Tobold's Blog
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.
Thank you for writing the clarification - there are many people who put stock in your words and I want the devs to be given a fair chance before the game comes out in the U.S.

I don't agree with all of it but that isn't necessary. As far as lack of willingness to innovate is concerned that can also be laid at the doorstep of investors and corporate CEOs who are afraid of what this will do to the bottom line. This will be especially true where a company that has already felt they had to shut down one of their games.
A WoW-a-like game will, generally, also suffer from the same issues WoW itself suffers, like item/power inflation, content abandonment, and the general issue with a high percentage of playing sitting at the level cap all focused on a new goal (be it raiding, PvP, whatever).

So while they might improve in certain areas (Aion with graphics for instance), due to the basic setup, they will suffer from the shortfalls of the design. If you are sick of WoW going from questing to "name your endgame", no WoW-a-like is going to offer a solution for your problem, no matter how much they improve the crafting/PvP/PvE aspects of their game.
That's interesting. I came at "WoW like" from a standpoint on the slowness of PvE where you try and pull one mob, battle it out without getting adds, refresh, rinse and repeat.

Because I don't consider Guild Wars WoW-like, and it falls within your definition's guidelines. Wizard 101 might also fall under it if you expand hotkey bar's definition to just a skill bar.
I think that the reason so many games are (and will continue to be in the future) WoW-a-likes is that it is a familiar interface, that few are going to stray away from. Kind of like how all cars have a steering wheel, gas and brake pedal, and gear shift for navigation. There may be a better way of doing it, but people will cling to what they know.
Its not harsh, it doesnt communcate a judgement, at least in my pov. Its just a description. And a perfectly suitable term to describe a game which shares a LOT of the mechanics of wow. And yeah, if you are sick of those mechanics, you wont like such a game.

Im sure though the company behind Aion wouldnt mind a wow-like profit for a few years..

btw anybody care for a guess on the Eu/Us sub numbers? I wont since i failed miserably to predict WAR's player base.
I think many people subconsciously are averse to try anything different from wow, so for them wow mechanics = a must .

If it is not there they wont even try , so when they bring forth arguments like "but every game has icons over npc heads for kill x foozles quests, which is what game play is" .They are sorta right - because other games simply might as well not exist for them at all

BTW as far as MMO go . WoW core leveling gameplay is actually superior to other alternatives ("

for i=1 to max level
grind i*(x^i) mobs

for each skill in skills
for skill.level=1 to skill.max
macro skill

btw anybody care for a guess on the Eu/Us sub numbers? I wont since i failed miserably to predict WAR's player base.

Sub 1 mill. Depends on end game though which apparently no one knows anything about (at least none of those whose reviews I read)

I think 300k is low end - where it will fall in 1-2 years after initial freshness wears off.

Which, btw, is still immensely profitable. just not on the scale of WoW.
I think this definition is extremely loose. You need to include the fact that the games are essentially DIKU-based and that they are PvE focused.

It's also important to note that WoW-like games should have questing that is preferable to farming if you want your character to advance.
I think that to be a WoW-alike it needs to have more than just targeting and quests. I mean, Eve Online has targeting and pretty much endless quests (aka missions), but it's definitely not a WoW-alike.

WoW-alikes all tend to be class and level based, with well-defined abilities, with only minor character customization except for gear which (other than levels) is the main method of character advancement.
The thing that made WoW different to the Diku-derived MMOs that came before it was the focus on quests as the main method of progressing the character, I think.

Prior to that, all the MMOs I'd played (UO, AC, EQ, AO, DAOC, RoE and others) had quests as an additional method of progress but never the primary. Once WoW became successful, all the other games I played subsequently used the Quest Ladder Levelling model.

The other definition you use, the target/hotkey combat system, seems to me to be almost identical to most MMOs that came before WoW.
A decent definition. Everyone of course will have their own "one feature" that is required to be a WoW-a-like but your's are vague enough to cover the obvious stuff.

