We remember the hard times

Lately there was quite a bit of discussion on gend……..errr, I mean, there was quite a bit of discussion going on about where the MMO genre is going and also, about people being bored silly with WoW while being unhappy with the increased “dumbing down” of the game by Blizzard these past few years.

I’ll admit that I am one of those that have an issue with the continuous ‘casualization’ of WoW; not because I need to feel so l33t over more casual players and think they shouldn’t experience the same content as I do, but because I feel a sharp loss of ‘authenticity’ and immersion as a consequence of the related changes since WoW launched in 2004. And I don’t label myself an elite player, far from it.

I am not going to pink-glass vanilla WoW here: there was certain imbalances and unnecessary downtimes that were plain annoying and I wouldn’t want those back. However, I feel that Blizzard’s increased endeavor to make the game more and more accessible and easy to play for a mass market audience, ever since halfway through TBC, has killed a lot of what I consider the ‘soul’ of the true MMORPG experience. A topic that has possibly echoed most of my own feelings in brilliant detail was Wolfshead’s article on EQ3 and the future of the genre in general.
Was everything better back in the days? No. Neither was everything worse. It is rather depressing that oldtimers like Everquest and Ultima Online are still regarded as the games with the most content depth and immersion in the MMO genre up to this day.

When I think of how 5mans are being run in WoW nowadays, it seriously makes me cringe. While it’s far from being my only issue, I think it serves as a good example: queue up for an instance, wait a few minutes, zoom into some cross-server party of which hardly anyone will even say ‘Hi’ in partychat, steamroll the instance, cash your badges and leave, rinse and repeat – it’s like the zombie hour of MMOs.

  • People don’t speak to one another. And if they do, it’s most likely about gearscore or damage meters.
  • People don’t die anymore. And if they do, it is such an unheard of, outrageous thing that the tank and healer are most likely to ragequit after the first wipe because they got NO TIME FOR THIS!
  • People don’t even need to travel to the instance anymore. And if they did, they wouldn’t notice the world around them and its beautiful maps, because their super-fast epic mount flies at “ludicrous speed” somewhere up in the clouds.

Some bloggers have actually compared this way of gameplay to a “one-night stand”: no emotions involved, get in and out quickly, mutual benefits, no strings attached. And why would you invest anything more on people from different servers anyway? It’s an almost complete anonymity, even if you behave like a stupid troll there won’t be consequences. Just yesterday Grumpy described a very similar atmosphere in WoW’s battleground PUGs where communication and teamwork are at an all time low.

Now you could say “but this is all optional, you don’t need to use the dungeon finder if you don’t wish to play with strangers”, but that’s not it really. You play with strangers in MMOs all the time, it’s kinda the POINT. And whether I use this feature or not, it is there and it does impact on the community (lolz I said “community”) as a whole. It is also just one symptom of a spreading disease – and I’m saying this as somebody that is still in love with the world of Warcraft.

Of value and cost or: heroes and dragons

The underlying issue of most of my own points, but also those of other players, comes down to a strong disparity between effort (or challenge) and reward. The irony in WoW’s case is not that the game is too hard and frustrates players by rewarding them too little, but that it is on the contrary so fast and full of opportunities that you do not feel rewarded anymore, as there is hardly a challenge.
As human beings we attach value in relation to what a certain item costs us – value and cost being two very separate things in this case. If it takes you a long time to gain a reward or if it was hard to obtain and required you to overcome many obstacles, you value your reward more, as part of an accomplishment. Well, there is no accomplishment without a struggle: there are no heroes where there is no dragon.

So, where is the feeling of adventure and achievement in playing the game in its current state? When was the last time you really struggled questing in a new map, calling a friend to aid you? When was the last time you had several corpseruns in a 5man because communication on pulls and CC was so crucial? How much effort went into collecting your current set of gear? I had to think hard – the last time we struggled in a 5man was in Magister’s Terrace back in TBC. The instances in WotLK make me feel a lot of things, but certainly not heroic.

