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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. Genda

    Just for reference, Scary was never really a WoW player. He was guilded with us for a long time, and it was rare to see him on. He would disappear for months at a time, and when he did appear it was for short bursts.

    Not taking a shot at him, just saying that him “quitting WoW” doesn’t hold the same punch as if it were Tobold or some of the more WoW-related bloggers. It’s not something he was that invested in anyway is all I’m saying…
    Genda recently posted..Vanguard Crafters is Closed

  2. Scarybooster

    Yes I am a casual player because of my family, but I did play for 6 years. Off and on, but I had over 20 toons on several servers and my highest toon clocked in over 100 days /played. During vanilla and TBC I was very active. After my divorce, my priorities changed. Yes the time in the last few years have been off and on, but I do consider myself a WoW vet.
    Scarybooster recently posted..Audioboo

  3. Genda

    That’s kind of what I’m saying, you haven’t been active in years.
    Genda recently posted..Vanguard Crafters is Closed

    1. Chris "Syeric" Coke

      In fairness, this response isn’t really about Scary’s personal history so much as how his points resonated with me.

    2. Scarybooster

      What is active tho? Since WotLK I’ve raided all the way to ICC and Cataclysm I made 4 new toons and my highest one was 70 before I got fed up. In my post I did say I can not vouch for the 80-85 range, but anything before that I can. My perspective, I played enough. Probably 15-20 hours a week since WoLK and more before that. I did take 3 months off 3 times in that time frame. I don’t understand how that does not make me WoW player? I’m not sure what the quota is. I’m just wondering. It is not against you Genda, as you know, I have a very high respect for you. I just don’t understand the “Scary was never really a WoW player” part. WoW has been my main game for 6 years. No other has been even close.
      Scarybooster recently posted..Audioboo

  4. Scopique

    “While WoW expands and turns more people into MMO players, when do we existing players start to fade into obscurity?”

    Really, there hasn’t ever been a straight arrow progression from one genre into obscurity. Adventure gaming, for example, never died; it took a back seat way far away, almost too far to see, but it never went away. It went from being real big time with Kings Quest and others, and then became more…niche. Now it’s back, although not AS big as it used to be, in the revised Sam & Max series, and the re-tooled Secret of Monkey Island.

    “Old School” or “Hardcore” or whatever you want to call them MMOs aren’t going to vanish. There’s a market out there for them, but not as big as it was pre-WoW. You’ll see smaller, more targeted niche titles that may be F2P/Freemium, developed with a smaller group, and without the multi-million dollar budget that we’re still seeing being thrown at the Wall of WoW in an effort to get something to stick in the AAA market.

    I think the key is that MMO gamers who are disenfranchised with the direction of the AAA market are going to need to accept that there isn’t going to be a heavyweight contender that’ll do it for us. The Big Ticket MMO MUST look to the larger casual gamer market in order to feed the beast. We’ll need to accept games with lesser graphics, possibly alien and non-intuitive mechanics and potentally off-beat premises if we want to find something that will satisfy whatever it is that WoWnabies aren’t going to address.
    Scopique recently posted..Back To You- Ted

  5. Elementalistly

    Odd comments Genda

    “Not a WoW player”

    I played WoW for less than one year, and just could not handle it anymore. But, I have played MMO’s non-stop (except for various “breaks”) for close to 10 years. Guild Wars has always been my go to game for the last 5 years. Would I be remiss to make comments about MMO’s or Guild Wars in general because I have not played them “all the time”?

    What makes a WoW player special? And why are Scary’s points not valid, even though as he has said “Since WotLK I’ve raided all the way to ICC and Cataclysm I made 4 new toons and my highest one was 70 before I got fed up”

    Is it the fact that Scary is called a VETERAN meaning “a person who has had long service or experience in a particular occupation or field”. Do you think he is not a vet because he is not raiding right now, or hasn’t raided for hours this past week?

