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.


  1. CrashT says:

    ESAK for me, though the description seems the same as Alec’s: “ESAK 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.”

    I don’t really play MMOs that much, only really got into WoW because I enjoyed playing WC3. To me almost all MMOs them look pretty much the same: “find monster, kill monster, get bigger sword, kill bigger monster, repeat”. That can’t be all there is can it?

    Of course that said all dance music sounds the same to me, and most contemporary comedy is boring, so maybe I’m just getting old.

  2. Arsewisely says:

    Going back to something I think Jim wrote a while back, and echoed here also; I would love a game that was more about exploration than levelling. It’s something which may not yet be possible, what with the scale required to create a persistent world big enough to provide fresh journeys all the time, but it’s where I’d like to see MMOs progress. I’ve not really got in to the current gen of MMOs but what I enjoyed most about playing UO or Asheron’s Call back in the day was going into the wilderness and just trying to get lost.

  3. Butler` says:

    AKSE players like to be the best-of-the-best at everything the game has to offer. They like to be high on the ladders of whatever metrics the game uses, including PVP. They like the best gear, the most power, and they love being the ‘first’ at something. Their prowess in PVP is generally supported by a large degree of understanding and posession of the best equipment and skills.

    Which loosely translates to asshat.

  4. Richard says:

    ESKA here. Although a couple of the answers I gave would ideally have been followed by ‘or would, if most of the people on my Warcraft server weren’t colossal douches’.

  5. groovychainsaw says:

    I’m an EAKS – I don’t like people much. Although i have to admit, i was 50:50 on most of the questions… But the summary did seem to describe my playstyle (In WoW, certainly):
    EAKS players often live by the phrase ‘The journey is often more enjoyable than the destination.’ They are motivated by meeting the challenges of the world, but they are usually in no rush–because seeing the creatures and places of the world is even more fun.

  6. Citizen Parker says:

    If you say you want true exploration, then it’s hard not to recommend Second Life. I’ve spent many a happy afternoon just randomly teleporting to see what I could see (and invariably be called a noobtard while at it, but such is online life)

    SL may address Arsewisely’s desire for explanation, it definitely fails Alec’s “purpose” test. While there are a variety of ways to interpret that word alone, it’s hard to fathom a way in which Second Life offers it. The stakes are incredibly low, and there’s never any external pressure or drive applied to you – your purpose has to come entirely from within.


  7. The Sombrero Kid says:

    SKAE, which is a bit close to gay (phonetically) for my liking + didn’t want to do most of the things it asked at all, so i’m not sure i’m cut out for mmmoooos

  8. Ian says:

    I’m a SEAK: SEAK players are usually very interested in the the ‘total experience’ of a virtual world–meeting other people and finding the unique places within it. They don’t care much for PVP or levelling, but meeting up with online friends to see new parts of the world is usually fun and exciting.

    Breakdown: Achiever 40.00%, Explorer 53.33%, Killer 26.67%, Socializer 80.00%

    I’d probably bump socializer down a little and Achiever and Explorer both up but that’s probably not far from the truth.

    As for Bartle, he worded it in a daft manner but when he expands upon his point I’d definitely agree.

  9. Mr. Brand says:

    I’ve already played WoW. It’s called EverQuest! But I had really played that already too, under the name Ultima Online.

  10. matt says:

    SEAK here.. geez, seems i’d be more social in-game than real life, how does that suck ?!

  11. InVinoVeritas says:

    I’m an EASK (which apparently is some kind of anti-social pacifist MMORPG’er):
    EASK players often live by the phrase ‘The journey is often more enjoyable than the destination.’ They are motivated by meeting the challenges of the world, but they are usually in no rush–because seeing the creatures and places of the world is even more fun.

    Breakdown: Achiever 60.00%, Explorer 100.00%, Killer 20.00%, Socializer 20.00%

  12. Janto says:

    Yeah, ESAK is me, probably why EVE looks simultaneously the most interesting and the scariest of MMOs. It looks like there’s lots of interesting stuff to explore, and complex social systems,but I suspect there’s not that much unique space stuff actually out there, and most of the complex social stuff has to do with forclosing on people’s mortgages and stuff like that.

