Friday, July 17, 2015

Clone? WoW!

"I'm the new, I'm the new, new model
I've got nothing inside
Better in the head and in bed at the office
I can suck it and smile"

Marilyn Manson - New Model No. 15

In contrast to yesterday's post I'd like to reiterate that our society really is filled with mindless fad-worship and copycatting is the rule rather than the exception. It's not usually a case of a movie being accused of copying some random flick from two decades prior. When every action movie started having its characters bouncing off the walls after The Matrix, you could safely call bullshit on their copy/pasted villain pasting. When studios start buying the rights to every half-assed superhero from the past century you can safely say they're cramming themselves into an already overcrowded wagon. Writers really did copycat Anne Rice's whiny, sexed-up vamps for a decade and more until culminating in that idiotic farce, Twilight.

My favorite example however is from the game industry. Nobody remembers what an MMO should be anymore and that imbecilic reductionism does have one name: World of Warcraft. I feel quite confident calling various online games WoW-clones because I like many others found myself at ground zero of that little crime against art and intellect and one could see the tide turning in the industry as WoW's success prompted every studio to drop any pretense of quality or progress in the concept and simply copy as shallowly as possible the addictive properties of WoW's loot-grinding slot-machine gameplay.

There were many takes on the MMO concept to begin with, all hinging on the persistent, open, virtual world aspect and not simpleminded repetitive solo farming for gear and achievements. Many of WoW's predecessors and contemporaries (EVE, Planetside, A Tale in the Desert, Ryzom, Project Entropia) while riddled with their own problems and attempts to dumb down their gameplay and legitimize cheating in order to wring more cash out of their customers and secure wider appeal, still could not be called clones. On the other hand, after WoW broke onto the mass market you began to see one big-budget title after another cranked out, year after year, copying as precisely as possible WoW's classes, setting, combat mechanics, interface, item, resource and crafting system, everything down to features they didn't even stop to think they wouldn't need like LotRO's town guards.

The Lord of the Rings Online, Warhammer Online, Rift, Aion, The Elder Scrolls Online and many more I haven't even bothered to look at, these aren't just uninspired and generic. They are dumbed-down copycats of a dumbed-down groundbreaker. Other games may not be clones or were not conceived as such but were infected with a certain amount of WoW-ishness simply by assumption of such qualities as the new normal, by adopting the most popular title as the definition of the genre. The short-lived Chronicles of Spellborn tried making a name for itself with a new ways to click interface buttons and actually had some interesting artistic direction but failed miserably through dragging players through the same "kill ten rats" grind they could find in any WoW-clone. City of Heroes abandoned its original attempt at being a thriving virtual city in favor of banking wholly on instanced small-team gameplay after WoW's success with the same. More recently, Firefall started out as an open-world resource-gathering player economy then it too regressed to WoW-clone "kill ten rats" mission-based gameplay.

Get some perspective. The game mechanics you take for granted are not required by the genre any more than screaming ditzes in distress dressed in flimsy nighties are required for horror movies. WoW-clone mechanics are only developers' way of cutting corners, cutting costs and cutting you out of the knowledge that anything better is possible. WoW-clones are by definition a rip-off.

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