A Dirty Word

By Alec Meer on September 6th, 2008 at 2:25 pm.

If you’ve been following the 200+ comments in the thread below our recent discussion of our experiences in the Warhammer Online closed beta, you’ll have spotted that a vocal minority of the WAR community, having made their way here thanks to a link on the warhammeronline.com frontpage, are absolutely furious with us. All those that were simply critical remain, but there were at least another 50 abuse-filled tirades we deleted, consisting of the usual expletives, judgements about our intelligence and sexuality, and a surprising amount of racism towards the British. It’s true: we do drink a lot of tea.

Whether expressed politely or furiously, there were three or four central complaints about what we said – but one stands above them all.

We said it’s got its similarities to World of Warcraft. Well, in fairness, John said it was exactly like World of Warcraft, but clearly the fact he went on to list several ways in which it wasn’t meant the tongue-in-cheekiness of that statement was lost on some folk. (My sneaking a WoW screenshot into the post as a gag was probably a bad idea in retrospect, but it made me giggle). We did, admittedly, come back to the comparison quite a lot, but that we were generally very positive about the game was either dismissed or unnoticed – the simple fact of making that comparison enraged a fair old slice of the WAR community. All the incensed comments weren’t a surprise, nor were they especially distressing – this is, after all, the internet – but I think there’s more at play than simply another case of Angry Internet Men.

A similar outpouring of abuse happened to Richard Bartle when he made a somewhat reckless judgement about WAR’s WOWiness a while back, and I’m sure similar venom’s been poured on a thousand forum posts and news stories the web over. So I’m aware that this post is a little akin to saying ‘Candyman’ into the mirror three times, and fully expect further fury below, but let’s try and have some considered conversation about this.

It’s without a doubt true that dismissing WAR as a WOW clone would be wrong and stupid – there are important differences, and with its perma-war theme and PvP foundations it’s genuinely aimed at achieving a different overall atmosphere than WoW’s cartoon high-jinx and endlessly repeated dungeon runs.

There are also important similarities. Huge similarities, in both its mechanisms of play and its appearance. It’s bizarre that so many people won’t allow this observation to be made. WoW was not the first of its kind, and no-one here is saying it is. It is, however, by far the biggest of its kind, and as a result of that it’s the grandest inspiration for any current MMO developer: 13 million subscribers means cash and glory beyond almost anyone’s wildest dreams. WAR exists because of World of Warcraft. Of course, it also exists because of a number of other factors and influences (including Mythic’s own earlier Dark Age of Camelot). It’s also very true to say that World of Warcraft might not exist without the Warhammer tabletop game, as many WAR fans never tire of mentioning.

The reason we don’t explicitly state that Everquest did it first and Blizzard borrowed from Games Workshop and yadayadayada every we talk about Warhammer Online is not because we don’t know it – of course we know it – but because it doesn’t alter the simple truth that EA’s interest in making and funding WAR is, I have no doubt, because they want a piece of Warcraft’s pie. WAR does a lot of stuff better (and some stuff not as well), and in being so PvP focused does ultimately head to a slightly different place, but WoW’s landmark success is why Warhammer Online looks as it does, why major elements of it play as they do, and most of all why it’s being released now.

I think it’s going to work out, too – I’m expecting an awful lot of dispossessed WoW players to head WAR’s way. It bundles in some new ideas at the same time as evolving and streamlining certain core WoW/Everquest concepts that had, over time, proven themselves a little tired, and that’s enough to make the game seem newer and fresher than it perhaps fundamentally is. There is nothing wrong with that; MMO players have every reason to hope WAR will be a rewarding place to spend their online time.

Still though – why are these guys so angry? There are, I think, two root causes for the unchecked fury. One is that ‘WoW’ has become a negative term to a lot of gamers. It carries connotations of grinding and repetition and dumbed-down cartoon noobishness or whatever – witness too the anger around Diablo 3′s art style. There’s also the simple fact of its popularity – Coldplay sell a lot of records, and it’s for precisely that reason (as much as the fact they make awful music) that a lot of people despise ‘em. The ubiquity is cloying. There’s crossover with the Sims too – the games’ own interestingess ignored by a certain slice of gamers because they consider them aimed at a different audience, thus somehow beneath them. So WoW is a dirty word, interpreted as an insult even when it’s not intended as one.