As for a prediction on Aion, I guess 600K presale and 250K subs after 3 months. The game doesn't have half the hype that AoC or WAR had.
I would compare AION more with Lineage 2. It cannot deny its asian roots.

It tries hard to appeal to a Western audience, too, but I guess the next beta weekend will show the PvP part of the game which might scare away a lot of "WoW themepark" players.

Aion copied some good WoW elements and sometimes made them even better. Or what WoW does by now without addons, too, adding questmarkers on the map and so on. Note: I personally sometimes think this stuff should be removed completely along with mindless quests, but I needed an example. :P

So basically, a WoW+L2 hybrid. East meets West, and I wonder who will like it for longer than the ooow and awww period. Aion is beautiful, no doubt about that.
... add in some RvR, DAOC style.
So call them "quest-based DIKU MMOs". "WoW-a-like" is an incredibly nebulous term. Gameplay is target-and-hotkey as opposed to what? Point-and-click? I can't think of any control styles for 3D combat that aren't effectively one of those....

Script-based combat! It's brilliant! Then we wouldn't have to play! We could just write a few thousand lines of code and let 'er rip!
Funny how EQ2 is WoW-a-like when EQ2 was released just over two weeks before WoW was!
What I would like to know, is what kind of design limitations, if any, does Aion use to prevent the rush to the level cap, or to foster a reduction in the associated psychology with being "first" to do anything in the game world?

This is what is killing the MMO genre, and any game that follows the leveling schemes of almost any previous MMO will, in some way, be labled WoW-a-like as a result.

No, Aion doesn't have half the hype of WAR or AoC. But what it DOES have is positive word of mouth. 90% of WAR and AoC's hype was through dev-speak; Dev Podcasts, interviews and the like. Aion doesn't have half as much of that, but positive word of mouth by PLAYERS? It has much, much more. Also, the positive word of mouth extends to the endgame, as many players have actually seen and participated in Aion's endgame and are qualified to speak about it. WAR and AoC had absolutely none of this as even the beta testers did not get to see much, if any, endgame.

I think in the long run positive word of mouth will have a much stronger affect on long term player population than WAR and AoC's developer created hype had.

I predict 500,000 or so sales and the subscriber base going UP over time as word gets around about the gameplay. Of course that is assuming NCSoft doesn't drop the ball somewhere along the line.
"Funny how EQ2 is WoW-a-like when EQ2 was released just over two weeks before WoW was!"

I think that's exactly why Tobold prefers the term "WoW-a-like" to "WoW-clone". He is, quite literally, saying "it is like WoW", not "it is a copy of WoW".

So of course there is no logical contradiction is a game which is slightly older than WoW being a lot like WoW.

(especially when you take into account changes made post-release - I think few would disagree that they moved EQ2 in the direction of greater similarity to WoW, not lesser)
(especially when you take into account changes made post-release - I think few would disagree that they moved EQ2 in the direction of greater similarity to WoW, not lesser)

Yes, I'll agree that EQ2 moved toward WoW, with things like easier leveling, adding tinkering and transmuting to ape WoW's engineering and enchanting professions, and The Shadow Odyssey's shards just to name a few examples. But lately WoW seems to be borrowing a lot from EQ2. Introducing dual-spec over a year after it was introduced in EQ2? Allowing players to change their appearance, which EQ2 players could do by visiting the barber and paying 1 gold piece? (Yes I know that EQ2 eagerly copied WoW's feature of paying real money for name and gender changes). And now I hear that in patch 3.2 WoW will not only be adding titles but allowing players to level-lock and adding equipment to help a tradeskill (cooking) work faster, long-time features of EQ2.

The thing I'm amazed at is that a week after SOE said at Fan Faire that they were considering allowing players to change their race, Blizzard came out and said that not only were they working on allowing players to change faction (another long time EQ2 feature) but to also change their race.

