Sunday, November 09, 2008

World of Warcraft: A Jack of All Trades

Wrath of the Lich King is getting close to release and I can tell by the amount of people on the servers that a lot of players are returning to the game. World of Warcraft seems to have a siren's call that the general MMO populace just can't resist. Some think World of Warcraft's continuing popularity is due to it being the first MMO for so many people, but I'm not so sure. I know game nostalgia can be a powerful force, I still find myself playing the original Master of Orion sometimes. However, MMOs are constantly getting more content and changing their mechanics. Unlike a console game you can never go back and get the same experience in a MMO. Instead it seems more likely that people return to World of Warcraft for some other reason.

I like to think of World of Warcraft as the biggest snowball in the history of video games. It just keeps rolling around picking up innovation from other games and making itself larger. Only niche areas like player housing, which Blizzard ignores on purpose, escape being assimilated. This is why making a new MMO with the same scope of content would be so incredibly expensive. And while I don't think it would take a billion dollars, it would definitely require more money then anyone else has spent. Just look at the amount of money EA spent on making Warhammer. It was probably similar to what Blizzard originally spent on World of Warcraft, but so much has been added since then. Warhammer clearly crushes World of Warcraft in a lot of specific PvP areas, but that doesn't seem to be enough to let it challenge Wrath of the Lich King.

Based on recent trends it seems like a decent number of people are leaving Warhammer to go back to World of Warcraft. I don't think its because they are looking back at World of Warcraft through rose colored glasses either. Blizzard does a great job of designing content for all the different play styles that people have. There's quests, dungeons, raids, arenas, battlegrounds, and even an attempt at a Warhammer's RvR zone. All of this content has been slowly improved since the game has been released. It doesn't matter that other games may be able to beat World of Warcraft in one or two areas. The combination of having "decent/polished" content in so many different areas seems to have a cumulative effect on the game's popularity.

There's a common description for hybrid classes in MMOs which goes "jack of all trades, master of none." It's a nice way of saying that you can do a bit of everything, but don't expect to be the best in anything. This sort of reminds me a lot of how World of Warcraft is put together. It's player combat isn't as good as Warhammer, its raiding isn't as good as Everquest 2 and its economy definitely doesn't run as smoothly as EVE Online. Yet for all the problems of being a jack of all trades it seems that it's worked out for the game. There's a finite amount of content in any MMO and players don't like focusing on a single area as much as you would think. Most players want to run dungeons, fight some other players and maybe raid every so often. While Blizzard probably isn't the best in any of these areas they do offer high quality content in all of them.

Based on the success of World of Warcraft and its expansions I can only guess that they have the right idea. Don't spend all your development time trying to be the best in one specific area, just have decent content in all of them. After all sometimes that old saying is worded as: "jack of all trades, master of none, though better then a master of one."


slux said...

I think you're right about WoW's popularity not being because of nostalgia. For me, now returning to check out the new WoW I certainly have found that WoW does a lot of things better than the competition.

For me one of the things that WoW does really, really well is just the artistic style and user interface. I can't say any area of WoW is really poorly done compared to the competition I have experienced, except maybe for PVP which hasn't really sparked my interest anyway but I'm curious, how do you think EQ2 raiding is better than WoW?

br3ntbr0 said...

If you like PVE, more specifically raids and dungeon crawls with some PVP splashed in for flavor I agree that nothing beats WoW. I can see myself going back to check out what WotLK brings to the table, but I really do think its just 10 levels of the same stuff.

I could be very wrong, I'll stay on top of as many WoW bloggers as I can to get feedback. I've been playing Warhammer and loving 98% of it, but if some of the bugs that game STILL has don't get ironed out, I can see me back in WoW until the next good mmo comes out.

SolidState said...

I think many bloggers, especially those who cover multiple MMOs, are over-analyzing this issue and looking at it only from their own perspective.

It's all about time and money.

Most people who play an MMO just don't have the time to play another MMO in parallel.

Most people will not gladly pay $$ both for the box and the monthly payment of 2 or more MMOs in parallel.

This means I and many like me (I suspect most of the population) can't really choose to play both WoW and WAR, for example. We need to chose one.

WoW wins by being the current one, that's all. I doubt joe gamer sits reading review after review of WAR, agonizing whether he should move from WoW or not, weighing the pros and cons. Most likely, joe gamer doesn't even read gaming blogs, has never heard of WAR and so doesn't know that he has a choice.

Smartest thing that WAR could do is buy ad space on major WoW sites like wowhead, wowwiki and wowinsider.

Relmstein said...

Solidstate wins the comment award for using the term Joe Gamer in his argument though not the election. :-) It definitely would be a smart idea for Warhammer to advertise on WoWInsider. Probably drive some of the readers nuts though.

Bendyr said...

Oh my God, Master of Orion... You just dropped a major nostalgia bomb on me right there. Suddenly I'm 14 again and trying to overclock my 486 and figure out how to reduce my TSRs.

I have to say that my preference of WoW over WAR is probably just that I don't have the stomach for any MMO at launch. Both FFXI and WAR I started right at the launch and was so disgusted by obvious game flaws that I couldn't play anymore. I started WOW about 2 years into it's production run where everything was running pretty smoothly. I let my WAR subscription lapse because I was just really not very impressed with the interface, and because the public quests just completely dried on my server after tier 2, and the best way to level was to do Tor Anroc over and over and over which made me want to gouge my eyes out.

I'm sure they've fixed these, and I'll probably revisit the game once I hit 80 on my WoW toon.

Anonymous said...

@Bendyr - yes, WAR definitely has a tier 3 problem. Nobody does anything but Tor Anroc. And because the map favors Desto (they start a little closer to the bauble spawn), if you are on the Order side, it's an even longer grind to 30.

I can't figure out why Order people queue for TA. If they chose another scenario and all queued for that, the Destro folks would follow, or not have a scenario pop at all.

Anyway - point is I now have two characters in the 20s and I am having a very hard time forcing myself to log in and do TA.

I'm unwilling to go do the WoW end game grindfest at 80... so I'm headed back to LOTRO this week, to get ready for Moria. :)

Bendyr said...

Heh, it's so funny that you say that. My friend who still plays WAR is always complaining about how he thinks order has an advantage in TA. Some things will never change in any MMO I suppose. Grass is always greener.

BTW, relmstein- I think there is some kind of problem with your front page. When I go to it I only see your october posts at the top of the page.

Yashima said...

I loved Master of Orion :D I think we mostly played the second part of the series. 3rd part played better without my interference and that sucked.

Anyway I enjoyed this article and the snowball explanation. I like to discuss the past and future of games and I am still so fascinated by the success of WoW and have been following these discussions for years now.

Wrath makes the game fresh and exciting again and frankly I am surprised how many people returned to the game and are now back to happily playing ...