Friday, June 09, 2006
Game of Warcraft
On the forums over at Grimwell Online we used to classify a MMORPG as being either "world" or "game". The "world" type of MMORPGs like Second Life, Star Wars Galaxies, or Ultima Online are thin on developer-created content, and have a lot of interaction between players, for example players running a business and having a network of clients for crafted items. In a "world" MMORPG players do change the virtual world, for example by building a shop, or having a major influence on the economy. In the "game" type MMORPGs the focus is on the developer-created content, with the interaction between players being more transient, and little chance for players to change the world. And in spite of having "world" in its title, WoW is falling squarely into the "game" category, it is really the "Game of Warcraft", not the "World of Warcraft".
When I was discussing the possibility of player housing, I was in fact wondering if WoW could be moved into a more "world"-like type of MMORPG. The principal problem of "game" type MMORPGs is that developer-created content is limited in quantity, and sooner or later players run out of things to do. While most of us are loth to admit it, we pretty much have reached the end, the "game over" screen of WoW by now, after 18 months of playing. Blizzard is trying to hide the fact that the game is over by offering an "end game" which consists of endless repetition of PvP, raid dungeons, smaller dungeons, or faction grinding. But a better solution would be to add more "world" elements to WoW, because player created content is infinite.
The trick would be to keep WoW a good game while turning it into a bit more of a world. Because the existing "world" type MMORPGs are relatively bad "games", with the interaction between the player and the game often far from being as interesting as in WoW. But theoretically it should be possible to have the best of both types, having a good game which also is an interesting world, with player interactions that goes far beyond grouping and raiding together.
Player housing would be a good first step in that direction, but the other important point would be improving crafting and tradeskills. In a "world" like Star Wars Galaxies, the high-end crafting was done by people spending a lot of effort in finding and harvesting the resources with the best quality, and experimenting with them to make the best possible armor and weapons. In WoW, unfortunately, the high-end crafting is linked to dungeons, like core resources from Molten Core, dark iron which can only be smelted and forged in BRD, or flask type potions which can only be prepared deep in Scholomance. Recipes are gained by faction grinding or killing monsters, you can't improve your crafting by crafting, you are forced to go adventuring. Thus in WoW tradeskills are just a part of the PvE game. With crafted items being mostly less good than looted items, and the near-anonymity of auction house trading, crafting doesn't add much to the "world" feeling of WoW.
Crafting in WoW could be easily improved by decoupling it from the adventuring game. Resources and recipes should be gained by gathering and questing in a way that doesn't involve having to find a group or raid group to go to a dungeon. Starting from the current basic recipes, there should be a way to modify the crafted items within a range, making slightly better or different items. Ideally there could be some crafting experimentation mini-game, some kind of a puzzle where playing it well, and using higher quality resources, ends up with creating better items, thus giving crafters the opportunity to stand out from the competition. Then you just need to add better ways of trading, player-controlled vendors, and you can have a player-run economy which goes way beyond selling loot. By supporting more different play styles, and adding to the "world"-feel by more economic interaction between players, Blizzard could turn their game into a real World of Warcraft.