Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Neither WAR nor WotLK are a failure

There is a famous Zen question which goes like this: "If a tree falls in a forest, and nobody is around to hear it, does it make a sound?". Like all Zen questions, you aren't actually supposed to answer that one, it is just a starting point for pondering reality. Does reality exist in absolute terms, or do we all live in our personal little universe, and nothing outside our mind exists? Too philosophical for you? Don't worry, I'm getting to the MMORPG point: A lot of MMORPG bloggers and commenters of various game sites seem to be of the personal universe persuasion. We are the centers of our own little universes, and our own perception matters more than absolute reality.

A typical example is several blogs quoting Mark Jacobs who said before WAR launched: "Look at us six months out. Look at us six weeks out. If we’re not adding servers, we’re not doing well." As it is six weeks out, and WAR isn't adding servers (just the opposite, it offers transfers away from underpopulated servers), the conclusion is that WAR is a failure. This inevitably comes from people who either stopped playing WAR, or haven't started in the first place. It's the personal universe again, in which WAR is a failure, because it failed to excite *you*. Well, WAR failed to excite me too, although I was maybe better prepared for the possibility of me not liking a PvP game, and thus didn't suffer a big disappointment. But in the real universe, the one of facts and figures, Warhammer Online is doing well enough: 1.2 million copies sold, 800,000 subscribers. Yes, the game is far from perfect, and yes, there are a lot of WoW players who tried it out, and are now leaving for patch 3.0 and WotLK, but none of this was actually unexpected. And there is still a good chance that WAR passes the 1 million subscribers mark, if not by christmas, then somewhere next year. I bet EA would love to have more "failures" like this.

The same personal universe view is often applied by bored World of Warcraft players to WoW, or the Wrath of the Lich King expansion. The game is boring, lots of grind, the expansion isn't original, same old, yadda, yadda, yadda, a complete failure. Back in the real world WotLK will sell several million copies next week.

Our comments on various games often reveal more about our personal little universes than about reality. WoW isn't boring. WoW becomes boring after you have played it for several thousand hours, or if you try it and were really searching for a complete different game. And many of the people who got bored by WoW this year did so simply because the expansion took too long to come out, they didn't want something new and different, they wanted more of the same, which is exactly what WotLK will deliver. It is hard to blame Blizzard for delivering exactly what most players want. We still manage to blame Blizzard by looking at WoW only from our own personal distorted view. I've read one blog where somebody threw away years of work on WoW tools just because the Deep Freeze talent for his frost mage was changed during beta from dealing damage to doing a stun. Yeah, that one little change totally turned WoW from a great game into a complete failure! Not.

I'm certainly not innocent of this. I catch myself sometimes reporting on games I played using the past tense, although the game is still around. And when I rant about this or that feature, or report how much fun I'm having with this or that other feature, that is all totally subjective. There are certainly people out there for who WAR would be a better choice than WotLK, I just happen to be not one of them. I just can't be bothered to write "In my subjective opinion" in front of each of my sentences. And that causes trouble sometimes, when I say something like "feature X sucks", and it sounds like an absolute statement of truth, when in reality it is just a truth in my personal universe. Then somebody else comes along in whose personal universe feature X is the greatest ever, he states that like a fact, and then suddenly I have a thread with 50 comments argueing in a bitter tone. But then, if we would only state objective facts, there wouldn't be much discussion at all. Blogs aren't exactly designed to be objective.

So I can accept that some people are disappointed with Warhammer Online or with Wrath of the Lich King, for various reasons. Their failure is often one to live up to the hype: We were promised the greatest PvP game ever, and then we got this? We waited 2 years for another expansion, and then its only that? Those failures can be powerful feelings, and determine of whether we personally subscribe to one of these games. We just have to be careful how we phrase our disappointment, because by more objective measures like sales both WAR and WotLK are doing great. Just wait until Star Wars: The Old Republic comes out, gets 5 million subscribers, and bloggers quote them on that "bigger than WoW" announcement and call them a failure.

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