Tobold's Blog
Thursday, January 07, 2010
Direction of change

To yesterday's post in which I said World of Warcraft was constantly evolving, I received a comment which after some deliberation I decided not to publish. It was a long rant about how WoW wasn't evolving but, quote "I would say WoW is de-evolving, and hence why it is so popular. The content is so streamlined and simple now to level 1 to 80, so devoid of any real challenge, nerfed elites, heirloom items, decreased xp targets...". I found it extremely funny, because the author was with the same breath complaining about changes in WoW, and claiming that WoW didn't evolve. But I'm taking this up in a separate post, because I think this is a frequently made mistake: People only count a change as innovation or evolution if it is in a direction they like.

I loved Everquest back in 2001, but it wasn't a game I would have recommended my wife to play. And funnily enough, I do think that most of the people who today complain loudly that WoW is too "streamlined and simple" wouldn't have lasted a week in Everquest back then. My typical EQ stories are about camping a mob I had to kill for the quest to get the Testament of Veneer, with said mob spawning only every 8 hours, and somebody killstealing that mob after me having waited for it for hours. Or me camping the Mammoth Cloak for 16 hours total, 4 full evenings long, killing the mob who dropped it every 23 minutes. Or quad-kiting a group of 4 mobs at level 40 solo, gaining 1% of the xp needed for the next level by that, and then having to spend 15 minutes "meditating" to get the mana back up to full. Or taking a wrong step near the Erudin starting zone, which resulted in falling into a chasm which was a high-level zone, being unable to recover my corpse, and losing all my gear. I played Everquest for 19 months, and I have lots of stories like that which appear to be unbelievably harsh to somebody playing WoW in 2010.

Like most innovations in life, for example a dishwasher, the evolution of MMORPGs made life easier for people. My wife does play and enjoy World of Warcraft, and she recently reached level 80 with a second character. That change in accessibility definitely is an evolution of the genre. If there was anyone who didn't play any MMORPG for a decade, World of Warcraft would seem as strange as my stories of how Everquest seem to those who haven't played that game. MMORPGs changed *a lot* since then. Whether you like all those changes, or whether they went too far, is a different discussion topic altogether. But denying that things evolved over the years is just foolish, especially if you're complaining about the changes at the same time.
What I always find funny about the type of people you're referring to is that they complain WoW is too easy yet you see them in game and they have a cookie cutter spec they looked up on the WoW forums, use a rotation they memorized off of Elistist Jerks, they use pre made strategys they looked up on Tank Spot, they use Deadly Boss Mods/Big Wigs so that they have huge signs telling them exactly what to do on boss fights and then on top of that they have tons of addon scripts keeping track of cooldowns, dots, attacks, health, mana, etc.

Is WoW itself really too easy? Or is it that we as players use every tool at our disposal to make the game as easy as possible, then turn around and cry that the game is too easy?
I agree that WoW's greatest achievement is that they made MMOs easy. They struck the perfect balance between giving enough content to keep people playing (seemingly) forever, while never making it frustrating or unobtainable enough to lead to unsubscribing.

But if you read the list of "changes" you posted ... heirlooms, no more elites, low XP requirements ... are those actual evolutionary changes to the game/genre, or just making an older game more appetizing?

While my guild has benefited from most "nerfs" over time, I sometimes wonder about the long-term viability of the genre if these "innovations" keep continuing. If every major developer assumes that the market "desire" for MMOs is just a chain of easily achievable micro-goals requiring nothing more than mindlessly pressing 3 keys while watching TV, is that really fun entertainment? Might MMOs face a kind of race-to-the-bottom as the games get easier but less interesting? Do you really want your genre to turn into a Facebook game with a GUI?

Also Tobold, I feel that you are starting to enjoy your moderator hammer a little too much. Did that user post anything that was profane at all, I don't see why disagreement should be grounds for blocking comments, it's the user debate that most interests regular readers.
I deliberately use no tools except QuestHelper when I play WoW, because I think it's very manageable the way it is already.

