Monday, July 06, 2009
WoW-a-like: A definition
There is a huge number of games out there which are all definitively MMORPGs, but which do not play like World of Warcraft at all: EVE Online, Luminary, A Tale in the Desert, Puzzle Pirates, Darkfall, to name just a handful. But inside the MMORPG genre, there is a sub-group of games that do play remarkably similar to World of Warcraft: Lord of the Rings Online, Warhammer Online, Runes of Magic, and Aion, for example. I call these games WoW-a-like, because they aren't necessarily clones, but they share much of the same gameplay experience. Now what defines this experience? Mainly 2 points:
1) Combat is done by targeting the enemy, and then attacking him by using a range of spells and abilities from your hotkey bar.
2) The player is guided through the game by an endless stream of quests, leading him from one quest hub to the next, all the way from level 1 to the level cap.
Note that for example Everquest 1 is not quite WoW-a-like, because it doesn't have the endless series of quests (which is kind of ironic, given the name), but Everquest 2 certainly is WoW-a-like. Note also that this definition only holds true until the level cap, there is often more variation in the endgame.
Why do we need a word for this? Because some people are falling into the trap of thinking that if you make "a MMORPG", you *must* make a WoW-a-like. I do expect many of the announced future MMORPGs to be WoW-a-like, including Star Wars: The Old Republic. That does not mean that these games bring nothing new to the genre, for example SWTOR promised to much improve storytelling, and Aion brings flying. All these games will also have their distinctive look, feel, and lore. There will be nobody who confuses Aion or SWTOR with WoW, they look all very different. But the basic gameplay of quest-guided hotkey-combat is the same for all WoW-a-likes, in spite of there being millions of other options. It is a gameplay that has been proven to work, so it is used in different games. But we can't declare that this sort of gameplay is what defines MMORPGs, because it would do a huge disservice to all those other games out there, which experiment with other forms of combat, or which offer more open worlds with less hand-holding. Some people will think that "plays like WoW" is derogative, others will think it is a compliment. But given that the very fact that a game is WoW-a-like by the above definition betrays a lack of courage to innovate, I do think the term is not overly harsh.