We are currently over-loaded on fast opportunity and reward in WoW, to a point where cooperation and teamwork isn’t a key feature anymore. You can solo and pug your way through almost everything with little struggle, downtimes or consequence. Even if you don’t pug, the low difficulty level itself is detrimental to any team building effect: you build strong teams over struggling together, not steamrolling together!

The fact that rewards not only don’t feel like rewards anymore, but also don’t look very rewarding, is doubly ironic: we all look the same nowadays, no matter how we play the game. Our gear tells no stories anymore. It seems the more we are given, the less we got. And then there are those goons that do not even know (or remember) what a party is and how instances used to be, quitting raids over a few deaths or failing horribly whenever they visit an oldschool instance.

When times were tough and memories were epic

I don’t know about you, but personally I lose all sense of adventure when the co-relation between challenge and reward, need for cooperation and teamwork, fear of death and requirements of for example travel, become so secondary in a game. There are no essential struggles, no moments of big consequence or fear – these factors being of course all co-dependent. WoW feels further and further away from the classic MMORPG experience and there goes my sense of ‘authenticity’ down the drain together with immersion.

In his article Wolfshead compared his experience of playing a (good) MMO with watching a horror movie – I find this quite a fitting analogy. If I play in a fantasy world, I’d like some excitement, some tension and moments of terror. I’d like to be scared, calling on my companions to beat a challenge together. Or in other words, I’d like to run and scream in terror; because fear is part of adventure. What follows after, is an epic feeling of accomplishment, reward and fun shared with those that assisted you – or alternatively a feeling of shame and embarrassment over being such a chicken. It is those moments we remember in MMOs, not the easy kills, not the fast loot: what we remember is the really tough times.

I remember how my guild beat Vaelastraz after weeks and weeks of wiping in BWL, and the tremendous relief we felt to have overcome this obstacle together. I remember being scared shitless trying to cross duskwood as a lowbie, waiting for my party to escort me. I remember endless hours and corpseruns in Stratholme, BRD and UBRS because those instances were actually hard for any group. I remember grinding my way to exalted with goddamn Silithus, which is quite possibly the worst thing I ever did in this game (I have still not quite recovered), but I DID IT!

It is the times of our worst struggles and the feeling of achievement in overcoming them as a group of heroes set in a fantastic and scary world that make our best memories in an MMO. I want more “MMO-RPG” and less fast food, please. I want times to be tough and adventures to be epic!

I want memories that last.

16 comments

  1. “what we remember is the really tough times”

    Yesssss, and how much they piss me off. Remembering something does not always mean it’s remembered fondly.

    I have plenty of fond memories of things I’ve seen while exploring and random acts of kindness. Remembering the tough times is what keeps me from playing again, and what keep me from recommending a game.

    So… yeah, great article! I agree with these notions of making memories… I’d just prefer different ones. ;)

  2. @B
    raiding Xroads, oh gawd….am not sure I did so well there!

    @Tesh
    haha, I think we just wrote comments on each others blogs simultaneously! x)
    and I totally get your point about the good times; it just seems to me that my really good moments were usually connected with overcoming especially hard or annoying ones!

    I do ofc remember random good/fun moments too, but never in the same livid intensity. I’m not sure why that is, maybe because I’ve got a competitive nature and indeed get most out of the game by treating it as such, feeling most satisfaction in victories.
    or maybe I never met people that were really nice to me!! =(

  3. Heh, yeah, I think we wound up crossposting. :)

    Y’know, it’s entirely possible that the adrenaline rush is a big part of this. Those sweet little happy moments don’t usually do much with adrenaline. Offing a boss when you’re at a sliver of life and your mates are down or escaping with your hide intact from an ambush triggers a different physiological response.

    Sort of like how music or a scent can make a memory more real; more triggers make for better memory.

    What I find interesting is that the memories are more about the *play* than the loot or XP. …usually.