I also remember the EverQuest days. You couldn't even physically see the AoEs because you had to play with particles off as your PC simply wasn't fast enough to draw particle effects during a raid. So to find out whether you were being hit by an AoE meant looking at your chat text for damage messages and then walking the right amount of distance into the right direction.

And deleveling -- lose enough exp and you lose your level. You could lose quite a few weeks' worth of grinding from one death.

I think it isn't wrong to say that WoW, even WoW as it was at launch, feels like a well-padded children's game in comparison. But that's comparing it to something that, by today's definition, is one of the most hardcore MMOs. No wonder only us geeks played it back then.

Last week I got vertical aggro in WoW and pulled six instead of two, the group wiped. This makes me want to write an article about how WoW doesn't seem to have any crowd control mechanism (enchanters in EverQuest did crowd management). But the second thing I notice is that nobody really complained, everyone came back to the dungeon in two minutes and the game continued.

Compare that to EQ, where I would have been yelled at but would have had to stick with the group for an hour-long corpse recovery run using my spare equipment (the good stuff would be on the corpse). I think the average person has no tolerance for such a loss of time. That's one of the reasons WoW is successful, it removes things like that.

This makes it less hardcore, yes, but do we really want to go back to "that" type of hardcore? And in a mainstream MMO like WoW? I don't think so.
Comment moderation is difficult. It is not about disagreement, but it isn't just about profanity, but also about whether the comment adds something to the discussion. I certainly didn't want to suppress that reader's opinion, which is why I posted it here. But the comment itself was a huge incoherrent rant wall of text about how WoW was moving in the wrong direction, with only a faint overlap with the subject of the original post. Thus I prefer that the discussion of whether WoW is moving the in the right direction or in the wrong direction takes place in this comment thread, and not in the comment thread about designing new games that aren't like WoW.

Please, guys, if you have something to say that is not really a comment to a post but a separate issue, send me your opinion by e-mail, and I can discuss it in a separate post.
it's the user debate that most interests regular readers

According to Google Analytics less than 10% of the readers of a post also read the comments, and less than 1% writes a comment. Of course we can define "regular reader" as "one who reads the comments", which would make your statement automatically true. But the sad fact is that most of the audience prefers to keep away from the user debate.
I personally believe that this boils down to semantics Tobold.

To de-evolve something, in this case WoW, is to make it more simplistic or decrease its inherent complexity. Therefore, even devolution brings about change. So I don't really see why you consider: extremely funny, because the author was with the same breath complaining about changes in WoW, and claiming that WoW didn't evolve.

Yes, I believe WoW is changing but I don't think it is evolving.

Your example of Everquest circa 2001 doesn't really add weight to the arguement you propose. I don't think it was ever argued that WoW should become more extreme, hardcore or unaccessible. It should be an accessable challenge, and sadly this is all but gone. Can you not see (or appreciate a view) that all the de-evolving changes have been simply to 1) decrease the time it takes to reach end-game and 2) the players reliance on other players?

Now with regard to the original post in question. I shoot from the hip, I always have done and always will. I post from work and don't have the luxury of planning a response to your views word by word. I do find it ever so disingenuous of you to not post something (due to editorial reasons) and then use it as an iron rod to forward your own view on the argument. You invite comment to your blog articles and you should be able to accept dissenting views as long as they are not offensive.

Good job Tobold. You just found out people are human.

Why do I thinkk WoW is a bland MMO? I haven't got a "blandness meter." I say it is in light of my experience as a gamer and what I want from a MMORPG.

I also think that WoW's contribution to the market is not that good unless you want to factor box sales. WoW players will try new MMO's but they won't stay for I think most of those 11 millions are WoW fans rather than MMO fans.

Also WoW has set the trend: the masses don't want coherent virtual worlds, they just want mindless fun in bitesize chunks. Nothing wrong with that but what we have now is that any game that doesn't reach the 1 million mark 6 moths after launch is deemed a failure. We'll all lose in the medium term for at these times very few people are risking anything new or different and the ones who do are laughed at, insulted or derided as no-life-hardcores. Pity...
Agreed that it is a question of semantics. But if I look up evolve in the dictionary I find "To undergo gradual change; develop".

