Tobold's Blog
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.
Well, back in the day, when WoW first came out, crafting level was not linked to player level. You could be 300 fishing and level 1, and several people were. They were fishing some nice gems, and the powers that be nerfed the loot tables for fishing.

But they went one step further, and linked crafting level to player level. It was a conscious decision by WoW to link player uberness to crafting uberness. At the time, a bunch of people posted and protested, and begged Warcraft to let them be craaftsmen without being adventurers.

I still rememeber the posts from people saying "I bought this game so I could just sit and fish at Booty Bay, don't make me have to level up to do that!" Oh the humanity.

The point point is, right or wrong, it's not a case of poor design by WoW that resulted in the current crafting system. It wasn't a mistake - they intentionally tied crafting to adventuring. The question is - did they have a good reason, and is there a downside to removing the link?

One very easy way to make the World of Warcraft a more realistic "world" would be to allow the Alliance to capture places like the Crossroads, and by the same token allow the Horde to capture Darkshire, etc. The one exception to this would be the capturing of the major cities, Ironforge, Orgrimmar, Stormwind, Durotar, etc.

Capturing a town or village is not something that would be easily accomplished. It would require at least a 40-man Raid defeating the NPC guards, which rapidly respawn and/or fly in for up to 30 minutes (as an example). During that time the Horde must Capture then defend a Flag immediately outside the Inn. If at any time during those first 30 minutes an Alliance player Caps the Flag, Darkshire reverts to Alliance with full respawn of all NPCs and guards, and the Horde must recapture the Flag and defend it for another 30 minutes.

If they accomplish that Darkshire becomes a Horde town.

To retake Darkshire the Alliance must Cap the same flag and defend it for 30 minutes.

Yes, this sounds just like Arathi Basin but on a world scale. It may not be to everyone's liking, but it would be just like being in a game of Warcraft.

Oh, but what if the Horde capture Darkshire and that's where your Hearthstone is set? Then your Hearthstone will automatically set itself to Stormwind, or whatever the nearest major City is to that captured town.

Whenever you log back into the game WoW would check whether you're appearing in territory, or about to be slaughtered by NPC guards 30 levels higher than you. If so, you'd be automatically teleported to Ironforge, SW, Darnassus, etc.
World-feeling by PvP is a good concept. But I don't know if it would work given the Horde / Alliance imbalance. Basically all Horde villages would fall into Alliance hands pretty quickly with not much chance for the Horde to retaliate. Worse than a Midgard / Hibernia battle. :)
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