  13. Noc says:

    “EKSA players might be descibed as living by slogan: see the world, meet interesting people…and kill them.”

    Citizen Parker: I dunno. I only forayed into SL for a day or so, but I didn’t find very much to surprise me there. I think immersion is an important part of exploration, because it creates the illusion that you are, on some level, discovering something. But after the fiftieth polygon house selling clothes, I sort of got fed up.

    Thats another thing I think MMOs could do with: new areas that are interesting beyond “Fields covered with a new kind of monster. EVE, for instance, is a pretty barren place. But hopping through the wastelands and coming across an isolated station in the middle of nowhere, or traveling through the cluster and watching the gate architecture change from region to region . . . that stuff’s pretty cool.

  14. Thumper says:

    Ok, after reading the response article on Waaagh he comes off as a lot less crazy. Maybe it really was the transcribers fault. However dismissing WAR so easily in the first article (after talking about the PVP in AoC) then responding semi-coherently in the second makes it seem like he just read up on it in between the two.

    KSEA here, I figure I’m perfectly suited for a WAR PVP server (maybe even PVP-RP? Roleplayers still terrify me though). I’d like to know what kind of playstyle Sir Bartle has, seeing as he gets bored of MMO gameplay in a matter of hours I’d guess that he’s quite heavy into exploration. I’d like to hear some of his ideas for what MMOs should be right now.

  15. Ging says:

    Is it bad that I came out as KAES?

    I was also amused when Bartle recently said that if he could take over any MMO, he’d take over WoW and shut it down. He meant it in the context of seeing what the playerbase would do (what other MMOs might thrive in the gaping void that was WoW?) but a lot of people just picked it up as him being bitter about WoW being “better” than anything he’s worked on.

  16. Alex says:

    ESAK FTW!!! lol

    Although MMORPGs don’t appeal to me at all, really. But exploring does, so that’s alright then.

  17. Ergates says:

    “Is it bad that I came out as KAES?”


  18. Stella says:

    I don’t know about “stupid,” “crazy,” or “senile” but the guy definitely seems pretentious. He must’ve said the equivalent of “You know, I’m a designer” about ten times in that interview. I think he sees himself as a French aristocrat circa 1785, throwing breadcrumbs of insight down to the unwashed masses of the gaming community.

    I mean c’mon, “I’m a designer, I can’t play games like you people do.” That’s like saying Versace doesn’t wear clothes or Thom Yorke doesn’t listen to music. Yeah they might get a slightly different sensation since they know what the creation process entails, but their experience isn’t completely alien to what the rest of us feel.

    The guy seems to radiate “self-important douchebag.”

  19. Wallace says:

    KESA here. Which is about right, I’m a player killer at heart, but only for the challenge of the fight than any point or item gain. Fighting NPCs generally bores me.

  20. Radiant says:

    That test just confirmed to me why I don’t play SNOREPGs.

  21. Radiant says:

    I just made up snorepgs…you’re welcome.

  22. Jubaal says:

    I’m a SKEA apparently. Achiever 26.67%, Explorer 46.67%, Killer 53.33%, Socializer 73.33%.

    I can’t help but think their percentage system is a bit out of whack!

  23. Frans Coehoorn says:

    SEAK. SEAK players are usually very interested in the the ‘total experience’ of a virtual world–meeting other people and finding the unique places within it. They don’t care much for PVP or levelling, but meeting up with online friends to see new parts of the world is usually fun and exciting.

    Breakdown: Achiever 46.67%, Explorer 53.33%, Killer 46.67%, Socializer 53.33%

    Well, that’s cool. And I thought I was a killer with all the ‘kill, hit, hurt, maim’ options I chose. What a deception!

  24. Chris R says:

    I’m ASEK apparently…

    ASEK players like to pit themselves against the grand-challenges of a virtual world. They see grouping and guilds/clans not only as an enjoyable aspect of the social environment, but also as a way to achieve goals that cannot be achieved as an individual.

    Breakdown: Achiever 93.33%, Explorer 40.00%, Killer 20.00%, Socializer 46.67%

  25. Erlam says:

    “The guy seems to radiate “self-important douchebag.””

