Legitimate Inertia

In Syncaine‘s post today, we find:

My comment yesterday about Warhammer 40k looking like WoW in the future was only partly based off the fact that, well, it looks like WoW in the future.

He may turn out to be correct, given the unwillingness of the people in charge of the last round (Warhammer, AoC, Allods, etc.) of MMO development to do much at variance with the WoW paradigm except cut away the parts that make it fun. But the current crop (Fallen Earth, APB, etc.) seems somewhat more willing to do so, given the middling-and-under success of those 2007-2008 titles.

Besides, I watched the Warhammer 40K trailer, and it reveals exactly what you’d expect it would about gameplay, which is to say, nothing at all. As such, it’s likely a little premature to start accusing the thing of being a WoW clone when that’s not at all clear yet.

His next point, essentially that following the WoW model is not the only way to make an MMO, is quite correct and well-put, even if it’s a point that has been overtalked over the last few years. Other paradigms already exist among modern MMOs, and at least one of them (EVE Online) has to be regarded as very successful, even if it’s still ‘niche’ when compared to WoW’s audience.

WoW has done its part here by not only lowering the bar to subterranean levels in terms of the challenge/reward ratio, but also by conditioning so many in terms of how quickly and effortlessly they should expect to progress.

Christ, not this again.

I will maintain that anyone who feels that WoW is utterly without challenge has either not played to lot of it or is being willfully disingenuous about it. The challenges in WoW are certainly very different than one finds in a primarily PvP-oriented game, starting with being approached cooperatively rather than competitively. That doesn’t mean there’s no challenge at all, even if some folks feel that without a PvP element no challenge exists. (WoW has PvP, of course, but I wouldn’t say that its challenges come from that part of the gameplay.)

The thing about WoW’s challenges is that they tend to scale, which is a virtue rather than a flaw, and one of the reasons for WoW’s vast success. The inept can find challenges appropriate to their level of ability and still make progress, while the smart, skilled player will breeze through those and push into stuff that is challenging, which mostly means a set of specific endgame dungeons and raids (which ones depends on when we’re talking.) This breaks down only at the very, very high end, when the most elite guilds put, say, ICC into farm status mere weeks after its release.

You have an entire subset of the MMO gaming population that believes the WoW pace of advancement is ‘just right’, and so anything that takes longer than a weekend to max out in is a ‘huge grind’, and if anything kills you more than once the game is impossible and not worth playing. Launch today without SOMETHING dinging every 10 minutes? You lack ‘content’.

Saying that WoW lacks grind is like saying that Alaska lacks oil – true only in the sense that there is more to be found elsewhere. But it’s a point worth touching on, as regards the unlettered masses who play only WoW; they have no outside reference point to compare it to, so of course the elements of WoW seem right to them – it’s what they’re accustomed to. This does not mean that the fun they are having in WoW is somehow invalid, and it certainly doesn’t mean there’s no ghrind in WoW – it only means that for some reason WoW players find the grind in the game acceptable.

At the same time, a lot of people are indeed complaining about the sameness of WoW play even as expansions continue to come out. This number, while small in terms of WoW’s total pool of players, is probably considerably higher than the total MMO player base across all games in the glory days which some remember with misty-eyed nostalgia. There is considerable dissatisfaction with various elements of WoW, and considerable and oft-stated desire to see something fresh.

But a developer can’t count on that, because many who keep saying they want something new and different shrug uncomfortably when it comes out and go back to the same old WoW with which they are familiar. I’ve touched on this before, and I suspect it’s what Syncaine is really trying to say – people say they want a new approach, but then find reasons to stay away from it when it shows up. For the average WoW player this is probably a vague feeling of boredom at the prospect of more of the same quests and incrementally-improving rewards. But people like Syncaine or myself do not have this excuse – if we want open-ended play there are games which offer it, which we can’t say we’ve never heard of.

The factor that Syncaine always seems to disregard in these posts is inertia, the tendency for players well-established in a particular MMO to stay there even after they’ve dabbled with other games. He dismisses this as ‘WoW Tourism’ but it’s really not a negative thing at all, although it’s an annoyance to players of unpopular games like Darkfall – it is, in fact, one of the defining elements of MMO play and the great strength of MMOs in the marketplace. Even as someone who plays a lot of different MMOs (as most readers of this post probably are,) can’t you see how somebody would be reluctant to leave their established characters with their long-worked-at progression for a new game in which they’d start from nothing? Not even entirely unwilling, necessarily, but isn’t this an obvious hurdle that new games trying to recruit from the existing MMO audience (i. e. mostly WoW players) will need to overcome?

