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World of Warcraft: Looting From Other Games Since 2001

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Posted October 15, 2010 - By Guest Writer



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World of Warcraft: Looting From Other Games Since 2001

Good video games borrow; great video games steal, and Activision-Blizzard’s World of Warcraft is a great video game. Since launch, WoW has systematically added features originating from outside Blizzard's internal talent pool. Whether integrating UI improvements ganked from the massive WoW modding community, or lifting gameplay features straight from competing MMOs or games in other genres, WoW is very good at recognizing what works and bringing it to Azeroth.

In other words, “stealing.”  Theft is a two-way street, of course, and just about every MMO released since the dawn of WoW has boosted some aspect of the 800-pound MMO gorilla’s style. It’s the circle of video game life, and it’s also how the art form of video games (and every other art form and human endeavor) progresses.

Post launch, World of Warcraft garnered considerable attention from both players and critics alike, but as good as the game was, there were still areas some players found lacking. Luckily for them, modifying the user interface became popular within weeks of WoW's release. Eventually, people created mods serving several purposes. Mods would go on to add everything from new functionality for specific player classes to tracking quests on a player's map. The quest tracking mod will sound familiar to modern WoW players, because it was one of the many mods that found its way into the game officially, via Blizzard. Of course, it's also become an industry standard to track quests in this fashion. Other mods that found their way into WoW included floating combat text damage and a more advanced raiding interface.

No matter how assertively Blizzard adapts popular and effective community mods, the community itself always takes it a step further. Some WoW mods come in packages that completely rework the game's interface. These UI overhauls offer players with discerning tastes a bounty of options, and will probably never see replication in-game proper. So, as much as Blizzard may have borrowed from the modding community, they're not lifting ideas wholesale so much as they're reinterpreting them on their own terms.

World of Warcraft: Looting From Other Games Since 2001

Mods were just the beginning. Achievements, first seen on Microsoft's Xbox 360 gaming console, are everywhere these days – on the Playstation 3 in the form of Trophies, in shooters, in Farmville – but they’re also now included in World of Warcraft. The Lord of the Rings Online was the first MMO to to include achievements. They called them “Deeds.” Earning a Deed confers an in-game reward like special titles, stat boosts and even useful combat abilities. What it comes down to is the developers of successful online games have -- in all probability -- each examined the wider gaming industry for glimmers of how to best entice and entertain as large and diverse an audience as possible.

Sometimes Blizzard goes far beyond simply capitalizing on an idea like Achievements. This was the case with the vehicle mechanic; a feature added at the same time as Achievements. The concept behind the mechanic works like this: Traversing the world on a dragon is pretty cool. Using a dragon's breath attack to lay waste to your enemies is pretty awesome. But of course, the idea of vehicular combat isn't new -- not even to MMOs. It's been tackled head-on with games like Auto Assault. Also, several space-based MMOs, like EVE Online, are entirely built up from the idea of piloting a space ship. While none of the vehicles in WoW feel realistic or go involve the kind of depth as EVE Online or Jumpgate Evolution, they serve the same purpose: to add the spice of variety.

World of Warcraft: Looting From Other Games Since 2001

The vehicle mechanic replaces your  abilities and spells with a different set based upon the vehicle a player's jumped into. Rudimentary Gnome-built tanks have cannons, dragons have breath weapons and sometimes you even get to pilot a robot by remote. And if some of this doesn't exactly sound "fantasy" to you, it's because Blizzard has always played fast and loose with the Warcraft interpretation of the genre. There were massive Goblin Zepplins in Warcraft 2, so it's nothing new.

It’s just that willingness to color outside genre lines accounts for WoW's success. So, yes, Blizzard pays close attention to other developers, and isn't shy about repurposing that which they admire into their own machinations. For instance, when Warhammer Online launched in late 2008, one of its most popular features with players was the join-from-anywhere player vs player matchmaking system. Players could queue for instanced PvP anywhere in the game world via the UI. This allowed questing to continue unabated.

Meanwhile, the old system in WoW demanded that players wait around idly while the matchmaking system did its thing. WAR's approach turned out to be so immensely popular that it caused Blizzard to instantly re-think their own PvP offering and announce the change roughly one month after the release of WAR. A cut-throat move? Perhaps, but where there's enough demand a business that wants to remain competitive and afloat cannot afford to withhold supply.

