Tobold's Blog
Wednesday, November 05, 2008
 
Neither WAR nor WotLK are a failure

There is a famous Zen question which goes like this: "If a tree falls in a forest, and nobody is around to hear it, does it make a sound?". Like all Zen questions, you aren't actually supposed to answer that one, it is just a starting point for pondering reality. Does reality exist in absolute terms, or do we all live in our personal little universe, and nothing outside our mind exists? Too philosophical for you? Don't worry, I'm getting to the MMORPG point: A lot of MMORPG bloggers and commenters of various game sites seem to be of the personal universe persuasion. We are the centers of our own little universes, and our own perception matters more than absolute reality.

A typical example is several blogs quoting Mark Jacobs who said before WAR launched: "Look at us six months out. Look at us six weeks out. If we’re not adding servers, we’re not doing well." As it is six weeks out, and WAR isn't adding servers (just the opposite, it offers transfers away from underpopulated servers), the conclusion is that WAR is a failure. This inevitably comes from people who either stopped playing WAR, or haven't started in the first place. It's the personal universe again, in which WAR is a failure, because it failed to excite *you*. Well, WAR failed to excite me too, although I was maybe better prepared for the possibility of me not liking a PvP game, and thus didn't suffer a big disappointment. But in the real universe, the one of facts and figures, Warhammer Online is doing well enough: 1.2 million copies sold, 800,000 subscribers. Yes, the game is far from perfect, and yes, there are a lot of WoW players who tried it out, and are now leaving for patch 3.0 and WotLK, but none of this was actually unexpected. And there is still a good chance that WAR passes the 1 million subscribers mark, if not by christmas, then somewhere next year. I bet EA would love to have more "failures" like this.

The same personal universe view is often applied by bored World of Warcraft players to WoW, or the Wrath of the Lich King expansion. The game is boring, lots of grind, the expansion isn't original, same old, yadda, yadda, yadda, a complete failure. Back in the real world WotLK will sell several million copies next week.

Our comments on various games often reveal more about our personal little universes than about reality. WoW isn't boring. WoW becomes boring after you have played it for several thousand hours, or if you try it and were really searching for a complete different game. And many of the people who got bored by WoW this year did so simply because the expansion took too long to come out, they didn't want something new and different, they wanted more of the same, which is exactly what WotLK will deliver. It is hard to blame Blizzard for delivering exactly what most players want. We still manage to blame Blizzard by looking at WoW only from our own personal distorted view. I've read one blog where somebody threw away years of work on WoW tools just because the Deep Freeze talent for his frost mage was changed during beta from dealing damage to doing a stun. Yeah, that one little change totally turned WoW from a great game into a complete failure! Not.

I'm certainly not innocent of this. I catch myself sometimes reporting on games I played using the past tense, although the game is still around. And when I rant about this or that feature, or report how much fun I'm having with this or that other feature, that is all totally subjective. There are certainly people out there for who WAR would be a better choice than WotLK, I just happen to be not one of them. I just can't be bothered to write "In my subjective opinion" in front of each of my sentences. And that causes trouble sometimes, when I say something like "feature X sucks", and it sounds like an absolute statement of truth, when in reality it is just a truth in my personal universe. Then somebody else comes along in whose personal universe feature X is the greatest ever, he states that like a fact, and then suddenly I have a thread with 50 comments argueing in a bitter tone. But then, if we would only state objective facts, there wouldn't be much discussion at all. Blogs aren't exactly designed to be objective.

So I can accept that some people are disappointed with Warhammer Online or with Wrath of the Lich King, for various reasons. Their failure is often one to live up to the hype: We were promised the greatest PvP game ever, and then we got this? We waited 2 years for another expansion, and then its only that? Those failures can be powerful feelings, and determine of whether we personally subscribe to one of these games. We just have to be careful how we phrase our disappointment, because by more objective measures like sales both WAR and WotLK are doing great. Just wait until Star Wars: The Old Republic comes out, gets 5 million subscribers, and bloggers quote them on that "bigger than WoW" announcement and call them a failure.
Comments:
Tobold, this is so very true and the very reason I am cursed. I have been blamed of being overly positive or nice. I tend to see the good side of everything. My answer to those that make these accusations is usually the same. What is the alternative? The problem is I don't have the time to play all these games I see so many good things about.

I get so fired up when people start claiming game X is crap. Most of the time the game is not to their taste but has many great features that bring some great ideas to the table. I think that Vanguard is a tragedy in the greater MMO community. This game had a ton of potential and the only reason I am not playing is because it is a ghost town. The community, in my eyes, is as much to blame as the management of the game. I will personally end up giving Vanguard another try sometime, but there are other new things to try right now.

