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Interesting article about the lessons of World of Warcraft


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Some of you may know that I'm a big fan of David Sirlin's writing about videogames and I know that several of you are too, especially his playing to win series on sirlin.net.

I saw this article about World of Warcraft linked to on Shoryuken.com and, having just read it, thought other people might like it. Sorry if it's already been linked to, I tried to find out if so and concluded "no".

Random quote:

So let's put the cards on the table. Here is what World of Warcraft teaches:

1. Investing a lot of time in something is worth more than actual skill. If you invest more time than someone else, you "deserve" rewards. People who invest less time "do not deserve" rewards. This is an absurd lesson that has no connection to anything I do in the real world. The user interface artist we have at work can create 10 times more value than an artist of average skill, even if the lesser artist works way, way more hours. The same is true of our star programmer. The very idea that time > skill is alien.

http://www.gamasutra.com/features/20060222/sirlin_01.shtml

Check it out, it's really good. I would say something other than "read it" but, like a lot of Sirlin's writing, he doesn't leave much unsaid. Having not played WoW, I don't know how right he is (and anyway his style is very much "fact" not "opinion", even if the sentiments he's expressing are unique to his viewpoint and circumstances - so "right" is the wrong term). Good read.

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Just going by that quote, I always thought that was one of the main plusses of MMORPG's; that it's an 'ideal world' where the "You can achieve anything if you work hard enough" mantra drummed into you as a child is finally realised, with a direct correlation between effort and success.

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I think I picked a poor quote. But then again, a good 40% of the article is him expanding or referring back to it so I can't very well say "read the whole article before judging it on the quote!", you're pretty much free to.

Even so, read the whole article before judging it on the quote!

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Read it all... it's a pity that this guy usually makes sense, yet this time he has not only managed to compare two completely unrelated games, but has managed to repeat himself over and over and over again with the same "I blatantly don't understand the idea of investing time in a game" point of view.

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The guy is so obsessed with winning though that he doesn't see how, given the benefits of raid parties, solo play is a viable option.

He's like a lot of people who invest a great deal of effort (and time) into something and see other people choosing to do something else: he has to find reasons on his own terms for his chosen activity being more "worthy" than theirs. See also: classical music snobs. What makes the arguments of such people so interesting is that they're consistent with "their own terms". For those of us that share those terms or sympathise with them, we can learn more about what we like and why we do.

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WoW does what it does, and it does it incredibly well. It doesn't 'set out to teach' (why would it or should it?). He seems to dislike the fact that it doesn't do the things he wants it to do, which is of course completely subjective. Bit of a pointless article really. It's like me complaining that I can't walk off the screen in SF2 and go shopping.

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WoW does what it does, and it does it incredibly well. It doesn't 'set out to teach' (why would it or should it?). He seems to dislike the fact that it doesn't do the things he wants it to do, which is of course completely subjective. Bit of a pointless article really. It's like me complaining that I can't walk off the screen in SF2 and go shopping.

Not quite. He's not only assessing the game on its strengths and weaknesses as a "game" (which yes, is completely on his own highly subjective terms) but he's discussing the lessons it teaches whether it sets out to teach them or not - he is careful to associate "fun" and "learning" in his reference to Raph. His tone throughout is very "what about the kids?". I don't necessarily agree with it but it's an interesting stance, given his rigour in identifying the "lessons" and explaining how and why they are bad.

I think the "fun is learning in a safe-environment" is crucial to his argument though and is by no means an uncontroversial definition. I guess it does like he's constructed his own framework to enable him to attack a game that simply isn't to his taste.

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The guy is so obsessed with winning though that he doesn't see how, given the benefits of raid parties, solo play is a viable option.

He's like a lot of people who invest a great deal of effort (and time) into something and see other people choosing to do something else: he has to find reasons on his own terms for his chosen activity being more "worthy" than theirs. See also: classical music snobs. What makes the arguments of such people so interesting is that they're consistent with "their own terms". For those of us that share those terms or sympathise with them, we can learn more about what we like and why we do.

Nicely put, Jim.

When I played WoW I enjoyed doing something he said, playing solo in a world full of players. I think the difference with me and him is that I just played for fun, he seems to be competitive. For me, playing solo in WoW meant being a weak character in the game, but I quite enjoyed that as a contrast to the usual 'star character' you play in games. Sometimes people would help me out if I was in a scrape and I would do the same when I was passing people in trouble. Actually, my favourite memory from the game was seeing someone in mortal danger and getting the monster to run and attack me after I fireballed it. It was dead cool because he came and thanked me after I killed it, then we went our seperate ways.

Mind, I have to admit, upon seeing that opportunities for adventure were easier to find if you were in a group, I stopped playing. I gave it a few months though, which is a long commitment to a game from me.

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Not being WoW player, I can't really comment, but as far as I can tell he has missed the point in places. (Although a lot makes sense, like the player never being wrong in an MMO, assuming of course he isn't just hacking the shit out of the game.)

It is after all, the World of Warcraft. The Warcraft games were about armies. So playing in the World of Warcraft must be about being in an army, hence the 40 man raid loot bonuses.