I strongly suspect that if we were to compare hypothetical ‘ideal’ MMOs, Syncaine and myself would find that we have very similar tastes in most respects, the major exception being my distaste for the kind of cutthroat, non-consensual PvP that something like Darkfall offers So the issue here is not so much that our tastes simply differ, so much as that he doesn’t seem to accept the tastes of the mainstream as legitimate.

I think his (apparent) goal – of evangelizing for less mainstream games – is a good one and worth doing. I just don’t think he’s getting much traction by basically telling people they’re currently playing a game completely without any sort of challenge – something that’s obviously untrue, and apt to cause the reader to disregard the worthwhile overall message.

4 responses to “Legitimate Inertia

  1. The amount of effort you have to put in to find any semblance of challenge in WoW vs the reward that yields is atrocious. Look at TAGN and his group, who for some time now have been challenge-free despite the fact that they have been running instances below level now, and overall are as far from powergamers as you can get. Look at how incredibly easy it is to get near top-level gear in WoW now. Look at how mindless it is to reach 80. How mindless anything pre-80 is unless you specifically go out of your way to ‘do it wrong’ in order to find a challenge.

    Sure, 1% of the content is an attempt to give a challenge, but you can’t point to that and discount the other 99% of the game, especially when 99.99% of the playing population ignores (because in large part, they can) that 1% you claim to offer a challenge.

  2. I am with Syn on this. WoW has made it easy enough for people to return to their game and “leisurely” stroll through content…even though the content could be “grindy” …like questing over and over and over. But, the fact remains. WoW is the casuals hardcore game. Why play anything else?

    The big deal here is WoW is the best starter MMO on the market. Yet, when anyone leaves and goes to another game, they realize that some similarities exist, but the differences make it so the player from WoW is not happy. The WoW players thinks they want a new way to play or more variety…but they have already been conditioned to not accept these changes. They expect the game to play one way.

    Being a Warhammer fanatic, I have hopes 40k does not follow the norm…and because of that, it will be a niche title…pure and simple. Yet, if it follows the norms of WoW, it will be damned as well.

    How does anyone win at this market?

  3. “Look at how incredibly easy it is to get near top-level gear in WoW now.”

    Can I point out that despite having played MMOs almost since there were MMOs, neither I nor Mrs Bhagpuss found it remotely easy to get to 80th in WoW, far less get “near top-level gear”. In fact we both lost interest and jumped ship before we hit 80th.

    I found WoW to be one of the more difficult MMOs I have played, in the sense that I found it to be a LOT grindier than I had expected and I found the grind to be a LOT more tedious and un-fun than the grind in other games.

    I think there are plenty of grounds on which one can criticise WoW, and I often agree with SynCaine on some of the criticisms he makes, but I think the whole “quick and effortless” thing is ridiculously overdone. Levelling in WoW isn’t that quick and it’s quite a lot of effort. The fact that it doesn’t require a lot of thought or attention does not, in my opinion, make it “easy”. It makes it dull.

    I agree with Ardwulf that what probably stops genuine WoW players, those who first came to MMOs through WoW, from moving on is inertia. Other MMOs that I’ve played seem to me to be significantly “easier” than WoW and yet they don’t seem to pull WoW players away, so I don’t believe it is primarily related to difficulty, but to familiarity.

    Warhammer 40K has the potential to be familiar enough to overcome the inertia, but then they said that about WAR.

  4. I make no claims to being some kind of superior MMO player or anything, but it took me circa 300 hours and many, many months of play (overall, not just one one character) to get a character to level 80. Since then I’ve probably put another 60 hours into that character and still lack the gear to so much as set foot in ICC, nor have I gotten any others to 80, although I now have a couple more within spitting distance.

    This does not fit my definition of getting to the very top with negligible effort. Sure, I have at times not been challenged. I have at other times been very challenged, even sometimes with lowbies.

    The point was that you, me, Syn or anyone at all can find content in WoW appropriate to the level of challenge we desire. Syn can say there’s no challenge all he wants and it will remain untrue. If you don’t find a challenge there it’s because you didn’t take the trouble, or get far enough, to find it. Or perhaps because your tastes simply differ – which is fine, but there’s no profit in calling everybody who disagrees with you some kind of inept yokel.

    I also find the idea that the challenging content is only enjoyed by 0.01% of the playing population kind of silly, given the fact that the average WoW player has at least one 80 and the general emphasis on endgame dungeons and raids.

    Lastly, I disagree with the very notion that maximal challenge is even a good thing. Isn’t it better to let the game sort out challenge level by player ability and desire, as WoW does?