An outsider’s view on WoW Classic


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.

SynCaine writes:

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.

Bhagpuss notes:

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.

Nabbed this from Bhagpuss. I hope you don’t mind, mate

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.

6 Replies to “An outsider’s view on WoW Classic”

  1. My thought. Long before there were streamers, there were bloggers, notable class sites, top level theory crafters, notable people that posted on the forums, and even back then those that played at the highest levels.
    When WoW took off like a bat outta hell, and never looked back there certainly had to be a panic moment of holy cow, what are we going to do next. So they continued the story and may have tweaked things a little. We need to give players goals, something to work towards. I recall looking over old archived topics from BC Beta, where people were complaining that Blizzard was catering to casuals. By the time Wrath was in full swing and more and more everyday gamers were discovering Warcraft, many because they saw it on South Park, the game started losing those hard core players. Exit surveys probably have reasons like the game has gotten too easy, welfare epics for everyone, gear and rewards should have meaning and be hard to get. So they started focusing on how to keep the best players subscribed. It the game has the best players in the world, everyone will want to play. But more left, those that wanted even tougher, and those that thought it was getting too tough. 13 years of listening to those at the top levels dictating why the game was failing, when they should have just randomly picked people out in the world to talk to about why they loved the game.
    It’s easy to look at an exit survey to see why someone quit. What’s harder is looking at what is there that people stay for. Maybe they will figure it out in Classic, maybe they won’t. I really hope they do.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Re the screenshot – you’re welcome! It’s not like I drew it…

    In my opinion, EverQuest was a sandpark but one with a lot more sand than rides, Vanilla (based on what I see in Classic) was a sandpark that quickly became a sandpark-lite, then a full-on theme park with next to no sand at all. Most of the WoW clones thatt followed were full-on Theme Parks from the beginning, only they didn’t have all that much in the way of rides.

    Around the time WoW was blowing up, with the South Park episode and all, I remember hearing a ten-minute piece on a BBC Radio 4 current affairs show where the interviewer talked very sensibly and unsenstaionally to a couple in their 60s who played WoW. Sounding like anyone’s parents or even grandparents, the two well-spoken, educated, middle-class, late-middle-aged adults explained what they did in game (levelled, crafted, chatted to people they knew), making the whole thing sound as natural and normal as an evening at the pub or a barbecue at a friend’s house.

    I was struck at the time by just how ordinary their experiences were. I’d been playing that way for years in MMORPGs but I hadn’t yet played WoW. It reminded me strongly of a number of reports I’d read about Star Wars Galaxies, where many people famously spent their time decorating, dancing and hanging out in space bars chatting.

    The impression I had then and have now is that in most really successful MMORPGs back then (c. 2000 – 2008) the majority of people weren’t raiding or even doing difficult group content. Most of them were pottering around, leveling their characters, finding nice clothes to dress them in, decorating their houses if their game had housing and generally amusing themselves in a largely gamer fashion.

    I also always thought, and still do , that there’s a huge interface between people who do crafts in real life and people who craft in MMORPGs. A lot of people just like making stuff, even if it’s imaginary. And of course, as we all know, the MMOs of those days were the nearest many people had to social media. It was where you met your friends and hung out.

    All of that, it seems to me, was far more important to the break-out success of WoW and the de-nicheing (that’s not a word!) of the genre. Unfortunately, most games designers aren’t like that at all. Most of them are hardcore gamers and to them everything looks like a video game.

    WoW was successful, among other reasons, because it appealed so successfully to people who didn’t like video games, or at least thought they didn’t until they tried WoW. The way the game designers, at Blizzard and elsewhere interpreted the success of WoW and tried to build on it had the opposit effect of what they intended because they didn’t understand what it was they were seeing.

    Some of those designers are older now and there’s more diversity in the gamij gindustry than there was 15-20 years ago. Some devs don’t even have beards! Players are older too and seem more articulate in expressing what it is that they want. Perhaps something of lasting value will come out of all this. I’m optimistic.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. It’s interesting because I think the thing that captured me at the time (I have played about an hour of the 2019 Classic) was that the path to endgame was a long journey that seemed to get better as it went, but most of the people I played with and knew who were playing were focused on endgame. Of the time I spent in vanilla, a majority was on the raiding game – I raided for nearly a full year of vanilla for 24 hours a week! I know compared to now that the raids in vanilla were simple, but I think the scale of everything felt huge and epic for it. Dungeons took a few hours, I was spending 24 hours a week raiding with 40 people, all of this felt new and large, very unusual for me from a largely single-player gaming background.

    I wasn’t an MMO player before that and it took a long time for me to find another MMO I would play longer than 20 hours before burning out. I do think the sense of the world matters a lot and helps, but I’ve struggled with identifying what it was about vanilla that worked for me and why I’m not so eager to jump in with both feet in 2019. I’ll probably draw that into a standalone post instead of bombing your comments 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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