What Happened to WoW?

DPS logo

Easy – Obsession with numbers happened to WoW.

I wrote a few years ago about the DPS Meters, Theorycrafting and what I thought their impact was on MMOs. I think it’s more true today than it was then. This isn’t to say that WoW doesn’t have a myriad of other problems because it does but I think this is a foundational issue with WoW. But I can’t help but think that Blizzard’s momentum of bad decisions might have actually started to overcome the community inertia that kept the game on top.

While the obsession with numbers started with players and DPS meters, it slowly infected the designers. Bit by bit, designers at Blizzard created a game no doubt looks perfect in a spreadsheet, but utterly lacks any soul. The obsession over bigger numbers and number balance and no class being preferred over another for any reason drained the soul of the game. Ancillary systems were stripped down or tossed aside entirely. The core of the model, the gear treadmill, was so brutalized by the blind zealotry to spreadsheet design as to make the gear immaterial.

Class & Ability Diversity

The option to play your class the way that you want has been cut out, replaced by a series of “fun,” but meaningless choices that don’t change the way you play your character in any significant fashion and can be changed at a moments notice so there’s no risk-reward for any decision. Blizzard stubbornly stamps it feet and declares these to be meaningful, fun choices while the opposite is true – there is no choice. I am reminded of the saying, “You can have any color you want! As long as it’s black.”

Unique play-styles and abilities have been systematically carved off because they provided too much of a numbers benefit to one class or another, or is too powerful against another class, or made a single encounter too easy. We are left with nondescript blobs of generic abilities as classes that are min-maxed by design but have no real identity of their own. Sure the aesthetics of a rogue and a monk are different, but the base is so much the same as to be interchangeable. Ele Shaman is basically a mage with nature themed spells and can be treated as such. Enh Shaman is a warrior with nature themed abilities instead of rage. You play one over the other not because there’s any great difference game-play, but because you like the pretty of one over the other.

Other Systems

Do you remember when crafting was at least kind of part of the game? It’s clear that it was never truly part of the core game-play as the item you created were often beyond useless. But for a while it was at least fun and engaging in it’s own red-headed stepchild kind of way. Now, it’s been gutted. Crafting had the potential through minor bonuses to have too much of an impact on the numbers and was effectively lobotomized as a result. It’s useless to the point of nearly being punishing for wanting to craft. 99% of the items you create you will destroy or vendor because no one wants them — not even you. But they are required for you to create to get up to the highest tier were can create 1-2 consumable items that quickly become required, and you’ll never craft anything else again.

The Artifact system was brutally ripped out of the game with almost no rationale other than anemic line of text if you happened to look to look to see why your class suddenly played very different. Instead they replaced it with the so-generic-you-don’t-even-care-about-it Heart of Azeroth. Like specs and class diversity before it, it replaced a system that was engaging and fun with one that left no meaningful choice and perfectly predictable progression of numbers.

The Gear Treadmill

It’s somewhat strange when you think about the fact that a game where gear is paramount that gear paradoxically also doesn’t matter. Gear has been so stripped of personality and utility to be utterly forgettable and immaterial to the game at large. Randomized stats are applied to random weapon models with nonsensical and completely lore-ignorant naming. Blizzard has arrived at the absurd place where they’ve devalued gear for the sake of the numbers it stacks.

The Promise of MMOs

Warner Bros. Pictures

One grain of sand. That is all that remains of my once vast empire.

The Child-like Empress, The Neverending Story

One of my all-time favorite movies is The Neverending Story. The Nothing is one of the scariest villains ever. It was unknowable, utterly alien in its motives–like despair incarnate, the void. Towards the end of the movie, the Nothing had consumed nearly everything and all that was left was a single grain of sand.

Continue reading “The Promise of MMOs”

My Perrenial Problems with WoW

The New Stormwind

Have you ever tried to go back and re-read the original Dragonlance Chronicles?  It’s rough.  I loved them when I first read them in middle school. They weren’t the first fantasy novels I had read (that honor goes to Magician: Apprentice), but they became part of my hook into the genre. This year, I went back and re-read them during a lull in the book release schedule.

