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WAR Wars

Not Richard Bartle

This is possibly best saved for The Sunday Papers, but seeing as we’ve been nattering about Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning lately anyway, I reckoned it was worth its own post. If you’re an active follower of WAR you’ll already be aware of this, but those less ingrained in MMO society can roll their eyes at this startling storm in a teacup.

MMO site Massively.com recently ran an interview with Richard Bartle, co-creator of the Multi-User Dungeon system, the concept that essentially birthed the MMOs. He’s more theorist and author than developer these days, but MMOs remain his major subject matter. And though he may not be making the things anymore, he can still stir up controversy.
The interivew’s mostly about World of Warcraft, and in it he talks about why he stopped playing upon Level 70 (“How much do I have to do? It was actually painful”), why Warlock was “the least displeasurable” class and the advice he’d give to Blizzard to improve the game (better auction system and group-searching). The sheer amount he says, and the the ease with which he drops of ton of WoW-specific terms, suggests to me he’s actually a lot more into the game than he lets on, but I guess it reflects my own feelings about WoW – I was unquestionably compelled to play, but didn’t necessarily enjoy it most of the time.

This line, where he gets a bit worried about slagging the game off, makes me laugh:

“Did you know one in 100,000 people are psychopaths? Well, you do now. So figure out how many psychopaths there are in World of Warcraft. I don’t want any of them actually coming around to me in the belief that I am saying dreadful things about World of Warcraft.”

As it turns out, however, it wasn’t WoW psychos he upset. When asked on his feelings about upcoming MMOs, he dropped this bombshell:

“I’ve already played Warhammer [Online]. It was called World of Warcraft. “

Ooh, get you. Over the months, we’ve had a couple of Angry Internet Men turn up in comments here to yell at other readers for drawing comparisons between WAR and WOW, but poor Bartle’s really getting a roasting from the WAR and wider MMO community. Here, here and here, for instance. He’s “stupid”, he’s “crazy” and he’s “senile”, apparently. Strong arguments from the WAR defence there, then. I can’t work out whether the key problem for the Angries is that he’s dissing WAR specifically, or that the guy who essentially created the MMO as we know it said something that suggests he could be out of touch with the MMO as we know it. Plus, of course, someone observing that two games share a similar art style and theme and so they’d rather play something entirely different is the worst of hate crimes.

So I don’t think he’s crazy, stupid, or senile – I just think he’s made an unwise snap judgement, as every gamer in the world has done at some point, and unfortunately it’s within the context of a public interview. I feel for the guy. It was a hasty comment to make, and phrasing it as a complete dismissal rather than a genuine argument was never going to go well, but he’s got a right to say to say he hasn’t seen anything about the game to enrapture him yet.

He’s since been defending himself at length all over the shop – key to his argument is the claim that “I wasn’t saying that WAR was just a knock-off of WoW, I was saying that the Warcraft universe was a knock-off of the Warhammer universe.”

I’m not convinced that’s really what he meant in his original statement, but I certainly support where he goes afterwards:

“If you seriously think that WoW or WAR or whatever is just a smidge off being the best we’re ever going to get, and that only minor changes to gameplay or atmosphere are all that’s needed for MMOs to reach the pinnacle of what they can be, OK, feel free to take pot shots at me on that basis. If, however, you sense that there’s a sterility to the designs of these worlds, that they have much more promise than what they deliver at the moment, and that there are games that have yet to be written which will blow today’s out of the water, why wouldn’t you want to say so if you were talking to people who have a chance of making them?”

Couldn’t agree more. Much as I can enjoy a few days/weeks/months in a Conan or a Tabula Rasa, I’ve pretty much come to terms with any MMO for the next few years being disappointing on a fundamental level of exploration, purpose and self-expression. Yeah, I know Second Life and Eve offer aspects of the great MMO wish-dream, but they’re not the mesmeric, total escapism I crave. Something that really, truly floors me will come along eventually. I’m expecting WAR to be an excellent MMO as they go, but I’m not expecting it to dramatically change my perception of what such games can be.

So, poor Richard Bartle. It was a silly comment without a doubt, but the internet hate machine’s proclivity for making mountains out of poorly-phrased molehills never fails to annoy me.

Oh – do try Bartle’s Gamer Psychology Test if you haven’t before. I’m an ESKA. “ESKA players often see the game world as a great stage, full of things to see and people to meet. They love teaming up with people to get to the hard-to-see places, and they relish unique experiences.” Yay me.

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Alec Meer

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Co-founder of RPS. Dungeon Keeper & X-COM 4 Life.

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