Monday, March 15, 2010

Rob Pardo of Blizzard Explains Why I'd Hate WoW

So my wife and several of our friends are huge World of Warcraft players, and dutifully plunk down their $14.95 a month to add to Blizzard Entertainment's coffers (which I can only even remotely justify by my fantasy that they're using the money to finance a secret private space program which will eventually put NASA out of the business of ferrying people and equipment to orbit, but I digress).

I found this presentation by Rob Pardo, who is apparently some sort of muckety-muck at Blizzard Entertainment (the executive vice-president of game design, so the presentation tells me), the folks who create and run World of Warcraft. In it, he goes through some of the design philosophies that underlie the way they approach the design of their game. And in so doing, he gives a quick bullet-point presentation of why I would absolutely loathe World of Warcraft. It is, in a nutshell, the anti-OSR.

Some of these criticisms are going to naturally apply to all such MMORPG's, as there are simply limits they cannot avoid. However, if those limits prevent me from playing (or, perchance, designing) a game that I'd like to play, I'm going to dump on them. But nobody said this was a fair blog, now did they? In the order in which they are presented...
The challenge is to keep players jumping through the correct hoops, while making those hoops fun.
Okay, you lost me at "jumping through the correct hoops". I don't want there to be correct hoops. I want there to be a million hoops, and most of them aren't "correct". Save the hoops for the trained poodles; I want to explore a world and be able to exercise some influence upon it. That's fun, capiche?
keep game play simple in terms of mechanics and objectives, but design the game in a way that the challenges scale with the ability of play
The whole idea of "the challenges scale with the ability of play" annoys me. Sometimes things are just meant to be run away from, period. You're a second level fighter and you come on a dragon? It's not going to be a very young dragon just because you're second level, but ancient if you were 15th. The environment should not alter just because it is first encountered by someone who is of a particular level, or class, or what have you. The environment simply is. And, in that same bullet-point, they say that they had consciously designed their :
death penalty as a 'tax' of sorts where you'd have to pay to repair your gear,
So that death isn't death at all. Absolutely no investment in the character. Why bother? There's no risk. And where there's no risk, there's no real reward. Just bang on the keys enough times, and you'll reach 60th level.
But from a development standpoint, if the majority of your player base is using addons to modify the existing UI, that's a clue that something wasn't quite right with the way the UI was originally designed.
And here I get a real sense of the WoW designers (or maybe it's MMORPG designers in general; it really makes no difference to me) as control freaks with insecurity issues. "Oh noes! Someone is viewing our game in a way we didn't intend!" Could it not simply be that different people have different needs, and preferences, and that designing something with a stripped-down UI in the first place, that actually encouraged the players to design their own modifications, might be a valid way of doing things? It'd be the equivalent of designing a game where it was almost impossible to design a character properly without using the company-provided tool. But nobody would do that...
Every unit, every class should feel unstoppable, overpowered and epic -- because it's just more fun that way.
I... just... damn. I weep. Remember that old Twilight Zone episode where the hoodlum dies and goes to the afterlife? He gets everything he wants; wins at roulette, always scores with the beautiful girls, absolutely everything. And after a few weeks he's going nuts from the boredom. That's when he realizes that he's not in Heaven after all... That's what WoW strikes me as from that line. A bunch of min-maxing twinks who just want to get their druid to 48th level for the sake of doing so. Story? Setting? Bah. It's all about the levels and the lucre, baby.
Less is more when 'less' is concentrated into one simple, overpowered and fun class to play.
See above. I want a fighter-magic-user-thief-cleric-assassin-ranger, damnit! That would be so fun!
Quest text shouldn't be necessary to understand the story -- it should be there to enhance the story that's already obviously playing out.
Vapid: va·pid (\ˈva-pəd, ˈvā-\), adjective. Lacking liveliness, tang, briskness, or force : flat, dull. "A story that relies on nothing but unsupported scenes that progress across the screen without any sort of context in the larger game setting, no matter how crammed full of superficial visual bells and whistles, is nothing but vapid get-me-to-the-next-level game design that commands as much intellectual engagement as a game of Donkey Kong." Synonyms: see insipid.
You started out gaining 100% xp, but the longer you played, the more that percentage dropped, eventually falling to 50%. This was to discourage players from playing more than a few hours at a time. Beta players hated this system -- so Pardo changed it by doubling the amount of xp required to reach maximum level in the game, starting players out with 200% xp gained, and slowly dropping it to 100% xp as they played. Same effect, same numbers, the only difference was the way the numbers were presented -- and people applauded the 'change'.
They just keep hammering this point home. It's like pinball machine point inflation. It's utterly meaningless in a relative sense, but treat your players like they're five-year-olds demanding more toy cars, and they'll never care that they're getting Matchbox cars instead of Dinky Toys.
As it stands, when you summon a mount it simply appears beneath you in a puff of smoke -- the animation department suggested that it would be really cool if you'd actually call your mount and have it run to you so you could hop on it, going so far as to mock up the animation for it. But there was a downside to this -- it took several seconds for that animation to play out, and if say, a rogue jumped out to stun lock you, you probably didn't want to be stuck stunned and rapidly dying while watching your horse gallop up to meet you.
Not only must they have it all, but they must have it all now. Three seconds for an animation to play out? Unbearable! The players in my campaign, for comparison, made fourth or fifth level after about a year of play. Uphill, in the snow, both ways.
With over 11.5 million players in WoW alone, it's clear Blizzard is doing something right -- and the panel did an excellent job of shedding a little light on what that something is.
I confess it's difficult to argue with such numbers; is it just a generational thing, maybe? Kids today, to coin a phrase, are just lazier, or perhaps have more of a sense of entitlement? (I wouldn't be the first to make the observation.) Back in the day, TSR had sales of around $16 million in 1982. Not bad, but hardly the mind-blowing numbers that Blizzard commands (come on, unveil that space elevator already, guys!). Then again, it was a different world, and a different game. That game demanded some imagination, some work, some investment. When a character died, that was (mostly) the end. Grab the dice.

