Monday, May 24, 2010

WoW and me

This is some random rambling about WoW. (Yes, almost unpredictable:)

I have quit and come back to WoW about 4 times. Perhaps 5; didn't count. Looking back, the only reason I came back is the gameplay, mostly in battlegrounds. But I also like to visit dungeons to collect equipment for battlegrounds.

I don't really care about the gear, I don't really care much about raiding, although I am social enough to usually end up raiding. I even lead a moderately successful raid (couldn't beat sunwell) during BC, but I didn't quite like it; too much stress.

I sometimes reroll to play low-level BGs as they are more fun than the level-cap ones ever since they removed the OP-twinks. Unfortunately, you level up and eventually reach lvl 61. After that it is less fun for some reason.

I rolled a tank and a healer when the dungeon finder came out and got both into the mid-60ies before I once again quit. The real reason I (ever) played WoW was the actual gameplay.

In fact, it was so good, that during classic WoW I waited 30 minutes for a BG to open. Remember that vanilla battlegrounds lasted (much) longer than todays streamlined versions. My enthusiasm even survived the cross-realm battlegrounds, although a lot of the magic was lost, when the other players became anonymous (dorks).

So many companies have tried to find out what is behind WoWs success. They copy/pasted every single feature like crazy and they all failed. The reason is that somehow Blizzard created a fun gameplay, especially from 1-60. I don't really know what makes it so special, but the flow is just right.

And it is still right! This is not only nostalgia! I still like to play low-level chars in WoW .. at least until they introduced the teleporting cross-realm dungeon finder.

I know that this analysis doesn't help anybody to make a good MMO. Fact is: The features you offer aren't even that important. It is the flow. Perhaps there is some well-hidden psychologial mechanism at work. I cannot explain it.

I do not play and never played WoW for its features. I played it for its flow of gameplay. It is that flow that was lost little by little with every expansion. Grinding mobs for little reward was fun. Yes, it was. In current WoW it is not. Endlessly playing Arathi Basin over and over was fun. Today you can be lucky if players communicate at all in a battleground. Beating a dungon was fun - today it is a joke-like pushover. "Heroic" *dying of laughter*.

Chaincasting hundreds of frost bolts in Molten Core was fun. Don't ask me why!

Although I usually argue in favor of sandbox games, I grew up with WoW. Either WoW influenced me, or I write about MMOs today, exactly because of WoW: I cannot deny that I am a solo-playing MMO player at heart.

I want the world! But I also want to do things solo in the world. Grouping should always be an option - a meaningful option. The dungeon finder is not meaningful. Its teleport is horrible. I do like instant action, but I am not willing to pay the price that is teleports, anonymous groups and mobs that can take no more than two spells. Add that to 10 minutes waiting time that suddenly feel like an eternity.

Looking back, one of the most powerful innovations were servers with a limited number of people. A server-wide community. I know: It wasn't an innovation, it was a necessity. Doesn't change the fact.

The challenge for MMO designers is to implement features that players have always wanted in a way that is actually fun. Gameplay flow plays a role here.

Let me give you an example: You can implement player housing in a myriad of ways. Most of them are not fun and bad for the game.
The challenge is to implement player housing in a fun way. The challenge is not to implement cheap psychological tricks that nobody wants, but everybody gets addicted to once in front of the monitor!!! Who ever wanted an eternal item grind in heroics upgrading his standardized Tx set to T(x+1) ??

Nowadays WoW suffers from a mix-up of means and end. Item upgrades in MMO design are just a means to an end.

I remember logging into WoW and being told that somebody is making a raid to beat some world boss. Those bosses weren't exactly challenging. Nowadays any mediocre raid would laugh about us wiping in front of a boss that could actually be killed by a few healers and a tank. You could get out of combat and drink, ressurect people. You could run from the graveyard back to the ongoing bossfight.

You didn't have a reasonable chance to even get loot from the boss. Hell, you didn't even know that he would drop anything, let alone what.
You were there because it was a server-wide event. Because it was a fucking dragon!

I remember getting my T0 robe about half a year after somebody told me where to get it.

I remember staying awake until the morning to win that damn Alterac valley. I didn't.

I remember casting mana shield the first time before entering Ashenvale Forest. I felt invincible. I remember the first pyroblast that hit for more than 800; in front of the scarlet monastery.

I remember remembering the damage that individual spells did before there was resilience. They took so much longer to cast without haste. I remember a time when only few of my spells were instants.

I remember the awe in front of world bosses. I remember arcane power and presence of mind. I remember critting warriors and I painfully remember "Ashkandi, Greatsword of the Brotherhood" in their hands.

I remember trying to estabilish a raiding guild consisting of cloth-wearers. It didn't quite work. I remember proving that bears could tank Molten Core and Black Wing Lair. I remember calculating my mitigation before any elitist jerk spoiled my fun.

I remember farming for Crusader for weeks - until the friendly rogue "Puschel" came along and offered to help. It dropped about one hour later.

I remember listening to Majordomus Executus and shivering in front of Ragnaros the Fire Lord after about half a year of raiding once per week - long after so many other raids had beaten him on other servers.

I remember being ambushed in north-western Silverpine Forrest. I remember duelling the Feral Druid 'Nature' in Tyr's Hand for hours.

I remember looking different from other mages!

I remember a game that may never have existed. Has it ?


  1. I know that this analysis doesn't help anybody to make a good MMO. Fact is: The features you offer aren't even that important. It is the flow. Perhaps there is some well-hidden psychologial mechanism at work. I cannot explain it.

    You could not be further from the true. I read some posts ( I think it was not even blog posts but forum posts) from a guy(who was hired by Blizzard) who was talking about designing and balancing RTS ,it was actually mind opening experience as fun is designed and analyzed

    Features ARE important. how they fit together is even more important. All the things which you consider "flow" is a product of many hours spent on statistical analysis and game play testing

    There is no magic about it - blizzard spent a lot of time tweaking xp gains (so leveling feels rewarding) , mob hp/player damage (so combat feels fluid), quest locations and zone size (so moving from hub to hub seems natural and not time consuming)

  2. It is very hard to put in words what I mean with these lines. I will give it a try tomorrow, I think.

    Of course features are important, and Blizzard does good to iterate and iterate and iterate until the 'flow' feels right.

    But I don't think Blizzard really knows why WoW is so much more successful than its competitors. Otherwise they hadn't tried vehicles in WotLK the way they did.