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.

Why I’ve never played World of Warcraft

I’ve played a lot of MMORPGs over the years. Some became my virtual home for long stretches of time, others…didn’t. That’s just the way things go. Yet I’ve never even tried out this juggernaut of the industry, the one MMO basically everyone and their grandma have played.

WoW Grandma
Quite literally…

I do not think that it’s a bad game. On the contrary, I’m sure it’s a highly polished experience that plays very well and is lots of fun. You know, like pretty much every game Blizzard have ever made.

So why not play it?

One reason is timing. WoW and Everquest II were released within a month (on November 23rd and November 8th 2004, respectively), and a friend of mine had convinced me to play Everquest II, which turned out to be, for me, one of the greatest MMORPGs ever and would become my main MMO for about seven years (with breaks in between).

Another reason is that the Warcraft-franchise doesn’t interest me at all lorewise. While I quite like many places’ names – Alterac, Lordaeron, Khaz Modan all sound pretty badass to me – I didn’t care for any of the races and characters in Warcraft II and III. I didn’t have the slightest emotional connection to their stories and fates. Which is strange because with Starcraft it’s the polar opposite.

The by far biggest reason though is…let’s call it defiance on my part. I don’t like what Blizzard has done (or not done) with the game during these almost 14 years, and I don’t want to give them my support. Simple as that.

I know this might be rather difficult to comprehend for big fans of the game, but I can only shake my head in sadness when I think about what they could have done with this behemoth but didn’t, or what they shouldn’t have done but did anyway.

I mean, they made pretty much all the money with their smash hit of a game. And how much of that went back into expanding and improving it? 20%? 10%? Even less? Of course I don’t actually know. But when I compare some numbers (6, soon 7 expansions to EQII’s 14, soon 15) or features (no player housing to EQII’s, which is as good as they come; 13 races and 11 classes to EQII’s 20 races and 26 classes…), I can’t help but be underwhelmed by WoW’s content- and gameplay-options.

I have to admit that it’s a bit unfair to compare any other game to Everquest II because the crew behind that game has pumped out boatloads of content from day one and didn’t ever slow down. I’ve got no idea how they did it with the comparably low funds they must have had during all that time.

On the other hand, why not hold all game developers to the highest of standards? Especially when they make so much money with their game?

I also don’t like that every expansion seems to drastically tinker with classes, gear, zones, pretty much everything. I’m a creature of habit, and while I’m of course fine with a class I play getting more options or just becoming stronger, I can’t stand a character I’ve played for dozens or hundreds of hours and whose playstyle I really like being completely turned on it’s head. I mean, if I didn’t like the playstyle just the way it was I wouldn’t have spent so many hours playing it, would I?

Finally, there’s Blizzard’s arrogance that rubs me the wrong way. The you think you do, but you don’t-speech by WoW’s executive producer when asked by a fan about classic servers is infamous by now, and rightly so. While I don’t think that he’s completely wrong with that assessment when applied to the majority of the playerbase, it’s still incredibly arrogant and condescending to say something like that right to a player’s (and now probably ex-fan’s) face. Just now pretty much everybody is up in arms about the recent story events, and Blizzard’s reaction is, again, the political correct version of we know, you don’t, stfu already.

The gist of statements like that (and most of my other complaints as well I guess) is this: they can pretty much do whatever the hell they want with this game and still make a fortune, and they know it damn well.

It’s their game, of course they can do whatever they want with it, right? Yeah, sure. Meanwhile I’ll do whatever I want with my own time and money, which is to give them to someone else.