Earlier today, I ran across this article from Mobhunter http://mobhunter.com/001564.html. The individual who wrote this article is Loral Ciriclight. He is an old school EQ player who happened to play on the same server that I did. The guild he ran with back in the day was one of the most friendly on the server. He is also an exceptional writer and has been writing on MMOs far longer then I have. He is someone who's opinions I value and respect so I felt it necessary to provide some insights about his most recent post.
Here is Loral's article:
Weakness 1, A Focus on Solo Gameplay
Early on in the days of Everquest, the game designers stated that one of the strengths of their game was a requirement for group play. Characters would be very good at a particular slice of gameplay but not at others. Warriors could tank well but did only moderate damage and had very little ability to heal. Clerics could heal but were not able to tank or dish out a lot of damage. Rogues could pour out the damage but couldn't take much and couldn't heal at all. These dependencies forced players to work together which led to the true strength of an MMO - getting people together.
World of Warcraft built itself around soloing. Players can log in, play for ten minutes, finish a quest, get some experience, get a new item, and log out without worrying about leaving others behind. Characters can level from level 1 to level 70 without ever grouping with another player.
There exists a distinct lack of social interaction in World of Warcraft. Friendships aren't as easily forged. Relationships aren't as easily built. You're not very likely to meet someone in World of Warcraft the way you were in the old days of Everquest.
We have seen what sort of success a group-based game would have these days. Take a look at the popularity of Vanguard or the lack thereof. MMO philosopher Richard Bartle states that World of Warcraft has broken the ability for a new MMO to build the sort of world that conducts the formation of rich relationships. No one can make another game that forces groups and expect to succeed.
The ability to solo in World of Warcraft is a great strength, but for it we pay a heavy price.
While I certainly agree with this statement, I have to disagree that it is a weakness of the game. Players have the option to group or solo at their leisure. It is a matter of apathy. It is easier to solo in WoW. It is easier to log on, grind out quest content and log off. With that said, I think it is safe to say Blizzard has made it too easy to solo however they are simply catering to the player base. Players are inherently lazy and will do whatever is easiest to better their character. Others may live a lifestyle that doesn't allow much time for gaming so the solo option best fits their needs. It is much the same reason why people don't have time to sit and eat a family dinner. The "on the go" lifestyle has become status quo. Perhaps worst of all, players will go into great detail about just how bad casual grouping in World of Warcraft is. The consequence of a high volume of players soloing is that basic group dependent skills go unused and render players unqualified for group play.
The reality is that the social networking aspect of online gaming has largely been replaced by websites like Myspace or Facebook. It is unfortunate that the most successful online game has such easy soloing that it has come to this but it is simply more evidence that WoW is more an exercise in marketing that it is in MMO innovation.
The advent of social interaction exists in WoW but the players must take the initiative and embrace it. As it stands now, it is simply easier to go it alone.
Weakness 2, A Focus on Player Vs. Player
Unfortunately, one of the few ways players do meet in World of Warcraft is to kill each other. Many players enjoy the battlegrounds full of fast and furious battles but what sort of social interaction exists when the goal is to kill the other players? Player vs. Environment (PvE) is one of the great strengths of an MMO. That becomes broken when one of the primary reasons players play WoW is to fight each other. It has taken one of the deepest games and turned it into Halo.
Players also behave at their worst in the battlegrounds. Unless one forms a select team of people they already know, likely from either a guild or people they know in real life, they are likely to face completely silent allies who are there strictly to farm some honor. There is no longevity to the relationship and no interest in discussion. One simply kills the enemy and moves on to the next battleground.
Battlegrounds is the rotten core of World of Warcraft.
I have to agree with Loral here. Players go here to obtain resilience gear necessary for Arenas and that's it. Players don't go here to interact on a social level. Hell, they don't even go to battlegrounds because they have fun. They go there to earn points to better their character. A battleground that requires group tactics and interaction does "sort of" exist in Alterac Valley but too many people just go there to farm honor kills and not actually interact with the game strategy. The scale of the zone is designed to compensate for that but the attrition of so many "commando" types and honor farmers has rendered this compensation useless.
Battlegrounds are a means to an end, a redundant timesink to obtain necessary gear to participate in arena play at a competitive level, and more marketing tactics to keep players paying subscriptions. In essence, battlegrounds represent the worst in WoW on every level.
Weakness 3, Redundant Quests
World of Warcraft prides itself on the incredibly vast array of quests. When people saw how many quests World of Warcraft offers, they had to question Everquest's choice of name. There are more than enough quests to move through all of the levels in WoW. The quest system is very robust and easy to use. It is the single path that moves players through the game, often tying them to the lore and giving them reason to do what they do.
