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Richard Bartle expands on earlier remarks stated in Massively interview [updated]

Matt Warner

In this interview conducted by Michael Zenke, Richard Bartle discussed how to improve World of Warcraft and about MMOGs in general. One comment in particular overshadowed the whole interview: "I've already played Warhammer. It was called World of Warcraft." The comment thread on both Massively and WoW Insider was met with heavy criticism towards what many considered a myopic statement. It didn't stop there; the blogosphere has been running rampant with rambunctious commentary about his remarks all weekend long.

This isn't the first time that Bartle has come under scrutiny for one of his outspoken comments. Last year, when asked what he would do if he could control any MMOG Bartle proclaimed he would shut down World of Warcraft. His reasoning behind it was so that other unknown virtual worlds would have the chance to thrive and push new boundaries in the massive genre. One sacrifice for a thousand, but it's definitely something to ponder as the cost of MMO development continues to skyrocket towards the 100 million dollar mark. Big-budget MMOs are less likely to take risks and follow a winning formula.

No matter what you think of Richard Bartle, we only felt that it was fair that we share his follow-up comments that may help discern his perspective as a game designer. More on Bartle's controversial statement which may not be as shocking as one might think, in his own words after the jump.

Discussion taken from Broken Toys:

Richard Bartle: "My remark about WAR and WoW, which seems to have got a lot of attention, isn't being understood quite how I meant it. I was suggesting that the Warcraft universe is, er, let's say "coincidentally similar" to the Warhammer universe, not that WAR was a WoW rip-off. However, it would appear that in terms of design WAR does indeed seem to be only an incremental advance on WoW when you look underneath its skin. The atmosphere is different, in a gritty, AoC kind of way, but the gameplay has changed only in evolutionary ways, not revolutionary ones."

"My comments on PvP in Aoc don't look on the page quite as tongue-in-cheek as I meant them to sound. That said, the basic point is still in there: people need to get a sense of perspective here. I was asked the question as to whether I'd play new games like AoC, OK, so why would I play AoC? Its USP is its PvP, which by WoW standards is hardcore but by the standards of 20 years ago is hug-me-in-a-warm-blanket soft. So the main reason people would play AoC, ie. combat and PvP, isn't as big a deal for me as it may be for WoW players... AoC 's differences from WoW are in terms of small increments, not large steps, although if all you know is AoC, WoW and perhaps EQ, you might think it was actually a big step. It isn't. Designers have more possibilities at their fingertips than they seem to realise."

Scott Jennings: "Assuming that designers have any knowledge of games that came before their current favorite is not a safe assumption."

Richard Bartle: "Yes, sadly I agree. Too many of today's designers want to create the MMO they grew up playing, only better. This basically makes them players who want to create games that are better for them, as players, to play. Now although this is a reasonable approach for single-player games, it's bad for MMOs: there are many different types of player, and they play for different reasons, but they're inter-dependent.

"If you build an MMO that's a honeypot for achievers, but that drives explorers and socialisers nuts, you're making long-term problems for yourself. However, if you're a designer who loves grinding for gear, why would you - and how could you - create a game that appealed to the other types? You can check the checkboxes for "something to explore" and "some reason to socialise", but you're not putting any of your soul into that; your soul is all going into the achiever mentality. This is why you need designers who can't play as players, only as designers (or if they can somehow switch off their play-as-a-player emotions, that would work too, I guess)."

"I WANT the field to move in directions I didn't set! I want it to move in directions I couldn't even CONCEIVE of! I WANT to become obsolete, wheeled out at confereces[sic] for the sole reason that I haven't died yet! The reason I want this is because it will mean that virtual worlds have begun to reach their full potential, to become what they truly can be - awesome, glorious, wonderful places where people can be and become themselves: freedom incarnate. What I'm raging against is the fact that we're running on rails, following existing tracks to destinations we already know, seeing the same scenery and never wondering what's beyond that hill over there."

The comments don't end there, the discussion thread on Broken Toys is excellent and Bartle responds to many posters there clarifying his thoughts and defending his position.

[Update]: Over on Waaagh, a blog centered around Warhammer, Syp posits his own thoughts in relation to some in-depth commentary that was left by Richard Bartle regarding the now infamous quote. The healthy discussion in the comment thread is also worth checking out.

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