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Barely relevant and often uninformed ramblings on whatever the hell bobs to the surface of my thoughts.

Author: ElGuappo

The Myth of the WoW-Killer

Posted by ElGuappo Sunday August 23 2009 at 1:27AM
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Posted this on the forum as a response to yet another bloody thread predicting the demise of Warcraft.

But developers aren't learning from mistakes of the past; they're repeating them. It's either variations on the WoW theme or niche products; neither present a threat to Blizzard's mainstream behemoth. Their new expansion can only be considered 'new' by the loosest possible definition. Reskin, resize, rename is the design credo behind it and yet the WoW community's chomping at the bit to get in there and do basically the same old shite they've been doing for 5 years.

WoW numbers won't seriously go into a decline until an IP comes along that does something different enough that word of mouth sees it spread like wildfire. WoW isn't a success due to being original (every expansion since proves that); it was a success because the market was ripe for an MMO to come along that would break out. It was the right product at the right time in the right environment. At launch it was as broken as everything else; server queues, imbalances, crashes and bugs but when you got in there it was nothing like any other game on the market; it was the Wii of MMOs - everyone could play it to some degree and Blizzard took the geekiest of genres, the MMO, and made it accessible to all who were inclined to try it. Millions were.

Ever since, people have predicted that such-and-such a game will be the 'WoW-Killer' and they're wrong. Who's closest to WoWs subscriber base and revenue stream? What incoming IPs are going to buck the trend? The likeliest contender recently was Warhammer and that was, and is, a joke. The screwed it up so thoroughly they shipped batches of the game that didn't have a working executable, for God's sake. The 'year on' progress report posted on this site seems to basically be summed up as "it's much more stable than it used to be and almost all of it works to some degree, and we added some new stuff". WoW-Killer? Sure.

And those that say 'yes and that is exactly how WoW was at launch' are quite correct but the point is why, 4 or so years down the road, it's still happening? Modern MMOs seem to launch a beta product and then go into a patching frenzy trying to stop it falling over completely. It's absurd and, sadly, increasingly common. Where, in all this, is cause for Blizzard to be concerned rather than rolling around pissing themselves laughing.

For me, the most likely WoW-Killer will be Blizzard themselves when they release their next MMO. But don't hold your breath for that one because, as all the 'WoW will die' brigade seem to forget, there's the Warcraft movie coming in a year or so.

And what's the betting that'll be timed to coincide with another new expansion and that both will see to it the game gets a second wind.

Plenty of milk in the cash cow yet and there's no-one on the horizon who's seriously going to change that situation.

Quests and the Lazy Player

Posted by ElGuappo Friday May 22 2009 at 8:50PM
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There's a debate on the forum about quest text and content and in it someone said that repetitive and unimaginative quests were down to lazy developers and lazy quest makers. My response was large enough to make into a blog post and flesh out here.

I disagree. It's not that they're lazy; it's that the vast majority of MMO players are.

We here at might want clever quests and original game mechanics and all that jazz, but we're the minority, the small hand stuck up the back of a room full of angry, shouty types. The majority of MMO players want a simple and familiar way of levelling beause if they don't get it then they have to go to the hassle of looking the answer up on Allakhazam. Devs and quest makers are simply providing what's asked for by the majority because the majority are the ones who will decide if, in the eyes of the moneymen, the game is a success or not. You could argue people who make the decisions high up in MMOs are greedy but I don't think it's fair or accurate to say devs and quest designers are lazy.

And the other problem is Allakhazam and it's ilk. The majority of MMO players want the endgame and they want it absolutely asap. That's where the phat loot is and that also, perception would have it, is where the big and interesting quests are. This probably comes from the 'endgame' perception of movies, where the special effects and 'wham, bam' payoff stuff comes at the end. Why blow your wad in terms of story, graphics and 'ooh, wow' game mechanics early on when people are burning through content? People get stuck on a puzzle or a search for who drops what and when need only look up one of the endless sites tha will tell you everything you need to know. Solutions, walk-throughs, answers and who, where, what, when and how and all of it broken down into percentages and hit rates and dps and XP given.

The biggest group in the game, the casual players, just want to play a game with all the texture and consistency of babyfood and the second biggest group, the hardcore players, just want to play a game where they can grind out weapons and armour in order to get a few more dps.

