Earlier this week I wrote a little blog post about the dumbing down of MMORPG’s in today’s market to meet the WoW Formula Standards set for tomorrow. I received a great deal of feedback on the writeup and I have decided that the topic deserves a little more discussion. Starting off I would like to point out one perspective; that of Tipa from West Karana. In an attempt to prove me wrong she detailed what she felt justified a difficult or hard MMORPG and then went on to say how she feels there still might be a market for that particular style of gameplay. I’ll do my best to clarify my position and explain a little more where I’m coming from when I say that MMORPGs today are being dumbed down to meet their audience.
In all fairness I did not denounce any market for difficult or hard style MMORPGs of the past. Though I did say in my post that Vanguard definitely was the wrong direction to turn since the entire foundation for the game is based on replicating the old EQ experience. The problem with my statement that MMOs are becoming too easy and that they need to reintroduce difficulty and achievement in MMOs is that it’s entirely too subjective and broad. If you’re new to the MMO gaming scene then WoW could be difficult for you. If you’re jaded and have been playing since the Realm and Meridian 59 like myself then you will notice the lack of achievement and move towards a more centralized and streamlined form of gameplay.
My definition of a hard MMO is not one that leaves you bruised, battered, and bleeding; rather it’s one that leaves you feeling accomplished. For me when I played World of Warcraft I did have fun (which is what games are all about) but I could not help but feel like everything I did left me feeling unsatisfied and just like everyone else. I went with the herd of cattle into the raid instance and walked out with a shiny toy like a boy on his way out of a toy store. It was a great feeling at that moment but it quickly faded. I received a similar feeling in Lord of the Rings Online when I worked my way through the entire game (yes, I did it all) and at the end was left with an awkward feeling asking myself “that’s it?”. It’s difficult to describe one’s feeling of accomplishment. Perhaps it’s different for each person.
It’s very important to note that time and annoyance are not factors I consider when I look for a difficult or rewarding experience. There is nothing difficult about having to travel for 3 hours to meet your group – that’s just downright stupid. There is nothing rewarding about dieing and losing four hours of hard work – that’s just downright annoying. Being forced into grouping for every little thing is not game difficulty – it’s poor design. Combat that requires working together and knowing your class on the other hand is intelligent gameplay. Requiring more than standing in one place pressing 1-3 on your keyboard while listening to the guy on ventrilo barking “move in! move out” is a necessity to a rewarding experience.
I can think of a quick example to represent my idea of a difficult and rewarding gameplay experience. In Lord of the Rings Online the best thing Turbine did for that game was to create ONE fight that required thinking, pre-planning, and flawless teamwork. Thorog, the last boss of Helegrod (a 24 person dungeon), required that every single person not only know their class but that they pay attention and work individually of eachother. There was no room for someone to slack – no one else could pull your weight in that fight for you. It required that you remove certain debuffs or risk killing everyone around you, forced tanks to know how to swap aggro, forced DPS to push their characters to the very limit. Regardless of how many times you did that fight with your raid it was never easy. Having done the fight probably 12 times I can speak from experience that I had to catch my breath at the end because I was holding it for the entire 25-30 minute duration of the fight. It was epic, it was fun.
Leveling up should be similar. It shouldn’t be a matter of doing quests in this zone then moving to that zone and doing all the quests there knowing that by the time I reach zone XY and Z that I will be level 50. It should be about achieving them through completing objectives and tasks that require true skill. Your sword at your side should give you a proud feeling that you earned it from doing something more than killing 10 boars for that NPC over there. Longevity in a MMORPG comes from constantly having something to work towards. When that runs out the game might as well be over.
I don’t believe that forcing groups upon players to achieve these goals is the right idea nor do I feel forcing players to solo is either. I think allowing multiple paths of progression for the player to choose is best. Something that I look forward to in Warhammer Online is the option for PVP progression. You’re going to level up if you have the skill and teamwork it takes to kill other players. If you stink at PvP then you’re not going to level very fast by going that route. When you achieve the ranks to be rewarded with weaponry and armor you’ll know you earned it through skill and accomplishment.
I know that this is still very subjective and that 8 million of you out there probably disagree with me. However I feel that games are indeed moving away from the overall “aspire to be better!” form of gameplay and moving more into the WoW Formula of instant gratification. WoW isn’t easy being you can solo to the top – it’s easy because of how you can solo to the top. Does that make any sense to anyone out there or am I confusing you all to the point where I’m having a conversation with myself? (Not uncommon.) What was difficult and fresh for us 5 years ago is not necessarily going to cut it today. MMORPGs are ever evolving and changing and the players are too. We’ve evolved beyond the equation of Reward = +/- Time. The entire basis for my original thought was what will happen when MMORPGs are developed for the gamers of today without thinking of those from yesterday and tomorrow.
I read in a gaming magazine a note sent in to the editor asking “why is most all of your magazine devoted to World of Warcraft?”. The reply was far too straight forward for my liking. “Millions upon millions of people play World of Warcraft. We would be stupid not to.”
I’m one in a sea of millions right now. It’s going to take a lot of work to make waves.