The Cultural Gutter

dangerous because it has a philosophy

"We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars." -- Oscar Wilde

Welcome to Azeroth

Gutter Guest
Posted January 19, 2006

I am a night elf hunter.In World of Warcraft (Blizzard, 2004), I am a night elf hunter. I have a wolf named Meadow (named after my dog in real life). We journey the neighboring continents of Azeroth together, in search of new gear, more quests to complete, and raw meat to keep her happy so I don’t end up losing an arm. On the backs of griffons I ride to get from one area to another, occasionally hopping on board a ship to voyage across the sea to the other continent. The variation between areas in the gameworld is sometimes staggering; walking through the dark and foreboding Duskwood will lead to the lush jungles of Stranglethorn vale. There are visibly different species located in each area, to be killed for their leather or the most basic need of experience. In World of Warcraft I am on a mission, whether I want to be or not. There is always something to do, no matter where I am. There are no loading screens. I am always in the game. There is no end.


The mass appeal of World of Warcraft lies in its simple approach to gameplay. Adopting the familiar “kill-reward” philosophy of point-and-click action RPGs, the basic premise behind World of Warcraft is to allow players to build powerful characters through accumulation of new powers and equipment. Stretching this simple mechanic to its utmost limits, it’s easy to become absorbed to the point of obsession, whether it’s to finish “one more quest” or obtain that elusive piece of armour to complete the set. While not medically recognized as being an addictive substance, it comes frighteningly close.
The tasks set before the new player are simple enough: go out into the wilderness and return with 10 crocolisk skins. Upon returning a reward is bestowed, and a new quest is given. This cycle repeats until you’re in a new town, where new quests can be given out. Except the name of the beast to harvest materials from has changed, and perhaps even its level relative to the character. The cycle repeats in an endless loop, but the change in environments and subtle modifications to objectives cause an automatic suspension of disbelief. Not to mention the increasing quality of loot.
And this has all been done before in other games. I’ve played RPGs that offer the exact same thing, even with the online component. So why does it work? What makes the overall experience so different, and why do my non-gamer friends keep talking to me about it? What World of Warcraft does well is the lower levels. This is the key for any MMORPG to be successful: ensnare the new players for the long term. Develop the foundation for an immediately gratifying timesink, so that future hours spent can be justified. It’s a brilliant system, and it works wonderfully: there are now five million subscribers worldwide that share these thoughts.
azeroth-web.jpgWhile my night elf hunter was in the low levels, I had picked up a difficult quest in the Dwarven Wetlands and thought I’d be able to complete it with my wolf companion. After a number of deaths, I decided to join a small pick-up group that was forming up on the outskirts of the Wetlands. I was uneasy about this, because adventuring alone made things predictable.
Strategies were formed in the heat of battle: the mage took care to stay back and do damage from afar and I sent my Wolf in close to occupy our adversaries while also doing ranged damage. The Paladin served a dual purpose in taking melee damage and healing our party. After a few moments we had achieved an equilibrium; our enemies fell quickly after each of our coordinated attacks. We had succeeded by working together. For a brief moment in time we had a real sense of purpose. Once the area was cleared and the magic items accounted for, we parted ways. Perhaps I would see them online again sometime.
The in-game community is arguably the most captivating reason people log in to the game. Towns and Auction Houses are usually filled with other players either chatting about the game and generally taking it easy, or planning a high-level instance raid. Guilds are formed among in-game acquaintances. These people are usually playing the game at the same time and typically share the same interests. They assist each other with quests, trade items, and create a general family-like atmosphere. The social experience is what ties World of Warcraft together – it gives a reason to interact with the player-driven environment instead of only consuming in-game content. It creates purpose.
As a result World of Warcraft is able to secure player mindshare – relying on players to spend time building their characters, as well as making enough of a social investment in the game to require regular visits. In my first year of playing I had joined two guilds, both of which spawned from real-life acquaintances but resulted in introducing me to people far outside my regular social circle. What did it matter that I had never met these people before? Our perfectly balanced group was about to embark on an instance raid of a dungeon. I was in charge of drawing enemies close to the group so they could be slain individually. There were responsibilities for the other group members as well: healing, tanking, buffing. Each role was important – death was no longer just an inconvenience; it meant the difference between finishing the quest and having angry guild mates shouting at you for ruining everything and wasting valuable time.
And this is the point where World of Warcraft becomes more than a game. It’s another life.

~~~

This week’s Gutter Guest has been Andrew Smale, who’s been a PC gamer for 17 years. He was part of the final stages of World of Warcraft’s beta testing, and a regular player since early 2005. His fervent opinions on gaming can be found at Tales of a Scorched Earth.

Comments

3 Responses to “Welcome to Azeroth”

  1. Game Producer
    January 21st, 2006 @ 2:43 am

    It’s unbelievable what games can be today… WOW is certainly *something* more.

  2. Beta Tester
    February 8th, 2006 @ 9:33 am

