Chasing sheep money

My comment yesterday about Warhammer 40k looking like WoW in the future was only partly based off the fact that, well, it looks like WoW in the future. The other factor in making that statement was the fact that in today’s market, it seems that if someone is billing an MMO as mass market, they mean WoW clone. The degree of cloning varies (LotRO is far closer than AoC or WAR, but all three look identical to WoW when placed next to EVE for example), but some basics are always there. The game is more or less faceroll easy, it’s difficult to play the game ‘wrong’, and the basic structure is the same PvE/Questhub design we all played in 2004. And no, tacking on some ‘new’ twist or variation of an endgame does not make you special.

Now before I go on, let me just get this out: being a WoW clone is not all bad. LotRO was a fun game, I enjoyed WAR, and I’m liking what I’ve seen so far from AoC. But it also gets terribly boring, the design is amazingly limited when compared to a sandbox-style MMO, and if the difficulty is down near WoW-levels, it’s personally insulting to even log in and have anything be called a ‘challenge’ or an ‘achievement’. Obviously plenty of people love walking over what is in front of them with zero effort, and that’s a profitable market if you can keep them, but it’s not what I’m looking for 90% of the time.

But WoW-cloning is not the ONLY way to make an MMO, and an IP like 40k is just so damn perfect for doing something different. How interesting would it be to play an MMO with 8 races/factions, all at war with each other? How new would it be to play an MMO where instead of a single character, you are in control of a squad, the leader being your ‘main’ but the other members would also be involved and interact (imagine the Dragon Age party system, where things differ slightly based on who you have in your party/squad at the time)? Hell, just change the view/combat to how Darkfall does it (1st person for shooting, close-locked 3rd person for melee) and keep the whole PvE/questhub/instance setup. Just do something beyond !, ding, achievement, epic, faceroll until its over.

And while I would love to lay blame with the developers, let’s be honest, they are just giving people what they want. Tobold today is wondering why there is no loss in PvE games, or why so many think PvP in an MMO can’t work (despite the fact that, you know, it has for 6+ years in EVE and 24/7 in Asia, not to mention since the dawn of computing in other gaming genres), and why only a small ‘elite’ seems to actually enjoy quality PvP. The answer is the same as to why McDonalds is so popular; most people are sheep. Having to think, having to make a decision, and getting possibly negative feedback is scary to them, and the more they can isolate themselves from that, the better. Why do tourists (not the MMO kind) visit a McDonalds in Paris? Because rather than taking a ‘risk’ with something new, they play it safe and ezmode it with something familiar, even if that something familiar is utter garbage when compared to other options.

WoW has done its part here by not only lowering the bar to subterranean levels in terms of the challenge/reward ratio, but also by conditioning so many in terms of how quickly and effortlessly they should expect to progress. You have an entire subset of the MMO gaming population that believes the WoW pace of advancement is ‘just right’, and so anything that takes longer than a weekend to max out in is a ‘huge grind’, and if anything kills you more than once the game is impossible and not worth playing. Launch today without SOMETHING dinging every 10 minutes? You lack ‘content’. That part of the genre is a sad joke when compared to pre-WoW days in terms of what it means to be playing an MMO.

Ultimately what it comes down to is that the MMORPG genre is indeed a niche in gaming, as its simply too difficult, too scary, too different for the sheep of the world to grasp or appreciate. ‘Luckily’, the sheep have the MMO genre to play around with. They can mimic the hobby elements, feel like they are in a virtual world and part of something ‘massive’, all while smashing 1-2-1-3 in their solo instance to save the world for the 4th time that day. It just sucks that 40k is looking like an MMO rather than an MMORPG, but you can’t fault the devs; sheep money is still money.

Chuck-o-the-day: Fire escapes were invented to protect fire from Chuck Norris.

About SynCaine

Former hardcore raider turned casual gamer.
This entry was posted in Age of Conan, Combat Systems, Darkfall Online, EVE Online, Lord of the Rings Online, MMO design, PvP, Rant, Warhammer Online, World of Warcraft. Bookmark the permalink.