It’s beyond simply gamers’ own distaste for WoW, though. In the wider world, that is to say the tabloids and worried mothers, WoW is a by-word for the worst stereotypes of PC gaming: anti-social fat guys, killing pretend boars for 24 hours a day, speaking in tongues of statistics and cod-Shakespeare. While the stereotypes may be largely inaccurate, no-one wants to be associated with that – you say WAR is like WoW and people feel insulted. While there are plenty of concrete reasons to be given why WAR is not the same as WoW, it’s telling that a great many of the angry comments haven’t listed them – they’ve just called us stupid and wrong (and much worse). And it’s because they’re offended as much as because of traditional web tribalism. With its darker theme and focus on all-out war, Warhammer Online is considered cool where other MMOs are not. Say it’s like WoW and people feel you’re undermining its cool, and that you’re accusing it of being old news rather than this impossibly momentous upcoming event in their lives.

Which leads onto the second reason. MMOs aren’t like other games. They’re closer to a lifestyle choice, for a lot of people defining how their spare time is spent, how their lives are lived. So if you criticise the game, you criticise the player. God knows there are plenty of non-MMO games that people treat as though they’re bound to their very souls – witness the pile-on for Eurogamer’s MGS4 review, or even the outrage about various RPS writers being down on Stalker: Clear Sky – but it’s even worse with MMOs. Telling a WAR player that his game is similar to WoW is like telling a goth that he’s emo. No-one wants to be told they’re not unique and interesting, to be dismissed as a stereotype they’re not.

WAR is not WoW. But it is a lot like it in a number of crucial ways, and for one essential reason: money. I suspect Mythic and EA aren’t too concerned about the comparison themselves – they might disagree with the sweeping generalisation, but if they didn’t want to be compared they would have gone for an entirely different interface and art approach. Saying WAR is like WoW is not the same as saying it’s a bad or a lazy game, but unfortunately there are guys who do intentionally make the comparison unfavourably, and that’s perhaps understandably made a lot of WAR fans very touchy. I wish they wouldn’t take it so personally, but it can’t realistically be stopped.

We’ll be talking a lot more about WAR over the coming weeks, and will be able to better discuss the RvR/PvP elements that were so marginal in the underpopulated EU closed beta, but I suspect we’ll still end up making the occasional WoW comparison. It’s not meant to be an insult.

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172 Comments »

  1. Real Horrorshow says:

    It’s S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Clear Sky! ARGH You’re all stupid and gay, and British.

    I’m starting an online petition about something…

  2. Schtee says:

    A very calm and reasoned article, Mr. Meer. I like how if you said “WAR is a lot like one of the (generally accepted) best games ever”, it has an air of positive. However, if you say LOLzWAR’sLikeWoW it’s a massive blow to everything the game stands for. WAR has clearly been inspired (that sounds nice and diplomatic) by the bits of WoW that worked and fitted with the specification for Warhammer. Which is fine. It just needs to have added enough of its own personality to merit a new game.

  3. Bas says:

    I missed all the drama mentioned, but it sounds pretty sad. It’s just a game. If you enjoy it, good for you.

  4. Ben Hazell says:

    With its darker theme and focus on all-out war, Warhammer Online is considered cool where other MMOs are not.

    I’m a fan, but I’m not sure Warhammer is cool. Quite the opposite – aren’t there a lot of people who wouldn’t touch it with that license? If I played I wouldn’t want to mention it where I’d have no problem with WoW or AoC.
    That’s how it always seemed/felt to me, but maybe we live in enlightened times?

  5. no says:

    I don’t think you understand what the word ‘racism’ means.

