WoW is the devil?

Syp quotes Wolfshead about the sad state of MMO gaming. It’s one of the best descriptions of what you could call the classical approach to MMO design. It’s also dead wrong. He deserves a detailed response why, and I’ll make it here. First the quote from Syp:

“As long as is there are copious amounts of reward with almost no risk, as long as content remains static and non-dynamic, as long as players have no sense of ownership in their world, as long as players have no need of other players, as long as player freedoms keep getting curtailed, as long as extracting money from subscribers is the end all and be all of game design — you will have the disease that is World of Warcraft.”

Lets break it down some:

As long as is there are copious amounts of reward with almost no risk-This has to be one of the biggest fallacies in MMO design, that increased risk increases satisfaction, and overloading on reward is bad. What Wolfshead forgets is that risk tolerance varies by person, and the satisfaction gained from that does as well. Not everyone is going to view risk in the same way, even in “hardcore” games: in fact those same games often have surprisingly little amounts of risk as the players adapt to it.

Boredom comes in not due to risk or the lack of it, but when gameplay is stale and unexciting. No amount of increased risk will make up for a dull grind: call this the lesson of EvE.

As long as content remains static and non-dynamic-I agree with this actually, and think we do need to see more dynamic content. However you have to look on the other side, because the developers also have to try and balance that dynamic content. As I posted before about Darkfall’s attempt to get newbies sailing, that may be impossible. It may be a solution but also is a rare one.

As long as players have no sense of ownership in their world-Surprisingly irrelevant. Raph Koster tried to bank on that with Metaplace, but he didn’t realize players view game first, world second. This is why Second Life isn’t held as the pinnacle of virtual world design.

MMOs have to be games first and good ones. The only ownership most players care for is a space of their own, and that can be satisfied with something as simple as a server set aside for housing, or customization options. This is not bad, because land rush after land rush in other games shows that giving ownership also expresses the bad side of players. Second Life started out as a virtual world, and now is a place for people to sell things to other people.

As long as players have no need of other players-This again. Having to “need” other players isn’t as community forming as he thinks, as any Bard in FFXI knows. MMOs evolved from intense interrelation because they soon found out as they aged it became impossible to do things as the population stagnated. Without being self-sufficient to a large degree, players soon became impotent and the game not fun, and they used whatever tricks they could to escape that, be it powerlevelling, buying accounts, etc.

You want to create ties, yes. But dependence never works well in the long run, for newer players especially. Wolfshead sees community: I see 3+ hour looking for party times and grinding weak solo mobs because your class is bottom rung on the dps ladder.

As long as player freedoms keep getting curtailed-No offense, but I wonder if he has played a game seriously in a bit. The reason why players are on a tight leash is because if let loose they will wreck the game. CoH mission architect, bots, wrecking the economy, griefing, and more: enough players will abuse the freedom they have to make a game or world impossible to manage.

The flip side of freedom is responsibility, but the thing about the virtual life is that there is none. All they can do is ban you, and even then you can evade that at times. Players have shown time and again they will break the system if given freedom, and if given time will destabilize it. Phantasy Star Online was an extreme example: the freedom of offline leveling soon gave birth to hacks and dupes as people destroyed the rarity of items and eventually other characters through cheat devices.

As long as extracting money from subscribers is the end all and be all of game design-This one you have to roll your eyes at. A 14.95 a month sub and vanity microtransactions is the end all of why WoW exists. I am no fan of f2p and real money extraction myself, but this is just pure hyperbole.

You will have the disease that is World of Warcraft. Yes, because the one game that lifted MMOs from a grindy sub-niche of pc gaming into a cultural icon is an infection that must be cured. That’s like saying Japanese RPGS would have been better off if Final Fantasy 7 never existed, or open world game would have been better off if Grand Theft Auto had stayed 2-d.

This is pure cultural amnesia, forgetting how much the old games sucked, how hostile and unforgiving they were, and how meaningless.  A lot of the community had zero to do with game design, and a lot to do with the fact back then only a small subculture of people more or less alike played the things. With MUDs it was the same way. People forgave the flaws and meaninglessness because they were tightly bound together by their shared experiences and loves.

I hate to say it, but a lot of Wolfshead’s diatribe really is elitism. It’s not design, he dislikes the people. for example:

As each year passes MMOs have become more infantile and simplistic in order to pander to the lowest common denominator.

Next thing you know they will be advertising on Jerry Springer.

The caliber of the player community has hit an all time low. The WoW of 2010 is a MMO where community barely exists if at all.

Ironically this was my complaint with Fallen Earth.

Players don’t even talk to each other anymore as they mindlessly farm so-called heroic dungeons. Players are happy to use each other like cheap whores in order to farm more emblems in order to get more shiny purple pixels.

Because it wasn’t about pixels back then either, right? Ninja Looting wasn’t a term invented in WoW, neither was griefing or ganking.

Just visit the official Blizzard forums or your local trade channel to experience the sophomoric angst for yourself for evidence of the abysmal state of community in WoW

Actually he should go to EVE’s forums. You think WoW’s is bad, try a game with the best community of 2009.

There’s an old saying that goes like this: people get the government they deserve. This same logic applies to MMOs: players get the MMO they deserve because ultimately we vote with our dollars.

Then they like getting what they deserve, since WoW makes a ton of money.  He goes on with this, but it’s mostly a religious jeremiad. Calling Richard Bartle a prophet is a hilarious stroke, since the man hasn’t designed much of anything since text muds and actually praised one of the worst levelling areas in WoW as good design, which Lum cheerfully rebutted here.

