Saturday, August 20, 2011

Why I Quit World of Warcraft and Other Stories

I have a lot of very geeky hobbies and passtimes, which I'm pretty free with talking about, for some reason I've always been a little shy about my long-term prescence in Blizzard's behemothic MMORPG World of Warcraft. It's an odd thing to be embarrased about, really (compared to say, collecting Lego or painting tiny plastic soldiers) but there you are. So yes, I play World of Warcraft. Or rather, I did.

MMOs fascinate me. Not just the games themselves, which often aren't that dynamic or interesting in themselves, gameplay-wise, but the social side of them, the community side, and odd relationship between developers and players as a game evolves. WoW is by far the most successful of the "original" MMO model that started out in the old text-based MUDs and became more mainstream with Everquest, so successful in fact that it took a fledgling gaming genre and bent it out of shape, before becoming so dominant that it seems to be now forcing innovation back into the market simply because all direct competition seems to be failing.

Its hard to imagine now but when WoW started it was seen as a huge risk for a developer famous for RTS games, but what "Classic" WoW does is take an established format and smooth it out and make it a mass-market game with a few fairly simple changes to lower some of the barriers to entry and understanding that the MMOs of the time still had. Over the life of WoW these barriers have come down and down, a mostly positive change, and the success of the game has meant that Blizzard can hire enough staff to basically "out content" any pretenders to its crown. Contenders have come and gone but all have underperformed, largely suffering from exactly the problems WoW had at launch but since had long put behind it.

So it leaves the MMO Genre is a bit of a quandry. WoW-Clones sit underneath WoW and hoover up the churn of players leaving, but many of them - Rift, for instance - are so similar that whilst they can pick up some people they don't serve anyone looking for something different. EvE is an ambitious and challenging game but is possibly too different to be compared easily and certainly isn't a safe haven for casual-but-bored WoW players. And in the end, MMOs are expensive to run, and consumers seem deeply reticent to keep two subscriptions running at a time.  And of course so many MMO players play WoW that it has become, in many ways a social space with a game attached, where people log in to do a bunch of daily quests, or a weekly raid, whilst chatting to friends - and that is really hard to compete with.

On the plus side, the last year or so has seen a boom in microtransaction driven MMOs, which used to be a byword for cheap'n'cheerful but now seems to be the standard model after the success of conversion from subs to Free-to-Play for games like Lord of the Rings Online. This has lead to a burst in new content from these games, keeping many of them going, and may be the model that allows MMOs to move forward again as a genre after many years trying to catch the drips from Blizzard's Money Fountain. I can by hope, anyway.

For me, the social aspect, the people I've met over the years, are something I'll miss. But for whatever reason - and long passive-aggressive "I Quit" posts aren't for me - I just don't enjoy my time in Azeroth anymore, so for now, I'm logging off....