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November 26, 2006

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bernie

That's not true Alice - technical desperation and financial constraint? It's a content creation problem. Can you imagine creating content for 1 world of 100,000 ppl rather than the same content for 10 worlds of 10,000 people?

The other thing too is from a game designer's perspective, you want the player to feel special, or the possibility of being special or heroic. I'd argue that the more anonymous the player, the more it feels like being a peon in London or NYC. I think smaller worlds, while not the perfect solution, are on the whole better than the
giant world. I think your assertion just isnt well thought out!

Character transfers etc are a low hanging solution to this problem. Of course, it means abandoning your communities.

It frankly isnt a feature that people care about, really.

Vincent

Guild Wars gets around the multiple world problem through use of instancing. It may seem a bit artificial to jump between different versions of the shared instances, but effectively it's just like a real-time character transfer. While one world of 100,000 would be better, free transit between those 10 worlds of 10,000 is technically possible.

Yes, there are design considerations, but WoW is crap when it comes to feeling special or heroic - very, very few things change as a result of player actions and the relatively limited character customising options means it's common to run across your identical twin.

And in terms of creating content for bigger worlds, Second Life and Eve both point the way there. The former has user-generated content, while the political dynamics in Eve rely on the actions of the players.

As MMOs become more popular, inevitably it'll become more and more important that they allow a gamer to play with who they want without shard constraints getting in the way.

dEOS

Eve Online is the only MMORPG that has all its players on a single shard.

Pete

EVE isn't actually much better sometimes since the galaxy is SO huge that your friends tend to be scattered across it in different corps unless you all start at the same time.

I have one friend it would literally take a couple of hours to travel to, and that would mean leaving huge amounts of stuff (moving your horde of collected gear and ships being another problem with EVE, often taking multiple trips in a hauler).

But I do still prefer the single shard design, at least I can still TALK to my friends in game. :)

Pete

Also, EVE gets away with it through clustering, both the physical servers and the solar systems. This means the players are quite evenly distributed for the most part. Even then, they have had to readjust jumpgates to unclog very busy systems and massive fleet battles have been known to crash things.

I do agree that Guild Wars is a fairly clever approach to it, with instanced dungeons and split city instances which you can jump between. The gameplay in that one grabbed me even less than WoW though, I realise that puts me in the minority as an EVE person. :)

bernie

User generated content without filtering loses the aesthetic vision of the world, which I think is important, and it becomes the mindless crap junkpile that is MySpace, a world of lowest common denominator and bad font choices. If Will Wright was the editor, or Miyamoto or someone else, sure. I think SL is a dead end, but who's dynamics will be incorporated by other, more mediated forms of games. SL is deliberately designer-less, which is anathema to me (and Im not even a designer, just someone who believes a great designer manifests itself in such fascinating rules selection that their games rise above the typical crap).

As for WoW not being heroic, true. But I still stand by my point, that it's harder to be 'anyone' in a bigger world. Even the rule of 150 plays into this.

The question isnt whether you'd prefer a single shard design, it's the tradeoffs you'd have to make as a player, and as a developer, to achieve this. That's what posts like Alice's (who I dig, dont get me wrong) fail to do - it's so easy to say 'wouldnt it be cool' when what we need is a discussion of the hidden benefits of doing it the uncool way. Zones in EQ sucked (certainly from an engineering standpoint), but really, I dont think anyone said 'EQ would rock if it didnt have zones!'

kim

You can view things like Xbox Live and EA's Pogo as 'meta games', where people can be playing individual games, but there's some level of visibility into the other game/world that your friend is on.

It'd be nice if one day there was an open api for games to call into and participate in an open metagame/metaworld, but that's a long way off. People have to come to expect it from teh vertically integrated (closed) ones, and then demand the open solution. sd

bob

With you 100% Alice. When I started playing WoW, I had to make characters on four different servers to play with various friends (none of those characters are still in play). Some of those friends then moved to other servers where they knew more people, but mutual friends still couldn't play together. Character transfers couldn't resolve the issue. Most quit after a short period of time, as the social glue that might have kept them in the game wasn't there for them.

Of course there are design issues when making a world for such a large number of players, and user created and procedural content become very important. (I'd argue that MMOs are going to have to go in those directions to survive, anyways.) Blizzard is incredibly conservative, design-wise, and clearly would never put themselves in the position of experimenting with those sorts of design elements. User created content need not be as unbound as in a "Second Life" chat-room-with-toys; the mechanisms that allow user-generated quests, items, etc can be constrained by game aesthetics. A well built system can be an editor.

