Lately there was quite a bit of discussion on gend……..errr, I mean, there was quite a bit of discussion going on about where the MMO genre is going and also, about people being bored silly with WoW while being unhappy with the increased “dumbing down” of the game by Blizzard these past few years.
I’ll admit that I am one of those that have an issue with the continuous ‘casualization’ of WoW; not because I need to feel so l33t over more casual players and think they shouldn’t experience the same content as I do, but because I feel a sharp loss of ‘authenticity’ and immersion as a consequence of the related changes since WoW launched in 2004. And I don’t label myself an elite player, far from it.
I am not going to pink-glass vanilla WoW here: there was certain imbalances and unnecessary downtimes that were plain annoying and I wouldn’t want those back. However, I feel that Blizzard’s increased endeavor to make the game more and more accessible and easy to play for a mass market audience, ever since halfway through TBC, has killed a lot of what I consider the ‘soul’ of the true MMORPG experience. A topic that has possibly echoed most of my own feelings in brilliant detail was Wolfshead’s article on EQ3 and the future of the genre in general.
Was everything better back in the days? No. Neither was everything worse. It is rather depressing that oldtimers like Everquest and Ultima Online are still regarded as the games with the most content depth and immersion in the MMO genre up to this day.
When I think of how 5mans are being run in WoW nowadays, it seriously makes me cringe. While it’s far from being my only issue, I think it serves as a good example: queue up for an instance, wait a few minutes, zoom into some cross-server party of which hardly anyone will even say ‘Hi’ in partychat, steamroll the instance, cash your badges and leave, rinse and repeat – it’s like the zombie hour of MMOs.
- People don’t speak to one another. And if they do, it’s most likely about gearscore or damage meters.
- People don’t die anymore. And if they do, it is such an unheard of, outrageous thing that the tank and healer are most likely to ragequit after the first wipe because they got NO TIME FOR THIS!
- People don’t even need to travel to the instance anymore. And if they did, they wouldn’t notice the world around them and its beautiful maps, because their super-fast epic mount flies at “ludicrous speed” somewhere up in the clouds.
Some bloggers have actually compared this way of gameplay to a “one-night stand”: no emotions involved, get in and out quickly, mutual benefits, no strings attached. And why would you invest anything more on people from different servers anyway? It’s an almost complete anonymity, even if you behave like a stupid troll there won’t be consequences. Just yesterday Grumpy described a very similar atmosphere in WoW’s battleground PUGs where communication and teamwork are at an all time low.
Now you could say “but this is all optional, you don’t need to use the dungeon finder if you don’t wish to play with strangers”, but that’s not it really. You play with strangers in MMOs all the time, it’s kinda the POINT. And whether I use this feature or not, it is there and it does impact on the community (lolz I said “community”) as a whole. It is also just one symptom of a spreading disease – and I’m saying this as somebody that is still in love with the world of Warcraft.
Of value and cost or: heroes and dragons
The underlying issue of most of my own points, but also those of other players, comes down to a strong disparity between effort (or challenge) and reward. The irony in WoW’s case is not that the game is too hard and frustrates players by rewarding them too little, but that it is on the contrary so fast and full of opportunities that you do not feel rewarded anymore, as there is hardly a challenge.
As human beings we attach value in relation to what a certain item costs us – value and cost being two very separate things in this case. If it takes you a long time to gain a reward or if it was hard to obtain and required you to overcome many obstacles, you value your reward more, as part of an accomplishment. Well, there is no accomplishment without a struggle: there are no heroes where there is no dragon.
So, where is the feeling of adventure and achievement in playing the game in its current state? When was the last time you really struggled questing in a new map, calling a friend to aid you? When was the last time you had several corpseruns in a 5man because communication on pulls and CC was so crucial? How much effort went into collecting your current set of gear? I had to think hard – the last time we struggled in a 5man was in Magister’s Terrace back in TBC. The instances in WotLK make me feel a lot of things, but certainly not heroic.
We are currently over-loaded on fast opportunity and reward in WoW, to a point where cooperation and teamwork isn’t a key feature anymore. You can solo and pug your way through almost everything with little struggle, downtimes or consequence. Even if you don’t pug, the low difficulty level itself is detrimental to any team building effect: you build strong teams over struggling together, not steamrolling together!
The fact that rewards not only don’t feel like rewards anymore, but also don’t look very rewarding, is doubly ironic: we all look the same nowadays, no matter how we play the game. Our gear tells no stories anymore. It seems the more we are given, the less we got. And then there are those goons that do not even know (or remember) what a party is and how instances used to be, quitting raids over a few deaths or failing horribly whenever they visit an oldschool instance.
When times were tough and memories were epic
I don’t know about you, but personally I lose all sense of adventure when the co-relation between challenge and reward, need for cooperation and teamwork, fear of death and requirements of for example travel, become so secondary in a game. There are no essential struggles, no moments of big consequence or fear – these factors being of course all co-dependent. WoW feels further and further away from the classic MMORPG experience and there goes my sense of ‘authenticity’ down the drain together with immersion.
In his article Wolfshead compared his experience of playing a (good) MMO with watching a horror movie – I find this quite a fitting analogy. If I play in a fantasy world, I’d like some excitement, some tension and moments of terror. I’d like to be scared, calling on my companions to beat a challenge together. Or in other words, I’d like to run and scream in terror; because fear is part of adventure. What follows after, is an epic feeling of accomplishment, reward and fun shared with those that assisted you – or alternatively a feeling of shame and embarrassment over being such a chicken. It is those moments we remember in MMOs, not the easy kills, not the fast loot: what we remember is the really tough times.
I remember how my guild beat Vaelastraz after weeks and weeks of wiping in BWL, and the tremendous relief we felt to have overcome this obstacle together. I remember being scared shitless trying to cross duskwood as a lowbie, waiting for my party to escort me. I remember endless hours and corpseruns in Stratholme, BRD and UBRS because those instances were actually hard for any group. I remember grinding my way to exalted with goddamn Silithus, which is quite possibly the worst thing I ever did in this game (I have still not quite recovered), but I DID IT!
It is the times of our worst struggles and the feeling of achievement in overcoming them as a group of heroes set in a fantastic and scary world that make our best memories in an MMO. I want more “MMO-RPG” and less fast food, please. I want times to be tough and adventures to be epic!
I want memories that last.