Former Blizzard developer Mark Kern says that MMOs are now too easy and that World of Warcraft “ruined a genre”.
In a post on MMORPG, Kern – who left Blizzard to found Red 5 Studios – lamented the drive towards accessibility that he believes has turned most MMOs into indistinct and unchallenging races to their respective end games.
“Accessibility was the mantra when I was leading the World of Warcraft team,” he wrote.
This accessibility meant that players never had to think about what to do next, wrote Kern, and expansions hastened the simplification of the game.
“Quest trackers were added, and xp was increased so that it was easier to level through all the old content to get to the ‘new stuff’ of the expansion,” he wrote.
“Gear from the a new expansions first quests made raid gear from previous expansions a joke. And the level curve became faster and faster until we reached a point where everyone is just in a race to get to max level, and damn everything else in between.
“Why care about level 20 gear when you would blow by levels so fast it was obsolete before you even logged off for the night?” he asked.
But the accessibility push worked, and players arrived in their millions. However, Kern questioned whether it was actually worth it.
“Sometimes I look at WoW and think ‘What have we done?’,” he wrote.
“I think I know. I think we killed a genre.”
The lowering of the game’s difficulty curve was a particular problem as it robbed players of a sense of achievement, said Kern.
“When the bar is lowered so that everyone can reach max level quickly, it makes getting to max level the only sense of accomplishment in the game,” he wrote.
“We lose the whole journey in between, a journey that is supposed to feel fun and rewarding on its own. Nobody stops to admire a beautiful zone or listen to story or lore, because there is no time to do so.
“You are fed from a fire-hose of quests that you feel compelled to blaze through, whose content is so easy and quick to accomplish, that you are never in one place long enough to appreciate the incredible world around you.
“We feel bored by these quests, simply watching numbers on our quest trackers count down to completion before we are fed the next line of quests. And you don’t feel satisfied from playing the game because it never challenged you.”
In turn, this meant that developers didn’t spend time creating rich, fulfilling quests, but instead repeated the same simple generic template over and over, said Kern.
“The moment to moment gameplay suffers. And its this focus on throwaway quests as ‘content’ that is putting MMOs into a very deep bind,” he wrote.
“There is no thinking, and not much choice, as the ideal path is spoon fed to you in a linear fashion (ironic how open world MMOs have become linear quest fests).
“It may be great for relaxing and having a fun couple hours of gameplay, but it doesn’t last. No wonder we have such a huge crowd of jaded and bored MMO players.”
The focus of such games should be on the journey, added Kern.
“An MMO should be savored, a lifetime of experiences contained within a single, beautifully crafted world. The moment to moment gameplay should be its own reward.
“It’s not about the competition to max out your character, it’s about a way of life and a long term hobby with enduring friends.”
Naturally, Kern believed that Red 5 Studios’ upcoming MMO Firefall would avoid these traps.
“Firefall is not a trivialized distillation of an MMO. We found that adding a little difficultly and depth has actually made the game more fun, not less.
“Maybe, just maybe, as an industry we’ve made things too easy, and it’s time to get back to games being challenging as well as fun.”
Firefall goes into open beta on July 10.