Greedy Goblin

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The truth and mistakes in Tobold's WoW

Tobold wrote a provocative post about players soloing dungeons and raids with NPCs. He believes that "One day you will need to realize that you are part of a shrinking minority that actually wants player interaction in a multiplayer game.".

There are several truths in his vision. No doubt that WoW won the MMO market by being the less inter-player dependent game. I can't lose wealth or skills due to players (either ganking enemies, or retarded teammates). I can level max without interacting with any players. The AH is fully impersonal, I don't notice if I'm trading with a bot, a guildy or the most obnoxious idiot on the server. LFG assign people randomly.

On the other hand there are single player games and none of them is near the success off WoW. Most single-player games have achievements and online scoreboards so one can compare his performance to others, so these games can be considered massively single-player online games. None of them are near WoW in playerbase, strike that, they don't even have subscriptions. They are sold as a box (or online), and that's all. Players are not even expected to play for years.

It's safe to say that I'm one of the most anti-social players you can encounter. Yet, I play this multi-player game longer than any single-players. What I like in WoW? Mostly it's being a controlled human-interaction simulation. I can try out business or organizational ideas without risking real money or organizations. Others might try different ways of making friends or motivating people.

Little lions don't play "for fun". They are practicing hunting. People similarly play to learn. The games can teach us something that schools cannot: exactly the human-human interactions, that we need in our real life. When a boss dies, it feels larger than killing a pixel thing. We won not by pressing buttons, but by organizing/finding a proper team. We successfully performed this real task, while killing the same boss in a solo-video game with 9 bots (whose code was downloaded from anyway) has no real world relevance.

We need and want to practice human interactions. The controlled, simplified and structured game world is a perfect place. I doubt if Tobold's WoW would survive a year, despite everyone would praise it in the first months.

If we want human interactions, why does WoW become successful despite being more single-player than the competitors? Enter morons and slackers. These are the people we don't want to interact. There is nothing to learn by interacting them, and no goals can be achieved together with them.

We don't hate LFD. We hate the fire-dancing idiot we have to boost in it. We don't hate grouping while questing. Most topguild members leveled in fixed groups. I quest only with my girlfriend, finding solo questing boring and repetitious. We hate questing with M&S who go AFK, who are on autofollow, who damage less than a pet. We don't hate talking to others. Even I talk to others in /w over various topics. We hate to talk to "lol XD thatz fun" idiots.

Here the MMO developer is between a rock and a hard place. The morons and slackers are no less of a paying customer than us. By making the game hard enough to make sure that everyone over lvl 20 is a competent player, you have a game with 100K very happy subscribers and no money to add content. Letting M&S in and forcing others to interact with them is a disaster.

Blizzard solved it perfectly: they allow us to solo the content where the M&S is the most common: leveling. They allow to semi-solo the next tier: 5-mans. I can organize a group or just enter LFD and there is a significant chance of getting enough non-M&S to succeed. The hardest content is exclusively player-player interaction based, and we like it this way. Of course we have the organizational cost of keeping our groups clean from M&S but once it's successful, we are good to go.

Also, Blizzard gave us lot of tools to identify M&S. The Armory and the addon-enabled inspection feature allow us to see who is an ungemmed retard at first glance.

Finally, Blizzard gave mounts, pets, achievements and other "fun" features for the M&S to keep them busy, subscribed and quarantined. They are paying to upkeep our game but they are out of our sight. Unless we choose to be in a failguild where "helping friends" is common.


Cecht said...

I would like to put out a theory that, as you said, World of Warcraft would collapse upon the inclusion of AI controlled bots in instances/raids, but NOT because of competent players.

Assuming the bots were designed to perform decently, but not as good as an actual human, non-M&S players might welcome the addition to fill out groups. Having 8 players on raid day would no longer be a problem. With 8 good players and 2 bots, you could tackle normal content and not waste over an hour trying to PuG non-M&S. You could also avoid M&S in heroics and no longer waste your time trying to vote-kick the 2k dps hunter while the carebear healer says "It's not his fault. Don't be mean."

No, WoW would collapse upon the inclusion of averagely performing bots because the M&S would quit playing. With an abundant supply of "average players," good players would not be available to boost M&S. Good players would only group with other good players and bot the rest.

M&S would be forced to play only with each other and bots. And since the bots would be better than the M&S, the M&S would have no one to blame but themselves. However, since M&S are incapable of admitting that they are to blame, they would conclude that either a) the bots programming is poor or b) the game is too hard.

They would complain, Blizzard would make things easier, and the M&S might succeed in incredibly easy content, but they could never catch up to even average players.

They would lose socially, because they cannot succeed where everyone else can, and they would also lose their excuses, since they have bots, they cannot blame "mean hardcore players" for excluding them. Eventually, they would quit, because their continued failure would shame and embarrass them. And, as you said, without the M&S paying the bills, WoW would stagnate and potentially collapse.

Anonymous said...