I would say for something to "de-evolve", it would have to change BACKWARDS into previous form. Which is not the case for World of Warcraft, because it is evolving forwards, away from previous incarnations of the MMORPG genre. If you made WoW harder again, that would be a de-evolution, because it would mean going back to a point you already passed.

I totally agree with you that the changes are in a direction which shortens the time to rewards (not just the level cap, but also to gear), and makes rewards more accessible to a broader audience. And I do agree that not everybody will like that. Nevertheless my point is that something doesn't stop being an evolution just because you don't like it. I don't like cell phones, but that doesn't give me the right to say that they aren't progress. Just look at it from the point of the casual player, who sees a game evolve from something unplayable for him to something which he can play.

On the matter of how to treat off-topic comments, I found this solution of taking up your point of view in a new post rather generous from me. I could have just let your opinion disappear into /dev/nul if I hadn't wanted to engage with it. Instead I dedicated an extra blog entry to it, and gave you an appropriate place to discuss your view.

But if I allow anyone to write whatever off-topic comment he wants in whatever thread he wants, I end up with something resembling the official WoW forums. Who wants that?
I also think that WoW's contribution to the market is not that good unless you want to factor box sales. WoW players will try new MMO's but they won't stay for I think most of those 11 millions are WoW fans rather than MMO fans.

Most of the people who are fans of Guitar Hero are fans of Guitar Hero, and will not go from there to learning how to play a real guitar. Nevertheless I don't think that Guitar Hero has a negative impact on guitar sales, just the opposite. And I think the same is true for MMOs, a mass market MMO, which is by necessity more "bland" and less hardcore than a niche product will have lots of players who want that and nothing else, but will at the same time create a few players who want more.

The derision of the hardcore players is often based on the impression that this "hardcore" is a delusion. As others commented, the only real hardcore players I know are in Gevlon's guild, trying to raid in blue gear. I'd also love to see a hardcore guild trying to raid without addons. Instead what we see is hardcore players doing exactly the same as casual players, going for the path of least resistance. And then feeling all superior for an achievement which in the greater scope of things boils down to have pushed the right button at the right time, which isn't exactly rocket science.
"I'd also love to see a hardcore guild trying to raid without addons."

Not when the encounters are designed thinking about addons and consumables.

And if the achievement is so brainless and pointless how come we had 4 years of QQ to make raiding more accessible?

Nevertheless, I'm not discussing hardcore vs casual here. I changed my mind toward accessibility and came to agree that 10-man versions and easier modes are fine and fairer in the vein that single player games also have different levels of difficulty.

What I will always keep criticizing is the move from MMORPG to MMOSocialNetwork without a true Virtual World. Small manageable chunks of gametime are fine but leave space to other goals in game. And please, let's have some interesting decisions, real choices... Right now I would say that the only interesting decision is whether to go hybrid or pure class and even that seems to have it's days numbered.

But you are right in one regard and I must admit that I've been failing to see the irony. WoW was my first MMO and now I play several other niche games. So I am one of the cases you just mentioned. :)
I find funny too is the general attitude among MMO gamers that whatever game they are playing is the best, and the rest are terrible/fail/etc. Everyone should leave the game they are playing and jump on the bandwagon and play whatever they play. Or if you play another game and don't quite understand it and ask for assistance, the "elite" gamers will tell you to "go back to WOW".

I myself have never really understood the whole hardcore mentality. Why does there have to be content only for those who, for the most part, want to have no life ? WOW in my opinion has done a good thing by making things accessible to everyone for the most part. As a company, even as an artist/designer, why would you want to design something, put all that time and energy into it, for only a small percentage to see ? Part of the fun of gaming is feeling like the hero. The hard part is striking the balance between making something challenging for your average person so they feel like they accomplished something, and not making either too easy, or too difficult.

