Thursday Ob asked whether someone who enjoyed 1997 Ultima Online could enjoy 2010 WoW, which is a great question on many levels. First, it’s worthwhile to talk about the core differences between the two games in terms of enjoyment (obviously WoW has slightly better graphics and sound, so I’m not talking tech stuff here), address who exactly we are talking about, and ultimately try to answer ‘why’.
The biggest difference between the two games to me is that in WoW, it’s not about whether you get a reward for your effort, but what kind of reward you select. In other words, almost every activity in WoW progresses you forward, and the rare failure is often only measured in how long you have delayed getting what you want. With a few exceptions aside (world first raiding and top-ranked Arena teams), everything in WoW is solo progression based, and many of the systems today help to signify that (gear scores, achievement lists, etc). The game is also incredibly predictable, in that when you log in, you have a goal and short of your own personal actions preventing it, you will accomplish that goal. The only challenge in the game (again super minority stuff aside) is based on time spent, as minimal skill is required to achieve a high gear score, finish the latest raid, or win a random BG/Arena match. This consistency is what keeps people logging in, because every time you log out you have likely accomplished something.
1997 Ultima was very different in these core values. It was not only possible, but likely that you would log out with less than you had logging in. Sometimes with weeks or months (or in the case of a house theft, years) of time spent less. At the same time, it was also possible to log out with a massive fortune from just that day. How often this happened was both a factor of how you played and what the world around you did. The greatest PvP’er on the server could get jumped with his best stuff, or he could go on a tear in a dungeon and walk away with week’s worth of loot. Similar to Poker, the great players had more good happen to them than bad, but no matter who you were the world would deal you both good and bad cards, and rolling with the punches was a basic requirement.
WoW protects you time and time again from bad happening to you, while in UO it was accepted that both good and bad happened at all times. To me the peaks of the good made the valleys of the bad worthwhile, yet for others any such valley overshadows whatever peaks they may experience. This, to me, is the core difference between the games and those who play them.
It’s also not hard to see that the masses prefer a valley-free experience, even at the expense of never seeing a high peak, I won’t argue that point. If you are aiming for the mass market, play it safe, be it in gaming, movies, music, etc. But I’ll add that aiming for the mass market is very different from actually getting it, so which choice is ‘better’ for an MMO depends on the title. While I doubt any peaks-and-valleys MMO will every reach 12 million subs like WoW, I also don’t see too many non-valley MMOs toping the growth and longevity of EVE.
Now it’s important to address who we are talking about here. As was originally asked, how probable is it that someone who enjoyed 97 UO would enjoy 2010 WoW? I think this comes down to who you are as a player today, if we assume that you enjoyed 97 UO at the time.
For many, their gaming style changed with their lifestyle. Going from being able to play 3-5 hour sessions at a time (major hobby) to trying to squeeze in some gaming time between watching kids (casual activity), it’s not hard to see why someone who enjoyed UO before now plays WoW. That player’s gaming mentality might be different too, where they no longer need or even want to experience the highs of something like UO, and instead are just looking for the constant, slow drip of WoW. If that’s the case, those lows are much more noticeable, and since the highs are not highly sought-after, the UO formula is simply not appealing, no matter how well it is executed.
With that said, if you are still someone who accepts the lows because you chase the highs, then no, I don’t see how someone who previously enjoyed UO could enjoy WoW today. The near-zero challenge of it all is a deal-breaker, as nothing stands out and going in, you already know the outcome. To me it’s similar to ‘playing’ a game like Candyland. When you are young, you still believe you are actually playing it, but at some point you realize that since you have zero control over anything, the ‘game’ is little more than a colorful visual representation of random dice rolls. That to me is what WoW has become; the only ‘skill’ needed to progress or to reach the next ‘ding’ is simply time. Again, that’s great content if you are looking for it, but it seems very pointless to ‘play’ Candyland when you are looking for something like Risk.