Tag Archives: wild speculation

A player’s role is certain, rigidly defined, and perhaps unnecessary.

One thing that always stuck with me from my experiences with World of Warcraft pick-up groups was that in the vast majority of cases people referred to one another by their role or class, not by character name. ‘Healer you suck’. ‘Tank can’t hold aggro’. ‘Weak DPS’. In WoW, and many MMOs of the traditional form, the players pick The Rogue, The Priest, The Warrior, which are further generalised into The DPS, The Healer, The Tank. It’s akin to games such as League of Legends, where players pick a character type to play which primarily defines the player’s role in the group, the abilities they will have to available to them, and the general strategy they will need to follow; nobody in LoL picks Irelia, the Will of the Blades in order to expand on the story of her spiritual companionship with Soraka, the Starchild.

Admittedly there are many players for whom that is the desired system. But I also get the feeling, however, that an equally large portion of the traditional MMO player base desire not to be classified as a character type, but as a character; they want to be a Shepard, a Geralt, or an Altaïr. They wish to be a character, but in an environment where they can share adventures with other players.

It comes back to the thorny issue of defining what is meant when we say RPG. For some this is categorically defined by the role you play in a group, it is a system forged by levels and stats which enables you to fight dungeon monsters. For others, however, that is only one part of the definition, the other being about storytelling and playing a character.

In the case of role-playing, some people like to play the function, other people like to play the part. Role-function, and role-part.

I’m beginning to wonder if Star Wars: The Old Republic is meant to appeal to the latter audience. At the moment it seems to want to bridge the two, carrying with it much of the role-function baggage from the more traditional MMOs, while also trying to introduce the more character-focussed style of the role-part, more often encountered in single player MMOs. My concern is that, in trying to appeal to the general market of MMO players, Bioware have given up the chance to break the traditional mould and bring a truly innovative character-based RPG to the massively multiplayer genre. The danger is that TOR will frustrate traditional role-function players because it focuses too much on character and story and not enough on the optimisation of stats and abilities, while at the same time leaving enough of the relics of the role-function system in place to leave cold those players who want to play a part in a story and not concern themselves so much with increasing arbitrary stats in order to be able to defeat a dice roll. In trying to take a bold new direction, I wonder if Bioware didn’t free themselves enough from the shackles of the traditional MMO form, and will thus end-up pleasing nobody. At best they may have come up with the most expensive way yet for players to play alone, together.

For a pioneering role-part MMO for the mainstream market, we should perhaps instead look to the studio best known for bringing a successful MMO to the market which breaks many of the traditional MMO rules; CCP’s World of Darkness MMO will hopefully be influenced more by EVE Online and White Wolf’s Storyteller system than by World of Warcraft and Dungeons & Dragon’s munchkinised dungeon crawling, and as such will stand a better chance of appealing to that different but significant market within the MMO genre that Bioware were perhaps intending to target with TOR.

Out of their cataclysm but one poor Noah dare hope to survive.

The stampede across the gaming news savannah by the raucous rampaging herd of wildebloggers was dramatically split yesterday by the sudden and unexpected appearance of the Blizzard Speculation Lion, which leaped into the midst of the unsuspecting herd, sending groups off in wildly tangential directions, their eyes rolling around in their heads as they simultaneously tried to avoid being trampled by their fellow wildebloggers and to also stay ahead of the Speculation Lion itself. As such there has been a fair bit of discussion as to what Blizzard’s trademarking of the word ‘Cataclysm’ might mean.

Now if I was a Blizzard marketing monkey the first thing I’d do is take note of this manic phenomenon that occurs whenever their company so much as twitches its majestic mane, and then I’d go off and start trademarking random words from the dictionary, just to mess with the heads of everyone. I’d probably reserve the word ‘pogonophobia’ to start with, and then go from there.

Others have speculated, even before this latest fuelling of Blizzard’s perpetual hype machine, as to what might happen in the next World of Warcraft expansion:

“For the next expansion, the whole of old Azeroth gets a phasing makeover, we become servants of the scourge in a very dark setting.” — Spinks

Now just as a casual observation – because we don’t want to invoke the wrath of the rightfully snarkful – if such an expansion as that described above were to happen it would be quite the cataclysmic event wouldn’t you say? Also, were it to happen, it would solve the ‘nobody cares about the 1-60 game anymore’ problem for World of Warcraft, with Old Azeroth simply being made to go away, it being replaced with a freshly scourged Azeroth.

In the house of the Old Gods:

“Hi honey, I’m home! MMmmm, something smells nice!”

“Be down in a minute! Oh, and there’s some freshly scourged Azeroth cooling on the window sill.”

“Oooooo! Can I have a slice now?”

“Ok, but mind you don’t burn yourself on the Kalmidor, it’ll still be piping hot.”

And finally, if such an expansion did happen to be on the cards, I would casually observe that a really rather funky way to introduce it would be to do ‘flash-forwards’. Use that oh-so-clever phasing technology to have sections of the scourged Azeroth appear for shortish periods of time at random; have it last an hour or so, in order for those players who aren’t online to have a chance to be notified by friends and get themselves in to the game to witness it. Then revert back to the original Azeroth again, but perhaps leaving a little of the portent remaining: a few charred corpses in the streets, say. The added bonus is that because this would only affect the original 1-60 content of Azeroth, those elements of gaming society who don’t like to have their game time interrupted with inconveniences such as story telling and world changing dramatic events – as mused upon elsewhere recently – will not be effected.

As an aside, while speaking of using phasing for fun and profit: I’m really intrigued as to whether pjharvey’s mind-fondling idea of what I’d dub ‘socially networked phasing’ would work in its attempt to remove server boundaries between player populations.

Anyway, there’s no evidence as to what, if anything, the trademark of ‘Cataclysm’ might mean to Blizzard. It could simply be the marketing department deciding to have a bit of fun with the community after having returned from a particularly lengthy liquid lunch, but I found it fun to let the idea-ball roll around the roulette wheel of my inner mind, and when it finally came to rest, ‘cataclysmic scourging of Azeroth with portentous flash-forwards’ was the slot that it landed in. As such, I’ve reported the result here to you in order to see if it’s a winner.