Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Is EVE a "better" game than WoW?

I started typing out a long winded response to this post over at Hardcore Casual (you can see a much snittier one further up in the comments), but decided I wanted to turn it into a blog post. One of the points made in the Hardcore Casual post is that, like McDonald's, the popularity of WoW says little about it's overall quality. However that misses the fact that popularity is one of a very few objective criteria by which competing products can be ranked.

For example . . .

Objective Criteria

Popularity: McDonald's and WoW win over most competing products.

Financial success: McDonald's and WoW win over most competing products.

Pooled ratings of professional critics: This is the closest thing that we have to an objective measure of "quality." However it cannot be equated to quality. The opinions of critics are also subjective, and are often overturned by the historians and critics of future generations. See the initial reaction to Stravinsky's the Rite of Spring, for example. When it get's right down to it, "quality" is always a somewhat subjective, and often context dependent. The best sport's car in the world is a useless piece of junk compared to a reliable jeep for many (if not most) humans.

In any case, McDonald's is a big loser in this category. Almost any town will have some place to dine that would be better regarded by food critics than McDonald's. However, here again WoW wins over most competing products. Few MMOs have ever received gamerankings or meta-critic scores in the ballpark of WoW.

From all of this we can see that WoW is superior to EVE (and indeed most MMOs) by several obvious objective criteria. But at this point the fans of EVE will be crying foul, because all of the criteria I listed depend somewhat on popularity and prevailing opinion. And we all know that popular things are rarely "the best" (unless of course by best you mean most popular, profitable, or highly rated by critics...).

So that brings us to . . .

Subjective Criteria (wherein analogies to food are dropped).

Innovation: Innovation is in the eye of the beholder. Any new MMO has some innovative features (if however minor), and many features found in past products. How do we weight the sum total of innovations in competing products? And what counts as an innovation, exactly? Does something have to be 100% new to be an innovation, or does an improvement to an existing system count? What about integrating old systems that have never coexisted in the same product, is that an innovation? What about bringing an off-line game concept online, is that innovation?

Many have argued that WoW is not innovative because it contains few core mechanics not found in previous MMOs. Others have argued that creating a game that is easy to pick up and play, that has solo friendly quest driven leveling, and is generally user friendly and polished is itself an innovation. That alone shows that there is no widely accepted functional definition of "innovative" when applied to MMO design. EVE is widely regarded as innovative. However, the single largest innovation is that the entire game takes place on a single server. And that's only innovative if you don't count MUDs.

Even if we accept that EVE is more innovative than WoW, is innovation really the most important factor in deciding whether one game is "better" than another? If that's the case, Puzzle Pirates and Endless Forest are arguably better than either EVE or WoW.

Quality: Again, it depends on what criteria you choose to apply. Even criteria that seem objective, such as "lack of game breaking bugs" can be hard to quantify. Some bugs clearly are game breakers, for example not being able to log on. However, some bugs are annoyances to some players and game breakers to others. Where do we draw the line?

More importantly, does quality include whether a game is fun? Since the primary purpose of most games is to serve as entertainment, I certainly believe it should. If so, quality is obviously subjective.

Value: Usually understood as the ratio of price to quality. However, quality is subjective.

Fun: The only criterion that matters to me in the slightest. And what constitutes fun is obviously completely and utterly in the eye of the beholder. One man's fun is another man's torture. See rep grinding in WoW and Mining in EVE.

So in summary . . .

By three obvious objective criteria WoW is a superior game to EVE. Of course by two out these three criteria McDonald's is also practically the best food in the world, right up there with bread and rice. By several subjective criteria, EVE might be better than WoW. Depends on who you ask.

You may be thinking that I am a fan of WoW at this point. That actually couldn't be further from the truth. A lot of the subjectives absolutely ruin WoW for me. I wouldn't log into WoW or EVE even if it were free, much less be willing to pay for the privilege.

The only point I'm trying to make, is that the only way a niche title with mediocre review scores like EVE online can be considered objectively superior to a game like WoW is if you think your subjective opinion is the only criterion worth considering. Of course, I suppose a lot of bloggers and message board ranters do feel that way.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Mines of Moria...Score

The launch of MoM has been as close to flawless as I've seen in an MMO. I have encountered zero bugs and no downtime at all, save for when they brought the servers down to launch the expansion. The new areas are visually stunning, as you would expect (we are talking LoTRO). The quest design in new areas also seems subtly improved, they flow better than quests in some of the old zones. The new classes and the improved trait system are also very cool. Warden, especially, is a ton of fun.

However, so far my favorite addition is the new legendary item system. Legendary items have a socket / gem system similar to many RPGs. On top of that each epic item gets random abilities from a huge list when you have it identified, giving it a somewhat Diablo vibe. As you use an item it "levels up" giving you points you can spend to improve either core stats (such as DPS) or the other abilities the item possesses (your choice). It's like a trait system for magic items. Every ten levels, an item also gets a new random ability added to in when you have it reforged.

Leveling up my shiny new epic bow and watching the DPS slowly improve has been incredibly fun. I can see myself spending months finding the bow with the perfect ability set for my playstyle. I honestly haven't been this excited about hunting down new items since I played Phantasy Star Online. That the whole system is imbedded in a kickass full featured MMO doesn't hurt a bit.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

On nostalgia

In a though provoking post, Wilhelm points out how much information access and user expectations have changed in online games since the days of MUDs. Information that used to be considered "spoilers" is now often found right on a officially hosted web site. In some cases, you can even access it in game. Even the most obtuse modern MMO gives you much more detailed information on what your abilities do than launch EQ ever did.

Wilhelm's post got a few "back in the day" and "these damn WoW kiddies have ruined MMOs" style responses waxing nostalgic about the dark days of launch EQ. I can't say I share much of that nostalgia. Tifa and the others do have a point. There is a certain sense of discovery that can't be found by using THOTBOTT, Questhelper, or the like to chart your every move in an MMO. However, I personally go for quest designs that strike a balance between intriguing mystery and clear logic. Launch EQ had that balance nowhere near right for my tastes. I honestly blame the rise of Alakazim and MMO spoiler sites in general on the absolutely piss poor quest design in launch Everquest.

Often you wouldn't be told what zone to be looking for a quest item in, much less where in a given zone. A lot of the quests were bugged out on top of that. Even if you did weather through one of the poorly designed clunky quests, usually you got much less XP and coin out of it than killing rats in the newbie yard for ten minutes would have netted you. In luanch era EQ, after doing maybe a half dozen quests the old fashioned way I pretty much stopped questing at all. Even when I later stumbled on Alakazim, the main thing that really struck me was what a complete and utter waste of time most of the quests were in Everquest. Other MMOs of the era were often no better. Save for the handful of quests that gave out magic items, quests in launch DAoC were usually much less rewarding than simply grinding camps.

Smelling the flowers is one thing. Flavor like books to read or NPCs that lecture me on the ins and outs of growing turnips are awesome, I really go for that stuff. I have read every book I could find in PoK, for example. However quest design as amateurish as an average MUD in a game I'm paying to play is not awesome. It's insulting. I'm honestly glad that WoW raised the bar in respect to quest design. You sure won't catch me getting all weepy over the hours I wasted figuring out that a mob I needed to farm in EQ wasn't even on the same continent as the quest giver.