Life Is Inconvenient Sometimes

Classic continues to roll along and is inspiring all kinds of interesting thoughts from fellow bloggers. Bhagpuss writes about how his play sessions being drawn out and chaotic makes them all the more memorable and fun, while Rohan muses on how to define where Classic's perceived difficulty (or lack thereof) comes from. Belghast tries to explain the reason's for Classic's success and does a pretty great job at it as far as I'm concerned (I'm definitely one of the "embittered veterans" he describes who is back and having a blast).

That's all very interesting, but for me personally the subject of (in)convenience has been on my mind more than anything else. "Just you wait", I've seen detractors of Classic say, "they'll get tired of all the inconveniences soon enough!" And even some people who're generally enjoying themselves find themselves longing for certain conveniences sometimes.

Occasionally I've heard people express the sentiment that it would be nice if all the hype around Classic would result in Retail WoW (I hate calling it that, but Blizzard has pretty much made it official by using that as the folder name...) maybe regaining some of its worldliness without all of Classic's inconveniences. This, to me, sounds pretty akin to wanting to make an omelette without breaking any eggs.

Having played Classic for two weeks now I've been finding it striking how much of a "world simulator" it really is and how much of that has been lost in more modern MMOs.

How do you make a simulation of anything? By reproducing as many of its characteristics in virtual form as possible. What are some basic characteristics of life/the world? That it's damn inconvenient! Humans are weak, extremely sensitive to temperature, need to breathe, eat, sleep and defecate at regular intervals, and going anywhere takes bloody forever without some enhanced mode of transportation.

Now, nobody is saying that any game should strive to simulate all of those things (you can keep your poop gameplay, ARK), but Classic checks a surprising amount of boxes. Our characters don't automatically die without food or drink, but limited self-healing encourages its frequent consumption anyway. If you go underwater, you can only hold your breath for a relatively short amount of time (unless you're undead, which makes a certain kind of sense). And yes, unaided movement is incredibly slow.

While you're moving around, you're also forced to look at the world around you and interact with it. I think the lack of a built-in quest tracking UI is a great example. It forces you to read - and I mean really read, not just skim - the instructions you're given, orientate yourself on the map and figure out where your objective is supposed to be relative to your current position. While moving about, you may find yourself looking out for actual landmarks, such as a bridge, a tower or a large tree. I'm no neuroscientist, but I'm pretty sure that stimulates our brains in very different ways compared to simply lining up our character's movement towards the glowing UI marker, and I don't see how that feeling could be reproduced without at least some sort of push towards forcing the player to take their environment seriously.

It's also worth noting that many players actively enjoy this sort of pottering around and that it only becomes an inconvenience once we decide that we care more about an MMO's "gamey" elements than about pretending to be in a virtual world - when we'd rather finish that quest or complete that dungeon as quickly as possible. And I get why that becomes more of a concern over time, after you've seen much of the world and explored it, but I still think that in hindsight it may have been a mistake for the WoW devs to worship at the altar of convenience as quickly as they did.

Mind you, I'm not saying that less worldly, more gamey MMOs are objectively bad. As Bhagpuss also noted only today, it's quite possible to enjoy both types at different times and for different reasons. Personally I've been playing Star Wars: The Old Republic for the last eight years and while I think many of its environments are gorgeous, I wouldn't claim that it's a particularly worldly game in terms of geography. However, it also doesn't need to be, as I play it for the stories and the characters - a world of narrative, if you will.

In my opinion a big problem in the gaming industry is that whenever something is successful, they seem to immediately jump to the conclusion that this one thing is clearly what everybody wants, all the time, and therefore all major games should be the same. I remember hearing so many times that the way WoW changed over the years was necessary, that it was simply what the market demanded.

From that point of view, Classic's success feels like a triumph and a comfort, as it shows that there absolutely is room and even demand for a different kind of game, for a different kind of audience that wants a bit of worldliness in their MMO but still wants to play an actual MMO as opposed to something like Minecraft.

Now if you'll excuse me for a bit, I'll be back to pretending that I'm barefoot, walking uphill in the snow, and enjoying every minute of it.


  1. I've been thinking about this and I'm starting to think that what is making Classic so fun for so many people is that it has amp'd up the old "Skinner Box" thing.

    Once you hit level 10, the rewards are almost constant. Gain a level, gain a talent. Usually you have the opportunity to train a new ability, or a new rank of one. If you're a Hunter you have even more positive feedback going on, as you get pet abilities to learn as well.

    Contrast to BfA. You don't even get a new spell or a new talent for going to max level. Where are the rewards?