  6. sbs says:

    Aw man, I missed the shitstorm. Now I have to wait for the next piracy-thread to satisfy this need.
    I fully expected to see an “Angry internet Men”-Tag at the bottom of the post, and I was not disappointed. Hooray for RPS <3

    By the way: I found it rather strange that, to me as someone who does not play either WOW or WAR, the Impressions read really positive.
    edit: Then again, that may not be strange at all, it actually explains a lot.

  7. shon says:

    I am curious if the nasty comments are indicative of the typical WAR player. I find the population of an MMO to be more important than the game sometimes. City of Heroes players for example made up for the game a lot of time, while WoW players often made me consider reading a book.

    I am amused by the idea of insulting the Britishness of a reviewer on a game like WAR. Doesn’t being British make you more qualified to review a game based on a British property?

  8. Lorc says:

    Perhaps it would have gone down better if you’d said “Much like World of Warcraft, it’s fundamentally an Everquest clone”.

    Actually, scratch that. There’s not much point in mincing words to avoid offending people who don’t actually read the article.

  9. Schtee says:

    (and you don’t want to e-fuck with the UN).

  10. Michael says:

    Alec, if you are surprised that knaves behave like knaves, than I am surprised with you.

  11. mooey poo says:

    I think is says a lot that Warhammer is frequently abbrieviated to WAR on this post, whereas World of Warcraft retains its unabbrieviated dignity.

  12. kadayi says:

    “I don’t think you understand what the word ‘racism’ means.”

    He does, but you don’t apparently.

  13. Octaeder says:

    @mooey poo:

    Try actually reading the article again and actually notice how many times the abbr. WoW is used.

  14. Styngent says:

    To be perfectly honest, having played WoW for the one month I could stick it without stroking out over boredom I can recognise and sympathise with a fraction of mmo communities seeing it as a derogatory comparison. Having siad that, it doesn’t matter an inch because quite frankly, anyone with a critical head screwed on can see the inspiration of WoW in WaR. From the graphical style to the gameplay (which in all honesty has been seen in more than one mmo) WoW can’t help but heavily influence developers since it pieced together popular elements of current MMOs and through in a pinch of Warcraft legacy to make it the mother of all cash cows. So, in turn, it’s nothing short of insanity to think it wouldn’t get worked into future games.

    I’m willing to stab wildly into the darkness and say the anger is more likely derived from the threat to their “niche” status. Like it’s been said in this article, WoW sucks because it’s fun for all the family. In comparing the two games you compare these fat guys in their home made wizard robes to the hardcore, eat their own guts and ask for seconds, mmo gamers who, god forbid, play pop games that require zero skill.

    At the end of day, the proof will be in the pudding, so right now all we can do is revel in the ACME land graphics I swear I’ve seen somewhere before.

    Good article, hits the nail on the head!

  15. Patrick says:

    Um. I won’t pretend to have paid any attention so far to this conversation, and I also won’t indicate that I really care much, since I don’t care for MMOs personally and never played Warhammer, but my primary objection to the statement “Warhammer Online is a WOW clone!” is that Warcraft, all the way back to the first, was basically just a computer version of Warhammer the tabletop mini game. I always found it quite shocking that Blizzard didn’t get their little pants sued off.

    So, you know. Credit where credit’s due – maybe it’s a clone because the existing thing stole the source material.

  16. Inhocmark says:

    It’s like being compared to WoW is bad or something. WoW managed staggering subscription numbers because they did something right. I was no Warcraft fan when I started playing WoW but that didn’t stop the game from being awesome.

    WoW is an evolutionary step in MMO development and any game following it will always borrow what worked from it.

  17. Nny says:

    Omg, this page seems not to use any styles at all under Chrome and looks hideous – please fix! :P

    EDIT: Funnily enough, just as I posted it, Chrome displayed the css – you guys are great ;).

  18. Apollo says:

    As you admitted yourself, the RvR was sparce in the UK beta. This is problematic as that IS the game. Some of the described angst my have been due to an attempt at a game review that only focused in on what most would consider to be the packaging in which the real gameplay is to be found. This is flawed as the article was merely your “impressions” and not an all out attempt at a review.

