Last week, Wolfshead’s thoughtfully written and nicely crafted article about Why the MMO Industry Needs a Real Cataclysm set me to thinking. First of all, I don’t have nearly the industry pedigree that he has. Second of all, he took an idea from mid air and fleshed it out with cogent arguments. Third, it was thoughtful and passionate. Good on him. Let me tell you why he’s wrong.
He’s not wrong for the same reason Tobold says he is in his rebuttal Blizzard and McDonalds. Tobold’s rebuttal is also well written and uses an analogy that is very apt to rebut the ideas that Wolfshead presented. Don’t misunderstand, Tobold is right on, but his analysis is different from mine and is largely from the company’s point of view.
I wanted to address this even before Tobold did, but his article got me wanting to post.
Let’s look at this from a player’s point of view first. Then I’d like to address the evident contempt that is out there for Blizzard from others in the development community.
First Wolfshead starts out with a section called The Farmville Curse. I couldn’t agree with him more on that point. Those aren’t “MMOs” and I think I would say that Facebook games in general are pushing the definition of “game” to it’s limits. I have no argument with him there.
Next, we see the real target of Wolfshead’s rant. Blizzard. You guys know I am not afraid to say what I think about Blizzard or any other company that is building MMOs. I’m not a Blizzard apologist, although I do tend to believe they have done a better job of making something people want to play than anyone else. Look at the subscription numbers if you doubt this. I understand the other side of Tobold’s argument that may say that WoW is just pablum for the masses. Here is what Wolfshead says;
Year after year they have squandered billions of dollars of revenues and have failed to advance the MMO genre in any meaningful way. Let’s be honest here, what earth shattering innovations has Blizzard introduced into the MMO universe?
- NPC’s with exclamation marks above their heads?
- Solo to the level cap?
- Instanced dungeons?
- Daily quests?
- Overpowered hero class?
- The Dungeon Finder tool?
In every case, the addition of these features has created unintended consequences that have caused far more problems than they’ve ever solved. In the past I’ve written extensively on most of these issues and I don’t feel the need to repeat myself.
Is there a AAA MMO that doesn’t have these things? Yes! Everquest is still there, being updated, with content over content that even old EQ players like myself has never seen. What is Everquest doing this week? Merging servers. All the traditional rule set servers are being cut in half. So if the MMO playing community really wants something more like EQ, why aren’t more people going back to EQ?
The fact of the matter is that most of the people who are playing WoW never played a traditional Diku MUD or Everquest. Most of them have played their first MMO either right in WoW or in games like SWG or other less-popular places. I think it would be very difficult to put that genie back in the bottle. People have seen the exclamation points over quest giver’s heads. I don’t think they are going to tolerate a game where they have to walk up to an NPC and type “What Purple Blossom?” ”Tell me about the Purple Blossom” “Can I have a Purple Blossom” until they get it right.
Thinking that the community wants a game like that belies the numbers. The MMO failure road is littered with people who tried this too. Even Vanguard, which was going to be the logical extension of Everquest, fell to the pressure to “modernize” it. Why? Because it HAD TO. The fact is that in the mass market you aren’t going to be able to enforce a grouping, difficult travel, open world MMO ruleset without bleeding subscribers from the end of the very first month. Yes, we all say we want it. A lot of women say that all they want is a “nice guy”, but there are all kinds of nice guys sitting at home on Saturday night wondering why all the bad boys get the girls. It’s because that’s how it works. Intellectually we say we want one thing but in reality we quickly become bored with it.
The fact is that is an elitist way to look at the MMO space. It’s evident that the author feels like these mechanisms cheapen the game to the point where he doesn’t want to play it. That’s cool, I kinda feel the same way about Madden Football on the consoles. I have no problem that I have an elitist attitude toward those games and look at them as “less than” MMO’s or other online multiplayer pursuits.
Wolfshead goes on to lay the death of community at Blizzards doorstep. Really? People started rejecting forced grouping before World of Warcraft ever shipped. I still remember my later days in Everquest logging on, trying to get a group for a couple of hours, doing nothing and logging off frustrated. I guess you could put in a dungeon finder for that but oops, that’s on Wolfshead’s list of bad things for his game.
Here’s the reality of the community situation. It stinks. I ran a fansite for Vanguard from the early days of that project. Let me tell you it all starts out idealistic but then the special interests come in and the trolls, pretty soon the discussion devolves and the community can become insular. When that happens, the attitude that Wolfshead espouses here tends to come to the surface and runs off the less militant community members. By the time Vanguard shipped (make no mistake, the product was a train wreck, but the community didn’t know that pre-launch) there was a distinct “Go back to WOW” flavor to the comments to anyone who disagreed with the “intelligentsia” there.
MMO communities eat their young.
The fact is that community does still exist on MMO’s. I belong to a guild that is very tight, we have others outside the guild we run with. Community is made by the community members, and forcing community just doesn’t work. People want options, and they want to choose whether or not they participate in community in an MMO. There is ample opportunity to do so if you choose, and you don’t have to if you don’t.
Now I will admit that antisocial behavior does happen, and some of that is a product of game design and the unintended consequences that he mentions. But every design decision has unintended consequences. That’s why MMO’s patch every couple of months and how the term “nerf” was coined. The designers did something that caused something else and they fix it. It does cause frustration and irritation. WoW certainly isn’t perfect. But no game is.
I get that there are things about WoW that people don’t like. I get that it’s not perfect. I even get that it’s not for everyone. I’ve taken breaks for as much as 16 months in a row. But the fact remains that people want polished games that give them variety in their gameplay. The community has voted with their dollars and WoW has become the market leader.
People are welcome to develop the game Wolfshead wants to play. Hell, I’d play it. I just wouldn’t give you any money to develop it. Because I don’t think people are buying.