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EverQuest Next’s Cancellation and the Future of the MMO Genre

Everquest Next

This past Friday, we got some news that rocked many the genre–DayBreak Games cancelled what was supposed to be their flagship game, EverQuest Next.  This move, coupled with several other high profile cancellations shows the genre is moving away from the box-office buster style of MMO development.   As the behemoths of the genre lumber on, smaller independent developers who have more tolerance for risk will fill the gaps left behind.

Continue reading “EverQuest Next’s Cancellation and the Future of the MMO Genre”

A Brief Discussion of Class Balance in MMO

When it comes to ‘balance’ in a game, everyone is an arm-chair developer.  Reading forums, you’d think that creating class balance was the easiest thing in the world, and it would be so obvious when class balance is off.  That rogue who can stock lock you for 4.5 seconds once every 10 minutes is clearly overpowered!  Healers shouldn’t be able to heal themselves in PvP because it’s unbalanced and they can’t be killed.  There are a thousand examples that anyone with keyboard and a tenuous grasp on the English language will give you, often whether you want them or not.

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DPS, Recount, and TheoryCrafting : How DPS Changed How We Play

DPS logo

 

MMOs have gone through many changes over the years, both good and bad. But there’s been at least one change that I think has left us worse than we were before–DPS. DPS (Damage-per-second for the uninitiated) has become the bane of the MMO genre.  We have become so obsessed with this one concept that it has changed the way MMOs are designed, consumed, and critiqued–and not to our benefit.   Now before you start foaming at the mouth – hear me out and let me explain myself.  Let’s look at beginning years, hopefully without the rose-colored glasses this time.

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Accessibility in MMOs – Part 3

 

So, I received a few comments on Part 1 and Part 2 that I was being entitled, elitist, pretty much a general asshole–all these things that I really wasn’t intending and definitely don’t think of myself as being when I was trying to talk about Accessibility in MMOs. My bad. So I decided to write a 3 part to this series to hopefully clear up some of the concepts that I didn’t do a good job of communicating the first time. Continue reading “Accessibility in MMOs – Part 3”

Accessibility in MMOs – Part 2

Lich King
From Joystiq

Update 4/1/2013: So, it sounds like I might not have correctly conveyed me intent with this second half of the piece.  I’ll write a follow up that will hopefully clarify my thoughts, and make me look like less an elitist bastard.

This is Part 2 of a 2 Part series on Accessibility in MMOs – read Part One here.

What WoW attempted to do to offset the accessibility swathe was to  create different tiers of difficulty for gamers corresponding to how much effort they put into the game.  For the top tier there was Hard mode raiding, middle tier was regular raiding, middle lower tier was heroic dungeons (generally speaking, of course).  But this tiered approach misses the mark in that it still assumes the lowest common denominator.  You have to turn on the heroics in the dungeons, or the hard modes in the raids.  The core game play is still geared towards the player wants the lowest common denominator.  You have to essentially *ask* for things to be harder. Continue reading “Accessibility in MMOs – Part 2”

Accessibility in MMOs – Part 1

This is the first part of a two part series on Accessibility in MMOs, using World of Warcraft as the critical piece.  The second half of this piece will be published next week.

I stumbled across this video from Preach about the evolution of World of Warcraftand more importantly the concept of the Journey in MMOs.  Preach makes some valid points about the direction of WoW and accessibility in his video, and I don’t want to rehash them–you can just watch it, and I think you should.  So I’ll let you do that.

OK – I’m sure you heard a little bit of whining in there about accessibility and the evils therein.  I think preach oversimplifies the situation in WoW’s case because he doesn’t mention things like Deadly Boss Mods, QuestHelper, Carbonite as mods that make the game VASTLY easier than what it was before.  Last I checked, things like DBM and Omen and similar addons were required to raid.  Add in the fact that most of their betas are open, encounters well documented, and boss’s challenged hundreds if not thousands of times before the actual content even hits live servers and most players just have a cookie cutter model of following instructions.  Sites WoWhead, WowWiki, and Thottbot show every aspect of the game down to the most minute detail and are only a google search away. Is it really any wonder, even apart from increased accessibility, the players complain of the game “dumbing down” or too easy? Continue reading “Accessibility in MMOs – Part 1”