I think what gets me here is the attitude of the players. Clearly, there are a whole bunch of folks out there who like this sort of game. Get everything you want, immediately, loudly, and with no risk. I suppose it makes sense on a certain primate-evolutionary-psychology level, like eating chocolate and starchy foods endlessly. But man, that's not a game I think I'd ever find interesting.

Forgive me Mr. President, but they hate us with every fiber of their existence. We love freedom. We love independence. To feel. To question. To resist oppression. To them, it is an alien way of existing they will never accept......

23 comments:

James said...

Yea, verily. Thank the Gaming Gods, I never got sucked into WoW. My little boy plays Wizard101 and loves it, so I'm sure he's going to want to give Wow a try, in a few years. I think I'll make a deal of some kind. He can play the mmorpg for x number of hours, if he plays D&D with mom & dad, once a week. I'm hoping he'll come to prefer the latter, once he sees what it has to offer.

Kobold said...

It's crack cocaine for folks who want pretty picture fantasy without having to meet people and interact with them.

And you pay for it. Every month. For as long as the addiction lasts.

Chris said...

"...why have us do any more of your imagining for you?"
-- Gary Gygax, 1974

"Hey kid. First hit's free..."
-- Blizzard Software, 2010

Yep. Antithetical cultures.

Ryan said...

Several of the players in my AD&D group, and one or two former players, are on again, off again WoW players, as are many present and former friends/acquaintances... and let me tell you, nothing turned me off to WoW more solidly than listening to enthusiasts try to convince me to try it.

Grendelwulf said...

I lost some good players to WoW. Usually ones where a significant other wasn't interested in the tabletop variety of games or of their loved one having their friends over regularly to socialize.

They had to choose what was 'best' for them. It was the 'safe' option.

I understood. I didn't agree. But I understood. Sadly.

Ciao!
Grendelwulf

Allandaros said...

I'm with you as a non-fan of WoW, but I think that you're being a bit unfair to Pardo in a few of his statements.

"But there was a downside to this -- it took several seconds for that animation to play out, and if say, a rogue jumped out to stun lock you, you probably didn't want to be stuck stunned and rapidly dying while watching your horse gallop up to meet you."

