Looking Down on the Herd

Today Syncaine makes fun of Tobold for saying that WoW is #1 with a bullet because it’s the best game on the market.

I don’t think that Tobold was trying to say that because WoW has 36 times as many subscribers as WAR it is necessarily 36 times better. That would be an untenable (indeed, asinine) position to take, but I think Tobold has earned the presumption that he’s not some ignorant nimrod saying stupid stuff without having thought it out at all. I think that for a majority of users WoW is incrementally better than WAR, and the margin in this case makes a huge difference. More importantly, WoW’s potential audience is by definition much larger than WAR’s because it’ll run on more computers than WAR will, and this has, I think, had a big impact of WoW’s success. In other words, WAR could be better than WoW in every respect (it isn’t,) but because the simple fact is that most people don’t have recently-bought, gaming-oriented rigs with reasonably up-to-date graphics cards. More people play WoW because more people can play WoW.

But trying to tie number of subscribers to the sole subjective parameter of ‘quality’ is a pretty superficial way to try to analyse the market, and even plugging ease of access into the equation really doesn’t create anything like a fully elaborated picture of why WoW is successful and other titles are less so. In point of fact there are probably dozens of people on the professional end of the hobby trying to figure out exactly what elements make WoW numero uno, so their own games can copy those elements. These people presumably have access to more and better data and more and better analyzing tools than Syncaine, Tobold or I. They are probably more knowledgeable, and maybe even smarter than any of us random commentators shooting our mouths off. That none of them have yet succeeded implies that the success equation is very complicated and the solution elusive.

I happen to think that Tobold is pretty much right on all of his individual points. WoW has expanded the market tremendously, and it seems very probable to me that if there had been no WoW, WAR would have had no hope of selling as many units as it did in the first couple of months. At the same time, it’s fair for Syncaine to point out the flawed implication that WoW is therefore ‘better’ in an absolute sense than WAR, because we all know that it’s more complicated than that. It’s not so fair to push that to the point of putting words in Tobold’s mouth, but hey, we’re bloggers and we say stuff, and sometimes we stretch somebody else’s point to make our own.

Maybe WoW creates a kind of perfect storm among the nebulously understood variables of MMO success. It’s so widely known as to have become a part of mainstream pop culture, it’s easy to buy and start playing, it’s able to be run on even feeble computers, it’s forgiving enough that even weak players can get by in it, and it’s polished enough and its world is detailed enough that it feels like a living, breathing place you’re visiting.

Now, there’s caveats here. The first is that I’m not saying “nobody can ever challenge WoW.” That will happen sooner or later. Whether because some revolutionary product hits the market and sweeps it away or because of the atrophy brought by Blizzard’s own complacence, WoW has a long but finite lifetime ahead of it, and not all of that time will be spent atop the heap.

The second thing is that while you may feel that Darkfall or LotRO or EQ2 or whatever are better games, it doesn’t matter because more people think WoW is better, even if only because all their friends are still playing it. That the masses choose a less elite game than you does not make them wrong, and that you chose something else does not make you right or even particularly discriminating. Some people want to go against the grain, or root for an underdog. Maybe it makes them feel more elite, and if that’s their thing… hey, whatever’s fun.

6 responses to “Looking Down on the Herd

  1. That’s really the crux of it. “Fun” is all that matters in the end, and fun is utterly subjective. Popularity does not equal “better” in an objective sense any more than innovation, depth, or cohesion do. A common specious argument (on forums and elsewhere) is to pick an arbitrary scale to “prove” that X is better than Y. Unless we all agree on the scale, and clearly we do not, the argument lacks merit.

  2. My point was that Syncaine was complaining about the WoW tourists, 1 million of which, according to him, bought WAR, played it for a month, could clearly see that WAR was the better game, and then returned to WoW. Which I found a rather ridiculous assumption. Players will always play the “better” game, if given the choice, and the two games cost the same. Of course “better” is hugely subjective, but in that case a million people voted with their feet for WoW. Syncaine says that they all are stupid and just couldn’t grasp the genius of WAR. I say that they saw the various flaws of WAR, compared it to the better “polish” of WoW, and went back.

  3. @Tobold: I would say that a more accurate assessment is that they didn’t happen to like WAR as much. That could be for any number of reasons. I doubt it comes down to “polish” alone since WoW was damn near unplayable for the first month after launch (they didn’t give out all that free sub time for giggles after all) and still sold like crack in a box.

    If I personally had to guess, I’d say it’s because most MMO gamers enjoy PvE more than PvP and WAR has inferior PvE to WoW. The focus of WAR is PvP, the PVE game is clearly a bit of an after thought (I even have a long posts whining about it on my blog). However, that hardly shows that WoW is overall a better game than WAR. The PvP is really complete crap in WoW compared to WAR (imo), for example. Even if you don’t enjoy RvR style PvP, the battle ground system in WAR is much more varied and accessible than what you find in WoW.

    I suspect that the disparity that you see between the two games is that “fans of MMO PvP” (as opposed to FPS PvP) is a lot smaller market than the one made up of players that enjoy quest based progression and perhaps dabbling in PvP (I personally fall firmly into the latter camp). We migrate towards the games that excel in whatever areas we happen to value, even if they are clearly inferior in areas that we value less.

  4. @Tobold

    “could clearly see that WAR was the better game”

    This is a lie. Syncaine never said that. Are you so vain that you resort to lies to prove your point. You even lied in Syncaine’s own blog saying he called you names. Get over yourself Tobold. You are a blogger who got some freebies. Not the All-Seeing Guru.

  5. The other hurdle that non-WoW games face is that players who entered the market through WoW have WoW characters they are attached to. I have much more tolerance for “this feels grindy, but will get me something good” if the reward is going to my WoW mage – where I have invested over 150 days /played – rather than some misc character I’ve had for a month.

  6. I tend to think that wow has a lot going for it the low system specs and it works on mac lol..Also they have had a long time to flesh it out..but i remeber ppl sayin g wow copied eq ect and all everybody says now its its a wow clone lol..ive resubbed to war at the mo and its a lot better but pvp isnt to everybodys taste and the pve is lacking and gets boring but then its a pvp game…i do wonder if any game is going to topple wow and i cant see it happening really.Tbh i play games till they feel like a grind and i dont want to log on ..when it stops being fun then its over 🙂