Answering Tom Chick: Five Easy Pieces And One Snide One

Tom Chick is one of the (if not the) most influential video game writers out there. He also doesn’t like MMOs very much. This is a problem!

He lays out five reasons why not here. You should go read. When you come back, I have some helpful suggestions!

Problem one: Subscription fees

Well, um, not every MMO charges subscription fees. Guild Wars lets you play as much as you want once you buy the box. MMOs for teens like Maple Story and Runequest pioneered the model of “playing for free until you get addicted, then pay a little more”. Games like Puzzle Pirates let you pitch in a dollar or whatever when you need to. This isn’t an unsolved problem. What is an unsolved problem is that perception that subscription fees imply a level of quality in craftmanship, and “free products” are cut-rate. This is driven largely because at the moment, that’s how the market shakes out. After all, World of Warcraft charges a subscription fee, therefore, statistically speaking, all MMOs do! Right?

Problem two: Why do I have to install Omen again?

For those of you not being drug by your nose through World of Warcraft raiding, Omen is the name of a third party threat meter used to ensure your aggro management is precisely where it should be. Aggro is a key part of the Holy Trinity that to date every DikuMUD (muds descending from Diku code bases, as Raph Koster’s magisterial analysis describes), and the core combat mechanic hasn’t really changed that much in the intervening decades. You takes the beats, you heals the beats, you mitigate the beats, you spread the beats around. It’s all about the beats. Unless, you know, you fight other players, since other players are usually immune to taunting unless it takes place on message boards. Even in DikuCombat, PvP breaks the whole aggro paradigm. And there *are* other combat systems that have been introduced. They’re rare, and usually get roundly trounced in the marketplace because people enjoy the safe, secure embrace of take/heal/deal beats. Ultima Online, for example, is entirely apart from the whole DikuMUD aggro mechanic – it has aggro, but it’s dependent on lots of bizarre things such who hit what when and whether you had a bard and the phase of the moon and whatever. But, if you play World of Warcraft, that’s what you’re going to learn, since, statistically speaking, all MMOs are actually World of Warcraft.

Problem three: Why are there so many goddamn buttons on my screen?

Because you’re playing a Warlock? Because you’re raiding? The core World of Warcraft UI is actually pretty simple. It’s player-crafted addons that hoist it aloft into a F-16 HUD. But the real core problem is the button-mashing that, again, DikuCombat is dependent on. It’s an artifact of MMOs being client-server systems at their core; more interactive combat such as Oblivion’s sword slashing imposes a huge tax on latency and percieved responsiveness. There have been hacks (such as Age of Conan’s “autoattacking into space” directional attacks) but, in the main, World of Warcraft uses the same tried and true DikuCombat which means you’re going to be pressing the 1, 2 and 3 keys on your Rogue over and over. And statistically speaking, all World of Warcraft players are in fact Rogues (soon to be Death Knights).

Problem four: Why is there a line to kill Sauron?

World of Warcraft is, by its very nature, intentionally a static amusement park. You get on the ride, you experience thrills, chills, the occasional spill, and get to the end, at which point you get to do it all over, but for reputation points.  This is because if someone came before you and saved Bloodmyst Isle from the Sun Elf threat, you’d have a pretty damned boring time getting your space goat to level 20, wouldn’t you? There have been many attempts to address this problem – having player-generated content (such as UO’s Seers), having player-vs-player content (such as Dark Age of Camelot and Warhammer’s Realm vs Realm fighting), or having procedurally generated content (such as Anarchy Online’s early stab at instancing and World of Warcraft’s current iteration of ‘phasing’). But… hey, I bet you know how this will conclude, and I won’t spoil it for the next 50 people doing this quest line. (Hint: ‘statistically speaking…’)

Problem five: I can’t go raiding with Bob with my level 6 paladin

That’s because, for whatever reason, World of Warcraft never implemented sidekicking or mentoring – the ability to temporarily boost yourself or lower your friend’s levels so that they can match, which is a key feature of pretty much every MMO that isn’t World of Warcraft. Unfortunately, statistically speaking, every MMO that isn’t World of Warcraft doesn’t exist, so that’s probably why it hasn’t been implemented yet.

Tom Chick’s core problem: MMO = World of Warcraft. This isn’t really a fair cop, as I have it on good authority that he’s fond of LOTRO, too. But still. Every screenshot in his story is from World of Warcraft. Every problem in his story is from World of Warcraft. Every time he says MMO, he really means World of Warcraft.

And you know, when one of the most influential game writers in the industry makes this mistake, and essentially writes a piece on “Why is World of Warcraft Like World of Warcraft?”, I think we have a problem bigger then aggro management.

Statistically speaking.


83 Responses to Answering Tom Chick: Five Easy Pieces And One Snide One

  1. Factory says:

    Erm, while all these criticisms can apply to WoW, they also apply to pretty much every other Everquest clone out there, which is the majority of the market.
    This is really an attack on the genre, not on WoW.

  2. Mark says:

    — Problem five: I can’t go raiding with Bob with my level 6 paladin

    Because most mmo’s are built to hook you into spending time (money) leveling so you can raid with Bob. That’s the only reason I can think of.

  3. GTB says:

    I’m confused. Most people who aren’t 13 year olds already know that WoW actually sucks, and the reasons why. There’s no reason for this dude to continue to point them out. We know already. We get it. The non-13 year old contingent has already moved on to other (mostly) better things. When you are able to provide a bullet-point list as to why you hate specific things in the game you are playing, that is what you do.

    This is clearly not a criticism of MMOs in general though, as you pointed out, since it doesn’t apply to anything that doesn’t fit the WoW/EQ mold. CoH/CoV for instance.

    Don’t worry, Darkfall is going to save the genre. It’s being released as a Phantom console exclusive later this year.

  4. jinstevens says:

    I largely agree with you, Scott.

    1. Subscription fees aren’t a problem. Sorry they aren’t. WoW having 10M+ subscribers is a “problem” a lot of companies would like. And I think Tom thinks we must be a bunch of sheep. I have no compunction of canceling a MMO to go try another one or to spend time with a single person game. I don’t think I’m alone in feeling that I’m obligated to pay a subscription if the MMO doesn’t interest me or I want to try something else.

    2. Aggro isn’t a problem with just MMOs. Diablo, which Tom mentions in his post, use the same mechanism. Even stealth based games like Rainbow Six rely on aggro management. That’s not necessarily a bad thing.

