Friday, August 20, 2010
What this blog is about
In the English language, as well as in several other languages, the Genitive case gets somewhat imprecise when used for a compound noun. Thus “Tobold's MMORPG Blog” can be read as “Tobold's Blog about MMORPGs” or as “The Blog about Tobold's MMORPG”, as one of my readers pointed out when I was discussing my ideas of a perfect MMORPG. “Tobold’s MMORPG” technically doesn’t exist and would just be a hypothetical utopia, but I do like that reading of my blog’s title, because it might be a better description of what my blog is really about.
While my posts often are about specific existing MMORPGs, the underlying interest is in the larger general theory of MMORPGs, and the hypothetical "Tobold's Perfect MMORPG". When I for example use World of Warcraft as an example of what I don’t like about “kill 10 foozles” so-called quests and say I’d rather have large epic quest and no small errands to run, I am not actually suggesting that Blizzard change their game. Rather the discussion of something that works or doesn’t work in a specific game gives me ideas of what I would like to see in future games, or would consider as part of the utopian perfect MMORPG. The discussion of a specific perceived flaw, e.g. “paladins are overpowered”, should not only lead to a specific “nerf paladins!” battle cry, but hopefully to a more profound discussion on how to balance hybrid classes against single-role classes in general.
Talking about specific games and specific features in these games has the advantage that it helps us realize that often a design decision from a developer is a solution to a specific problem, and already an iteration and improvement over a feature from a previous game. If we want to further improve that towards perfection, we need to be aware of what problem the developer was addressing with his feature, and see whether our proposed better solution would solve the same problem as well as the new problems the feature created. If we don’t do that, the discussion necessarily becomes very limited, with the suggestions often being to keep things like they are, or a nostalgic “let’s go back to way things were in older games” alternative. Neither is likely to advance us anywhere.
Using World of Warcraft as an example in such cases has the advantage that I can assume that most of my readers have played World of Warcraft at some point, and thus are familiar with the examples I’m giving. The disadvantage is that of course World of Warcraft covers only a small fraction of the possibility space of what a MMORPG can be. Thus there is also merit in discussing a game like A Tale in the Desert, which is niche, and not many readers know it, but which is so radically different from WoW while still obviously being a MMORPG, that knowing it very much expands the possibility space for MMORPGs. WoW unfortunately is a kind of gravity hole in the possibility space of MMORPGs, and very often I get comments from people whose imagination can’t escape that gravity pull, so that their arguments tend to be “if it isn’t in World of Warcraft, it must be impossible to do, or at least impossible to sell”. As even developers suffer from that gravity pull having captured their imagination, it is helpful to describe games that do things differently than WoW and nevertheless work quite well.
So I’d like to encourage my readers to let their imagination fly, and not to approach every subject with the narrow vision of why any proposed change to MMORPGs can’t work, because it would mess up the class balance or something similarly specific in World of Warcraft or whatever other game I mention. Rather ask yourself whether you really think that the game already has the perfect solution to any given problem of game design; or whether by thinking outside the box of practical restrictions to game design one couldn’t possibly come up with a better solution. Even just admitting that a feature has drawbacks is a good first step, even if we can’t always come up with a better solution. But if we stop dreaming about the perfect MMORPG, we will not only never see it made, but also are unlikely to see future games at least approaching our ideals. We can afford to be dreamers here in the MMO blogosphere; we don’t have the constraints of budgets and timelines. And maybe by spreading our dreams some of our ideas get picked up and we’ll be able to play them in a future game.