A defense and rationale for embarking at this late date on World of Warcraft

I don’t play MMOs. That should be clear by now. I’ve played a couple of MMOs in the past, however — and they’re the reasons why I don’t play MMOs. I got into Everquest for a while when it was new and exciting, and played it obsessively until I had discerned its fundamental lesson: that “addictive” does not imply “fun”. Some time later, while unemployed, I got involved with the first telling of A Tale in the Desert, the experimental MMO without combat (but with plenty of conflict), but after a while it came to feel like a job, and I left it behind shortly after landing a job in the real world.

The big problem with MMOs for a personality like mine is that they don’t end (or, in the case of A Tale in the Desert, don’t end soon enough). If the game doesn’t tell me it’s over, I don’t know to stop playing. The fact that all the joy has been sucked out of the activity is not enough to make me stop, as anyone who has read this blog for long enough can attest. So I don’t play them.

But I think I have to make at least a momentary exception for World of Warcraft.

The thing is, I hesitate to even describe WoW as a MMO. No, it’s THE MMO, the definitive one — heck, practically the only one these days. It’s the Harry Potter of the genre, both in the sense of “universally-recognized best-seller” and in the sense of “the one who lived”. There’s a definite pattern to other MMO projects: someone notices that Blizzard is making ungodly money and decides that they want a slice, they spend a bunch of time and money developing something, it attracts maybe one percent of WoW‘s audience for a little while before most of them drift away because of the lack of content. WoW, it seems to me, is a good example of success breeding more success. A large player base probably makes for a better MMO experience, if only because it increases the odds that your friends are already playing. The mere fact that it’s had so many years of continuous development makes for a better experience. The fact that Blizzard isn’t likely to pull the plug on it any time soon has got to make it a better experience than its worried competition.

This is a game with a unique position in our popular culture, a game still played by literally millions of people six years after its release. It’s been parodied in a thousand awful webcomics. It’s left a massive enough print on gaming that even venerable Dungeons & Dragons, father of its genre, has been reasonably accused of imitating it lately. And yet I have not even tried to play it until now, which, for someone who takes games seriously, is kind of like being the proverbial English major who’s never read Hamlet. I suppose it was inevitable that I’d want to give it a whirl eventually, but the “Cataclysm” expansion’s massive revamp of the long-untouched starting areas was the thing that nudged me into doing it now.

How long I’ll be playing it, I don’t know. Maybe I’ll give up when my ten-day trial period is over. Even if I decide to start paying for it, though, it’s clear that this game has no place on the Stack: the whole monthly-fee model doesn’t fit the terms of the Oath at all. Nonetheless, I intend to blog about it as if the Oath applied to it. If at any point I can’t think of something to post about my experiences, I’ll take that as a sign that it’s probably time to give it up. Either way, I do intend to keep playing and posting about other games too.

The first character I have created is an undead warlock named Pleasance. I’ve already brought her up to level 9, and will doubtless have more to say about that experience in my next post, but I’m inclined to experiment a little with other characters before going into details.

4 Comments so far

  1. Merus on 10 Jan 2011

    It’s an interesting game – I’ve managed to deal with the “no end” problem by using the achievement system as a checklist. It helps that I’m more or less immune to irregular reinforcement, although Blizzard have been steadily chipping away at the randomness problem.

    You’ve picked an excellent starter: warlocks are versatile and powerful, fearsome against other players (if you were interested in examining that), and the undead starting zone appears to be one of the better ones since the revamp.

  2. Mark on 10 Jan 2011

    You don’t have to do this, y’know. It’s not too late to back out.

  3. danowar on 11 Jan 2011

    And baf was never seen again. The last thing he said was that he just wanted to on a small raid…

  4. malkav11 on 11 Jan 2011

    FWIW, Everquest has some hideously bad design choices that most WoW-and-later MMOs have been wise enough not to replicate, and A Tale in the Desert, while intriguing conceptually, does have as its core the notion of, well, repetitive manual labor.

    Also, WoW does have an end. Well, several, most of which you are unlikely to reach. Level 85 is, in one sense, an end. No more levelling. Little intrinsic reward to continuing to quest. Many people have reached this, from level 1, within a few months at most. Or there’s finishing either all the quests or at least all the major storylines. This (especially in the former case) will take longer but is quite doable – there are already quite a number of people with either individual expansion Loremaster achievements or the meta for the entire game, which signify having completed all or very close to all of the quests in a given region (I am a Loremaster for the Wrath of the Lich King continent of Northrend, and am fairly close to being a Loremaster of the new Cataclysm zones, but am a looong way from being complete on most of the Outland or original WoW zones.)

    Trickier, but still feasible, would be to max out level -and- have run the various dungeons and raid content sufficiently to have the best gear available and all of the dungeon/raid related achievements for the current expansion content. A lot of those achievements are quite difficult and require everyone involved to display a great deal of skill, so if you don’t manage to hook up with the right people, you’re probably out of luck. But it’s a possible “done with the game” point if you do.

    Finally, it is -theoretically- possible to obtain 100% of the available achievement points in the game, but as they add more achievements with every content patch and many of them are hugely time consuming, nearly 100% random, or very difficult, I’d be surprised if anyone had and your individual odds are practically nil.

    Of course, content patches and/or expansions can and will move the goalposts for all of the above “ends”.

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