Tobold's Blog
Wednesday, December 14, 2011
We need new categories

Is Star Wars: The Old Republic more like World of Warcraft, or is it more like Skyrim?

For many people the answer to this question is simple, because we tend to think in categories of theme park games versus sandbox games. SWTOR like WoW is definitively theme park, Skyrim is far more sandbox. But having played a lot of Skyrim between the SWTOR beta weekend and the early access, I couldn't help but notice that the reasons why I play Skyrim and not WoW are very similar to the reasons why I play SWTOR and not WoW: SWTOR and Skyrim are full of interesting stories, while WoW is more about execution and gimmicks. SWTOR and Skyrim have worlds that are coherent within themselves, WoW is far more of a mishmash spanning everything from jokes about goblin bling to dramatic high fantasy and science fiction in a single game. In short: In SWTOR and Skyrim I care about what happens, the characters, their motives, even my dialogue responses that aren't linked to any point gains. In WoW I just click accept without even reading the quests any more, and I visit dungeons without caring a bit about why these bosses are in there waiting for me.

Now part of this is certainly an effect of simply being new. I fear it is inevitable that sooner rather than later the theorycrafters will try to ruin SWTOR and tell everybody what morons they are if they aren't using the optimized talent builds they developed. The day you chose "boring talent A" over "fun talent B", just because talent A gives 1.7% more damage per second than B, is the day you effectively decided you care more about the game than about the world. At some point the decision of whether to go light side or dark side in SWTOR for some people will be made based on arguments like "but light side gives better gear for jedi knights". And then the lore and the stories stop mattering and we are back to World of Warcraft.

How fast and far this will develop probably depends very much on how difficult endgame "raid" instances in SWTOR will be. I get tons of negative comments every time I ask for MMORPGs to have relatively easy endgame raids, along the lines of "u r just too stupid to play hard raids". But fact is that the harder you make content to beat, the less options players have to beat that content. If players really *need* the 1.7% more dps from talent A to beat the typical raid boss, it is hard to blame them for all using the same cookie cutter build of the month. If the challenge is somewhat easier, different combinations of talents and tactics can all work, and we end up with a more interesting and varied MMOPRG because of that. One that allows us to still care about the world and our characters, and not only about our stats and performance.

Even if Star Wars: The Old Republic isn't exactly a sandbox game, I would certainly call it a "world" MMORPG, as opposed to the "game" MMORPGs like World of Warcraft. At least for the moment. We will see how this works out in the long term.

Fab post! this so much:

"The day you chose "boring talent A" over "fun talent B", just because talent A gives 1.7% more damage per second than B, is the day you effectively decided you care more about the game than about the world."

Am a big believer in "good is good enough" in MMOs - the min/maxing mania has ruined a lot of WoW's coooperative and community factors in my opinion (besides the effects you mention on story and world).

Another similar debate is the holy trinity one; fixed roles, fixed group setups force players to play in exactly one way, rather than grouping up with who they have fun hanging around with. players shouldn't have to make the choice between the great player and the friend, just as much as they shouldn't have to choose between taking the tank rather than the best mate (who happens to be another healer).

I know many players disagree with this - but I want complete freedom in grouping up. and this is also affected by too hard content and/or theorycrafting.
That depends on whether Bioware will implement endgame-level stories. And I'm not talking about the usual excuses to go after the villain of the week. The story itself needs to have depth, and bigger isn't always better.

Freespace 2 custom mission community had this great phrase: Endor Syndrome. A common mistake was to make the space battle bigger and flashier.. and utterly boring because the "mission" was really simple and just an excuse for eye candy.

Sure, the climactic scene in Return of the Jedi had more ships, more troops and more eye candy than anything before it. But when people tried to emulate it in Freespace 2, they only focused on Lando Carlissian. Fly in, fire a shot, fly out. No Ackbar, no Piett, no Luke, no Anakin, no Emperor, no Leia, no Han.. Even the often-mocked ewoks learnt some harsh lessons about asymmetric warfare against a superior opponent.

