Imitation and flattery: what WoW has taken from WAR Wednesday, Sep 9 2009 

WoW’s Borg strategy
This is not an exercise in WoW bashing.

How to build an MMO? Take the best bits from others...

Successful strategies often rely on studying the ideas and technology of your competitors, then making them your own...

I play WoW and I the game.

I think it offers a great MMO experience. Heck, I’ve just starting leading a ten man Naxx group, which indicates my commitment to WoW. But having sampled other MMOs I can’t but smile when I see features of other games slowly find their way into WoW. Ever since WAR launched I’ve seen a number of it’s features become standard features of WoW.

But it’s no secret that Blizzard is somewhat Borg like (check ultra nerd reference there guys). They’re the biggest, baddest dudes on the block and grow by absorbing the technology of their enemies. They take the raw ideas of others and polish them.

Bit-by-bit WAR features are being assimilated.

WAR fell short, but it’s failure offers valuable lessons
I suggested in one of my previous articles that WAR relied on a strategy of innovating many of the features common to MMOs. However in doing so they diluted their efforts. WAR is one of the great “could’ a been” MMOs. It reached for greatness, but just fell short. It’s the Icarus of MMOs. It’s a game with beautiful artwork, interesting classes and a rich lore supporting it.

But with it the developers tried to do too much. However, other MMO developers have noticed some of the interesting features and have started to adopt them.

WAR may have suffered from not capitalising on it’s first mover advantage: it introduced novel concepts to the MMO genre, but failed to capitalise on them. The advantage then moves to the second  mover, who sees a good idea and grabs it. Clearly Blizzard is taking advantage of this position: watching competitors, analysing their success and failures and absorbing them.

Something borrowed, something WoW
So what are some of WARs features being assimilated by the master of polish at Blizzard?

WAR feature 1: instant PvP
One of the great features of WAR was joining a scenario from anywhere in the world. Simply click a button form the user interface (UI) and join a scenario. WoW now offers the very same feature. Perviously who had to find a Battle Master in one of the capital cities to join a Battle Grround (BG). Now, you can join a BG from anywhere in WoW.

WAR feature 2: open world PvP
Surely Wintergrasp (WG) was Blizzard’s counter to the promise of WARs RvR lakes? Both offer zones that each faction battles to control. The zones have strategic control points (keeps in WAR, workshops in WoW). You get rewards for controlling the zone. The battles are essentially the same experience: zerg v zerg.

WAR feature 3: WoWs Orcs and new Goblin race will mirror the Greenskins

Ere den? Wats this about gobbos in Azeroth den?

Ere den? Wats this about gobbos in Azeroth den?

Cataclysm will offer two new playable classes: Goblins and Worgen. The question is why are Goblins aligning themselves with the Horde? Why even make them a playable class. Well, the addition of Goblins to the Horde mirrors the Greenskins races of Destruction in Horde. Both are the “bad” side. Both offer Orcs, and now both offer Goblins as a playable race. Really, a Goblin Hunter will be WoW’s equivalent of a Greenskin Squig Herder. A Goblin warlock/mage is a Greenskin Shaman.

We did leave WAR and comes to WoW lads!

We did leave WAR and comes to WoW lads!

WAR feature 4: tracking quest objectives in map
This feature has not yet been implemented (did not make Patch 3.2), but will do so in the near future. WARs maps did this by shading quest areas of objectives in red. This made the entire PvE experience much easier, and was a well liked by players. WoW will add icons and the like on their maps, pointing players exactly where they need to go.

Learning from the enemy is a legitimate strategy
Is there anything wrong with this? Well you can QQ about Blizzard not being original… but we’re talking about fantasy computer games folks. Not great art.

All MMOs can trace their ancestry back to Lord of the Rings and Dungeon’s & Dragons. They all borrow  aspects of lore, gameplay etc. WoW was designed to be an easier version of EverQuest. EverQuest derived it’s inspiration from MuD games, but added a graphical interface. MuDs based themselves on D&D. D&D took it’s inspiration from table top games and Lord of the Rings… and so forth.

In the end adopting WAR features makes WoW a better game. From a customer perspective, I and the millions of other players “win”. Though it does make me a little sad that WAR could not have translated all their great ideas into the worlds #2 MMO.

Advertisements

No more gear treadmill: how WoW morphed into a story book Friday, Sep 4 2009 

Come and see the Lich King, come and see the Lich King, come and see...

Come and see the Lich King, come and see the Lich King, come and see...

WoW is no longer a game centred on raiding for gear. It’s moving to one focussed primarily on telling it’s players a story and letting them have some fun along the way. Heck, they’re giving away gear in instances like Trial of the Champion just so we the necessary gear to experience the final chapter in the “Rise and fall of Arthus” in Patch 3.3.

Gear will always be important, but is becoming a means to an end. Players enter raids not for the gear alone, but to experience the content. Gear is still an important incentive, but more as a means to experience the next chapter in the story.

That next chapter will be revealed in Patch 3.3 and the Icecrown instance.

