Mr. Sirlin Sheeps You
Feb 24, 2006 18:56:00


A few days ago Gamasutra posted an article by David Sirlin, Street Fighter Guru Extraordinaire, called World of Warcraft Teaches the Wrong Things. I recommend reading this well written article, and of course I recommend reading the backlash articles that followed behind it. While I am even later to the party than the rest of the MMOG-blog committee, there are a few points to hash over that have yet to be explored.

World of Warcraft Teaches the Wrong Things
David Sirlin stepped in it
Dave Sirlin rips WoW
Learning the right things from people who are afraid we learned the wrong things when they learned other wrong things.
Learning From World of Warcraft

1. Mr. Sirlin is right about the Skill > Time argument. Sort of. In all games, skill should prevail over sheer time invested. Playing chess without diligent study or a natural aptitude for 20 years will not equal the mastery that a new player with the right talents and study regimen would. Even in a contest to hold your breath longer than someone else, it boils down to your innate or conditioned lung capacity. So, David aims his pop-gun at World of Warcraft and lets fly with a barrage of corks demonstrating his point. And a good point it is. World of Warcraft success has very little to do with the skill of the player, though I'd venture to say that this is "working as intended" if you asked Blizzard. The lead designer of Dusktreaders, Erik Hyrkas, recently illustrated this weakness on the Dusktreaders forums:
"One problem [MMO] games face is that all characters reach the cap level given enough time. This is a problem because it dilutes the value of being high level and content for that level range becomes over crowded. Take a game like WoW (which is amazingly successful), where having a level 60 character is nearly as common as finding people who breathe or drink water. If you play the game long enough, you will get there."
While this problem has existed in most MMOGs (and the MUDs from way back when) it has never been as pronounced or problematic as it is in World of Warcraft. But, is a safe environment of near-automatic progression actually a problem? I can think of another sort of popular game that works under this model. Solitaire. All it takes is time, you'll eventually win. If David has a problem with Solitaire, I can assure you he and my Grandma are going to rumble.

The intent of this counterpoint is to show that while Mr. Sirlin's observations are accurate, his conclusions presuppose that all players of a given game are motivated and excited by the same features that he appreciates. Those being level equality, twitch skills, and lack of barrier to entry in the form of time invested. This simply is not the case.

2. Mr. Sirlin tackles the Group > Solo issue. Mr. Sirlin is an introvert. His play style reflects my own and his comments about MMOG players often wanting to be "alone together" rings true. What seems to be missing from the equation is that World of Warcraft and its predecessors are built on the massively multiplayer stage. That is what they are. As much as players rant about wanting to solo, we must also remember that removing group activities from a game of this genre is also the wrong thing to do. The next ge
neration of adults will be populated by children who grew up learning to communicate, cooperate, and lead in text and avatar based worlds. Will the work-place of the next 50 years be much different? Is it much different now? As an information technology professional in his early thirties, I can safely say that effective communication via electronic mediums to critical to success in today's business world. Peers and superiors who are 20 years my senior commonly lack the skills to effectively lead an organization (or a raid) via email, intranets, and even conference calls (teamspeak anyone?). Those youths who are spending all their time playing Halo on the Xbox or running laps around a football field are going to find themselves struggling in the job market ten years from now. Just like Infocom games improved my typing skills in the mid-eighties, World of Warcraft and its ilk are building the virtual world leaders of tomorrow and I firmly believe that Mr. Sirlin underestimates the value represented by these distinctly extrovert skills.

3. Guilds are represented in David's article as a tool encouraging segregation and conflict. He refers to this as the "us versus them" phenomenon. Again, the parallel's to today's corporate and political world are hard to ignore. David may live in a world where everyone is holding hands and smiling on their brother, but I doubt he has visited the Middle East for a backyard barbeque lately. Clubs, cliques, political affiliations, teams, companies, and nations exist and will always exist. Sure maybe some day it'll be "humans" and "klingons" but even then, they will exist and it doesn't hurt to educate people on the best ways to survive in those environments. Guild drama sucks, but it teaches plenty.

4. Terms of service come under the vicious pop-gun barrage, but all the "shoulds" and "coulds" in the world don't change the fact that source code is fallible and somethings just aren't worth the effort to enforce in code. I get the distinct impression that David has no programming experience. Any developer who read his complaints regarding PvP, profanity, toon naming, and system loopholes surely dismissed the points immediately simply because the items mentioned are A) nearly impossible to remidiate and B) simply not worth the time and money to code. While the points made are fair and desireable, they are hardly new and hardly something that hasn't been a thorn in the side of many a dev team.

When I read this article the first time, I found it intriguing, well written, and accurate at least from one point of view. This is perhaps because I agree with many of the skill based comments that David discusses, but this isn't a problem with MMOGs in general, it is a problem with MMOGs today, WOW in particular (though remember, it is working as intended.) A more careful analysis of the article revealed that Mr. Sirlin believes that MMOG players are sheep who follow the tracks laid before them by Blizzard without concern for their own abilities as a player. I find this false. A conversation with any successful guild or raid leader and the key players within any guild or raid would be enough to dispel this. And for the others, the fodder and the rank and file - they are learning. They are learning to be a raid leader, they are learning to work with others, they are learning the value of patience, and they are learning to survive in their environment. No they are not learning how to press A-B-B-Up-Down faster than the opponent. But they are learning the intricacies of a Molten Core raid, not to mention the communication skills I mentioned (oh and it takes a fair bit of knowledge to keep a gaming machine running as opposed to a gaming console). Someday they'll graduate from World of Warcraft and explore the more advanced MMOGs or maybe they'll go on to be the next CEO of their company, the next sales person in a worldwide organization, or the next Brad McQuaid or [fill in your favorite gaming exec]. These people are not all sheep.
Some are lions and some are lions who wear sheep's clothing in Azeroth because they like to relax, something not easily done in a frag fest, fist fight, or tank battle.

Submitted by Brent on Feb 24, 2006 18:56:00 CST (comments: 0)


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