I don’t know much about dancing. In fact I’m a terrible dancer — ask my wife. But here’s the thing: I like to watch other people dance and so do lots of other people. Look at the popularity of ABC’s Dancing With the Stars as one example of how popular dancing as a spectator sport is in our culture. So what does this have to do with dancing in WoW and how did Blizzard miss a big opportunity?
The truth is Blizzard missed the mark with their implementation of dancing. Sure the dances are very well done from an artistic standpoint but from the perspective of a player — dancing takes zero skill and there is no opportunity for mastery (remember that “easy to learn, hard to master” slogan?) All one has to do is simply type /dance and they are dancing like a professionally trained dancer in a MTV video.
While dancing was quite novel when WoW was first released — you could often see someone dancing near a mailbox in most major towns and cities — for the most these days people rarely dance. The question is why?
Well I’ve partly answered that question: it takes no skill. Why should anyone bother to get excited about seeing someone dancing in WoW when all they did was type /dance? In the same light, how many music enthusiasts would pay hundreds of dollars to go to Carnegie Hall and see someone turn on the switch of a player piano and hear a recital of Mozart? None.
The main reason for the lack of dancing players is that the novelty has worn off. It’s just pure MMO fluff and cotton candy that is part of the famous Blizzard polish. But when you consider the resources that Blizzard must have spent on implementing dancing it’s a real shame they didn’t utilize its full potential as a meaningful activity and mode of expression in it’s own right.
What Dancing Could and Should Have Been
Dancing could have been an amazing feature in WoW. Imagine for a moment if the player had access to various dance moves that were linked to various keys on your keyboard. Instead of canned dances that are choreographed by the Blizzard artists and 3D modelers, *you* the player would be the puppet master of your own avatar. Press this key and your avatar does this dance move, press another key and your characters does a completely different dance move. Combine various keystrokes and you, yes you the player — with a little bit of talent and timing — could be the next dancing sensation on the streets of Stormwind!
Imagine a MMO where dancing required skill. Suddenly crowds would start appearing around good dancers in the streets of any city in WoW — much the same way in the early 1980’s that break dancers in New York City would attract crowds on the sidewalk. People love to see talent. It’s such a shame that Blizzard wasted a valuable social gathering opportunity for players.
Dancing could have been like the music system in Lord of the Rings Online where people actually have the temerity to occasionally stop chasing the dragon of levels and loot to gather around and hear people play instruments in Middle-earth.
Good dancers could give special buffs to the spectators around them much like the spirit buffs for sitting around a campfire. Dancers could have special role-playing competitions and events. The possibilities are endless.
Check out this amusing TV feature probably produced about the break dancing phenomena in the 1980’s.
Welcome to the Auto Attack Generation
Dancing is much like other automated features in WoW such as auto attack, crafting and even riding/flying — no skill is required other then simply pressing a button. It’s such a shame that in a genre where there is already a surplus of tedium and repetition that Blizzard could not have required a modicum of skill on the part of players.
The failure of dancing to be meaningful and require any semblance of skill speaks to the design philosophy of Blizzard. With the exception of raiding in WoW (which is really a throwback to the ancient days of EverQuest) concepts like skill and challenge aren’t held in much regard these days.
Even in the imperious age of a WoW dominated MMO industry, I have the sneaking suspicion that deep down players want to be challenged more then they are. It’s just not enough to show up and be entertained by NPCs such as those you see in the various festivals and holidays like the Darkmoon Faire. Players want and need more ways to express themselves within MMOs and virtual worlds.
People like to dance even if it’s the simulated dancing of Dance Dance Revolution. People also like to watch others dance but there has to be some element of skill involved. There’s something genuinely human about valuing and appreciating skill in oneself and in others. Somehow MMO designers who strangely enough cling to the safety of their “game” mentality have abandoned the notion of skill all in the name of accessibility. Dancing in its current incarnation in WoW while seemingly innocuous tells us volumes about the mindset of Blizzard.
