Your Next: Back to WoW

Can EverQuest Next avoid the 'WoW Model'? Should it even try?

I consider myself to be a late bloomer when it comes to online games, unlike many of the EverQuest and larger MMO community who can claim a proud history peaking into the last century, at that time I was woefully ignorant of its existence.

Despite spending my teen years playing tabletop games and CRPGs I missed the first MMO boat entirely, even to the extent that when a friend described Star Wars Galaxies to me I thought he was winding me up.

It was only when World of Warcraft began its transition into its all-consuming behemoth form that I discovered the well-worn path to the now civilized frontier.

Like so many of the games grotesquely swelling playerbase I was drawn in immediately, bumbling around without the assistance of veteran friends or online guides, occasionally being genuinely confused about which characters were players. I can still remember the feeling of surprise when I found the auction house, and walking into Orgrimmar blew my mind.

So that was it for the next several years, barring brief dips into new MMO releases, until the release of Guild Wars 2 where I found a new home. I’m still convinced that the success of GW2 was due, at least in part, to Kung Fu Panda. Yeah, I’m still bitter about that.

It’s been a good three years since I’ve actively played WoW, and the run up to Warlords of Draenor seemed like a good time to go back to my roots and take a look around. Since nothing has been able to hold my attention in the face of shiny updates to Landmark and scouring the horizon for signs of EverQuest Next, I imagine I’ll be bouncing around a few games in the short term.

So I’ve become a ‘back to WoW’ cliche, bumbling around Pandaria, looking up guides to heroic dungeons and looking like the kid who didn’t practice his steps at the back of the dance recital. The strangest thing is that it doesn’t seem to matter, the whole game feels neutered to the point where any kind of obstacle has been removed in favor of smooth and constant progress.

I can feel the eyes of the more-hardcore-than-thou rolling as I type, ‘of course it’s easy, it’s WoW’ they say, as I smile and nod like I do when men at gigs with thinning mohawks tell me which bands are ‘real punk’.

What concerns me is not which specific game the hipster-nerds think it’s okay to like, but the general trend of the medium over the last decade. (I hesitate to use the word ‘genre’ when discussing MMOs, because the ‘MMO genre’ seems to have become synonymous with ‘games like WoW’, and that just feels stifling for a term that ostensibly includes PlanetSide 2, EVE Online and Landmark.)

The trend I am referring to is the erosion of the ideal of the MMORPG, taking them from the original purpose of bringing the RPG experience to virtual life (like EverQuest and Ultima Online), to functioning more like a system of operant conditioning via variable ratio scheduling (like Destiny and WoW). In the last few weeks I’ve described WoW as a good game that does a terrible impression of an MMORPG, that’s a statement that deserves clarification, so let’s break it down:

  • Massively Multiplayer: Can we really call games like WoW massively multiplayer with a straight face anymore? With a maximum raid size of 25, that’s as massive as it gets for players who choose to only engage in PvE content. Battlefield 4 maps hold 64, is BF4 massively multiplayer? There are ways that players interact indirectly, and a huge pool of players to draw from, but you could say that about League of Legends. In fact, with the extent that WoW is now phased and instanced and the sophistication of the looking-for-group tool it operates more like a lobby based shooter with a single player campaign. I’m struggling to think of an activity in WoW that benefits from having a massive amount of players sharing the same space. There’s always open PvP, but the game certainly isn’t built for it.

  • Online: Alright, I’ll give it that.

  • Role-playing: This can be a little blurry, as any definition of a role-playing game will be broad, so consider the intention of an RPG. In a game like WoW, where is the player’s agency when it comes to their actions and their impact on the world? Yes, we can build a character in a certain way, but only within a limited scope of upgrading along a predetermined path. It’s very rare that upgrading in a certain direction will open any real options for how you interact with the world or its characters. This is an area that has seen steady decline in the last ten years, and while a case can be made that any game where you choose and progress a character is an RPG, I’m talking more about a trend away from meaningful decisions. Sometimes I have to write boring sentences like that to avoid having to read even more boring semantic arguments later, that’s an example of a meaningful choice.

  • Game: Sure, they can be really fun and a great way to spend time with friends.


What I’m getting at has nothing to do with how I think games should be defined or described, but about the repurposing of games like WoW into content delivery platforms. I can only assume that this change has come about over years of distillation of a formula that was once trying to achieve something greater.

That distillation is my concern, is this what we really want? Is this what ten years of analytics, feedback and critique of one of the most massively successful and popular PC games has led to? Or, worse, is creating the conditions necessary for creating addiction-like behavior in users now considered the ultimate goal?

I’m happy that Landmark has so far eschewed this model, and I can only hope that EQN does the same, though with that hope comes trepidation. Will players be turned off if it doesn’t satisfy their conditioning? Without such an emphasis on content progression and heavy use of variable ratio scheduling can an MMO hold an audience?

As I’ve said before, trying to copy this model has not led to great success for any game, games with huge budgets and incredible production value only limp along, even those with ties to hugely popular IPs; at this point it could be considered more of a gamble to follow suit.

My real hope is that ten years after the launch of EverQuest Next I am greeted with a world rich with history, matured and sculpted by the actions of players and still full of mystery and possibility. Maybe that’s asking too much, but it seems like a better target to be aiming for then the travelator tour of Azeroth.


Checks Twitter Obsessively

Streams Landmark Often

Makes Videos About EQN


Post Comment
Great article - per the norm.
# Nov 04 2014 at 12:11 AM Rating: Good
Sometimes I'm still shocked to hear how you started with World of Warcraft and yet turned out to be a decent person after all. Haha. No, I suppose WoW didn't used to be all that bad. I played it a little bit myself once upon a time. You make some solid points in this article and I too wonder if EQNext success might suffer because of the present condition of the average MMO gamer's mindset. Most people are just used to things being a certain way right now.

Ultimately though, I think EQN will thrive (if it meets the developers intended gameplay goals). Even if it takes people a little while to catch on - I have a good feeling that experiencing a lot of "real" agency will be contagious and eventually catch on. That's how the rise of the MOBA worked with League of Legends. If the gameplay is good and the game looks polished and people enjoy it, no bad review or current player-state will keep it from succeeding.

Great article though. I always love reading your take.
# Nov 01 2014 at 10:16 AM Rating: Good
863 posts
I think what is missing in most mmos since WoW is adventure and exploration tbh. They have forgotten the idea of an expansive explorable and dangerous world that creates adventures.
Post Comment

Free account required to post

You must log in or create an account to post messages.