I’m serious with this question, this isn’t some goofy post just to have a conversation.
During the recent Paladin vs Druid tanking comparisons, I obviously spent a lot of time on both. And during the time I was playing, I spent quite a bit of time wondering about how different player personalities might be drawn towards different playstyles, playstyles that approach the same task from two different directions, but nevertheless still get the job done.
Backing away from tanking comparisons for a bit, it ought to be obvious that, with so many different character classes that each have their own unique style, folks might not like every one of ‘em, but chances are good everyone will find something they like.
So, the question I pose; Have you tried to play different alts, make new characters, try things out with other specs or other styles, only to find yourself coming back to the same class or classes over and over again?
Do you have multiple characters that are all the same class?
If so, do they share a type of playstyle that appeals to you? What similarities are there amongst them? What might the class styles you love say about you?
Or, and this is the same question with a twist… Do you have a particular appearance of character that you love, a look that you keep coming back to with alts, and characters that look differently don’t see much play?
Do you love druids or hunters or paladins or priests or warlocks, and no matter how many other classes you try to roll, you keep coming back to that one special one that clicks with you?
Do you love Night Elves, or Gnomes, or Dwarves, or Tauren, or Undead, and no matter what kind of other race you try to get into, you find yourself leaving them be to go back to your favorite?
General rambling time… or, “Back in the old days”
I’m thinking about this a lot, because I’ve been thinking about MMOs in general, and how game designers could attract a person into really getting into one.
WoW clearly hit me just right, I’m still here years later. I’ve tried other MMOs sometimes, and others I’ve read about and looked at and went “Meh”, so the question in my mind is… what about them attracts me, and what is the “Meh” factor.
The start, for me, of wanting to play WoW was contrasting the announced races and classes of WoW with Everquest II. Most folks might not remember, but at the time before WoW came out, Everquest I was the big bad on the block, the undisputed groundbreaking champion, and whether you loved it or called it “Evercrack”, “Everrat”, or “Ratquest”, it defined the game genre.
Everquest II and WoW were both due to come out almost on top of each other, and many game magazines talked about them both, and did big pictorial spreads comparing and contrasting them. There was a clear favorite in the tried and tested EQ formula… but Blizzard was the gaming big dog with Starcraft, Warcraft and Diablo franchises under their belts, and the revolutionary approach of shipping “When it’s done”.
As an aside, you’ve got one hell of a marketing department when you can spin ship delays and missed deadlines into a quality feature. If I had a business, I’d hire their PR firm, they’re geniuses. Of course, making damn fine product assuredly helps.
So, why did I pick WoW as the one I wanted to try? I actually knew people that were Everquest I addicts, so why did I go with the unknown?
What initially drew me in was the innovative classes and the art style.
There were traditional classes. Warrior. Rogue. Priest. Paladin. Mage. Clearly, the AD&D basics were well represented. And the races. Elf. Dwarf. Human. Gnome. So, there was the sense of the familiar.
But WoW went outside that box as well. They innovated. They gave us the Druid, a class that let you, no shit, play a shapechanger in the game. A class where you had a normal humanoid form, but they were coding in the ability to flow into different animal forms as you played, each one actually being more than just a cosmetic change. A Cat form would actually be different stats than a Bear! Holy cow!
And then the Hunter. Yes, Everquest had pet classes as well, but in WoW, part of the Hunter that we talked about in beta that was just amazing to us was that you weren’t just a class that had a pet, but that you were able to go explore the world, and any beast that you encountered, ANY beast, had the potential to be tamed and become your pet that would fight by your side.
Are you insane? Are you kidding me? I have to be a part of that.
So the innovative class approach, going beyond the normal Warrior/Priest/Mage style intrigued and excited me.
The second thing as I said was the art. The intentional art choice of going bold and beautiful and stylised rather than super-realistic.
Why? What about the art drew me in?
It seemed warmer, if you know what I mean.
I already live in the real world, thanks. I’m not looking for a reality simulator, I’m looking for a visually pleasing game to have fun in. Making it look super-real and paying all that attention to precise chainmail link graphics is kinda wasted on me. It’s was the warmth and originality of the art that I loved.
Yes, the goofy shoulders have long been a bone of contention, but overall, the glows, the cartoon over-emphasis element to the art makes it somehow more fantastical to me.
So I chose to buy WoW based on character design and art style. That was what drew me in.
What has made me stay?
Reasons two and three are pretty obvious.
The 2nd is that there are so many different variations in playstyle amongst the classes, and multiple specs and roles within the classes, so replayability has been huge.
The 3rd was the sheer size of the world in WoW. It’s just linear enough that you know what choices you have about where to go adventure next, but not so linear that you can’t swap zones around when leveling. Yes, Cassie frequently says, “Northrend was fine the first time, but the 5th time going through Sholozar Basin, it’s not fun anymore.” But the point is, the world has been large enough, immense enough in content to keep us going for years, as long as we’ve been open to trying different aspects and zones of the game.
But what was the 1st thing that made me stay?
I think the most important part of the WoW design that I’ve enjoyed, that pulled me in and has kept me going, was how the character creation process combines personal customization with a sense that the character existed BEFORE I started.
It’s a feeling that I didn’t MAKE the character… I CHOSE the character.
In WoW, there are some options for customizing, and there could certainly be more, but when you start, you pick a race and sex, and there is a person displayed there already dressed and ready to go, as if a young man or woman has just come of age, and is leaving their farm for the first time, off to seek adventure. Or you know, whatever their background may be.
My point is, you didn’t start with a wire-frame that you fleshed out bit by bit, you start with a person.
You will want to change their appearance, but the changes available aren’t too crazy. Interestingly enough, limited options and being presented with a complete character appearance at the onset does help maintain immersion.
Everytime that “creat an alt” process begins, it feels like an exciting moment, filled with potential. Who will you journey with this time? What adventures will you share together? What class will they be?
Inevitably, you play the game long enough, and the rush of excitement fades when you realize that this brand new character full of potential is heading out into the same old, same old. But what are you gonna do? The game still rocks.
I’m still waiting to see a new MMO come out that has that big of a world of adventure, coupled with so many interesting choices for imaginative classes and playstyles, that feels warm and inviting.
In the meantime… year after year, WoW still has it. Amazing, isn’t it?