    3. Like you mention, plenty of MMOs don’t have lots of other buttons, and the button phenomenon is compounded in WoW by third party add ons. Isn’t giving players a choice as to what their UI should look like is a good thing? Clean UI doesn’t necessarily mean that’s necessarily better.

    4. I don’t see how giving every player a chance to take on the ultimate baddie is a bad thing. If you make it more exclusive then you get problems with camping the baddie until he spawns…that’s one of the most horrible aspects of an MMO, which WoW largely (but not completely) avoids.

    5. City of Heroes had sidekicking from its earliest days. Other games have it too, like you mention. The problem with sidekicking however is that it promotes twinking and exploits…that’s the problem, not the ability to play with friends.

    Bottom line: I think Tom needs to play more MMOs besides WoW.

  5. Montague says:

    GTB :I’m confused. Most people who aren’t 13 year olds already know that WoW actually sucks, and the reasons why. There’s no reason for this dude to continue to point them out. We know already. We get it. The non-13 year old contingent has already moved on to other (mostly) better things. When you are able to provide a bullet-point list as to why you hate specific things in the game you are playing, that is what you do.
    This is clearly not a criticism of MMOs in general though, as you pointed out, since it doesn’t apply to anything that doesn’t fit the WoW/EQ mold. CoH/CoV for instance.
    Don’t worry, Darkfall is going to save the genre. It’s being released as a Phantom console exclusive later this year.

    You are woefully ignorant of WoW’s demographics.

  6. jinstevens says:

    GTB :
    The non-13 year old contingent has already moved on to other (mostly) better things.

    It has? Then there’s a lot of 13 years olds still playing WoW…like 10M+ of them.

    Don’t worry, Darkfall is going to save the genre. It’s being released as a Phantom console exclusive later this year.

    Oh? You mean like Age of Conan was going to be the WoW killer? Or that Warhammer Online would take away a good chunk of Wow’s subscriber’s base? Sorry for the sarcasm, but I remain skeptical of Darkfall from the little I’ve seen of it.

  7. Chris F says:

    1. Sub fees are a problem, to casual people who want to play at a human pace. At least in North America. In Asia it is 0.06 cents an hour. I would pay that in a heartbeat for WoW, and enjoy WoW, WAR, LotRO, COH, all in the same month. Perhaps saying its a problem is a problem. Better of saying “it would be BETTER with payment options”. The Sub fee acts as a barrier to most gamers (not all) and serves two purposes. a) Rediculously high profit margins, and b) A one game exclusivity for consumers (which is currently WoW), acting as a barrier for gamers to play other MMOs.

    2)The Threat mechanic is silly as implemented. Currently you have a small percentage of players that can actually withstand the hits from a “boss” or it’s game over. So, a God of the underworld, living for thousands of years, can’t quite shake his head at the fact that no matter how many times he puts the Tin Can within an inch of his life, somehow it is instantly brought back to full health. Of course, a God of the underworld wouldn’t try to fight anyone else that may be causing the whole healing instantly thing, because even if he did the Tin Can would call him a name and he would instantly forget anyone else was even in the room. No, I don’t have a solution to this either =) It is a bit on the silly side though.

    3. I can’t wait for an evil genius to build an MMO that isn’t built around button mashing cooldowns. As a healer class, I didn’t even see most boss encounters, just health bars. It would be a complete innovation for MMO’s to not need 20+ boxes on your hotbars, but hey, it may even be possible (and an improvement).

    4. Persistant world is impossible in current MMO scape, especially when it comes to bosses and the like. I don’t really have a problem with it, but the design does encourage grind-loot mentality. Instead of making 20 bosses, devs make one – and force you to kill him 20 times so you can be geared enough to fight the next boss. 20 times. I know a lot goes into tuning those encounters, so again, not really a solution here for PVE.

    5. I wouldn’t mind seeing a change to the leveling curve. A max level character is pretty much invincible to a level 1 character, even hundreds of them. Why not have a max level character only 10% “stronger” than a level 1 character? Keep the power curve more relative so developers can focus on making content for everyone, instead of gigantic budgets for an hour that players will never play once they past level 10? You can still have 90 levels inbetween as the cheese for the rats so people are still making “achievements”.

    6. Tom does think WoW = MMO. I am guessing so does every investor and shareholder of MMO companies does too. Regardless, the same inherent problems in Fantasy MMO land exist. (Less in Super Hero MMOland, and Space ship MMOland, as mentioned.)

    Question is if change is not only possible, but wanted by consumers. Different is scary.

  8. Mist says:

    This is the guy that said of Deus Ex: “I’d say it’s only 90% bad.”

    I think this guy just doesn’t like PC games.

  9. Njal says:

    @ jinstevens re: Darkfall … whooooosh.

  10. […] wanted to direct your attention to this piece written by Scott Jennings over at Broken […]

  11. DrewC says:

    When did “I don’t like X genre” become “X genre is broken”? Why is it not okay for me to come over here and have my fun, while you go over there and have your fun?

  12. Guido Jones says:

    Mist :This is the guy that said of Deus Ex: “I’d say it’s only 90% bad.”
    I think this guy just doesn’t like PC games.

    Tom actually likes PC Games a lot – he wouldn’t stop talking about Company of Heroes for example. His tastes just tend to differ from what the “mainstream” is.

  13. dartwick says:

    The guy made some good points except for the static world thing, to be honest its required for most other good idea in MMOs to work. And its not hard to live with.

    Subscription fees – they arent bad themselves but MMO players are still new to the genre and are stupid customers who are willing to accept exploitive game design.

    Agro – as implimented in most MMOs its crappy game design.

    Simple button smashing – MMOs have a big problem in that they appeal to incompetent gamers who want this.

    Leveling – the whole idea of levels in an MMO is retarded

  14. J. says:

    He can play City of Heroes. Yahtzee liked it! (around 21:19)

  15. Jobrill says:

    @DrewC I’ve wondered this myself. A lot of people don’t seem to realize that the MMO Genre is not FOR them, and that they’d be better served finding another genre of game to play rather than insisting the MMO genre, or at least current MMO games, change to suit their wants.

  16. Merkwurdigliebe says:

    I thought it said Jack chick.

  17. Random Poster says:

    “In Asia it is 0.06 cents an hour”

    you know at that rate it would cost some people MORE to play WoW than it does now. Granted that would fall in line with the “hardcore” but still.