The dancing mechanic has become an unfortunate metaphor for how MMOs are created to appeal to casual gamers. Increasingly MMO features are handed out like toys to be played with when instead they should be treated as mechanics for players to earn, learn and master which then form a cohesive bond with concepts of skill, status, community and player expression. By giving them free abilities that they didn’t earn and letting them feel they are mighty heroes or professional dancers is short-sighted and speaks to how Blizzard has really underestimated the creativity and talent of its own community.
..or the /dance is simply an another emote among many. Should there be a joke-telling mechanic? Or how about a dash of Railroad Tycoon on the /train emote?
If you like a sandbox, do not go into a theme park and complain that it’s not a sandbox.
I suppose that /dance could be viewed as a more complex /emote but given the amount of work it took for the Blizzard devs to create those dance animations I would beg to disagree.
I’m arguing that they failed to utilize the fullest potential from the dance animations. Also there’s the larger question of not requiring skill from players.
As far as the joke emotes they are just another windup toy that you can press a button for a cheap laugh that require zero effort from the player — a constant theme of Blizzard design. There would be no practical way to make a vocalized “joke” mechanic work. Contrast that to my easily doable idea of making a dance mechanic work and there is no comparison.
WoW is not purely a “theme park” MMO as it has many features of a so-called sandbox. I refuse to be limited by preconceived notions of what something should be. There are many shades and variant of gray between both extremes.
In fact features like /dance and /emote belong more in a sandbox and are less “gamey” then traditional hack and slash mechanics. Last time I checked most games require skill and have some semblance of challenge. How does /dance, /silly and /emote require skill on your part?
My blog from the outset has been about discussing MMO ideas and expanding the vision for MMOs and virtual worlds. I’m not content to sit back and be satisfied with the mediocre and unimaginative fare that is served my way currently disguised as MMOs. I hope that you would not as well.
I have some problems to imagine a more complex dance system. I could imagine a wider range of dancing emotes, but I see you are pointing out something more than just dancing. Dancing is not be the best example for that, IMO, but as you said, it is just a metaphor and a problem of modern MMOs:
We really live in times of automation, that takes away a lot of the fun: Auto-attacking and just pressing the one button for “shadowbolt” or the equivalent spells of other classes is rather boring. Death Knights are also popular because you have certain ability combos, and Warlocks felt that pushing three buttons for Immolate, Incinerate and Conflagrate made the class more “complex” to play! 🙂 Really, no kidding. Somewhat sad is that more “effective” specs often still are about pressing 1 button for 1 spell over and over. 🙁 No wonder some people told me Warlocks are boring, but Mages face a similar fate in raiding. They have freezes, snares, whatever – but most fights are like games for pensioners: “Dear elderly players, please all step out of the glowy crap when the light flashes and you hear a signal. Thank you!” There is more in the mechanics, there is more possible than just spamming the most damaging spell, but it is never utilized somehow.
WoW is more interesting in solo play as in group play, as solo play offers you by far more options, in a group the guy who has the most to do and think about is the tank. Think about it! Healers have to heal and react, but they have their script for that, they often take away decisions and choices in an automated process… and DPS classes are often limited to few spells. Levelling up a Warlock can involve more than just spamming Shadowbolt, you can curse, slow, use your demon to distract enemy mobs from you and so on. This is all lost in group play. And especially in WOTLK: All, even Heroic, instances are about AoE tanking and AoE nuking. Crowd Control got totally forgotten, and I tell you, it was a fun element. It probably got removed because it lead to the discrimination of classes without CC… “bring the player, not the class” – Developer Greg “Ghostcrawler” Street might have had good intentions, and I feel sympathy, I often also have good intentions and end up with a mess…
I guess this is what happens if you put a MMO and raid content over a single player game at heart, set in a huge online world? 🙂
The game difficulty gets easier by the day, this makes people lazy. They miss the potential of the game. It is like teaching kids basic addition and subtraction over and over, in short, the game mechanics are there, but with such a low level of difficulty there is no need and incentive to learn and explore them. Which should actually be part of the fun, especially if you follow Raph Koster’s book about fun and game design.
What is really sad is that the LUA scripting of UI and macros, actually a nice thing, it gives people a lot of room for creativity, lead to even MORE automation. There are addon and macro packs that already have the name “Healbot”, “…bot” and whatever.
