Saturday, June 14, 2014

Stuck in the Middle With You


It is an undeniable fact that when something's been around for a while, people start using it as a means of comparison. Take Warcraft, for instance. I've been in other games (SW:TOR, Wildstar) and have lost count with the number of times everything and anything is directly compared to the Blizzard MMO. I watch countless people on Twitter point at things from other games as being 'worse' or 'better' to the title, that looking too much like the Blizzard UI is enough to stop people even picking up a new game. Syl on her Blog MMO Gypsy discusses World of Warcraft’s continued influence on our perception of design dynamics and I think it is fair to say that everyone is, at least in some way, could be accused of this crime. When your title's been played by as many people as Warcraft has, there is bound to be some subconscious comparison. The overriding reason other titles 'borrow' from Blizzard's UI is beautifully simple: familiarity.


Conversely, there are many who will argue that innovation won't happen while a game like Warcraft still exists, that as long as games need to 'imitate' it to ensure their player base picks things up quickly and are engaged, there will never be any meaningful evolution in design. The number of people playing your title is pretty much a Holy Grail but not nearly as important as the long-term benefits of typing players to the increasingly important maintenance of a digital revenue stream via in-game transactions. Everyone has an eye to the future, and Warcraft's shortfalls (of which there are many) are being increasing placed under the microscope by players who feel the game is not keeping pace with rapid changes in the Real World.

Is it really sales that define success?

As we discussed earlier in the week, how people benchmark success is a highly subjective matter. Time, subs, content... all of these things are significant factors, of course, but probably the most important of all isn't quantified by anything physical. Does your game make you happy? Do you enjoy playing it? In that regard, all the money in the world doesn't matter one iota if people aren't becoming positively engaged by your end product. That's the yardstick Warcraft created without really trying at all, it just happened. Satisfaction is the most difficult quality to emulate, and the one every single games company since 2004 has tried to recreate.

Redefining the Gaming Experience.

I am as guilty as the next person of not giving Blizzard a chance to do their job. The Alpha Patch Notes dropped last night and I forgot the golden rule when testing a product: NOTHING is final. It is simpler to react and be critical than it ever is to stop and consider the consequences of actions, that there may be a longer term plan in effect you can't yet see. This process of reaction is, in itself, as much a part of the journey of acceptance as understanding the end effect. What should be abundantly obvious to everyone, even this early on, is that the ENTIRE FABRIC OF THE GAME IS CHANGING. Not just questing mechanics, or classes, or the health of mobs, but everything that underpins the way in which people have engaged with this game for a decade. Whether these evolutionary steps are the right ones, or whether they will be accepted by the wider playerbase... we just won't know until everything goes Live. It boils down to one fact: you have to play this game to know what has changed.

For the meantime therefore, people are stuck without new content. This is an enormous risk for Blizzard to take, but the fact remains that if this Expansion is as good as people like me believe it is, that WILL bring players back, and that is the key. The yardstick here has NEVER been the numbers, but the quality of the final product...and this is significantly different from the game it will ultimately replace. You have to trust me on this, until you can play it, and when you do I really hope you can come away as excited I am at what is being presented to you. Blizzard have learnt lessons from Pandaria in questing, that much is apparent. The next key break point will be End Game, and trust me, when I get there you'll hear all about it. Whatever happens, Warcraft will still be the yardstick, like it or not, just remember that comparison is all well and good, but it doesn't matter what physical attributes you use as a measure of success.

If it makes you happy, play it.

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