And between those two camps lie the third group; people who want quest text worth reading and original, if not revolutionary, game mechanics. They'd be the same people who want open-ended, 'choose your own adventure' style sandbox games, too and aren't likely to get that to their satisfaction either.

Amd it's the devs and quest makers that are lazy for not pandering to a minority? Sure.


Housing and Exploring

Posted by ElGuappo Saturday May 16 2009 at 8:43PM
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The first MMO I played was Ultima Online and, in several ways, it set standards that have yet to be surpassed for me.

It had some brilliant concepts, like using music to control beasts and being able to set them fighting against one another. Treasure hunting, also, was endless entertaining, working out what part of the world the treasure map was describing then finding the right spot to go digging. Up comes the chest and, with it, a spawn that matched the level of the map, from 'meh' through to 'run awaaay!'. Of course, it was rare for a treasure hunter to not be a talented musician themself, or at least to go digging with one. They made the fight both easier and more entertaining.

But I digress, which is often what happens when I get nostalgic. Which is, in turn, the problem.

I've played a decent assortment of MMOs since UO, and I'm pretty sure only one of them will end up alongside UO as 'worthy of remembering later, usually for the purpose of an unfair comparison', which is about as accurate a definition as I can come up with for nostalgia. And that one is, of course, WoW.

Thinking about it, after UO I avoided spells and swords type games when it came to MMOs, preferring to play the likes of Planetside (which I thought was dreadful), EVE (which baffled me) and Jumpgate (entertaining but shallow as a puddle). Somewhere in there I had a brief dalliance with Matrix Online but I've managed to erase almost all of the memories of that shambles, which is a blessed relief.

Then WoW came along and then TBC and then WOTLK and somewhere in there was WAR.

In many ways WAR actually holds a lesser position in my my eyes than Matrix Online. Matrix was so almost comically inept in many of the things it did, it became entertaining on a whole other level, like watching a dribbling, cross-eyed inbred do a jigsaw. Matrix Online, figuratively speaking, was less about if he'd get two pieces joined together and more about taking bets on which orifice he'd try jamming them up next. With WAR though, I felt something like contempt, the shiny baubles of originality such as PQs etc soon wholly outweighed by the fact that, on so many levels, it just wanted to be Mini-WoW.

But in aspiring to such pallid mediocrity, WAR did at least make me realise the thing I missed most about UO and the reason why WoW got boring, too; the world they're set in.

You see for me before UO there was Elite and Elite 2: Frontier and key to both of those games was trade and exploration. You went to some obscure, backwater place and bought something cheap, took it somewhere else, probably with a bit of violence on the way, and sold it for a profit. I loved it then, I loved it in UO.

Except in UO, that 'backwater place' was a house a player owned, stocked with things they'd found on monsters or in chests or that they'd made themselves. In UO you bought a vendor, a little NPC that would sit on your doorstep that you loaded with bags containing what you wanted to sell. You set a price and then the NPC acted as a cash register.

So I would go wandering far and wide, visiting obscure islands, marking a rune if I found somewhere good. And I usually did.

From people that turned houses into rune libraries, allowing you to travel to exotic or almost impossible areas, to those that made Interior Decorator into a UO career and even the ones that turned their house into a museum of their rare and/or expensive posessions. If you were really, really lucky, you came across a house that was about to fall down through neglect, land you could build on being about the most valuable asset there was in UO.

In UO, the land was often little more than a canvas that the players themselves filled the fine detail in. What you dropped on the floor stayed on the floor for an age, meaning people made money from sorting through other players rubbish around banks. You'd walk through a forest and come across tables and chairs set out as if for a dinner party, but with no-one around, like a kind of woodland Marie Celeste. Bags and weapons laying on the ground, leftovers from a recent treasure hunt were common.

What you could find, and where you could find it, was both endless and endlessly varied.

But WoW doesn't do that. In WoW, the only thing on the ground are corpses that will soon evaporate. If you drop something, you destroy it. If you want to sell something you use the AH. If you want to build a house, tough. Truth be told, if you actually want to make it 'your' game, tough. As persistent as WoW or WAR are, they're persistent on their terms, not yours. You don't get to change anything, ever, except the contents of your bank and your stats.

These are such carefully controlled worlds that anything even vaguely creative is simply not part of the game mechanic. It's game-by-numbers.