    I have to agree. I’m not even that interested in the games he talks about, but yes, the Validate Me, I’m A Designer! comments could really do with some reduction.

    We get it. You make stuff; you’re old, and aren’t in touch any more. Move on.

  26. Leeks! says:

    I’m a KEAS, which apparently means I’m that one in 100,000. How do you come out to your family as a psychopath?

  27. KingMob says:

    Convince them to make a character on a free-pvp server, than get on your main and gank them repeatedly while laughing at the top of your lungs from the next room. They’ll get the message.

  28. cyrenic says:

    If WAR is simply WoW with a better emphasis on PvP, I can’t say I’ll be disappointed. I agree with his later statement MMO’s have way more potential, and some of that won’t be realized until technology catches up a bit more (i.e. I still haven’t heard of a MMO that can handle a battle of several hundred players in one small area.)

  29. yns88 says:

    Argue all you want about his supposed “senility,” but he was right about the WAR comment; in everything I’ve seen of it, it’s really just a by-the-blueprints factory MMORPG. Add to that the Warhammer setting that Blizzard was obviously inspired by, and you essentially just get WoW with a facelift and different skill balances.

    I’m sure PVPers will hate me for this, but I’m all for a persistent world with permanent death – think NetHack Online. This way, the grind can be gotten rid of, while still keeping players coming back for more, since every new character is a completely different experience.

  30. mpk says:

    KAES players tends to enjoy the PVP aspect most of all, but also likes to pit themself against all the challenges of the PVE environment as well–although the latter is often a means to an end. This type of player will often enjoy PVP that focuses on their skill as an individual contributor (duels, and so forth) more than team-based PVP.

    Pretty much sums up how I play EVE tbh, although nothing beats a good old fashioned corp op.

    EDIT: And I don’t think there’s anything wrong with being a flagrant tinternet psycopath. As such. Y’know.

    OH GOD

  31. McCool says:

    Urgh, can we not have any more of that picture on the front page please? Second time it’s almost made me lose my lunch.

  32. luminosity says:

    It’s interesting to think about what could make the high-level experience of an MMO better, whatever you think of the interview itself. In many ways BC was a much better end-game experience than original WoW. Classes were more polished, capable and even with each other than in the original — still not perfect, but a definite improvement. There were multiple paths to continue with your character after achieving top level — arena being much better than the original GM grind requiring multiple people to play accounts, raiding being easier to get into, special events, badges and 5 mans offering better gear.

    Yet in many ways it felt less special. There were less cool, unexplored things hanging around, less one off unique items, and while the 5 mans were quite a lot better balanced and usually more rewarding, they were also for the most part very short, very linear, and not something you’d re-run once you had whatever item you wanted from them.

    I think what the end-game experience is missing is a unique experience. Every player pretty much ends up doing all the same stuff, seeing everything. It’s a triumph of accessibility and polish, but at the expense of atmosphere and experience. Is it actually possible in an MMO to keep a game balanced and fair, and yet offer players their own little unique stories, explorations, fights and cool items, while keeping gameplay balanced, not forcing people to grind for random rewards and not being shouted at by angry internet men? And with all the sites reporting the instant the game gets new content & items, and the proliferation of database sites, how do you go about introducing unique experiences that people get for exploring rather than just having read about it and doing it for shiny epic #1?

  33. Saul says:

    I was really interested in the initial (canned) incarnation of the Warhammer MMO. The new version fills me with ‘meh’. Would I play it? If someone gave me a free trial I can imagine giving it a few hours (like I did with WoW), before heading back to more entertaining passtimes.

    I completely agree that the MMO is very far from reaching it’s potential. I’m going to say they’re at about 5% right now. Hell, if they can’t get an uber-nerd like me to play, they’re not doing much right.

  34. Gored Mowed says:

    AEKS. I’m such an achiever I got my letters in alphabetical order. Eat that suckers!
    (yeah, 13% social, can you tell)

    Waiting for someone to claim SEKSAE…

  35. Richard Bartle says:

    Stella>He must’ve said the equivalent of “You know, I’m a designer” about ten times in that interview.

    That interview took place at a conference for developers of indie MMOs. I was there only because I was a designer.

