The legacy of WoW: Simplification of the MMO genre

While some, myself included, would probably argue that World of Warcraft actually is the best massively multiplayer online game out there – it is definitely the most popular one. It has a huge following of hardcore fans ready to happily rip out the tongues of unbelievers, bash on any new online game and bathe Blizzard in ungodly amounts of money.

Parents let their kids starve, guys get dumped by their girlfriends, students leave colleges, the fat get fatter, the thin even thinner and that weird guy you used to know is even crazier than before. You hear about it in school, on work, in traffic – it even invaded the porno industry. Some say it is better than drugs and others say that it is best combined with them. So what makes this game so popular? Is it the rich lore that gets butchered in every expansion, killing heroes that used to be on the same side as you in previous strategy games, dressing up orcs and trolls like Power Rangers and humans like orcs or the “rich” player versus player content? Maybe the “original” player versus environment game play *cough* Everquest grind, or something else?

Well some good points it has going for it are playing as monster races which is very rare in MMOs, beautiful My Pet Pony colors, and compared to most, a pretty stable game client. But the thing that sells the game is its simplicity, seriously a monkey could play it without many problems. If you read some of the stuff on WoW forums or in general chat that statement makes even more sense. In fact game is so simple that you can get to maximum level without grouping with anyone or actually learning how to play your own class. Regardless of its simplicity, it has some of the most “leet” crowd and self proclaimed pros that measure their skill and compare meaningless arena ratings like there is no tomorrow or as if someone cares about their fictional awesomeness.

At the same time the actual war between the Horde and Alliance that made the original game nteresting and that had some links to old Warcraft real time strategy games is slowly fading out to cheap rewards and lack of incentives. All the game can offer is either endless PvE grind or boring arena fights. For PvE players it is a best game ever but the war part of its name is a joke. Arenas and killing computer controlled enemies cannot be considered the craft of war.
But anyways what does any of this have to do with other MMOs or their simplification? Well, when other game developers see the fat money and subscription numbers World of Warcraft brings to Blizzard, they become all slobbery and start to crave their slice of pie. Not long after, on the net you see news that some team is making a new online game that will”kill” WoW.

Later we see videos and interviews that talk about incoming cool and exciting features. They tease us with promises of leveling without the grind, meaningful PvP content, character customization, mature content and much more. The Game gets delayed a couple of times and finally when it arrives it does not have any of the mentioned features or they are so weak it is not even funny.

Warhammer Online: One of capital cities cut from the game...

Warhammer Online: One of capital cities cut from the game…

You see this long awaited game, the so called Holy Grail finally in front of you and you cannot believe your eyes how bad it is. The leveling grind is insane, customization is worse than in WoW, mature content nonexistent, gear has almost no statistics, only one or two battle types and tons of broken or the dreaded “soon to come” features. If you haven’t played it in beta you ask those around the net, how did something so bad even manage to leave testing? Surprisingly, it turns out that the game was better in beta than after release.

Lord British failed to deliver...One of the best features – leveling without the grind gets removed because there is no good end game content and developers want to slow down player progress or they receive feedback from beta testers that think it is going too fast. This can result in many crazy changes that make enemies insanely tough or full of tricks that make them take ages to die. A good example of this design call is Richard Garriott’s theory and delivery of Tabula Rasa. In an interview with Develop http://www.developmag.com/news/27488/QA-Richard-Garriott-on-the-future-of-MMOs , Lord British said an interesting statement:

“Tabula Rasa is unlike the typical MMO, where you go ‘farm’ in the level one hunting grounds and creatures respawn right back where you last killed them for the next XP farmer to get in their level grind.”

Yeah, right. Guess what happened in Tabula Rasa’s own “level one hunting ground”?

Maturity gets toned down because they would lose money from all the concerned parents. Certain “WoW-killer” was announced through adult-oriented media such as Playboy and FHM, game art boasted 18+ graphics, and that all ended up with sexy content being removed from the game, and putting clothes on only remaining naked NPCs. Let’s not even go into demons and avatars of Set from Age of Conan  that ended up more censored than He-Man.

At the end of the day, we can ask ourselves “what were they thinking” when they promised morale boosts by doing sexual activities, yet alone drinking barfights.

Conclusion: Don’t copy, innovate

Instead of making gear less important than in WoW they make it completely useless or have statistics useless for its class. Some of the more insane changes inspired by WoW that the new games tend to receive are money sinks. Again, the helpful testers or even players after the release get the impression that getting money in a game is too easy so devs increase the prices on traveling, death penalties or various really cool gimmicks that were pretty fun and cheap in the original concept. There are always few defendants to this move since some people think farming gold all day is a fun activity. Content gets delayed or removed due to time restraints or lack of testing. Right, two to three release delays and there was not enough time to deliver. We already had a batch of these so-called “WoW killers” suffering from this and can only hope for better games in the future, at least with their own original negatives.