The WoW Je Ne Sais Quoi

VR Addiction

I feel compelled to return to WoW

I don’t often invoke the language of French but sometimes those lovely croissant monkeys have the perfect phrase to sum things up, in this particular case my feelings towards World of Warcraft. I commented today on Twitter how I hadn’t played RIFT in a while and yet, instead of feeling compelled to get back into it, I had the urge to return to WoW instead. Just what is it about that game that keeps luring me back like a sultry siren to a bad relationship? I quite officially a couple of months ago and stopped playing several weeks before that, so irritated and despondent with its community and achievement porn culture that I couldn’t take it any longer. But here I am again, contemplating resubscribing.

It’s all very strange as I like to think of myself as sensible and rational person who makes intelligent, educated decisions. I know WoW isn’t perfect and doesn’t fulfil my conscious criteria of the type of MMO I truly want to play and that ultimately its points of frustration will eventually drive me to my knees in agony again. However, regardless of that, here I am with an itch that only it can scratch. I feel a desire to play it once more, a stronger desire than playing RIFT for instance, and I can only think of possible two reasons why that might be.

Firstly, it could be because Warcraft is the absolute epitome of psychological manipulation. Maybe its beautifully crafted blend of micro-achievements, synapse zings and easy accomplishments has truly had a long term addictive and compelling effect on my mind. The bright colours, the flashing lights, the sense of familiarity and the feel good factors could all be appealing to my subconscious, so much so that my body is now literally having withdrawal symptoms. Perhaps Blizzard have created a product so perfectly exploitative of the human psyche that I am powerless to resist.

Secondly though, it could just be that WoW is actually a very, very good MMO. As much as we hate to admit it, it could be so fun and so enjoyable that we keep coming back to it time and time again, especially after playing less pleasing and less interesting alternatives. Leaving it and taking a break to try something else is possibly only a healthy act of curiosity and that, after a period of time, we realise that nothing else out there quite competes and we return to the best product available, like a stray cat returning home. Maybe nothing else has ever managed to capture the magic WoW holds.

Of course, I’m sure one could argue that point one and point two and both the same thing and that a “good” game is one that compels us to play. I suppose my stance is that, although the line is perhaps thin and murky, the first point is about an unwelcome manipulation of our mind whilst the second is about the appreciation of a finely crafted product. I want to play a game and consciously enjoy it, I don’t just want to feel addicted because it’s somehow triggering the right responses in my head.  Hence my dilemma because, in that situation, I may as well forgo the entire gaming experience completely and just stick a needle in my veins or some probes in my brain.

I suppose regardless we have to concede that is there something unique and different about WoW, a certain je ne sais quoi, that draws us in. For precisely what reasons though, good or bad, I have no idea.

-Gordon

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48 Comments

  1. Stabs says:

    Well it’s only £8 to pop back in and say bonjour for a month.

    I sometimes wonder if your wife reads these “if XX MMO were a woman wanting an affair with me what should I do?” posts of yours. Because you always react the same predictable way. ^^

    It no doubt means, Mrs Gordon, that he’s so busy having affairs with World of Warcraft the marriage is perfectly safe.

  2. ran93r says:

    I’m going through a quiet period at the moment. I pushed 3 toons to 85 and then just wandered off. My guild have been happily plugging away and every time I do pop on I see a handful of new perks to use but I can’t muster the strength to sit and play for any period of time.

    I think you are right, it’s a great game but at this point everyone who has played from launch must be wandering where those six years went. My sub is still active as I can’t quite make a clean cut yet and up until there is another MMO that I will gladly sub to, I will still be mooching around Spazeroth. I still have a whole roster of toons sitting at 80 to keep me occupied.

    • Gordon says:

      I don’t really want to play the high level game again, I just want to mess around with low level alts. Something about the low level game of WoW really appeals to me.

