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.
1. Demand for new content >> production rate of new content.
The ProblemNo 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 SolutionBlizzard 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.
2. Less Buttons!
The ProblemHaving 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 SolutionPretty 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.
3. Extensible Engine
The ProblemAn 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 SolutionAs 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.
4. Players go where the rewards are.
The ProblemIt 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 SolutionIt'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.
5. Player interaction
The ProblemThis 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 SolutionBlizzard 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.
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