Change, No-Win Situations, and Zombies

2008, October 30th 4:19 PM

There are, as I see it, two main forces involved in the plot development of MMORPGs. They are the Force of Awesome and the Force of Progress.

The Force of Awesome is the group that wants new, exciting things to occur. They want the world to be torn asunder by eldritch powers beyond the ken of any current player (and then they want to level up and wipe the floor with said eldritch powers.) They want something new. The Force of Awesome is not named so because it's a superior, more awesome force, but because of what it represents. "Sure! Change everything! Let's have a global invasion! It'll be fuckin' sweet!"

The Force of Progress is the opposing force. They do not want change. They want to keep doing the same thing they've been doing for months, and continue making progress along the same lines that they have grown accustomed to. High Tinker Mechanopants over in Dwarfholm wants you to retrieve 18 bear butts, and by gum, we're going to go find those bear butts! (This will probably involve killing at least 60 bears. Surprisingly, most bears don't have butts. This is a different article that I will write someday.) This desire isn't necessarily a bad thing – the player just has goals in mind, and those goals do not involve eldritch powers besides their own.

The problem with reconciling these two viewpoints is that neither of them is wrong. There's no way to say that either one makes for a better or worse game – they just make for different games. Most of the time, MMORPG staff looks at this, realizes that following the Force of Awesome costs money, and lets the game go entirely unchanged.

Last week, the entire game of World of Warcraft was under assault by zombies.

At the beginning of the week you couldn't get infected unless you actually tried. Infected boxes appeared off in the middle of nowhere – you could fly over to them, wait ten minutes, wander around as a zombie while attacking people, and quickly get killed. You could in theory infect other people, but it took about ten minutes for them to become zombies as well (minus five seconds every time you hit them, which was rather inconsequential), any Shaman or Paladin could cure them before they became a zombie, there were NPC healers littering every major city, and overall force-conversion just wasn't practical. Fun, for a while. But that's it.

By the end of the week, things were different. There were infected boxes, infected cockroaches, and infected rats in every major city. Infection took one minute, not ten . . . minus five seconds every time you were hit, which suddenly became a serious issue. Cures had perhaps a 10% chance of working. The NPC healers were almost entirely gone, and the few remaining ones were frequently swarmed and slain by dozens of zombies. Entering a major city would result in zombification in minutes at most, frequently seconds, and even minor cities were often zombie-infested wastelands.

It. Was. Awesome.

I imagine you can see where I'm going with this.

As awesome as the zombie invasion was, people who simply wanted to level their characters found this impossible. You couldn't enter major cities, you could barely enter minor cities. If you weren't level 70, or near to it, you expected to die instantly if you got anywhere near civilization. Realistic for a zombie assault, perhaps. Not fun for World of Warcraft.

There were complaints like you could not imagine. Wars on the forums. Screaming matches in trade channels. One group of players claimed it was the worst thing the developers had ever done, one group claimed it was the best thing. (And then the latter group attacked and zombified the former group, which didn't really help matters.) Amusingly, the latter group was divided on its own – some people set about zombifying everything they could, some went on a zombie-hunting and disease-cleansing rampage, with righteous anger flung between both groups whenever possible. Every group insisted that their method was the One True Way To Play The Game.

Skeletons carpeted the ground. Literally.

Then a cure was discovered, and the zombies vanished, never to be seen again (unless they repeat the event next year.)

It remains to be seen whether it was a savvy business decision.

Hundreds (if not thousands) of people posted loudly that they were canceling their subscription for World of Warcraft. I imagine most of them have quietly resubscribed by now, though certainly not all. Some people still grumble, of course, about the wasted time and the wasted money spent repairing equipment.

But then others tell war stories.

We held them off for two hours – Alliance and Horde, side-by-side, no common language but a common goal.

I entered Ironforge not knowing what to expect. I barely escaped with my life.

We started the infection in the Spirit Rise. Within half an hour, the city was infested. I personally converted two dozen guards. All hail the Lich King.