      • Kami says:

        I think it happens to most of us, at least i know that me and a good deal of my friends always enjoyed “fooling around” with our alts after we had had a few months of hard work on our main chars.
        I guess that´s part of the MMO charm, you can turn back to being a “kid” anytime you want :D

  3. Azuriel says:

    Hence my dilemma because, in that situation, I may as well forgo the entire gaming experience completely and just stick a needle in my veins or some probes in my brain.

    That’s not much of a dilemma.

    A) It’s cheaper to play WoW than it is to buy drugs/find futuristic technology.
    B) Considering all of what we experience as reality is simply bioelectrical currents in our brain, objectively there is no difference anyway. Indeed, you could simply be a brain in an Activision Blizzard vat hooked up to some probes already, and you would never know.

  4. bhagpuss says:

    All I can really say is that WoW doesn’t have that effect on me. I played WoW for around four months, enjoyed for three of them, lost interest in the fourth, cancelled my account and have never felt any desire to return.

    Having played an awful lot of MMOs, I find it very hard to understand just what it is about WoW that other people find compulsive. It seems to me to be solid and well-made but rather bland and a bit dull. It’s a bit like the Volvo of MMOs – steady, reliable, practical, sensible. None of which are virtues likely to press any of my buttons.

    The WoW phenomenon reminds me a bit of Harry Potter. Not very original, doesn’t have anything that isn’t done better elsewhere, long on detail and short on style, but something there that most people will quite like and very little to offend. The success of both seems to indicate some widespread desire for nonthreatening, reassuring, repetitive, even formulaic entertainment, and indeed that’s quite an observable trend in popular culture over the last decade.

    • Longasc says:

      Interesting; I also never really understood the fascination of either.

      • SmakenDahed says:

        You guys are doing it wrong.

        I kid.

        I think it’s the stability, not of the software, but of the game itself. Also some of us have made friends there and been playing with the same group of people for 2-3 years. It’s sort of hard to toss that aside for what is (essentially) the same game (even if you believe otherwise, the game falls into the genre, then it has more fundamental similarities than differences) and starting all over.

        I do believe there is some play on the psyche. Achievement Points are valueless in game, but they do sit there as a measurement of how much you’ve done with the game. I think those help.

        Also Blizzard does adjust and try to keep things up to date or advance things. Take questing for example (yes it’s linear), how many vehicle related quests have you seen in other games? Phasing? I really haven’t seen anything like that in other games.

        These are things that make me stick around in WoW. (That and I’m a raider still working through the raid content – just killed Cho’gall last night, was crazy.)

    • Dril says:

      It’s odd, because if you change out the word WoW and put in the word RIFT, that’s basically how I feel.

      WoW’s combat and fluidity is something I have yet to see bested anywhere, and, since I played all the Warcraft RTS games before WoW, I understand the world and find it very interesting to this day.

      On the other hand, I can’t understand how you could possibly continue to play EQ1 to this day, since it’s dated, dull and unwieldy. Just depends on perspective I suppose.

    • Gordon says:

      Hehe, well I hate Harry Potter but I think your analogy is spot on :)

  5. I am like bhagpuss. WoW did NOT pull me in like most. Whether it was the jarring unreality of the quests and world, the need to use modern world tropes and culture to make the game fun (though Rift is also guilty of this…the modern bits are so minor…), or maybe the simplicity of it all that bothered me…WoW did not click.

    Rift on the other hand has a company culture that changed the MMO genre for me. They give a crap and want to make a game that pleases a wide audience.
    Visually appealing, having a combat system that really shines as you get up in level, a game where the end is more fun than the beginning and not the other way around.

    Personally, I think everyone should take a stand and let WoW go, otherwise the genre will not grow. Blizzard can continue to micro develop and copy others. Add to that the fact that any other MMO that launches must try to match the mass years of content will lead to a multitude of games failing.

    By going instead with a game that wants to offer what we know, and build on that and change the aspect of how we game in those familiar worlds…and make an effort to really create a new community and show that Blizzard does not own the MMO genre, would be the right step for everyone involved.

    • Dril says:

      Wait…are you condemning Blizzard for copying and improving features (despite the fact that they’ve innovated several times over the years, old argument is old) but then going on the praise RIFT, which, if anything, is *THE* copycat of the decade? That’s just staggering.