World of Warcraft: Looting From Other Games Since 2001

Another feature pioneered by Mythic and now coming to WoW with the Cataclysm expansion is Guild Advancement. This system affixes a series of levels to player-made guilds, which can be acquired by guild members through high-level activities such as participating in ranked PvP or dungeons. With each of these Guild levels comes a perk. Some provide experience gain boosts or even mass resurrection spells for use in dungeon raids -- of course, membership in the guild is required. This feature was first seen in 2001's Dark Age of Camelot, and later in Warhammer Online. In those games the system has proven a potent incentive for players who normally opt out of guild participation. This increase of group play can only raise the percentage of players who experience dungeons and other group-focused content. Thus, Blizzard is only adding value to content they already produce by implementing Guild Advancement. 

While the last two examples of non-Blizzard originals make a great case for content with a mechanical cause, it's harder to argue that when it comes to microtransactions. This idea works differently in Warcraft  than in most micro-transaction-powered MMOs. WoW offers services and items for sale that are almost completely cosmetic in nature. Players can (and have, in droves) shell out $25 for fancy-looking mounts and $10 a pop for in-game pets that do nothing more than follow your avatar around. While the prices may not be very micro, these items are certainly no different in their intent -- which is to serve players willing to part with more cash for shiny, digital goods.

World of Warcraft: Looting From Other Games Since 2001

While Blizzard obviously incorporates ideas from others sources into WoW, some of Blizzard's peers in the game industry have actually designed add-ons that make versions of their own games playable in WoW.With Blizzard's blessing, PopCap released a free version of Bejeweled and Peggle in the form of add-ons for WoW, and, it's been revealed that Cataclysm will come with a series of quests that morphs WoW into a Plants vs. Zombies game. Of course in WoW the lingo changes too, making the quest chain's title, Peaceblooms vs Ghouls. So perhaps there's a lot of inter-industry love happening between Blizzard and PopCap, which has definitely resulted in some surreal moments for those of us in the sidelines watching the whole thing unfold.

The darker side to Blizzard's repurposing of outside features is that some consider it a dirty deed, which I've always found baffling. If one feature works in one game, why not adapt it for another? Besides that, it happens across the entire industry. The Halo series has resulted in several other console first-person shooters that copied "The Halo Method" of controls and design. The Half-Life series' influence is fierce in the opening of Batman: Arkham Asylum, where the players travel along a predetermined path as the game's mood is established. And perhaps the most intriguing account of one game affecting another is the popularity of MMOs influencing FPS games with persistent progression, turning them into hybrid MMOFPS games.

When Call of Duty: Modern Warfare introduced a progression mechanic to its multiplayer mode, console gamers who'd never touched an MMO were astounded to discover the intensely addicting qualities of earning experience points that culminated in a higher level and rewards. As a fan of the MMO genre for years before Modern Warfare, I knew what Infinity Ward was doing. Anyone who examines and analyzes what's been happening with WoW players can see that grafting a system of effort, easily attainable satisfaction and reward onto an already-fun game culminates in players pouring hours upon hours of their time into a game.

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare's crushing success with persistent progression has created a perception in FPS fans: It's now considered a negative by most gamers if a new FPS doesn't deliver a progression system that unlocks something worthwhile. Not even modern Halo games can escape the effect, as even Reach offers a fairly vast armor customization element that requires points earned in matches -- as system not entirely unlike the one seen in this Fall's Call of Duty: Black Ops.

The success of WoW is most certainly cyclical in nature. What works in one genre can be remade to succeed in another. It doesn't matter how wild or outrageous the feature is, so long as it works. Five or six years ago, persistent progression and Achievements were small ideas. Nowadays, both systems are increasingly present in the majority of every game we play, regardless of genre or platform.

World of Warcraft: Looting From Other Games Since 2001

Looking at all these examples, it's clear that the videogame industry just operates this way. In fact, you could exhaustively go back through plenty of games and show how WoW ganked a lot of its integral pieces from other MMOs, with those MMOs in turn all leading back to Dungeons & Dragons. It's how all competitive industries operate. A company can't remain competitive without paying attention to what their competitors are doing.

I don't look at it as one developer merely trying to one-up another. To me, it's just about making games that are fun. That's why I'm happy to see progression in online shooters and the Achievements in WoW. Because it's only made for more entertaining games, which is the whole point of this thing we collectively love. 

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