Also, it's a roleplaying game; you get 'better' with time. If he wants a purely skill based game, then he should go play an online FPS. In RPGs you play a character, and like I get better at Street Fighter the more I play it, your character gets 'better' at WoW the more you play it.

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OK, let me clarify here. His point was that the most prominent definition of "fun" is learning in a safe environment and that

MMOs replace this "learning" with "time played", in many parts of the game (unlike in a game like Streetfighter where time played doesn't count for anything other than what you've learned).

Thus, ultimately leading up to his point that many aspets of MMOs do not live up to this definition of fun.

He described his argument in no uncertain terms and indeed, it does appear as though current MMOs do not live up to the definition of "fun" provided by MMO's leading expert/author, Raph Koster.

Thats all he was saying, and he did it with aplomb.

-Jools

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Well, I think I have a fundamentally different idea of what games are for than this chap. He seems to be just about winning - which in WoW terms he seems to equate with getting the best equipment and PvP rank - rather than just playing.

My definition of fun wouldn't include learning at all, I don't think. It would be something like "a pleasurable acitivity in which any lesson or reward beyond the activity itself is entirely secondary"... or something.

It's only ten past seven in the morning. I'm very sleepy.

He also has a problem with how RPGs work. And it's not just "time played", is it? I could stand in Ogrimmar shouting for twelve hours and I wouldn't get an XP. You get rewards in the game for doing stuff that happens to take time, not for the time spent playing.

And his argument about the Terms of Service seems to be rather like saying that we shouldn't have laws or a police force in the real world when we've got the laws of physics already doing a very good job, thank you.

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Read it all... it's a pity that this guy usually makes sense, yet this time he has not only managed to compare two completely unrelated games, but has managed to repeat himself over and over and over again with the same "I blatantly don't understand the idea of investing time in a game" point of view.

Yes, he's comparing two different games. What's wrong with that?

And he's not complaining about investing time in a game. What he objects to is that the only way to advance in the game is to invest very long periods of time in it. He's not against investing time to learn something, he's against investing time in a meaningless grind.

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I posted the following comments on the PC Gamer forum only yesterday, and they are very relevant to this discussion.

"To be honest, I think that there is far too much developer control in MMORPG games. Blizzard & Co. ban accounts here, there, and everywhere for breaking the rules, but they only have themselves to blame when they make so many fascist rules in the first place.

Simply put, MMORPGs should ditch this ridiculous "levelling up" system, and introduce a system based on real skill. In other words, if you are handy with a mouse controlled sword, then you should be rewarded for it. Why should the guy who plays ten hours a day, grinding his way through rats, frogs, and eternally respawning "Myndwyr Forest trolls" have all the fun ? There are subscribers who can only afford to play the game for a fraction of the time that he does, and yet they still pay exactly the same monthly fee !

Now, let's think about this business of "player killing". This is unacceptable to developers because these people spoil the fun for other players. Well, yes they do spoil the fun.......but only because those players have to start again, and grind their way up to the level that they had previously achieved. Right, so what if the game was based on real skill, rather than endless yawnfest level grinding ? What would they have lost then ? Power armour ? A nice, shiny sword of Calibos ? A few silver pots and pans ?

So bloody what ?!!

MMORPGs are supposed to be adventure games. Where's the fun in something that's all cosy and safe ? Wouldn't these games be more interesting if you had to be careful when you wandered strange lands, or down back alleys in Rythhlgwynd City ? Just imagine how atmospheric a game like that would be ! If you die, just create a new account, organise a vigilante squad with a few of your mates, and go head hunting.

Now that would be fun !!!

No Level 60 wizards to fight, or Level 82 "Knights of the Undead".......just raw skill with a mouse, a keyboard, and a kitchen knife.

Seriously, there is far too much developer control over these games for me to even give them the time of day, and far too many pussies playing them that whinge and whine about losing that fancy bread maker that they won in a pissing competition on the island of Gwond.

Start making MMO games that reward skill and inventiveness, instead of hard graft, endless amounts of time, and home made pixie outfits. You never know. You might even catch my eye in the process.

CCP, I salute you."

Read it all... it's a pity that this guy usually makes sense, yet this time he has not only managed to compare two completely unrelated games, but has managed to repeat himself over and over and over again with the same "I blatantly don't understand the idea of investing time in a game" point of view.

Well, if you read it again, you will find that he does make a lot of sense.

Also, it's a roleplaying game; you get 'better' with time. If he wants a purely skill based game, then he should go play an online FPS. In RPGs you play a character, and like I get better at Street Fighter the more I play it, your character gets 'better' at WoW the more you play it.

So all MMORPGs should be about levelling up and group raids ? Why can't we have some that are more like FPS games, whereby the skill of the gamer is more important ?

Well, I think I have a fundamentally different idea of what games are for than this chap. He seems to be just about winning - which in WoW terms he seems to equate with getting the best equipment and PvP rank - rather than just playing.

Where on Earth did you get that idea from ? :wacko:

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