  19. Heliocentric says:

    i see wow and war have positive traits. But they are both designed as all mmo’s, like abusive relationships. They treat you badly and make you think its normal, or worse your own fault.

  20. onkellou says:

    Very good article, but I am not sure about the “cool” factor, either. The Warhammer franchise makes even Dungeons & Dragons look like base-jumping, I’d say. While hugging sharks.

  21. Alec Meer says:

    I could well be wrong, but I think in the wider world’s eyes WAR and Games Workshop will seem oddly disassociated. Even I often forget that it’s GW-related while playing it – it’s much more about being The Next Big Fantasy MMO than it is about being A Warhammer Game.

  22. brog says:

    I had to look quite closely to figure out which of the screenshots in that article was the WoW one.

    In fact, I’m still not 100% sure. They all look very similar and very WoW-ish. It’s the last one right? Or is it the third one? I haven’t played either game, so perhaps it’s obvious to those who have.

  23. Rudolf says:

    I just have to say, I really love your style of writing. And while this arcticle is a meta commentary disguised as an article, I still read it and it feels worthwile. You could be writing about dishwashers, I’d probably still read it.

    That said, fanboys will be fanboys will be…you get the idea. The interesting bit here is that a lot of those now bashing any comparison to WoW probably were hardcore WoW players themselves, which quit the game and now harbor hard feelings. These feeling bubble to the top now and again. Still no excuse to assume the English drink tea, whoever came up with that idea? =) …probably from the Asterix comics ;)

  24. Styngent says:

    Apollo – it’s painfully obvious RvR isn’t just the game otherwise you’re stating that the RPG and elements out of the PvP battlefield are just worthless.

    Not only this, but the same claims were made about Dark Age of Camelot RvR, only to find that in game a lot of the lower level PvP stuff wasn’t worth bothering with it was so unrewarding and late game you could only compete in an elite group and while in possesion of the best equipment. To get to these levels you need hours of prep work while not directly competing with players. Hence, developers make a profit by charging per month. Without this “grind time” the mmo genre falls on it’s ass. It either burns out to quickly or no one wants to play it because there is no hard work involved in making your player different/better/worse than anyone elses.

  25. BaronTwelve says:

    Of course WAR is like WoW, they are both big mmos made in the same decade!

  26. Nick says:

    Damn British with your good looks and your oversized sexual organs.

    Charming devils the lot!

    ¬_¬

  27. Mark Stephenson says:

    Warhammer cool? Bwah-ha-ha!

    Oh seriously? Fat nerds into their Chemical Romances with Iron Maidens?

    I don’t think there’s been such a serious miscalcultion of core market since 2000AD kidded themselves they had an audience of hip hop DJ dance heads.

    Warhammer fans are below Furries on the cool scale.

    I’d still rather have a pint with one of them than a furry but cool … no that’s a stretch too far.

  28. Paul S says:

    Sweet sexy Jesus. I just had a wander through the comments on that beta piece you did. I’m looking forward to WAR, but if that’s the community…

  29. Dorian Cornelius Jasper says:

    I wasn’t here when the shit-fan-convergence occurred, but apparently there were still a few stragglers in the other thread up until a few hours ago. I wonder if those poor, angry, angry internet men are too emotionally wounded to try reading the follow-up.

    Which, of course, is just a polite way of saying I’d like to catch, if not another great fan-frenzy, then at least the aftershocks. Not to jinx your servers or anything, I just hate being left out.

    I wonder how many WAR beta-testers have ever kneaded out their own globs of the green stuff? Do they properly store their leftover globs in the freezer for longevity? Do they realize that what I’m talking about isn’t the least bit indecent–except possibly in some parts of Wyoming and Utah?

    I’m not quite sure what to make of the idea of WAR having a wide fanbase not the least bit interested in the Warhammer franchise at large. And I’m not even that old. I think.

    EDIT: And Mark, I reject your coolness and replace it with my own! I’ll have you know, all the sexy kids say cardigans are the new Havarti.