If gear and stats are the only thing that offers sufficient depth to keep veteran players interested, then that's what they'll keep obsessing about.
Well, that certainly plays into Bioware hyping up their description of story as the fourth pillar. Do you think we can maybe get another MMO that focuses on the world and character and story as much if TOR succeeds?
Two comments on this:

First, I don't think that the process of 'zomg u bad lrn2copypastbild nub' is inevitable.

City of Heroes has (or at least had when I played) a quite active theorycrafting community, but they generally focused on the fun of pushing their own limits - "Let's see how ludicrously high I can push the difficulty and still survive" - rather than optimizing the life out of group content so they could get better loot so they could optimize the life out of the next tier of content. CoH's developers were aware of this community and basically said "Hey, we're glad you guys are having fun soloing content designed to be challenging for 8-person groups, but we're going to continue to produce content intended for general consumption."

WoW, by contrast, has evolved a culture of people who view content as an obstacle to be removed as quickly as possible in pursuit of perfecting their spreadsheets, and developers who pander (panda?) to that preference.

It's still to early to tell which way TOR is going to go, of course, but my early impression - based on talking to people in game and on forums, and reading public reaction to the wide beta - is that a lot of the "race to level cap then grind the gear some Web site told them to" crowd will either rage-quit by about the third time they do group content (Flashpoints especially) with a 'y u ghey badz no skp' or find themselves actually playing the game, rather than treating it as an Excel macro.

Second, I don't think that "needing" 1.7% DPS makes a raid harder. It just adds a "your e-peen must be this >< long before entering" sign by the door.
Very interesting observations. I agree.

The Looking For Raid feature of WoW addresses some of the things you write about. The raids are simpler and definitely puggable. The goal of those raids isn't to provide a challenge that requires min/maxing to give you the best advantage. The goal instead is to give more access to raids without the time and commitment requirement. The other modes are still there, and they provide "better" rewards for the extra effort.

As someone who has never been able to raid seriously because I am a husband and father of three (and therefore don't have the time to dedicate) this new mode is great! It has allowed me to "raid" and kill big bosses and feel the end game story. I am playing with a bunch of strangers, and I get the feeling that conquering a challenge in a social setting is more rewarding (not just in loot quality). But for me, someone who plays WoW for it's story (despite the mishmash), it's changed the game for the better.

All this to say, I think WoW may be moving more in the direction of getting players to care more about the story than their talent choices. The story may be too messed up for some at this point, but as a fan of the game, I feel it's getting better, not worse.
One thing that is concerning me about SWTOR is the incentives behind the Light versus Dark choice, which I believe are hurting the system.

It's my understanding that there are only special weapons and items for "extreme light" and "extreme dark" attunements.

With the incentives setup this way, I can easily see it falling into a category where people who play anything but the extremes don't get rewarded.

At that point, it becomes less of an interesting choice, and just another thing you have to powergame or you're cheating yourself of equipment.

How exciting is the following choice: "Chose option A, which gets you closer to fancy stuff ("your goal"), or chose Option B, which takes you *further away* from that fancy stuff."

Light and Dark shouldn't be "progression towards items" for only the extremes, or else I'm going to feel like I'm stepping backwards every time I chose the opposite side - which kills the roleplaying aspect. I love the idea of uniquely defining my character with my choices, but that sucks if doing that just slows down the "progression."

They need to have some crazy items that require a certain amount of neutrality, or something to balance the incentives.

Light/Dark shouldn't just be a race to the extremes.
Sort of stunning article. I think of SWTOR and WoW doubled. It's pure rollercoaster linear-quests with no world whatsoever.
I'd like to see end game raiding revamped to work more like World War 2. In a massive and complex combat all sorts of people are useful: commandos, spies, snipers, cooks, generals. Also all sorts of talents could be useful too.

I suppose Eve does this to some extent but I don't actually see why endgame raiding in theme park dikus can't be more like this. At one point my friend and I were in high demand for BRD runs because our dual Rogue gank and Vanish trick was the only real way to beat the Lyceum on our faction, before people could brute force it. There were certainly elements of Vanilla WoW raiding that went beyond the "spec for 1.7% more dps" mentality.
I'd like to echo Daniel's comment. LFR has given me the game I really want, without the social commitment I just can't make.

