Recently, I started playing what may be the best computer game of all time. The game is World of Warcraft (WoW), in a class of games knowns as MMORPGs, or Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games. Essentially, the game is everything that the classic Dungeons & Dragons ever promised.
When I was a kid, my uncle introduced me to D&D, the original fantasy role playing game. D&D allows you to venture off into a fantasy world as a made-up character, perhaps a fighter or a cleric, but a character with abilities that you will never have in your real world. It was a great way to escape from the perils of being a teenager. Back then, it was still first edition rules in the red books with expert rules in the blue books. While I don’t have an original copy of the basic rules, I do still have a copy of the 1st edition expert rules. I also have the original Monster Manual and Dungeon Master’s Guide…but I digress. Needless to say, after that introduction, I was always fascinated by the fantasy world of Dungeons & Dragons.
However, D&D always had some fundamental problems with it. The first problem was that every game required at least two people, and really it required at least three. One person played as the Dungeon Master or DM and the others formed a “party” of characters who would venture through the fantasy world. So this requirement pretty much immediately kept me from playing very much - no one I knew really got into the game. Second, the game has numerous - read very many - rules which the DM must master and implement perfectly and fairly. I never did meet a DM who really knew these rules. They are complicated, requiring various dice rolls to ascertain the results of party interaction with monsters and the environment. A simple dungeon could take hours to get through because of the slow navigation of the rules. Another problem was that the players depended on the DM to verbally give a good description of the environment, which again put more dependecies on the skill of the DM. A bad DM could easily ruin the game for everyone, enough so that some would never play the game again.
The solution to all of these issues comes in the form of WoW. The computer takes over the role of Dungeon Master. The environment is beautifully rendered in 3D. Environmental sounds and the occasional appropriate tune pipe vibrantly through the speakers. The game is “massively multiplayer” which means that it is played over the Internet with thousands of other players at the same time. Currently 4.5 million people play WoW. The first night I played it, I saw hundreds of characters and since then, thousands. So even if I start out as a “party of one”, I can meet other players online and join their groups to work cooperatively on various game goals known as “quests.”
As it happens, though, a buddy of mine decided to pick up the game at the same time as I did. D&D was always the most fun when questing around with good friends and WoW is no exception. It’s truly a blast to play this game in a cooperative fashion with friends. Add a decent Internet connection with Instant Messaging and a headset for audio conversations and the game can be played as if all the players were sitting around a table, like in the old days, conversing about the unfolding adventure.
The onerous rules are seamlessly implemented by the computer program making every interaction highly enjoyable and interesting. Battles with monsters are a fair and intelligent orchestration of player vs. monster foe. Tedious details such as awarding experience and treasure are automatic and transparent. Additionally, the game handles beautifully some details that n one could ever get right in D&D. For example, the mixing of reagents for particular spells or the concept of professions and talents as alternative goals.
The only problem with this game is that it is more addictive than crack. Hours can pass by without notice. Day becomes night, night becomes early morning. In the end, the most important skill may be the ability to shut down the game and walk away. And WoW is only the beginning. It is very obvious that this form of gaming could easily come to dominate the entertainment industry. Consider the numbers - a really good Hollywood movie does, say, $100 million in tickets sales with a $10 ticket price. So about 10,000,000 people go see such a movie. WoW costs $50 and 4.5 million people have bought it and play it. That’s $225 million right away. Now consider that those 4.5 million people also pay $15 a month to continue playing. That’s a recurring monthly revenue of almost $70 million. Now, if you are a Hollywood entertainment company, would you rather invest $20M into a single movie with the one-time $80 profit or the $20M into a game which can generate $1 billion of revenue in less than 2 years? As the graphics get better and the AI of the game characters gets smarter, the game will get even more interesting. For those of us who grew up in the early years of D&D, this game is the realization of everything we always hoped for. I am opening a new blog, just about my experiences in this game, at wowclassguide.com.