24 Responses to Chasing sheep money

  1. coppertopper says:

    At least WoW, which brought the mmo genre to the masses, has had a positive affect on games like FPSs with leveling up and character development. And with every big failure of companies with only $$ in their eyes (WAR, Asherons Call 2, Tabula Rasa) ,and every small success (EvE, Darkfall), I imagine the genre is moving towards a happy medium of indi successes and their antithesis the WoW clone wannabe.

    • SynCaine says:

      After re-reading the post its more negative than I intended it to be (which is a first here). Overall I’m personally very happy with the MMO scene right now, I have a game that is more or less doing EXACTLY what I want a game to be doing, by a dev team that continues to ‘get it’ more and more with each update, plus I have quality side-games to mess around with.

      I’m not surprised 40k is looking like a mass market cash-in, I just personally wish that IP had been used for more. (and all of this is of course wild speculation based on very little info, but that’s kinda what we do here)

    • Anne says:

      Funny enough, leveling up in FPS games is the reason why I don’t play recent ones.

      Why cannot I just step into a game and have even set of abilities with everyone else?
      I have to grind for X to get Y, to get better chances against other players?
      WTF is this shit?!

      For me, it is like going from chess (CS) to a Monopoly game where the other player already owns Park Lane and Mayfair from the game start.

      I’d love to play newer FPS games, but when there’s more then skill seperating us… What’s the point? I’d play WoW if I wanted to get pwned by some retard who grinded the game more then me.

  2. PTD says:

    Maybe you’d like to spend 40 million to attract a small player base like Darkfall’s, but most developers and publishers aren’t interested in that. It’s just like the summer blockbusters, there’s a reason they churn out sequel after sequel, when they are shelling out a lot of cash, they don’t want to turn out a niche or special interest product.

    Syncaine, I’m sure you realized long ago that you are actually in a fairly small minority among gamers. As such, any studio bigger than Aventurine doesn’t give a damn about your opinion or your dollars.

    This is true THROUGHOUT the gaming industry as well, it’s not limited to MMORPGs. As a general rule, gamers today are not interested in truly difficult gaming challenges, or the punitive systems of old. There’s actually a pretty simple reason for this, and it has nothing to do with “sheep.”

    The majority of gamers want to have fun. They aren’t playing MMORPGs to get beat up or ganked, and they aren’t looking for a game that takes more than a day or two to figure out. It’s the same reason a game like Demon’s Souls will never sell like a game like Mario Party.

    I hope you realize what a small niche your gaming tastes occupy. I’m sure quite a few commenters here will disagree, but of course blogs tend to agree like-minded folks who fall into this same tiny, hardcore gaming niche.

    • PTD says:

      Boo for no way to edit. :) “blogs tend to ATTRACT like-minded folks…”

      I’m also glad to hear this came off as more negative than you intended, I’m glad you are enjoying your niche game. ;)

    • SynCaine says:

      Is that why Hollywood is tripping over itself right now to try and replicate The Hangover? Is that why every studio not named Blizzard would give up its entire portfolio to be CCP?

      I mean I get your point, and trust me, I fully understand my tastes are in the minority here, but just like expected summer blockbusters fail (Prince of Persia?), so do cookie-cutter MMOs (WAR).

      Who is to say that taking the War40k IP and making it more EVE than WoW is destined to turn out into a niche title rather than a million+ sub game? Last I checked, one ‘niche’ title has been growing longer than ANY other MMO in history, and exactly ONE mass-market MMO has millions of paying customers in the EU/US. Add in the initial investment needed to try to replicate WoW vs what is needed to make something like Darkfall, and I don’t see it nearly so clear-cut

    • Jordan says:

      “The majority of gamers want to have fun.”

      I suppose i could be wrong about this, but i’m fairly certain “all” gamers want to have fun.

      The issue is that fun means different things to different people…and unfortunately for us more old-school gamers who enjoy challenging and deep gameplay – challenge does not equal fun for the mass-market wow crowd. Most casual players out there don’t want to die…ever. And if they do they should instantaneously spawn right back in the same spot with all items on them ready to resume the ez-mode massacre they were gleefully involved in before something went horribly and annoyingly wrong and they actually died. They don’t like challenge, nor pretty much anything that would impede them from maxing out a character in a mmorpg in under a month. They don’t want to have to think too much about what they are doing, don’t like having goals they can’t reach in under an hour or two, and pretty much just want to be able to mow down any resistance in front of them to quickly and assuredly reach that shiny carrot at the end of the tunnel. To them, community in a mmorpg is just an afterthough…if it is even a thought at all.

