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Soapbox Responses: 'World Of Warcraft Teaches The Wrong Things'
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Soapbox Responses: 'World Of Warcraft Teaches The Wrong Things'

February 27, 2006 Article Start Previous Page 3 of 3

There is so much ridiculous and wrong with this essay, I don’t know where to start. So, instead of trying to address it all, I’ll focus on one specific part that fairly represents the whole.
“4. Group > Solo. I'm not done with this yet. As an introvert, I'm pretty outraged that this game is marginalizing my entire personality type.”
Let’s try this same logic on for size with some other games:
“As a law-abiding gamer who is sickened by the idea of even simulating killing hookers, I’m pretty outraged that GTA is marginalizing my entire personality type.”
“As an extreme introvert, I’m pretty outraged that every online-only game forces me to see other people running around (and allows them to see me), thereby marginalizing my entire personality type.”
“As an avid lover of platformers, I’m pretty outraged that Splinter Cell has so little jumping around on floating rocks and landing on turtles, thereby marginalizing my entire personality type.”
“As a chess fan with poor hand-eye coordination and immensely deep thought processes, I’m pretty outraged by every first-person shooter, fighting game, and platformer for marginalizing my entire personality type.”
Have I made my point? The logic used in the rest of this essay is about on par.

I felt the need to write a rebuttal after reading David Sirlin’s Feature article “Soapbox: World of Warcraft Teaches the Wrong Things.”
He mentions in his first point that "Investing a lot of time in something is worth more than actual skill." That "This is an absurd lesson that has no connection to anything I do in the real world." Well I disagree. I could have five times the talent of any of the game designers or directors that he has on his staff but if I haven't put in the hours at other gaming companies, if I haven't "grinded" my way through this fully functional game sample or fought my way up the corporate ladder, I'm not going to get the job.
Perhaps time invested shouldn't count in a fair game. But if you take two people who are relatively the same in all aspects (fair) and one spends an hour learning martial arts while the other takes 10 years, and the two are then put into a 'fair fight' - who will most likely win? Hours equal learning skills. Just knowing that slamming your hand against a brick will break it - you need to practice, practice, practice until you get that skill honed.
Onto the next point. Mr. Sirlin seems to be all about the "fair game" and how WoW doesn't teach this behavior - having level 60s that tower with unfair advantages over lower level characters. Again, something that isn't applicable in his 'real world'. Once again, I ask what real world that is. Even in the gaming industry, there are multiple examples where larger corporations (longer grind, greater level) often put pressure on smaller indy development companies or, even better, buy them outright, taking their products, designs and customer base and then firing the staff. In an ideal world - sure, fairness would be great - but this isn't the real world.
Now let's go onto Solo vs. Group. Soloists should be given as much rewards as anyone who works on larger projects in groups. Really? A Tale In the Desert is an MMO that many developers of MMOs have praised. It is unique, creative, immersive and quite the challenge MMO. And yet, because it is only produced by a small handful of people it isn't getting nearly the 'rewards' it should. Granted, it is a small group and not just one person, but for the purpose of comparison of their "company" to that of other MMOs out there - they can be considered solo. Same with EVE Online and perhaps a plethora of others.
In addition, how far would David Sirlin be right now if he was doing all of his work "solo"? Does he know how to program as well as his engineers? How about create artwork as his artists? Let's include marketing, shipping, copyright law and accounting in this. Would he be at the level of success he is if he never 'grouped' with anyone?
And the 'guilds' that are/is the computer gaming industry is just as powerful and painful as an MMO guild. There is no "Us vs Them" in the real world? That is the basis of almost all business in America - including the gaming industry. To make the next best MMO, one that will put all others to shame. That isn't an "Us vs Them" scenario?
Someone could try to look at it as simply a challenge for “Us” to do the best we can do, but I know of no company that will invest time and money into any project that won't exceed and beat the current industry leaders. I know of many MMOs have folded because they didn't have the expectations that people wanted, they didn't have the player base they hoped for and had to close shop. And these expectations are based on what "Them" are doing.
As for just the guild/thug mentality - it happens all the time. Granted, perhaps my own opinion about myself might be biased, but I have directed two MMOs, helped to produce over a dozen PC stand-alone games and have done much related work in the creation of fantasy worlds and entertainment. But will anyone even dignify me with an interview? Nope. Why? Well there could be any number of reasons given but in more than a couple instances, I know that such things as age (over 30? he's washed up - a lovely article about it in a past issue of Game Developer magazine), lack of experience (again, time=rewards) and a number of other factors play into the guild of the gaming company keeping down the 'noob'. Sure, this can be seen as little more than making excuses as to a lack of my employment attempts. But isn’t that what people do when they lose a fight that was unfair?
Finally, Mr. Sirlin states using the Terms of Service as enforcement against certain player actions is against everything he's learned. Unfortunately, it isn't against what I have learned. I have learned that when a player discovers a loophole, either he, or someone he informs about it, will exploit it to a level where they then gain the 'unfair' advantage that David seems all about. Everything has rules and people who do not abide by them should suffer consequences for said actions. We live in a country besieged by laws that protect those who don't have the common sense to keep themselves safe. If you cannot walk into an unlocked house and steal everything there, why should you be allowed to 'steal' in a game because a bug has kept the game's door unlocked?
Oh, and even if a court finds that there is nothing illegal about selling game items and money for real world money, as a company an MMO can decide to refuse service to anyone for whatever reason they want to – which is a legally guaranteed right for a business such as those that produce MMOs.
Yes, Blizzard and most other MMOs treat their customers “like babies”. But if the customer base didn't act like babies - taking unfair advantage of the system's limitations or bugs or of lesser skilled players, then they wouldn't have to.
In the end, I find Mr. Sirlin views to be ones through rose-colored glasses. The real world isn't about fair fights, helping the lone person along and touting him for his abilities regardless of the work he put into getting them. It is about the powerful getting ahead and others learning how to be just as powerful. A perfect example is that this response to David Sirlin's Soapbox feature will, at best, just be published as a "Letter to the Editor" because I am not a level 60 Game Developer in this industry's guild.
-Mark Mensch

