From MMOGs to POGs

You remember Alf, don't you? Well, he's back. In POG form. Alf Online, coming in Spring 2012.

Scarybooster had a post up last week that I’m in total agreement with. In it, he talks about why he’s finally decided to leave WoW. Another veteran player leaving the game wouldn’t necessarily warrant its own post but the points Scary raises are worth talking about. I took note of it not because it criticizes the game, or speaks to the over active-doom sensor all grizzled vets seem to have. I took note of it because of its heartfelt honesty. It is the honesty of a generation of WoW player’s being replaced.

I’m not talking the pre-beta crowd, either. You and I, those of us that played and liked TBC and games like it, those of us who embrace what MMOs are uniquely suited for – virtual worlds; all the good parts of single player RPGs with the interactivity of thousands of other players – are increasingly shuttling down a bullet-pointed list of demographic audiences. For better or worse, WoW is not our father’s MMO and never will be again.

So, let’s talk about the LFD tool. In his post, Scary says that it removes any kind of social responsibility PUG players might have had. It forces you to socialize in ways that not everyone enjoys or is even comfortable with, which is why this whole “alone in a crowd of people” mentality dominated the late-stage Wrath game.

I would take it a step further. It not only removes it, it encourages selfishness far more than 2 hour waits for healers and tanks ever did. You will very likely never run into the same person twice. This time next year, you’ll probably have only grouped with someone on your realm a handful of times. Why should anyone put up the effort beyond what it takes to get their drop? (Though, as Stabs notes, perhaps people are more careful to be competent so to avoid the harsh criticisms that often come in PUGs). The penalty for poor behavior also died with the LFD tool. Where is that two hour wait? Where is the accountability of someone actually REMEMBERING you? It’s been replaced with a 30 minute debuff. It’s not enough.

The social deficits he talks about don’t stop there. He says a new player could level to 85 without mute, even when running dungeons. He says the only form of communication which lasts is Trade Channel insults. Let’s be honest, though. You take public chat from 3 years ago and compare it to today, and you’d see just how far down the tubes we’ve really gone. The silly debates of yesteryear have been replaced with linking talents to the word “anal.” Back then, I might have let my kids play WoW. Not now. Not ever. Public conversation is no better than a boy’s locker room.

Then there’s the “little things” Cataclysm brought. Simplified tooltips. Simplified talent trees. Simplified questing. Simplified buff frames. Scary says it’s lowered the difficulty, made it “duuuuuuh” worthy, and that this will be what convinces people to leave.

I see that. It’s unavoidable, which makes me think that Blizzard might have a different idea for where they want WoW to go in the long term.

My thought is this: As Blizzard embraces the mechanics of solo-friendly play and “accessible content,” I think what they’re really saying is that no one really wants “that kind” of MMO anymore. Everything they’ve done says that people want an online game, not an online world, and one in which it’s multiplayer on-demand. One in which performance isn’t dictated by experience or knowledge, but by basic skill chaining — and when the button lights up, make sure to hit it.

That type of design has more in common with where I thought consoles would end up. I mean, consoles started single-player and are branching into the online space only in the last few years. MMOs have always been there, always embraced it and encouraged their players towards learned and skillful play. It seems like a step backwards, doesn’t it? Why move away from the dynamic online that brought us there in the first place? The answer, I think, is games like Call of Duty and Halo. It’s the huge selling power of annual titles where players can literally turn off and go into “instinct mode.”

For as much fun as WoW is, it isn’t and probably will never do anything to push MMOs as a genre forward again. Instead, they’re pushing it closer to an evolution consoles were supposed to hit. That’s not advancement or embracing what this kind of this genre does best. That’s going with what most “gamers” find fun and that’s deceptive thinking. There is definite overlap between the MMO-game and Gamer-gamer crowds, to be sure. Yet, who goes into an MMO wanting or expecting, the same things they get from their Xbox? It’s a movement sure to please some and alienate others.

My question is this: While WoW expands and turns more people into MMO players, when do we existing players start to fade into obscurity? As they come in, spending more than we’d ever be able to, trying and leaving games that don’t offer exactly what WoW offers, when do our voices diminish into a minority not worth listening to? Could it already be happening?

I think the future of MMOs, even WoW style MMOs, isn’t in huge big-budget titles. These games have investors to please who want WoW numbers with WoW longevity. The advancements in a genre suited to please its most dedicated denizens will come from the niche and the indie.

The advancements will come when designers have a vision they don’t water down because Groups A, B, and C demand equal merit. They’ll come when the market realizes MMORPGs and Persistent Online Games are two separate and but equal fields, each with a latent potential just waiting to be exploited. WoW is simply spearheading the path to POGs before that realization has taken place. The result is utter confusion on who to design for and what to seek in any one game.

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  1. New MMO vs. Old MMO « Sighfigh's Gaming Blog

    […] Chris over at Game By Night recently posted his opinions on how WoW has chaned and the demographic it is now aimed at.  There are many good points in his post and you should really go check it out. […]

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