WoW Insider’s Mathew Rossi knows how to write a sexy headline. “Are rogues a dying class?” is the tantalizing title of a new article posted on Dec. 10 that explores a lovely series of spreadsheets and graphs by Cynwise on Warcraft’s current class population numbers. In it, Rossi writes:
Rogues went from 7.67% of max level at patch 5.0.4, the pre-Mists of Pandaria patch, to 5.51% of max level as of patch 5.1, a drop of over 2%. This is at a time when most other classes either held steady (Paladins, Druids, DK’s and Hunters all held at about even with their Cataclysm and patch 5.0.4 numbers), went up (Warriors saw a jump from 9.25% at max level to 10.14% between 5.0.4 and 5.1, while Warlocks went up from 6.7% to 7%) or saw slight declines (Shamans, Priests and Mages all saw slight declines). By comparison, the rogue decline becomes stark.
So, where have all the rogues gone?
In response to a related tweet shortly after the article went live, Ghostcrawler said:
@theonerayman I don't think our numbers show a decline like that, but rogue popularity is lower than we'd like.—
Greg Street (@Ghostcrawler) December 12, 2012
A few assorted thoughts:
- While I think data compilations like this are really cool and informative, this changes nothing about the discussion of the state of rogues in WoW.
- People who are happy playing rogues will continue to be happy playing rogues.
- People who are sad playing rogues will hopefully continue to stop playing them, because why play something that makes you sad?
- People who are angry about the state of rogues will use this as “proof” that their anger is justified, because a fire needs more oxygen if it’s gonna keep burning.
- Blizzard has its own data on class population trends, and they’re by definition going to be more complete, more accurate and (arguably) more closely analyzed than anything we players might do on our end.
- I’m really surprised to see that from Patch 4.3.3 to Patch 5.0.4, the rogue population barely budged in this analysis. Patch 4.3.3 came out two months after the legendary quest chain became available, around the time you’d expect folks to be maxing out their temp-o-rogues in hopes of experiencing the cool new content. Well, that, and absolutely destroying everyone around them in PvP.
- I don’t think “dying” is an appropriate word to use for any class or spec in the game, regardless of how ugly the trend numbers are looking. The folks who design this game don’t want any class to “die”; that’s just bad for business, and it’s also a much more cold-hearted sentiment than makes sense coming from a group of developers who clearly love the game they help create. You’ve got to know that, if they see a disturbing decline in class population numbers, they’re going to do all they can to figure out why and try to fix it. The question is: Will their decisions be the right ones?
There’s a massive array of reasons we could potentially point to for the downturn in the proportion of people max-leveling a class that already had relatively low max-level representation. The comments section of that WoW article includes a few, this epic thread in the WoW rogue forum earlier in the fall (which includes a few blue posts from CM Daxxarri) highlights a whole bunch more, and a more recent forum thread explores some of the ways to potentially make the class more interesting to play (as well as more balanced in PvP).
Here is NOT what I think the problem boils down to:
- Energy starvation. Girl, please. Did you start leveling your rogue from 85 to 90 in Mists, decide at level 88 you weren’t Sinister Striking as much as you were used to, and stopped leveling? No. No you did not. If anything, the feeling of “slow” rogue gameplay that players were complaining about through much of the beta and into Patch 5.1 would have caused people to quit *after* reaching level 90 and getting frustrated in raids and competitive PvP, not during the leveling process.
- Being forced to choose between Preparation and Shadowstep. I fully admit I don’t know a dag-gum thing about PvP from personal experience. And there have been some tremendously passionate arguments on this subject over the past year. But I don’t think people generally will stop playing an entire class simply on principle; it makes more sense for us to see for ourselves that the class isn’t worth playing anymore (or be told that by people whose opinions we trust). Which, again, means playing rogues at max level — once Mists is released.
- Loss of spec identity. Don’t get me wrong; I think this is a valid complaint. But I don’t think the fact that many of each spec’s defining features were removed or made baseline (or into talent options) in Mists made people decide the class wasn’t even worth leveling. Again-again, we’re talking about the issues that made people *not want to level their rogue from 85 to 90*, not issues that made people want to stop playing their rogue once they get to 90.
And here IS what I think it boils down to, starting with the least important:
- A deeper-than-usual level of chagrin has set in not only because our class has been weak in PvP so far in Mists, but because it’s become weak in the immediate aftermath of a long period of dominance. Falling off a hill feels a lot worse than falling off a table. As a result, many rogue players may have stayed away from the class simply because top PvPers urged them not to bother with it.
- Monks exist now. They are melee. They wear leather. They have some ninja-like abilities. They can try out any group role (DPS, tank, healer) and still be a monk. And, most important of all, they are shiny and new. It’s a natural thing for many rogues to make the switch; time will tell how many decide to come back (or play both at max level). Which ties into my last point:
- Monks aren’t the only thing that’s shiny and new. There’s a pretty common perception that a number of other classes got snazzed up, while rogues had a layer of paint thrown on over the rust. The WoW rogue forum has been home to a lot of “ho-hum” type threads in which players lament how dull the class feels to them. This doesn’t mean the class *is* dull — but that doesn’t matter. In this case, it’s the perception that matters, not the reality. Or, rather, the perception shapes the reality.
We can call it a “grass is greener” mentality, and that may be true. But in a game where many people’s definition of “fun” is based on how cool/shiny/new/exciting/different a given set of abilities, graphics, mechanics and other perks are, if other classes look like they have more of that stuff, rogues are going to look drab by comparison regardless of how solidly constructed the class is.
Even for people who don’t frequent forums or don’t extensively pore over game guides, the newness of monks and other overhauled classes can be easily seen by looking at spellbooks and talent trees. It’s a little harder to see how rogues have changed; in many cases, you need to be an “insider” to be moved by the fact that, for instance, poisons are a self-buff now or that Bandit’s Guile stacks on the rogue rather than the target. Rogues aren’t the shiny, alluring luckydos right now; other classes are. As a result, people — particularly those just returning to the game after a break — logically aren’t going to be lured *to* rogues at the moment, they’re gonna generally be lured *away*.
I think that lies more at the core of what’s going on with rogues at the moment. It’s not that the class is bad or fundamentally flawed; it’s that people feel like it’s lost some of its soul, while the other classes got a little sexier. And that’s more than enough to make people flock to the next sexy thing.
Man, that last sentence feels like it’s the perfect setup for a great closing joke. WHAT IS WRONG WITH ME, I CAN’T THINK OF ANYTHING GOOD.