The sad thing for me is that I agree with him change needs to happen, and I rant myself, but it cant happen like this. There has to be some serious honesty about what can be done and cant, and we cannot go back to the old niche days and try and rebuild them. This is probably one of the clearest, most lucid definitions of that desire I have seen made, but it’s dead wrong. To rebuild them we need to accept what they are now and then look beyond to new ways.

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3 Responses to WoW is the devil?

  1. >Calling Richard Bartle a prophet is a hilarious stroke, since the man hasn’t designed much of anything since text muds

    Well name one prophet who has designed anything. Next, you’ll be saying John the Baptist wasn’t a prophet because he never did any miracles.

    I’m not saying I am a prophet, by the way. I’m just saying that you don’t have to be an MMO designer to make predictions as to how they’re going to go in the future.

    >and actually praised one of the worst levelling areas in WoW as good design

    Well if your only criterion for whether a design is good or not is if you, personally liked it, I guess I plead guilty.

    I could have chosen any one of many aspects of WoW to praise as good design. I wasn’t saying it was the best-designed part. However, I chose to write about that particular aspect because I knew it was unpopular; I even explain in the article why it was always going to have problems. Nevertheless, I wanted to show that there can be design beauty even in the parts of WoW that players don’t like.

    My misfortune was in writing for designers but being read by players.

    Richard

  2. Dblade says:

    Thanks for responding. I also don’t think you say you are a prophet, it was more in the context of the post Wolfshead made. It was ironic that he did so when you also praised WoW for good design when his whole point was WoW was a disease.

    The design post in Lum itself was a good read and its not so much the zone is objectively bad, but you made a case for what players thought was a bad part of the “disease.” So it was a double problem for him to invoke you, at least in my view.

    The prophet thing is thorny. In one sense you are right, you don’t have to be such, but many people invest you with authority beyond just making informed predictions. You aren’t just a random guy like me trying to make sense of things and pestering people in comments, but are held by many as a guru and do so academically if not professionally. So I think it is fair to hold you to a higher standard for prophecy when held as an icon.

    The prophet thing is approaching mixed metaphor though. John the baptist never did miracles but he wasn’t just making a bet on Jesus being the messiah based on his past experience and knowledge. The only record they had for prophets was whether or not the thing came to pass, per Deuteronomy.

  3. >It was ironic that he did so when you also praised WoW for good design when his whole point was WoW was a disease.

    Well, designers have to work within the parameters they’re given. The pressures on STV were always going to be problematic, because of the way the two factions came together in that zone; once someone had made the decision that they were having two fixed factions and they were mainly going to clash in STV, the dice were cast. Pointing out that there’s still beauty in the design doesn’t mean there aren’t problems with the context, though; it just means that within the context, the design is good.

    It’s not just Wow, of course. For example, my favourite design among large commercial MMOs at the moment is (and has been for several years) EVE Online, yet it has one of the most player-unfriendly learning curves ever. As with WoW, just because you like some of it, that doesn’t mean you have to like all of it.

    WoW has some really beautiful design, and on the whole it does what it was asked to do very well (although of late it’s been compromising this design while it treads water until the next expansion comes out). What Syp seems to be saying is that the problem is in what it was asked to do. This doesn’t necessarily mean the designers are culpable, unless they were the ones who decided to do it that way in the first place (as opposed to being given it as a business requirement).

    I take your point, though, that if you say WoW has good design and then criticise what flows from that design, it’s something of a tightrope walk.

    Syp wasn’t a great fan of my STV blog post, by the way, judging by what he said about it at the time.
    http://biobreak.wordpress.com/2009/05/19/make-way-for-us-lowly-gamers/

    >The design post in Lum itself was a good read and its not so much the zone is objectively bad, but you made a case for what players thought was a bad part of the “disease.”

    Lum was writing as a player, even though he’s a designer.

    >So it was a double problem for him to invoke you, at least in my view.

    He was invoking me for a particular article I wrote describing how MMOs are in a race to the bottom. He happened to agree with it, and sees it playing out. He doesn’t have to agree with my other articles (indeed, as I mentioned before, he doesn’t agree with the STV one). As with MMOs, though, it’s not an all-or-nothing thing: you can like some of what I like and dislike other things, you don’t have to treat me in binary fashion as someone who 100% of the time speaks either gospel or nonsense.

    >The prophet thing is thorny. In one sense you are right, you don’t have to be such, but many people invest you with authority beyond just making informed predictions. You aren’t just a random guy like me trying to make sense of things and pestering people in comments, but are held by many as a guru and do so academically if not professionally.

    Well, professionally too, at least among the older generation of designers. The younger generation know me only for the Bartle Test, if that.

    People do invest me with authority, yes. It’s my hope that they would do this because what I say is interesting; in practice, a lot of it is because of the historical accident that I co-wrote the first virtual world, which is frustrating but I’ve learned to live with it.

    People like Syp, Tobold and (originally) Lum get listened to because of what they say. They live and die by your words. People like what they say, so they listen to them saying it; they respect them for their opinions. Whatever I say, though, it’s always coloured by my history. This is actually worse for me: people regularly take pot shots at me when they wouldn’t other people, merely because of my “grandfather of MMOs” status.

    >So I think it is fair to hold you to a higher standard for prophecy when held as an icon.

    Fair enough. There’s not a lot I can do about it either way. In this particular case, my prophecy does appear to be coming true, but I’d prefer it not to to be honest.

    >John the baptist never did miracles but he wasn’t just making a bet on Jesus being the messiah based on his past experience and knowledge.

    I just deleted my atheist’s response to this. I don’t really want to get into a religious argument here!

    >The only record they had for prophets was whether or not the thing came to pass, per Deuteronomy.

    And is my prophecy coming to pass? Looks like it to me (but then it would, wouldn’t it?).

    Richard

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