Regarding touchstones and SWTOR

You’re most likely familiar with the comments made by Bioware Dev Greg Zeschuk about World of Warcraft being a “touchstone” (Definition: standard: a basis for comparison) for MMO’s. Here’s the part of the quote that has generated a buzz:

“It is a touchstone,” Zeschuk said of WoW, according to GamesIndustry. “It has established standards, it’s established how you play an MMO.
“Every MMO that comes out, I play and look at it. And if they break any of the WoW rules, in my book that’s pretty dumb.
“If you have established standards, WoW established them.” – Forum post I snagged it from.

He chose his words very poorly, or this is completely out of context. There are quite a few pieces of information missing and some words used that do not allow any wiggle room.
1) What rules/standards does he refer to? Everything? UI? Combat? Content design? Treadmilling? Accessibility and ease of use?
2) Did he really mean to say that you should not break ANY of those rules? Again, which rules because that’s huge.

Personally, I do not believe he meant this to come out like it did. It sounds like SWTOR will be using WoW as a template for everything it does. It sounds like they plan to not deviate at all from what attracts the most people. WoW truly is a touchstone in many ways, but I do not feel it is THE definitive touchstone for everything. Many of the customs and traditions now in place are because of WoW and it’s likely a good idea to bring along some of them in a game like SWTOR, given how it will inherently be very similar. They wouldn’t use Ultima Online as a template, now would they?  That wouldn’t make sense.

To say that ANY game that breaks ANY rule established by WoW is dumb… is pretty dumb. It’s saying straight up ‘We are a WoW clone and it is dumb if you are not.’ This rubs me the wrong way. I’m willing to give Greg the benefit of the doubt; surely he is more wiser than he came across. At least I hope so for the game’s sake.

A better thing to say would have been: Whether you emulate or avoid it, you would be smart not to ignore what WoW has done in the industry.

  • Just a thought, but maybe that is what he meant. If you could have a Star Wars version of WoW, how many subs do you think it would have?

  • Well from what i hear SWTOR will have gearscore and barbershops, so maybe it isn’t so farfetched.

  • It’s hard to really read into a few short sentences but I think he may be referring to more basic gameplay rules and not necessarily the game’s design

    It may sound like the same thing, and they are very similar but a rule would be that people expect to be able to fill their class or spec’s role well even at (or especially) earlier levels.
    The game’s design would dictate what those roles actually are from the tanks to something more from SWG’s performers and how they get their role done.

  • It might sound dumb but to be honest what the 12-13million wow players are looking for is not something different such as Eve online but a slightly better version of wow. That might sound boring but I fully believe that to be the truth.

  • That may be very true but different isn’t always bad, the hundred thousand or so people playing Eve are looking for a game that is, well, just like Eve

  • Well it certainly does sound like a concession that Bioware have absolutely no plans to try to advance the genre. Fair enough, they’ve never done an MMORPG before, they should probably cut their teeth on a clone as a learning experience.

    But yeah, touchstone, whatever, if you’re doing something different to WoW, you should think about WHY Blizzard did it the way they did, and WHY you want to do it differently. But that’s a long way from in being “pretty dumb” to “break any of the WoW rules”.

  • I think if he’d stuck to commenting on the quality, he’d be dead on. If your game does something (anything, really) worse than WoW does it, you are losing points with the public. As for “how you play an MMO”… WoW does a lot of things I disagree with. It is not perfect.

  • Well… There went any excitement I might have been able to generate for another themepark MMO. I played WoW for a few years, if I wanted more WoW I’d resub.

    I’d kill for a new sandbox (please blizz, next MMO… Please?!). As it is the oldest is still the best sandbox IMO (UO)

  • Reading that made me a litte bit sad…

    i just don´t get it, i have been a loyal Bioware follower since Shattered Steel but now, that they are part of EA, everything i read from them makes me want to bang my head against a brick wall.

    I´m sure this will stir up some heated discussions among the TOR fans and it also makes me wonder how similar WoW and TOR will be. Will there be easy raid content you can PUG? Maybe a dungeon finder tool? Gear score crap? I hope not, these things alone would be enough for me to not buy it.

    Of course, if you are making a theme park game, you better have a lot of “standart” theme park features in your game. It´s difficult, if you have them in your game people will say “it´s like WoW”, if you don´t “the game will fail, it doesn´t even have the basics”.

    I agree that WoW made some of these features standart for theme park mmo´s (without inventing them, except the DF tool disaster), and adding them to your game is not necessary a bad thing. Rift as an example does a perfect job with them and is one of the best games among the theme parks.

    But that´s what makes me ask: “what´s the appeal in TOR? why should players buy the game?” If i want WoW, i will play WoW. If i want another theme park i will play Rift (which i will do, i like it). Sandbox gamers will likely not care for TOR and people who look for skill based gameplay also have other titels. And if i´m looking for some fresh ideas i will buy GW2.

    So far, i´m really starting to search for a reason to buy TOR that is not “it´s star wars i need this”. Maybe the story element is enough, but that is difficult to deliver in such games and it´s doubtfully that it will work as good as it does in SP games.

  • OMG, NO!!!!!

    This is exactly what is wrong with today’s MMO development.

    So many people know nothing but WoW or the clones it has created. I guess my tastes are too similar to Keen’s. I prefer an open world, with little instancing, minimal treadmills and no linear quest lines. Franky, I think quests have killed MMOs. Sure they make it easy to jump into a game but add little else besides that.

    I’m starting to lose hope that MMOs will ever live up to my once fond memories. Where is UO2?

