A few weeks ago at BlizzCon during an interview with WoWInsider’s Anne Stickney, Blizzard’s Alex Afrasiabi — the World of Warcraft Creative Director — made a rare and frank admission. He said that Blizzard has lost sight of the social world aspect of their MMO and that he was mainly to blame for it. Molten Core has frozen over.
The incremental yet relentless erosion of social interaction is something that many of us in the MMORPG community have been chronicling since the release of WoW in 2004. For some reason the developers at Blizzard have been unable to notice it until now. I am currently working on an article responding to Afrasiabi’s comments and what can be done to remedy this problem.
About a month ago I was contacted by a video game design student who goes by the handle Raistmere and studies at the University of Texas at Dallas. He is working on a project that examines the decline of social interaction in MMORPGs and requested an interview with me. I agreed and we completed the interview. You can find his interview with me here.
It was a fairly lengthy interview and it had to be condensed for his project. I will post the full length interview here on my site in a couple of weeks. Please head on over to his blog to read the article and other interviews about the subject.
I have pretty much given up on the thought that anyone will launch anything that resembles a virtual “world” again, that requires social interaction. Every MMO right now feels like a glorified lobby game, and would be just as good (if not better) if sold that way.
Those games can still be fun, but it would be neat to have the need for other people again in games. I don’t think most people want that though =)
Today’s MMORPG’s are MMORPGs in name only. I agree that most players have been brainwashed into accepting the idea that social interaction is limited. I talk about this extensively in my next article.
If I have a restaurant that servers burgers, milkshakes and fries and one day I stop serving shakes, eventually the people that continue to patronize my restaurant won’t expect shakes to be on the menu and will get used to that fact. In time they will forget that shakes were even the menu and a shake free menu becomes the status quo. This is what happened to WoW and all the MMO clones that copied WoW.
I believe the WoW devs always assumed that social interaction would be a big part of their MMO. Thanks to them ignoring the need to build social interaction into WoW and the laws of unintended consequences lo and behold 10 years later social interaction is almost non-existent in WoW.
WoW was so astronomically successful that the WoW devs like Afrasiabi, Kaplan and Pardo started believing they could do no wrong when they added in lots of social interaction killing features like the dungeon finder. Let’s not forget that Afrasiabi and Kaplan had no design training or even proposed theories of design as most MMO commentators have done for years. They came in straight from a raiding background (an activity that a tiny minority of MMO players engaged in) and went right to work. The success of WoW shielded their inexperience and incompetence for many years.
One only has to look at the massive failure that was Titan for evidence of this. These guys were supposed to be the best and brightest MMO designers on the planet. At one point, Rob Pardo was considered to be one of Time magazine’s most influential people on the planet. They spent 7 years and probably millions more than they spent on developing WoW and they cancelled the project. That epic failure is the big untold story of Blizzard and shows that as far as MMOs are concerned they are a one trick pony and certainly far from being the most talented MMO dev team.