I’ve met some amazing people whilst playing World of Warcraft. Two of what are now my best friends began their association with me via Azeroth: living in an area where I didn’t know anyone related to gaming, and having grown up very much as the Only Nerd in the Village, it was quite hard to find kindred souls to hang around with. It helps enormously that my Husband used to write games for the Acorn Atom and Dragon 32, which means this house has become pretty much Nerd Central. Needless to say, both my kids are quite happy with this state of affairs: the youngest has taken to digital art like a duck to water. The eldest has pretty much walked every Technology exam he’s taken since entering School. That means that I know with some measure of confidence every children’s-focussed MMO that’s existed since the things became popular.
But still, I won’t play anything else other than World of Warcraft.
I realised that since I started this MMO journey in 2004, I’ve looked at three other games: Guild Wars 2, played for exactly an hour, Wildstar that I managed a month in and SWTOR which lasted about the same time. Once I left, I never went back, and I know that I won’t, ever again. I decided for the purposes of this week’s column to try and understand why that is: after all, its not like there’s only a few MMO’s out there to choose from. You only have to look at the embarrassment of choice that exists on the mobile platform to grasp the range and depth of the gaming marketplace… yet, the only persistent distraction on my tablet is Bejewelled. Yes, I’ve bought others but, without exception, I’ve refused to play them after I’ve indulged for a couple of hours.
The biggest problem for me, at least right now, is time.
Games are meant to be compelling: whether it’s your current Facebook distraction of choice or something like Hearthstone, they are often difficult to fit into a lifestyle that involves… well, actual work away from a computer. If you’re someone like Greg Austin then Hearthstone’s a perfect way to fill in all that boring stuff between takes on set when you’re acting: this article on how Blizzard’s virtual card game has transformed a section of the niche marketplace is decent reading, especially as it is found in one of the UK’s more quirky broadsheets. And what Hearthstone relies on is borrowing from WoW’s decade plus worth of source material, which gives player familiarity in a Universe that is beginning to actively cash in on self-referencing. Without the MMO, there’d be no spinoffs on mobile devices either, simply because of the cash Warcraft creates as the most successful of the company’s titles.
But I digress: playing these games well is not easy. And that means WoW takes time to master. One of those two best friends I mentioned earlier turned around to me in Game Chat last night and admitted that, even after having designed games for over two decades, he finds the plethora of stats his class now relies on to function correctly ‘confusing.’ I’ve always maintained my Hunter’s never been played well because, after over a decade, I’ve never operated with the same UI for longer than a couple of years concurrently. Because as Blizzard have added new classes and specs across the years, being able to keep everyone on a level field has become increasingly problematic and has involved a redesign nearly every Expansion. It doesn’t help matters that you have both PvP and PvE elements to balance into the equation either. In fact, when Monks were added in Mists of Pandaria, the class immediately suffered: even with healing, tanking and dps options it’s hard to compete when other specs are traditionally more popular. Only a portion of the playerbase pick a class for their utility, after all.
The complexity of the game is actually one reason it holds a lot of my interest, I’ll grant you. More important than that is the real understanding of how much I’ve not actually completed yet, even after all this time. And the longer the game goes on? The worse this problem becomes, because the content doesn’t vanish… it remains, almost as a taunt to those of us who weren’t able to complete the stuff when it was current. Blizzard finally conceded when designing Warlords that it needed to make the process of soloing older content more accessible for players, because so many wanted to return to old raids and dungeons to gather vanity items, mounts and achievements, and now many people spend a lot of their time simply farming the past to keep them financially secure in the future. I have to speak from personal experience here and say I’ve gleaned a six figure sum of gold and rising since the Expansion launched from doing just this. It makes sense for someone like me because Legacy Content is one player, simple in most cases to complete and doesn’t take forever. And then we are back to the issue of why I won’t play anything else right now, not even games like Civilization or Minecraft which both have shortcuts on my desktop.
I’ve identified in myself a compulsion that I won’t allow to overtake my life as it has previously, and because of that it’s only one game at a time.
I’ll admit, when Hearthstone went live I played for a while, and even managed to get to a stage where I was winning more games than I lost. Then I worked out that to play with any kind of variety, I would have to drop real world cash to compete. And here is where my desire to play stopped dead in its tracks, because I understand how gaming now operates for the majority of companies. This isn’t going to be a rant on Pay to Win, and it isn’t going to be about how F2P is the future, because those games are just as compelling in their own way as the ones with the hefty price tag. ANYTHING that requires you to remain online or effectively tied to a screen, whether it be a PC or a Tablet, is addictive and therefore, for someone like me, inherently dangerous, because I’ve identified that is an issue in myself. Therefore, like it or not, I don’t want to dive down any other rabbit hole other than Warcraft’s, even if it means missing out on what I’m told is great gameplay or top friendships or any combination of the two. In the end, I’m sticking with the one MMO I cured myself of being addicted to. Now I can come and go as I please, and yes, I will occasionally allow myself to get lost for a couple of hours or maybe half an afternoon on a rainy Saturday but in essence? The stranglehold on me has been broken. That’s why I feel I can write about it as I do now, and why I can be objective when many others flail in blind anger or fury at game changes. Half the problem with knowing you are an addict is being able to admit that fact in public, and after fourty years of playing games, I understand what matters more.
Sometimes it isn’t about quantity, but quality.
So, to the annoyance of some reading this column and others on the Internets, I’ve become an armchair commentator. I don’t look at things so much from the inside out any more, I like to take a deliberate step back and peruse the landscape, but with an emotional tie to the game itself that I’m happy to maintain. Because, like it or not, Warcraft still makes noise. It may not have been the big story at the San Diego Comic Con that many would have liked (yes you win Star Wars, that was beautifully choreographed from start to finish) but the amount of interest must be sufficient in the movie if Legendary reinstated a VR tour of Stormwind from the movie after initially pulling a pirated version. I don’t think anyone’s in any doubt that there’s going to be something that links both game and film together, the question is now what that will be. Most of your Vanilla Purists will tell you that we have to wait until November and Blizzcon for that, but I think otherwise. Gamescom opens to the press in a fortnight, so at least there’s not that long to wait. When you admit to your boss you’ve only played 3 MMO’s in a decade and then realise you lied, it’s time to set the record straight. I am a one game girl, pure and simple, and that’s the way its going to stay, or else I won’t have time for the two podcasts and a website I maintain, on top of this column and being a mother to two kids plus attempting to write a novel in between. There is only one thing I can ever do well at a time, and I’m too old in the tooth to change my gaming ways after four decades doing so.
I’m here for the duration, and that means Azeroth until I’m done.
Looking at my current Bucket List? I’m going to be here for quite some time.Related: Blizzard Entertainment, Column, Community, Warcraft, World of Warcraft, WoW Wednesday