Experiencing the fight against Arthus is an incentive for millions of WoW players, and Blizzard is doing it’s best to make sure most of them have the chance. Patch 3.3 will not be Sunwell Plateau which only a tiny fraction of the players saw and regarded as beyond the reach of most casuals. Blizzard prefers to cater to the broad player base, not the tiny elite.

Blizzard has deliberately changed  it’s approach to “raiding”. Right now they are tyring to herd as many of us into the fight against Arthus.

The end of gear grind?

Gear is what used to be the most visible sign of elite status in WoW. Being fully decked out in a tiered set, the result of hours and hours of raiding helped signify your l33t-hardcore status. But it also lead to the dreaded gear treadmill: raiding to get gear so as to raid even more.

A few recent comments made by some of my favourite bloggers have picked up on the subtle shift going on in WoW. Perhaps the gear treadmill that was seen as so central to WoW is changing.  As Player vs. Developer notes:

Each of my old items has a story, something that I did to obtain it. Almost all of those stories were more involved than “walk in door, breeze through instance, loot”. Perhaps I did daily quests for a faction every day for two weeks, or ran an instance a bunch of times, or collected and redeemed 60 emblems from 25-man content. Before 5-man TOC, I cannot recall a situation in WoW where the loot tables actually offer major upgrades for players who out gear the instance.

Gear is easy to obtain. It’s now longer a true indicator of l33t status.

Why then raid?

Without the loot incentive what will drive players?

Keen of Keen and Graev’s blog is onto the right idea:

Getting gear is easier than ever. Is that a bad thing? In my opinion it’s a good thing. I don’t want to get into a discussion, or encourage any of you to either, about the details of WoW and whether they’re good or bad for the players or even the industry, but I do feel it’s a good thing overall when people can obtain gear while experiencing the content at a comfortable pace.

The new 5 man ToC and emblem changes has radically changed the idea of gear in WoW. Getting gear is no longer the preserve of a tiny elite you raid 4-5 nights a week. Yay for the “casuals”!

But why raid at all if you can simply get gear from a few heroics? So what is driving us?

Having fun and being entertained along the way.

Lots of getting gear along the way is nice. In this way the concept of gear becomes devalued. Still important, but not as important as it once once is WoW.

Keen notes how WoW feels like a theme park (raids and instances are fun rides), and that every player is now a raider.

The is the exact issue my Naxx team is confronted with: if gear is so easy to obtain, why are we running Naxx? For the fun of it. We run two nights a week and have a blast. Each week we get better, our DPS perform better, our tanks get better at holding aggro and the bosses are frequently one-shotted.

We complete Naxx quarters at a faster pace and should be able to fully clear over two nights in few weeks time. The main thing is we’re enjoying the ride. The pressure to get “the epics” in order to display our elite status is of lesser concern. We want to achieve something as a group.

That we enjoy the raiding experience along the way is exactly what Blizzard intends. Fun takes precedence over obtaining “phat lewt”.

Raids are now chapters: emphasis on Arthus story line and not the epics

Central to the current WoW expansion is the story of Arthus. Through phasing, quests and content such as the Argent Tournament nearly every player is getting to know the Lich King is a bad dude and must be defeated.

Why are we so excited about Patch 3.3?

Because its the patch with the Arthus fight! It’s the final chapter in the Arthus story.

It’s important to WoW lore and Blizzard are giving players the gear to get into this boss fight via ToC and emblem changes. They want as many of us to see the content.

WoW is just not a theme park: it’s a story book.

Lich King is the anti-Burning Crusade

In BC, who really cared about facing off Illiadin?

Not too many casuals for sure. I’d predict only a tiny portion of the player base stepped into Black Temple. Raiding and endgame content where the preserve of a small elite. Barely anyone saw Sunwell. Not everyone got into Kara.The line between raiders and casuals was very sharp.

Infact, my guild at the time chose NOT to raid, because of the percieved pressure this would put on players and the guild. Raiding as it stood was a disencentive to many players, including me. So Blizzard have changed this for the millions of casual players.

Lich King’s raiding philosophy is the complete antihesis of raiding in BC. Now, we can all get epics. We can all run the dungeons. We can all step into Naxx. Raids are becoming more like chapters in the WoW story, not places to farm epic loot for more raiding.

So perahps it really is the end of raiding as we once knew it. “Gearing up” will still be an important concern, but it won’t be the same raiding or faction reputation grind.

Gear will be what is should be: a means to an end (i.e. boosting your stats to an appropriate level). Gear is no longer an end unto itself. There will still be a significant number of players – those achievement orientated ones – who will chase the gear as a sign of l33t status. But the good news for the majority of players is how Blizzard is shaping the endgame so that they can all experience it.

Yes, we can all get along: Blizzard has been teaching us to raid and PuG

Lich King made PuGs viable for both running heroics and raiding. No one really dreads PuGs that much anymore. Says another commentator on the blog Commen Sense Gamer:

I’ve gone through about 4-5 PUGs in WoW for various dungeons and the people that I’ve grouped with have not only been courteous, but helpful…and dear gawd…considerate, of their fellow players. What happened? When I went into WoW a couple weeks ago and started to get those dungeon quests, I shuttered at the fact that I would eventually have to hit that LFG button and brave the WoW PUG.

