Tuesday, 22 December 2009

WOTC going after the WOW market

So I heard today that Wizards of the coast is gunning for the World of Warcraft market and this helped shape the design of the fourth edition of Dungeons and Dragons. Now, I don't know how true this is - and I don't play 4th edition myself, although one day I may give it a spin.

Assuming this is true, this strikes me as being very silly indeed. D&D has been the number one roleplaying game for 35 years. It was the first roleplaying game and I know first hand that there is magic in this game. I can't quite say how it is invoked, but it's there in play, captivating us as players and keeping us coming back for more. Some people have been playing it for decades. So does Wizards of the coast perhaps not have faith in its own product any more - that it can't stand on its own legs and must instead copy another game which itself wouldn't exist if it weren't for their own game?

I'll let you into a secret. In thirty five years, all the computer hardware that people are playing World of Warcraft on will be relegated to landfills and museums. The servers will have long ago been switched off or will be running some other game, the next big thing on the massively multiplayer front. World of Warcraft will be remembered fondly but it will be /dead/.

But in 35 more years, there will still be people playing Dungeons and Dragons, picking up polyhedral shaped dice and simulating throwing fireballs around at supernaturally regenerating trolls, kicking doors down and searching chests for traps.

If what I've been told is true, then Wizards of the coast have it all backwards and need a reality check. Competitors to D&D have always experimented with different formats, rules systems, become popular and come and gone. Some of them are still with us, but then so is D&D... because it really was sprinkled with magic by Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson all those years ago.

20 comments:

NeoWolf said...

I think you make a number of assumptions here that not everyone's necessarily going to agree with. D&D's been the number one RPG for a very long time, for sure. That doesn't mean it doesn't need improvement either though.

The MMORPG comparisons make some sense, in that WotC has in a sense formalized some conventions that are similar to MMO conventions. Tanks, Damage Dealers, Healers, Crowd Control are the staples of an MMORPG like WoW.

However it's important to keep your head on straight too, where did the computer RPG genre come from in the first place? Pen and paper! While it's certainly not required, plenty of groups try to make sure they have someone that can heal, do heavy damage, deal with groups of monsters, and stand in front to protect the weaker characters. This idea isn't new to D&D at all!

Also as far as longevity, again it's a good idea to keep your head on straight. Warcraft is a series that's been around for a long time. Sure D&D has been around in one form or another for about 35 years and is likely to endure. But likewise Warcraft has been around in one form for another for 20 years and certainly shows no signs of stopping either.

They're different products with different target audiences, but there's a lot of overlap and cross pollination and that's definitely not inherently a bad thing.

The Recursion King said...

World of warcraft has been arrived for 5 years : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_of_warcraft

Warcraft was a real time strategy game before this, not an RPG, and anyway it came out in 1994. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Warcraft

That makes the Warcraft franchise around 15 years old (as a strategy game), but as an RPG it has only 5 years under its belt.

NeoWolf said...

Dates off by a bit sure, but my point still stands. Cross pollination here doesn't hurt a bit. Likewise this statement applies to computer RPGs from the get go. Rogue and all of it's clones started off very rough approximations of D&D. Negative AC and all. Over the years both have changed a lot. Even 3.5 looked pretty different from OD&D. Granted 4th edition certainly is the most radical departure for sure. Still, what ideas it borrows from MMOs seem to have their roots largely in pen and paper games anyways.

Though I did forget to comment on one thing they do seem to be pulling more from MMOs. They haven't borrowed the concept of threat outright, but they did give paladins, fighters, and other defenders abilities that help them force monsters to force their attention more on them during battle. It still doesn't work out like an MMO would, where just by letting the warrior smack the dragon for a minute before everyone else attacks the dragon ignores the frail wizard hammering him with damage despite him being an easy kill, but it does give the players a bit of an extra edge in tactical combat.

Scott said...

WotC would have to be insane to NOT go after the WoW market. It's huge, it's already warm to the idea of roleplaying, and it's got that geek demographic firmly tucked into its belt that D&D needs to flourish. D&D dies without new blood, and I can scarcely think of a better place to find it than in MMORPGs like WoW.

Wickedmurph said...

I'll let you in on a secret. D&D is a game. It is no better or worse than WoW or any other game. And it is no more durable or long-lasting than games in the MMO genre will be.

Comparing the arc of D&D history to a single game in the MMO genre is a mistake. MMO's developed after RPG's, and are only beginning to hit their stride.

They have also proven to be more financially sucessful and widely popular than RPGs, over their lifespan (which will easily last 35 years).

That being said, why not take a stab at the MMO market? There are clients there who have never played RPG's, but are familiar with many of the basic structures of the genre, since MMO's borrowed from RPG's to create those structures to begin with.