    I wouldn’t mind the option of Pay by Playtime alongside a normal subscription plan. Let the buyer choose.

  18. Freakazoid says:

    Apparently I never heard of this Tom Chick, because for a moment I thought you meant Jack Chick. That made me very, very confused.

  19. Freakazoid says:

    I should read comments more often because waddup thought-it-was-jack-chick buddy

  20. Servantes says:

    @Chris F

    Looks like the solution to your problem came before it… Ultima Online.

  21. Davide says:

    Guild Wars has already solved most of the problems listed and I still rate it as one of the best PvP games available.

    No Sub fee’s, fast leveling curve, in fact you can play a L20 PvP character right out of the box.

    You can’t make a godlike character, everything has a counter. You spec for a specific strength and have specific weaknesses. The button mashing becomes situational depending on the targets state or where in the chain you are.

    Looking forward to GW2 immensely.

    One thing I did like about Warhammer was how taunting worked in PvP, it actually serves a purpose. When you taunt a character they do 50% damage to anyone else but you, kind of novel.

    The agro range quote mentioned is one of my biggest pet peeves. It’s pretty dumb to walk up to a bunch of NPC’s all talking in a group and stand 10 feet away from them killing them all 1 at a time. Vanguard had a pretty cool bit with linked mobs and when you targeted one you could see any of the other mobs linked to it. But get real, if you attack a camp or castle or whatever, every living thing should make a beeline for you when the alarm is raised.

    The biggest disappointment I have with the genre is how difficult it is to transition from single player games. We all went through the leveling grind to turn our little L1 wimps into walking gods that could destroy worlds and sadly that doesn’t translate well into multiplayer.

    The ironic part is with MMO’s your character is strongest at level 1. You can take on multiple mobs your level or higher and survive, whereas by max level anything remotely close to you will squish you into little bits.

    My idea for a masochistic game would be for you to start off at L1 at your most powerful (in terms of survivability, HP’s, mana and whatnot) and that leveling would actually make you weaker, albeit with more skills. So go ahead and level all you want, the challenge increases all the more…

  22. BadMisterFrosty says:

    I work on a game that does most things differently. There’s real time combat. It is made so that you aren’t totally locked into your level range (you can theoretically dodge all damage and wear down strong opponents). You don’t need the ‘Pants of Doom’ gear to mitigate just enough damage to survive the 3rd attack wave which unlocks ownage of the boss. You have only few skills at a time on screen. Aggro in our game is arcane — there is no taunting monsters while its grilled by someone else. The Diku Trinity is a rudiment only. It’s still a static world for now. Right, the Subscription fee thing — ok, that’s still an issue on his list.

    Yes, there are games that do it differently than WOW.

  23. UnSub says:

    I fail to see how most of these stated problems are actually real problems. Except for WoW = the entire MMO industry.

  24. Jeff says:


    You do realize what assuming does right? I’m 35 and yeah, I have my problems with WoW, it’s not perfect. But then I go to Warhammer, yet another game where I feel like I am paying to play a beta, and I realize all the things WoW does right. A lot of us may have a lot of beefs with WoW, but what does it does with a lot of polish and this side of 3.08 it generally does really well.

    More to your point regarding 13 year olds: I am in two guilds in WoW, Soldiers of the Cross on Laughing Skull, and the Ist Fist of Light,on a different server, which migrated away from Warhammer when we saw how imbalanced things were in T3-T4.

    To my knowledge, we have ONE 13 year old in both guilds. Most of the people I play with are in their 20s and 30’s, some are even in their 50’s and 60’s. My friends list is pretty much the same. I’m not saying that there are NOT 13 year-olds in WoW, I’m just saying to pretend only kids like WoW and everyone over the age of 13 is waiting for Darkfall is a false assumption.

  25. […] 29, 2009 by Syp Scott over at Broken Toys does a neat little analysis of a pretty bizarre article concerning the author’s perceived problems with MMOs.  Scott […]

  26. […] “Lum the Mad” Jennings has penned a humorous response the the article – and offers up some opinions of his own. Let the discussions begin in […]

  27. Apache says:

    >>Tom Chick is one of the (if not the) most influential video game writers out there.

    In which universe do you refer to?

  28. ubvman says:

    Regarding Problem four: Why is there a line to kill Sauron?

    Theres a lot of lazy and bad writing out there, and since everyone started out as Everquest clones, they copied that genetic defect from the very start. I’m not talking about about the, “kill ten rats for me” quests that are perfectly logical to be repeatable. Its the repeating storyline quests that makes nonsense of the whole concept that its “FANTASY WORLD“, but rather its really a videogame theme park with button mashing rides.

    How many times do we have to kill Sauron (for example, any raid boss will do) to lose all respect for him as an antagonist? “Killing” him once is an achievement, raid on him a second second time – you realize he/it is just another elaborately painted pixelated bowling pin, not very different from the Wii bowling game your neice is playing at.

    Its just very, very unimaginative fantasy writing more suited (in fact it should only apply) to single player games. You can easily break out of that paradigm with some thought put into it but since the genre is either too lazy or timid to step away from the whole EQ clone thing it doesn’t.

    I’m rather glad Arthas (WoW thing), is not a killable boss in WotlK, not while the standard philosophy of storyline encounters written as EQ repeatable pinatas is still in place.

  29. ubvman says:

    AHHHH!!! I replied to the wrong article! Can you move it Lum?

  30. Aufero says:

    I’d never heard of Tom Chick before reading this, and I’ve spent a ton of time over the last thirty years reading about video gaming. Either the standard for being an influential video game writer is pretty low, or he’s influencing some group that doesn’t include me.

  31. Viz says:

    But ubvman, the thing is that Blizzard has stated that Arthas WILL be a killable boss in WotLK (and the final one, at least). The excellent but now-defunct Hammer of Grammar had an excellent comic about this process… unfortunately, I didn’t save it.

  32. Viz says:

    Correction: It appears to merely have changed domains, though there still hasn’t been a new comic. The one in question is

  33. Random Poster says:

    My guess is that when Arthas becomes a raidable boss is that when we fight him we don’t “kill” him, afterall the Lich King is not a physical being, it just happens to be contained in Arthas’ body for now. No one is even sure how much of Arthas is actually in the collective consciousness of the Lich King.