      Oddly though, to some people like myself and Syncaine and others, challenging gameplay is actually “fun”. It tends to bring out stronger emotions as you play…wether that means exhiliration and accomplishing some incredibly difficult quest or clearing a really tough dungeon, or that may mean the despair you feel at getting to the bottom of that dungeon and getting wiped, with your corpse still stuck at the bottom along with all your loot etc.

      Stuff like that brings a lot of emotion, fear, elation, etc. into gaming…which for us means “fun”. It requires us to “buy in” to the world, to our character etc. and we invest more of our emotion into the game. To me that is what playing mmorpgs is all about.

      Playing some game where everyone can accomplish everything with a minimum of effort and little or no risk and in a very short amount of time – for the life of me i can’t figure out why anyone would ever consider that fun. Why would you even care about your character? Why would you care about the world you play in if there is no community? what do your accomplishments really mean if everyone playing can accomplish the same thing w/out much effort?

      oh well…it is what it is i suppose. Thankfully we do have Indie developers who will still be willing to make the games we want to play.

      I do disagree with you also on the size of our market. People who still enjoy challenging gameplay are much larger than you think and are certainly not a “tiny niche”…although i suppose that depends on your definition of “tiny”.

      • Max says:

        Playing some game where everyone can accomplish everything with a minimum of effort and little or no risk and in a very short amount of time – for the life of me i can’t figure out why anyone would ever consider that fun.

        Well I guess the actual aspect of competing vs other human being and outwitting him based purely on your skill is lost on you.

        It the main reason I play multiplayer games. I do not do it to be level x or have gear y or have title z.

        If you never played I suggest you try multiplayer FPS and RTS , just to see why grind is not fun for many people.

        I guess I never really wanted MMO, it just MMOs is the only genre when you have large worlds with more than 64 players. And when what you do today actually reflects a little bit on tomorrow.

        I want persistent world with many players, but with RTS and FPS gameplay. simple as that

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  4. Wyrm says:

    I do love the 40K IP…
    So let me cling to the hope that while catering to the sheep some parts of the game will cater to gamers.

    And you have to admit (can’t believe I’m going to write this) that this is what happens with WoW today.

    Granted, raiding might be simpler and more accessible but even today if Blizzard separated WoW into two games, one for leveling and one for raiding, the Raiding game would be as niche as it gets.

    So I hope that 40K will have interesting PvP zones, new mechanics on PvE, etc, but most of all I hope they won’t go the ultra-instanced path and create vast and beautiful worlds even if they use generated terrain to create vast planets…

  5. sid67 says:

    Honestly, I don’t think that trailer really tells us how much of a WoW-clone it will be in practice.

    Obviously, artistically, it resembles WoW. And I don’t have an issue with that as I’ve always liked WoW’s comic-style graphics.

    Yes, it has a hotbar — but so does Darkfall. :O I also saw someone kinda sorta aiming. But even if the combat works exactly like WoW, that tells us nothing about the rest of the game.

    For the most part, it struck me as just marketing fluff with very little of substance. I don’t know if we can tell if a game is going to be fun or not fun just because there is a bionic ogre that looks eerily like an abomination.

  6. Wyrm says:

    “I don’t know if we can tell if a game is going to be fun or not fun just because there is a bionic ogre that looks eerily like an abomination.”


  7. Yeebo says:

    If the art style didn’t resemble WoW (which essentially ripped off the art style of Warhammer), they’d be completely ignoring their IP. When you play the miniatures game, it’s not uncommon to see lots of brightly painted troops. And Warhammer 40K is very much, Warhammer in the future. So yeah, the end result is you end up with something that looks like WoW with machine guns.

    What we don’t know much of anything about so far is the gameplay. It does seem as if there will only be two factions, which is certainly a disappointment (and one of the major missteps in WAR imo…). However, at this point we know next to nothing of the game save that they are adhering to an art style appropriate to their IP.