The cockroaches are gone, the corpses removed, but the sky is still black, the air still smoky.

The Argent Dawn set up a place of worship. We knelt, and prayed for the horror to end. A wave of the Scourge would attack, and we would raise our weapons against them. Afterwards, the survivors knelt again.

And that's why the Force of Awesome is a force to be reckoned with.

I imagine they lost a few subscriptions from the Progress camp – but I imagine they've gained a few as well, from people hoping to see, and participate in, the next zombie invasion.

  • Cairsten

    2008, October 30th 4:28 PM

    You can count me among the ones that haven't resubscribed. I'm over at CoH now, where hopefully I will never again have to deal with that level of sanctioned griefing. I cancelled my CE order, cleaned out my mailboxes, and purged the game from my computer, after four years of playing.

  • Zai

    2008, October 30th 9:28 PM

    It was fucking awesome. Separated the players from the QQers.

  • Cairsten

    2008, October 30th 9:50 PM

    It certainly did. If by "players" one means "those who think disrupting other people's playtime without recourse and shouting them down if they happened to object is fun."

    It was certainly vocabulary-expanding for some people, however; I didn't know the average adolescent male *knew* that many terms for homosexual or ways to call people female as if that were a bad thing.

    What I learned from the experience:

    * If you put a way to make other people's lives difficult anonymously into the hands of a group of adolescents, they *will* run amok with it.

    * Any attempt to rein them in or express a dissenting opinion will be met with name-calling and profanity.

    * They will insist to the bitter end that their fun outweighs any standard of decency you might appeal to (Starter areas? What fun is killing level 2 characters? How is that any challenge at all?)

    * The only way to make sure it doesn't happen again is to walk, and make it clear that you are walking, and why, and hope the admittedly-tiny shaft to the pocketbook is noticed.

    NCSoft is a little less likely to do something like this because their numbers have *increased* a little in response to Blizzard doing it, and hopefully the tiny inflow of former Blizzard subscribers raises the collective maturity level of CoH subscribers. I definitely noticed that the people most likely to object to the utter disruption were the more mature subscribers, the ones for whom an MMO is part of a limited relaxation/social time after jobs, kids, and mates. Or the ones playing the game *with* their children: I ask again, what's so fun about making a 6-year-old cry because he can't play the game because his character's dead again the minute he logs in or resses? You can keep it, thanks.

  • ninwa

    2008, October 31st 12:16 AM


    At the same time, the Zombie Invasion didn't last too incredibly long, and was all about attempting to make the game more interesting. I must be from the Force of Awesome camp, because I deeply appreciated Blizzard's effort with the zombie invasion event. To me, it is moments like these, that make a game truly unique and give players things worth remembering. It is up there with the Ahn'Qiraj gate opening event.

    It's all a matter of realizing that an MMO is not a static game where you should be able to expect the same thing from day to day, and being able to appreciate that. When I logged in and learned about the zombie invasion, I nearly died of excitement. Even at level 10 I had a blast becoming zombified and corpse-exploding in densely populated areas. The thrill of running from a pack of 6 npc zombies who never seem to give up was also awesome.

    I guess this just illustrates Zorba's point further, and I commend him on being able to step outside his personal opinion to see the broader perspective. I, for one, cannot imagine being mad at this event: IT ROCKED!

  • Cairsten

    2008, October 31st 12:47 AM

    Again, there was nothing wrong with becoming a zombie and going around infecting people your own level or higher. That's fine. The problem comes in when:

    * The people who willingly became zombies felt that gave them license to interfere with characters much lower in level.
    * Anyone who dared cleanse the disease (playing the natural role of the good guy) was heaped with abuse. I was amused, but not in a good way, to see players who cleansed the disease accused of griefing for doing so, even when the consequence of not cleansing the disease was to become a zombie unwillingly. Evidently, only one side of this conflict was supposed to be able to deal with the event as they wanted to.
    * Anyone who dared to state that it was not, in fact, enjoyable for them, for whatever reason, was treated abusively, including name-calling and profanity.
    * Blizzard made no provision for *warning* anyone that this was going to come into the game and steal a week from the once-yearly Hallow's End event, when many people were trying for the title, and not achieving the title because of those lost chances to trick-or-treat or save the towns meant waiting another full year.
    * Blizzard made no provision for people who did not enjoy the zombie invasion besides blues advising them to either lie back and enjoy it or not log in, which was entirely contrary to every precedent they had set till that point.

