How to beat WoW

World of Warcraft is the MMO with the largest player base. There’s billions of ’em. It’s the game that all new MMOs are held up against. It’s the game that all MMO developers and publishers are looking to beat, or at the very least steal a large chunk of players from it. For the last five years, people have been asking about what game is gonna take the limelight (and paying customers) off of WoW. Here’s some ideas as to how a developer could go about it.

WoW is based on the Warcraft universe, which has been going since 1994’s Warcraft: Orcs & Humans. There’s been Warcraft 2 and 3 since then, and each game has brought more additions and amendments to the universe. Important points being – this is Blizzard’s universe, they can do what the fuck they like with it, they don’t have to stick to “canon”, they don’t have a license they have to abide by, and they’re not afraid of changing what they’ve already put in place to strengthen the universe or the stories they are creating. They’ve had years to build this place in three games and their related expansion packs. When it come time to making WoW, they had an abundance of stories and locations which they could use, and their core audience were already well-versed in the lore. If anyone seriously wants to go head-to-head with WoW, they better bring a damn good licence to the table (Star Wars would be a good bet right now), or they better take five years pre-production and make a universe which is compelling and has a smattering of originality over the other MMO games out there (no-one would ever do this).

World of Warcraft is based around gameplay whereby you can’t really fail. What I mean is that, if you play by the rules and recommendations that come with the quests, you’ll never really truly get properly stuck. Sure, you can try and solo Molten Core at level 12, and you’ll never ever do it. If you stick to the quest text and the recommended players and the recommended level for a quest (if you’ve got an appropriate mod installed, of course), then you’ll never get to anything that you can’t do on your own. There is always a way to complete any objective on your own. The game encourages group play, but if this isn’t viable, you can still blast through most things comfortably solo style. PvP is there to remind you that there is an element of skill involved, however this can sometimes be put down to who can press the correct number key quick enough. Sure, you can learn the counter to any move or spell, and get better at clicking it quicker than anyone else, but on the whole you can happily blunder through it and get rewards (I know this from personal experience). Where WoW is clever is that it manages to easily trick you into thinking that you are better at the game than you actually are. This is why people stick with it, because it is difficult to not be successful. It constantly reinforces the fallacy that you are being rewarded for applying skill (when you apply skill to the game, you are actually getting rewarded quicker than less-skilled players). This is a hard thing to get right – make the game feel too easy, and there’s no feeling of challenge. Make the game feel too hard, and you’ll turn more inexperienced gamers off. WoW is balanced to perfection. Any challenger to WoW will have to be easy enough to pull in and keep “new” gamers, and it will also have to appear difficult enough to coax players to learn new, successful tactics. A hard trick to pull off, and one which took Blizzard a while to get right.

Everquest. Lord of the Rings Online. World of Warcraft. Guild Wars. Every other MMO on the planet (ok, this isn’t anywhere near true, but it does feel like they’re all like this). They have many things in common, but one of the most fundamental is this – click on something with the right mouse button, and it will die. Press a button, or a designated keyboard key, and it will die quicker. The main reason why they all follow this template is that you can explain it to anyone who has never ever played a game before. It’s a concept which is along the same lines as the instructions on the side of the original Pong cabinet (AVOID MISSING BALL FOR HIGH SCORE). You can explain it to your gran. However, after 5 years of WoW, and 10 years of Everquest, it’s safe to say that the majority of people who would get into MMOs are now into them. If a game wants to beat WoW, they can’t use the same gameplay. It is tired now. It’s been done to death. Sure, 10 million WoW players can’t be wrong, but I’ll bet they can be shown something they’d not thought of which they’ll like better. Or take the same “right-click to kill” gameplay, but add to it. WoW has done this, slightly, with things like the dragon mounts in the Lich King, and the vehicles in Wintergrasp, but they’re all still using the same gameplay. Why not add a shooting gallery? Why not add a section where you’re in a mine cart, like in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, shooting at people as you whizz through (yep, an on-rails shooter)? How much better would the end of Deadmines be if, instead of running up a rock face and through a long tunnel, you all got in a mine cart and hurtled your way out the back? Flying mounts. The dragons you get in WotLK. You get on them, and you pilot them with W, A, S and D, and you aim them by holding the right mouse button and moving the mouse. Why not, just this once, take the right mouse button out of it? Why not let you fire guns that are strapped to the dragons (left click)? Why not let the dragons flame the shit out of things (right click)? Make it like a 3D version of Afterburner; dragons spinning round each other, trying to get a bead on one another, flames all over the place. Any pretender to WoW’s throne needs to really bring something new to the table. Maybe stealing existing game genres and slapping them on the top of the existing MMO template will be enough to make it feel fresh once more.

And finally, the one thing which developers (or publishers) never ever seems to get, even though it is fucking screamingly obvious. MMOs become communities. Communities made up of guilds or factions or whatever. They get like this because people like to play with like-minded people. What MMOs always do when they launch is go “we’re here, and you are there, and if you want to come here, you have to do all that shit again”. When what they should say is “if you’d like to come over here, and bring your friends with you, let us make it easier for you”. Let players reserve their player names and character names, so everyone from the old game knows who they are. Let guild leaders reserve the same guild name if they want to. Let guild leaders reorganise the guild in a browser; before, during and after the game launch.¬†Don’t make people start up from scratch again if they don’t want to. If you want proof as to this point, just look up Syndicate. They’ve hit every MMO for years. I’m sure they’d be chuffed to fuck if they didn’t have to set up yet another guild in game, and only when each and every player was online.

I’m tired now, but that’s my current thoughts on it. Maybe more later.

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