Learning the wrong lessons from WoW

A grouper
Not that kind of grouper!

It was a classic example of learning the wrong lesson. EverQuest was huge — HUGE! While Asheron’s Call was small. EQ was all about forced grouping, while AC was all about soloing. It is easy, therefore, to see what our conclusion was. When it came time to make AC2, obviously it needed to be a grouping game!

Even as I speak, developers are making retarded mistakes just like this. They look at what WoW did and make leaps of logic. Correlation is not causation, but we developers fall for this rookie mistake over and over.

World of Warcraft has shown us that we were wrong about grouping: MMO players do not need to be pressured into grouping in order for an MMO to be successful. But on the other hand, when you reach WoW’s level cap, you are almost forced to be a grouper (and a raider, to boot) if you want to do fun things. Now, this approach doesn’t seem to be particularly successful if we look at how many players leave the game when they hit the level cap. The players don’t want to switch from soloing to grouping, so they go away.

So what’s a useful lesson to learn here, if you’re trying to make a new game? Is it “our game should start out as a soloing game and then graduate to a grouping game?” Personally, I think WoW succeeded in spite of that, not because of it. The current wisdom is that you can’t possibly provide enough solo content to keep everyone happy, so you shouldn’t try … but keeping everyone happy isn’t the point. The point is keeping the most people possible happy. Would WoW retain more people if they added new solo content instead of new raid content? We can only guess at that.

Asheron’s Call puts out monthly solo content and has always had extremely high player retention. Would Asheron’s Call have even better retention if it had high level raiding instead? With the tiny number of data points we have, any conclusion like this is just a guess. Nevertheless, we’ve already created “conventional wisdom” about the topic!

Here’s a better lesson to learn from WoW: they did all kinds of things that went completely against the conventional wisdom of the time, and yet they succeeded. You know, stuff like having a clean launch (their post-launch stability was terrible for the first six months), offering fast transportation (WoW has more travel time than EQ2 by almost an order of magnitude), or forcing people to group. Does that mean your game needs to do these things exactly like WoW? That would be a pretty naive interpretation of the known facts, wouldn’t it?

Wouldn’t a better conclusion be “the conventional wisdom we have right now might actually be wrong, or overblown, or irrelevant?”

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5 Responses to Learning the wrong lessons from WoW

  1. Babs says:

    Yes. Yes, yes, yes.

  2. Pingback: How Raiding Hurts WoW More Than It Helps | Random Battle

  3. SSH83 says:

    I disagree. Wow didn’t get penalized for HAVING group play, its success came partly because of having great, accessable group play at the end of the game such as 5-man instances at max level and BG and arena. People who played to max level without ever joining a guild big enough to host 5-man runs will quit when they run out of solo content AND they do not want to pvp. But, is that a huge number? Was the number big enough to negate the number of new players subscribing to wow? If it was, wow would never have grew like it did as people reached 60 back in the days. So on the contrary, to keep the highest number of people happy, you don’t forsake group play and pvp to satisfy the loners. You go the other way around. The loners will be happy with their Elder Scroll for eternity. Making an MMORPG for anti-social gamers is a bit of a paradox imo.

  4. Jess says:

    I… I think it’s a complex lesson to take away. I’ve played several characters in WoW – one was almost exclusively grouped, and I loved every minute of it. But, when I couldn’t play him, I played my solo character, and the simple fact I could do that, and have it be engaging and rewarding, made the game still rewarding.

    I guess what my reaction is that it succeeded, in its 1-60 /1-70 game because it could be rewarding solo or in a group? I personally think the forced raiding is obnoxious, for all that I had a lot of fun a few times in Karazhan. I’ve played every 5 man instance in the game up to level 70, non heroic, and I love most of them. I’ve also soloed my rogue almost the whole way up, and loved that too – I found the group game more rich and rewarding in a social and gameplay aspect, but soloing a hard area or simply going out exploring on my rogue was great – sneaking around into all the hard to reach areas of the game was great fun.

    For me, the antithesis of this was Final Fantasy 11, which as basically Everquest, in that nothing could be done solo past level 10 until a very high level, where you could solo much lower level areas for minimal money. Sure, a working party in that was a marvel of coordination, but the sheer frustration of trying to get anything done without 5 others outweighed the beauty of the world or the social element for me. Running into that brick wall again at the end of WoW gave me a serious case of alt-itis.

    But then, this is one man’s experiences.

  5. SSH83: I hope you’ve had a chance to read the article later on about how solo does not equate to anti-social. Also, I hate to say it, but as someone who solos more than groups, it’s got a lot more to do with the broader range of interactions than just being forced to join a PUG full of hyperactive teens.

    A game like Elder Scrolls is being played by loners, I am sure. But loners do not equal soloer in MMOs. I tried Elder Scrolls; it felt hollow and lifeless precisely because there were no other players running around. I much prefer a game like GW or even WoW where I can chat, interact, join up and help out people on quests and so forth. The reason that the endgame content is so daunting to average players has nothing whatsoever to do with whether one prefers solo play or not; I think that the hidden factor behind play styles boils down to demographics and time, pure and simple. The time issue is self-evident: if you can only play for an hour a night, you will never, ever get to see the enormously time-consuming endgame content in a game like WoW. Hell, even in a game like Guild Wars its taken me forever, although thankfully the free-to-play model caters to someone like myself with limited time. In terms of demographics, I refer back to the problem between the hardcore and the casual: I’ve read elsewhere that the differences really boil down to time and one’s perception of it (or sense of value). I suspect, strongly, that people who favor solo content or who can’t swing it for the endgame grind are people who value their time and want to make good use of it. They can’t afford to spend hours waiting around for a group, and have real-world pressures that prevent them from setting aside the 8-12 hours time blocks necessary to complete endgame instances and raids. In short, these people have a compelling need to prioritize their time.

    The other side of the coin is the hardcore player, or the habitual player who may not do raids and endgame runs, but who’s constantly grouping, helping out, and thriving in the social environment. These are people who tend to have 1: a lot of free time. 2: are being fulfilled by in-game activities in a way that they are not being fulfilled outside of the game. 3: tend to be younger gamers, gamers without jobs or 40 hour week commitments or strong family commitments. 4: The saddest part of this demographic falls in to the addictive crowd. I don’t think MMO addiction is “special,” but I do think it’s coming from the same source and cause as gambling addictions and other psychological addictions.

    So the bottom line is, as I see it, that in order to be “hardcore” you have to have a really good reason to subsume such a large portion of your life in the game. Hardcore gamers, and this is just me speculating, probably stick around longer because the reasons they are “in game” so much has to do with pressures and issues out-of-game which, in being neglected by their in-game activities tend not to get resolved for long periods of time. Now the solo gamers, on the other hand, suffer from the exact opposite problem; they’re looking for a bit of fulfillment, too, but the kind of gratification they need out of the game needs to be in shorter, tasty bursts; they simply can’t aford the time to play out the game laboriously. But one thing both sides have in common: they are social creatures, to one extent or another, and enjoy that component of the game.

    I like to think of an MMO like a mall. Some people like the convenience of having a lot of stores in proximity to one another, so they can run in, shop and get out quick. Others, however, like to spend the day at the mall, walking around, trying free food samples, window shopping, and buying new stuff while chatting with friends. Both groups get something out of it, like it, but for vastly different reasons.