From UO to WoW: A look into the who and why

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.

About SynCaine

Former hardcore raider turned casual gamer.
This entry was posted in MMO design, Ultima Online, World of Warcraft. Bookmark the permalink.

32 Responses to From UO to WoW: A look into the who and why

  1. Ben says:

    I don’t understand how you can possibly argue any of these points without having ever tried current-tier raiding or PVP; let alone that you haven’t even played the _entire_ current expansion yet. There are flaws to be sure but it’s disingenuous to be a WoW critic when your only limited experience is the leveling game of 2-3 years ago.

    It’s the exact same Eurogamer-esque approach as when Tobold ridiculously judged EVE based on the 20-30 hours or whatever he spent in safe space.

    I like how this post is basically supported by “if you ‘put aside’ the huge elements of the game that weaken my argument…”

    • SynCaine says:

      Are you trying to make the point that the average WotLK raid is more difficult than 2005 or at-release BC raiding was? Or that current average BGs or Arena are vastly different from what they were just before WotLK was released?

      Because if not, I’m not seeing your point. I’ve experienced server-first raiding as an officer, I’ve experienced server-top PvP, and I’ve experienced the leveling game both initially and post-nerfs. That puts me just a little ahead of EuroGamer.

      I get that WotLK has ‘new’ stuff, I’ve read a whole lot about it, seen some of it from watching my father play, and I’ve read WoW bloggers break it down. So again, unless you are telling me WotLK upped the challenge across the board, and that current WoW is far more peaks-and-valleys than 2005 WoW was, I’m not seeing your point as it relates to what I posted.

    • Dril says:

      Let’s not forget as well that WoW, especially early WotLK, was not inherently extremely easy. In fact, it was fairly hard (even the heroics; Loken in blues anyone?) and one of the earlier bosses of Naxx (Heigan) required actual skill, not just button-pressing. What changed?

      Gear inflation, a crap raid design philosophy and the destruction of dedication and realm community. Ulduar was one of the high-points of raiding in any game, full stop. Terrific atmosphere, exceptional boss fights and a well done hard mode system made it great, combined with a not too-inflated ilvl loot system. With hard-mode one-button toggles, achievement chasing and the emblem rewards becoming the go-to, raiding changed; no longer was it the skilled and dedicated working through the gear levels in order to reach a goal. It was the “just some emblems lol” crowd who so typify the dungeon-finder and, that very same dungeon finder that killed off lower tier raids almost entirely and created a new generation of “raiders” (I use the term loosely; no longer are you really required to do any of your own preparation beforehand if you just want to do upto and including lootship in ICC.)

      Casual is no longer something that relegates you to enjoying the solo content; you can gain the same gear, with a much better ilvl, that I spent a great many hours raiding, researching and learning for in the early Wrath era. That’s what’s caused this sense of “ease” in WoW. I know it sounds very elitist, but I want some content (and community) too.

      • Dril says:

        One more thing: surely the valleys in WoW come from raiding, in that you spend weeks wiping on a boss but then huge euphoria when you kill the boss.

        • SynCaine says:

          Correct, but how common is the “wipe for weeks” thing now compared to 2005? How long does the average raiding guild now spent on a boss compared to 2005?

          I’m not saying 2005 was better for everyone, but it WAS better for me. I like to ‘put in work’ to see a result, because without the work the result to me is meaningless. I also understand that makes me a niche player in today’s MMO market, while in 97 that WAS the market.

        • Dril says:

          That depends, really. Lich King is still a wipe for weeks fight with the eventual victory. Personally, I’m sort of in the middle. I don’t especially like instant gratification since in the end there’s no reason to play due to no long-term goal, but on the other hand I don’t understand why people have to keep wiping on things that are so well-explained nowadays. If I was going in blind it would be a different matter, but with the level of help there is I think wiping for weeks and being behind the curve is no longer really a sign of dedication, just being crap.

        • Ben says:

          It’s relative. In 2005 you had maybe 10% of the entire population with the free time to raid at all. Now with the elimination of attunements, resist gear, and flattening the tiers, what might take those 10%ers days-weeks may take the others weeks or months to do.

  2. Bhagpuss says:

    Very interesting read.

    I didn’t play UO in 1997, but I did play EQ from 1999. My perspective is that of a PvE player, but I think it’s widely accepted that EQ in 1999 was a harsh PvE environment by today’s standards so the comparison with WoW PvE should stand.

    What interests me is that my personal playstyle is relatively unchanged a decade later. From the first day that I installed EQ I have always found that “when you log in, you have a goal and short of your own personal actions preventing it, you will accomplish that goal.” That is a very good summation of how I have always played all MMOs and why I so enjoy playing them.

    The difference, as I see it, between EQ then and WoW now is that back then I cut my coat according to my cloth whereas now the game developers take my measurements and make my coat to order. I was able to log out virtually every night having achieved what I aimed to achieve because I set myself achievable goals like “do one yellow bubble of level 40 on my druid” or “get my level 10 ranger to Thurgadin and see if there’s anything interesting that people have sold to the vendors there”.