I think what we've really lost over the years is the fun of the game. I think a good deal of folks if they honestly looked at their motivation for playing, might find that its not for fun anymore, but for trying to keep up with everyone else in some kind of e-peen competition. It's turned into keeping up with the Jones' instead of having fun playing a game. Why people remember the "good old days" was because it was new and exciting when it first came out. Compared to MUDS, tabletop D&D, and 2D overhead games - 3D MMO's were amazing. To find something now that will truely be mindblowing is going to take a real genius to come up with, to push the genre a huge step forward. For now, we will have to be content with tweaks and small steps forward.

It's your blog, of course, but I think you've just stepped across the line that divides sensible moderation from completely frivolous ego-centered moderation.

"Comment moderation is difficult. It is not about disagreement, but it isn't just about profanity, but also about whether the comment adds something to the discussion."

As a long time blogger (7 or 8 years, 3 different blogs) that viewpoint is completely wrongheaded to me, as it is one that is most often taken up by political bloggers looking to create an echo chamber.

Once you've taken the mental step to believe in your own mind that it's alright to ban something because [in your opinion] "it adds nothing to the conversation" it's completely natural to progress to shutting down more and more things you don't agree with (consciously or not).

Filtering out personal attacks is one thing, filtering out ideas is another beast altogether.
The majority of complaints which reflect this thinking ("WoW is de-evolving") either focus on the levelling game ("devoid of any challenge") or normal mode raids ("free epics").

They propose to counter the former increasing the amount of grinding between levels and the latter by making loot drops rare.

Neither sound like a lot of fun to me.

I thank the heavens that game design is left in the capable hands at Blizzard.

For readers that feel WoW is too childish for them, I believe Syncaine would like to sell you something...
Filtering out personal attacks is one thing, filtering out ideas is another beast altogether.

What exactly are you accusing me off?

I did NOT filter out any idea. I just did not publish the idea in blog post A where it didn't belong, but created a blog post B to discuss the idea. That is the equivalent of a forum moderator moving a thread which has been posted in the wrong sub-forum.

Imagine I write a post about the adventures of my WoW mage, and a commenter decides to use this threat for a comment to rant about RMT and Chinese gold farmers, just because I mentioned that my mage has a lot of gold. Then of course RMT excites people much more than mages, and the whole comment thread is derailed into a completely off-topic discussion, and the people who would love to discuss mages are lost.

Or what if commenter X decides to post long walls of text praising Darkfall and telling everyone how horrible WoW is in every single comment thread? How would you handle such situations? Not every troll comment uses personal attacks or profanity.

In short, if you AREN'T a moderator of a forum or blog, it is extremely easy to proclaim highly idealistic principles of not censoring anyone. But once you have to actually do the job, you'll find out that like most things in life not everything is so black and white.
Definitely in agreement with you here.

I would not have survived Everquest if I played it when I was in High School. I might have enjoyed it at the time, but then I'd look back at it from 2010 and ask myself how I could stomach such a harsh world.
I really agree with what Bernard says. The 'WoW is de-evolving' crowd is usually made of people who have not even tried the challenging content that WoW has (read hardmodes and high level Arena here). It's extremely funny to see players in trade chat complaining how easy WoW is now, but falling silent when asked to link their hard mode achievementes. Yeah...

WoW is not a perfect game by any means, and there are a lot of perfectly valid criticisms that can be targeted at it. Complaining that it is TOO ACCESSIBLE and TOO EASY is not one of those.
To de-evolve something, in this case WoW, is to make it more simplistic or decrease its inherent complexity.

No. De-evolution would be a reduction in the fitness of an organism; if it somehow became less capable of dealing with its environment. Perhaps a population of animals that was so small they had to resort to incest, so genetic diseases and birth defects became common.

To the degree that the concept of natural selection can be applied to video games (whose purpose is to make money for the company making it), it's quite clear that that WoW is vastly fitter than every other MMO, and until Blizzard starts making missteps that make the game less popular, it can hardly be said to de-evolve. Complexity is not necessarily beneficial, nor is it a sign of evolution.
De-evolution is a biological fallacy. There is no such thing at all. Everything evolves in one direction, to adapt to its environment. It doesn't matter how complex or simple it becomes, it is still forward evolution.
I miss EQ, I used to play on Sullon Zek which was a "race" PvP server with LOOTING.. no other pvp has come close to the feeling of danger and excitement since the risk vs. reward was so high.