Yes, I'll agree that EQ2 has tried to make itself more like WoW. But to me, it looks like Blizzard is trying to make WoW more like EQ2 at the same time. With that kind of convergence occuring, I guess you can say that the game with maybe 200,000 subscribers is like the game with 11 million (once the Chinese servers are back up).
Easy: EVE Online.

Microtranscations = CCP sells ISK in many denominations.

I'd love to play this game more but can't justify another MMO sub either financially or timewise. However, if it were free to play I could dabble casually in the EVE universe without feeling like I was on the hook to devote more time to it.
Just a side-note on WoW-a-likes, in any industry that has been around for awhile, a certain set of best practices or standards - such as tab targeting, a hotbar, etc - are friendly to the consumer and not at all a 'rip off' or unexpected for games in the same genre.

You can begin playing almost any FPS game and they will all have WSAD controls, a similar HUD, etc.
The problem of that is that it sidelines perfectly good games like Puzzle Pirates or A Tale in the Desert, which are definitely MMORPGs, but don't use the same conventions for combat and quest-directed gameplay as WoW does.

I can live with UI standards, but standardizing gameplay and design philosophy is not a good thing.
@Jezebau: You could have an MMO where combat plays more like an FPS, just like Mass Effect is an RPG but combat is different.

I agree with Tobold that defining a game as WoW-like is easy. Warhammer is, AoC is, Lotro is: EvE is not.

And WoW-like is not a negative, it's just that the definition needs a different name. Saying that AoC is WoW-lmike is like saying that the latest C&C is Dune II-like. It is, but hell, we just call it RTS.

And some RTS don't really fit the model either...


I don't mean to be mean but simply based on your name I can tell your are biased towards Aion.

Aion does not have half the hype as AoC or WAR. I knew far more people looking forward to both those games than I know that have even heard of Aion. The fact that Aion has positive word of mouth isn't a factor, because that is still less hype.

I finally understand schandefruede thanks to people like you. I don't want any game to fail, but I want people who blindly adore any game to see the error of their ways. A game failing is the easiest way to slap people back into reality.

Well that was off topic.

Anyways I'm very much looking for something that isn't WoW-a-like anymore. I'm hoping for MO to be that but I have a feeling it is going to end up like DFO where you are required to farm stuff just to be accepted into a guild and play the game.

Star Wars isn't very appealing either. George Lucas pretty much killed my love for that franchise.

Am I biased toward Aion? Yes, a bit, perhaps. However, I came into Aion prepared to hate it. I absolutely detest the anime artstyle. I had never heard of Aion but after hearing the good word of mouth I decided to try it despite not liking the looks. After playing for awhile I realized I loved it DESPITE hating the art style. It was strange.

Aion has some things going for it that WAR and AoC does not, does it have the "hype" of WAR? Nope. But it does have entire guilds leaving WAR for it and the difference is, many if not most of them have played it and experienced the end game on the Chinese servers.

The difference is, most of those joining Aion will STAY. Player retention will be high. The game works, it does what it is advertised to do and its pretty balanced. AoC and WAR can not say the same thing even after a year.

WAR sold 800,000 copies, AoC close to that. I think, because it has less hype, Aion will initially sell less. Say, in the 350,000 to 500,000 range (the collectors edition is already sold out and both editions are on the top of Gamestops Best Sellers list). But, after that is where it will differentiate it self from WAR and AoC. Subs will GROW as positive word of mouth spreads. Retention will not be near the problem that WAR or AoC had.

Retention is key to an MMOs success, as WAR and AoC are both finding out now.
Sean, you're misinformed. Players can buy time codes with real money, then sell them to other players for game money that has already been made. CCP doesn't sell ISK or make it appear out of thin air without work on the part of SOME player.

In terms of pure value within the game world, the player buying time is essentially trading ISK for nothing, but he had already earned it through missions, bounties, trade, what have you. It works like a simple gift, not a duplication hack.
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