Not only must they have it all, but they must have it all now. Three seconds for an animation to play out? Unbearable! The players in my campaign, for comparison, made fourth or fifth level after about a year of play. Uphill, in the snow, both ways.


Pardo's not commenting about the delay of the animation, as much as (I think) the fact that the character was *locked* during the animation. Anyone would be annoyed if their PC got killed during a point where they should have been able to interact with the world.

Your comments about the UI are a bit confusing here. I'm not sure how you're going from "most players felt the need to change the UI from the default" to "by considering this a potential problem, Blizzard is stifling creativity." Firstly, it's worthwhile to note that Blizzard encourages addons that the players create. Secondly...let me try a car example. If folks start coming back into a Honda dealership, all saying "hey, I had to remove this weird floor mat you guys put in, it was interfering with the accelerator," then I would hope that Honda start doing something about that floor mat, since it's impeding the use of the car by the customers.

I agree wholeheartedly with your comments on "everything must be epic!", correct hoops, scaled challenges, and the dismissal of quest text.

The only area where I think I disagree with your assessment as such are the comments about character death - I play computer games with a different playstyle than I do tabletop RPGs. Death is not a permanent thing in most computer games because of the save function - if my space marine gets gutted by an alien in Level 1, I will happily reload and try shooting that bugger again. Similarly, if I'm playing a computer RPG and my party suffers a terminal existence failure, I see nothing wrong with reloading and trying again. (Note: if my fighter gets gutted by an orc in a tabletop game, I will laugh happily, curse the orc, and reach for 3d6.)

WoW's death mechanic is roughly analogous to the reloading, so I can't fault them *too* much there, even if it doesn't make much sense.

Of course, take all this with a grain of salt, because I'd put Edward James Olmos at the bottom of the post instead of Lorne Greene. :D

Rob L said...

With you 1000 percent. To avoid being a simple "me too" ditto-head, I'll add that I believe Plato said "Our youth are uncouth. They bolt their food." Ah, youth!

mksiebler said...

On the point of the quest text, if you've ever read any of Shamus Young's "Shamus Plays..." series, you'd shake your head in disbelief at the idiocy and vapidness of most of the actual text of the quests in most MMORPG's. I read his blog because:

1. he's a good writer, and funny
2. his articles serve as a constant reminder of why I never want to get back into computer gaming

http://www.shamusyoung.com/twentysidedtale/?p=7462

IDG said...

I too have never felt the urge to play WoW or any other MMORPG. I think there is a definite generation gap here, and a lot has to do with the TSR sales figures you quoted. Back in the day rpgs were a subculture for the creative, overachieving and nerdy (I speak as a former nerd). Today computer games are mainstream, and you'd be considered a nerd not to play one. In many things mass appeal = appealing to the lowest common denominator. I prefer the subculture.

Grendelwulf said...

"Sometimes you gotta roll a hard six..." -EJO as Commander Adama

Scott said...

It's unfortunate that this post goes so far into WoW-bashing territory that it ends up offering up a handful of insults to those who actually enjoy playing the game. I'm convinced by the way the author makes his points that he is simply looking for the worst possible ways to perceive each bullet point raised.

I mean, he even found a way to criticize the guy for saying "If the majority of users are using a 3rd-party mod, we should probably look at bringing that functionality into the core of the game." How can you POSSIBLY consider that a bad thing?

I know WoW is the cool, new, popular thing to do, and that makes it a really delicious target for criticism from those who believe that their preferred way of gaming is better (and are happy to explain exactly why), but there is no need to be so ridiculously critical about the whole thing, nor is there a need to make those who disagree with you sound like drooling teenage crack addicts.

Be careful. Those drooling teenage crack addicts would have plenty of unkind things to say about you and your choice of game if they so chose.

Richard said...

As a WOW player and an long time DnD player I'd feel insulted ... if you hadn't thrown your wife and several of your friends under the same bus!
For myself I don't see WOW and Dungeons and Dragons as in any form of competition. They are entirely different endeavors, one creative and deeply involving, the other a simple escape hatch that is (mildly) more engaging than watching the boob tube. Obviously I value "pen and paper" RPG play more, but for a quick and easy hour of entertainment, WOW is fine.
When I see people crap all over the OSR (an all too frequent event) ... I wonder why they bother. Now I have to wonder why you bothered with this? You have an amazing Blog that is a testament to all that is exciting and creative in RPG's. Honestly this is, in my opinion, beneath you.