    >I think he sees himself as a French aristocrat circa 1785, throwing breadcrumbs of insight down to the unwashed masses of the gaming community.

    Well, you can think whatever you like, but that’s not how I see myself. I’m more like Aristotle trying to get people to look through my telescope but doomed to spend the remainder of my days under house arrest by the Inquisition.

    >That’s like saying Versace doesn’t wear clothes

    What? Gianni Versace designed clothes for women which he never wore and was never going to wear. If it’s fine for him to do that, why isn’t it fine for MMO designers to create MMOs that they’re not going to play the same way as players?

    >The guy seems to radiate “self-important douchebag.”

    Read what you wrote, and then consider what you yourself are “radiating”.


  36. Jim Rossignol says:

    I love this blog.

  37. davidAlpha says:

    aah a man and his blog in love.

  38. Jochen Scheisse says:

    I’m not totally certain Versace never wore women’s clothes, but apart from that…


  39. Dinger says:

    Please everyone, let’s keep our telescopes in our pants.
    As a professional intellectual historian with (further pompous blather redacted), I must object to Mr. Bartle’s fundamentally wrong understanding of Bertolt Brecht, to say nothing about poor Aristotle.
    It’s all the more rich, since a large part of Aristotle’s project was specifying and clarifying the terminology used to describe the universe, and not even a self-inflated windbag like Galileo, who similarly asserted he had the absolute truth (and his cosmology is also seriously wrong, from our point of view) without ever bothering to construct a decent proof, could resign himself to parting with the terminology of the Philosopher (in the Latin translation). Of course, Aristotle just didn’t talk about write a book; he developed the system — he taught it.
    Anyway, douchebags don’t radiate; they pop.

    Now that we’ve got this out of the way, consider the passage in dispute:

    I’ve already played Warhammer. It was called World of Warcraft. Age of Conan – that’s PVP. Wow, gosh, PVP – it’s pretty hardcore, PVP, isn’t it? No. When you played [older MUDs] you got killed after three months of playing, your character was gone. Yeah, hardcore PVP – yeah, we’re hard, aren’t we? We’re evil. No. You don’t know anything. I might have a look at it from a point of view of seeing what things – the class balances are like, seeing how they’ve implemented the – But there are a number of things you can do with player versus player, and I want to see the way they’ve done it not because whether it’s cool or not but because of you chose that way. Now, why did you choose that way?

    That’s a pretty intense stream there to dissect — wonder condescends to spittle and precipitates anacoloutha. You’d really need to see and hear it to figure out if Mr. Bartle is shifting targets between the unwashed masses, ignorant developers and Blizzard’s cloud of unknowing, or if he’s just unloading on one particular target.

    What’s objectionable is the implication that design is esoteric and completely separable from appreciation. It isn’t. Design is invisible to most game players, but simply because they don’t start to reflect on it. When they do, their appreciation for the game increases. You don’t need to be a designer to ask “why does the auction house work that way?”

    Or, to quote the Philosopher, explaining how one arrives at scientific knowledge, and why wisdom is born of idle wonder:
    Metaphysics A:2 (982b11-27)

    That it [wisdom] is not a science of production is clear even from the history of the earliest philosophers. For it is owing to their wonder that men both now begin and at first began to philosophize; they wondered originally at the obvious difficulties, then advanced little by little and stated difficulties about the greater matters, e.g. about the phenomena of the moon and those of the sun and of the stars, and about the genesis of the universe. And a man who is puzzled and wonders thinks himself ignorant (whence even the lover of myth is in a sense a lover of Wisdom, for the myth is composed of wonders); therefore since they philosophized order to escape from ignorance, evidently they were pursuing science in order to know, and not for any utilitarian end. And this is confirmed by the facts; for it was when almost all the necessities of life and the things that make for comfort and recreation had been secured, that such knowledge began to be sought. Evidently then we do not seek it for the sake of any other advantage; but as the man is free, we say, who exists for his own sake and not for another’s, so we pursue this as the only free science, for it alone exists for its own sake.

    It’s a natural impulse when playing a game, or watching a movie, to ask “how does it work?” And, some act on that inpulse and seek to find out. That I know something about photography, film editing and staging doesn’t make me a filmmaker, but it helps me enjoy films. Likewise, that I know something about game design, and ask of a game many of the same design questions doesn’t make me a designer.