David Sirlin's rant against the life lessons imposed on World of Warcraft players by Blizzard is thoughtful, passionate, and entertaining. But his attempt to separate innate skill from that acquired over time is specious because in most real-world contexts (a standard he cites in support of his argument), the two are in the overwhelming number of instances either hard or impossible to separate. Yes, there are prodigies in music, mathematics, programming, chess, and no doubt other forms of gaming, but they are virtually unknown in most other human endeavors, such as painting, writing, parenting, dancing, playing baseball--indeed, most physical skills.
Take painting, which I would argue is typical in this regard. Even the most famous painters--the Rembrandts, Monets, and Van Goghs--all had to go through a learning stage--typically of many years duration--during which they acquired increasing command of their medium and the set of physical skills required to manipulate it. To take a famous case, Van Gogh was not born "Van Gogh". He made himself into Van Gogh by years of painting. Much of his early work looks nothing like that of the Van Gogh we know and love. Most of his earliest works are worthless as paintings except that they were executed by the Van Gogh who only later became skilled enough to become world-famous.
Similarly, painters of indifferent ability (or "talent," if you prefer) can acquire professional-level skills almost solely through persistance, by simply painting through all the disappointments and frustrations, by feeling so passionate about what they are doing that they keep at it regardless. The vast majority of working professional painters would agree with this assertion. Will they ever become Van Goghs? Probably not, but we and they will never know unless they stick with it.
I completely agree with Sirlin that an individual who possesses prodigious skill should not be penalized for not having to take so long in achieving mastery. But a game, say World of Warcraft, that rewards passion and persistance is perhaps truer to real life, and therefore provides more useful lessons, than he would like to admit.
-Steve Whitney

