvP, if you are on the Alliance side and you see two people fighting, you can tell which person to help by their race. I’m human, I see a tauren and a gnome engaged in combat. I heal the gnome or fight the tauren. Simple. Now imagine that same scenario after a race keeping faction switch. Now I’ll need some other cue to tell me who to fight and who to heal, because that could be Horde gnome fighting an Alliance tauren. Letting races switch factions muddies distance visual identification for PvP. So even if they had the “faction bit” that made switching factions easy, they’ll still need to do a considerable amount of work to ensure that playing the game doesn’t become confusing, at least for PvP.
Overall, since the game was not designed from the ground up with this in mind, introducing it now is, in my opinion, not a good move from a gameplay perspective. From a business perspective, it is an excellent idea, they’ll make money off it and make a number of people very happy. I do think that if anyone can solve the problems of the second option, Blizzard can. So now we just have to wait and see which path they take.