    I really think Retail should take notice of this and plan accordingly. I doubt we'll see anything in the next expansion to reflect this lesson (it's far to far along at this point) but I'm looking forward to WoW 10.0's answer to this.

    1. That's why we have weapon skills. To even get "mini rewards" in between levels.

  2. Great post! One thing I've been pondering is this: where do you draw the line between unwanted "convenience" and good game mechanics? For instance, I keep double-clicking on mobs to initiate an attack, having deep muscle memory from doing it in countless MMORPGs, but of course Classic doesn't support that method of entering combat.

    Is there some intrinsic "virtual world" effect that would be lost by allowing double-click attack instead of clicking a hotkey or tapping a keyboard short-cut? It's a lot harder to decide than I imagined. On the face of it, they all seem to be analogs - you perform a physical action with your hands and thereby change a game status. But, psychologically, is clicking a mob somehow more "artificial" because it overrides the visual image and breaks the illusion of being there in a way that interacting with the UI doesn't?

    Every single, possible "quality of life" or convenience is subject to this kind of analysis and clearly few game developers are going to have the competences to parse tham. It would take a university research project, a team of psychologists and social scientists, a multi-million dollar budget and several years to come up with even a preliminary report!

    I might do a post on this but I have to let it stew a while.

    1. It really is amazing to me how much of a difference even the littlest things make. Another one is having to regularly visit specific vendors for things like ammo, reagents and trade goods. It really makes you memorise the layout of each town/village and even remember certain NPCs!

  3. > Retail WoW (I hate calling it that, but Blizzard has pretty much made it official by using that as the folder name...)

    Are you talking about _retail_ WoW? :-)

  4. Retail WoW and Classic are completely different games. Wishing Retail becomes more like Classic is really unrealistic and why should it? That's like wishing poker becomes more like chess. You can enjoy both, that's fine. But just because both have a king and a queen doesn't mean they are both an iteration of the same game.

    Classic puts the world into the center. Retail puts the game in the center. That's why you have gamey simon says rotations. These rotations distract you from the world. Whenever you play your character you're aware that you PLAY your character - you try to improve at the rotation mini game.

    In Classic you ARE your character. If you're a warlock all you do is sling shadow bolts around.

    That's why Classic is a RPG and Retail is not.

    The problem is you can't have a complicated, gamey combat system and put the world in focus. You have to pick one. That's why Classic died with Cataclysm and that's why Retail will never be able to put the world back in focus.

    You can't have raids as the be all, end all crown jewel of your game and expect everyone to raid but still have a meaningful, long leveling phase.

    Classic is not about the raids, for the majority of vanilla players raids where just there to always have unfinished content, to make the world feel even bigger because there's always something you haven't done yet. That's why leveling in Classic works the way it is. Raids aren't the main content, leveling is. Raids just give leveling additional value.

    Retail is only about the raids. Everything else is meaningless. Everything that keeps a new or returning player away from raids is going to hurt the game. You can't have a big world in retail because that would keep player away from raids and make them leave.

    Classic is a test of endurance, Retail is a test of twitch reactions and reflexes.

    Twitch reactions and reflex content can't be in Classic as it would kill the world, as it did once already.

    Endurance can't be in retail as it would just add to much unrewarding content to the raid focused game.

    1. It's funny to me to think back to early Wrath and Blizzard first wanting to make raids more accessible. I thought it sounded like a good idea at the time! But somehow wanting to enable everyone to raid slowly seems to have turned into wanting to make sure everyone raids, whether it's a good idea or not.

      I still like raiding by the way. But I don't see the point of making any MMO all about raiding.

      Oh, and you totally need your own blog, Kring!

  5. There are just so many different intangible things that are making the experience feel good. Each time I read a post like this someone does a better job of explaining something than I did. I would think it was a fad if there were not so many of us more or less stabbing at trying to say the same thing. There is a "sticky" gameplay that Classic has that Retail has lacked for years. I want to get home and play more of it, and optimize my life to try and leave open windows where I can run dungeons that now take two hours. The inconvenience for some reason almost makes the experience feel more valuable. It costs me something, and that cost makes the experience gained in the process feel more worthwhile.

  6. I think SWTOR and ESO are two examples of games other than retail WoW that succeed with gamey-ness involved. And I'm fine with that. If anything, I wish SWTOR would have fine tuned the leveling and made the original areas a bit harder again, but that's just me.

    And it's not that Classic is all one giant love-fest either, because the other day I spent an hour watching some clown act like a total ass to everybody in the vicinity, just because he could. But Classic definitely fills a void that I didn't think I still had.