    You're congratulating Zorba for being able to step outside his own perspective, while at the same time admitting that you, yourself, "can't imagine" not enjoying the event. In fact, I believe that he enjoyed it as well, which is fine. I'm just saying that for the people who did not enjoy it, this was very far from a wonderful event — it was game-breaking. It was enough to make at least some of us fall entirely out of love with the game and the company. And it is only salt on the wound that any mention of that brings people out of the woodwork to comment on how much we *should* have enjoyed it, if only we were not lacking as players/people. Apparently, for the majority of WoW's playerbase, and perhaps for Blizzard itself, the only valid kind of player is the kind who takes pleasure in utter mayhem and rampant bullying. Any other viewpoint is prima facie evidence of a glaring personality defect. But, hey, my kinetic/dark blast defender is almost level 5 now, so it's all good. From the original closed beta to the month before the second expansion is a good run for anyone, in any game, and now maybe there will be new adventures in another game world for the next four years.

  • Heronblue

    2008, October 31st 1:36 PM

    What bothered me about the event was that it was slanted so completely toward high-level characters. I'm sure it had the potential to be fun if your character was level 65 or 70 and you were bored with raiding and instances. However, if you only started playing the game a little while ago or for some other reason wanted to be leveling a low to mid-level character, the event held absolutely no enjoyment whatsoever. I wasn't happy when my level 10 mage was slaughtered literally within a second of logging on. I didn't enjoy having to go through four cycles of death and resurrection just to run a few hundred yards from an inn to a flight point and get the hell out of town. I was really enjoying the trick-or-treating, which was impossible with all the zombie innkeepers. The guards in all the cities are level 65, which meant that in every city there were level 65 zombies running around. This meant that almost all of my characters would die before getting infected, so there was no potential of running around and enjoying being a zombie. Nor was there any chance of surviving a zombie attack. All it ended up doing was costing me a lot in repair bills and making the game completely unplayable for several days.

    I don't mind world-changing events in games. The zombie plague in Kingdom of Loathing a few years ago was a lot of fun. I do have a problem when a world-changing event is geared entirely toward a subsection of the player base, with no opportunity to opt out if you didn't happen to be in the target demographic. I felt I was being punished for only having picked up the game recently. And I don't think it's smart for a game company to make the game unplayable for the new players just to give the high-level players something new to do.

  • Ninjakitten

    2008, November 1st 9:44 PM

    Like Heronblue, I'm fairly new to WoW (couple months), and I had the same reaction: wow, this might be really fun… if I had a level 70. My highest being a 47, well… I got days of paid-for play stolen from me, 'cause logging on any of my characters meant dying immediately. And I'd really been enjoying Hallow's End, too.

    I didn't quit (or threaten to) but I did send an official complaint. A zombie invasion could indeed have been awesome, if there had been any thought given to lowbies, or to people who, say, picked a PvE server because they HATE PvP. With all NPCs dead or zombied and a very high chance of getting one-shotted on login if you're not high level, the game was literally unplayable for a lot of people, me (and the player I recently recruited) included.

    The person I ended up feeling worst for was a guy who posted on the forums: he was on his trial account. He'd just gotten to level 10. He ended up having to use all his gold to repair his gear (and gold is hard to get with the trial restrictions), and couldn't play at all for multiple days. Of his 10 day trial. I don't think trials got extended. And I know, if this had happened during mine, I wouldn't be a player now. How many other people on trials didn't go find the forums and post?

    It was a cool idea. It could have been awesome in the figurative as well as literal sense. IMO, thoughtless implementation prevented that.

Leave a Comment

Subscribe without commenting