There is at least one other reason. The AI of such companions would suck. Thus, they'll either be a liability (like M&S, only now you'll carry 4 of them), or be vastly OP to compensate for poor AI. Or the boss encounters would be simplistic enough for bots to run it. (Single player games often cheat here. The opponents in a single player game are often either buffed, or the player seriously handicapped. To this day, I've never even heard of a game that makes the NPCs smarter as you increase the difficulty.)

There is an alternate solution. Guild Wars had NPC companions (henchmen). As expected, these companions sucked. About the third expansion in, they implemented heroes. They were like henchmen, only with one massive positive. You could command them. Show them where to hide, open up their skill bars, micromanage their skill aquisition, and skill usage and so on.

This was like multiboxing in WoW, I assume. Well, only better, since in WoW multiboxers are pretty limited in what they can do, but concept similar.

In truth, I liked that style of play, but wasn't for everyone. Most people in WoW want to 'pwn, lol'. You'd have trouble 'pwning' when you have 4 skill bars, cooldown, skill chains, positioning, and watch for boss abilities. It would teach how to multitask and prioritize.

Not to mention, people want this to compensate for the lack of tanks and healers. Do you think that people who don't want to tank and heal, would suddenly decide they want to control a tanking NPC, while keeping tabs on their own bars? Tanking yourself would be a lot easier than pupeteering a NPC.

Guild Wars, however is not a subscription based MMO. Its dungeons are orders of magnitude simpler than WoWs.

Anyway, I could see no way of making it work, even IF Blizzard wanted to go that way.

zenga said...

While I largely agree with the post, there is one form you forgot to mention, even though it concerns (way) less than 1% of the playerbase: multiboxing. It is a playing form to clear multiplayer content solo, without having to rely or even be in touch with anyone else. Both supported and allowed by Blizzard.

Ðesolate said...

I personally hate levelling with other players. I don't want to dick around picking up materials away from my waypath or ineffective quests.
Anyway it is (you once posted it) botplay. Accept - Pull - Kill - turn in. Sometimes exchange "pull - kill" with "search - pick up" or anything else. No need for companionship here.

5 mans? Sometimes I pray for 4 bots and most of my time I'm happy to have some rl-friends I usually join up. Usually we are on TS to talk about the latest "anything" to get a bit entertainment while farming up dungeon Y the Xth time. Oh yes I pasionally hate tanking for full rndm groups. because one of two things usually happens:
a) I get bored.
b) I get annoyed.

Actually I started picking up some healequipment since I already have done my retribution and tank equipment (heal equipment needs 4 slots and is done after that). The only thing I need for minor upgrades are two factions exalted (so dungeons turn up to be quite unprofitable).

Raids? Since my group raids at 21:00 and I have to get up at 5:00 I only pick up the two weekend raids. We wiped at Halfus last weekend about 2 or 3 hours by getting a very annoying dragon-constellation (downed Magmaw
and BH wiped at Omnotron Defense System thanks to new recruits, another 3 hours raid). Farmed trashmobs and got 4 epics (better deal).

I know that I could make a better deal joining the PuG with full tank-dps-heal equipment and could avoid "newbs" ruining my bosskills. But I have two options left not involving 45 euros (selfmade raidgroup / another Guild).

Is picking up Bots one? No. If I could have 9 bots joining up, performing good enough to down the encounter I'd never have a real challenge. I would rather play anything with a better graphic and more challenge. My personal challenge is reducing the number of errors made. Not just by me, it expands to the whole raid / group.
Sometimes I pray for Bots replacing the M&S but I'd be gone in 1 week if bots would be enabled due to boredom.

Tanyia said...

" ... you have a game with 100K very happy subscribers and no money to add content ... "
Here is a counter example to you: Eve Online. There are 60k happy subscribers (actually around 300-400k, but 60k are active), but the game IS NOT content based, actually the most exciting parts of the game - wars - is created by players. You dont need money for new content, although CCP does all kinds of crazy stuff. This is why all MMORPGs that are uninspired WoW clones die pretty quickly - they are content based and when your devs are lagging at delivering content, you start losing subscribers. Cataclysm blues, anyone? Here is a nice article for you, in which the author can formulate his thoughts better then me:

nightgerbil said...

Blizz has npcs already in the game, theres a quest in twilight highlands where 3 shamans join you to help you kill a big brain thing in a hole. They stay with you until you turn in that quest. I didnt turn it in, I ran out to where a bunch of mobs were spawning every like 5 secs, stood on that spot and killed. Took about an hour to go from 84.2 to just about 85. Its amazing what a hunter can do with a personal healer for his "pet tank".

I have been trying to get raids together since I turned level 70 with "the pug" to go to tk and ssc, the hunter tier 5 from there heals your pet for the damage you do and is invaluable for leveling, Mend pet being a joke. I cant get the people or interest and I will have to level without it. I really really wish I could get "npc" bots to come do those raids with me. Its for things like this not end game content that npcs really help out and I dont think adding them to the leveling game would break wow.

Anonymous said...

A bit off-topic, but good news for nightgerbil - you ought to be able to solo your way to 2-pc hunter T5 now.

