WAR vs. WoW, and DAoC vs. EQ

Think I could jam any more acronyms into the title?

This turned into quite a rant. Stick with me.

I just exceeded my tolerance for the term “WoW killer” in relation to Warhammer Online. The offending comment was actually delivered indirectly, from a post on Book of Grudges last Monday (catching up on my RSS feed after returning from Las Vegas, I’m behind!), called “Taking a Step Back“. arbitrary was checking reactions to the Mythic announcements about cutting classes and capital cities, and found this quote on Kotaku:

The so called wow killer is releasing half a product and expecting to compete?

I can’t take it any more. Who’s calling it a WoW killer? Who’s expecting it to compete directly with WoW? Mythic has already stated that they believe their game has different gameplay elements, will not outsell WoW, and they’re not directly competing with them. Has anyone at Mythic also stated that Warhammer will be a WoW killer, or is this giving forum blathering from burned out ex-WoW subscribers way too much credence?

I think some of us who follow MMO’s suffer from Compare-itis. Since there are relatively few MMO’s in the Western market, they inevitably get compared to one another, and I don’t think that’s healthy.

The first time I saw Compare-itis in action was when I started playing DAoC, when it first launched. I still had friends playing EQ, still visited message boards with EQ players, and there was far too much time spent talking about what each game lacked compared to the other game. It was like they had to be the same game somehow, and differences were bad. I’d try to tell my EQ friends what I liked about DAoC, and they’d sharpen their virtual pencils and tell me in detail why DAoC wasn’t like EQ, and hence, why DAoC was Bad.

The reverse was also true. There were plenty of people who liked DAoC who’d slam EQ for not having features like DAoC. Neither stance made much sense to me, but clearly, Compareitis is still alive when WAR’s being touted by forum posters as a WoW killer.

Saying WAR is like WoW, or DAoC was like EQ, is like saying Half-Life is like Quake, just because both games have weapons and multiplayer options. It’s like saying Company of Heroes is like Warcraft III because they’re both RTS games.

There are TONS of design decisions that go into making an MMO. You start with a massive world, either a level-based or skill-based system, put in PvE and maybe PvP combat, tradeskills, maybe housing…and it’s like those elements alone are suddenly enough to compare games like comparing apples to apples.

I think it’s time we start to look more at the differences between MMO’s, and the different design goals chosen by developers, instead of thinking that WAR and WoW are somehow wildly similar games. Or AoC and WoW, or LoTRO and WAR, or whatever you’re chosing to compare.

I played a ton of EQ, and a ton of DAoC. They had a common genre underpinning, but they were very different games. I’ve played a ton of WoW and quite a bit of the WAR beta. Mythic is shooting for a very different gaming experience with WAR than what I enjoyed in WoW.  Comparing them directly is bound to be inaccurate, because they have very different design goals. Yes, they share a common heritage, but I think the genre is maturing enough, especially with second and third generation MMO developers, to stop directly comparing games.

The paucity of choice in the MMO market contributes to the desire to compare games head-to-head. We probably have more triple-A MMO titles available right now than we’ve had at any point in MMO history, yet there are still only a handful of good choices for gamers. I guess it’s inevitable that the games are lumped together, but each developer puts their own spin on the genre, and comparing them directly just seems silly to me.

I don’t want to see any more WoW killer comments, or posts saying WAR ripped off WoW, or WoW ripped off the Warhammer IP before Mythic started developing the Warhammer IP, bla bla bla, yadda yadda. Mythic has their own design goals, and I think if you HAVE to directly compare it to any other MMO, it should be DAoC, and not WoW, or EQ2, or LoTRO. There’s a firm academic basis for comparison with DAoC; an evolution of development, ideas tried, evaluated, kept, or tossed aside. WoW, not so much.

It might be a little too early in the genre for an MMO cladogram, with each branch forking out different design choices, each game ending up as individual species with a particular evolutionary ancestry, but comparing MMO’s directly with each other is like bitching that a Stegosaurus isn’t just like an Ankylosaur, or that a 10 million Velociraptors must be superior to 1 million Allosaurs. It’s ok to be different. I learned that in high school. It’s ok to make different choices.

I’m not sure where this Highlander “There can be only one!” attitude regarding MMO’s comes from, but I do know that I’m tired of it. There are now quite a few companies making big profits from their first, second, or third MMO, and I’m glad that each game has its own personality, its own goals. We’ve got to get over the head-to-head, Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots school of MMO fandom.