    So at best the vessel is destroyed and it goes on to inhabit some previously minor character to become strong again at a later time.

    Cliche’ yes but it is a built in safety valve

  34. Vasagi says:

    C’mon – “one of the (if not the) most influential video game writers out there”?? Please. Controversial maybe from his general jackassery … bu influential? … I don’t think so. That’s like saying that Don Imus is one of the most influential DJs on the air. Publicity from being an ass grants attention – not necessarily influence.

    His article is one big whine about things he doesn’t like in WoW, and in the section where he is supposed to offer suggestions he just says “you guys figure it out”. Why even have a “what needs to be done to fix it” section after each point if he’s just going to profess his ignorance for the fifth time? At least Lum had the courtesy to reflect on some history to even make an ATTEMPT to ponder on why things are as they are.

    My personal favorite is how he claims the “button lock” of MMO (WoW) makes the games boring – then says he should stick to diablo. Exactly WTF is fun and interesting about mashing a single mouse button as opposed to mashing the top row of number keys on your keyboard? Either way, Blizzard is taking his bank, because the only alternative to a Blizzard product is another Blizzard product!! MUAHAHAHAHA

  35. Brask Mumei says:

    Mashing a single button in Diablo is fun because I do it in a LAN party with a bunch of friends. Mashing 20 buttons in WoW sucks because said friends are all different levels/servers/experiences/incompatible classes.

    Lum nailed it at the beginning – the real crime is that MMORPG == DikuMud in too many eyes. Equally guilt are commenters here claiming Tom Chick’s problem is with MMORPGs, that he just doesn’t like the genre. If the MMORPG “genre” consists only of DikuMuds I need out quick. I agree fully with all of his complaints, but can’t help but notice most of them were addressed by UO a couple of centuries ago…

  36. Tesh says:

    If UO “did it right” way back when, what difference does it make? Modern mainstream MMO design is firmly rooted in the DIKU lineage, which has some definite weaknesses. WoW makes money hand over fist. Other devs have seen that and want to do the same thing, whether or not it’s good design, and whether or not they can actually compete. (They can’t.) Chick wants something different. Telling him to go back to UO isn’t really helpful.

  37. Rog says:

    Game journalists have to ‘sample’ multiple games at a time, it goes with the job. If they don’t love it, if they can’t keep their attention-span moving, they burn out. So MMO subscriptions and a large variety of content within one game presents a conundrum: It’s too much to consume and review before moving on. And some react negatively, it doesn’t fit within their experience, they dip their toes in and recoil.

    Oddly, I started playing MMOs in part because of this. I’d been working at Electric Playground and after years of playing several games a week, I wanted to settle down and enjoy just one game for awhile (Ultima Online at the time). A variety of content, but within one big world. I didn’t feel like constantly grappling with new interfaces and game mechanics. I wanted to slow down, feel comfy and cozy and not have to rush to the next game. I welcomed the subscription format, so long as it meant continued development of content in a single game-world.

    There were other reasons I want to play in some sort of virtual world, social aspects, ongoing RPG and whatnot, but sticking with one game for awhile was a big factor.

    Most of my co-workers reacted different, they didn’t think that was a game. A game did one thing well. Maybe an MMO isn’t so much of a game as it is a place where gameplay also happens. This leaves a lot of people in the rest of the (non-MMO) industry cold. I’ve heard the ‘MMOs are bad gameplay’ rants from journalists and game designers alike, but it’s like listening to a Football announcer panning Hockey. They try to explain MMO success with the ‘addiction’ or ‘kiddies’ factors, which they’d quickly balk if said about videogames as a whole.

    And here’s Tom Chick, still with the pan-popular-games-for-easy-reactions schtick.

  38. […] So auch sein Artikel: “Five reasons MMOs are broken“. Und Scott Jennings hat dazu dann auch noch was zu sagen. Mein Take: Ja, Tom sieht primär WoW, aber er hat nicht unrecht, dass sich am Prinzip was ändern […]

  39. jso says:

    wow is just an inferior game at it’s core, blizzard has not put any of their dedication or money into improving their game or even making it fun, they just churn out one raid instance after another and drag the grind out more and more

  40. Freakazoid says:

    Maybe the influential writer comment was sarcasm? If it was, it flew over my head. Be more obviously sarcastic, lum!

  41. […] Then there’s this other guy. Apparently, he used to fight the power and rant and rave about all sorts of problems in MMOdom. I don’t know, really: I’m not that ancient. […]

  42. Brad Grenz says:


    Yeah, it’s the group of people that gets paid to write about or develop games. That may not include you, but he’s very well respected in the industry and has worked (freelance) for just about every major PC and Videogame magazine there’s been. He also played Gil, Oscar’s boyfriend on the Office (not kidding) which has its own cache.

  43. Vajarra says:

    It has? Then there’s a lot of 13 years olds still playing WoW…like 10M+ of them.

    I know, I alone count for roughly 2.5 13-year-olds.

    The only point he makes that I actually agree with is that of a static world though, as you point out, it’s necessary. Phasing has problems of its own, namely if you want to play with someone who is in a different phase than you are, or if you want to go back and do some old quest that’s impossible now that the world is changed.

    The rest of his points seem either silly or petty to me, or have solutions that he’s just choosing to ignore.

  44. EpicSquirt says:

    Whenever I read WoW I think: millions of flies eat shit, surely they can’t be mistaken?

  45. Talance says:

    jso :wow is just an inferior game at it’s core, blizzard has not put any of their dedication or money into improving their game or even making it fun, they just churn out one raid instance after another and drag the grind out more and more

    Honestly, comments like this just amaze me. If the MMO that has 5 times more participation than its closest competitor (Runescape runs about 2 million, doesn’t it?) is considered “an inferior game”, then where is the superior one? Don’t get me wrong, WoW certainly has its faults, but you can’t just discount it because it’s not the game for you. The fact that it has millions more people playing it than any other MMO in history attests to the fact that there’s gotta be something there. Just because a lot of people like Corvettes and I don’t doesn’t make a Corvette an inferior product, it just doesn’t fit my tastes.

    On a side tangent, this discussion kinda reminds me of the Best Picture Oscars this year. If you can’t find a way to at least nominate the second highest-grossing film in history as a top film this year, what exactly IS your definition of “good”?