  30. Alec Meer says:

    Put it this way: how many people signed up for Age of Conan because they were Conan fans? Or even WoW because of Warcraft?

  31. Snarf says:

    I signed up for AOC because after 3 years of WoW i was seriously bored of it. Had done most of the End Game (went into SWP a few times), and really couldnt be arsed with WoW any longer. Most of our WoW guild is gonna try WAR, the starting areas have 10 times more character than WoW’s and its something new. I dont care that it takes aspects from WoW, aslong as it’s the good ones. I want something new, with new mechanics and fun PvP, hopefully WAR will delivery. AOC certainly didnt. Oh and Goths getting angry when called emo isnt to do with the fact of being unique, it’s being linked with crap music :p

  32. Butler` says:

    Warhammer raging fanboy/nerds rock.

  33. I don't understand this comment system says:

    MMORPGs are a plague upon the industry, much like the FMV games of the mid 90s.

  34. friday says:

    Your impressions about beta article actually sparked my interest in the game. Before I read it I was just brushing it off as another mmo that was going to suck. The one thing that pissed me off a little bit was when the developers said they were not trying to compete with WoW, like then what are you doing? Trying to make a shit game?

  35. Garreth says:

    Maybe I’m making a massive judgement error here (and clearly I have) but I would have expected a group of people who have the patience stand around a table for hours taking turns to charge small models at one another (not that I have anything against that) would be slightly less angry about comparing WoW and WAR when they are both based, to a certain degree, on the same thing.

  36. meeper says:

    I’ll agree that FMV games were a plague on the industry, but I hardly think MMORPGs fall into that category. Nobody truly enjoyed the FMV games, yet millions enjoy MMORPGs :)

  37. mateo says:

    It’s simply further proof of John Gabriel’s Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory. What amazes me the most is how people will make such a big deal about how different the games are, when the similarities vastly outweigh the differences. But then, people do that about all kinds things, including other people (hello racism and homophobia), so I suppose I should stop being surprised.

  38. Willem says:

    How about you drink some pee-flavoured tea, Alec? PEEEEEEE

    TEEEEEAAAA

    >: |

  39. Jayof9s says:

    Clearly the real issue is that today no one seems to understand the difference between ‘being critical’ and just being plain insulting. And so gamers especially seem to take any critical writing of their favorite new fixation (even if its only critical in their eyes), whichever game it might be and instead of saying “huh, that’s a valid point” or even just accepting it as some nutters opinion its; ZOMG U HATES WAR U HATE ME!!!!1One (substitute war for halo or some other horrid fps that people play for no apparent reason when there are dozens of good alternatives or any other game really.)

  40. Will Tomas says:

    Personally I really disliked the idea of FMV games and although one or two were okay I agree that they blighted the industry – it was patent cheating. However some people do seem to have absolutely adored them – as the number of comments on Eurogamer’s review of MGS4 shows.

  41. Joseph says:

    Bottom line is, WAR is a WOW clone, and there is no amount of bitching that it’s already vocal fanboys can do to change the game. Having played the beta now, the game is a carbon copy of World of Warcraft with a splash of new, non-innovative ideas thrown on top to make it seem shiney.

  42. Noc says:

    Hmm.

    I think the sticking point here is that comparing a game to WoW involves tacitly saying that it’s a “WoW clone.” Being an anything clone is a bit of a dismissal; I mean, just think about all the times we’ve heard “Oblivion with Guns” tossed about recently. It doesn’t matter if “Oblivion with Guns” would actually be a really cool game or not . . . if it’s “just another clone” it, in a sense, doesn’t count. It’s “just a spinoff,” and it lacks the legitimacy of a more original title.

    More pragmatic observers, including yourselves, it sounds like, aren’t entirely concerned with this. If at the end of the exercise, you’re left with a better game (or even a game that better fills a different niche), then all is well. But pragmaticism has little to do with fandom; you don’t really become a “fan” of something (much less a “fanboy”) because you experienced it and thought it was pretty good, really. Fandom is about pride and tacit ownership, and dismissal, even implied dismissal, strikes pretty deeply at that.