These quests are also often sterile and boring. Many of the quests revolve around killing some number of creatures and retrieving some number of items. Many of these quests have drop rates far too low to make them worth while or stories that seem scripted out of a fortune cookie. Sure, a player can quest through the entire game but how many of those quests are unique and interesting? Many are, but many are not.
I understand his view point on this issue and while I too get sick of doing the same quests from time to time, I will play Devil's Advocate and say that it could be construed as a strength of the game in a sense that players have a strong and viable leveling path to get from 1 to 70. In Everquest, the path needed to go from 1 to 65 was a long, hard road of grinding. There was no easy way. The only option was to spend countless hours grouping in dungeons or grinding mobs. A somewhat interactive script through the zones is at least an upgrade to the mindless EQ grind.
Is the WoW quest grind perfect? Not at all. Is the WoW quest grind better than grinding an inordinate amount of Plane of Valor mobs? Absolutely. Is there a better way to do it? Most likely although I find it as the consequence for a linear path to leveling a character and if this allows players to create new toons for more options during their gaming experience, I find this as a comparable trade-off.
Weakness 4, Long Duration Dungeons
The dungeons in World of Warcraft could be the one area that truly brings players together and helps them build the lasting relationships that a MMO should allow. However, after getting players used to completing quests in about 20 minutes, having dungeons that require a two-hour commitment is too demanding.
World of Warcraft should cut all of its single-group instances down to an hour. It should also include a few half-hour instances that can bring players together but ensure there is enough freedom to leave when needed. Longer instances should be limited to ten-man raids such as Karazhan. We have become spoiled by the instant gratification of World of Warcraft's quest system. The gap between the ease of solo questing and the heavy time requirements of WoW's instances is too great.
I can't really see how the dungeon experience translates into a weaker game. We touched on the fact that WoW instancing is a source of player pain largely because there are so many players that grind from 1 to 70 completely solo and as a result, are not qualified to play the class effectively in a group scenario. The results from this are that players will either go it alone or will only group with a select group of players. Once again, the typical Min-max WoW player will go where the easiest path to advancement takes him. Perhaps shorter dungeons would entice players to interact with this content on a more frequent basis both post 70 and during the leveling experience. Regardless, I don't classify this as a weakness of the game.
Weakness 5, No Console Support
This is the weakness that will likely raise the most eyebrows. With the ease of play of World of Warcraft, the beauty of its design, and the simplicity of the gameplay; it already feels like a console game. However, the complicating factor of the PC will always get in the way. Right now Blizzard spends a fortune tuning World of Warcraft to run on a nearly infinite array of possible machine configurations.
Were it a console game, WoW would only have to focus on a hand-full of possible configurations. While WoW would have to be substantially different on a console, the console world is clearly ready for a good WoW-like MMO and if Blizzard isn't careful, such a hit on a console system could steal their crown.
Ten million players is a lot, but there are currently 20 million Wiis and 18 million Xbox 360s in people's homes all networked and waiting for the next big MMO. If Blizzard is smart, they will begin using their talent for MMO game design on the next generation platform. If they don't someone else will.
I think at some point, Blizzard will go down this route but these kind of numbers are misleading. Sure, there are 20 million Wiis and 18 million Xbox 360's in circulation but does this mean that half of all users, the current WoW subscriber base, would gravitate toward the consoles for MMORPGS? I find that unlikely. Sure, it would increase the already incredible player base Blizzard has for WoW but to water down the already elementary world of Azeroth into something that would function on the console level would be something too simplistic to hold interest. I would assume the console world would attract a younger crowd and dilute the server population into too many kids and that may detract interest from the current player base. Rest assured, if Blizzard believes they will profit from it, it will happen. It is something that I personally don't wish to be a part of. Perhaps World of Diablo can make its way to a console system but I'll pass on the demographic that permeates that platform. WoW is already bad enough in that regard and I think there are a significant volume of players who agree.
So what have we learned? I think it is safe to say we have learned that WoW is by no means a perfect game. But I think the major lesson I take from it is that the WoW rewards system as a whole has ruined the social aspect of the game largely because the motivation to play World of Warcraft revolves around improving character gear versus the social manifest of the MMO. It is a recurring theme throughout this piece. Battlegrounds are done for gear. Quests are done for experience and gear. Soloing is done to leveling a character individually. Sure, there are avenues for the group player but those require organization, initiative and drive, things that a smaller percentage of WoW players gravitate towards versus the masses that honor or quest grind. Even then, the end game can attract players that just value gear versus friendships. Blizzard will take stock in what the majority of its players want and tailor the game to that end. This means more easy quests for gold, relatively easy level grinding and minimal required social interaction. There is no change in sight to this other than player interaction. This to me is the glaring weakness of World of Warcraft.