Regarding DANCING in other games: They are still only emote-work, but they are nevertheless popular. People are dancing less in GW nowadays, but this might be my impression. I did two dungeons yesterday with two friends and it was fun, I found a new “hammer build” for my warrior to be very cool. I usually used to play the more effective Necromancer class in PvE. It is less interesting and challenging to play, but yields better results and you die not so much.
Nude dancing, female elementalists doing the belly dance in public places, is probably still popular. Guild Wars offers synchronized dancing, so you can arrange for some quite spectacular dance events.
Some Guild Wars dance videos, made by Jack McDaniel and his guild Fires of Spirit (sounds a bit like Fires of Heaven, hum!):
(But I still think picking dancing as example was a bit misleading.)
Longasc and Wolfshead, I have to disagree with you both! 🙂
Did you miss this?
That’s the Blizzard April’s fools day joke about implementing a new dance system 🙂
Ironic, isnt it? They are actually joking about it, meaning, they think the idea is silly, although if you check it out – they have it pretty much set! What’s described there is a completely fleshed out, really cool dance system. All you have to do is implement it :o)
I’m pretty sure Blizzard stated a few times that they intend to do more about dancing, but they are lacking the time to make the animations. Excuses or not, one can only hope for the best 🙂
The dance system right now is indeed just another form of /emote. I suspect they made it initially as a placeholder, and never got to developing it further.
Have you tried Ulduar?
First, I strongly disagree the tank has the most interesting job in a raid.
Granted everyone’s “job” is rather boring, and that the tank makes or brakes a raid, but he doesnt do anything more than a healer or a DPS does.
That said, in Ulduar I’ve been having really lots of fun. Encounters are designed in a way that requires at least moderate attention to your environment. Couple that with maintaining a regular skill rotation, and you are pretty much occupied. I dont mean it is really hard to learn but you definetly have room for a lot of improvement – it is hard to master . Two examples:
1) I play mutilate rogue, and I did a 10 man Ulduar, where we didn’t have warrior, so I decided to put up Expose armor debuff as well.
My DPS rotation included maintaining (HungerForBlood) buff on myself, which is linked to putting a (Bleed) debuff on the boss; maintaining haste(SliceAndDice) buff, and the Expose armor debuff, while doing your normal hits. Dunno how hard it sounds, but try it out and you’ll see you have trouble keeping up all of those at the same time. Couple it with running out of fires and such, and you stumble upon some interesting decision making. This is the hard to master rotation in my view, whereas a simpler one would be to just keep (Bleed) and finishers (haste), not even caring for the (HungerForBlood) buff.
2) Hodir boss encounter:
Basically what you do is
– constanntly jump around to avoid the cold debuff at ALL times;
– stay out of “fire” i.e. the falling iceblocks;
– watch out for the “deep breath” and stand on top of the iceblocks AFTER they fall;
– Keep NPCs free of iceblocks;
– buff up from the different NPCs;
Now here, the easier way would be to just ignore the last two “-“‘s, but the full strategy leaves room for quite a bit more “skill”, and naturally – hard mode. It was very funny how everyone kept moving around all the time, after we killed the boss. People just couldnt shake off the habit 🙂
Now combine exaples 1) and 2) and I’d say that the new instance is quite a bit challenging and not boring at all.
Keep in mind this is similar for all the new bosses, not just this one.
While you still can learn it realtively easy, you are left with a lot of room to improve. I think Blizzard are on the right track with this kind of boss encounters, and you will notice that they are equally engaging whether your role is tank, dps or healer.
Look at what LOTRO did with music and instruments. I think thats the point you are making.
My friends and I made a dice game. It is fantastically fun, and we have played it for 8 years. It is competitive, intense, and a big laugh while playing.
The key to the fun is that no skill is involved. It is pure luck, with a dash of guts and “screwing the other guy”. A first timer is just as good as a guy playing for 8 years. You can’t master it any moreso than you can control the odds of what rolling 5 dice will result it.
Kind of sounds like WoW, now that I mention it.