As for the idea that WoW characters are more heroic on smaller servers- I had to laugh. WoW characters are equally (ie, totally) impotent on servers of any size. I tend to think of most MMO characters as permanently low-level employees of major corporations, they have no influence on the larger structure that they inhabit. Game worlds as static as WoW don't allow for *any* sort of heroism; all players are cogs in a machine of pre-determined form. The notion that any character is special or influential in any way is pure illusion, regardless of server size. Worlds with procedural and user-created content, on the other hand...

I'm skeptical when people talk about what others "care about." Who are we talking about? Vocal hard core players (ie, players who like the game as it is)? Borderline players who don't publicly voice opinions? The players who quit? The people who never played at all, because they didn't like a particular design element (or lack thereof)? How do we know how they feel about it? Are all players equally vocal? Are there any real mechanisms for gathering their opinions?

I won't argue that these are simple issues to resolve, but sometimes the difficult problems are worth solving because the payoff is so great.

bernie

Gee, youre skeptical when ppl talk about what others care about? Well then why have game designers or try to build something of commercial appeal?

And as for feeling heroic, I never said WoW.

I said, players want the possibility of feeling heroic or special.

Seb Potter

What is it with World of Warcraft being held up as a benchmark for the games industry these days?

Talking about audience desires in games such as WoW is kind of like discussing audience desires for features in their Sony Walkman tape player, or the what modern office workers want from their Amstrad 464.

Ask Will Wright what impact users want to have in their games, because 60 million copies of The Sims tells me he's a lot closer than Blizzard's tarted-up chat client.

In my book, a commercially appealing game is one that introduces another 20 or 30 million people to games, not one that sells to the same couple of million hardcore players pressing the same few keys in the same pattern for 16 hours a day.

Game designers will soon realise that no matter what their artistic vision, commercial success is going to come from delivering control of content over to the users. It's not going to be pretty, and it will surely hurt the artistic temperament of many game designers, but it's the only viable direction for long-term success.

When the next big game hits, "seven million" subscribers will barely be a blip on the radar.

bernie

20-30 million people?

You're high! I mean, sure, that'd be great, but almost no retail product gets that level of sales. Sims have sold about 60 million units, including expansion packs. Nothing else has come close, AFAIK. So unless it is a truly record setting sales accomplishment it isn't 'commercial'?

Commercial success is measured by reach and revenue, isnt it? WoW is a commercial success. Sims is too.

7 million subscribers is a great business. It's a step forward, incremental, sure, but a step forward for online games.

bob

bernie:
I should have been more specific. Your statement "It frankly isnt a feature that people care about, really" stuck in my craw, because
A) It's a vague and unsupported assertion. (Who are we talking about, how do you know?) See my original comments on that.
B) It's incredibly rude. Given that Alice was talking about how it *was* something she cared about, you essentially told her that she didn't actually count as a human being.

"And as for feeling heroic, I never said WoW."
No, but that was the game being discussed. Most other MMOs haven't diverged from that sort of static game world, either. The whole idea of the player "being heroic" and changing the world works fine in a single player RPG, but clearly not at all in an MMO. MMOs such as WoW like to play up their "heroic narratives" but those narratives aren't actually supported by the game mechanics, and the game constantly reminds you of that. Time to recognize that.

As for what constitutes success, MMOs right now have no mass appeal. WoW's success is relative. Compare WoW's numbers to the number of people who see a particular movie, watch a particular tv show each week, subscribe to a particular magazine, etc. If WoW's audience numbers were for a tv show, they would have canceled it.

bernie

Bob:

When I say it's not a feature that people care about, I mean that given there's nearly limitless features that some segment of the audience cares about - the question is, would those features be real improvements to the genre, or are they fan-boy-ish 'gee, wouldnt it be cool if...'. The issue isn't whether it'd be a good idea - it's the design and production implications that implementing that idea would mean. I spent many an hour with the Bigworld people thinking that they, like many engineers, were answering a question that no one asked. Lots of folks want voice chat in MMOGs, but none of them think through that text chat is way easier to monitor, police and search, and that a griefer run amok is easier to spot, catch and ban using text chat. If I were running a service, I'd stick with text chat. But that wouldnt be the choice, I would bet, made by the bloggers, audience, and such.

When I mean 'care' I mean, is it a feature that will have a return on investment - either through sales or retention. I still stand by my assertion - I dont believe a monolithic world is a tipping point kind of feature. I dont disagree that it'd be optimal to have everyone in the same world, but the content production problem just does not scale.