    • vortal says:

      I thought RIFT was boring, nothing really new for me, I tried it and said: “Meh, gonna go back to WoW now” Guess some people just prefer different kinds of games. Besides I like Dril played a lot of the Warcraft RTS games so we understand the whole Warcraft thing.

    • Gordon says:

      “show that Blizzard does not own the MMO genre, would be the right step for everyone involved.”

      With the apparent loss of hundred of thousands of subscribers, I think Blizzard are starting to take notice. Whether or not they will change is another thing though.

  6. Paul says:

    I felt compelled to return to WoW the first few times I quit, but after each iteration the attraction declined and I stayed away longer. The penultimate departure was for a month, just before Cata came out. I resubbed for the expansion and played for two months; I’ve beem out for three months now and feel very little desire to return.

    At this point, I may come back for the next expansion, unless the feedback I hear from people on the beta is at all disappointing. In that case, the separation is probably permanent.

  7. Pascal says:

    I believe that World of Warcrafts’ success in luring players back is not because of the game itself anymore, but of the community. Think of it. Those of us that have been long term players have built friendships, relationships and so forth. We’ve played with a similar group of people for 2, 3 or even 7 years. Some have characters dating back to 2004 which represents a serious emotional attachment and investment in a single game.

    It has become less like a game and more like a comfort blanket, being familiar with people you are used to. Like where everyone knows your name.

    That is also why I think other MMOs face a greater challenge than simply providing better gameplay. There are MMOs that are light years ahead of World of Warcraft in terms of visuals,enjoyment and gameplay. And yet their biggest hurdle is breaking the World of Warcraft community and tearing players away from that comfort blanket.

    I think, anyway.

    • Paul says:

      If that’s the case, WoW could decline faster than many expect. Once your friends start leaving, the place just isn’t the same.

      The emotional attachment to a character gets reduced when the game systems are changed so much it effectively plays like a different character. The excessive talent churn was one of the underappreciated mistakes they made in Cataclysm.

      • Epiny says:

        I actually agree with Pascal. The only reason I ever started playing or return to WoW is because my friends play it. I went with EQ2 first then changed over. I’ve tried to convince all my friends to try other MMOs but with a group as large as what I game with it’s hard to get them all to come over, and if a few stay with WoW they always end up luring everybody back. I wont say it’s the only reason, but it’s a huge factor.

    • Gordon says:

      Indeed, it’s not easy leaving any game you’ve got ties to. I found it very hard to leave EQ2 for just that reason.

    • Kami says:

      I think you are perfectly right and until game producers manage to get their act together and start focusing on building a strong community, WoW will continue to be the most played MMO. (or should I say the MMO everyone returns to)

  8. Telwyn says:

    I’ll add my agreement on this point 100%. I only started WoW because of a close friend, and I only continue to play because of him and other friends who still play. I also play Rift with some of them, others play more PVP oriented games as well; but crucially WoW is the only game we all play together as the ‘old group’.

    That’s a very powerful motive to stay plugged-in. I don’t think any new game will appeal to us all so we’re (rather sadly IMHO) not likely to ever fully move on from WoW.

  9. Shadow-war says:

    I haven’t felt the tug to go back to WoW in a long, LONG time. I resubbed for a month when WoTLK landed, played for maybe two weeks, and never looked back. Cataclysm? Didn’t even feel it. I get the sentiment though with games in my past that hold more attraction to me (EQ2, WAR, Gemstone). I don’t think it’s a case specific to WoW, merely nostalgia in a lot of ways.

    • Gordon says:

      For me it’s not nostalgia because I never really bonded with anyone in the WoW community – there’s just something about the gameplay and style, particularly of the lower levels, that really appeals to me.