  40. Jochen Scheisse says:

    Let me answer with what Popper states in the preface to the first edition of “The Logic Of Scientific Discovery”:

    A scientist engaged in a piece of research, say in physics, can attack his problem straight away. He can go at once to the heart of the matter: to the heart, that is, of an organized structure. For a structure of scientific doctrines is already in existence; and with it, a generally accepted problem-situation; This is why he may leave it to others to fit his contribution into the framework of scientific knowledge.
    The philosopher finds himself in a different position. He does not face an organized structure, but rather something resembling a heap of ruins (though perhaps with treasure buried underneath). He cannot appeal to the fact that there is a generally accepted problem-situation; for that there is no such thing is perhaps the one fact which is generally accepted. Indeed it has by now become a recurrent question in philosophical circles whether philosophy will ever get so far as to pose a genuine problem.[…]

    Not in all fields does scientific discovery come from idle wonder alone, and the understanding of parts in respect to its place in a bigger frame is the reason why aquiring an insight into the field will change your perspective. And I would argue that while the choice of the general building blocks of a game is somewhat philosophical, the actual execution of the game’s mechanics are a somewhat more closed field where reference to accepted paradigms is common and useful. Of course, there are always new paradigms waiting to be used for gaining a deeper understanding, and what Bartle critizised here was that WAR laid back and tuned the mechanics instead of introducing those.

  41. Dinger says:

    My point (and I believe Aristotle’s) was to motivations, not methodology. And Aristotle’s trying to prove that we have an innate drive to understand, independent of serving any of our other wants or needs. His proof is that the idle rich (at least some of them), who have all they need to live well, seek this understanding; so humans strive for something beyond biological and even social well-being. This apparent useleness is what makes it “idle.” Whatever you think of the proof, the underlying notion is that we have a drive to pick things apart and understand them. This relates to games, since games function in part from this fundamental desire to know (the other part is the various manifestations of humans being social animals, but one Aristotelian incipit at a time…): games present us with a terrain to be known: rules, operations, spaces, and the wonder that makes us seek out that terrain. From combat rules and virtual landscapes to scripts, bugs and the underlying philosophy of the game (Oh my God, did they _really_ break up missions into “collector/killer/socializer/puzzler” categories?) — it’s all there to be discovered, and no part is left hidden from gamers. That’s where Herr Scheisse’s distinction between philosophical building up and scientific execution (or Aristotle’s between nous and episteme, for that matter) comes in: the wonder leads us to the science, but the scientific execution follows an entirely different set of rules.

    But, and this is where I think Herr Scheisse’s point intersects with mine, Aristotle said “All men by nature desire to know.” That doesn’t mean they do. The paradigmatic rules are there, but they’re not always seen or questioned, nor do people always do their job. When you see a game and already know how it works, it doesn’t cause much wonder, and we let the air horn gather dust in the garage.
    That’s true for designers as well as gamers.

  42. Redd says:

    “I’m not convinced that’s really what he meant in his original statement”

    Then you’re not as involved with the subjects as you might think. That’s what I took from his comment on first reading as it’s what I’ve always thought myself… and I’m glad he clarified it for people who don’t have the history to see the connection, as they’ll be in the vast majority. A similar comment could have been made regarding Chaos League and Blood Bowl…

  43. WhiteRabbit says:

    I understand a guy has his own opinions . . . true he probably should have snapped that quickly about warhammer online. I am way excited for the game to come out.

    I think what made WoW so successful was the series of games that led up to it. It had a story. Yeah, it ripped a lot off Warhammer in the beginning, that’s why they are so similar in looks and style. Warhammer has a long, rich storyline; it’s been around for 25 years. Is Warhammer online going to change the face of MMOs? Who knows. They are adding a lot of stuff to the game to make it much more fun than WoW, and future MMOs would be smart to look at it and implement their ideas into their games.

    You can’t expect the original to be much different then its ripoff, so WAR won’t be much different than WoW. But in the ways that it is different, it truly shines. WoW players will feel comfortable with it and like it much more than WoW.