  46. Ed says:

    What’s wrong with the subscription model? I pay a monthly fee for my cable TV and don’t feel compelled to watch it or “lose money.” I don’t feel compelled to use all of my wireless minutes each month either. Why are MMOs any different?

  47. Mist says:

    All the WoW hate is definitely hurting the industry. Developers refuse to see what Blizzard has done right. Sure, I don’t play WoW anymore, but I played the crap out of it for 4 years before I got bored with it, and I’m rather easily bored. The WoW model is the only one I’ve seen that can deliver enough content, of varying difficulties to keep 95% of the players from ever finishing the game.

    The fact that WoW happens to have the least/worst PvP content of any major MMO is WoW’s only really significant failing at the moment.

  48. Robin Kestrel says:

    It seems like all his gripes are related…

    5. Based on his other points, I’d guess his real beef with a monthly fee is that he fears it motivates the designers to insert a long level grind to keep people playing just a little longer, just a bit more to reach that next achievement that isn’t really an achievement. I’d agree with that, but that a design issue, not a problem with the payment structure.

    4. I interpret this as a way of saying that the aggro mechanic is an outdated way of substituting for real AI. It’s only there because people have become used to beating “the aggro game” and it’s easy to design classes and spawn points around, but it doesn’t make much sense from a fantasy immersion viewpoint. Plus, it makes all your foes basically just the same personality with a different skin. I agree with this.

    3. Here he’s talking about the way the game world is broken up into so many discrete level-appropriate areas that it breaks immersion, and leads to the only challenege being to find the right area and figure out what buttons to push, without any sense that you are accomplishing something heroic. I agree with that, and that’s a problem of level and combat design as much as it is a UI problem. But the UI is a contributor. Need to get those buttons off the bottom edge of the screen and incorporate the commands in such a way that players will watch the action instead of cooldowns and healthbars; at the same time you need to rethink your level and combat system to give players a wider range of viable choices and strategies.

    2. Agree 100%. These are amusment park rides, not virtual worlds. There’s little difference between most MMO games and what they’d be like as a single-player standalone save for the fact that everything respawns. It doesn’t need to be like this. Yes, I know everyone says that truly dynamic worlds using random procedurally-generated content are too hard to implement and manage on a massive scale, but I don’t believe it, and someday someone will do it right. No one with deep enough pockets wants to take the risk of failure right now.

    1. I am all for compressing the levels and making the effective difference between min level and max level much less. As Davide mentioned above, what’s the point in having all those fancy skills/spells and elite gear if subjectively your character is less heroic than he was at level one? The focus of the game changes to raiding, as they can’t make an “elite” monster that won’t kill most player characters with one hit because of the way they’ve chosen to scale hitpoints and damage output. This needs to be rethought from the top down.

  49. harl says:


    4 MMPOGs is $60 a month. Less if you use longer subscriptions. Or you could get 1 new single player game for the same price.

  50. Sweetmeat says:

    In a way City of Heroes mitigates some of the perceived problems Tom has. After playing it, I’ve been disappointed with both LoTRO and WAR for not having Mentoring/Sidekicking available. Also the Veteran rewards for subscribing over a period of time are about perfect with respect to not being over powered, but still being things you enjoy having and being useful enough to make me keep my CoH subscription even when I’m playing something else. I think other companies are missing out by not incorporating both concepts.

    With regards to agro, Warhammer did this well. For PvE it’s the standard foolishness of a tank shouting about what he did with the mobs sister the night before to get it off the guys who are really killing the thing. In RvR however, your opponents make their own decisions about who is really killing them and where to base their loving attention. Remarkably many people still spend a lot of time beating on tanks even though they may not be what’s killing you. Unless you’re an Archmage, then you are pretty much getting killed by anyone that comes along, including the Tanks.

    I love my Archmage, she has the most fantastic dresses! But unless the people I’m playing with are really looking out for me she eats more dirt than an earth worm and in the rocks paper scissors model, she’s essentially an amputee.

  51. Klaitu says:

    Things like these make me miss UO.. you know, before it got all hosed down with wowjuice.

    Things were much more awesome back then.

  52. Tesh says:

    harl :
    4 MMPOGs is $60 a month. Less if you use longer subscriptions. Or you could get 1 new single player game for the same price.

    Yup, and I can play that one game for longer than a month, and I don’t lose access to it if I don’t pay another $60.

  53. harl says:

    Tesh :

    harl :
    4 MMPOGs is $60 a month. Less if you use longer subscriptions. Or you could get 1 new single player game for the same price.

    Yup, and I can play that one game for longer than a month, and I don’t lose access to it if I don’t pay another $60.

    First off your numbers are off. It’s 4 months for $60.

    Second. You don’t play single player games after the first month. Sure there are exceptions. But they’re exceptions. Most games are bought, beat, and shelved. I saved so much money once I stopped paying for single player games. The cost per hour on them is insanly expensive compared to MMPOGs.

  54. Vivianne Draper says:

    subscription fees notwithstanding, where does Tom think people are going to get the time to play all these free MMOGs?

  55. undead dolphin hacker says:

    What “MMORPG” means is “Diku-clone.” Is that how it should be? No. But at this point the distinction has been made. To argue to the contrary is sort of like arguing “inflammable” means “fire hazard.” Yeah, that’s what the original intent of the word was, but the unwashed masses refused to accept it as-is and the definition changed, much to the chagrin of some stubborn scholars.

    At this point, Lum, you’re starting to sound like one of those stubborn scholars. Yeah, you have a point. Yeah, you’re in the right. But Tom is making more important — and pertinent — points, which makes you come across as a little… pedantic.

  56. @undead dolphin hacker
    I think Lum likes “Snarky”… He is on a roll this week however.

    P#1: Many of the subscription MMO’s have free trials. Try as many as you like for free.

    P#2: Most of the folks I play with seem to be quite content being able to predict and control the mobs with agro. Tanks seem to be required to know how to succesfully “hold the aggro”. In the end, they just want the lewts.

    P#3: You don’t need a third-party software for adding buttons on the screen. WoW’s interface settings also allow you to add all 6 bars of buttons to the screen if you want to. You need third-party to organize or customize the buttons.

    P#4: I think they are actually giving you more of an opportunity to make yourself or your character feel better while they guide you through this fantasy story of many different choices. You don’t have to wait in line for dungeons or raids, and the fact that it comes back again seems to make most folks happy.