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  9. coppertopper says:

    FYI The smart tourists go to the McDonalds in Rome : p

  10. Ben says:

    I don’t quite understand the WoW = ez bashing. Sure anyone can face roll to the level cap. But leveling is barely even part of WoW. There’s like only 100-something guilds that have beaten the hardest raid currently (LK heroic), out of millions of players; and I’m sure there are comparable numbers regarding quality PVPers.

    The mantra “easy to play, hard to master” might mean parts of the game are easy, but it doesn’t mean there is no difficulty at all. I’d be interested in seeing how long it’d take Syncaine or any other “challenge loving” player to get Gladiator in PVP or kill heroic Lich King.

  11. Dblade says:

    EvE isn’t a good example. 80% of players remain in empire, and even the most hardcore PvPers use alternate accounts to carebear PvPing: neutral remote repair, neutral scouts, unwardeccable NPC corp transport and mission alts, etc.

    I wonder though how many sub 10k games it will take before people realize trying to recopy the old style of MMO wont work at all, and that they have to reach beyond both WoW and PvP to make new experiences altogether.

    • SynCaine says:

      80% stay in Empire, that does not mean they don’t PvP, especially given the competitive nature of the economy. Not to mention the fact that Empire itself works in large part due to 0.0.

  12. Adam says:

    So if you look about midway through that trailer?

    Looks to me like a free-floating aiming!?

    I prefer sandbox worlds for the meta game.

    However a huge complaint of mine otherwise about most mmorpgs is that they are sooooo skill-free, having to aim is a huge win!

  13. Coubo says:

    “How new would it be to play an MMO where instead of a single character, you are in control of a squad, the leader being your ‘main’ but the other members would also be involved and interact”

    Such game already exist… Atlantica Online (main + 8 character), Guild Wars, Sword of the New World (3 characters) plus maybe other I don’t know

    • SynCaine says:

      Yea I’ve played all of those, and I think the system in AO works great, the GW one is nice, and SotNW was kinda rough overall, but the 3 character thing was definitely a bright spot.

      But just the way 40k is structured in the rulebook, such a system would be damn near perfect here, yet I highly doubt we will see it because it’s not part of the cookie-cutter MMO model.

    • Zubon says:

      Gods and Heroes! Ethic and I have our pre-orders ready…

  14. Ob says:

    to echo Wyrm, yeah, I’m sorry, but hard-mode WoW raiding is hardly as mass market/face-roll easy/carebear-friendly as Syncaine would like to believe it is…it IS very niche…not saying it’s good/bad/fun etc, I don’t have even remotely the kind of time and commitment it takes…sure, gearing up prior to that is easy, but let’s not kid ourselves either…

    • Sean says:

      Speaking as a hard mode raider, who just recently down Heroic Putricide 25, I appreciate how rewarding the difficult content in WoW can be. I also frequently comment here to that effect; that in WoW there is a niche game in its own right of hardcore, group based PvE gameplay that has no equal in the MMO genre.

      Top end raiding in WoW is more akin to clan matches in Counterstrike. Success in both requires strategic planning and iteration; extremely short reaction times and the ability to adapt; flawless coordination and execution; and often a small, but crucial, bit of luck. While WoW abstracts the targeting of an FPS of Counterstrike (though not entirely), top performance requires utilizing a much larger toolkit of abilities individually and in concert with others.

      WoW’s unique raiding gameplay, though, has come at the cost of bifurcating the player experience. WoW is a theme park all right, but it’s a theme park with very diverse attractions. There is the Arena PvP roller coaster and BG floon rides in “PvP Land”, large swaths of the park given over to themed areas filled with increasingly engaging mini-rides, and tucked away in a corner a harrowing and lovely maintained wooden coaster known the world over by aficionados as the best.

      To try another metaphor, the rest of WoW, to me, is Empire Space. Most people hang out there and only occasionally dabble in raiding, WoW’s lowsec. Then there is 0.0 where the activities take more coordination, are less immediately satisfying, and risk more in lost time (no less true of EvE where Isk=time).

      TL:DR – WoW’s as hardcore as you want it to be. So is EvE. Darkfall seemed to initially give players less choice on that front, but the recent changes seem to be moving the game in that direction.

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