Grendelwulf said...

@Scott: Let those drooling teenage crack addicts say their unkind things about us and our choice of game if they so choose. They already do. So it goes.

But as WoW wants to call itself a RPG, that is a slap in the face of the term. What real 'role' is there?

@Richard: Yes, D&D and WoW are apples and oranges. Then they shouldn't be referred to as the same thing.

Blizzard's rep made it pretty clear from the typical business standpoint of who their audience is and how they like to move their cattle-of-choice.

FREEDOM IS SLAVERY
IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH

What's wrong with a little self-expression on the Old Schooler's part?

It's only okay to voice one's dissent or disapproval when it's one's own group and not another's?

It's not beneath anyone.
It's called self-expression. We're human. We can have an opinion. Even of it means we all wake up tomorrow and say, "Hey, you know what? WoW ain't so bad afterall."

That's life.

Ciao!
Grendelwulf

kensanoni said...

I've thought this over, and I think you are in such hate over computer games and WOW (Maybe it's just leftover anger about the changing times that happened all about the time EQ became popular? I don't know)that you are missing things. It doesn't help that you don't play the game, so you have no concept of what the players understand. However, there are things in there that you probably DO understand, but are missing because you just want to attack it while it moves.

So, what you are saying, from my understanding...

1)... is you are against the Designers/DM's listening to their player base. (The "Let's not make a player useless"/"Let's intergrate the technologies they are using" bullet points)

2) ... you are against resurrection (The "How dare they instill a death penalty!")

3) you are against Planned scenarios (How dare the game master say no/how dare he plan an encounter!/How dare he say "I don't have an adventure planned for that place!")

4)... that you probably do not understand why "Weapon Speed" And "Casting Delay" were bad things that shouldn't have been introduced.


I also think you completely lack the understanding of how to keep a subscription based game going, otherwise you would know that your instant gratification/They're All Power Games stance is really silly.

I mean, you are allowed NOT to like computer games. That's fine. I just can't see "We listen to our players and we plan our game accordingly" to be a bad thing. Especially considering that you are probably doing the same for your weekly game to begin with.

The Paed said...

Felt compelled to speak on this subject, having a good amount of experience with both WoW and D&D in most of its incarnations.

This squabble comes down to apples and oranges, in my humble opinion. No video game can compete with the joy and dynamic of a table-top session, for those who "get" it. But I never felt like video games were supposed to replace table-top. Maybe I missed that e-mail.

I've played WoW off an on since launch, and I've DM'd since I was six years old. In both cases, I have rolled with the same core crew of dudes most of that time. When folks started moving away, sometimes the closest thing we could get to D&D was romping through an instance or pounding out some quests. I met lot of people through that game, some of whom are in my regular D&D group now, who'd never have played D&D if they hadn't first played WoW. To say that the cultures are antithetical is, I believe, ignoring everything they share for the sake of a divisive and unnecessary condemnation of many gamers.

I've always thought as WoW and other video games as a pass time, and D&D as a hobby. D&D requires effort and output on the part of its participants which is rewarded many times over by the group dynamic. However, it can be exhausting to run or play in a table-top game! Plopping down and zoning out for a bit or even pushing yourself in a video game is a much less intense and experience. Is it inferior, in some sense? Maybe, but it sounds more like "different" to me. Everyone needs some downtime, and what's fun for me when I'm relaxing and when I'm running a game are two very different things. Pardo was talking purely about the electronic medium, if I understand correctly, so it seems natural that there should be a lot of conflict between his thesis and that of an old-school, pen and paper, table-top affair--as well it should be!

"WoW-Addiction" is a sign of severe issues not even related to games. I've known those kids and been pretty close myself. Many are broke, disabled, depressed, etc. $15 a month is a lot cheaper than dating. Blizzard doesn't put a gun to anyone's head and demand they throw their life away and become a night elf. C'mon folks.

Point is, I don't think its fair to knock a video game on the same criteria you'd knock a table-top, and it is certainly not fair to generalize about folks who happen to enjoy some WoW.

