20060821

State of the Warcraft address

This is, in effect, my wishlist for things I'd like to see done better in a future massively multiplayer online game, based on the problems I find in Worlf of Warcraft. Realize that these issues are not game crippling (at least not yet), but are things that reduce World of Warcraft from ZOMG PWN to very fun.

1) Massive?

Want: A single, continuous world on which ALL players (at least of a particular country/world region) play together.

There are at least 3 million US players of World of Warcraft, the other (almost) 4 million coming from China and Europe. However, the game isn't just split up by region or by language, but more fundamentally by servers. There are around 100 different servers which, depending on which one you decided upon, limits which other players you'll be with. Once you're on a server, you're stuck there unless you want to pay $25 to move elsewhere.

Being a computer guy, I can understand why this is necessary. Even if we were to assume that only 1 million of US players are on at peak hours, to have a single server/server cluster attempting to handle the massive amount of bandwith and processsing required would be rather enormous and cost prohibitive. It's a shame, but unless Blizzard was willing to pay 10x what they rake in through subscription fees they couldn't afford a single world, not to mention that the world isn't designed to handle that many people in it.

However, because of the current setup there's a problem I've noted. Eventually, servers get "full". When new players attempt to create their first character, a realm is automatically suggested for them. Invariably realms that are new or have low populations are suggested, and occaisionally medium ones. Once a server hits "high" population, players must specifically choose that realm by going against what was recommended. What this means is that there's a point where low level zones are practically deserted as everyone who actively plays on the server has reached max or near max level. This can happen, or show signs of it happening, as quickly as six months.

The reason this bothers me is that I have a large number of characters, spread out over many servers. Some of these characters are low levels on old, high population servers. This means that trying to find other players my level is often difficult. The problem is compounded by the fact that all new players are being directed away from the server, leaving the server to "stagnate".

Now, come the expansion people on all servers will be making new characters to take advantage of the new features/races etc. But that's a temporary solution to a more permanent problem. A problem that won't be fixed in World of Warcraft, but may be fixed in a sequel or competitor's offering.

2. 1337 5k33lz

Want: Pure skill based player versus player content.

I am not the most skilled video game player ever, but I am talented. It's something I egotistically pride myself on, and still enjoy taking an ego bruising now and again for. There are some things that do frustrate me.

You may remember a long time ago a post I made concerning a game called Gate 88, which, while interesting in concept, lent itself to give advantage to whomever won a confrontation. Not a small advantage, a freaking huge one that was completely unrecoverable from. This is not true of World of Warcraft, but there is an issue.

When fighting other players, their equipment is a very large factor. Having 1337 equipment that is hard to get grants a rather large, though not unsurmountable, obstacle to their foes. Evenly skilled players fighting will most often have a result of the player with better gear winning.

Now, were all gear equal and it more a matter of strategically choosing which gear to combine with what style of combat and then skillfully putting the theory into practice, I wouldn't care. If a player has devised a better combination of gear and combat style than my own, they deserve a win. Real life sports are won as a combination of preparation, strategy and skill, not just skill.

However, World of Warcraft sometimes runs into the "idiot with excaliber" scenario, wherein some moron has managed to get incredibly rediculous gear which is completely overpowering in comparison to everyone he's fighting. Without any strategy save "kill" and with the skill of a retarded monkey they plow through the field, successful only because of their equipment.

This is a scenario I have fought, lost to, over come, and everything in between. I like challenges, but I dislike ones where the challenge isn't a matter of skill but is instead a matter of things being unfairly weighted against you.

3. Dynamics

Want: A non static world.

The neatest thing about games like Worms, Scorched Earth and Vigilante 8 is that the world was always changing. When you dropped a bomb somewhere, you left a hole. Buildings crumbled, things blew up, and craters were created. The world was dynamic.

It would be nice if the same could be said of a game like World of Warcraft. I would like to see that my skillful efforts in battle would actually grant some advantage to my side. A days worth of crushing my enemies, seeing them driven before me, and hearing the lamentations of their women nets me nothing save the satisfaction of a job well done. Imagine at Troy, the armies have just errupted out of the horse, Troy lies open before them, the men unprepared and drunk, you are certain of victory. But instead of actually conquering anything you turn around and go home, knowing yours was a job well done. It sort of kills the buzz of conquest when nothing is conquered.

4. Customer service.

This is not to say that World of Warcraft's customer service is bad, but there is one area which I find lacking.

The essence of any community or relationship is communication. I can't claim to be perfect in this regard, but I grow everyday in the recognition that without communication there is hardly anything to call a community or a relationship. More and better communication = good.

Ther are two issues I have found with Blizzard's communication.

The first, and least important, is that it is slow. In game help can take a long time to arrive, and about 2/3rds of the time doesn't arrive while I'm still playing. If you know me, you know that I generally play my games in long stints as opposed to piecemeal. This is obviously an issue, but understandable to an extent because of the large number of players versus the feasible size of a support staff. However, improvement can still be had.

The second is more dire, and relates to the forums. Within those forums we find the people who care and know the most about the game. Very often, issues nestled deep in the players minds and thoughts are brought up. However, it is here that Blizzard's communication completely breaks down. The forum representatives, especially recently, are far more likely to respond to random zaniness in the general forum than they are to address legitimate concerns of the players in the entire breadth of the forums. I've maintained a close watch on the forums since before I left for Japan, and I can't say I'm impressed with what I've seen. In the past month, the number of "blue" posts in threads outside of the General Discussion is near zero. The ratio being 100:1 or more.

I'm not against Blizzard people from participating in the zaniness, but there's a real issue here. People want to be heard, even if the response is "No." When no response is made to issues that many forum people are concerned about, all we're left with is confusion. Is Blizzard working on this? Is this not an issue for them? Do they even care? Intentional or not, a failure to respond is equivalent in the minds of many as ignoring someone or some group. It's not good.

Now, there are all sorts of mitigating circumstances. The forumers don't know what kind of work goes into being a Blizzard representative. We do know they have all sorts of juicy tidbits about upcoming expansion details they can't tell us, and it's likely everything they say that isn't a silly quip or jest has to be carefully examined beforehand as to not let out any information being saved for a press release later. However, it would nice to let people know this kind of thing is going on. Give us a shout saying, "Because a great number of elements of the game are being changed in the expansion, many of which address current concerns and issues, we are not likely to be seen responding to requests made as it might reveal too soon exciting information before we're ready to give out all the details." Players would love that. As it is, in the middle of the Rogue Class review (a time for which communication is paramount) all Blizzard representatives simply vanished from the Rogue forum. I don't think I've seen a "blue" post in there since.

Quite simply, I've done the 9-5 monitor a forum thing. I was addicted to forums for a long time, and I know how long it takes to throw bones to people. Bureaucratic processes or not, there's no excuse for not making an excuse for disappearing altogether. There are plenty of excuses out there, good ones, for not addressing the issues people are bringing up. Give them please.

Thank you if you bothered to read all that. If you didn't, I don't know if you missed much.

1 comment:

sssd said...

That was really well thought out. It's interesting how much this crossed over with FFXI (which I have played on and off for a couple years).

Can I ask your permission to post it on my site? (with full credit to you and a link, of course)