Why in the World is Warcraft Addicting? Gameplay Reflection by Daniel Feder

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April 10, 2012 by dbfeder

I spent much of my early teenage years absorbed by the magical worlds of MMORPGs.  A friend turned me on to Diablo II during 6th Grade, and questing together became a way to remain in contact when I moved away after the year.  My friends in my new area soon joined in the game, and we remain glued to our screens, leveling and questing ever further on a nightly basis.  Our interests with the game ran thin as we ran out of things to do, but after a few months hiatus from Diablo II, I found myself again addicted to an online community in the new MMO Guild Wars.  Even to this day, when I’m home on a vacation and have nothing to do with my time, I’ll pop the disk back in and mess around in the world of Tyria for a few more hours before realizing I preferred my outside life.

Between these two games, I’m certain I logged hundreds – if not thousands – of hours over the course of several years.  I understand first-hand the addictive nature of these types of games, the necessity to get your character that one last point of strength or next best skill, just to move on.  Guild Wars even managed to make a business out of this wish to excel, releasing new versions to tie into the original that would grant access to new weapons, spells and upgrades, thus making game purchases another aspect of leveling up.  The need to become the best – or at least have access to everything – drove me to pick the game back up night after night, pouring my time and effort into this virtual world.

The functionality of the game played a major part in this process as well, though.  Diablo II was intuitive to play and easy to pick up.  Guild Wars was even more so, seeming heavily influenced by the style of control of the earlier Diablo II.  Point and click, with a few easily understandable hot keys (like “r” for run, or tab to shift targets).  Occasionally it would become necessary to check the manual, but for the most part, the controls seemed to fall where you’d expect.  A quick use of trial and error on the keyboard would quickly solve all problems.

Playing World of Warcraft constituted a much more difficult, much more frustrating experience.  Although the controls were customizable and hot keys could be mapped to the keyboard, a casual gamer – much like myself – might easily miss that until later on.  Instead, we’re left with auto run being controlled by the num lock key, spells that can only be used by clicking on the icon rather than with a specific key (despite having open slots on the spell row), and a flustered Teaching Assistant attempting to inform people on how the game works both stylistically and practically.

The confusing controls extended into the actual physics of the game world.  Rather than mapping similar actions to the same mouse button, they’re spread out between the two; auto run is not stopped intuitively by attacking an enemy or starting a conversation.  Attacking an enemy does not automatically move you within range, but will simply tell you that you are too far away.  I found myself spending more time becoming frustrated with controlling my avatar than actually playing the game.

These changes may have practical use near the end-game, when an accidental click placing you too close to an enemy may result in death.  But it is not the end-game that brings in gamers, encouraging them to continue paying the fee and devote hours of their time to the virtual society.  Instead, difficult gameplay quickly led me to lose all interest in purchasing the game, and unlike with my earlier addictions, I find myself with no interest to go back and play a few weeks later.

I’m sure the addictive gameplay that I so thoroughly enjoyed in Guild Wars and Diablo II is fully present within World of Warcraft; in fact, it is famously so.  But without an initial encouragement to enter the game world, there is no way to foster that addiction.  Diablo II was my first encounter with the MMORPG style, so I was more susceptible to its charms; nonetheless, it was able to present me with simple, comfortable and enjoyable game play from the very beginning.  Guild Wars offered more of the same, along with elegant and stunning visuals; being newer, it was able to implement stronger, more detailed graphics.  Even more recent games have been released, further upgrading the standard within the genre (including soon-to-come sequels to both of my initial obsessions).

World of Warcraft, the supposed pinnacle of the MMORPG genre, offered neither.  The gameplay was difficult, and the graphics looked as old as they were.  Other options exist, both with more intuitive controls and prettier visuals, and often they’re offered without WoW’s monthly fee.  With the better options that exist on the market, I find it mind-boggling that they retain over 10 million players, many of whom are devoted in the same manner I was with my earlier games.  After the frustration I felt while playing, I couldn’t imagine immersing myself in this world, and I fail to see why so many others have instead.

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