    P#5: You can go play with any other level you want in Wow. The higher level can run the lower level through any lower level dungeon they want, they can gain exp for the quests, and will eventually catch up. “Power Leveling”.

  57. […] display is for the advanced raider who can use forty buttons without thinking about it. The starting UI is simple enough for granny to start beating up wolves and bunnies. If, you know, your grandmother thought it […]

  58. Andrew says:

    Nice, I posted a reply to him saying something similar before reading this. Spot on, if I do say-so myself!

  59. EpicSquirt says:

    @William Purvis

    Congratulations William, you have missed all the points.

  60. Occam says:

    EpicSquirt :
    @William Purvis
    Congratulations William, you have missed all the points.

    Pretty much, yeah.

  61. Vetarnias says:

    First of all, why did you change the order of the points? Or rather, Chick was doing a countdown, you’re counting up.

    Well, the problem is that it’s so easy to make the MMO = WoW connection these days because of the lack of any comparable success in the genre (if we exclude EVE, which makes money for all involved but is always pushed aside as “niche”. And unfortunately, much of what Chick wrote can definitely be applied to WoW.

    I don’t think the subscription model plays a large part. Chick is blaming it for the type of gameplay that results from it, but if anything it’s a vast improvement on those Korean cash-shop MMO’s driven by grind or the credit card. If anything, a subscription-based MMO can focus on being fun; the problem with this is if it starts being a treadmill. And what Chick sees as a problem might in fact be the refined treadmill that Blizzard has created — which has you first grind for levels, then grind for gear, then grind for reputation. Blizzard knows where its money comes from and just adds more of the same with each expansion. Well, that starts being an ethical issue when you add paid expansions — not just to make more money off the fans, but make sure your existing player base stays on the treadmill for one extra month — that result in everybody not buying it being an inferior (and yes, consider the WoW problem with levels).

    Yet if you consider it, the treadmill is a high-maintenance approach, because people burn through content in hope of reaching the endgame as quickly as possible — just to realize that there isn’t one because the treadmill is the end in itself. But I don’t consider myself particularly discerning when it comes to gaming, and yet when I encounter a treadmill it’s already blatantly obvious to me — and if anything, it will tire me of the game at a much earlier time than when I would normally lose interest in it — because I know that the treadmill at level 4 is the same as level 20 and the same as level 65, I might decide I don’t want to stick around until level 65 to find out — because I already know what will happen unless the endgame is really, really good. It’s one of those journey-to-a-destination things; if the destination is great, maybe I’ll stick with the journey, but if I see no destination whatsoever, and that the journey is dull or a pain to go through, I’m not going to stick around — especially in a case of a treadmill for a treadmill’s sake as I think WoW is, as with most “theme park” MMO’s. (Still, I must admit I’m quite perplexed at those who continue to play a game they have started hating, as evidenced by all those WoW love-hate relationships, and EverCrack before them, so maybe I can speak only for myself.)

    Still, I’m pretty sure that developers (especially those not releasing expansions with clockwork regularity) would rather opt for the “here’s a sandbox, create your own fun” approach if it were guaranteed to work — little to no maintenance, no need for the developers to even add content because the players can provide their own. But there’s a reason the treadmill exists, and The problem of the treadmill isn’t so much a result of the subscription model than as the inevitable conclusion of Scott’s #4 (Chick’s #2).

    As for aggro management and buttons, those are relatively minor issues. For the record, though, I think that any game that almost forces its players to install a third-party add-on to get a massive advantage (from WoW add-ons all the way to Utopia Angel) is either a little too popular or badly designed.

    Static worlds: That’s the big one which makes the use of a treadmill necessary — because, well, something has to move (or give the impression of moving, better if you think you’re the one in movement) for a seemingly interactive environment to be considered as such, but it can’t be the world, because you’re supposed/forced to share it with other people, and you can’t take a course of action which will limit other people’s interaction with said world. (Didn’t the Something Awful crowd pull a stunt a while back whereby they kited the flight masters on one WoW PvP server and tried to hold them for ransom, with Blizzard just killing them off so they could respawn? I find the SA antics deplorable, but this exploit just shows how little impact players have on the WoW world (and Blizzard coming across as killjoys for not letting the ransoming continue, though apparently they thought it was a bug when they killed off the flight masters).

    Kill a boss, it’ll respawn. Achieve that epic quest in an instanced, you get elated for a short while, then everything is back to what it was, as though nothing has happened, because the next guy must also be able to save the world. It’s why some of the criticism of WoW says it’s just a single-player game with a chatbox. Saving the world is far more feasible in a single-player game, because the action centers around you — you’re the hero, not that NPC sidekick. Maybe he’ll suffer a terrible death after a great sacrifice to save you, just for an emotional response on your part, but you’ll make it out alive (of if you die, some sidekick, suddenly playable, will find a way to resurrect you), or you won’t finish the game. Dandy for single-player; impossible for MMO’s, because the game doesn’t revolve around you, and, more importantly, the game world can’t evolve, and if it evolves you are a spectator to the events rather than an actor. If, in a future WoW expansion, Orgrimmar is conquered and burned to the ground, and Thrall is in exile in Booty Bay, what happens to people who don’t buy the expansion? But if Blizzard decided to insert the Orgrimmar scenario for all its subscribers and make it permanent, it happened as a result of the developers’ whim, not player actions — and you can’t do a thing about it. (Still, it would be far better than the “all is as well in Kalimdor as it ever was and always will be” of the current approach.)

    Though let’s consider the alternative. A sandbox world, no instances, where players can build their own structures and cities, besiege their adversaries, decide how they develop the world, hoping to leave a mark on it. That might have worked when MMO’s were brand new, because you still had this “all characters are created equal” ethos flying around. Now you get pre-formed guilds of hundreds, and alliances that got their start five games and three years ago. You and your three buddies who like small independent groups don’t stand a chance, and sooner or later you’ll have to be forced into a course of actions you don’t want to take. You can predict this even before playing the game, and let’s face it, only masochists would want to play Serf Online.

    Just consider Darkfall, which put out a video (for lack of an actual game) where complete freedom is being peddled. The problem is, if I’m free to kill the next guy, take his valuables and enslave his children, and that the next guy has also watched that video, suddenly one is free and the other one isn’t. It’s so obvious that it’s laughable that they even tried to sell complete freedom to everybody. The only ones with complete freedom will be the large guilds that will quickly dominate the landscape and chase all other subscribers away.

