Mar 26, 2008

[I Want a World]

It was true two years ago, and it still is true now:

So then, here’s the problem. World of Warcraft is TOO accessible. By that, I mean, it’s possible for someone who hates the MM part of MMOs - other people - to progress through the entire game without ever needing to, well, group. Eventually, in the 50’s, they might start getting pick-up groups for the lower level “end-game” instances or more difficult quest sequences. But the wall between “LFG Stratholme” and “finding a guild that will get me into MC/BWL gear” is abso-freakin-lutely HUGE. And it’s quite obviously a leap of design. It’s a very clear point of departure - once you get to this point, you’re no longer casual. Your character won World of Warcraft. You got level 60. You got the powerup. YOU WON THE GAME.

It’s no coincidence that Blizzard, no doubt driven by their community people put up a page on their website detailing exactly what to do when you, well, win. “Hey, you can… uh… do PVP? Raid? Roll an alt? Play our expansion?” Kind of obvious stuff - unless you have a player base composed mostly of people for whom this is their first MMO, and definitely the first MMO they’ve reached the endgame in. They want more stuff. They want more stuff like they already played.

They absolutely do not want different stuff. They want stuff like they liked. If they wanted that other stuff, they’d have not quit that other MMO they tried for a month. They want more stuff like the old stuff.

And… they ran out of stuff. And Blizzard can’t make enough stuff. And most of the stuff they are making… uh… it’s not that stuff. It’s the other stuff. The high-level raiding stuff that, to keep a tradition in every other MMO alive, wasn’t included with the original game, but was PatchedInLater.

So until the expansion comes later this year, which will deliver a DVD full of MORE STUFF, you have millions - millions of players who are out of stuff. It’s getting pretty ugly. And most of those have no interest in being in the top 25% or 10% or whatever of the pyramid of players that enjoys organizing raids to whack the most powerful foozles. They feel bait and switched. They had a good year or so of stuff. They want more stuff.

But every game eventually runs out of stuff. There’s never enough stuff. What’s left at the end - the endgame - is what the players can come up with to make their own stuff. Be it PVP or high-end complex PVE raiding until their fingers bleed, every game eventually has to figure out how to keep players happy - either in cranking out More Stuff on a regular basis (/wave Everquest) or in keeping people happy in making their own stuff. Thus why PvP is such a common end-game goal for designers - hey, people have an endless appetite for beating each other over the head with sticks.

But if you play WoW, and you got to level 60, and you don’t like raiding, and you don’t like PvP, and you don’t particularly want to level up a new character… well, you’re out of stuff.

And that’s where some people get REALLY ANGRY. Because they have a lot invested into their characters, their friends and the connections between the two, and they REALLY. DO. NOT. LIKE. BEING. TOLD. NO. Queue the hundreds of threads on the WoW forums. All of which boil down, in the end: “More stuff, plz.”

Because, despite the claims by both sides on the forums, the “casuals” don’t really want free government cheese from Nefarion. They want more character development. They want to get to 70, or 80, or 60.0009. They don’t want to feel like they’ve reached the brick wall of character development that, well, they have. They don’t want to completely switch their playstyle to keep developing the character they’ve grown attached to. They don’t want the game to end


And that sentiment is universal to all games. The fact that we’re seeing so much of it expressed in World of Warcraft bespeaks more of its success than its failures.

The task of the WoW designers - should they choose to accept it, and it’s quite likely they won’t, being that it’s Different and thus Scary - is to move players from a developer-driven character development model to a player-driven character development model.

Whether it’s through PvP (a “cop-out” that many players won’t accept), some form of guild-based PvE advancment that even the smallest guilds can participate in, or something entirely new… maybe a dancing contest! Everyone loves dancing. Really. But the point is that the life cycle of the character has to move beyond the racetrack that the quest lines and character levelling aims the player down. And the only way for further points in the life cycle to self-perpetuate is to enable the players to make, and track their own goals. There are five million WoW players. While there are probably a lot of WoW developers, there most assuredly are not five million of them. Numbers are not on their side.

And yes, this means getting more “world-ly” and less “game-y”. But games end, and worlds don’t. And players who are demanding that their character’s life cycle not end… are demanding more world. Not necessarily more content - but more ways to participate.

But that would require a good deal of thought, and development work. Maybe even an expansion! Never seen those before. But in the meantime, we’re seeing what happens if, in the days of Everquest pre-any-expansions, somehow five million people managed to cram into Lower Guk. Demanding more stuff.

...And I want a world. What worries me, is that all the future MMOs trying to copy WoW's success are just going to fall into the same trap. Really, as long as the game is profitable overall, who cares what the players want longterm? The devs will make their profit and be happy, and that's what they want, after all. I suppose it's our own fault for shelling out the cash to support a love/hate relationship with the game.

The second expansion pack is coming out sometime in the near future -- has Blizzard realized what Scott (and many other oldtime MMOers) have said for years? Or will it be more of the same? I hate to say it, but I really think it will be more of the same...

If anyone finds an MMO that actually tries to be a world instead of just a fun game on rails, please let me know. So far none of the upcoming contenders really seem to be trying for that, though.


Thallian said...

well put. Couldn't agree more.

Pai said...

What I think is sad, is that Blizzard takes SO LONG to develop expansions, that any turnaround of game design will be years before it appears, if ever, just because they're 1/2 to 3/4 into an expansion by the time they've realized the flaws in current gameplay. I wonder if that's what was up with BC.. but they won't have that excuse with WoTLK.

I will make the prediction, that even if they ARE aware of the current endgame issues, we won't see it seriously addressed 'til 3rd x-pack, if at all. Which will be like, three years from now probably. =P

Sickle said...

Pai, what do you think of 2.4? I thought they did a good job bringing players into the "story" and the daily quests give a sense of driving the world along. Supposedly that's the plan for Northrend as well, which is ambitious and, I think, will not be without a few kinks. But I do think they're going in the right direction.

Unfortunately Kalimdor and Azeroth are going to remain static worlds, which is a real drag. They're accelerating the leveling process from 1-70, too, so you have even less time to become immersed (I haven't even seen all of it yet). It would be nice to have a reason to go back there. The world raid boss used to be how the 60s and 70s ended up roaming among the neophytes again, but none have been added since release.

Pai said...

Well, WoTLK is supposed to let even regular joes (like me!) interact with the Big Bad Arthas, and is supposed to be far more plot-driven. I totally can get behind those kinds of changes. I'm worried it wont' be enough to really make an impact overall, tho.

2.4 was good, in that it let us fight Kael'Thas and a bunch of other cool things (like Kalecgos and whatshername the Humanoid Sunwell) who were featured in the WoW comic books and who otherwise would only be seen by raiders. Which I also liked. Because I don't care if I don't get into the raid, I just want to see the storyline develop. I'm big on lore and quest text and all that. So overall, it was a positive thing.

Increased Old World leveling is crazysauce. I ran a new alt thru it, and I was outleveling zones before I was done with all the quests! Many zone s are now totally optional now, instead of important leveling areas. Which I think is good, actually... more choices of where to go when you make that new alt.

I say Blizz should revamp the Green World Dragons and Azuregos, too. World Bosses are really cool -- because even casuals can watch the show as the big guilds take them down. =)