The number one question I am trying to answer since I started reading MMO-blogs, and especially started blogging, is "Why is WoW so successful?". I tried to tackle the question several times before.
There are several well-known theories:
1) The perfect storm
2) The Blizzard polish
3) The skinner box
4) The network effect
And maybe some more. Make a comment if you want to add an explanation. My problem with all these explanations is that it isn't enough, in my opinion. I never believed the perfect storm. Sure, the initial conditions were good, but so they are for many other games. WoW grew long after the perfect storm.
The Blizzard polish certainly plays a role. But then, we all know that classic WoW wasn't that polished, really. There still were many bugs, and especially server problems. I still remember my buffs disappearing when I entered an instance for a long time after release. The skinner box might be a good explanation, if other games couldn't just copy it. Skinner boxes are extremely easy to produce. And finally, the network effect is certainly a major factor. But I don't think it is a sufficient explanation.
So, at the end of the day I feel these explanations are not satisfactory.
Regular readers won't be surprised that I now try to explain WoW's success with what I wrote about the last 10 days or so. So, let's have a look at quests. Why quests? Because quests are at the heart of WoW's success. About 99% of the players who ever reached maximum level on their first char did so through quests. Consequently, even though a lot of players claim to never have liked leveling, they all leveled to max level once. And they hadn't done so if it had been that terrible. I do believe that many don't like leveling any more. But that happened after they reached maximum level at least once.
Quests are actually extremely repetitive and do more bad than good for the simulation. So why does anybody like doing quests? Well, a lot of players claim they don't. But in my opinion that's really just a claim. Few people quest because questing is fun in itself, yes. But a lot of people quest to gain levels, explore their characters, explore the story, raid, you name it.
And that's because questing is like improved TV-channel zapping. You wouldn't do it without the option to stay with one channel (a goal). But you really don't mind if it takes a little longer. Quests are the journey to power in WoW. And so we need to look at how they keep the player's mind busy.
While questing itself is very repetitive, it is anything but boring, because it stimulates a lot of different parts of your brain. I'll focus on a typical kill quest.
Classic WoW kill-questing included
- Reading and learning about the quest (and perhaps even the story)
- and planning the optimal route between quests
- and deciding on whether to use teleports
- and anticipating quest rewards
- and execution of the planned route
- Exploration of the new landscape
- Planning which mobs to attack
- and searching for ways how to attack just these mobs
- and decision making as to what abilities to use (long CD abilities?)
- execution of the plan
- and frequent rewards that result from the nested Journey&Destination (J&D) that is killing mobs (Experience)
- and checking ('exploring') the current status of the quest
- Guessing a mob's strength with a slightly higher level
- and deciding on whether to attack
- and planning the attack / deciding how to attack
- and anticipating looting the mob
- or planning as to how to circumvent the mob
- in any way: tension, climax, adrenaline
- Fear of death
- and anticipating the consequences of death
- and corpse running as a penalty
- and planning where/when to resurrect
- Searching for (exploring) places to eat/drink
- and perhaps planning on how to get there
- and deciding whether, where and when to sit down
- and relaxing for a short moment while eating/drinking
- and gaining mana/health
- Checking the minimap for resource nodes
- and decision making as to whether to gather a node
- and planning the route towards it
- and anticipating gaining the resource
- and executing the route
- Gaining new items
- and planning to sell/keep
- and anticipation of future rewards from selling/equiping
- and equipping and exploring them,
- and learning about new items (look, stats, name)
- and managing bag space
- Judging other players, if present. Especially important on PvP servers.
- and deciding whether to work together or against other players, or to stay neutral.
- Anticipating a level up
- Gaining a level every now and then
- and deciding where to spend the talent point
- and planning when to return to the trainer
- and exploring newly gained abilities
If you can think of some activities I missed please leave a comment. It would be really appreciated!
You can see, your mind is absolutely kept busy with all kinds of different stuff. And quite some stuff was optimized away in recent years by Blizzard. Often because it had become 'frustrating' (you know what this means by now) in Blizzard's eyes.
What's interesting is that all the activities seem to fall in a few categories
- planning (usually exploring all options + decision)
- educated guesses
- optimization/management under constrains
- interacting with other humans (that's a category in it's own right)
- anticipation of future rewards / penalties
- gaining/growing and rewards from nested J&D
- pressing buttons/moving the mouse, the actual execution
There is some overlap here, because this is just a blog post ;)
My current hypothesis of fun is this: Add enough of these activities to a journey, combine them in a 'non-frustrating' way. Do it in a way that is not too exhausting. And you gain a journey that does not become boring for a long, long time.
What do you think ?
Definition of 'frustrating': An activity is frustrating if the player thinks that he shouldn't have to do that. Catchword: entitlement. This is a subjective definition, because fun is subjective.