*I was pondering it because I decided to start a music blog, since I enjoy blogging and music is my other great enjoyment. The blog is located at http://havethestoneskilled.wordpress.com/. That is, of course, a shameless plug but only click the link if you're interested in music and my thoughts on said music. I'm not trying to generate stray clicks.
The answer, pretty easily, was World of Warcraft. Part of that, however, was that I expect music to be important to me all my life whereas it's kind of hard to imagine still playing World of Warcraft when I'm 80 years old (rather an understatement). In fact, will World of Warcraft even exist in ten years, when I turn 80?
So Let's Change The Question
Instead of comparing World of Warcraft (which is a single game and will assuredly not last for many years) to music, how about MMOs in general to music? To this point in my life, it's one and the same, as I am not an "MMO player," I am a "WoW Player." I'm really not much of a gamer...you could almost draw a straight line from my Nintendo-playing days as a kid to Prince of Persia in the 1990s to World of Warcraft in terms of my commercial games-playing history. It's sparse.
That said, World of Warcraft has definitely captured me. It's a very big part of my life now, and I can certainly imagine moving to another MMO whenever WoW reaches the end of its run of relevance, which is inevitable (even Blizzard is preparing for a post-WoW reality by developing its new MMO, codenamed Titan).
So the real question is, what about WoW is it that has enthralled me so thoroughly and, therefore, what would need to exist in the future to make it likely that I'll remain addicted to playing MMOs in the way that I am (seemingly) irrevocably hooked to music?
The MMO Magic
There are three main components that attract me to playing World of Warcraft and at least two of them don't seem even remotely close to optimized in my view.
- Character As Self Expression : Any time you create an avatar, whether it's an icon and profile on a discussion forum or a virtual person in a game, you are representing something of yourself in it (unless you are filling out all the fields purely randomly). It stands to reason that you can therefore use the character in a game as a form of self expression. The more you can customize it to your tastes, the more of your creative being is being expressed.
- Social Connections : Obviously, a major part of an MMO is the "massively multi-player" portion of the acronym. It's a world not just in terms of virtual geography but in terms of society. There are a whole lot of people to potentially meet, in addition to any friends you knew prior to the game that you now have a new way to relate to. Playing with other people, socializing with other people is a big part of the power of these games.
- Challenging, Skill-Based Combat : This can be achieved in various ways but the way that World of Warcraft achieves it is through either Player versus Player games or Player versus Dragon encounters (that's right, PVD...that's what playing a fantasy game does, and should, boil down to!). I'm not much for PVP, but I just adore PVD (okay, okay, PVE).
Blizzard does a pretty damn solid job of the third one, in my opinion. It's not inconceivable that it could be better, but there are no glaring flaws with the end-game, in my opinion.
The second aspect is kindof there by default. I don't think Blizzard does a whole lot to maximize the social aspect of the game...which is fine. Blizzard has limited resources in terms of spending time to expand the game and there are a wealth of other ways people can connect on the Internet. Blizzard correctly prioritizes the game aspect to work on.
The first one is a trainwreck for a game of World of Warcraft's magnitude, in my view. You are supposed to feel attached to your character(s) and desire to progress with them, but the opportunities to set them apart from cookie-cutter archetypes are few and far between. The character creation process is surprisingly limited, there's virtually no ability to choose how you want to look from a fashion standpoint and all melee essentially have the same animations as do all casters. Essentially, your only in-game ability to look different is to choose from the tiny selection of hair styles not offered at the character creation screen and tabards. That's about it.
But I didn't write this post to vent about WoW. I came to praise it, didn't I? This is the game that, taken as a package, I love. Isolating what makes the game fascinating to me helps me identify what a future game would need to have to potentially draw me in after WoW.
So Might Future Games Be Even More Addictive?
As computing power and connectedness increases, one can certainly imagine each of those aspects being expanded, honed and made more powerful. Leaving aside end-game content (as what makes fighting dragons fun is awfully subjective and the subject of game design, which I don't feel like getting into here), I think it's clear that the social and self-expression aspects can be increased substantially.
An MMO could allow players to hook their IM clients into the game, whereby whispers, chats, etc, go to an IM client window/tab...even if you are not currently in the game (if you so choose). If you meet someone and don't yet feel like exchanging e-mails or even more personal information, you could still socialize in and out of the game. You could follow guild chat discussions even when you don't have the time/inclination to run the game. It's a fairly simple idea and much more elaborate social immersion could be fashioned, but I'm not trying to paint a "Turn the galaxy into one big computer!" vision of the future...just a simple step forward meant to illustrate that there's more power here to be tapped.
At a very basic level, customization of a character can involve more than WoW allows. Body type selections when creating the character (does my elvish rogue really have to be body builder? Seriously, Blizzard). Clothing slots that allow you to wear a set of gear for looks without losing the benefits of the set of gear you need for dragon-slaying stats. And then of course there are the futuristic possibilities, like having a facial creation tool, allowing you to truly fashion a look that no one else will have. This is supposed to be the virtual you...you probably want to be more "you" (by which I mean, your tastes, not necessarily your real life looks) than one of the thousand human clones running around and disco dancing.
Still Music, Though
Even if I make the assumption that I will be playing MMOs and healing til the day I die in real life, it doesn't change my answer. Music is a bigger part of my life today than World of Warcraft is. I don't play much WoW every day...the two raid nights are where WoW really becomes a big deal. Music is important every day.
A future MMO would have to be a lot more compelling, pulling at my daily entertainment hours more strongly to compete with music. That said, MMOs do have quite a lot of potential to grow. I think World of Warcraft did a lot of things right and therefore rightfully jumped to a position of dominance. Now it remains to be seen whether this form of game stagnates and withers on the vine or is evolved further in next-gen iterations and makes the jump to overall life obsession.
Now if only I could marry the two and listen to music while I raid rather than to all those annoying guildies on Vent who want me to heal or something.