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The Effects of Imaginary Value in Real Virtual Worlds

The MMO is governed by numbers and hierarchies whose arrangement has enormous effects on a game and its audience -- why a smaller ecosystem is probably safer.

Nick Halme, Blogger

October 18, 2009

5 Min Read

Like, I feel, a large portion of my generation, most of my learning has been through books or the internet.  I think that's helped, or maybe forced, me to parse through things logically.  And an unexpected outcome of pushing myself to write more is that I find out what I really think about something when I'm forced to type out the facts and read them back to myself.

So with that preface, I've been trying to figure out why I like Warhammer Online.  In a previous post I think I gave the impression that it was a nostalgia fix, and it is to some extent.  But sheer nostalgia shouldn't hold my interest like this, so there must be something more concrete here that's affecting me.

It's confusing because I think I'm done with the MMO.  WoW was my first, and I hopped on that bandwagon right away out of Warcraft fandom.  I deposited years into that beast, and I don't entirely regret it.  But after WoW I was worn out -- never again would I trudge through a world so huge that I was made as powerless as I am in the real world.  Because in reality I'm in the lower tax echelon, work all day and don't own a badass axe.  

Most of those things, I find, were actually mirrored in the scale of WoW.  Sure I could take time away from life to invest in that world and the dividends would be larger than the other way around, but it was a grind I could't rationally commit myself to.

That sort of medieval hierarchy of wealth, power and the ability to control other people to ensure your power and wealth is a key facet of any MMO, and is something WoW polished to a shine. 

When you start your first WoW character you're like a newborn -- this world is huge and ripe for the taking.  As you mature you become more pragmatic about what you can attain, but you will still develop an irrational want for something.  Be it the old PvP rank of High Warlord, to be clad in all the best armour in the game, or to get a rare mount; you will strive for something that will take great effort to attain, something that is well above your league.  

It probably works because it's not far away from how real life works -- get the job, the car, the house, the wife and kids.  Get Worker of the Week, impress your boss and get a raise, move up the ladder while ignoring the rest of your world.

With that knowledge and the shivering foresight of an addict, I felt I could not bring something like that into my life again.  But of course an addict always slips back into his habit, and one dreary afternoon I downloaded the Warhammer Online trial.

The conclusion I've come to is that WAR is the small town to WoW's big city.  There are far, far fewer players.  It's not the alienating single-player wasteland of a Guild Wars, but so far I have only seen about three other players on-screen at once during PvE (PvP is another story).

Whereas in WoW I would get to the top floor only to see they've constructed more floors for me to run up, I feel like WAR with it's conservative level cap of 40 (as opposed to 80) gives me a world I can fit in my pocket, and that makes me comfortable.  It doesn't have the population of a city-state and I can see the top of the building from where I'm standing.

If there are other's like me though, then it would seem like WAR has become a refuge for the weary.  Those that have escaped the WoW grind have found a competent and easier-to-breathe-in world where your current weapons never seem out of date, your gear never seems like a clown suit, and you're never forced to measure up on the totem pole (in PvP they even scale your level up to allow you a fighting chance.)

So what?  If you take anything away from my rambling, let it be that it is possible for a scaled-down MMO world to survive in the age of WoW.  Trying to build your skyscraper next to Blizzard's is not a good idea, because that thing is only getting bigger.  Build a hamlet for the veterans to retire to, though, and you have yourself some market share.

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