    I ,personally, would think he understands the game enough to make his points valid…
    Elementalistly recently posted..The X-Fire Game- Rifted at the Super Bowl

  6. Genda

    Let me clarify.

    When I say “not a WoW player” what I meant is that I didn’t perceive him as being someone who had been currently playing. Because of that, I saw the “i retire” message as being kind of an “orly?” moment, as in my mind he had kinda been semi retired for a long time. I didn’t realize he had set out and was playing outside of the characters he had in CoW.

    So what I was trying to say was that (again, this was to my knowledge) that his retirement was coming from the perspective of someone who hadn’t been actively playing. I stand corrected.

    I still don’t agree with all the “sky is falling” stuff. Yes, I am sure there are people who are getting burned out after 6 years, but I’m not laying that at Cataclysm’s feet. I see that as more “hey, after this expansion this is still WoW, and I’m kinda burned out on WoW”.

    I remember back in EQ where if you have 100 days played that was a lot. Now it’s not uncommon to meet people that have 2 or 3x that, and that would have to lead to burnout at some point, no matter what direction that game was going.

    Sorry Scary, you know I love you bro. Just misinformed.
    Genda recently posted..Vanguard Crafters is Closed

    1. Chris

      I hope I’m not coming off as “sky is falling” or really even begrudging WoW for the direction they’ve moved in. I still like WoW and login every day. It’s more of an observation for the direction they’re heading in the industry. A lot of what we knew in early WoW has been vastly changed. To me, it seems a movement more towards the Persistent Online Game aspect of things than the Virtual World end. You could argue that it’s always been that way and I wouldn’t disagree. It just seems to become more apparent with each new major coat of paint. It’s evolving further in that direction than I think many people ever thought it would.

      Now, I’m not saying that it’s a bad move for the game. I firmly believe that a lot of players, even the old school Everquesters, no longer have the time to play online games like they used to. A lot of people want the experience in-and-out, no-need-to-crunch-numbers or grind, MMOs give them. I -do- think there’s something to be said for the fact that the main driving force behind the MMO industry, the MMO player’s very voice, in a way, may no longer be that representative of its founding audience.

      I’ll never say WoW is a bad game. Ever. You don’t put 1,000 hours into something because it sucks. That’s why people like Syncaine drive me a little crazy with the trolling. My observations are always rooted in the understanding that I’ve gotten more from this game than I’ve ever, or probably will ever, get from another.

    2. Scarybooster

      It’s cool, I changed over to Horde. I wasn’t trying validate my play time, i feel everybody has a quota as to how much play time is considered knowledgeable in a subject. I did put on my GFs panties and twist, but that is because I enjoy a wedgy from time to time :). As I said before, I know Genda is cool cat and a chest bump on Game by Night is what everybody needs, so this chest bump is for you / bump :)
      Scarybooster recently posted..Audioboo

  7. vin

    i think there won’t be players ‘fading to obscurity’ . . . it’s just a matter of time, players like to taste other genre but they will always look for their first love games
    vin recently posted..angry birds

  8. shemee

    there are players who are ‘loyalistas’ or loyal to their fist game, there might be decrease in gamers but there wont be complete 0

  9. singlelady5

    In fairness, this response isn’t really about Scary’s personal history so much as how his points resonated with me.
    singlelady5 recently posted..free virtual horse games

  10. andreimerk

    Emergence of many games doesn’t mean that players just get out fro what site to the other, they just test the water from the other side. But if they have already love your game, they will really go back.
    andreimerk recently posted..What’s the Best Antivirus to Use?

  11. amazing56

    I still don’t agree with all the “sky is falling” stuff. Yes, I am sure there are people who are getting burned out after 6 years, but I’m not laying that at Cataclysm’s feet. I see that as more “hey, after this expansion this is still WoW, and I’m kinda burned out on WoW”.
    amazing56 recently posted..3d horse games for free

  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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