Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Statistical Fact: 90% of any media form is crap.

I'm sort of typing from the hip here, because I feel like I've accidentally angered a friend and I'm writing this in response to that feeling. So bear with typos and whatnot, please.

WoW now has a Toyota Tacoma commercial. And it got Keen really sick to his stomach, and me really excited. Our two opinions? He’s worried that it means WoW’s getting too much exposure these days, and that it means there’ll be nothing but WoW-like games to come.

My opinion is that with or without the Toyota commercial, we are going to get a shit ton of WoW-like games. Before the Toyota commercial, it was the South Park episode. The game has 9 million subscribers. It ranks as the most successful MMO to date in US culture. OF COURSE PEOPLE WILL COPY IT. Regardless of any commecial. Just as wow copied EQ1’s model.

But, with all the success of wow, we’re seeing unprecedented spending on MMOs from investors and game developers. For every 5 wow-clones we will see over the next 10 years, we’ll see 2 or 3 new and exciting games. Because this is exactly how the fledgling videogame industry rose to being so successful over 20 years ago. It was dying before Mario and the NES hit store shelves, and when the little plumber started his hopping, gaming "arrived". Soon after plenty of imitators came, but plenty more new and unique games came to fruition, and here we are over 2 decades later, and gaming is doing things that many of us only ever dreamed of as youth.

Is there stagnation? Of course. Just as 90% of the film industry is crap, and 90% of literature is crap, so too is 90% of gaming. Diamonds are rare. Nothing will stop a flood of crap from being fed to us consumers, because when something sells its our countries nature to ride it hard until we stop buying it. The key is to knowing what’s crap and knowing what’s worth your cash. Not to mention, “worth” is relative. I’d never buy PS3 right now, because it’s just not “worth” it to me. But to some, it’s the be all end all... but that's beside the point.

I know why Keen's worried, and it's not that I don't have similar fears. But it's also not like I haven't gotten used to this cycle in our culture. This is how it works. Capitalism at its finest. Love it or hate it, we have to deal with it. Again, the trick is in weeding through it all.

Now if only I could get Keen to see this and not take offense when I said his viewpoint of the Toyota commercial was elitist.

Doh! Sometimes I type before I think. Sorry, Keen. :)


Scott said...

If 90% of MMO's are crap then it's a good thing we have the crappy Asian MMO's being released otherwise there'd be no room for the quality titles with a 1:10 ratio. ;)

Trinity said...

Hey I was too busy running around in Roheryn I missed all the discussion. ;) Seriously though, I think disagreement even among friends is normal and it shouldn't stop you from expressing your own opinion, or respecting the other's. So just agree to disagree. :)

Julian said...

How quickly we forget it's always been this way.

Super Mario triggered a wave of crappy platformer clones back in day, but those were necessary to get the Sonics and the Jack Jazzrabbits.

Quake and Unreal triggered a wave of crappy FPS clones back in the day, but those were necessary to get the Half-Life 2.

And so on. On any genre. That's why WoW will trigger (and already has triggered) a wave of crappy clones, but those are necessary to pave the way for the great games that will come at some point down the pipe.

This triggering, yes, has the immediate effect of making things crappy in the short term, because at select points in time you look around and all you see are imitations and would-be (whatever) killers. But this medium, along with being art, is also an iterative process. It's fine to ask for originality, but let's not forget that we can't be original if we don't know full well what's been done before. Besides, this originality must be good or it won't fly. In order to be good, we can't reasonably ask all devs to create mechanics and concepts from scratch for every new game. That's just asking for it. The things that work must be borrowed from game to game, and iterated until they become the standard, or they evolve into something better.

So yes, WoW set back the industry a few years. However, it was a necessary milestone. It's cool to hate on WoW, but when 20, 30 years down the road I'm playing a kick ass game and I read the lead designer got into games because of WoW back in the day when he was a kid, I'd feel pretty dumb if I hated on it.

I can put up with Toyota commercials. It's nothing compared to great games. I imagine what your friend is going through, subconsciously if nothing else, is seeing this commercial as the embodiment of the select gaming club suddenly being open to the masses without his consent, or in a way he doesn't agree. This is nothing new, and it didn't even start with WoW. It's a couple decades old. Is he angry at Halo commercials too?

Bildo said...

Excellent points, Julian. And essentially it's what I'm getting at. I think Keen, who hates what WoW became with regards to the raiding treadmill, is just worried it's all we'll see for the next 5-10 years out of MMOs.

I dare say that people have reacted so badly to the raiding treadmill and what it stands for that it won't be replicated as much, not to such an extent anyway as it has in WoW. Even Blizzard is trying hard to make sure there's more to the level cap than running a dungeon over and over... as any game is trying to figure out really.


Aye, we both do agree to disagree, I just probably shouldn't have called his views elitist. :) I jumped the gun a bit. But that's where an Irish/Italian mix of blood comes in. heh.

Julian said...

Well B., regarding raiding unrest this is pretty much how I see it. Just two points:

1- For YEARS, ever since the concept of a persistent, shared online world was applied to games and we were seeing the very very first games coming out... ever since then these games were, regrettably, sold to the masses (us) as essentially infinite experiences. We can argue about this point, of course, whether it happened in a lighter or heavier way, but the existence of that mindset. The recurring monthly fee only serves to reinforce that point to the player, for good or bad.

That's where a huge chunk of end game dissatisfaction (not just raiding unrest) is coming from. People are unconsciously not expecting the experience to end at any point, their progress to stop and their activities to get repetitive. There is a huge disconnect of perception, still after all these years, between the way these games are sold, marketed and hyped, and what people get when the install meets the hard drive.

Of course there is the issue of patches, updates, expansions, etc. But that doesn't make MMOs infinite. It just makes them potentially infinite, or infinite in chapters, which ain't the same thing.

If this perception of an infinite experience was just bogus and didn't exist, then we can't explain endgame disgust. Also we couldn't explain why the same person can see, for example, finishing HL2 as an achievement, a reward, a sense of 'job done'... and then feel frustrated when he reaches the level cap in any game online. The difference is that HL2 was never sold as infinite.

2- In the punctual case of Blizzard and WoW's raiding, I think the problem is not with the raids themselves, but rather with how HORRIBLY accessible they truly are to their playerbase at large. If WoW's raiding had not been originally designed as the 'reward' for the hardcore faithful, had it been just like any other activity people do at level cap, we wouldn't be seeing half the unrest there is.

The problem with WoW is not raiding. Personally I think raiding can be a lot of fun. But I also think what kills the fun in WoW's raiding (for people other than the faithful hardcore) is how inaccessible and cumbersome most of that raiding is. It should be accessible to most of your playerbase at large. If it isn't, then you're just not designing to entertain as many people as you can, simple as that.

Designing for the 1% is a mistake, and Blizzard I think knows this now very well.

Eliminate the need for consumables and the necessary associated farming, let people port to instance entrances from wherever, ease it up with raid timers, make all raids 10-man tops and you'll see how most players will be too busy, uh, playing your game to complain. This is not out of laziness or because people want a free ride just because. It's simply that it was unnecessarily hard and cumbersome to begin with.