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Bringing the "game" back into an MMORPG


One of the big pushes in Mists of Pandaria has been to get the player out interacting with the environment again, doing a lot more than just sitting around a city or a few key spots. Having to interact with your farm, head out to highly popular quests hubs, and going to killing ancient beasts for their bones, it's all part of the same goal: actually do something.

Exactly what this doing is tends to be important though, and hits at a primary aspect of MMORPGs that many people shout whenever titles like World of Warcraft are mentioned: it's a job, not a game. But is that really true, and if it is (hint: it used to be) then how does the game get forced back into it?

So the hint above pretty much gave the premise away: WoW used to not be a game. It was, for a while, a second job (primary for some folks). You'd have to log in, do your material grinding, and then head out to raid. If you had some dailies that you needed to do still you went and did them, but they were mainly for unimportant stuff. Not a lot of raiding gear past a certain point was tied to daily reps.

That was the job. I'm not even going to use the term game there, because a game implies, according to Webster, "activity engaged in for diversion or amusement." Finding mats and doing everything you possibly can just so you can raid isn't exactly diversion or amusement. It's a necessity to get to the amusement; WoW was, I contend, only a half-game for a time; it was the Tyrion Lannister of MMORPGs.

Then came Looking for Raid.

It's the dawning of the age of LFR

We got a system that put the game back into WoW a bit. Players were able to essentially jump right into the system and not have to spend tons and tons of time grinding materials or other such boring activities. Through the process of actually playing the game, you could experience the entirety of the story and all of the content. WoW was very close to being a game again (or maybe for the first time ever, if you consider the follies of Classic through Wrath).

In Mists the game aspect really has been played up, so much so that some people don't like the direction WoW is going anymore. There's a lot of things to do that have no point other than fun, and not everything is centered around gear progression. For some people this isn't what an MMORPG should be about, they want the MMORPJob.

One of the primary ways that the game designers have pushed WoW into a more game like atmosphere is to have extensive dynamic content, making the time we spend playing WoW feel more like a game than like a SQL script. The Timeless Isle, Patch 5.2 and 5.3, all of those offer events that while defined, are not a constant A-B-C progression. You don't know what you're going to get each day or how you're going to be successful, and that's a fun thing.

As linked above, Ghostcrawler and pals agree the dynamic content is the way to go, and I can't agree more; it absolutely is -- WoW needs more of it, the less scripted things the better. Of course telling a story requires some level of scripted events, and it shouldn't ever go away -- but the unscripted nature is amazing. Think of Dungeons & Dragons. What's the most memorable parts of the classic tabletop game? Is it when you predictably kill the mutant gnoll at the end of the campaign, or when your crazy drunken friend who's playing a human mage suddenly decided to charm a kobold and marry his sister because "it's the right thing to do under the circumstances" (those circumstances being not appropriate for a family blog).

Warcraft needs to be more drunken mage, and less mutant gnoll.

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