Scott over at Broken Toys does a neat little analysis of a pretty bizarre article concerning the author’s perceived problems with MMOs. Scott concludes something that’s pretty obvious to anyone who reads the source article: that author is equating World of Warcraft with all MMORPGs.
Yeah, WoW is popular and pretty well-known, even outside of PC gaming circles. It’s perhaps not the first MMO to breach the pop culture barrier (I’d hand that baton to EverQuest), but its success in general awareness is unprecedented. But have we truly arrived at a point where most everyone will be using WoW as a synonym for MMOs? Kind of like how Band-Aids and Kleenex are freely used in conversation for all adhesive medical strips and booger tissues?
It’s frightening to think so. I say that not because WoW is a bad game or I’m a disgruntled ex-player with a bone to pick, but because that boils down an entire genre of games down to one title and it limits newcomers’ understanding of the genre. It’s as if you were to tell a friend about movies only using The Godfather and nothing but. Great movie, but it’s not the be all, end all of cinema. And WoW is not the be all, end all of MMORPGs.
Part of this synonym connection comes from the fact that many MMOs share common features with WoW (which, in turn, “shared” its features from games before and after it), making them look somewhat similar to the uninitiated eye. We’re going to have to accept the fact that, as MMOs develop, they’re going to have to do so within a certain framework of gameplay and a UI to make it easily accessible to players who’ve long since gotten used to these setups in other games. I’ve heard grumbling about this, but really, it makes complete sense for me. You don’t reinvent the car completely when you design a new one — you work with the same basic template (four wheels, steering column, engine, transmission) but come up with something unique within those parameters. MMOs are becoming like this — we’re getting used to a chat box being in a certain place, a radar screen in our top-right, quest givers with identifying icons and soforth. Innovation through iteration.
Still, that’s no excuse to get lazy and assume that WoW is the lead ambassador of MMOs, and that other titles haven’t addressed the issues that the original article’s author did. I’ve often thought WoW could be a severe handicap to players who cut their teeth on that title before anything else, because there’s an assumption that goes along with that that no other game could be as good or offer as much, and therefore, you should either play WoW or nothing at all.
Again, I’m not trash-talking WoW, but the whatever-hundred-pound gorilla in the MMO room needs to be revered a little less and its contemporaries respected a little more. It’s pretty cool the directions that other studios are going and how they haven’t let WoW deter them from their own visions. I like that Mythic is forging a path into the wild and wooly fields of RvR, or how Turbine is telling terrific stories, or how Cryptic is juiced on superhero fun, or how NC Soft keeps tanking their titles and making their players cry. Wait, scratch that last one.
In any case, call MMOs by their proper names and stop slinging lazy generalizations around, is all I’m saying.