  4. I don’t know how to put this without sounding a bit… whiny. Which I don’t want to be. But sometimes I wish there was some warning sign on those “It was better in vanilla, the game sucks now” posts. Because as a TBC baby there’s nothing I can do about it. It’s like listening to someone going on and on and on about what a fantastic party you were to last week and you missed it. So. What am I supposed to do about it? And then the player adds – “it was so fantastic because it was more exclusive back at that party. Nowadays everyone is invited including you and that ruins it”.

    I wonder if I’d ever started to play wow if it had been more hardcore. So basically I guess… it’s my fault?

    I don’t know. It’s a great post but somehow this kind of reads sadden me. :(

  5. Larisa you were involved in TBC and that outstripped wotlk too. Stuff wasn’t being handed out on a platter then, although the trend of lazier design and rehashing of models previously used had already begun in earnest. You still had to travel and, while not the same as vanilla, the instancing situation was a hell of a lot closer to vanilla than it is now.

    Vanilla wasn’t elitist, it was simply different and had some values about it that disappointingly seem to have been eroded away over time.

    It was nothing to do with being invited or otherwise and I don’t think the game was SO different that you wouldn’t have played it and wouldn’t have enjoyed it.

  6. @Tesh
    it’s absolutely about adrenaline, yes! and lootz are usually not the real thing, unless of course it was a particularly hard-won item in which case it is again more about the memories of the struggles while gaining it, rather than the piece itself.

    @Larísa
    ow, I’m sorry! but like stumps said, it’s not about ‘hyping vanilla’ at all – like i said, there were things in vanilla that weren’t all that great either.

    what saddens me is the extreme road the game has taken since halfway through TBC and even if you missed vanilla wow, you’ve seen parts of that! it’s not meant to be an exclusive or elitist thing: it wasn’t about being ‘hardcore’, it was just a lot more about ‘adrenaline’ really and teamwork – in a way that i’m pretty sure you would’ve liked too!

    so it’s more a way of remembering how things used to be and why I liked them. that said, none of us can do anything about it (I can still hope a bit though!).

  7. I agree very much… TBC was my “favourite” expansion so far I think, even though not everything was perfect and there were things that WOTLK did improve on. Other parts of the game just feel like they’ve been going downhill however (in terms of what I personally like, I’m not claiming objectivity).

    WOTLK wasn’t devoid of challenges either, but they felt hollow to me. For example heroic Northrend Beasts in TotC25 was one of the most soul-crushing fights I’ve ever done, but finally downing it still didn’t feel hugely rewarding to me, because in the end it was just a boss I’d already killed many times, only with the difficulty artificially ramped up.

  8. For what it’s worth, I always laugh at those who fuss about WoW being too easy now, but are decked out in Heirlooms and have a sugar daddy pumping gold to their leveling alts. (Not what I see here, but I’ve seen it elsewhere, and it’s very interesting.)

    It’s almost always trivially easy to make the game harder on yourself. Take off some gear, solo some red elites or group quests, three-man a dungeon, whatever. Challenges are very, very easy to concoct with naught but a little creativity.

    I really love soloing five man dungeons, for instance. My Tauren Druid is a bit of a Swiss Army knife, and it’s awesome to take on a dungeon all by my onesie. Sure, I have to outlevel it a bit (say, Gnomer at level 32, Shadowfang Keep at level 30), but so it goes.

    In fact, what I’d really like is the option to delevel a bit and see just how low I can push myself. I’d love to solo SFK at 25 or something, or even lower. That’s how I push myself, and it has nothing to do with the endgame, Heirloom gear (I don’t have any) or even the leveling pace. It’s just me, finding ways to challenge myself.

    It’s still a rush to pull off a victory when things go sour, like screwing up a pull, or getting too close to a patrol I’m trying to sneak past. It’s the same adrenaline, just a bit off the beaten track.