David Sirlin's Soapbox piece was an entertaining read, but he missed what could be the most important (for him) of WoW's teachings:
There is more to life (and games) than winning.
I could make the easy joke and point to Street Fighter as the culprit for damaging this young man's brain to the point where he can't learn, can't /see/ such a simple lesson. But I won't. Because I believe that it's not the games that bring these teaching qualities to the table: the player does that himself. Games simply act as a mirror, where you see only what you are looking for (so if you're Jack Thompson, you see filth and depravity). As a gamer, you will be interested in how well a game supports your particular interests, and be mostly oblivious to any other qualities the game may possess.
In that sense, the Soapbox is little more than "I love NBA, therefore Baseball games are boring." Still, an entertaining read. His point about how the rank system promotes, even requires, players to engage in unhealthy and addictive behavior patterns is quite real, as several former top-rank players have described elsewhere. On the other hand, I don't think he really understood much of what Raph Koster wrote in his book, as I found his application of Raph's definitions fairly off the mark.
-Javier Arevalo

I find the article "Soapbox: World of Warcraft Teaches the Wrong Things" really interesting because it tackles one of the key aspect of games in general.
Koster's book is really brilliant even if the word "game" would have probably been more suited. Game teaches indeed, and the author of the article managed to develop that statement succesfully.
Howewer, I beg to differ when it comes to the subject of World of Warcraft. The game has many, many flaws but it managed to teach a few good lessons. Although it's a different kind of lesson than the one we've learned while playing offline video games.
Reading the article i have the feeling that WoW only teaches bad lessons. I was particularly bugged by the statement "Group > Solo" as if it were a crime. This is missing a big point of the main gameplay of WoW and most of the online persistent games. The whole point of online games is to play in a team, that's what makes the genre shine. That's what make most players disregard the countless flaws those games still have today.
The main goal of Wow is to get you to play in group. The biggest effort design wise, as gameplay is concerned, is put on group play. Obviously when you pick an online game you do because it will give you the opportunity to experience complex group gameplay.
You cannot expect Blizzard to put most of his effort on solo gaming while heavily marketing an online game. On the other hand you can expect them to say they "cater to solo players", to give the impression that no one will be left out.
Now each game sets its own challenge, the biggest challenges in WoW are designed with group play in mind thus it is only natural that the group receives the better rewards.
As game designers, Blizzard must make choices, choices limited by resources, technical and economical. They made the choice to cater first to the players that want to play as teams. They probably pushed it too far by making teams of 40 players a requirement for certain parts of the game. But the online games are still in their infancy design wise. Therefore they are filled with bad decision choices. WoW is not exception. Online games make up for it by being able to evolve though WoW isn't a finished product, it's a work in progress. Designers are still working on it, scratching their heads and having to make delicate choices as they go along.
While i played WoW from level 1 to level 60 the good was good enough for me to forgive the bad. At 60 the bad became overwhelming and I left. What lesson did I learn?
I think I learned that on a game of this scale you're not facing a single teacher but the whole school. In a typical school you'll meet inspirational teachers and vicious bullies. But, when graduation day comes you should be able to tell if the things you learned were worth getting beating up.
My point is, you're focusing on "details" of WoW. The honor system for example is merely a window of a huge skyscraper. It is there if you want to participate in it, it is in no way required.
And more importantly it will not handicap you as you experience the best parts of the game. A diploma is just a sheet of paper, it's all the thing you went through to get it that matters.
-Alex Corbor

