So today is the launch day for World of Warcraft Classic. A reboot of the game to its state circa late 2005 but with 2004’s content. There is real excitement in the community for the first time in years.
And it’s of the type that tells me there’s much more here than nostalgia for a past long gone. There’s something deeper and richer here than I think any one of the vocal players who fought so hard for this understand.
I played World of Warcraft from the very beginning. I was on one of the oldest and more unstable servers, Dalaran.
At times we joked it was a 286 running, forgotten, in the basement of Blizzard’s offices. If memory serves it was the last of the original servers to get upgraded hardware. And because of that it still suffered from login queues and random crashes for more than a year after release.
It was, by modern standards, completely unacceptable and unprofessional.
And yet, that should tell you how good World of Warcraft was back then. We all put up with it because it meant hanging out with our digital mates, working on shared goals and climbing that ridiculous ladder to better gear.
Azeroth, for all its faults and limitations, was a special place because of the people you met, the tasks you completed and the obstacles you overcame.
I didn’t join a raiding guild until halfway through Vanilla. Once I did I began to really understand what the game was about.
World of Warcraft was the 21st century incarnation of the venerable bowling league, poker night or darts team at your local watering hole.
It was “Guys Night Out” at home with a headset and a Ventrilo Server.
I even drank whiskey while I played to complete the scene.
And I wouldn’t trade those years, the memories and the people I met for anything, no matter how difficult things were at times. Sure, my guild was a totally normal dysfunctional family but we were better for it. Believe me, I caused as much drama as I got.
But, once my guild broke down, however, I quickly lost interest.
Guilds were big enough that they housed people you tolerated rather than enjoyed. You needed to, just like you tolerate people you don’t like at work. Why? Because while they may rub you the wrong way personally, the job couldn’t get done without them.
I was definitely one of those people in my guild for a lot of folks.
Once that balance was out of whack, however, I left. Once leadership alienated my best friends, there wasn’t anything holding me there. The thrill of the next piece of gear was gone. Past the newness, there’s just a grind. So, without the right people to share the experience and complete the goals with, World of Warcraft, like most video games, is like working at the Quick Stop from Clerks and you’re Dante and Randall.
That’s how important the social cohesion was. WoW was our shared experience, our own sub-culture. I didn’t want to rebuild that with new people. I freely admit I’m a curmudgeon who doesn’t like making friends unless forced.
Since then I’ve subbed to World of Warcraft on and off, it holding my attention as a solo game for periods of up to four months. I turned my daughter onto it during one of those periods.
It helped teach her to read because, believe it or not, the quest text was interesting to her at six. And the game was still in a state where she had to pay some attention to it. I gave her almost no help. She had to figure it out on her own.
WoW eventually became something that she and I did together. But just as her skill and mine meshed, forming a solid tank/healer pair for hire, she lost interest.
The game was too easy.
The only social aspect to it at that point was Sofi and I yelling at each other about how bad the random people in our group were. After the twentieth time of this, it also, simply wasn’t fun.
And the game told me I didn’t need friends to play it. I could just log in every day and do the same crap everyone else was doing and I’d get my cookie in 20 minutes or less guaranteed.
I didn’t have to incur the hassle of, christ, dealing with people. *shudder*
What was an eminently social game became a completely anti-social one.
It went from a game where you needed to tolerate the shortcomings of other people and help them improve, like my guildies did for me at first, to a game where the first sign of ignorance was grounds for getting kicked from a group because you’re too slow.
It went from a game of “Who do I need to complete this task?” to “How quickly can I grind out these twenty tasks without help?”
One taught the value of the division of labor and the other just said ‘Feh, I have robots for that.”
One state makes you care about that meager upgrade you got for fighting your way into and out of a cave of Ogres and the other makes you feel entitled to a massive one for finding a rock which has a big yellow arrow pointing to it.
One teaches you that life is hard and profit elusive. The other teaches you that the world owes you a living.
In short, WoW today caters to an SJW mindset that people are, at best, mild inconveniences rather than reminding everyone that good behavior and skills are valued commodities in a community.
Blizzard, by listening to the players complaints about ‘quality of life’ improvements, lowered our quality of life.
Industry competition for players’ time became all about rewarding you just for showing up and Blizzard/Activision followed that trend, not just with WoW, either.
Diablo III is so easy I barely have to be present to play it.
It’s Progress Quest with arguably better graphics.
And the question on everyone’s mind is whether this is Blizzard’s last attempt to salvage WoW before it collapses completely or is it something bigger?
Honestly, I think it’s a bit of both. The gaming industry has reached a deplorable state, frankly. GamerGate bullshit, aside, the real problem is that the games are beautiful but sterile. In chasing ways to keep people playing they’ve removed the reasons why people turned World of Warcraft from a game into a social movement.
There’s a real hunger for something, ironically, more authentic than the fake progress of retail WoW and most games out there. Because there was something real about the social dynamics of World of Warcraft.
They approximated real life while still being an obvious entertainment platform.
I’ve been a video gamer since there were video games, playing the original Castle Wolfenstein on an Apple 2E for pity’s sake (Mein Leben!) and I’ve seen the evolution from those games to today.
And today’s games that are not head-to-head competition lack the thing that brings them alive — player engagement.
Role-playing, character advancement, etc. They aren’t there. When I blew up the Death Star in the original X-Wing video game, it was a big deal. It was tough.
When I cleared Naxxaramas 10-man with a PuG (Pick up Group) the first time in Wrath of the Lich King it just wasn’t. The rot started then and hasn’t let up since.
After I left WoW the only game that held my attention for any length of time was Lord of the Rings Online. Why? It was harder than WoW. It still is.
Eventually, I went back to board gaming because there I found a real community. My Wednesday night out gaming is sacrosanct.
The gaming industry needs to find that again. And RPG’s like WoW are the path to that for millions of people. It’s so sad to see that board games today have to be developed with ‘solo modes’ because people can’t find groups to play with.
Gaming isn’t a time wasting activity. It’s a way to keep yourself challenged and engaged intellectually while also being social with other people.
MMORPGs are a natural antidote to that isolation. And they need a resurgence to serve those people who need a reason to make friends.
So if Blizzard is smart, if they are interested in finding out how to keep their mega-Warcraft IP alive, World of Warcraft Classic should be viewed internally as an experiment and take careful notes on player behavior. Keep the cookies to a minimum, maintain the complexity of character builds.
Keep the math difficult. People used to spend hours solving differential equations to figure out the best DPS rotations for the classes. (Moment of silence for Elitistjerks.com) The edges for downing bosses back then were that small.
The players don’t know what they want, Blizzard. They think they do. You gave them what they wanted and they ruined the game. What they want is to be challenged. If the players are whining things are too hard, then you are doing your job right.
What they want is what all people want — a purpose and something approximating meaning. If some people have to find that in a video game, so be it. Better than them shooting up a strip mall.
If Blizzard finds that right balance between the overflowing cookie jar mentality of the retail game and the more intricate game that took the world by storm fifteen years ago they will succeed brilliantly.
But the stakes for World of Warcraft Classic are bigger. Whether Blizzard knows this or not, they can lead here. They can point the way forward to cure a gaming industry of its biggest ill; assisting the dissolution of community and culture by bringing back that spirit of virtual cooperation that was very real.
This is what the players have been complaining about most for years. Many of them just didn’t know it. But, with the release of Classic, they know it now.
World of Warcraft Classic has within it the potential to reverse that trend by reminding the dispossessed that they can be valuable, even if only in a video game. By doing this they, in their small way, help keep the society and the culture from collapsing.
For the Horde!