There is no reason that the two genres cannot cross-pollinate players - MMO's and RPG's are in no way mutually exclusive. In fact, if I had to pick a client base, I'd take MMO clients over RPG clients - they tend to be more willing to spend money and time.

I think you're the one that needs a reality check, King. A superior "my game is better" attitude doesn't serve any of us well, and WoTC, and any other RPG company who are in the business to make money and continue as a company would be ill-served by ignoring a very large and potentially lucrative market that already understands many of the underlying principles of their product.

MJ Harnish said...

I have to agree with WickedMurph - I don't know the #s but I'd bet that WoW has earned Blizzard more money in its 5-years than D&D has made in 35 and that, at the end of the day, is what is going to determine the direction anyone running a for-profit business is going to take. For all its nostalgic value (and I love it too), the original versions of D&D (OD&D, red box, AD&D, etc) lost their financial viability a very long time ago - TSR failed to recognize this and imploded. Without continual revision or a different type of sales model (i.e., the monthly subscription), PnP RPGs are not a viable long-term business because the market is far too small and fragmented.

The Recursion King said...

D&D only dies if we stop playing it. I always like clearing up that myth that goes around the forums, nothing is dead until no one plays it any more. Publishers like to define dead as in no products are being released, but that's just nonsense.

As for new blood, we each recruit that into our campaigns as time goes on, recommending people we know to the group to expand it, teaching new players how to play. And so it continues.

The Recursion King said...

"And it is no more durable or long-lasting than games in the MMO genre will be."

History proves you wrong, my friend. It is the most durable RPG there is.

Contrast and compare with the lifespan of a computer RPG - even a massive multiplayer one. Eventually the march of technology, new releases from games companies, and a lack of players all work to end the life of computer roleplaying games. How many people still play the original Bards Tale? Or the original Wizardry? Very, very few.

You see, even if you do not accep tthe inevitable march of technology, then as a player you eventually run out of content for these games and move onto another. And yes, that applies to massive multiplayer online RPG's too.

NeoWolf said...

D&D's age isn't exactly a fair reason to call it the most durable RPG there is. After all it's one of the first! Don't get me wrong now, it's one of my favorite RPGs and it's certainly earned it's place in everyone's hearts. It's still easily the most well recognized and known RPG on top of that. But by your metric any RPG that people still play is doing just as well. Let alone still being made. Plenty of games of various quality are still around with no sign of going away. They might not be quite as old, but again, they're just not that old yet. Being first doesn't necessarily mean you're the better, (or worse for that matter.) Tunnels and Trolls, Palladium's games, Shadowrun, etc. Plenty of games with a long and healthy history going on still.

And again, with your metric of things not dying until people stop playing them. By that measure, the original Bard's Tale, Wizardry, Ultima, NetHack, etc. are all still very much alive.

It's important to keep in mind that while these two kinds of games are similar, again one literally grew out of the other they're still very different. Without D&D and other pen and paper RPGs we wouldn't have computer RPGs today. "Better" and "Worse" don't really apply because they're trying to do completely different things at the end of the day. I don't log into an MMO or run NetHack for the same experience and kind of fun as I do for playing D&D. Even games that have tried to blur the lines have failed to do so. (Neverwinter Nights anyone?) They still resulted in a fundamentally different experience for the most part.

The Recursion King said...

"D&D's age isn't exactly a fair reason to call it the most durable RPG there is"

I wonder what metric you might use instead?

"And again, with your metric of things not dying until people stop playing them. By that measure, the original Bard's Tale, Wizardry, Ultima, NetHack, etc. are all still very much alive."

Very much alive is a relative term. Compared to what? World of Warcraft? D&D?

"But by your metric any RPG that people still play is doing just as well. "

Actually no, because if I use 'age' and 'still being played' as the metrics for measurement, then we can say which games are doing better than others. We could also throw in how many people are playing as another useful metric to help determine which game is doing better.

Again, I reiterate my point: by being so closesly tied to technology, World of Warcraft will not be with us in 35 years. Just think how much computer gaming has changed in the last 35 years... yet we still play D&D the same way we always did, using almost timeless methods (pen, paper, imagination). This is another reaons it'll still be played in 35 years.

NeoWolf said...

"I wonder what metric you might use instead?"

I'm actually not sure if I'm prepared to offer a really good answer there honestly. Age doesn't seem fair, as again, there are lots of games out there. D&D is simply the oldest. It seems akin to considering The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings as the best and most timeless fantasy novels simply because they're among the oldest. Doesn't seem really fair as that's a metric few other series can hold up to, inherently. It'll always be among the oldest.

