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Are you a god? Why WoW, and every game, has to suck

Adam Holisky

Ray: Gozer the Gozerian? Good evening. As a duly-designated representative of the City, County and State of New York, I order you to cease any and all supernatural activity and return forthwith to your place of origin, or to the next convenient parallel dimension.

Venkman: That oughtta do it. Thanks very much, Ray.

Gozer: Are you a god?

Ray: No.

Gozer: Then die!

Our world has consequences. If you speed, you get a ticket. If you eat too much, you get fat. If you do bad things, you go to jail. If you do good work, you make more money. If you are nice to people, you make friends. If you show up to raids on time, you get a spot in the group.

Consequences are both good and bad; either way they're a logical result of your actions. Without consequences there would be no causality and no ability to put things in temporal order. Without diving too deep into logical philosophy here, you could do fun things like show up late to raids and demand a spot; or show up with broken weapons and expect to kill a mob.

Of course these are extreme examples of why consequence is important, but the basic principle stands: in our world there are actions that take place in response to your actions. In game, this principle needs to hold true as well. There has to be a consequence to whatever you do.


Because you're not a god.

Too see what it's like to be a god, open up SimCity 4000 and punch in some cheats. Give yourself all the rewards, all the money you could ever need, and take away all the requirements for power and water. Then start to play the game. You'll build up your city without a care in the world. Nothing will stand in your way.

Maybe you keep doing this for a day or two... but eventually you'll move on to something else. Not because the game's systems are boring, but because you've made them inconsequential. You are playing god, and that's only fun for so long.

If you were to play SimCity 4000 without god mode enabled, you'd have to go through and use your brain to get all the rewards, to earn the money, to increase your population. You'd have to be engaged with the game on a deeper level than if you just gifted yourself everything.

This engagement is the singular most important thing that exists in a game. However a good game engages its players, it must do so on a level of risk and reward, on action X leading to Y. Without this engagement a game will quickly die. And there's no better way to kill a game then giving you unlimited power.

This is where we start to talk about WoW. A game like WoW is so multifaceted that it must engagement players on multiple levels; and for the most part it does. It's been around almost nine years at this point as the king of MMOs. No one else in the business knows how to engage players like Blizzard. You're engaged in your character development, your guild, the game's story, the dungeons, PvP, the community; you're engaged in a lot of WoW.

So what happens if one of these levels of engagement fails? A Cataclsym happens.

One of the chief problems with Cataclysm is that it gave too much to the player too easily. We got to summon everyone easily, provide raid requirements without thinking, get better gear effortlessly, and stack up epics like they didn't matter (they didn't). In some areas of the game, WoW inched very close to making players gods.

Enter Mists of Pandaria, or as I like to call it, Mist of Necessary Suckage. Players are no longer able to zoom around the world on a whim, they can't just get raid necessities without effort, gear is not just handed to them, and when you get an epic it actually matters. You are not a god in Mists of Pandaria, and Blizzard has willed it so.

In a series of tweets yesterday, Greg "Ghostcrawler" Street, WoW's Lead System Designer, said the following:

I get asked a lot: what do we have against convenience? Why remove convenient features or hesitate to add new ones? I'd explain it thusly: Fast food is convenient. You typically hit fast food when you just want to not be hungry. You duck in, feast and bounce. Fine dining is more about the experience. You spend a little time there. You soak it in. Essentially, we want WoW to feel more like fine dining and less like fast food. Please don't take this simple analogy to ridiculous lengths.

When asked what convenient features he's talking about, he responds:

... I meant more guild cauldrons, infinite dungeon rep, doing 6 quests at once, Have Group and so on.

What Greg is getting at is that things cannot be given to you. If they're given to you without any effort, you're not going to be engaged -- you're not going to have the experience. You cannot have your cheeseburger handed to you as a god, you need to go out and earn it.

This is an extremely important point to keep in mind. WoW must engage you on every level if it is going to continue to be successful. In many ways Cataclysm was not engaging and was not a succesful MMO, it was the fast food of RPGs. It made you into a god and handed you the cheeseburger, instead of inviting you in to sit down for a fine steak meal.

Some of the Mists changes stink -- I absolutely hate not being able to have my raid summon me out without any Warlock around or being outside the instance. But you know what? Having to fly to the zone, having to work with the Warlock to summon people out -- that's all making me engaged. It's returning me to what I loved most about WoW: the immersion.

Being a god in a video game isn't any fun if you're actually one, it's only fun if you're wanting to be one. Once you've gotten the fruit, it's all downhill from there. When asked if you're a god, Winston gives good advice -- but he should have added "even though you're really not." In WoW you try to be a god, but never achieve it; and you shouldn't want to.

Winston: Ray, when someone asks you if you're a god, you say yes!

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