Some of us are alright.

Allandaros said...

@Grendelwulf:

Lee Adama: "Sometimes you've got to roll the hard six."
Jammer: "Uh, sir, what does that mean?"
Lee Adama: "Uh...I don't know. It's something my father says.

@kensanoni:

3) you are against Planned scenarios (How dare the game master say no/how dare he plan an encounter!/How dare he say "I don't have an adventure planned for that place!")

4)... that you probably do not understand why "Weapon Speed" And "Casting Delay" were bad things that shouldn't have been introduced.


I would expect that Joseph would likely veer towards dynamic and on-the-fly situations than planned "encounters," as is the Tao of the OSR*, but perhaps not quite as extreme as you portray it.

As someone who has no interest in WoW, but does find it worthwhile to pay attention to its development - why would Weapon Speed and Casting Delay be bad things, pray tell? Seem fairly neutral to me.

*it totally is, even if I just invented that term for this post.

@The Paed: Blizzard doesn't put a gun to anyone's head and demand they throw their life away and become a night elf.

dammit don't talk so loudly about the Alterac SWAT teams

Grendelwulf said...

@Allandaros: Exactly!

I think the whole antagonism arises from the old wounds of Corporation versus Players mentality experienced back in the early days of D&D. And occasionally through the years since.

The individual at Blizaard chose phrasing that set a few fires. Things propbably could have been said better.

And everyone brings bad baggage with them. My first comment here said so.

Old prejudices...well, either they die hard or just never do.

WoW is great as a past time for many people.

Hey, even Gygax wanted to see his games expand into cybersphere. Maybe, one day, it really will...

Ciao!
Grendelwulf

Dungeonmum said...

A few years back a friend gave me the WoW disc for a birthday present. I politely returned it to the shop where it was bought. I just did not want to lose my social life, which is largely what DnD is for me these days. We've lost a player to it and it's sad, we miss him. I remember him saying that when he joined a guild they wanted him to devote a minimum of 40 hours a week - that's more than most people work! Strangers he will never meet (okay they did arrange a big meet up once but lets just say the party atmosphere did not look killer in the photos), not his buddies who've been there for him with potions of extra healing for every HP lost over the last 20 years.

Just say no kids.

Eric Haas said...

The whole idea of "the challenges scale with the ability of play" annoys me. Sometimes things are just meant to be run away from, period. You're a second level fighter and you come on a dragon? It's not going to be a very young dragon just because you're second level, but ancient if you were 15th. The environment should not alter just because it is first encountered by someone who is of a particular level, or class, or what have you. The environment simply is.

I think you’re misunderstanding how that works. They’re talking about making the game as a whole challenging to all levels, not each individual encounter. A low level character can still wander into a high level encounter and promptly get himself killed. If you designed a D&D campaign exclusively for level 20+ characters, and all your players had 1st and 2nd level characters, they would probably get bored in short order, and go find something else to do.

Vincent Diakuw said...

We shouldn't let the RPG terms they use in these games fool us. They are the way they are because they are videogames, not some deficient version of RPGs.

Playing WoW is fundamentally the same as spending a whole day playing through 99 screens of Colecovision Ladybug to see if it rolls over to 100, rolls back to zero, or crashes.

I don't see a 'generation gap' or a problem with 'kids today'.

I see arcade gaming with delusions of grandeur.

Will Mistretta said...

"It's unfortunate that this post goes so far into WoW-bashing territory that it ends up offering up a handful of insults to those who actually enjoy playing the game."

No, it's not. That game and the design paradigms it emphasizes are cancers and should go straight to hell.

Sorry in advance to anyone's soft, precious feelings.

Will Mistretta said...

"Those drooling teenage crack addicts would have plenty of unkind things to say about you and your choice of game if they so chose."

"Oh, but be careful, because the most callow, superficial people you could imagine might disapprove of your tastes and opinions as much as you do theirs."

Oh, heavens, no! Lord, shield me from the horror of some vague, mild disapproval from the most backward and dysfunctional sector of the gaming community in all existence!

Scott said...

Yikes. Nevermind, then. Clearly, some people are better off just keeping to themselves.