Likewise, still being played doesn't seem inherently fair as as long as someone's playing it, it's still doing good then. Even if it's been out of print for ages.

"Very much alive is a relative term. Compared to what? World of Warcraft? D&D?"

"nothing is dead until no one plays it any more."

"We could also throw in how many people are playing as another useful metric to help determine which game is doing better."

Doesn't seem necessarily fair either though really, otherwise for example, WoW would stomp everything outright at this point.

"Again, I reiterate my point: by being so closesly tied to technology, World of Warcraft will not be with us in 35 years. Just think how much computer gaming has changed in the last 35 years... yet we still play D&D the same way we always did, using almost timeless methods (pen, paper, imagination). This is another reaons it'll still be played in 35 years."

Two responses here really. First off, looking back at the oldest MMOs.. they're still being played! D&D is considered to be one of if not the oldest role playing games. It's still being played. MUDs, the grandfather of MMOs as we know them are still being played. Ultima Online and Meridian 59, the oldest "modern" MMOs, still being played. They've been around for as long as they possibly could be and arguably computers are surely not going anywhere!

Likewise, you may still be playing D&D the same way but plenty of people aren't! The only universal there is imagination. Players at my table and myself have incorporated new technologies into our games as time's gone on. Spreadsheets to manage characters, word processing for notes.. digital maps for combat, even allowing you to play a classic pen and paper game across the Internet. Even D&D has heavily embraced this. One of the best things to come with 4th edition was the character builder and now monster builder too. Makes life much easier for players and DMs alike.

The Recursion King said...

"Doesn't seem necessarily fair either though really, otherwise for example, WoW would stomp everything outright at this point"

Until you include age as a metric for success as well, of course. Missing that out certainly would distort the picture. You see it depends on what span of time you look at... a single moment verses forever, I suppose. Which brings us full circle to my thirty five year comparison. I'm surprised you believe WOW will be played in 35 years, time will tell ultimately if it is, but you know where I stand. I say no, it won't be.

"It seems akin to considering The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings as the best and most timeless fantasy novels "

Many do, in fact, for these very reasons. Is that unfair, too?

NeoWolf said...

"Until you include age as a metric for success as well, of course. Missing that out certainly would distort the picture. You see it depends on what span of time you look at... a single moment verses forever, I suppose. Which brings us full circle to my thirty five year comparison."

I don't think age is worthless either, but I think it's from from an end all be all metric either. After all while lots of people are playing D&D 4e and 3.5 (or Pathfinder.) You start to find far fewer people playing AD&D 2e, and even less so OD&D. Still people are indeed playing them, but far fewer and the game has changed quite a bit since then. Likewise, I expect and seriously hope people will still be playing D&D in another 35 years, but I'd be quite shocked if it was the current editions for the most part, and if it hadn't changed quite a bit up to then as well.

"I'm surprised you believe WOW will be played in 35 years, time will tell ultimately if it is, but you know where I stand. I say no, it won't be."

I wouldn't be surprised, though I would if it was still huge. Again, online RPGs in the form of MUDs were around in the 80's, and some are still around to this day. Likewise I'm sure MMOs in general will be and if you look way back to my earliest post I was pointing out that you could argue that if anything D&D 4e borrowed ideas from MMOs in general, not merely WoW. Even then, I also emphasized that these very ideas were born in pen and paper RPGs like D&D in the first place.

"Many do, in fact, for these very reasons. Is that unfair, too?"

Yeah, I'd say so. I'd rather rank Tolkien highly for the sheer quality of world building put forth. Not the age, nor ignore how incredibly dry and painful to read he is.

The Recursion King said...

It's been an interesting discussion, and I thank you for that, but I think you are missing a crucial element in your arguement.

MUDs are around because they do not require much technology at all. They have primitive graphics and can run on pretty much anything.

However, World of Warcraft is not like that. It requires a huge stack of technologies to run on, all of which are complicated. You have to have the correct Direct X drivers, be running certain versions of Windows, have certain hardware. Or the game won't work. The technology it relies on is both its biggest strength and its biggest flaw. Do you think that the graphics cards in 35 years will be that backwards compatible? I say no, they won't be. I for one have run into issues just trying to run DOS games (a much simpler technology stack than WOW needs) and this is even in DOS emulators.

I'm not sure if you've ever run into software incompatibilities yourself when trying to run older games on newer systems, but I sure have. And consider the timespan is much, much shorter than we're discussing here. Some games don't even work on Vista which worked on Windows XP, for example and thats just a nine year gap.

NeoWolf said...

"I'm not sure if you've ever run into software incompatibilities yourself when trying to run older games on newer systems, but I sure have."

