How Now, Yon WoW?

Ombwah's picture

Apparently David Sirlin, a Producer/Designer in the industry, has penned a Soapbox article over at Gama. I was so taken with his rant that I had to echo a hearty "amen!" to his sentiment and even reprint some quotes here for you folks to hearken to.

The actual article is here, but some of my favorite little bites follow:

Sirlin writes that his competitive gaming community has a consensus on the following 'rules' of 'fair gaming':


A fair game does not give material advantages to one player over the other

A fair game gives each player equal opportunity to bring whatever legal materials he wants to the table

It's ok (and the entire point!) to bring to the game a) more knowledge than your opponent about the nuances of the game, and b) more skill than your opponent.

Time invested should count for nothing in a fair game. It might take me 1 hour to learn a few nuances and gain a certain level of skill and you 1000 hours. The hours don't matter; only the knowledge and skill matter.

I'll say it again: winning is a meritocracy. "

I want to bold that last a few times...
winning is a meritocracy
no, really
winning is a meritocracy
!

I like what he says about time investment too, and of course I have heard the American Achiever Argument that subscription cost paid should == more power and influence, but to date there hasn't been a real logical or compelling reason supplied beyond, "Well, I've paid more..." and what does that mean in a game environment? You aren't paying for status, power or in world priviledge folks, you're paying for the right to go to the club/world wherein we all may game. Nuff said.

Sirlin goes on to write out a list of things he feels that a particular MMO teaches to the players within that world. Teaches by incentive, to be fair. The dev's may not agree with the intent of thier systems, but incentive teaches players, and fanboys and devotees will dictate the direction of the following titles (barring a blessed backlash) and while Sirlin tackles one particular world, I think he is right in fearing that this is paradigmatic and can affect the scheme of MMO's to come.

Here's just his list, go read the whole thing for his comments:

The new paradigm in MMO's seems to be (according to David Sirlin)


"1. Investing a lot of time in something is worth more than actual skill.

2. Time > skill is so fundamentally bad, that I'm still going to go on about it even though I started a new number."

3. Group > Solo

4. Group > Solo. I'm not done with this yet.

5. Guilds

6. The Terms of Service. The very idea of using the terms of service as the de facto way to enforce a certain player-behavior goes against everything I've learned."

Can you tell why I like this guy yet? This is Mr. Sirlin's idea of the new paradigm in MMOing, and I have to admit nodding like a bobblehead as I read through his Soapbox article. Give it a read over, I'd love to discuss the implications.

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Snipehunter's picture

Hmmm...

Quotes Raph... Hates WoW... thinks solo'ing is valid and should be encouraged... This guy has some issues to resolve.

Some would say it's sad, but I share a lot of the same issues. I'm not a huge fan of Raph by any measure, but the type of game the Post-WoW gen of MMOs is shaping up to be is a little troublesome to me, as a player.

Truth be told, as a designer I sort of welcome it: If so vast a change in expectation of what an MMO actually is can be achieved with the release of a single game, there's hope to cultivate a broad base of players, yet. More players means more exposure, more support for your projects, perhaps even more chances for diversity as the comparative size of "niches" increases with the overall increase in players. All of this is good.

But does it really matter? As a player I find myself making excuses to not play WoW. It's not that it's a bad game, I guffaw at anyone that says so, but instead it's that WoW is a game that doesn't seem to provide what I'm specifically looking for. I think that's because I expect more world and less game from my MMOs.

Even that's not entirely accurate, though. I love the way questing works in WoW. Sure, it's simple compared to my days playing and running D&D campaigns, but even so they're fun and can be completed relatively quickly, which meets my schedule demands. So, I guess what I'm saying is that WoW is a great game, but a thin world. WoW lacks the real joy of exploration that I used to get in say, UO and it also lacks the wonder of lore discovery that EQ2 provides. (EQ 1 was the second worst MMO I ever played, we will speak no more of it)

Anyway, to rein in the ramblings: I think this "new paradigm" isn't bad, it's just limited. It's like it's only 1 dimension of a much larger paradigm. I think that falling into this definition and accepting it as whole, instead of looking to fill it out and discover what this new MMO can really be, is the real crime that WoW, and many of the MMOs competing with it today, are guilty of.

