Monday, June 23, 2008
Richard Bartle is the co-author of MUD, one of the ancestors of modern MMORPGs. But as he failed to patent any of the inventions he did while creating it, all he got was a Wikipedia entry. Being aware how many millions other people make from those ideas, he tends to be somewhat bitter. And out of that bitterness comes a deep desire to annoy other people in the field, for example by proposing to close down World of Warcraft. And now Keen reports Richard Bartle saying “I’ve already played Warhammer. It was called World of Warcraft.”, thereby making a lot of WAR fans angry. Well, as attempt of somebody who has become irrelevant to make it back into the news this succeeded; but now he'll have some clever explaining away to do, before everybody considers him to be just crazy.
Of course games from the same genre resemble each other, or they wouldn't be part of the same genre. WAR is no more identical to WoW than WoW is to Everquest. And as a marketing strategy the guys from EA Mythic make unhelpful statements like “We have everything you would expect from a MMO; The greatest hits.” With the visual style being somewhat similar, of course some people now start to think of WAR as being some sort of WoW+. World of Warcraft plus RvR, for example. But that isn't really a fair assessment. LotRO isn't WoW plus hobbits, AoC isn't WoW plus nipples, and WAR isn't WoW plus RvR. These are all completely separate games, all drawing from a pool of general genre features. And yes, WoW significantly contributed to that pool, but earlier games like Everquest contributed even more.
Of course if you don't like MMORPGs in general, you won't like WAR either. Or if WoW totally burned you out from games where you do quests and kill monsters to advance in levels, WAR isn't going to offer you something completely different. But nobody really expects that. Nobody blames Crysis for being similar to other first person shooters, or Starcraft 2 for being the same as other real time strategy games. Players buying WAR *expect* certain standard features of a MMORPG. And they buy a new game for new content and different variations of an old genre.
And with multiple generations the variations from one game to another evolve the whole genre. Nobody says "I've already played Spore, it was called Populous.", even if Spore is definitely part of the same god-sim genre. But in 19 years that genre has evolved into something that makes Spore appear to be very different from Populous. In the genre of MMORPGs the games of today already appear to be much different from Everquest. And in 10 years the new games will be much different from World of Warcraft. But most of that difference will not come from huge quantum leaps, but from a sum of smaller additions to features.
That is why Richard Bartle's statement of WAR being the same as WoW only makes him look foolish. We don't know yet how important features like RvR, the tome of knowledge, or public quests are going to be for the future of the genre. Maybe in 5 years public quests are as standard as golden symbols over the head of quest givers, maybe they end up being forgotten or considered to be a failed experiment. But dismissing WAR because it shares features with WoW or other MMORPGs simply stops all evolution. Relying only on people coming up with revolutionary new ideas that found completely new genres would mean we would only get new games once every decade or so. WAR is important because it will attract a large audience, and it will evolve the MMORPG genre in some way. Discussing the evolution and the changes is a lot more important than listing the similarities.