Now I hear mention on the forums that an upcoming game, Earthrise, will/might feature player housing and I find that whilst I hope that the player may be allowed, or even encouraged, to make their mark on the gameworld in this way, the cycnic says it won't be so. The cynic insists that player housing in a modern MMO will mean that houses are limited and strictly controlled, accessed like an instance maybe, or confined to one place and one place only.

I'll play Earthrise (and Huxley, too) if only to see if either of them can pull of a proper FPS MMORPG (I'm a CoD4 addict, MOHAA before that) and help extinguish memories of the slack-jawed moron that was Planetside from my memories.

But beyond gametypes and settings, what I'm really hoping for is a bit of freedom. It's about the most neglected aspect of all MMOs as far as I can see.

Moon on a Stick, Sir?

Posted by ElGuappo Sunday May 10 2009 at 5:49AM
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There's a thread in the forums about WoW players that don't get to see end-game content. What follows was my (epic as usual) response to it. Thought I'd make it my first blog instead.

Doesn't this all boil down simply to how much you want to do something? I mean if you really want to go out for a meal with friends and family then you'll find the time, make the plans and do it. You might arrange a sitter or have the kids have a night or two at the grandparents. Whatever, if you want some free time to do what you want to do then you'll find that time. Won't you?

When you have a job and family, there are always less hours in the day, even weekends. The poster who thought 3 hours for 3 nights at a commitment of only 9 hours was perfectly reasonable has clearly never experienced life on anyone else's terms but their own. The poster who cited the family that plays together as some kind of shining example of what can be accomplished seems to be defining a 24 year old as a 'kid', which shows the level of understanding being demonstrated. The fact this 'kid' still lives with his parents does not alter the fact you are not dealing with a demanding child and his adult parents but, instead, just three adults. To think one and the other are the same is almost comically absurd.

Where I think the 'casual' gamer is a victim of their own attitude, though, is in planning. 'Casual' isn't the right word for this type of WoW player; 'convenient' is more apt. They want the game to offer that hard to find see content when they're available to experience it and, regardless of how quick and painless organising raids has become, it takes more than the time spent doing the raid. If you just throw out a call to put together, say, even a 10 man, then the chances of getting 9 people instantly put forward is minimal at best. So let's say it takes, generously, 20 mins to find the 9. What's the chances the 9 will be the right mix of tanking, dps and healing? Minimal at best judging by the amount of specific requests that go out. And then there's the ones who need to get their other armour or weapons or pet. I'm not saying these are common, but they do happen. That's the trouble with PUGs; everyone's usually doing something else. Add all of this to even the easiest of raids and it adds up. Then consider wipes, drop-outs, afk-ers. It all takes time.

Which is why guilds book dates on the calendar, so everyone knows where and when and there's little or no messing around. So all that remains is to find and reserve the time. If both want to play, no problem; kids to stay a night or two with family, phone off the hoook and let's go raiding. But if you and not your partner consider this worth doing, how do you explain to them that the quiet night in will be spent with one of you playing a game for most of the evening?

So what's left is the gamer who wants the convenience of seeing the high end content and maybe laying their hands on some cool loot without really wanting to invest much time in it. In this case, I have to side with the 'hardcore' player and say, basically, tough luck. You can't, or at least shouldn't be able to, have your cake and eat it, too. If you want to do these things bad enough then you will find the time; if you don't then you'll have to wait until the next expansion to raise the cap enough that you can duo or solo the content.

Which, by the way, is how I got to see a lot of the game. Even though I was an 'hours a night' WoW player at one point, it was never about the content for me; it was about the guild I was in and playing with those friends. The only thing we had on farm was vaguely inebriated laughter. Even the leetest loot only lasts until the next expansion so, really, who cares?

It's not about belittling the hardcore players who run the same instance time after time , night after night, looking for that one drop. If that's what they want to spend their time doing, good luck to them.

And nor is it about dismissing the casual player who lacks either opportunity or inclination to set aside that much of his life to what he, or others, see as 'just a game'.

What it is about is seeing that WoW does try very hard to accomodate both to a degree, but it really only works well when you understand you have to meet the game at least partway to see the high-end content it has to offer.

See? You got all this way to find my conclusion was neither revelatory nor worth the effort. You put the time and effort into it and came away feeling short-changed and unimpressed. Which is exactly what I thought when I finally got to the high-end stuff anyway.