    And it’s even worse if the dismissal is something that’s so believable. Which is, honestly, because there are several really big knobbly grains of truth wedged in the center. You folks’ve listed a ton of them. But the problem is that the idea that WAR is just (or even mostly) like WoW is such a believable idea. If I went up to anyone I knew and said “Well, I played the beta, and WAR’s pretty much like WoW,” they’d shrug and say “Alright, that’s what I thought.” It’s a very believable position to take, and it’s a dismissal. That right there is a recipe for a sore spot.

    [Edit: the fellow who simulposted me is an excellent example of this. It's not a matter of people not liking the game; it's a matter of the dismissal, in many people's eyes, being so self-evident. In the manner of "You're stupid to think otherwise." It's a little silly to ignore all the similarities too, neither side is really being reasonable, are they?]

    It’s like . . . I play PnP RPGs. And every so often, among people unfamiliar with the process, the subject comes up. And they say something about silly people running around parks with foam swords and wizard hats, and I feel compelled to point out that I am not a fucking LARPer. It’s not even that I’ve any personal distaste for the practice (certainly not enough to warrant the expletive), it’s just that the sentiment feels like a dismissal, and consequentially that’s an image I want to distance myself from.

    Run that through the filter of the Internet, and factor in people not approaching things with a critical mind, and you get what you’ve got.

  43. kenoxite says:

    Wait… aren’t goth and emos the same?
    Oh! *snap*

  44. arbitrary says:

    Well, I loved the review!

  45. Radiant says:

    WoW is to WaR what Coldplay is to MGMT http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UtUI5MC9tVM

  46. Gerfervonbob says:

    Whats with the jab at Coldplay? Not cool, you’ve hurt my feel bads!

  47. malkav11 says:

    I think it’s basically just that a lot of people who want to play MMOs other than WoW have already played WoW and either disliked it or burned out on it. The suggestion, therefore, that they’re getting the same cake with different frosting is horrifying.

    I got similar reactions when I talked about how fundamentally WoW-like LOTRO was, when I was beta-testing that. And while I can’t speak to WAR, LOTRO really is mechanically almost identical to WoW. This is a good thing. It takes all the stuff WoW does right and riffs on that with a new, well-beloved setting and some cool new ideas like monster play and the deed system. But god forbid anyone should acknowledge that/god forbid anyone should recognize that WoW is successful because it does a lot of basic gameplay things entirely right.

    I don’t know that it would be accurate to describe WoW as an Everquest clone, though. (This may be slightly hypocritical, I realize.) I mean, yeah, they both have levels, spells, quests, and thwacking things on the head with sticks, but there’s a major paradigm shift between the two. The elements they have in common date back to the earliest games in the genre – MUDs. EQ moves beyond them mostly in adding graphics and upping the scale. WoW fundamentally alters how things work. And yes, I know, the whole Blizzard “polish vs innovation argument”. In this case it’s a bit of both. The basic building blocks Blizzard’s assembled are mostly the same (battlegrounds possibly excepted), but the way they’ve assembled them makes for a radically different, imho vastly better, gameplay experience.

  48. EyeMessiah says:

    Angry people on the internet are angry. Just ignore them!

  49. Jahkaivah says:

    Noc summed it up perfectly.

    Yes those comments were unjust knee-jerk reactions because your impression (not a review) was actually a fair one.

    But having followed WAR some time myself (don’t think I will get it, but who knows) I know how irritating being told the game is a WoW clone is when the things that really matter are completly differant.

    I think we need an unwritten rule that judging a MMO (or even just an online game) by screenshots and Gameplay videos is a very bad idea.

    Incidently, has anyone seen Yahtzee’s review of EvE? He produced alot of justified criticisms that some up why you may not want to play the game.

    But unfortunatly, he failed to explain the good parts of the game and because of this he deemed it “just like WoW”.

    Possibly the last MMO in existance to deserve that title.

    I imagine hearing his review is a bit like being told WAR is a WoW clone.