The Grouchy Gamer

Yeah, I'm cranky. That's kinda the point...

MMO Elitism and You!

ElitistLast 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?
  • Arenas?
  • Daily quests?
  • Overpowered hero class?
  • Achievements?
  • 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.

10 Comments

  1. “So if the MMO playing community really wants something more like EQ, why aren’t more people going back to EQ?”

    I was with you right until here… I would absolutely LOVE to play EQ again. But have you seen EQ lately? It isn’t the EQ of its prime. They’ve tried to adapt and copy ideas from EQ2 and WoW with clearly labeled quest givers and quest trackers and so on… they’ve tried to become WoW-ish and alienated people like me who were happy with EQ as it was. My only hope is to buy a Mac and play on the EQMac server that is forever stuck at the Planes of Power. I hate Macs. :(

  2. As much as I hate myself for admitting it – WoW has had more influence over the MMO genre than any other game – for better or for worse. I dont think it can be argued honestly. I have tried time and again to go back to EQ, EQ2, Vanguard, SW:G, etc in the last few years. All of those games together might hold my attention for a week or 2 at most – and that usually consists of me forcing myself to log in. Then I end up resubbing to WoW.

    I do take time off from WoW – but I have finally let go of all my nostalgia and memories of the “good o’ days” from my former MMOs. I cherish the memories from those games but not of those games anymore. They were poorly designed then – we just didnt know any better and had no better alternatives. Now we do and it shows – like Genda said – consumers talk with their wallets. Theres a reason all the other games are copying WoW – they have found a way to give mass appeal to MMOs. And while other games subs dwindle WoW is growing.

    A quick personal story – which really helped me realize where I stood in terms of which MMO id like to play

    I was talking to my girlfriend a few weeks back – well let me rephrase – I was bragging to my girlfriend about my glory days in EQ a few weeks back. Heres a few things I was bragging about:

    - 27 straight hours helping a friend camp L Guk for his FBSS.
    - Plane of Fear raid starting at 8pm going awry and ending with corpse recoveries that lasted until 15 minutes before I was supposed to be at work 8am the next morning.
    - Cleric Epic – nuff said.
    - Camping RZ – 72+ people in our guild and 72+ people in another guild – for 7.5 hours
    - raiding 5-7 days a week for 7+ hours

    Nowadays I log into WoW – play for 2-3 hours maybe 4 days a week. Yet everytime I log in I get something accomplished – I have fun – and I log out without feeling like I wasted my time because of ill designed game mechanics.

  3. Nacho,

    You are NOT playing WoW without me. Delete all your characters and start over.

    :D

    http://www.casualtiesguild.com

  4. Excellent Blog and very to the point GG, you might want to take a look at the blog over at the COTW http://companyofthewolf.org/?p=157 He is approching Wolfs blog from a different angle.

  5. How can 11 million people be wrong? Blizzard must be doing something right and for every person that leaves, 2 more join the band wagon. Should this be the staple of the MMO world? No. Will the landscape eventually change? Sure, but it will be Blizzard that does the changing now. They have the power as such and they aren’t going to give it up easily. Consider all the people that paid $25.00 for a sparkle pony on the first day?

    If enough people wanted change, then change would happen.

  6. I’m glad I’m not the only one whose thoughts turned back to Vanguard in the wake of the most recent wave of WOW-bashing.

    I still find it a fascinating topic ; Vanguard was simultaneously wonderful and terrible, the gaming equivalent of that crazy ex that you fell for even though you knew they were bad news.

  7. This is a good rebuttal of the Wolfshead post, but it’s also exaggerated to say that nobody is buying the old EQ/MUD model. It couldn’t possibly be so hard to create an MMO with good grouping experience and a sense of community in it. Recall that Asheron’s Call released the same year as EverQuest, and was a very good MMO you could solo all the way to max level in, but EverQuest continually beat out the Asheron’s Call subscriptions.

    So why did the entire MMO industry follow the Asheron’s Call model and give us all these sparsely populated worlds of soloers? It could not have been because AC was more successful than EQ. It could not be because people hated forced grouping in EQ, because lots of people created un-soloable classes in EQ. In fact, most of my guild members from regular guilds to the uber ones were not solo classes (necro, druid, wizard). They played clerics, warriors, and paladins. The group mode of play was plenty popular in EverQuest and it 500,000 subscriptions showed this clearly.

    Frankly, I do not think it is at all proven that making a solo game with easy travel, easy trading, and zero need to work with other players is a sign of success. After all, if people will play a good single-player game, they’ll likewise play a good multi-player game that is soloable. WoW’s success has more to do with good marketing, branding, and polish than its core gameplay model. The rest of the pack has gone with the WoW model because that’s making a conservative investment. But all it will take is one old school developer to break the mold and do what EQ did right to redefine the industry.

  8. Well in one regard WoW is copying other games, namely asian ones and DDO and soon LoTRO. The free to play model with transactions to access more content is the wave of the future in regards to MMOs, WoW took a small bite with non essential things since it doesn’t need to do the full change over since it has so many paying subs.

    DDO has come back from a game on the verge of being the next Tabula Rasa to becoming a very stable game with growing numbers of paying customers. They figured that if you cannot keep folks around with the monthly payment plan, you can give them a load of content free and they will pay for the additional parts they want. It is working.

    Would this work to revitalize games like EQ1/Vanguard/etc? Perhaps, but I think it will have to be proven with Lord of the Rings online before it really is taken into consideration.

    The community is always there for all games, EQ1 still has one, but folks are tempted by the shiny and will always want what is new, especially if it is easier to figure out than some of the old EQ1 quests.

    In some regards it is the thought that everything is a ‘WoW-Clone’ that keeps folks playing WoW. If it isn’t a WoW clone it is often deemed too hard/complex/complicated. There are MMOs out there that are not, but the money is in the comfortable and folks seem to be comfortable in WoW.

    Personally I’m having fun in DDO and ecstatic that Lotro is taking the same payment approach, but I’m a nutjob… :)

  9. Agree with the first post. I loved EQ2 and often went back to it, but lately they are making it more and more like shitty noobtime WoW, so I don’t go back at all anymore. It’s a sad, sad tale. The other reason old school MMOs don’t attract new players is that, well, it just isn’t new enough anymore. The engine and graphics are old. People want the new flashy graphics etc.

    I miss the old school EQ. *tear*

  10. I tend to agree, but traditional games like EQ2 become extremely elitist and if you have the misfortune of being caught in the crossfire of a messy guild drama then you may as well hang up your hat and find another game, because with a ruined reputation and no group finder you will never see the inside of another dungeon ever again except as a suicide run.

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