    Is it any wonder then that worlds are static, lest players run away with them? Chick saw no solutions to this, nor can I. Maybe developers could make their game worlds evolve; it wouldn’t be in the players’ control but at least there would be more evidence of movement than you sweating on the treadmill. But since that would involve throwing more money at a game than is absolutely necessary, yeah, right.

  62. Mist says:

    WoW gameplay isn’t really all that much different from say, Grand Theft Auto gameplay, another very successful game. It’s a bunch of repetitive, time consuming content centered around quest hubs as you move through the game. The newest version of GTA even has reputation grinding with your friends in order to unlock special abilities. GTA has this gameplay despite not having anything to do with a subscription service, so the two might not be necessarily linked. Maybe people just like repetitive, predictable content?

  63. Iconic says:

    “Maybe people just like repetitive, predictable content?”

    No, it’s just easier to create content like that.

  64. Viz says:

    The trouble is that not only is it easier to create content like that, creating content that’s NOT like that is so much harder that nobody can feasibly accomplish it in an MMO setting–at least, not with the tools we’ve got. In single player games this is done by allotting a year or more to write a game that most people will finish in 30 hours of gameplay or less (and even then, some grinding is usually involved). In MMOs people won’t wait that long between hits. So if you don’t want to resort to grinding, you need some way to generate content at a much faster rate. You can’t just add designers because the required team to generate that much content at our current “efficiency” would be much larger than you could coordinate.

    Some people advocate making games where people will create their own content, but this is a pipe dream: if you’ve ever played tabletop RPGs, you know that the fraction of the population who are competent storytellers can be measured in ppm. Above a certain (small) population size, there’s no way to create the kind of selection process that will result in your game having enough of these guys. Others say that the solution is to emulate multiplayer FPSes in making the sort of gameplay that people don’t mind repeating, but MMOs seem to create the expectation that player activities should matter, and the hatred with which many TF2 players regard dustbowl seems to indicate that FPS players aren’t really immune to boredom from repetitiveness, either.

  65. Robin Kestrel says:

    Viz :
    The trouble is that not only is it easier to create content like that, creating content that’s NOT like that is so much harder that nobody can feasibly accomplish it in an MMO setting–at least, not with the tools we’ve got.

    I for one do not want scores of new “Generic Fantasy Plotline You’ve Seen 1,000 Times Before, Only This Time With Different Names Inserted” quests, especially not when at their heart they turn out to be exactly the same as one of less than a half-dozen basic quest mechanisms. For the people that like to read the quest text and follow the lore, that may be nice, but if I want lore, I’ll read a book. Trying to follow the internal logic of these MMOs too deeply gets silly considering that it just highlights how nothing players do or don’t do ever impacts the official story in any way.

    To me, different content and player-generated content doesn’t mean that some guys sit down and code up yet another Epic Quest of Uberness, or give the players the tools to do so. I don’t care how good they are, at this point, anyone that’s been playing MMOs since UO/EQ probably winces when they see yet another quest icon over an NPC’s head.

    What is needed is procedural content that is generated using a true random source ad according to rules that logically take into account the state of the local environment in the game world at the time. State meaning things such as time of year, time of day, weather, terrain type, existing mobs in the area and in adjacent areas, the average number and power of PCs in the area, what mobs those PCs are currently fighting, any structures built by PCs (forts, villages, farms, mines, logging camps, etc.), and other player actions. What is needed is world-affecting PvP content that is an integral part of the game from the beginning, not an after-thought add-on (Warhammer is a good first step down this path, and hopefully others will follow that learn from WAR’s mistakes).

    In short, developers need to make a true virtual world rather than an endlessly repeating play that allows players to step in at certain points and read the lines. Yes, it would be incredibly hard to write, but you’d only have to write it once, and then monitor the world and do some manual tweaking here and there to ensure it was running smoothly, sort of like a DM in a D&D campaign. Special content could be written and inserted in response to the players doing something exceptional. No more producing “expansion packs” to try to revive interest in the game…every day would bring something new and different, on ongoing story that the players were helping to shape themselves.

  66. unique identifier says:

    You’re spot on with the `mmo = wow’ critique of Tom’s critique. If we’re going to raise such complaints against an entire genre, we should at least be clear that we’re talking about the wow-mmo model and its legion of copies.

    re: Robin Kestrel – “In short, developers need to make a true virtual world rather than an endlessly repeating play that allows players to step in at certain points and read the lines.”

    Isn’t that EVE Online? & I’ll readily admit tEVE has its own list of horrible flaws…

  67. Mist says:

    EVE is really down to one major flaw at this point, boring and unintuitive combat. They’ve basically fixed just about everything else.

  68. Tesh says:

    Regarding player-driven game world evolution, the Legend of the Five Rings CCG did some interesting things with letting players have power. They took tournament results and let them help drive the lore for the next expansion. They even set up plot hooks and traps for players, planning ahead for different scenarios and directions to take the game.

    Individual players didn’t have a huge effect, no, but the playerbase in aggregate had an effect on the game, and it was richer for it. Such a dev-controlled player influence might be a nice halfway measure for MMO devs to make their worlds more interesting.

    Latecomers would just have to be content with writing history from that point forward. If it’s an accepted part of the game design, it shouldn’t be a big issue. Of course, that might also mean that the DIKU progression metrics should be overhauled or jettisoned, to give new players just as much potential power as veterans…

  69. Viz says:

    @Robin Kestrel

    What you suggest would be fantastic, but falls straight into the category of “not with the tools we’ve got.”

  70. Oliver Smith says:

    Statistically speaking 🙂

  71. Oliver Smith says:


    The problem with developing such a procedural generation machine is that you have to ensure the environment can’t be manipulated. Players want to win and they massively outnumber any development team. It’s like trying to get into the top 10 on SETI@home with your 386.

    You’re going to be spitting out a good 5-10 quests per second per world/server/realm, they have to be achievable, so you can’t create too much contention between quests, and they can’t be too disparate or else you wind up spreading players out over a tedious amount of space. And they have to be sustainable because your questers might log out before completion and not be happy if they keep getting to 90% completion and finding the quest is no-longer plausible because regional conditions have changed.

    That’s a LOT of considerations and constraints for generating relevant material that doesn’t just feel … randomly generated. Single player games have a hard time doing it and they don’t have to deal with a persistent world that isn’t revolving around Numero Uno.