Adding to your point about being careful calling a game a "failure", I think most people would mark Anarchy Online as a failure. It may have failed in many areas, but if the game was a complete fail would it still be running today? It may not have 10 billion subscribers, but it IS making Funcom money - that is a win in my book, even if it isnt as big of a win as some may have wished. Yes, I know the base game is free but it does have a subscription portion as well...

WAR has problems, we all know that. The fact that it has problems does not surprise me or concern me. That is not important. What is important is how Mythic responds and so far, I think that has been favorably. I am excited about what WAR has brought to the table, but I am even more excited about what Mythic does with it from this point forward.

~Jalent
 
Aye, objectivity is hard to come by.

When I proclaim something a failure, it's from a specific viewpoint; that of a game designer and a casual player. I don't argue that WAR or WoW are commercial failures because they are not. I see much wasted design potential in them, and that's a failure in my book... but it's a very specific failure.

Perhaps it's just as much a failure of the language, the author employing it, or the reader interpreting it through their lens as much as anything else.
 
MMO players think like the Harry Potter "for one to live the other msut die"
I actually like having lots of options in my MMO choices. Even AoC.. hope it improves more.
 
Well I'm one of those guys who is fairly disillusioned or bored with WoW. I won't be getting WOTLK, accounts are sold, etc.

I really like WAR (in theory), but I canceled that too, though I would play it if I choose to play any MMO in the future.

I spent a whole lot of time in WoW for a long time, and in my personal little universe, it was a crutch I used to get through the hardest period of my life to date. It was was where I could escape too while I went through a lot of stuff I had to go through.

Then I got through it, and my life started getting good my desire to play MMO's waned. I theoretically wanted too, but I just couldn't care anymore. My loss of interest was directly proportional to how much less my life sucked. I'm still kind of intellectually interested in MMO in theory, but not enough to bother to play them.

Maybe its just me and my personal psychology, but I find it fairly disturbing that the MMO genre seems to be founded almost entirely on providing escape, instead of being genuinely fun. What I mean is, once my life became fulfilling, WoW became about as much fun as reading a textbook. Three months before, when things looked darker than ever, I was having a blast. It was like somebody hit a switch in my brain.

I liked FPS before life sucked, liked them during, liked them after. I liked strategy games before, during, and after. I'm on a Little Big Planet tear at the moment, so it's not video games as a whole that I no longer like.

MMOs I hated, loved, and disliked in turn. I'm still trying to figure out what that means. I'm inclined to think that until MMOs can provide a game that is the sort of thing you would play even if you lost all XP, the money, the mounts, the gear, every time you logged out, that the genre is deeply flawed and more than a bit creepy as it appears to be predicated on the same business model as crack dealers and Deepak Chopra, but for the nerd demographic.
 
Great points all around Toby. The proof is in the pudding, not in the hype or in the failure to meet it.
 
I recently talked with a friend who quit WoW earlier this year. He asked me how WoW is doing in general, and I told him that Blizzard had recently announced a new high of 11M subscribers. He was amazed -- his distaste of the game made him assume that other people were dropping out also.
 
By our standards, both games are doing well. By Mark Jacobs's standards, WAR is not. You might want to complain to him, not to the bloggers.

And I am so ready to remind EA of that Star Wars quote, you bet. Do not promise what you cannot deliver.

What am I saying? These are MMOs. Promise what you cannot deliver, get around to patching in half of it six months down the road, and everyone will love you for improving the game. Players will buy multi-month plans whether or not you deliver.
 
That's a great post. I know from a person expierience that I went into WAR with a preconcieved idea what it was going to be like, and I didn't have any fun. I had to change my way of looking at the game and playing, and after that I've had a blast.
 
as a buddhist gamer, i was tickled to see you bring in the philosophic train of thought. and i love that koan. thank you for pointing to it being about moving beyond a clinging to conceptuality as a form of lasting refuge. i think it's fine to talk about it conceptually as well - like how 'sound' and 'perceiver' are completely interdependent whereas imagining a tree falling we may view ourselves as a completely independent observer and forget that interdependence. it makes me wonder as you do the degree to which we view ourselves as independent from the games that we play and forget our interdependence with our perception of them.
 
I think people have a tendency to generalize their own personal experiences because they give more weight to them and that's when "I don't like this game" becomes "most people don't like this game", and since most people don't like it, then it implies that "This game sucks".

For any game, it's natural that some people will like it and some people won't. For a game with a fanbase as big as WoW, even a small 0.5% of players unhappy still translate to about 55,000 of them. And unhappy customers are generally more vocal so this may give the impression that many are quitting the game/ bored etc. But really it could be just a very normal rate of attrition.
 
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