  9. It’s sad – my best raiding memory to date is still my very first Luci and Magmadar kill. I was raid leading a collaborative raid group of about 6 different guilds and some PuGs. So get 40 people who are all pulling in different directions to come together and get these down in the space we did was a brilliant achievement. I think when we did it, the first guilds on our server were just starting BWL, so it wasn’t that far into Vanilla. The sense of elation and joy me and my close friends had has been unparalleled. And these fights weren’t that complicated. Split your adds, focus fire and cleanse. On Maggy – fearward ftw ( <3 dorf priests) and stay out of the fire!

    There were more things that i loved. The original epics WERE epic. The hoops you had to jump through to get the Cap of the Savant. The endless running of UBRS to get the chance of getting the epic drop off The Beast. But also chain wiping on Strat living and Baron 5 mans or Scholo. It took real endeavour and commitment to do these 5 man (not to mention 3 changes of gear for when yours goes all red).

    I must admit, it sound torturous now, but back then it was how it was. You needed a good group of mates who could play their chars well. It wasn’t about your gear score, your TPS or your DPS – it was about working as a unit. Nowadays, it’s all too easy as Sylv said. The only raid boss that has really been tough has been the LK heroic, the rest are basically time challenges: you almost expect to beat them on the first night of trying. That’s not from an elitist point of view, but what we’re used to. If we don’t get the boss to below 50% in the first 5 tries, people are genuinely disappointed.

    I just hope there’s some new ideas and new blood coming into the MMO future. Things have to change really as people are just playing them because they have nothing else to do

  10. Hehe dorf priests ftw ;)
    And yeah it sounds bad now, but the point is it really wasnt – it just made things feel a lot more ‘real’ and exciting. none of us were ever crazy hardcore players i dont think, it’s not about that.

    I think Shintar has a point too that the fact that they duplicated so many encounters (just the way they duplicated gear) didnt help; it doesnt help to have 3 modes for the same bosses, just because it’s a hardmode or an achievement run doesn’t make it feel new or epic at all.
    i know they try to accommodate everyone but in the end a good compromise leaves everybody unhappy?

  11. oh absolutely. I am well aware that these are just my personal wishes and views and maybe those of more traditional gamers. for blizzard the most profitable way is to do whatever attracts the widest audience to pay their subs.

    and if I was entirely consequent about my whining, my next act would have to be quitting which I have done before. however, I am also a weakling in need for something to keep my MMO heart warm during winter and in the absence of any alternatives, the likelihood of jumping once more into the game cata come, is very high.

    I think there’s quite a lot of gamers that will pick up cata more for a lack of half-decent ‘alternatives’ than anything else.

  12. “If it takes you a long time to gain a reward or if it was hard to obtain and required you to overcome many obstacles, you value your reward more, as part of an accomplishment.”

    I agree with this because this is what I’ve experienced in my own life and seen in others.

    I’m a Wrath child and know nothing of the game before but what I read others say, but I understand the desire to have more challenges in WoW, challenges that I don’t have to concoct on my own (even though I do and have fun doing it).

    That said, I can still enjoy the game for many other reasons, and do so every day. I can still enjoy things that are not challenging, when those activities provide me with a feeling I’m looking for. It may be a peaceful farming trip after a stressful day at work, it may be a silly quest from silly Gnomes that I never did when I was level 20.

    True, challenges make accomplishments more meaningful, but not everthing needs to be challenging to provide you with enjoyment. It’s a fine line, sure, I just wanted to bring that up. Very good post, I enjoyed it.

  13. Cheers Gronthe.
    And I agree of course, there can be different ways to enjoy yourself in a game and sometimes you just want to relax doing more casual things – by all means this is also one aspect of playing MMOs.

    the sad part is that the contrasting features are slowly dying away leaving us with nothing else. I believe in the light&shadow concept (or call it ying-yang), if we remove the hard parts we will eventually also remove the fun about the easier parts because there is no more contrast and no more choice.
    so like you said, it’s a fine line of balancing things.

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