    The big difference between then and now was that although my goals were always small and achievable, they were achieved in an environment where somethign bad could happen. Because of my intensely conservative and cautious playstyle it rarely did, but knowing that it could made even small achievements seem disproportionately satisfying.

    Nowadays I set very similar goals, but I take far less care in achieving them. In WoW, and in most modern MMOs, very little is risked or lost if you play carelessly, a least at the levels I play. Is that more fun? Not really.

    It is, however, much less stressful. On balance I would take a reduction in stress over an increase in satisfaction, but I do feel the pendulum has sung just a little too far towards safety. There must be a point inbetween where achievements are meaningful but losses are not traumatic.

  3. Talinine says:

    As a computer gamer, I get it and agree.

    As a board gamer – Risk? Really? That’s what you pick for UO/DF side of the analogy? If anything, that goes on the WoW side. Use Diplomacy, or chess, or even Texas Hold ‘Em for the hill/valley part. Geez. :D

    • SynCaine says:

      Have you played Risk 2120? It’s rather awesome. Normal Risk is indeed not UO-level of awesome, fully agree.

      • Anonymous says:

        Is that the one with the moon? And commmanders? And naval territories? And cards and resources?

        • SynCaine says:

          Indeed. You would think it’s just more ‘stuff’, but it actually totally remakes the game (it also has a 5 turn time limit, which is huge)

  4. exposedgamer says:

    Syncaine you are about as experienced a raider in WoW or any MMO other than shitty Darkfall as my grandmother.

    Dont lie

    • SynCaine says:

      I’d safely bet I’ve seen more raids than the average WoW player today, not to mention being one of the few who actually saw Nax in it’s intended form.

      I don’t really raid in DF though, you got me there.

      • Silvermute says:

        So, on the one hand WoW raiding is incredibly easy and all the “casuals” are doing it, but on the other you have far more experience of it, even though you don’t actually play the game these days?

        If it wasn’t empty rhetoric, I’d take that bet.

        If you haven’t completed the LK encounter, I really don’t see how you can make any sort of educated comment on the difficulty of current end-game raiding. For those of us who actually play the game, the low of wiping for weeks compared with the high of finally succeeding seems to provide exactly what you think the game doesn’t offer. Perhaps if you based your opinion on actual experience, your argument would have more weight.

        • SynCaine says:

          If the game overall (not just one encounter at the very end of the last raid…) was not easier now than it was in 2005 (which even then it was easier overall compared to UO), why is Blizzard on record as saying the want to increase the difficulty in Cata? Odd that someone not playing would be better able to follow the dev cycle of the game than the people in it…

          And like I wrote above, unless you are trying to convince me that 2010 WoW is more peaks and valleys than 97 UO, I don’t see what the comment is bringing to the table other than another WoW player derail.

        • Silvermute says:

          I didn’t play UO in ’97, so I can’t make that comparison. Just as you don’t play WoW in 2010.

          I’m not trying to convince you of anything. My point is that you make sweeping statements about a game that you have no actual hands-on experience of playing in its current incarnation. I would have far more respect for your position if it were based on empirical information, as opposed to prejudice and bias. You don’t like WoW: I get it. That doesn’t make it crap.

        • SynCaine says:

          But you have played 2005 and 2010 WoW, yes? And so you stand behind the fact that 2010 is a more peaks and valleys game as a whole than 2005? Because, again, if not, what are you bringing to the table?

        • Ben says:

          yes 2010 has more peaks and valleys than 2005. In 2005 I could only do the 5/10 man instances and get lagged at Tarren Mill. Now there are a lot more varied and enjoyable activities to participate in; even if I have to learn to “share” my imaginary achievements with other players.

        • SynCaine says:

          I don’t think you are getting what I mean by peaks and valleys, which might explain the disconnect here.

        • Anonymous says:

          I didn’t read all this but its pretty hilarious that the WoW players are bragging primarily about an encounter forcing them to wipe for weeks

          THAT’S how WoW is comparable in challenge/risk/etc to EvE, Darkfall and the like. By having ONE encounter that you fail at repeatedly??

          Is that honestly your point?

          Because A) that isn’t exactly a selling point for a game and B) the fact that there is ONE encounter in the entire game that is challenging…just lol.

  5. Chris says:

    I think, all your other points aside (because I don’t have enough time to think carefully enough about them), your most important thing you mentioned here was that it is entirely possible to log out in games like EVE or 1997 Ultima Online with less than you logged in with.

    I am fairly sure it is impossible to log out of WoW with less than you started with.

    This is a neutral statement, I am not commenting on the validity of either method, but simply pointing it out. If you like the idea of risking everything you have simply by logging in, that might mean WoW might not be for you. Then again you might still enjoy it regardless.