  • I think he said EXACTLY what he meant.. in his mind amking anything other then a wow clone is dumb. Maybe wow clone with voice acting and “story? lol

  • That belief is really kind of amateurish…

    WOW has certain features and some of these are absolute standards in the industry. Additionally, WOW has also several features that are neither here nor there. They have them – the community accepts them – but Blizzard probably could have done the opposite and there would have been no deffierence. Then there are also features that have a very specific but big felt impact – these features could be exchanged to get a different type of impact which may or may not change WOW’s success.

    That say that one needs to copy the features in order to have a successful game is ridiculous because you are also copying nonessential features for no reason. It is like if you want to copy a motorcycle because the engine sounds so awesome and the martuclar motor cycle is super popular. So you do a good job getting the engine just right so that it is just the same and then you spend 3 years making irrelevant cosmetic changes (like putting tassels on the handlebars!! haha) to exactly copy it. people may have hated the tassels on the original but accepted them because the engine was so great!

    The key is rather to identify the key features – adopt those – then design the game with whatever nonessential features you want and maybe vary the features where you can impact the game somehow (like a focus on world PvP as opposed to BG or Arena PvP). Maybe that is what he meant anyway by referrring to the standards…the key features?

  • I don’t know. It seems pretty standard to me. I wouldn’t read it as strictly as some are (e.g. “SWTOR will be a WoW clone”). But it’s pretty clear there are some standards for MMOs, and WoW as the dominant market leader (regardless of whether they originated them) established them.

    From a business perspective (which is the angle the developers are coming from, MMOs, more than any other game genre are businesses developed by business people, not works of art crafted by auteurs) it IS stupid to break the established standards of products in the market. This doesn’t mean that they won’t innovate or try something different (though I personally don’t imagine BioWare is going to really be stretching our imaginations), but it does mean ensuring you meet the minimum requirements to compete.

    I suspect what he means by standards are both more specific at a low level and more general at a high level than people are expecting. Things like: you can’t make a click to move MMO interface anymore (You could when Guild Wars launched, it’s probably not possible anymore). Nor could you make a game without a reasonably intuitive and helpful starter zone, or a functional Auction system, or some facility for UI modification. These are all things that, even if they didn’t invent them, Blizzard has made baseline MMO features. They’re no longer selling points, they’re the price for entry into the game.

  • I think Keen’s original post is spot on – the initial quote was so vague that there’s no way to tell what he was really trying to say.

    He could have meant “keep the unspoken gameplay rules so that players know fundamentally how to play the game” – and he’d be totally right. You don’t give people a blue bar and then tell them it’s a 100 point energy pool. Same with UI elements, to a degree.

    He could have also meant “give people a completely linear quest-driven experience, leading up to a gear treadmill progression game – and deviation is dumb”. In which case I think he’s off his rocker.

    As a side note, and in response to Howdy Doody – “If you could have a Star Wars version of WoW, how many subs do you think it would have?” – that depends on whether Blizzard made it and whether it has Blizzard polish and content follow up.

    Overall I think the quote is just bad and out of context. I mean, look at TOR’s crafting system – they’ve already broken the WoW rules in a pretty fundamental way. I’m sure he’s just talking about some specific subset of UI design or basic rules like “tank-DPS-heals” – although I’d argue that even the trinity deserves to be killed in one way or another…

  • Agreed. WoW is not the end-all for how to setup gameplay for an MMORPG. Sure, having a nice, customizable, UI? Why not. Have detailed visuals with smooth animations, yeah. WoW is a good game when you’re talking about its mechanics. However, in terms of gameplay, it isn’t what I’d call ideal for an MMO.

    Have you guys ever heard of Xsyon? I’m playing it right now and having a blast. Everything is player driven: quests, crafting, economy, territory, etc. There are no human NPCs or NPC towns in the game. It is an indie game, but it has some very good gameplay.

  • I agree that your way of phrasing it is better but I do think he meant what he said and how he said it. I have no doubt WoW is a template for most developers and publishers and instead of trying to use it as a guide and come up with their own innovations, they use it as a base template and modify it to taste.

  • I read that comment earlier today and it worried me only a little bit. Once people start releasing their thoughts on the beta (and I get to play it) I will worry 😛

  • I take it as more of how they made the game (WoW).

    It plays well on older computers thus being able to have those not paying a lot for gaming PC’s to join in.

    Leveling isn’t hard

    Dying isn’t a bad thing

    the UI is a lot better than the types we had starting out in EQ

    Just some of the things I get from it and not taking so literally as “we mad a Star Wars WoW”

  • Imagine the perspective of a suit-wearing EA executive. They’ve seen one MMO failure after another. Warhammer Online failed to compete with WoW, despite moderately copying Blizzard’s game. Why? According to the EA executive’s mind, it’s not because WAR was (and is) horridly unbalanced and buggy. No! It failed because WAR wasn’t enough like WoW.

    So EA’s spent a huge amount of money to make a game, SWTOR, they think will be the ticket, the game that will be to WoW what WoW was to Everquest.

    Chances are, you and I are not suit-wearing captains of the universe. We’re gamers who know better.

  • Poor statement, intended or otherwise. You would think with all that is at stake and all the faux pas in the past more thought would go before making one.

    What concerns me more is this article about fan site restrictions.

    There is always an orgy of speculation that can be fuelled by sites either by leaked information, or just theorycrafting. This increased effort in separating blogs from media and who can get paid or not, is not really a good indicator in my view.

  • I’m not sure what you mean by WAR being unbalanced, but I never found it to be exceptionally buggy.

    What made WAR fail is that their fundamental game mechanic (open RVR) was boring as shit. End of story, period, exclamation point. There’s only so much skirmishing endlessly over the same three nodes, breaking down a door, and aoeing everything in the castle most people can take before they quit. They also ran out of good BG ideas in the first two tiers of the game, after that it got bad fast. RVR was dreary tedium after a while, and I enjoy pvp way more than 95% of the MMO players out there.