To WoW or not to WoW

It’s been interesting to read the blogosphere reaction to Paul Barnett’s presentation at Develop where he mentioned he doesn’t play Word of Warcraft and recommends his design team to do the same. I personally do play WoW, although not nearly as much as, say, Damion.

I actually was there and had the chance to go to lunch with Paul at Develop, so I thought I’d share a bit. I think the writing out there isn’t doing him a justice, given it’s based on a relatively short quote from a presentation where he didn’t explain his rationale very thoroughly.

In his words, the point of the comment was I am all for debate and exchange of ideas, I just don’t want people slavishly copying wow mechanics.

My interpretation of the reason he’s discouraging laying WoW is he thinks playing too much of one game starts to constrain one’s thinking when designing a new game. It’s totally fine to play a game if you can actually be objective about it, but unfortunate we’re all human and tend to get excited about ideas that might not be so good. Some designs patterns are just addictive, despite being bad designs. And I would assume there’s plenty WoW players on his team, too, so if he wants to know how a mechanic works there, the answer is readily available.

An example Paul gave during the lunch was the travel point system in WoW. The way the system works is (as you probably know), to be able to fly to a place in the world quickly, you need to walk there first. There’s nothing that justifies this artificial limitation, aside from it a) making players explore more and b) makes you play for more hours. Point A is moot since people who like to explore do it regardless of whether you can avoid it or not, and enforcing player to something they don’t like is not a good idea in general. Point B can be a valid business tactic, given the recent blogging about the average hours it takes for a player to reach level 70 in WoW – if the walking can push you to the next month of subscription, that’s good money right there.

It seems even Blizzard has figured this was pissing players off, as Burning Crusades included a number of new methods for instant teleportation to locations within the world. However, Lich King seems to going backwards on this, as players apparently can’t use their hard earned flying mounts in Northrend.

Now, going back to the point collection system, it doesn’t make WoW any better so he doesn’t want to copy the mechanic to WAR. However, he’s been having arguments with people who think it’s such a strong design idea, they can’t imagine a game not mimicking the design. If that’s what WoW does to designers, I think I’d better stop playing – the fact that a product had a design working in a certain way can’t be the rationale for using the mechanic somewhere else. You need to be able to justify the design fitting your game and it’s players on it’s own, no matter where you picked it up from. WoW is not the culmination of game design in all aspects, despite being hugely successful commercially.

Personally, I’m all for being able to fly anywhere. Heck, you could price the first trip to a location so expensive I can’t afford to fly to the Wrong Place in the beginning. That’s just as effective as preventing me from going, only it doesn’t feel so frickin artificial. Now, where’s my Frequent Flyer points in WoW? And could I just please be able to buy the Business Class ticket that’s three times faster without the detours meant to show me the art I’ve seen a hundred times already?

Update: Paul’s written a reply on his MySpace page.

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