    A game with harsh death penalties is Minecraft, which admittedly is not really a multiplayer game yet (MP mode is buggy and missing many key features). It is entirely possible to head down with several diamond tools, planning to mine, accidentally dig into a lava pit, fall in, and lose everything, and when that happens you respawn at your spawn point (which may or may not be close by to your base) and unless you were adequately prepared (spare supplies inside your base, plentiful resources) you may find yourself without recourse but to begin collecting supplies anew.

    Sure, its not a huge set-back, but its still a setback and it makes death meaningful.

    Meaningful death penalties would never work in current WoW. You couldn’t just tack on death penalties to the game as it is now and expect them to work. WoW as a game now is far too focused on dying. I know that sounds strange, but think about it. You die all the time in PvP, usually 20+ times per match. Raiding is an incredibly death-focused activity, less so than it was but still many fights require several nights of wiping.

    If the death penalty revolved around anything to do with your character, you’d be taking penalties constantly. If it was your gear, you’d have massive gear loss.

    There is a reason why a game like EVE, where your ship and all its “gear” can be lost so quickly, has no finely-tuned PvE content the way WoW does…simply because the game environment doesn’t support consistently failing in order to improve the way WoW raiding does.

    The games are just too different to compare.

  6. Silvermute says:

    I don’t appear able to respond in the sub-thread where the question is raised, but yes: from my perspective WoW 2010 has more peaks and valleys than the game had in 2005. The valley may not involve actually losing stuff, but the frustration of wiping for weeks and gearing and skilling-up guildies was more than compensated by the euphoria of finally succeeding. I also play chess: not starting a game with less than 16 pieces because I lost the previous game doesn’t detract from my enjoyment, and why should it?

    What I am bringing to the table is the suggestion that you are arguing from a faulty premise. You seem to be stating that the only trough you can experience is the loss of “stuff”, whereas I would argue that the failure to succeed is equally a trough.

    • Xyloxan says:

      I have played WoW since it’s inception. I developed probably about 30 various toons to the max level with (very) epic gear. I’ve been a member of a few top raiding guilds and spent way too many hours fighting the toughest raid bosses. From my perspective 99% of the 2010 WoW is much easier than the 2005 WoW. There is no question about it because Blizz purposely nerfed almost everything except a few final bosses. These days getting from lvl 0 to lvl 80 in all epic gear is rather trivial and takes an order of magnitude less time than in 2005 (to lvl 60). And on top of that you can do it solo. I still play WoW (I admit, it is addictive) but these days it’s a different game to me. Certainly, much less stressful than when me and my guildies entered Naxx 40 for the very first time.

      • SynCaine says:

        Thank you. Why is it so hard for WoW players to admit this?

        And the above is not an issue overall (WoW still has 12m players, right?), but it’s an issue I have with the game. The game it is now is not fun for me, and that has nothing to do with burnout and everything to do with how it has changed.

        The point of the post was to state that I’m not alone on this, and that those like me from the 97 UO mentality also see it in a similar light, answering the original question raised.

      • Ben says:

        The actual encounters in Wrath compared to Vanilla are a lot harder and more varied. It’s beyond a doubt more sophisticated. The only thing that got “easier” is all the bullshit in-between raids. Getting attunements, having to gear one raid tier at a time, needing 39 other people with similar play schedules and abilities, etc. If the only thing that made WoW “fun” for you is all the treadmilling, god help you.

        • SynCaine says:

          Are they now? So why did it take the top guilds months to finish Nax40, without any of the handholding that happens today? How does, say, Rag 1.0 or Nef 1.0 stack up to LK? I don’t remember raids being finish IN TEST during vanilla.

        • Ben says:

          Because it took 40 players instead of 25. Because if one of those 40 players quit you had to gear a new person through _every_ tier they hadn’t already done. Because there wasn’t an incredible infrastructure of third-party support being created by players (compare WoWHead to Thottbot). Because you didn’t have to grind out multiple resist sets just to put in attempts.

          The biggest example is comparing WotLK Naxx, which was largely unchanged from its old incarnation, to Ulduar. The former instance is a joke outside of the trash grind. Ulduar featured challenging, interesting encounters.

    • Anonymous says:

      The one “valley” you argue about exists in ONE encounter, by your own words.

      How does the LK fight making you fail a ton of weeks in a row to beat make the entirety of WoW have more peaks and valleys than 2005, or a comparable amount to other games like EvE and Darkfall?

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  9. Tobold says:

    Surprisingly enough I do agree with Syncaine’s analysis of the differences between WoW2010 and UO1997. I would however like to add that there is another difference: In what Syncaine calls “themepark”, World of Warcraft is offering content in pre-defined packages. So not only is it easy to reach your next goal, but you are extremely unlikely to run out of goals, because there is a big neon arrow pointing you towards it.

    Now again like in Syncaine’s analysis of the difference in difficulty, the difference in how much the game guides you through content is a matter of preference. Some people feel lost in a sandbox game, unable to decide what to do next, others hate being told what to do all the time.

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