Tobold, I encourage you to give it a try, I'd like to hear what you think.
I think that's probably more to do with age and familiarity than any inherent differences between WoW, Skyrim and SW:TOR.

Do I read the quest text and contemplate the stories behind WoW dungeons? Not any more, because I've done all that already many times over the course of the last seven years.

But the first time around, I certainly cared as much as I did in any CRPG.
@Bradicus - while there are items that are only available to characters with particular Light Side or Dark Side levels, that doesn't have to get in the way of the story. There are ways of gaining LS or DS points (such as sending your companions on appropriate Diplomacy tasks) so even if you feel a LS choice in your quest is the right "story" choice, it won't block you from getting the "game" reward if you have your heart set on a piece of DS gear.
The story, and player involvement with it, should have an impact on the world. Imagine if players farmed resources to build a ship that forever destroyed a city, or wiped certain mobs out of existence, only to cause the rise of an even deadlier foe! The possibilities are endless and players want it but it seems that the development required for this is too complicated.

Wow has become an iLevel-upgrade game in a big empty content world -- it has no story and no meaning. My hope is that SWTOR does not copy this, but only time will tell.
To be honest tobold, wow's content was never that hard unless you want to get all the heroic achievement hardmodes done. Since wrath of the lich king every raid has been achievable without min maxing the hell out of it. I've never gone any place with the best combination of gear possible, Or in groups that allready had all that stuff. The talents i had were pretty close to cookie cutter but the reality that the only "fun" talents that were optional were completely aimed at player vs player content, and dual spec allready allowed me to pick those up if i wanted to.
The whole number cruncing min maxing just helps me achieve content that my gear technically shouldn't be ready for. Wow's difficulty was never high enough to demand all that. Those were simply your fellow players, and usually idiots to demand it. Late in the expansion after content was allready tunded downthey demanded 5 - 6 times the numbers that we used to clear the content in their unnerfed form.

I do find wow's story line lacking but i don't believe the whole number crunching / min maxing community has such an impact as you claim. On the other hand i know you quit wow on being flamed for not doing enough of x and being told that your talent spec was bad etc. If i come across idiots like that i simply find a new group. And i smile when i see them being denied access to groups i'm allready in, because they, regardless of their achievements, gearscores, optimal gear etc, simply can't play their characters and are refused. Whereas i've never been denied access to those groups and only been kicked out of 1 dungeon so far in my entire career. ( and that was completely fair, i was on the phone and let them all die )
In all the games I have played with voice acting, the big thing I noticed was it forced a certain amount of brevity. NPC responses need to be concise, just one or two sentences.

WoW and other similar games do not hesitate to throw a several paragraph wall of text at you for every "gather 10 X" quest.
Maybe if developers were creative enough to design a game such that using different talents and tactics WAS the most efficient way to beat a raid, that's what would become the norm. I've always agreed with you when you've mentioned ideas about randomized encounters and making game play more about adapting your abilities to the given situation.
Yesterday I have been invited to early access in SW:ToR, I found a nice feature. You can disable the display of light/dark side decisions. Out of the box, the decisions are only displayed when you mouse over the answer wheel, which I rarely did, and so I learned late that there's a display telling you what the answer will do. So yesterday, I just disabled it and play my character without it. My answers will not be based on the points gain.
This hit the nail on the head. I played wow from the beginning and loved the comraderie and fun. When a friend said I couldn't participate in something because my hit rating was too low (via an app), I shipped all my gear out to people and cancelled my subscription. Wow is dead and I don't think SWTOR will last long before fun is replaced with stats. I will play month to month and cancel pretty much as soon as there's an app to discriminate fun.
I think the word you are looking for is CONGRUENT. Both SWTOR and Skyrim are congruent with their chosen theme.

When WoW started, it was at least congruent with Blizzard's Warcraft lore which isn't saying much. You had 2 types of engineering - goblin and gnomish, and you could mix the two which goes all the way to Warcraft II lore.

I'm afraid I lost track of all the incongruent things Wow did, I have stopped playing it after WotLK. I see they've added plants vs zombies though and the new Pandarem expansion has left me ... stunned.

It's like seeing a four-dour Porsche, oh wait, there's the Panamera.
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