If it were my budget, I'd spend the time thinking about placing my engineering resources elsewhere. I agree that a way of filtering user gen content is definitely the key, but to discount the vision of the game designer, as Seb does, is foolishness. He looks at the Sims and sees user generated content, but perhaps has missed the invisible hand of the game designer - evidence that it's a job well done.

As for Alice, I know her a little (but have missed a few opportunities to meet in person), and think she's quite sharp but doesnt come at this from the same vantage point I do. I normally lurk and read, but once in a while when something grabs my attention, I want to contribute my viewpoint. I respect Alice enough to be critical of her posts when I think she's missing the whole picture.

As for WoW, it is in many ways, the benchmark for better or worse. I think they've nailed a lot even aside from having the IP, but it is, to me, very much an EQ 2.0. Which is not a knock, but I'd agree that Blizzard certainly didnt take the opportunity to innovate.


bernie

BTW, Gabe Newell loves to talk about viewer minutes, that while TV shows get broader audiences, we get far more minutes per viewer. I think it's a bit of a self-serving analogy for Gabe, but I get the point - to compare the breadth of television to the depth of games isnt fair to either genre.

Audiences have been splintered since cable, and shows that get miniscule ratings on HBO are considered hits (Sex, Sopranos). Games are in many ways niche, and that's OK as long as we reach different segments and are commercially viable...

Seb Potter

"Games are in many ways niche, and that's OK as long as we reach different segments and are commercially viable..."

That's exactly the kind of phrase I was looking for to sum up what's broken about the mainstream games industry right now.

Games are definitely not niche, not in any way. (Ask Alice about the research that supports this. ;) It's the way that most games are designed and marketed that makes them a niche proposition.

Imagine if 99% of mobile phones were only designed for and marketed to the audience the games industry actively pursues...

ErbUs

-EVE- online

over 30 000 players on the same server same time and growing fast
learning curve is steep but theres sooooo much to the game and no grinding for lvl's = real time training

bernie

Err, why dont you try reading my post a little more carefully? Media has become more niche with more options, and relatively finite time and entertainment dollars to spend (tho apparently the % of $ being spent on entertainment seems to be inching up) - or did you find it convenient to disregard my Sex and the City HBO ratings analogy?

Interactivity will always be less appealing than TV from a pure audience size range, I think, because it asks more of the viewer than sitting back and and watching.

I said, we need to reach more segments of the audience than we do. I dont disagree that the current games business is way too 'inbred' but I believe the pursuit of the 'mass market' is a red herring. That everyone plays games isn't an indication that there will routinely be 20-30 million unit selling games. I've seen some of Alice's research - I've even referred to it.

I _will_ ask Will next time I see him.

Alice

Heh, this post woke you lot up, didn't it?

I stick by my statement that WoW has sociability problems, which if fixed would make it a better game. There's no doubt that people want to play with real-life friends (see MySpace or any other social networking system for proof); any architecture that makes this difficult is bad architecture.

For instance, WoW could still be 'instance' sharded - i.e. the same game across multiple servers in order to manage crowd size, spread the load; but why couldn't player-characters travel between servers? Is there really, *really* a decent technical problem that stops that?

I suspect not. I met someone at eTech once who works for Blizz, and he said that the reason the architecture is as it is, is that they're using code they wrote yonks ago for Battle.net. Obviously, this is hearsay, but it would explain this brokenness..

bernie


You're absolutely right, there is no reason it cant happen. I had friends do it for me even on UO, and of course on EQ.

It would make a better game unless part of your char's 'assets' was its social relationships, which I think is inevitable...

bob

I have to say, this is an interesting discussion, in part because it touches on so many issues in relation to the game industry as a whole.

I agree that it isn't fair to compare time spent with games to time spent with other media. This actually brings up another serious problem with MMOs. Games are designed to be time wasters. MMOs are doubly so, since the game is trying to keep you in it for as long as possible- the problem being that you spend enormous amounts of time not doing anything fun or interesting. Any other media could not survive the "reward to time" ratio of the MMO.

The gameplay appeal of MMOs (outside of the social aspects) are based on the same risk-reward behavioral mechanisms that characterize gambling. Games rely too much on the player's obsessive compulsive behavior and not enough on intellectual and emotional rewards that other media are based on. The totally self-referential nature of the game industry in no way helps. In fact, I don't think it's possible to have any sort of meaningful discussion about potential audience, or what features in games might be appealing, given the situation. It's hard to say how interactivity limits the audience when you only have limited types of interactivity currently on offer.

