WoW Classic has been live for just shy of two weeks now and a couple of our friends, this corner of the blogosphere and pretty much the MMORPG community as a whole are all abuzz with excitement and joy.
About a year ago I talked about my reasons for never having played the game. I still haven’t played it, and I’m not going to. Nevertheless I’m really happy about what I’m hearing and reading right now because it gives me some hope – just a teeny, tiny bit, but that’s better than nothing – that the gaming industry might take notice and learn one or two lessons from it.
Here are some examples of what folks have to say about their experiences up to now.
It’s obviously very early, but playing just felt right. […] there is a sense that all of this content was created with a passion, and that passion shows in all of the little details that bring the zone together. […]
Classic being enjoyable, for me at least, isn’t just about the nostalgia, its mostly about the fact that Vanilla WoW was a really fun MMO to play.
I’m not claiming it’s intrinsically “better” than either WoW Retail or any other game in the genre. I am saying that it has a coherency and throughline of design that later development, both for WoW and most of its progeny, has lost. And that’s a big part of why I’m playing it and enjoying it when I wasn’t expecting to find all that much to hold my attention.
Syp has an example of good design that has been scrapped from the game later on, namely talent trees (I wholeheartedly second his stance on this, by the way):
Mapping out your character’s growth is one of the most fulfilling parts of RPGs (at least for me), and this system provides a visible means for those plans. We’re given lots of choices. We’re given the opportunity to differentiate ourselves from others. We can specialize or hybrid ourselves as much as we like.
Pretty much everyone agrees that playing Classic feels by orders of magnitude more like being part of a living, breathing world than any later version of the game or any of the countless wannabe-WoW-killers that came after it. Some even say it’s actually not a full-on themepark, but rather a sandpark (i.e. a themepark with a lot of sandbox elements, or vice versa). This really surprised me, and I find it extremely ironic considering that a great many people, myself included, were under the impression that WoW always was the mother of all themeparks and the main culprit for the major shift in game design we saw following its huge success.
Which makes me wonder if game designers at that time, including the development-staff of WoW themselves, had a hard look at that success and drew the completely wrong conclusions about why people actually liked this game so much.
It seems like a fair assumption, because whenever people aren’t talking about the experience as a whole and instead describe what they’re actually doing in the game, they tell stories about how they need to be on their toes to not pull unwanted adds, how they are scrapping together the few silver they have for their new skills, how satisfactory it is to make their own 6-slot bags or find a grey yet good piece of gear, how they embark on long and dangerous journeys, or how they just watch some NPCs doing their thing for a while.
You know what nobody is talking about? How they need to get to revered with faction x. How they need to do their dailies. How they got a new piece of gear that they need to equip because of its gearscore, but that actually makes their character worse to play because it rolled the wrong titanforge stats (or whatever).
These are things I’ve read all the time when folks talked about BfA. Incidentally these are also things that almost every MMORPG that came after WoW has in one form or another.
Now, I’m not saying these are inherently bad. Some people really like doing their dailies, others can’t have enough factions to raise their standing with. But I think that even those players wouldn’t argue that any of that feels like having an adventure or like living in a virtual world. MMORPGs can have these features, maybe they even need them to an extent, but they are not what makes these games great.
Don’t give us chores, give us what it says on the box: Massively Multiplayer Online RolePlaying Games!
Of course it’s a bit early to call WoW Classic a huge success, but should it in fact become one this is the lesson that I really hope some people in the industry will learn from it.