Oh I have, virtual machines and emulators are my friends. Most of my favorite old DOS games get played in dosbox these days because it's easier to get them going that way. Even older favorites on the Commodore 64 can be played this way on even my cellphone with little hassle.

That being said, again Meridian 59 and Ultima Online are still around. Far more complicated than MUDs. Likewise, this is assuming they don't get updated in the future. UO's original client is still around and works fine, but they're also got a modernized client out. Considering that 35 years later the first RPG is still getting new versions and revisions, and that the first modern MMOs are still getting updates and new releases, it doesn't seem unrealistic to think that we'll have ways to keep playing them down the line if we want to as well.

My main point originally though was two fold and I'd like to reiterate it. I don't think that it's a bad thing that D&D is vaguely borrowing ideas from an MMO like WoW. The fact that it's WoW isn't even important as it's merely MMO concepts, and again these concepts have their roots back in D&D in the first place.

I did and do take issue with blanketly declaring D&D more timeless simply because it's older. It seems elitist and arbitrary as the only real argument we have here is that it's older and that the newer games haven't had a chance to die yet. It seems like that can be turned around on anything, even including D&D. You can still argue that as long as people keep playing it'll be alive, but likewise that can be applied to anything just as well.

The Recursion King said...

DOSBox does not play every DOS game I have first hand experience of that.

I originally thought emulation too when I was working this through in my head but experience shows that isn't perfect. Anyway, the format of a MMORPG requires a server running to make it work, so even if you get the client working again in 35 years (highly doubtful) you'd not be able to play the game because the servers won't be there/running the server portion of the code.

The only way around this I can see is if Blizzard open sources the whole thing, but then you're left with the lack of players making it a largely pointless exercise in resurrecting.

NeoWolf said...

dosbox doesn't play every game but is pretty close and gets better with each release. Likewise though, just like it's not too hard to hold onto your old gaming books and keep playing, you can try the same with computer hardware. Though personally I'm far more inclined to go on the emulation route for simplicity sake.

Though I think we're way off topic at this point, I do feel the need to point out that the first two "real" MMOs are still up and running officially.

However also jumping to the side and merging both topics. Should Blizzard tank and the game still be popular it's quite likely unofficial servers will still be around. Fairly popular MMOs normally have server clones developed for them, WoW included has had some around for some time. So playing would still be an option by then most likely.

The Recursion King said...

Well, if we were talking ten years I would agree with you.. but the computer landscape has changed so much in the past 35 years and will change drastically again in the next 35.

However, by this point I think we'll just have to agree to disagree on this matter. You have put up some good counter points and I have enjoyed the discussion, but I'm unconvinced.

I've seen computer games go from pure text adventures to the 3D multi million pound ventures of today, computer hardware changing and the stack of dependencies for software to work grow ever longer. There comes a point at which this dependency list becomes fragile; knock any of the technologies out of the loop and none of it works any more. I see this as being the nature of the beast - I am a software developer myself. I see it like this: live by the sword, die by the sword. Live in the high tech world with shiny graphics and die by it. Remember when Unreal had the greatest engine ever? It got superceded and the gamers moved on. I see this as a pattern occuring again and again with computer games.

Anyhow, tis all food for thought and 35 years is a long time. All of our predictions could be way off lol.

Wickedmurph said...

King, my problem here is that you are not comparing apples to apples. D&D has seen a lot of changes and new editions over it's lifespan, but you are using the entire history of a game (and a game that really defined and created an entire genre of games at that) and comparing it to a specific game that is part of a different genre.

If you truly want to argue this point, you cannot do this. Saying "The Fantasy RPG genre will be around long after THIS SPECIFIC MMO has disappeared" is well, duh. Of course it will.

What I think NeoWolf and I are trying to say is "The Fantasy MMO will last just as long as the Fantasy RPG, less the time difference between their developments". Just as D&D has people who play the older editions, so there are mmo players who like the older games, but both genres are changing and moving forward.

And of the two genre's, MMO's, despite the fact that they are highly derivative of RPG's, have proven to be the more generally popular and profitable. WoW in particular, but the entire genre as well.

WotC would be irresponsible if they didn't pursue this market. Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying they should drop everything and make a WoW clone, even though some people would argue that's what they did.

They took some of the elements that make MMO's accessible - proven elements that have been much more successful than a lot of the things that holy Gygax and Arneson came up with, and incorporated them into an RPG system, and one of the reasons they did that was the success of the MMO genre.

So no, WoW will not be around for as long as the "D&D" brand. But it's already outlasted 3.5, and I'm betting it will outlast 4e as well, having easily eclipsed them both in sales.

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