Listen to me. Suddenly I’m dipping into “Celebrate Diversity!” cheerleading. Well, hell, I like diversity. I like that Mythic decided to do things differently than Blizzard and Sony and Turbine. I’m glad that Turbine tried Monster Play and storyline quests. I like that EQ2 has housing and more developed crafting. I’m happy that WoW is so carefully crafted and detailed and refined. I like boobs in AoC. And elsewhere, for that matter.

I know it’s the nature of internet communication to square off in opinion-related cage matches, but I’m hoping for a little more nuanced appraisal of WAR when it’s released. It’s not WoW. It’s not trying to BE WoW. If you start your review of WAR with a comparison to WoW, you’re missing the point.

Do people dog R.A. Salvatore because his books are in the same section of the bookstore as the Dragonlance series? Do we have to sneer at Spiderman movies because there are already Batman movies, and they’re not the same movie? What is it about MMO’s that invites this type of comparison? Is it because the genre is still so young? Is it because it takes so long to make a triple-A title, and because we talk it to death while it’s being made and being tested? Is it because, unlike other computer games, you have to pay $15 a month for an MMO, and you want to believe that your $15 is going to the best game, and all the other games suck?

Maybe it’s a little of all of that. And I’m gettin’ tired of it 🙂

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6 Responses

  1. Funnily enough I chose that quotation purely because it represented exactly what you’re talking about.

    I totally agree with you that the almost-tribal response from one set of gamers to another is tiring me out. But it also seems somehow inevitable. I think as I see the comparisons, I just switch off and barely read them in detail. I play what I feel like playing at the time and for me, I don’t really feel the pull to go back to WoW, but I don’t feel insecure enough to want to bash it just cos I’ve chosen WAR.

    I think the WoW vs WAR thing has become heightened because WoW appears to be a little more worried about WAR than they were about LotRO and AoC, but who knows – there’s certainly room for both games out there and for fans of both to co-exist.

    LotRO’s lifetime sub model has helped me be able to have two MMO subs at the same time, which I previously wouldn’t have been able to afford – but we’ll see how I split my time..

  2. “there’s certainly room for both games out there and for fans of both to co-exist.”

    Totally. In a logical universe, anyway. One other possible emotional factor I left out was what you covered about guilds, and switching games, and feeling like you’re abandoning old friends, or worrying that people who don’t want to switch from one game to another will think you’re trying to recruit people away. I guess that’s another reason why people may react so violently to new games; maybe it’s a threat to their social structure.

  3. One reason we compare MMO’s more than movies and such is that MMOs require so much time. 100 hours is nothing in MMO land, while most single player games are over in 40, and a movie is over in 2. When you play the same game and use the same systems for 300+ hours, you naturally pick up on all the details, and compare them to other games.

    I just want WAR to go into open beta, so you closed beta bastards can stfu. Yes, still bitter 🙂

  4. But dude, RB said that WoW = WAR, fanboys cried BS, and the blogosphere (with some notable exceptions) said:

    “No actually RB is right…until some developer is enough of a lunatic to set every single design element that DikuMUDs pioneered on fire and dump millions of dollars into an experimental MMO that will have a total audience of 10 (of mainly bloggers and game designers it appears)…all big budget MMOs = WoW.”

    Where have you been?

    ;-P

    In any case agreed. The double standard that gets applied to MMOs versus other genres is irritating. For example, FPSs have actually evolved very little since the original Half-life. Yet for some reason commentators are perfectly willing to accept that, and focus on what sets different brands apart rather than getting upset that every new shooter doesn’t abandon the core design elements of Half Life.

    When evaluating a new MMO, I need to know what sets it apart from similar MMOs. As far as core design elements, just don’t mess them up. I like quests, classes, and levels. I have since the Goldbox games, that isn’t changing. I also like the AC II/ WoW UI. Don’t screw up the wheels, they work just fine.

  5. Well said. I’ve been thinking about this since I posted it, and I think MMO’s get judged more harshly because of the monthly fee. On the one hand, I’m fine with that; you want quality when you’re paying money. On the other hand, you’re right, you’re going to get quests, classes, and levels (or quests, careers, and skills), and that’s a basic mechanic of the genre. Just because those basic elements are present in one form or another doesn’t mean a game is completely derivative. For me, it’s the quality of the implementation as much as the innovation.

  6. Great article, I totally agree with you on multiple points throughout the post. I’ve seen tons of forum posts on random forums with a lot of bitter ex-WoW people.

    I played EQ for 4 or 5 years, I still find myself wanting to go back to it, because some of these newer games just don’t have the feel it had. But I’m giving WAR a good shot we’ll see. Again, great post, will keep reading your stuff :p

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