Hello, and welcome to another editorial piece based on elements in the World of Warcraft and the surrounding games industry. Today I take a look at a common argument on Warcraft forums and present in heated discussions; Originality.
World of Warcraft. To many it’s a game, to others it’s something a little more.
But what’s so ‘original’ about any of it? Let’s find out.
It’s a well known fact that the first few MMORPG games hit the shelves with high expectations and indeed huge drawn concepts, which in most cases never got realised in the intended way, sometimes due to competition, monetary problems or even technical limitations of the time. The first MMORPG is something that could be contested until the cows come home, so let’s not focus on that, but rather the learning process this genre has gone through with some key examples.
Asking around in various circles, one particular name became apparent; The ‘Dark Age of Camelot’. A true fantasy MMORPG released in 2001, a time when I was the age of 13 and something I obviously never experienced first hand. Yet what’s interesting is the principle elements that make the game as playable as it supposedly was, and indeed what obviously influenced many games to come. Dark Age practically invented the idea of player versus realm combat, several years before Guild Wars. It was a simple principle, go it alone in a massive open battle areas similar to a battleground in wow (instanced and hosted on dedicated servers), or team up into ‘Battle Groups’ to make the best use of group chat communication and co-ordination, in large scale wars versus other players. At the same time, the PvE elements of the game featured some of the first raid incentives seen in the genre and began with huge open-world bosses usually taking several players combined attempts to tackle effectively. This should all feel familiar as the game built / enforced elements of staple game-play for games in the genre for many years to come.
The idea that one idea was copied from another game is honestly a fact, but that has never been a negative aspect of the MMO world. Some people log into WoW and fail to see that World of Warcraft is as original as somebody seeing Lego for the first time and then re-branding it Legoff in a foreign country. How ‘original’ can you truly get when what works is making multiple millions of dollars annually, and what doesn’t work is scrapped or go’s free to play after the first year of its release schedule.
The idea that originality has died is also another argument I hear players shout loudly on forums, yet originality, what defines it at its very core is Innovation over invention. If a feature is popular within a game, that element is built upon by the next developer, usually trying to build on what made it a great addition, or what made it a terrible idea and to then iron out obvious flaws that caused the previous incarnation of the feature to get a negative response. None of this is to say that occasionally somebody won’t think of something new, and indeed never tried before and completely change the mould as it were. Take Rift for example, a game that prides itself with the opening advertisement slogan “you’re not in Azeroth anymore!” How that went out as it did I will never know, it only confused WoW players and alienated newcomers to the genre… anyway, the point is that Rift actually had some great ideas of its own, or rather innovated ideas of it’s own.
Player housing and guild housing may have been a more recent inclusion into Rift, but what is great about how it works is that the player is not isolated from their friends. It held a nice setup allowing you to build practically what you wanted with your friends, invite them over for tea and even have your own guild castle, forged from the combined contributions of its members through raiding or other group activities. This really impacted how developers saw the world players wanted to live in. You have to remember that technology back in the days of Dark Age of Camelot simply wouldn’t allow for this type of integration, and in many ways it’s down to technology that we are able to invent more over inovate.
The point I’m trying to make here is that when Rift entered the market late after the game had gone free to play, with an arguably pay to win model, the player housing feature was added for players and their guilds. This technology was something that many developers and designers saw and realised was actually something that could be done to refresh their own IP’s, integrated in their own way.
Less than a year later at Blizzcon 2013, Blizzard introduced the idea of ‘Garrisons’, effectively player housing built into instanced areas of the map they were built in. This reveal was no major surprise to many in the know, as it was inevitable that one day World of Warcraft would have to embrace this idea, especially with the volume of people now interested in that area of the game within their subscriber numbers.
To re-enforce the theme of building upon an idea, if you take a look at the Garrison design from the outset, it’s clear to see how the thought process was developed. Take the instanced design of the housing, of course Rift isn’t the sole influence for this, bare in mind I did just generalize with one example, when many games have tried to implement player housing (before people argue that I’m saying they took everything from Rift, shoot me now.). Instanced housing works, as can be seen in games like Rift, but what doesn’t work about that idea and the way it was implemented? The answer is simple. What can World of Warcraft do that competitors have not developed quite yet? Phasing. It’s a technological answer, but nonetheless an appropriate one.
Since Wrath of The Lich King, the expansion for WoW, released back in 2008, Blizzard have been experimenting with Phasing technology. Phasing is essentially the idea of two people being present in the same area seeing two separate things on their monitors, yet still able to interact with each other in the open world. Where obviously this had a rough time in it’s early stages, even playing throughout the course of the expansion’s quest trail, it’s clear to me that in the later zones it was polished off, with much less bugs present, allowing for much higher levels of interaction with area effects and visual transformations, yet not impacting on the stability of the area.
The third expansion for WoW; Cataclysm, is a perfect accompaniment to that point. There are places within that game you could stand next to your friend who has done nothing in that area and see only an empty dessert, yet on your monitor you see what evolved over a series of quests, which lead into a fully fledged Jungle area, complete with trees and a town of Tauren npc’s. This technology was announced to be much more advanced than in previous incarnations during a Blizzcon panel last year, and it’s very likely that we will not even notice the transitions at all between player created content and designed areas in future patches and expansions.
Is it then wrong for Blizzard to use this idea, which people argue was stolen from other games? Of course not. If we lived in a world where we didn’t strive to better ourselves, then it’s very likely the electricity powering your computer to play these games would of never been as widely available as it is, if at all innovated at all! Innovation put us on the moon, and we respect those who invented the things we needed to make any of that possible. That is how any industry is, be it radio, television, film, you name it, it all follows the same principles. Would Johnny Depp’s film about Tonto released last year of even existed had films like the Magnificent Seven and other westerns ever be shot? Would we have anything we currently do in popular culture at all if it wasn’t thought about somewhere, somehow? Probably not.
We currently live in a world of copyright infringement and content identification limitations on even making videos on YouTube. A world where suddenly because somebody can make a quick buck off of something, makes them legally entitled to do so, against any morality or otherwise circumstantial situations, despite past allowances under supposed fair use.
Obviously, before you think less of me, it’s important to reiterate that I do understand, & I DO respect copyright. Ripping off somebody and stealing an idea is wrong, but there’s a limit to that ideas originality and to what stipulates fair use of that property. Perhaps if it was better understood as appose to yet another overly antiquated law where nothing seems to be written in stone, then perhaps the world would be a better place. Do we really want to let it get to the point where something cannot be shown because it reminds somebody of something else? Sure it’s forum banter and angered fanboyism, but at what point does it become more? We all have a duty to respect the works of art that anybody creates on this planet, but if it’s not about bettering that experience and discovering what could be changed to make a situation better, what’s the point of anything?
It’s my firm belief that if you’re afraid to live in a world where ideas are taken and re-designed for your own comfort, you probably never understood any of the sacrifices the human race has gone through to even get past slavery, let alone what is wrong or right about infringement of an idea. I’ll continue to play a game based on how fun it is, but not for its uniquety, until the day that’s taken away from me, and It’s clear who to blame.
If you have enjoyed this article, even if somewhat rant filled this week, please comment below! Let’s continue the conversation, as I’m truly interested in any negative or positive beliefs on this topic. Thank you for reading, and I’ll see you next time!