For instance, a number of people I've talked to have complained about the time wasting mechanisms in WoW (the time spent doing nothing more than going from point A to point B for the Nth time, for example). There is a great deal of discussion about the unnecessarily large amount of time required to be part of the game at all. I've talked to MMO designers about this. As they pointed out, to change this, to make each minute spent playing the game more rewarding, would break the whole model of what an MMO is and how it works, given how the MMO is currently defined and built. To fix it, you'd have to come up with a whole new way of designing an MMO; it'd be a huge undertaking. Does that mean that the cost to benefit ratio doesn't make it worthwhile to try? Changing it just might open up the MMO to an audience that makes the WoW numbers look tiny. It's almost impossible to say, given how the MMO and its audience (and importantly, their expectations) have been defined and limited by the industry, however.

bernie

I hate the farming mechanic as much as the next farmer (I feel like a sharecropper in these games!)

I would have to agree with your post 100%, bob. Well, maybe 99%. I think there is something to the process of wandering through a world that teleporting from point to point misses. Something about the way we process space, environments, neighborhoods. I found wandering around Oblivion generally pleasant until it meant traversing the same old roads as I did last time. But I find walking around cities like NYC interesting, primarily because the environment is so dynamic - lots of things to see and do along the way, or even notice. There is the cost of doing something that also comes with the 'down time' of walking - if you really want to go, there's a cost to going (rather than staying put at your current harvest point)...

It _might_ require a whole new way to develop MMOGs, but I think it really requires a better understanding of why we play these games in the first place! I would agree also that the farming/harvesting/treadmill design of WoW is probably its biggest limiting factor (vs. the character portability issue Alice posted above).

Nothing was more tedious than 'reading the book' in EQ to regenerate mana. OTOH it created an interesting sense of vulnerability and cost - things I'd want to retain.

Cooper

Or you could just go down the pub and meet real people.

Alice

Heheh Coop. Why bother going to a pub, when you can go to a tavern?

I usually go to pubs *too*, although no pubs in LA, unless you count the Cat & Fiddle on Sunset which.. er.. hmm.

inkgrrl

I notice you don't mention which servers Crystaltips lives on, so we can stalk you ;-)

Brinstar

One of them lives on my server! :-P

Alice

Hahha, it's all in the About page anyway!

I'm Crystaltips (horde mage, 60) on Magtheridon, Crystaltips (horde warlock, 60) on Runetotem UK, and Pershing (alliance warrior, 6) on Nordrassil UK.

Also Crystaltips Pavlova in Second Life, by the by.

inkgrrl

Oh gods, the About page... that's like RTFM for bloggers. I am a geek, madam, I do not RTFM, I jump in blindly and flail about mashing buttons and flicking switches. More interesting that way when something blows up and you have no eyebrows and can't explain why, exactly. Hrm. I'd have to transfer my undead rogue to Magtheridon to stalk you properly...

Fell the Don

As has already been stated, albeit not as graphically social as WoW, there's EVE Online.

inkgrrl

I got obsessed... erm, into *ahem* EVE for a while, then got bored. Too much time flying between systems. (Which is way cool to watch, yes - the wowza factor of the 3d star charts is totally worth the monthly subscription alone.) And the whole corp thing? *snooze* Maybe I just need to hook up with the right people, dunno...

Chris

my server isnt on server list to click on to change

Metal

Its not that hard? Everyoe pick a server, make a guild and start playing. Its not blizzards fault you guys dont have communication skills outside of wow to coordinate which server you go on.

Further more, you clearly dont understand the hardware involved. it is impossible to have 1 server for every single wow player.

shehanaaz

Anybody know where the World of Warcraft European servers are located? Someone said they are all in Britain but I am not sure. Would they have some in Germany, some in Finland etc?

I am trying to do a business plan for my own massive multiplayer game and was wonder how they spread out the resources.
-------------
shehanaaz
WoW Europe Gold

bologna

I enjoyed WoW for a couple months, but what mainly burned me out had nothing to do with the social aspect.

My problem with WoW and every other rpg/mmorpg I can think of is using dice rolls for battle. How dumb is it that you can run up to someone and miss with a sword point blank because the dice say so. I don't mind if the higher level character has some amazing ability to dodge or a big bad ass shield, but leaving it up do the dice is archaic. We really need more immersion than sitting back and watching to see what numbers are rolled.

Sure there is some tactics going on with regards to which spell or type of attack/counter you use, but that's just more about game specific knowledge than any kind of skill.

I'm anxious for the day rpg battle gets overhauled to feel more like a fighter and/or a shooter with specialized equipment.

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