WoW Classic beta has started, and people are posting about it. This post from Rohan, who’s blog I can’t comment on without jumping through a dozen hoops thanks to the Blogger platform, highlights a major reason why I think overall Classic will be more successful than current WoW; the subtle design that nudges people towards grouping and being social.
The post talks about a typical “kill 30 of X” quest, and Rohan comments that due to zone chat not working, solo’ing the quest is kind of boring (bonus boring points for doing it as a Pali). We know now that years later, this ‘problem’ would be solved by Blizzard in a few ways. First, the time to kill anything goes way up for everyone, so it simply doesn’t take as long to kill 30 of something in post WotLK WoW as it did prior. Second, the quest design goes from 30 to 10 mobs, or from 30 of a specific mob to a smaller number of anything that remotely looks like a goblin. Finally, every class is able to solo efficiently, so regardless of what you are playing, the pace is basically the same, and that pace is set to hyperspeed compared to Vanilla. Oh and you basically can’t die, because death = bad and progress = good.
Grouping with other players inherently has some disadvantages, right? First you need to actually form the group and be in the same place, which takes time (sometimes a pretty long time if people are being slow). Then you all need to be on the same quest, or want to accomplish the same thing (run a dungeon for example). That doesn’t just automatically happen, so again effort is needed. Finally you have whatever game design roadblocks exist, be it kill credit only going to one party member, mobs only dropping one quest item, or an XP penalty for being in a group.
Short-sighted game design ‘fixes’ the above issue by making the game more solo friendly, or by making grouping as easy as possible (group finder, everyone gets credit, everyone gets the item, you only need one item, etc). The result is a streamlined game, where you are never more than a moment away from ‘the good stuff’, and all the ‘bad stuff’ like waiting for a group or looking for mobs is gone.
I saw short-sighted because we know what has happened to WoW, and most will be re-reminded come Classic.
What Vanilla did so well was that while it allowed for solo gameplay (unlike EQ1 back in that time), it encouraged and rewarded grouping. You generally benefitted by being in a group, especially a decently organized one (guild group). This push towards grouping lead to people finding guilds, which lead to social hooks sinking in and people staying active and playing/paying longer. You’d run a dungeon you don’t ‘need’ to help a guild member, while in a world where everything is solo, you only run that content if YOU need it. That leads to you consuming content much faster, and eventually ‘running out’ and moving on from the game.
While I have long stated that WoW being as popular as it was happened due to a combo of good game design and luck, the fact remains that the baseline design of Vanilla did have a lot of good things going for it, and in contrast to today’s MMOs, a lot of that good design was around pushing people to be social.
Which is pretty ironic if you think about it, as back in 2004 WoW was viewed (mostly correctly) as overly solo friendly compared to its peers. Perhaps the upcoming success of Classic will, wait for it… inspire some Classic clones and we get a decent, actual MMO titles at some point. Crazy huh?