World Of Warcraft

I read David Sirlin’s article, Soapbox: World of Warcraft Teaches the Wrong Things, and felt the need to voice my disagreement with respect to his comments regarding the Terms of Service for World of Warcraft.
First, a bit of my background. I have been playing World of Warcraft since it launched in November 2005, and have been avidly playing MMOs since December 1999, when I started with Asheron’s Call. Prior to the past eight months or so, I worked long hours as a lawyer at a big law firm, so my experience playing MMOs was either solo play (“being alone together,” as Mr. Sirlin put it) or playing with a group of four or five friends – no “big guild” stuff. Recently, however, I have joined a big guild in World of Warcraft and for the past three weeks or so, have been raiding Molten Core with a 40-person team. My experience with MMOs has been as a player, not as a designer or programmer.
Now, my bias as a player. For the most part, I have been that MMO “introvert” described by Sirlin in his article. Until recently, I simply never had the time to pour into raid content. I would look at the players with the great weapons and armor and know that I would never be laying my greedy hands on anything like that. Essentially, I was denied a large part of the content of games such as World of Warcraft because of a demanding job. So I basically agree with Mr. Sirlin’s condemnation of rewarding time over skill, and grouping over solo play.
That being said, I do not agree with his bashing of World of Warcraft’s Terms of Service. Mr. Sirlin believes that player behavior should never be limited by the ToS, but rather, the developers must program to prohibit unwanted behavior. To me, this is Street Fighter thinking applied to an MMO, and it doesn’t work. There is too much freedom of behavior in MMOs to close all loopholes through coding. Or rather, there is no way to economically close those loopholes. Sure, Blizzard could spend ungodly hours and programming resources to prevent myriad forms of unwanted behavior, but most of this unwanted behavior happens infrequently, so the “bang for the buck” in using coding as a solution would be small.
A good example of this is World of Warcraft’s profanity filter. I’ve heard a lot of people defend their right to curse like a truck driver in open chat due to the fact that other players can enable the profanity filter. Does anyone really think the profanity filter is effective? I know I can circumvent it pretty easily by making minor spelling changes to “bad” words. Build a better mousetrap, and they’ll build a better mouse. So what’s a better solution – dedicating resources to constantly refining the profanity filter, or letting people complain to Blizzard game masters in the infrequent situation where someone gets out of hand? And incidentally, “freedom of speech” (another common justification for rampant profanity) is a red herring in this environment – the First Amendment imposes limitations on the government, not private parties like Blizzard.
Further complicating the issue programming away the loopholes is that the freedom of MMO behavior creates gigantic “gray areas” where behavior might or might not be acceptable. For example, World of Warcraft has quests where a player must kill X number of mob Y. What if a level 60 player (“Leetman”) ran around in the quest area and slaughtered every one of mob Y, preventing a level 10 player (“Noobzor”) from completing the quest? Is Leetman doing something wrong? What if Leetman is grouped up with a friend who is level 10 and actually doing the quest? What if Leetman is farming mob Y for a component needed in crafting? What if Leetman is simply doing it to annoy Noobzor? Now, how do you program to prevent Leetman from harassing Noobzor while allowing Leetman to engage in legitimate activity?
Mr. Sirlin erroneously seems to think that because World of Warcraft is a computer game, solutions to the game’s problems should be through coding. I disagree because many problems in World of Warcraft aren’t game problems, they are people problems. And people problems aren’t easily solved through coding. I analogize MMOs to restaurants. They are both businesses that are privately-owned but open to the public, where customers gather together in a common environment and pay for service. You know those signs that all restaurants have? The ones that say they can refuse service to anyone? That’s their Terms of Service. Like restaurants, MMOs make money when they have lots of customers. If there are a few people disrupting other customers, those few people will be thrown out to ensure the other customers remain customers.
One of the differences between restaurants and MMOs is that restaurants have been around a long time, resulting in generally accepted rules of behavior. MMOs have only been around for a few years, and consequently do not have generally accepted standards of behavior, especially considering that the MMO environment offers freedom of activity far greater than that in a restaurant. MMO Terms of Service therefore attempt to toe a fine line between reserving the right to “refuse service to anyone” and giving their customers fair notice as to what will get them kicked out.
In closing, I simply think that Mr. Sirlin’s view towards World of Warcraft’s Terms of Service is myopic. He wants the freedom to do anything in-game that the program code allows. Not only do I think it would be virtually impossible to program away all potential “loophole” behavior, but even if it were possible, it strikes me as a colossal waste of time to do so. The Terms of Service is Blizzard’s time saver. And as our goblin friends are fond of telling us, “Time is money, friend.”
- Daryl Hall




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