WIRED Interview with Ion Hazzikostas - How World of Warcraft Has Evolved
Game Director Ion Hazzikostas, wherein he spoke about how World of Warcraft has changed over the years, particularly player motivation and social evolution. While not a direct response, it hits on some of the same talking points that Mike Morhaime brought up when he said
WoW had become less social
, along with the follow ups offered by
J. Allen Brack
While we've summarized the major talking points and added a bit of our own thoughts to them, it is a
interview, with great points made by both Hazzikostas and WIRED writer Cecilia D'Anastasio; well worth reading in its entirety.
Read the full interview at WIRED
Accessibility and Sharing Information
Games are very rapidly solved these days. The internet as a whole, the world as a whole, has refined the process of accelerating and socializing information, figuring out problems.
You’d have a whole competitive hierarchy in a local arcade, a local video game store, where there was some character that was perceived as the best or the strongest because some person in the neighborhood was great with them. But in the next town over, arcade regulars battled with different tricks, different strategies, a different hierarchy of characters. Information was fragmented, localized.
The reality is that almost everybody was playing the game wrong. The internet as a whole, the world as a whole, has refined the process of accelerating and socializing information, figuring out problems.
This couldn't be more true. It's often claimed that players are "better" at the game than they used to be, but there hasn't really been any change in skill so much as tremendous leaps forward in our ability to analyze and measure performance.
World of Warcraft theorycrafting in began on paper napkins, using backwards engineered math to support guesstimations and shared on guild forums (the most notable of which Hazzikostas actually ran). Few players ever even knew the information was there, even less of them actually understood it, and a great deal of those assumptions were ultimately proved wrong, although in many cases it wouldn't be discovered for several years. Information spread by word of mouth - you knew a person who knew a person who talked to a person who did really good damage in a dungeon that one time, which both stood as both a basis for theorycraft and proof concept... even though it was near impossible to prove entirety. There was no centralized source of comparison outside of your raid group's damage meters or whatever other players you happened to talk to.
Over time the math was automated via spreadsheets, but as the game became more complex, more robust solutions were needed, leading to the rise of standalone programs such as SimulationCraft. Even then, most information was controlled by the relative handful of people who actually knew how to use said programs, turned into guides and pawn strings for others to follow. It wasn't until very recently that Raidbots provided the ease of access to simulations for the common layperson, to the point where anyone can optimize to their heart's content.
Today, people are almost trained to min-max. The community pushes people in that direction, especially socially. Even if it’s not your preferred playstyle, the people who may want you in your group or may not, are holding you to some of those standards. Once it’s knowable, you’re expected to know.
As stated in the interview: "The answer to any mystery is a Google search away." Or as is often the case, the same question asked a hundred times on Discord, answered with a chorus of
Check the Pins
It isn't just player tools that have improved, the game community's willingness to share information and help each other succeed has as well. Sharing raid strategies was virtually unheard of in the mid to late 2000's; guilds guarded them jealousy, players paid to learn from more progressed guilds, and poaching players was often more about learning tactics than improving 1/40th of the raid roster. Now, guides are written before raids even release, refined meticulously throughout progression, and posted to every video host or website available. The only place this secrecy persisted was at the absolute highest levels in the Race for World First, but even that has been demystified as those guilds have turned to Twitch streaming - evolving what was a tight-lipped race to the top into a televised event.
Evolving Social Dynamics
Players were much more likely to be tolerant of each other’s faults. You probably weren’t going to kick your healer who made a mistake from the group, because then you’d be back to spamming chat for 30 more minutes.
This comment hits on that social question raised by Mike Morhaime. Is WoW less social today than it used to be? Most nostalgic players will say yes, recalling those fond Stockholm-esque memories of struggling to put a group together and suffering their way through to the end rather than giving up or trying to find replacements.
Setting aside the idea that WoW was the first online social experience for many gamers, the truth of the matter is that Vanilla and Classic are much slower paced games. It takes longer to organize and fill groups, and even destinations are further away; you spend far more time auto-running, waiting on flight paths, boats, zeppelins, individual summons, or eating/drinking to recoup health and mana than you do in "modern" WoW. There's no switch which flips when you sign on to Classic that makes you talkative - players are just going to look to fill that extra downtime, whether it's by playing Peggle, watching Netflix, or even talking to other players. By contrast, so-called modern WoW is packed to the brim with activities and ways to get there quickly, be it portals, teleportation items, flying mounts, or queuing systems; the gameplay is quite simply faster, and you hardly have time to take your hands off your rotation to type anything to other players.
While you can say this means that modern WoW is definitively less social than Classic or Vanilla, that doesn't mean it has to be. If you're in a dedicated raiding guild or well established community, it may be even more social than anything you ever experienced in Vanilla, simply because we have so many more avenues of communication now than before. We didn't have Battle.net, Discord, or Communities in Vanilla - aside from the forums (which might as well have been the Wild West in the mid 2000's), the only people you could easily talk with were those playing in the same region, on the same server, in the same faction, and online at the same time as you. Want to talk about your class now? Here's a list of every
, some of which with upwards 90,000 members, eager to talk and share their resources. In Vanilla, maybe you've heard of the Elitist Jerks forums, hopefully you know how to navigate their draconian rules or your first ill-considered post might just be your last (EJ was infamous for its heavy handed banhammer, in order to keep the forums clean and productive).
It’s amazing how some of the old tropes you never quite get away from. I actually have a coworker who was one of the original developers on a World of Warcraft, whose name you'd definitely recognize if I said it, whose own personal WoW Classic group split up at level 60 over loot drama in Blackrock. This is a group of developers who played the game 15 years ago, worked on the game 15 years ago.
War never changes
, and apparently neither does loot drama.
Capturing the Mystery
One of the biggest things that’s exciting about the concept of an MMO is going into an unexplored, undiscovered world. It’s almost the promise of something that somehow breaks all the rules we were talking about when it comes to how players understand and deconstruct systems. We have an incredibly passionate community we couldn't be more grateful for, but we're still always chasing that mystery, that fantasy of the unexplored and undiscovered.
Hazzikostas closes on this remark, and while slightly out of context, it brings up another talking point - how do you recapture the mystery in a world of instant access to information?
One of the most pointed comments in the entire article is that many of the game's changes over the years have been player driven. Not necessarily by request, but by action - the almost fanatical emphasis on discovering, cataloguing, analyzing, and optimizing nearly every aspect of the game. While you could certainly bemoan this trend, it's also hard to place blame - who is at fault, the theorycrafter who teaches other players or those players asking to be taught? Is the Youtube strategy guide creator more to blame than the hundreds of thousands of people who watch the videos? Did the chicken come before the egg?
There's an obvious demand for answers to these questions, and whether it came about as a result of the demand or the demand grew as a result of sharing information is frankly irrelevant. The genie is out of the bottle and isn't going back in, there's no way to turn back the clock or "remystify" the game, lest we convince the entirety of the internet to all agree to the same idea. This goes far beyond WoW; there's virtually no conceivable topic which isn't quantified, broken down, and discussed ad nauseum on Discord, Reddit, Youtube, Gamefaqs, or any one of a thousand different bogs or news sites. Some players will insist this is the downfall of the game, and indeed they've been insisting it for the past decade, but as with everything, players will evolve with the game just as the game will evolve with the players... either way the juggernaut that is World of Warcraft shows no signs of stopping.
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