We can debate the morals of paying players for loyalty (time, and therefore money, invested) all we want. The reality is that it keeps subscribers so it's not going away any time soon. What I'd rather focus on is how to make great worlds in spite of them, or better yet, how to leverage them in order to create more interesting and rich worlds than we could before.

For example, his description of what guilds are, and how they affect the community, parallels the impact of actual guilds in our own real history. Guilds don't have nearly the same power they once did today, so it might be interesting to find a way to incorporate the social impact of guilds into the game as a way to promote new posititive play. I dunno, something. soap boxes never changed the [virtual] world, so I'd rather discuss ways to make the change back to "these are worlds you pay to experiece" instead of complaining about the new "subscribe to power" model. Eye-wink

- Snipehunter

Ombwah's picture

To be succinct,

I'm very sure that you can accomodate the mainstream in immediately apparent complexity (or lack thereof); Build polished, useful and configurable UI, and supply all of the features of a 'new paradigm' MMOG without removing the elements that hardcores and old MUDders want to see.

Somehow in the quest for a mainstream sort of acceptance, we have decided to cut features rather than refine them, and while it is extra work for content and design, I think that the next 'really great' MMOs should incorporate wider, more diverse feature sets. These experiences would include the ideas about ease of use and 'bite-sized' content that have driven the shift in paradigm noted in previous posts, but could accomodate the depth of potential world interaction and breadth of game experience that I (and I'm sure others as well) are looking for, all at the discretion of the player.

I think it is very important that features enhance the depth of lore and world discovery and the potential for PvP/RvR conflict. That reactive world changing systems, stock markets, territory disputes, housing, elements that enhance RP and elements that allow for market metagaming, crafting, gambling and elements that both encourage and reward player interaction are all beneficial additions to your game-world. However, I think that the key is to implement these world development systems without making them a necessary and forgone choice for the core character progression, just potential options, then to introduce these options on a progressive timeline that is scalable by the player. This way a newbie player is eased into the world and held at their own comfort level, but when they look for a deeper experience, it is there and has always been. I believe your world can only benefit from maintaining some mysteries to the player base.

It's like the spectrum between CoH and Eve, the City Of games are a blast for a few minutes, but too soon I hit the edges of a regrettably small sandbox. Eve had mystery and depth in the apparently huge world and intricate market, but all that dry stuff was too much to want to deal with as a brand new player, all I wanted to do was rocket about in the beauty and majesty of space and blast some fools with a fatty laser.

Had I played some City of Eve type experience where I started as Joe Heroic the space guy, had a smooth and easy intro that resulted in fast introduction to the immediate fun (blasting fools, fatty laser) but had that huge, dry mercantile world to explore when blasting fools got old (and it does, it really does). Then maybe I would have found an example of that next 'really great' MMO I was talking about. Something that takes the depth of living world that the real hardcores want, but allows the mainstream player a full experience first and foremost. Why can we not create a space where each player type has a place and can find their fun gameplay?

It seems a tragedy to sacrifice potential gameplay experiences in an attempt to make other, unrelated pieces of gameplay easier to understand.

This philosophy ties in directly with my feelings (and, apparently, of Dave Sirlin's Camp as well) on earning player power for subscription in that this broader suggested world creation style automatically rewards experience with useful world knowledge and with greater opportunity to have curried favors and accesses from such a broad world's many competing and parallel forces.

Likewise a broad and diverse potential for world interaction lessens the negatively perceived impact guilds can have on a world, as nothing short of a truly massive co-op could completely corrupt a well designed, deep, trade/craft/mercantile system.

(I'll bet we could have a whole thread alone on the impact of guilds and guild law in the real world and the parallels on-line! But I digress...)

Titles, properies, conveyances, house items, and other fun tricks are the way to go for loyalty bonuses in my opinion. They convey intangible status, which I think is exactly the point. They say, "Hey punk, respect my much lengthier... experience." Without granting anyone some special unbalancing strength based on longevity of subscription rather than based on real merit of accomplishment.

Ah, that's almost a blog all in one comment, eh? See? Succinct!