I remember there were these two druids who always banded together and would go on a tear killing people and looting their corpse if you saw them in the zone, you'd actually feel a sense of fear if you knew they were in the zone.

I was a mage, with a RL friend of mine who was also a mage, we had constant back and forth battles with these druids, although they had the upper hand with tracking and "SoW" (speed increase - spirit of the wolf)

One day I was at my lvling spot, killing the same 4 named mobs over and over, meditating between spawn times, and I fell asleep at my desk, I wake up to tells from my friend "hey you there?" "oh my god you fell asleep didn't you" "where's your new robe?, oh jeez" yea they looted my epic robe (robe of the elements) which was very rare... I learned my lesson.

Imagine having on the line your newly acquired 251 weapon or other epic, but having the chance of nabbing someone elses. You also LOST EXP when you died (equivilent to 1 hour of RL time) Made the game like an emotional rollercoaster, very hardcore but I miss it. WoW is very carebear in comparison.
I have an interesting take on this post. I quit playing WoW in June and went from 40 hours a week actively playing an MMO to 0 overnight.

Since then, patches have come, changes have been made and I've read all the patch notes and complained about almost every one of them to myself.

I've even been able to think of 'the bad' in good additions like the Dungeon Finder.

For me, at least, this post puts my feelings about these changes in perspective. When I was actively playing, I didn't care because I simply adapted.

Now that I am NOT playing, I don't adapt -- I just get irritated that things are different.

The point I take away from this post is that MMOs change. They'll always change and it doesn't make much sense to get irritated if I am no longer willing to adapt. That's an issue with ME, not the game.
I think someone did make a good point. The vast majority of people playing WoW today are WoW fans and not MMO fans.

This creates a false impression that the MMO market is huge, when in reality it's just WoW that's huge. Sure WoW has opened up more peoples eyes to MMOs but the "tourist" problems experienced over the past 18 months proves that most WoW players aren't willing to leave WoW for an extended period of time.

WoW isn't de-evolving. It is changing. See we went and used an analogy and everyone is twisting the analogy to fit their argument rather than looking at the reason for the analogy.

WoW has changed ALOT since it first launched. It has changed the MMO genre even more since UO and EQ. Blizzard has made MMOs more accessible to the average gamer who doesn't want to commit alot of time to a game.

If WoW is to easy is subjective.
People who argue that WoW has moved backwards because it has removed arbitrary skill barriers are missing the point.

Themepark MMOs have always been first and foremost tests of perseverance. PvE themeparks should probably stay that way--they don't have a good reason to be difficult. If they were difficult it would break the entire themepark paradigm by preventing players from getting on as many rides as possible over time as their money leaks through their pockets every month.
"But if you read the list of "changes" you posted ... heirlooms, no more elites, low XP requirements ... are those actual evolutionary changes to the game/genre, or just making an older game more appetizing?"

As others have pointed out evolutionary change is any change as a reaction to the environment, so any of those things really are evolutionary change.

However if I pretend you question is "are those significant change, or just new lipstick for the pig?" we get a more interesting question. My apologies if that isn't what you really intended...

Sure some of those things are pretty trivial changes, alter a few numbers in a table (XP curves and elite/regular status). However a lot of game crafting really is sweating the small stuff (20 years ago I worked for a game company). How fast do missiles travel? How frequently are they fired? Fine tuning that sort of thing is technically trivial, but it makes a huge difference in how fun the game is.

Tweaking that sort of thing even five years after a release is an effective way to change the feel of the game. That could be "lipstick on the pig", or it could be a really effective use of engineering resources to deal with a changing player base (or market competition).

Heirlooms are clearly non-trivial. They are a simple idea, and they were done in D&D3.5, and I imagine other tabletop games, and maybe computer games. However both balancing them, and deciding where they fit on the "gear goodness" scale, and such isn't as simple as tweaking the XP curves. The code for them is likely pretty simple, but the choice to make them "a bit better then blues" vs. "better then greens, about as good as blues" or even "better then greens, not as good as blues" is pretty significant game wise.

