Conquering One’s Self

by on Sep.19, 2009, under game reviews, games industry, mmorpg, WoW


There are three titles that may appear with great frequency as one meanders the gaming news these days. Each are certainly worth discussing on their own, simply on the merits of having such attention bestowed upon them. However, there is a common thread to be pulled from these stories in particular. These companies, and their gaming products, are faced with tremendous obtacles. The bigger and better they become, the harder it is to grow beyond . In essence, their fight is a fight against themselves. Success can be a cruel instructor. Read on to see what I mean.

Blizzard’s WoW Zeitgeist (Austin, GDC)


There’s no background needed here. The behind-the-scenes peeks at Blizzard are rare, and consistently fascinating. This recent presentation highlights aspects of their infrastructure and organization, none of which is particularly surprising at all. But still impressive. To call it anything but a ‘campaign’ would do Blizzard a disservice. They are engaged, they are worthy, and they are very very busy:

  • ~13,000 server blades
  • 4,500 employees
  • 180,000 bug entries
  • etc. etc. and etc.

It’s equally impressive that behind all of the maintaining, extending, and innovating, there is a storm going on. They’re on the front lines fighting the battle that is WoW, but also in the back room, concocting what will be it’s successor.

In the MMORPG space, who do they really have to fight against? In Blizzard’s terms, there is only one enemy to WoW, and that is WoW itself. We all know that raising the bar is something that Blizzard knows how to do; they’ve done it quite a few times. Yet, in challenging WoW it isn’t enough just to raise that bar, they have to move it. And Blizzard’s track record won’t help them. It’s an interesting thought.

How they’d accomplish that is anyone’s guess, but the first job of the designers of this new property would be, in essence, to KILL WoW. They have to design the game in such a way that it suddenly obviates the limits and the failings of their juggernaught. More on this later, it’s a favourite topic. 🙂

Operation Flashpoint : Dragon Rising


The original Operation Flashpoint was a victory for European developers. Years and years ago, before the ascendancy of Crytek and Codemasters, this game was released. And it was really really good, as far as tactical squad-based shooters go. In line with Blizzard’s own challenge of one-upping itself, Codemasters must find a way to replicate the quality and scope of the original Operation Flashpoint in modern terms. The challenge of translating a rather primitive shooter to a modern FPS masterpiece is daunting.

Unlike Blizzard, Codemasters is re-entering the market to find it very crowded indeed. But their real enemy is their previous property because the original OFP was a defining product in this space (in my opinion) without real peer. So they’ve amplified all that was good in the original, expanded, and innovated. The result, again, is anyone’s guess. However, viewing the videos and promotional material, it really looks like this has been done. Codemasters will do battle against itself October 9th, yet it’s clear to me this is an easy battle. Their previous property is long-gone, thus eliminating the need to “kill” anything of the old game at all. It’s doubtful we’ll bother look at the original OFP ever again, and OFP2 will be a success.

NCSoft’s Aion


I beta-tested a “port” of a Korean game to the western world before. ‘Overlord’ was an immense game, and the challenge of converting a product of such scope and density was evident. The play experience was nothing short of painful, and the game quickly faded from consciousness. However, here comes NCSoft with Aion, a “sweeping fighting fantasy epic” with tens of thousands of quests, artwork, NPCs, PvP, etc. And thus another “cultural port” looms for MMORPG gamers in the western world.

NCSoft has a good reputation (despite some misses in recent history). They know what quality is, and they understand the how singularly important this is in the minds and hearts of gamers, quite like Blizzard. So while I personally don’t wish to lay quick judgement upon their latest creation, I am not positive it’s going to work. They already have numerous successful gaming properties, yet by far the clear leader is Guild Wars. It’s hard to think about NCSoft and not think GW. It’s a big gamble, because they’re forging ahead with new properties in the face of GW’s prominence in our minds. Rest assured, the release will settle the matter. I don’t see any effort to move the bar that GW set at all, and that is a critical mistake.

In these examples, there lays a reasonable conclusion : in the quest for greater success, a more immediate success is your enemy. Addressing it (as Blizzard is likely to) improves your chance. Ignoring it (as NCSoft clearly is) is sure to spell disaster.

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