  72. EpicSquirt says:

    I guess you’re considering 6 Titans camping a gate fixed.

  73. Robin Kestrel says:

    Then it’s time to write new tools. Many games I’ve played have adjusted spawns according to certain rules (e.g., is it nighttime?, have x number of a certain mob been killed?, etc.) and the bulk of what I’m suggesting is simply that with many more variables taken into account, applied to the world as a whole.

    Oliver Smith :
    The problem with developing such a procedural generation machine is that you have to ensure the environment can’t be manipulated…spitting out a good 5-10 quests per second…questers might log out before completion and not be happy if they keep getting to 90% completion and finding the quest is no-longer plausible because regional conditions have changed.

    Not at all…the idea would be to allow and encourage players to manipulate the environment. “Quests” would have to arise naturally as a result of the state of the world and players deciding what to do about it. Say that because of favorable conditions, there’s currently too many aggressive giant bees in the orchards to allow the fruit to be harvested. The governing council (made of of elected player characters) of the nearby village issues a bounty reward on bee wings to encourage players to eliminate the problem. But as more and more of the worker bee spawns are eliminated, they are replaced with even tougher, larger, more aggressive bees. Players finally locate the hives that are generating these spawns, kill the queens, and destroy the hive, eliminating bees in that area until conditions are right for them to move back in. Perhaps next year, there will be too few bees to pollinate the trees, and the village will need to import food from elsewhere. And in the meantime, new creatures move in to fill the niche left by the bees.

    So yeah, players would figure out through experimentation what they needed to do to trigger certain world states, and use that to their advantage. That would be part of the game play, and would be somewhat mitigated by randomness and GM intervention keeping things less predictable. And yeah, Joe the Rogue might log out one night intending to hunt worker bees the next night, only to find that they were now gone. That’s the whole point; that’s what happens when you don’t have a static world. Players that found such uncertainty unpalatable would always have plenty of other static games to play.

  74. Viz says:

    @Robin Kestrel


    It’s not JUST a matter of writing new tools or it would’ve been done. What you propose is no more and no less than automation of content generation that currently has to be done by hand. If anyone were actually able to do this with the level of sophistication and realism necessary to produce a “virtual world” with the depth to maintain a large player population, it would be a change akin to the Industrial Revolution. Additionally, we’d be much better served using that system to simulate real-world economies and eliminate poverty instead.

  75. Robin Kestrel says:

    @Viz Not to minimize the complexity of such a system, but I think your comments are hyberbole. I also think the “it can’t be done” mindset will persist right up until the second that somebody does it, and that day will come sooner than you think. Bring on the revolution! 🙂

  76. […] Tom Chick: MMOs are broken! Fix! The Narrator: No, you mean WoW is broken. […]

  77. […] ranging from subscriptions fees to too static worlds, to problems with grouping. Answering Chick, Scott Jennings rebutted at Broken Toys that Chick generalizes problems which are mostly specific to WoW: “Tom Chick’s core problem: […]

  78. Ramification says:

    “Problem four: Why is there a line to kill Sauron?”

    Why indeed?
    I’m no designer, I would like to be, but I doubt I have any skill beyond over-grown imagination; yet still, it strikes me as weird situation to be queried about.

    Games are meant to be fun, right? A form of entertainment.
    The way they attempted to achieve it to date been by striking a balance, or tipping onto one category altogether, between simulation (mimicing real life, physics&otherwise eco systems) and arcadization (fast paced action, following the KISS principle).

    So, I ask myself, how would it look if we had an army composed of thousands of players trying to topple Sauron as their main quest objective?
    Well, naturally, they’d just fight their way through, then the most powerful heroes will rush forward, as the others hold back the lines to create a clearing, and strike at Sauron, or fall on the way one by one trying until one does manage to make it through (at least, this is the way those kind of epic stories go).

    Just what exactly is preventing this from happening in a game environment? (the consequences of what to do next after Sauron goes down and the quest finished is a different debate)
    Hmm…nothing that I can think of, really…

    Certainly, many players will wish to be the one champion who manages it off…but “reality” (of the game) will prevent it from being that easy and will take care of it to render so only very few of the original group actually manages to make it through.
    Shouldn’t be /that/ hard to design, right?

  79. Ramification says:

    As for static worlds, ever since Everquest I had been wondering why MMOGs market themselves as persistant world as if it is any sort of an advantage (yes, I get it that it means your stats are saved).
    The world is indeed persistent – it persists in staying the same, forever…how dull!
    I want a dynamic world, one such as Derek Smart used to describe in his very early “shopping for publisher” documents that he was releasing around for the original BC3k when all he had was a poorly looking and barely even functional alpha.
    One whereas the world governs itself, always changes, the AI do their own things, push for their own agendas and conquest.
    Things operate on a computer-generated-content script kind of model.
    Economics changes, empires rise and fall. Wars erupt and decline.
    Whether the players play – and influence, or whether everyone go to party with their friends in a club, the world always is in motion and ever changing.
    You log off today, and login tomorrow to find that gas is now x500 more expensive and that the Solarian empire is now part of the E.V.C who’re now in a war with their yesterday’s allies and brothers from the Occamorian Alliance, oh, and there’s a new blackhole sucking all traffic coming from Vellus so there’s a real high demand for supplies, but the new roundtrip is longer and dangerous, which may explain why the Pinkbeard Pirates are now recruiting.
    Your homeworld was blown by an unknown force, taking away your entire fleet and family.
    But hey, you just won the galactic lottery!
    And lookie here, a stray cat/dog seems to want you to adopt it.

  80. Jederus says:

    Hot damn that was a well-written and excellent response. I couldn’t believe what I was reading when I saw Chick’s original article and realized he was making the uber-non-gamer-noober mistake of MMO==WoW (I mean, every screencap a WoW image… does anyone even check this stuff?)
    On a related note, visually he should have used a header image with 5 players in it instead of one with 6 players given the fact that he used the very diggable ‘5 Controversial Things to Say and Get Traffic to my Post’ format.

    Anyway, thanks for the rebuttal. Well said.

  81. […] on the bandwagon. Scott Jennings over on Broken Toys tried to explain to both of them that first, MMO <> WoW, and secondly, while most MMO’s are fantasy based, they’re not developed in Fantasy […]

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