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Five lessons Blizzard learned from WoW and will probably apply in Titan


There's an old saying that we're dwarfs standing on the shoulders of giants. One of it's meanings is that all we're achieving in the present is based on discoveries, research and even mistakes done in the past.

This of course, also applies to Blizzard and its process of creating games. As different as WoW and Titan might be, there's no denying that Blizzard will use the experience gathered while developing its first MMO to make the best possible next-gen MMO. Continuing the speculation, here are some of the WoW lessons I believe will be put to good use in Titan.

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1. Demand for new content >> production rate of new content.

The Problem 

No matter how much money and development time you throw at it, players will always have to suffer through a content drought at least 2,3 months / year. It might not apply to the entire population, as some like to take their time with progression or enjoy leveling numerous alts, but the hardcore and normal types of players will be affected.

This leaves the game vulnerable, especially if the low content period overlaps with a MMO launch. Some, or even most players will return, but it's a high risk to take.

The Solution 

Blizzard has found two answers to this:

- more streamlined content. Smaller patches with less time between them. This eliminates huge content gaps that can really bring a game down, but it doesn't really fix the problem... the developers will still be running a losing race.

- player-made content. This right here is the holy grail of content. If you can integrate a player-driven creation process into your game, you have a guaranteed lifespan increase.

And Blizzard knows this very well, as stated by Frank Pearce at this year's gamescom: his biggest recent regret is not introducing a marketplace into Starcraft 2 straight from launch. Of course, it's harder to do this in a MMO, but with the right tools and expertise, we could see a Titan world partially shaped by players, in one form or another. It might feel a bit far fetched now, but it is the future and Blizzard knows this. Question is if they can deliver it now.

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2. Less Buttons!

The Problem 

Having played a shaman in WoW, I was of course absolutely in love with my totems. All 20ish of them! I also loved my shocks, my enchants, heals and the rest of the remaining 15-20 skills. What I absolutely hated was having to keybind all of them, remember where they are and then try to press ALT + 5 while also smashing the movement keys and space bar. Macros and certain addons helped, but as a game developer you can't rely on outside fixes.

What I described above was and mostly still is true for all classes. It's also a problem Blizzard admitted numerous times. It's awesome having many skills at your disposal, but it certainly can get overwhelming and what happens 90% of the time is that some will be left to rot in the Spellbook and never get to experience the warm touch of a keybind or bar slot. It's sad really.

The Solution 

Pretty much 2 words: Guild Wars! Especially the second version that will come out in 2012. ArenaNet's game has more skills / class than WoW, but with a catch: they're not all usable at once. If you have an axe in your hand, you have a certain set of 5 - 10 skills at your disposal. With the touch of a button, you can switch to a bow and suddenly that set gets replaced with a completely different one and so on. There are also skill sets that are independent of the weapon choice but function pretty much the same way.

What this means is that you have a huge bag of tools at your disposal, but you'll never feel overwhelmed, since you can't use more than 15 or so at once.

Considering that Titan will have strong FPS elements, this solution seems almost a certainty to appear in the game.

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3. Extensible Engine

The Problem 

An outdated game engine has been one of the most widely used excuses by Blizzard. And in a way you have to understand them. They couldn't have possibly predicted in 2001 - 2004, when they built the core of the game, what would be the requirements and MMO trends in 2010+. And this caused them a lot of problems when trying to implement new "next-gen" features.

The Solution 

As said above, it's pretty much impossible to predict what your game will need in 7,8 years, but at the same time a well built modular and extensible engine can make all the difference in the world.

I'm sure Blizzard knows this and since they are building Titan from scratch, will pay a great deal of attention the the foundation. Hopefully, this will translate into less excuses from them and faster implementation of new features.

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4. Players go where the rewards are.

The Problem 

It took them quite a while to realize this, but in the end they saw the big ugly truth: no matter how fun a feature might be, if it doesn't provide something the player needs / wants, it will get overlooked.

Just look at the open-world PvP mini-zones from TBC. They were a very good idea and were actually fun when there were people around... but that was rarely the case, especially after a few months from the launch.

Another example: how many people in WotLK were doing 25 daily quests per day almost everyday but hadn't yet finished the main quest chains from Icecrown Citadel? Quite a lot. Is repeating the same quests over and over more fun than finishing an expansion's story and getting ready (lore wise) to face the raid bosses? I think not, but yet it was damn near impossible to find people to finish the group quests. EXCEPT for the arena ones. Why ? Awesome weapon rewards. "Nuff said.

The Solution 

It's pretty obvious. If you're going to build a fun feature, make sure it's well integrated in the game and offers substantial rewards, either in the form of loot or bragging rights.

Blizzard has obviously learned this lesson, WotLK's open-world PvP attempt (Wintergrasp) being much more popular. The best example would be the addition of the achievement system. With this, they assured themselves they'll always have an easy way to lure players into doing something, even if the material rewards are not that big.

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5. Player interaction

The Problem 

This is probably the biggest of the ones presented here. It's one of the main reasons people are leaving or threatening to leave WoW right now.

With all the fancy new systems added lately (cross-server everything, PvE / PvP one-button queue, teleporting to and from dungeons, flying everywhere, etc), a player's life has sure gotten a lot easier... but also much lonelier. Most of the interaction takes place inside cities and going out to farm for something or finish some quests feels like going into the middle of nowhere.

The huge and wonderful world that is Azeroth has been reduced to a few focus points, the cities and some daily quest hubs, and everything else is left to wither away in emptiness. Gone are the days of summoning stone mayhem, quest hub camping, group questing with random people you meet on the road and all kinds of unpredicted events that made Azeroth feel a lot more real.