    Haven’t played World of Warcraft myself, but the community aspects sound very similar to those found in Dungeons & Dragons Online (which I’m helping to test at the moment). I’ve just recently started playing Guild Wars, and, whilst the difference between GW and WoW is supposed to be marked, I’m hoping for similar experiences to those accounts I’ve read by WoW players.

  3. Andrew Smale
    February 9th, 2006 @ 4:49 pm

    If you’re looking for equivalent experiences to World of Warcraft in Guild Wars, I think you’ll be disappointed. Part of the reason why Guild Wars is so popular is that it is completely free to play online once you’ve bought the boxed game – there is no monthly subscription fee required. You may have also noticed the instance-heavy gameplay; that is, most of the adventuring is done in discrete “dungeons” or “maps” with eight people once you’re out of the lobby area. That’s it. This helps keep the costs of running the game down, but severely limits the social experience of the game. World of Warcraft allows you to interact with everyone else on your server within the gameworld. And while in both games there are separate areas to specifically do battle with other players, in World of Warcraft you can still take up your grievances wherever you want. I’d say Guild Wars has more in common with the online component of Blizzard’s Diablo II than the conventional MMORPG.
    I’ve never played DDO, but I think you can assume that the community aspects are extremely close to what’s experienced in World of Warcraft, Everquest, Star Wars Galaxies, Dark Age of Camelot, etc. The Guilds, the partying up, the raids, the loot – as I said in the article, there’s really not much of a difference between the games. Regardless of the means by which the social aspects are experienced, it’s usually the main reason people continue to play MMORPGs.

Leave a Reply





  • Support The Gutter

  • The Book!

  • Of Note Elsewhere

    Comics Alliance suggests seven Star Wars comics to read before Disney makes them disappear. (Including a comic by one of Comics Editor Carol’s favorite creative teams–Corinna Bechko and Gabriel Hardman). “Starting in 2015, Disney’s handing the publishing of any and all new Star Wars comics over to Marvel Comics, with an all new, optimized-for-corporate-synergy canon that will spread across all their media platforms. Anything that’s not a movie (especially one of the Original Trilogy movies), or a Clone Wars cartoon, will be unceremoniously Order 66-ed out of existence, giving future filmmakers a clean-ish slate to make movies (and money) on. But what about all those Dark Horse comics? That’s where we come in with 7 Dark Horse Star Wars comics you should track down before they disappear.”

    ~

    At the New York Observer, Ashley Steves writes about Craig Ferguson’s The Late, Late Show. “No one could ever prepare you for watching an episode of Ferguson’s Late Late Show. A friend could not sit you down and explain it (“Well, it’s really meta and deconstructive and there’s a horse”). There was really no good way to recommend it. It was something you discovered and became a part of. You had to stumble upon it on your own, perhaps restless or bored or simply curious while flipping through channels when your eye quickly caught some of the madness. And that’s the best part. It was an unexpected gift. At its worst, it could still send you to bed grinning and comforted. At its best, it was art. It was silly and fun and truly not like any other late night show.”

    ~

    At Comics Alliance, Chris Sims interviews Ed Brubaker about his work on Batman, Gotham Central and Catwoman. “When I look back at [Catwoman], I’m so proud of the first 25 issues of that book, when I felt like everything was firing on all cylinders. I probably should’ve left when Cameron Stewart left instead of sticking around. That’s one of those things I look back at and think “Ah, I had a perfect run up until then!” (Incidentally, Comics Editor Carol’s first piece for the Gutter was about Brubaker’s first 25 issues of Catwoman).

    ~

    At Sequential Art, Greg Carpenter writes a lovely piece about Charles Schulz’ Peanuts. “After only two installments, Schulz had solidified the rules for his comic strip.  Random acts of cruelty would punctuate this irrational world, and Schulz’s trapped little adults would be forced to act out simulations of human behavior, using hollow gestures to try to create meaning in a universe where no other meaning was evident.  If Shakespeare’s Macbeth had been a cartoonist, the results of his daily grind, “tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow,” might have looked somewhat similar—each character a “poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage” until he or she was heard from no more.”

    ~

    The Smithsonian Magazine has a gallery of US spy satellite launches. “Just as NASA creates specially designed patches for each mission into space, [National Reconnaissance Office] follows that tradition for its spy satellite launches. But while NASA patches tend to feature space ships and American flags, NRO prefers wizards, Vikings, teddy bears and the all-seeing eye. With these outlandish designs, a civilian would be justified in wondering if NRO is trolling.”

    ~

    At The Guardian, Keith Stuart and Steve Boxer look at the history of PlayStation.“Having been part of the late 80s rave and underground-clubbing scene, I recognised how it was influencing the youth market. In the early 90s, club culture started to become more mass market, but the impetus was still coming from the underground, from key individuals and tribes. What it showed me was that you had to identify and build relationships with those opinion-formers – the DJs, the music industry, the fashion industry, the underground media.” (via @timmaughan)

    ~

  • Spilling into Twitter

  • Obsessive?

    Then you might be interested in knowing you can subscribe to our RSS feed, find us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter or Tumblr.

    -------

  • Weekly Notifications

  • What We’re Talking About

  • Thanks To

    No Media Kings hosts this site, and Wordpress autoconstructs it.

  • %d bloggers like this: