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.