Seriously now…heh. Each of these PUGs have been…a pleasure…to be a part of. Everyone knew their roles and we just flew through every encounter like we’ve been playing together for years. Amazing and I thank those anonymous players for the great experiences to those dungeons. Model players…every one of them, and clearly the silent majority.

The introduction of an instance like Vault of Archavon pointed the way to the new style of PuG Blizzard wanted. VoA opens up to the faction that winds Wintergrasp. Unless you go in with your guild mates, mostly you PuG this instance. My first 25 man experience was as VoA PuG. I did it because it was an option. Yep little old casual me PuG’ed a VoA 25 man. Easy as.

It was a good experiment by Blizzard – giving so many players the oppurtunity to experience large raids thrown together in a few minutes. I think it taught many players the value of working together with other players.

Many nights our Naxx team can’t run without PuGs. In nearly every instance the PuGs have been excellent. Some our now members of our guild.

Trial of the Champion (ToC) is doing the same. A short 15 minute instance with good rewards is driving players to group.

Blizzard is doing some great social engineering here.

The new style of dungeons and raiding has allowed millions of casual players to learn how to raid. The ease of getting gear and accessible raiding content makes the formation of PuGs that much easier: you can be certain your pick up members will have some gear and experience.

The end game is not being dumbed down: it’s being made more accessible. And the point of being more accessible? So we can all experience the story of Arthus.

Be there for the fall of Arthus

Blizzard is presently herding everyone into Patch 3.3 as this expansions crowning glory.

Whether it be in 5, 10 or 25 man versions of the Icecrown instances (and in different flavours of easy, hard and heroic versions) we will all see the same content and the same story unfold.

Hardcore raiders who love their 25 man raids will have contnet and gear rewards. The casual wil be satisified, because they’ve been there too, whether it be the smaller 5 man instances or 10 man versions of the raid. Again, why these changes?

More and more WoW is about telling us, the players, a story. But we’re also actors in the story. We get to play the parts of the hero involved in these epic conflicts. This is interactive entertainment.

For most WoW players, that’s a good thing.

Cataclysmic Monday, Aug 24 2009 

Arooooo! Roooo! (thats wolf for "New WoW Race")

Arooooo! Roooo! (thats wolf for "New WoW Race")

So, the web and the blogs are awash with news about the WoW expansion.

My reaction?

Worgens baby! Worgens!

Apart from the chance to play a “werewolf “, what impresses me most about the upcoming expansion is how it deepens and broadens the existing game. This isn’t another ten levels with unattainable endgame content (10/25 raids or PvP arenas).

It revamps of the old world (i.e. content from Vanilla WoW, pre-expansions), allowing the developers to go back and rework zones and quests using the technology and lessions they’ve learn’t over the past five years.

Players who have left WoW are bound to return. Existing players have more to do. New players will have have more options. Casual players who reach level cap, and who don’t raid/PVP, will have something to do.

The cynic may say it simply recycles existing content. In my mind it brings the old world back to life. There’s a reason to be in the old world, it’s not simply a place to level your character through as quickly as possible.

More importantly it changes the world. Old zones will be revamped, goblins go from being a neutral faction to allying with the Horde, the Worgen is unleashed…

Change is coming to WoW. Can that be a bad thing? Nah.

What else caught me eye?

Guilds will have levels! Guild levels will become the new way to judge your success as a player. Being part of a high level raiding guild will have more meaning, as it get to show off your uber-leetness to all and sundry. WAR had this, and it gave your guild tangible rewards. Sure, Blizzard is adopting the innovations of it’s competitors. So what? If it makes WoW a better game,  then it can only benefit the player.

Dead Mines is back baby! Looks like DM is going to be dusted off and spruced up as a Heroic Dungeon. I like! One of the best instances is going to have life breathed back into. Expect trade chat to be filled with the following:

“LFG H DM”

/awesome.

New artwork – both the concept art and walk throughs – we’ve seen is up the usual WoW standards: brillliant. Gilneas looks like an amazing zone already.

We need content, not another hero class

Not much QQ for me so far… though there has been some talk about how another hero class was not added.

Personally, I’m pleased another hero class didn’t go into the game. Why? Who was not frustrated with the endless round of nerfs/buffs/talent point resets made for the sake of class balance.

No doubt the addition of a new class created a lot of work for the developers. Adding races that utilise existing classes is simpler to implement.

Don’t get me wrong, I have a DK and enjoy playing them. But I’d rather have more zones, content and instances. Seriously, who want’s to run another character through 85 levels of the same content?

Roll on Cataclysm!

The attraction of entering an online world is immersion. Cataclysm look’s set to give old, existing and new players lots more to enjoy. So, let’s hope Blizz meets it’s 2010 launch date.