Now, I can't verify this for sure, my hunter managed to find groups of achievement/mount seekers to run with during wrath, but if you filter comments on these two guys by patch 4.0:

You'll find a few hunters have claimed to be able to solo the required bosses to get you T5 hands and shoulders, and it's almost certainly two-mannable if you can find/bribe a healer to help.

Only problem's much less useful now. Mend pet is far from a joke, especially glyphed, and you're sacrificing a fair bit of DPS and stamina (which also goes to pet) by using very outdated gear.

Still, if you think it would help, you ought to be able to get it easily enough now.

Anonymous said...

They could add "NPC hirelings" as a money sink. You could pay, say, 1k per boss in older content (Vanilla, TBC and maybe WoTLK), allowing more people to experience that part of the game, and creating a pretty effective and permanent money sink.

Anonymous said...

One of the reasons why mmorpgs are so popular is because humans naturaly seek acceptance from other humans. They form a hierarchy and all humans aspire to be high in that hierarchy.

Humans they dont like playing with each other as this can change thier place within that hierarchy. It can be found out that they are missplaced if you like (a well geared noob).

This is why solo content is important and it is also why pve is so much more popular then pvp. In pvp you cant maintain an illusion of being high in any hierarchy when you are loosing half the time.

It is also part of why your progression raids have less attendence. Players dont want to risk thier place within that hierarchy not even if the rewards are higher.

Ofcourse there are other factors and not all humans seek acceptance from each other in the same degree and some not at all in games but the large majority of players do.

mmorpgs are popular because you can form these hierarchies. Leader boards are not enough to make a good hierarchy.

Pvp games like rts and most shooters have all adopted this kind of lvl system where you can gain social standing by just investing time. A secure way to feel like your at the top of the hierarchy.

Angry Gamer said...


Your reason for playing Wow was a profound statement. I too feel that Wow provides many life lessons that can be used elsewhere.

Couple of thoughts:
Isn't the problem solving aspect of Wow also a reason to play? And, what about the massive interface, pet, theorycraft configuration efforts?

These two appear to be bigger in the younger playerbase than I would have thought before cata. Granted the problem solving is fairly easy but...

I think the BIG payback for wow is the theorycrafting, configuration aspects. My Family members after playing wow a few months have not only tried to optimize damage done in wow. But ALSO are now trying to optimize other activities like school related computer programs.

Skills developed in wow do seem to be carrying over in an organic manner.

Anyway good post that was thought provoking.

ariantes said...

I think Gevlon has a point here. Harder/more complex games or games where your actions have consequences have less M&S, EVE Online is a great example for that.

@Taniya: EVE Online got 350k subscribers and a peak population of over 60k. The active playerbase will be somewhere between these two numbers. I agree with you on all other points.

Anonymous said...

I used to think like Tobold, but then I experienced what a world with just bots and me would be like. I played Ultima Online pretty heavily for a couple years when it came out, and I enjoyed the game a lot. Somewhere along the way, a robust emulator was made for the game, and you could create your own server and do whatever you want.

Even if you spent hours populating the world with NPCs and monsters, and even if you gave yourself a group of NPC companions, it never felt like the real game. Sure, you could probably kill ogres on your own on the official servers, but killing them on your own private game world felt pointless. The other players might not have said a word to you, but the mere act of being there changed the experience. Of course, in that game you could kill people and even steal items from their bags, so having other players there also added a sense of danger.

There were even player-made servers with large communities (large meaning about 100-200 players), and they still felt boring. If WoW lost a lot of players, I think it would be the same way.

Here's an experiment: if you're horde, go to Silvermoon City. If you're alliance, go to Darnassus. Walk around for a while. Then go back to Orgrimmar or Stormwind/Ironforge. Walk around for a while. Doesn't SMC/Darnassus feel empty and boring, and Org/SW feel lively and fun? If it doesn't matter to you either way, think about this instead: what if the AH had only your auctions?

Without real players, MMOGs are some of the most boring games out there.

Townes said...

I wouldn't say that interacting with the humans you call M&S can't be educational.

In my career, an important skill is being able to get the most out of people with limited skills. Maybe they have limited intelligence, don't have good hands in the lab, maybe they aren't motivated enough to read up on their field. Maybe they aren't creative. They are the real-world equivalent of slackers and fire-standers, the scientists who don't read, the scientists who can't get good replicates because they have problems with much simpler hand-eye moves than you need for PvP in WoW.

But that is mostly who we get as graduate students or postdocs. And if we don't get our real-life M&S equivalents to do work we can publish in good journals, hopefully Nature, we lose our funding and our jobs.

So, I may not be the best at this in real life or in WoW. But I learn better healing and better tanking and better survival skills as dps by virtue of being in a group with some idiot who stands in the wrong place and pulls another pack of trash mobs, or burns up, or focuses fire on the wrong mob. If I can carry that attitude into real life, maybe I can be happy when I have to help someone be productive who is never going to be productive without me or someone else guiding them. Maybe I can be content with the fact that most people do not excel at anything.