What is a game? Most of us think in terms of a game being something we play, but what is play? In it’s simplest terms, a game is an entertaining waste of time that requires both input from the player and feedback from the game. This second part is an important defining characteristic, because without that input and feedback you just have a film or a book.
Now, most of you reading that definition are probably thinking to yourselves: “duh” but once you accept that definition as fact, you have to accept things as games that you may not like, the kinds you may have once decried by saying, “that’s not a real game”.
Actually, this is a real game.
Not liking a game doesn’t make it any less of one, likewise being a different genre or platform than you are accustomed to makes it no less a game. For instance, I’m not a particular fan of traditional sports like Baseball or Basketball. I recognize them as games, but not games I’m particularly interested in. Likewise, I’m not interested in their digital versions on XBox 360 and other consoles – but the key is that I recognize them as being part of the same genus as World of Warcraft, Baldur’s Gate, and yes even Angry Birds.
In a way, this is like different styles of music with multiple genres and sub genres. Pop music for instance has multiple sub genres, Britt Pop, Electro Pop, etc. So it is with games, Sports games by EA and other companies have their own category within the gaming community, and even sub genres for niche sports games like Blood Bowl.
Still needs a Kill the Ref option.
Then of course there’s MMOs, a different species of game entirely…
THE PROBLEM WITH MMOs
A problem that has plagued game reviewers for years is how exactly to review an online game (or an expansion of said game). The reason for the difficulty is partly one of objectivity. For example, a fan of Rift is not going to review the new WOW expansion the same as a WOW fan would. Which is really the reason for the above section, pointing out the problem of objectivity when looking at other games.
Additionally, there’s the persistence problem with MMOs. When I reviewed Age of Conan several years ago, I was excited. I leveled to 20 and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. I enjoyed it so much, that I was ready to put WOW on hold indefinitely – I said as much in the review. But the week after hitting 20 gave me a sad reality check. The game experience from 1-20 was not the same experience from 20-50, as for the end game experience? Let’s just say it left something to be desired. Even if you’re already an experienced player of a game, an expansion will similarly offer an experience that changes over time. It’s simply the nature of the beast. So really, there should be three reviews of a game: First Impression, Mid Point, Afterward. By considering those three points in a game or an expansions life cycle we get a more clear picture of it. So, where does that leave Cataclysm?
I, like many other wow fans, was excited about the impending Cataclysm. So, by the time the trailer for the expansion was released, I was ready.
There were a lot of things I wanted, the ability to fly even in the old world for instance was something I’d wanted since BC. When it was made clear that the days of 12 boss raids were over, I was okay with it because it looked as if we’d have 2 or 3 smaller raids that would end up delivering roughly the same amount of content/encounters while making the raiding experience less drudgery in the same boring locale. Tier eleven delivered on that, and the rehashing of old bosses like Nefarian was certainly nothing compared to Naxramas at the beginning of Wrath, so I was hopeful and overall pleased with the expansion initially.
Even so, I felt different going into Cataclysm than I had with any of the other expansions. I was excited, but something just didn’t feel right. And I couldn’t quite put my finger on it…
A YEAR LATER
A lot has happened since then, I’ve seen the raiding scene on my own server change drastically as a result of the new endgame paradigm. Fears set to seed early on in the expansion have bloomed as it became clear that smaller raids meant literally smaller tiers, not multiple smaller raids giving roughly the same amount of content as was expected previously. Add to this the ever present recruiting problem, as time went on and guilds leveled up it became and increasingly harder sale. The enthusiasm has gone out of the game for me. As I explained to my wife, it’s like being in a relationship you know is on the verge of ending and simply “going through the motions”. But why? What the hell happened?
Deathwing, Destroyer of Worlds – Ruiner of Relationships
Of course, Deathwing is the first piece of the puzzle. I’ve said it before, I don’t actually care about this guy. Maybe it’s because he’s completely inhuman, maybe it’s because he didn’t have a meaningful presence in Warcraft III. Hell, maybe it’s because I’m not really into the Warcraft books. Either way, I just can not be bothered to give two shits about Deathwing.
Then there’s the recycled content, say what you will but for me fighting my way through Deadmines and Shadowfang again was novel. Then fighting Nefarian and Onyxia again was okay. Then fighting my way through Zul’aman and Zul’gurub again was kinda meh. And fighting Ragnaros again was more of a “COME ON!” moment. You can explain to me how it’s got a lore purpose, or how you just really wanted players to experience something familiar or whatever till you are blue in the face, but seriously Blizzard. This is recycled content, and that is all it is. It’s hard to get excited about the same boss, different loot. Even if the fight mechanics are different.
Then of course, there are the myriad of quality of life issues that are making the day to day of any guild leader a pain in the ass. Basically, at this point a lot of people are locked into the guild they’re going to be in for the rest of the expansion (sorry, sad thought I know – but it’s true). Even the players who have potential are likely to stay in a terrible guild rather than move to greener pastures. Why? Because of the intangible ties that Blizzard added to guilds (perks, rewards, and reputation). Even getting someone to leave a level 21 guild to join a level 25 guild isn’t exactly an easy sell, simply because they feel the need to get their reputation up with their new guild, and that sounds like work. Until they do have said reputation, they won’t have access to certain attractive perks like Mobile Banking.
Of course, if they remember to get their Renowned Guild Tabard before they leave their current guild getting their rep back up shouldn’t take too long. Hell, I’ve just been raiding (and even missed out a couple of weeks) and I’m already nearly Exalted again. But it doesn’t matter, because sometimes even the imaginary ties that bind are the ones that hold the strongest…
LIFE AFTER THE END OF THE WORLD
So where does that leave me with Cataclysm? As Zelthas would said, “I sir, am disappoint”. Somewhere along the lines Blizzard, we grew apart. At this point, I can’t say whether it’s you or me. What I can say, is that the game you are currently making is for someone else, not me. Nephora told me last week that he was disappointed, that it felt (to him) that I didn’t want to raid anymore. And it’s true, I really don’t enjoy it the way I used to. When I made the decision to quit raiding in DS it wasn’t because the “Alliance sucks lulz” or anything other than the fact, I just don’t find the current raiding environment engaging, interesting, or even fun. The reason I keep playing? Friends, and sadly there are fewer and fewer of those around as days go on. But moreover, the reason I keep raiding is out of a sense of duty. I feel responsible for this guild and the people in it. Thus, I continue.
Will I pick up Mists of Pandaria (or whatever it’s going to be called), probably. Even after everything else, I probably will. Why? Because I’m damned good at what I do, despite the odds I’ve built the guild back up (we’re growing stronger everyday it seems). And now, we’re looking at a real 25 man raid force again. Of course, I’m also hopeful that Blizzard will surprise me. I’m hopeful that the next expansion will somehow renew my faith in the company, and the game. But, I’m not holding my breath. And maybe, I’ll find a successor before then. And if I do, pass the guild into their capable hands. And maybe, I’ll retire from MMOs utterly. Who’s to say?
I can tell you this though, I still love World of Warcraft (as much as I hate it). And maybe it’s because of the fondness that I hate it so much, for when you truly love a thing; be it a person, place, an ideology, or even a video game – then you can see it’s flaws. And those flaws hurt all the worse, because you know that it could be so much more. And eventually, you get tired – as I am tired. Because you realize, it’s still all it ever was – an entertaining waste of time…