“It’s not the same game it used to be”, “Burning Crusade was the only ‘good’ expansion”, “Everything after vanilla sucked”. I played World of Warcraft (WoW) for nine years, across all of their expansions, and I disagree with almost everything these purists are spouting. To be clear, when I say “purist” I mean advocates of old gaming conventions. A time when things didn't necessarily make sense, and the game was more difficult because of it. But like anything else we as a human race have created, we seek only to improve upon what we already know. This of course applies to the future of video games as well, companies will never stop trying to improve such a lucrative business.
Hard work should equal just rewards, this is what most MMORPG purists think. I agree to an extent, but using the phrase “hard work” when talking about playing video games seems a bit of a stretch. After all, the people who get the most gear in MMORPGs are usually those who commit significant time to it. For some players, hard work might be getting from level 17 to level 20 in a single night, for others it’s downing a heroic mode raid boss. Purists see the “dumbing down” of traditionally difficult games as companies selling out to a more casual audience of new players. While this may hold some truth to it, we should not so ignorant as to ignore the facts. We know perfectly well that in order to attract more subscribers you need to make your game easier to play for everyone, too much of a challenge turns off a large portion of your audience. Recurring subscriptions make money, and keeping a less hardcore audience engaged means even more profit through microtransactions.
The idea that an old version of World of Warcraft was better is flawed reasoning, the series itself has set the standard for what makes a pay-to-play MMORPGs successful, and no other title has proven a worthy challenge in dethroning it. I play off and on now, I usually start back up for a month or two after a new expansion comes out, then I quit, this will probably never change. I can still reminisce about vanilla (pre-Burning Crusade) WoW, and the pains of making enough gold to buy a +60% speed ground mount, or doing lengthy and painful class quests for unique rewards. But to state the obvious, vanilla is the past and life is better now. Gold is easier to come by, mounts are available for cheaper prices and at lower levels, no more hunter quivers, reagents, or confusing talents. Tier 1 class armor pretty much proves the point that even Blizzard honestly had no clue what made each class great. Paladin Lawbringer armor had all the stats, and nonsensical set bonuses.
Even so, I will admit that finally killling Ragnaros in Molten Core was a pretty amazing feeling, and I’m proud to say I downed him when it was current content, but I wouldn't go back to that WoW if someone gave me the option. Plainly speaking, the game was too difficult (and I was too young). Organizing 39 other people to do raids was a huge pain... most casual guilds have trouble putting together 10 man raids as it is. Grinding reputations in vanilla pretty much consisted of killing one type of mob over and over for a set amount of rep. Putting in daily quests to grind reputation actually made a lot of sense. Purists would call this casual, jaded by their past experiences and all of their hard work that seems for naught in WoW’s current state. They have that right, they care about it enough to give an honest opinion, I just disagree with it.
Garrosh Hellscream 2007 (left) - Garrosh Hellscream 2012 (right)
World of Warcraft is in its 4th expansion currently, and is largely a result of careful planning and implementation of community feedback. Blizzard as a company knows what the people want, often before even we know ourselves. When you release four triple A titles within 15 years, I think you’re doing something right. WoW purists and elitists will gripe and groan throughout the ages for their lost "challenging and immersive" utopia, which looking back really wasn't really all that great. There are more hardcore MMORPGs to play, but if you’re anything like me you’ll probably just end up comparing them to WoW.