Look, we all know that in a social MMO you have to deal with people, all kinds of people. That’s the point of the game, supposedly. If we didn’t want to be able to interact with others at some level, then we’d be playing Fable, or Neverwinter Nights, or Final Fantasy, or something.
But if you step back for a bit, I’d like for you to take a moment to think about the game we’re playing.
From the time it began until it evolved into the current game we play, World of Warcraft has become one of the most incredibly deep single player RPGs in history.
I played Fable. I played Neverwinter Nights. I’ve played all of the old Forgotten Realms computer games, the Bard’s Tale series, the Final Fantasies and oh so many others. I’ve played many Real Time Strategy games also, in single player mode, such as Starcraft and Warcraft 1, 2 and 3, the Command and Conquer series, Warhammer 40k, and so on.
And I’d like to remind you that the defining characteristic of an engaging role playing game is not jsut a character you create, but also a storyline filled with adventure and mysteries to explore, to keep you going to see what’s next.
I played Warcraft 3’s single player mode not because I wanted to fight neat squad level tactical battles but because I wanted to see where the story carried me next. Same with Starcraft. It wasn’t an RPG, but it had that incredibly awesome story.
And soon enough, it was over.
I used to subscribe to damn near every gaming magazine around. All the time, the reviews and editorials would talk about built in play time as a measure of the games’ quality.
“Oh, it’s a great RPG, but it’ll seem short. 8 hours of gametime and you can be finished with the single player campaign. But the multiplayer is where it has replayability.”
Replayability. A game studio makes a game, maybe a FPS like Halo, with a single player storyline that takes a player about 8 to 10 hours to complete. Or an RPG that has a 40 hour playtime. After that, you’re either going to play the exact same game over, with the same character, with the exact same challenges and one fixed way of tackling it, or you can go skirmish against bots or other players in multiplayer PvP maps. or you can make a slightly different cahracter, with the same NPCs.
Or we get Knights of the Old Republic, which ‘revolutionizes’ the RPG by letting the game change depending on your choices. OMFG! What a concept!
but the game still costs $50, or $55, or whatever they climb to depending on your console, and after 40 hours or so, pfft! Done.
But here in the game we so quickly come to take for granted, it is different.
When I played the game for the first time, there was no expansion. A lot of content we take for granted simply wasn’t there. And I have played for long enough that I still think of the expansion as the ‘brand new content’, even though I’ve been playing that new content for over a freaking YEAR!
Think about that. Think about the massive shift in our assumptions we make going from any other game to World of Warcraft.
When I started playing the game, I approached it knowing I was going to be playing solo. I approached it as a single player game. I knew no one else that played, and although I knew there were going to be other people playing the game, I also knew they would be scattered amongst many servers, and also I specifically selected a ‘low population’ server because at the time there were horrible issues on populated servers with queues to even get into the game.
Keep in mind, back then we had far less overall players than we do now, and most of them were on older servers. Kael’thas has always been a low population server, and when I started the ‘new server rush’ had already passed and folks were at end game, such as it was then.
So I started playing the game, and the game was quite quiet. There was neve any sense of being crowded, certainly nothing like the conditions we face now. I was invited in my earliest levels to join a guild as it formed… The Bloodship, which had at it’s height I think about 20 players, most of whom were level 40 or higher when I was 15th, and left for higher progression guilds when I was hitting 50.
Does any of this sound familiar?
I’m fairly certain few people start the game and are instantly invited into a large guild. If you’re lucky, you come into the game with a bunch of friends already there to help guide you over the rough patches.
No, I figure most folks started like I did, playing because it sounds cool, and you get sucked in. But for all the Massive part of it, you play for the first 30 or more levels in ‘single-player’ mode, and even past that point you’re probably not in a big guild.
My first character, played exclusively, I played for 6 solid months of adventuring, questing, and exploring before I hit level 60.
That is 6 months of single player content, played at my pace.
I read folks whine about what Blizzard owes them for their $15 a month, as though we are doing Blizzard a big favor for agreeing to pay anything for this game over and above the original $50 box price. And they are serious!
I can tell you truly, before World of Warcraft, I would get polled as to my buying habits every time I registered a new game.
“How many computer games do you buy a year: 1, 3-5, 6-10, 10+”
And it was always a “lol, 10+” answer, because I plopped down my money at least once a month, more often 2 or 3 times, for the next chunk of content I was going to blow through before tiring of it.
That’s a lot of money.
It’s been a long time since I bought a game, other than something for a group to play, such as the Wii or Guitar Hero. I just don’t buy single player games anymore, I don’t read gaming mags, and I don’t see the reason.
I have a game, a game that is alive in that it is always growing, always bringing something fresh and new, and above all a game that allows my characters to grow with it. I don’t see leaving anytime soon.
Just think about it. All the changes they’ve made to the game, all the new content, the tweaking of challenges, the addition of a second expansion soon, the addition of a new zone in the next patch…
My other point is, I have been reading an insane amount of crying because of how ‘easy’ Blizzard is making the game, and how this is somehow ruining the game for the end game raider, because more ‘casual’ players can get good gear or see higher level content without devoting their souls to raid 3 or more nights a week, every week, forever.
In the end, the arguments revolve around being angry that players can see content without needing to be part of a mob.
But ignore the casual and hardcore bullshit for a minute. Think of the bar this sets, the heights that other game companies are now trying to match.
The point has come clear, if you want the long term success, the monthly fees, then the World of Warcraft model says, add more content. Keep the player coming back, not for mindless reputation grinding or 40 man raids, but for solid content that takes time to explore, and raids and events that a handful of friends can tackle together.
Make things accessible for more players to enjoy.
And with all of the new MMOs in the pipeline, it seems to be a lesson more companies are learning.
Whatever your short term problems with the game, your upset over badge rewards or accessibility of content, keep in mind the heart of what we do –
We are playing a massive game unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. Over two years, and my interest is as strong as ever.
Cherish these moments, because we are living the golden age.