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Online games today are not the same as they were back when World of Warcraft was still young and exciting. And much as we may complain about all the streamlining the developers try to force on us, a lot of the blame for MMORPGs slowly but surely heading the way of the dodo lies with our own obsession with doing things the right way and the ease of finding all the relevant information online.
If you tend to agree with the above, you should probably check out this Ars Tehcnica interview with World of Warcraft’s game director Ion Hazzikostas, where he talks about how his game evolved together with the Internet and how exactly because of that evolution, even the seemingly old-school World of Warcraft Classic doesn’t feel quite the same today.
A few sample paragraphs:
In its early days—fittingly for the fantasy genre—World of Warcraft’s magic was deeply intertwined with its sense of mystery. It was countless gamers’ first MMORPG; back then, the pull it had on millions of players was in part due to the vastness of its world and the long, rocky path to top level glory. To find a party, you’d stand in the city center and /shout until someone agreed to come with you. To teleport to another city, you’d track down and pay a mage. To attempt a raid, groups of dedicated players relied on the age-old method of trial and error. (This contributed to the viral “Leeroy Jenkins” meme, in which a player of that name abruptly sprints into a dungeon midway through a meticulous strategy explanation.)
“There were no rules. There was no right or wrong way to play. Just you and your pet wolf, as a hunter, trying to make your way in the world and figure things out from there,” says Hazzikostas.
Swimming around in this deep, cloudy sea, players had to search blindly for open hands to hold. This feeling of being teleported into an antagonistic, unknowable world forced players to use each other as buoys.
After 30 minutes of yelling “LFG SHAMAN LVL 40” before landing in a party, Hazzikostas says, players were “much more likely to be tolerant of each other’s faults. You probably weren’t going to kick your healer who made a mistake from the group, because then you’d be back to spamming chat for 30 more minutes.” If the healer kept everyone alive and was even a little nice, you’d be more likely to add them to your friends list for faster leveling next time. Strong networks of friends emerged from this, players who’d shift from discussing spell rotations to significant others, in text chat, third-party voice chat, or over the phone.