The Solution 

Blizzard says they are more than aware of the problem and are fixing it, but so far it's hard to see what they've actually done. Patch 4.3 brings a cross-server LFR tool, which is definitely not a step in this direction, but the opposite.

It might be that once started on this road, it's hard for them to turn back. I mean, they can't just take away all the utilities added in the last years in the name of open-worldness.

What I do hope is that, like they keep saying, have learned the lesson and are making sure it won't happen in Titan. It's perfectly fine (and even great) to have easy life tools, but they need to be kept in check and compensated with open-world features that keep players spread out over the entire game world.

That's all I have for now, but I'm curious... what other lessons do you guys think Blizzard learned with WoW and will bring in Titan?

Images taken from Blizzard's SC2 art gallery. Click the thumbnails for full versions.




7 Comments

Think you missed an important section, class balance. I know Class balance is impossible, I am concerned that blizzard will continue to nerf/buff without considering how it effects pvp/pve, they need to take from wow that a separation of pvp and pve spells is crucial for better class balance, resilience always felt like a band aid an adequate fix at first but not enough.

Completely agree. WoW was intially built to be a PvE game and most of the PvP was added on the go,post-launch, so this would explain why all attempts to separate this two modes feel like band-aid. I'm sure that Titan will include both options and since they're being considered from the start, problems like the one resilience has been trying to fix wont appear.
A great example of player-driven (or dynamic) content solution is Eve Online by CCP. What CCP does with every patch is to update and expand the infrastructure of the game. It's up to players to run the economy, to form factions, to stick together to survive and colonize the universe; similar to a playground. However WoW is feeding the players the infrastructure AND the content. The only thing left to players is to spectate. It's a Disneyland-like experience.

In Eve, players are not the creators, but the directors. In WoW, they are no more than consumers. And as we know, humanity tends to consume things faster with less pleasure as the time goes by.

I wonder if Blizzard will be bold enough to finally abandon their once successful yet debilitating formula of RNG driven item-mania, and take the risk of trusting the intelligence of the players and give them some creative rights.
Very nice write-up... couldn't agree more with what you said about EVE. With WoW, the problem is that the "infrastructure" provided by Blizzard is very limited. For instance, you have tons of crafting professions, but they're all very rigid, normalized and work on a very small scale, meaning that you don't need any help to maximize them in just a few days. Ad after that, the usual progression method is doing some dailies to get different tokens. a process that doesn't promote any form of cooperation or rivalry.

I have no clue what will happen in Titan, but I do hope that they'll have a different approach than with WoW. It would make sense too, considering they want the two games to appeal to different audiences.

Great writeup. :) Few things I'd love to add:

 

About content creation

- How many quest logs would it take to convey the whole story of SC or Diablo2 within WoW?

- How many years worth of gameplay did these games provide? How much more did people like and get invested in the storyline, even though it wasn't all that great?

 

The point I'm trying to make is that WoW's game design is so weak right now, that it rides on the content creators ability to push out written story and cut scenes. Some questlines of WoW are more intricate than the plot of a whole game, yet, they only provide, at best, a hour worth of entertainment.

 

It's not about the content, it's about the underlying gameplay mechanics. It's a videogame, not a movie. And if it provides fun gameplay mechanics for a wide enough audience, in the absense of any story, or within the context of a very limited story, it can be called success.

 

The only compelling gameplay mechanics WoW has right now is in the form of scripted boss fights. There's nothing outside raiding environment that is supported at all. And there's a lot of potential to do it all.

 

Think of how EVE's economy works. Use that, but replace the resource gathering methods with all sorts of "games within games" that cater to all sorts of gamers. Some might love the single player D2 style random dungeon crawling or killing. Have a D2 like ARPG zone or a location in a zone, or even an instance that serves that purpose, and you hook a ton of players. Some people might like socializing and politics within the city. Support that. Some players do enjoy competing as a group, support that too.

 

It can all be done without a single line of story, just through gameplay mechanics. This way the whole game doesn't get "bottlenecked" by devs ability to push out meaningless text logs for players to skip for the rewards.

 

Also, the whole "casual vs. hardcore" battle that's been going on since 2005 is a good example of how to not design a game. All the new things that happen within the game are served through a new raiding instance, and when casual gamers don't have the time to invest into clearing it, they get nothing. There's nothing outside the raiding environment that is even somewhat worth your time. So Blizzard has to nerf/buff encounters constantly to serve the game for both, and nobody seems to be happy.

 

Also, games are so bad platforms to serve story on. People don't like to see distractions when they want to get deeper into the plot and so. We have books and movies for that kind of thing. The content of games is it's gameplay. The content of books and movies is the story.

It can all be done without a single line of story, just through gameplay mechanics. This way the whole game doesn't get "bottlenecked" by devs ability to push out meaningless text logs for players to skip for the rewards.

 

Hi, I think you hit a very good point with this. All I remember is that players are skipping the quest text, because it's not useful or interesting. What about questing, where you have to read the quest text carefully because it describes what you have to do and where to go. No quest-helper, no ToDo List, all what you've got is that quest text with hidden secrets. It'd be like a riddle to solve, challenging, but also a lot of fun. And because it's a riddle and a bit difficult, you'd get much more ep's (experience) when you're finished, so that it's worth solving the quest. Also: players would be able to create their own quests with different difficulties and different rewards. That'd be awesome imo!

vanilla eq style questing was sooo good also the way they did drops and named mobs etc.