There was also the entertainer class in SWG, which reduced the Battle fatigue of people entertained, and could give various buffs. There were quite a few dance moves, and you can find quite a number of vids on youtube. But still, I think they were tied to a button.
Now, I’m imagining a Dance with stars MMOG, where PvP is through DDR matches XD.
Imagine the 10 man combinations !
@Longasc: The larger point I touched on was the trend of devs to automate more and more of the gameplay mechanics — but that wasn’t the main point of the article. I do agree though if it had been my main point then dancing would not have been the best example as it’s largely an esoteric activity within MMOs right now and not a central mechanic.
@Ssandman: I completely forgot about that April Fool’s joke. I tend to stop web surfing on April 1st as I’ve been fooled one too many times and find those pranks rather annoying. 🙂
I’m just disappointed with Blizzard that with over 2 billion in profits over the space of 5 plus years they couldn’t have done something more creative with dancing then having a player type /dance.
@ChrisF: The LOTRO music mechanic is exactly the example I was talking about which I mentioned briefly. Turbine is a tiny compnay compared to Blizzard with significantly less revenue coming in and somehow they managed to implement a music/instrument system for their MMO not to mention player housing and tons of other great features.
@Modran: Thanks for the SWG info. I was not aware of that 🙂
Learning is fun. Mastering something while difficult is fun as well and gives the player a true sense of accomplishment. I think Blizzard in their heart of hearts know this so what they do instead is reserve the skill part of their MMO for grouping and raiding at the level cap.
Blizzard has made a conscious trade off: the hardcore raider designers have their grouping and raiding while the casual gamers have the easy solo WoW and the “software toy” WoW which requires no appreciable skill.
The problem is we are seeing a slow decline in the notion of skill and challenge as time progresses. Player are getting lazier and come into WoW with a convenience mindset. Every patch WoW keeps getting more dumbed down. Again I refer to Richard Bartle’s prophetic essay on Gamasutra about How Newbies are Designing Virtual Worlds.
I think in this case the game you guys made is primarily for socialization and pure entertainment. There’s nothing wrong with those kinds of games. That’s a great observation about how that game is much like WoW (except with the social element missing….playing Solitaire ain’t much fun!).
I find it interesting in reading many of the inteviews with the Lead Blizzard people and they keep refering to their main design philosophy of making a game rather then a world. Well we know that there’s not much of a game before you reach the level cap and we also know that WoW is not much of a sandbox.
So then for the majority of WoW subscribers, if it’s not a game and it’s not a world then what is WoW?
A timesink? 🙂
I’ve been reading for quite a long time about people that can’t stop themselves coming back to WoW. Recently, 2 friends have been suffering from that. They stop for a few months, and then resubscribe. I’ll have to ask them why (they haven’t reached the level cap, yet). Personally, I tried, had fun at first, then not as much, then not at all. And I have no intention of going back…Strange, strange, strange…
While I don’t really want to weigh in one way or the other regarding whether dancing was a wasted mechanic I do want to mention one thing. If you haven’t seen it, in a way, Age of Conan offers exactly this.
Dancing is much like the “there is no auto attack and melee combat is a serious of “click the right buttons” system” the game uses. You have a basic dance and by pulling off the right combos you add to it. It was fun to play around with and some of the moves were impressive.
Ultimately though there were so few that it ended up a lot like /dance, ignored.
But you would agree that WoW is mostly a theme park, right? The core gameplay revolves around combat and subsequent equipment/level gain. Given that those mechanics have plenty of flaws as well, I’d rather see those improved before non-essential features like emotes.
Yeah, that was my point. /dance is just /joke on autoattack. All of the animations are copied from other sources, so I classify /dance to be at the same level as naming one of the gnomes in Un’goro Linken and having a quest involving a raft and an another involving the Sword of Mastery. It’s simply a pop culture reference, nothing more, nothing less. After it has provided the quick laugh, it has served it’s purpose. There’s no need to dedicate any more development resources to it.
On the other hand, if you do have a game which revolves around social interaction and self-expression, then it makes sense to devote substantial developer resources to a dancing mechanic. But WoW is not that game, and was never intended as one.