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Popular Does Not Equal Good
Can 11.5 million people be playing a game that is badly designed? Can Blizzard be wrong about anything when they are raking in so much cash? I’m reminded of that several billion smokers can’t be wrong poster. Yes you can definitely get millions of people interested in something that is badly designed or lacking in entertainment, the cult of celebrity and the pop charts provide ample examples. You can also be shamelessly mainstream and cash obsessed like the vast majority of game publishers who will happily shovel any old rubbish as long as it sells. Just because something is popular does not mean it is good. Now before you fire up that hate mail give me a moment to explain.
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WoW is Dull
World of Warcraft has sucked in many of my friends over the years. They used to enjoy online FPS sessions, games of Pro-Evolution accompanied by a few beers and even, dare I say, some real life interaction at one of the many taverns littering the fine city of Edinburgh. Then they caught the WoW bug and suddenly they were sitting in nights weaving primal mooncloth. It became necessary to find out just what all these people saw in a game which looked to me like a cheap rip off of Tolkien. I tried playing it and was amazed to find the experience dull and unsatisfying. World of Warcraft features some seriously convoluted design decisions and at core the problem with the game is that it is designed to suit the developers not the players. This makes it even stranger to me that of all the MMORPGs out there WoW is the one that struck it big.
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Time over Skill
The number one complaint I have about World of Warcraft is the fact that it rewards time over skill. In fact there is very little skill involved in playing the game. There is only the mind numbing tedium of the grind. Perhaps one of the secrets of its success is exactly that. People are encouraged to play because they don’t have to develop their skills they can just play for a really long time taking on challenges beneath them in order to progress. This focus on time over skill (accomplished largely by quest based advancement) also works for Blizzard because it ensures people will try and put in as many hours as they possibly can and the servers are always buzzing. You often see quotes from WoW players saying things like “the real game starts at level 60”. So you’re asking me to play for days in order to reach the “real game” and I’m paying for the privilege of working my way towards something that promises it will eventually be enjoyable?
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Socialising in World of Warcraft
The idea that WoW encourages socialising is a complete joke. In my experience the only people doing any socialising in WoW are groups of friends from the real world who party up and act abusively towards everyone else. In fact the whole MMO gamers are jerks rule means the game is filled with unhelpful idiots and yet the game design forces you to buddy up with them if you want maximum rewards. The fact you can’t really progress in the game without joining a group is painful because the game is so full of untalented players that every group involves a long discussion where concepts have to be explained and the WoW veterans get to show off their superior knowledge. It takes too long to get into the action and even experienced players have only built a modicum of skill. What they have really accumulated is a lot of learned statistics and information. It may be possible to find love in an MMO game but when it comes to gaming I’m antisocial and I don’t want to be forced into large parties and whined at by someone who thinks they know better.
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Where's the Reward?
The game deliberately encourages an obsession with levelling up and accumulating stuff. The idea of all of this glittering reward you’ll get for sacrificing your life to Blizzard is far greater than the actual reward. It is based on a constant striving which can never be satisfied because if you reach the pinnacle it is instantly pointless and deathly boring. There is no grand finale. You will never get that carrot dangling at the end of the stick and if you ever do you’ll realise what a waste of time it was getting there.
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Rules, Rules and More Rules
Success has most definitely gone to Blizzard's head. When designing multiplayer games the burden of dealing with griefers and idiots is on the developer and to an extent it has to be policed by the community. When exploits are discovered, cheaters exposed or unexpected actions undertaken by gamers you can’t just ban them and close their account. It is well established that the world of online gaming is full of idiots. Some people leading empty lives and hiding behind their anonymity suddenly develop a hateful urge to spoil the game for everyone else. Yes, I hate those people too so if they continually push it by all means boot them. However there are also innocent noobs and curious experimenters and they don’t deserve to fall prey to a convoluted rule set. In fact if you are paying to play a game for entertainment you should not be forced to read endless rule sets or terms and conditions.
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The quests are often rubbish and repetitive. This is a problem faced by every game. How many ways can you dress up a basic variety that includes kill things, find something, go to point X and….. er …..find something or kill something. You end up relying on interesting characters or good writing or you allow the player some freedom to take their own approach. World of Warcraft doesn’t bother because you’ll take what you’re given and like it. After all, you just want the loot.
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The game is mortally unbalanced. Of course balancing between classes is an argument that rages through every game in the known universe. The reason for this is the angry post-death assertion that the killer “had an unfair advantage”. Sadly when it comes to WoW this is often true. From a design point of view they didn’t bother to release balanced classes they just put them out as is and let the argument kick off. They basically got the players to do their job for them and gradually tweaked the classes according to the angry feedback. Once again you were paying for the privilege of helping Blizzard balance the game. Changes are an obvious acceptance that their original mechanics must have been wrong or the changes wouldn’t be required. Iteration is actually good game design but you’re supposed to iterate before release. Blizzard certainly has the time and money to be a bit more patient and get things right first time.
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Too Much Junk
The HUD and menu system are overly complicated. In fact the game throws far too much information at the player all the time. The funny thing is all that experienced players learn to do is filter out the useless stuff. The designers should just remove the useless stuff.
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To be honest many of the problems listed above can be found in all the main MMORPG games. However even that is the fault of World of Warcraft because publishers and investors have no imagination and they believe in replicating success. The fact that WoW has been so successful has been used to justify the pernicious spread of its awful game design like some kind of MMORPG virus you just can’t slay.
Reading back over this I realise I may have gone a bit overboard here but for me WoW is seriously overrated. I’m not looking to anger the fans and I know they’ll feel they have to defend the game. If I invested weeks of my life in something I’d probably want to defend it too. I’m sure there are some good things about WoW and if you know what they are then tell me in the comments.
This article series explores some of the negative aspects of World of Warcraft.