Likewise the choice to make heirlooms for any class purchasable once you hit 80 is significant.

Things like the dungeon finder have some game balance issues, but far more game feel issues (trade off making the world feel immersive vs. actually experiencing lots of instances for example). The code there is also not so trivial (I bet most of it came from the code to run battlegrounds though).

I would say WoW's recent changes are a lot more the lipstick for the pig...even if many seem that way at first blush.

(Which I admit is a different issue from "are the changes good!"...the answer there is clearly "for a lot of people things are getting better, for some people things are getting worse. Sorry if you are one of the folks not liking it. Grats if you like the directions things are heading in")
I'm with Tobold on this one; I really don't get the de-evolution argument. If you're complaining the game has gotten too easy then have you tried any of the encounters on hardmode? If anything the game has gotten more difficult with the addition of this feature that allows the encounter designers to push the envelope in terms of difficulty while not having to worry about the overall accessibility of content. Not only have they expanded the game for those that crave a challenge but they've opened up previously inaccessible areas (raids) to hordes of new and casual players. I can't see this as anything but an evolution in the game design.
I only lasted in EQ to level 27 before I had to run away screaming. I played UO for over 4 years straight. I understand what you are saying.

WoW did offer me a sort of "peace of mind" that I could do what I needed to at my own pace. They still have quite a bit of things in there that are a pain to find out about, but I can see that they are working on that too.

I played many other MMO's after EQ, but that grind just always turned me away from them to the point I threw in the towel for over 8 years before I could even look at another MMO.

Nice post!
I think someone did make a good point. The vast majority of people playing WoW today are WoW fans and not MMO fans.

I'm so tired of this WoW fan vs. MMO fan argument. You can't simply remove WoW from the MMO discussion because it's convenient for your argument.

It's a fallacy called 'denying the correlative' which intends to persuade by introducing a false alternative.

The fact is WoW is an MMO and it's fans are both WoW and MMO fans. You can't simply deny that WoW fans are MMO fans because it doesn't fit with your argument.
According to Google Analytics less than 10% of the readers of a post also read the comments, and less than 1% writes a comment. Of course we can define "regular reader" as "one who reads the comments", which would make your statement automatically true. But the sad fact is that most of the audience prefers to keep away from the user debate.

If that's the case, why do you spend so much effort on "user moderation" issues? It seems like every week there's a new "moderation" policy-related post (this being a prime example of one) that detracts from the greater MMO discussion. If it doesn't matter what people say in the comments why even bother police them so harshly? Just let people say what they want barring ad hominems. I think you would enjoy blogging a lot more if you personally took user commenting as lightly as the statistics you just leaned upon suggest.
Ben, what does the one have to do with the other? What comments do mean to me is independant of how big a percentage of readers are using them. I was just pointing out your fallacy of saying "comments are important to me, so they must be important to everyone".
De-evolve, the word/verb, has a valid use in english language and isn't strictly and solely associated with Darwinian science/biology.

As a post graduate biologist I can reliably inform you that Darwin, in print, only used the word 'Evolve' on one single occasion. Other scientists associated the word and now the branch of science we have with the work of Darwin.

The word existed before Darwin and it meant 'to unroll a book' in Darwin's time, and derived from Latin but probably its french usage.

In the case of Warcraft we have an artefact that isn't under the shaping control of a random environment or self replicating game code subject to errors during the writing of game CDs.

Warcraft is governed by human minds, shaped in a controlled and calculated fashion. Rules are introduced, as are mechanics and various systems by people. Those rules, mechanics and systems can be stripped away and/or simplified by people.

quod erat demonstrandum

Thus saying it, Warcraft or any other artefact, can be 'de-evolved' is a perfectly valid assumption and argument.

On that note, my opinion of WoW is less than rosy at the moment... I've tried all aspects of the game and feel it is time to bin it. I have been considering a review though, as a tool to practise and hone my writing skills. It will be a lengthy review covering nearly 5 years of game play... an exit interview if you will. If the T wants to link it when it's done, then he is more than welcome to.
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