  10. Grimfire says:

    I know bow you feel. I honestly never though I would go back. I have played on and off since launch. And after WotLK I swore I would never return. Until I read an excellent post at http://rpgwire.blogspot.com/2011/05/rewards-vs-experience.html

    And I thought to myself he is right. There is nothing to be gained in an MMO other than the experience. So I resubbed WoW and have focused on only having fun. No gear grind, no dailies. Just doing whatever is fun and experiencing the game with old friends. As for the community, it’s actually betterthan I remember it from a year ago but I still leave all channels except guild most of the time. I’ve got to say that the min/max mentality wants to rear it ugly head but I have fought it off thus far and have been having quite a bit of fun over the last 3 weeks. Good luck

  11. Epiny says:

    I have a different outlook on why has created this reoccurring trend of people coming back, and the “WoW Tourist” Phenomenon we see with every new MMO.

    People aren’t willing to stick through a lull in a new MMO when they can simply return to WoW with their preexisting characters and often times relationships. All new MMOs have some sort of growing pains, combine that with the fact that everyone has to level up a new character again and you open up a lot of possibilities for situations that feel grindy, not fun, or just unappealing when you compare them to your previous MMO. WoW has gone through its growing pains, the game runs very well and it’s a testament to Blizzard’s dedication to the game.

    When people hit a bump in the road on a new MMO they immediately question their motives for playing. Is it worth it? Will it last? These questions ring loudest in people’s heads as they run into adversities in new MMOs be those intentional hardships or technical ones. No MMO, regardless of the amount of quality, polish, or effort put into it can overcome this long term draw that WoW creates.

    I said this on Keen’s blog and he took it as some philosophical paradox; however I don’t think that even WoW could unseat it’s self at this point. MMO gamers want a new MMO, but they seem to be too impatient to suffer through any hardship of growing pains. Until a MMO can sustain a LARGE player base in order to make improvements the way’s player base has allowed it to nothing is going to compete.

    Blizzard has essentially created a market where no gamer is willing to move on and no developer can afford to improve their MMO past launch because they can’t sustain sub numbers.

    • Gordon says:

      I suppose in many ways MMOs are a lot like real life relationships. Once you’ve invested a lot of time in one, it’s very difficult to move on even if the new one has the possibility of being ultimately more satisfying. People just don’t like taking risks.

  12. Tesh says:

    I’ll be interested in WoW for as long as I can find new things to do in it.

    I’ll be disinterested for as long as they keep charging me for time to play.

    I still have things I want to do in the game; places to see, storylines to experience. They aren’t worth the cover charge.

    Those aside, when I run out of interesting things in the game, I’ll shelve it and move on. There are too many other good games and real world things to do to stay in Azeroth forever.

    • Gordon says:

      “There are too many other good games and real world things to do to stay in Azeroth forever.”

      I have been feeling this a lot too myself actually. Still, sometimes its nice to escape for an hour :)

  13. Bootleg says:

    I think WoW is a fantastic game. I don’t play it anymore and really don’t have any intention of playing it again. I love MMO’s, I can’t say exactly why though. In any case I’m always looking for something new and I’ve always returned to WoW. But like I mentioned, I’m done with WoW. I resubbed for Cata then un-subbed after after about a month.

    I played Rift and there are parts of that game I really enjoy but other parts I really dislike. Probably more than anything the game engine/graphics/implementation or what killed the game for me. The characters fairly unresponsive/wooden, combat is sluggish, and the graphics/textures muddy. Unlike with WoW, I couldn’t just start playing and enjoying the game, I constantly felt like I was tolerating it.

    Just today I saw a video about 10 things to make you interested in guild wars 2. #10 was all about game polish/implementation and that really hit home for me. No MMO has been able to do it for me like WoW. So for now I just diving into single player games until something comes out that looks promising.

    Here’s the video (which actually got me excited for GW2, from knowing nothing about it.)
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xBC_ig73aMs

    • Gordon says:

      For me the problem with RIFT is the lack of interesting races and unique starting areas. I keep thinking about starting an alt but I really don’t fancy playing through the same content I just experienced again.

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  15. Barrista says:

    “Just what is it about that game that keeps luring me back like a sultry siren to a bad relationship? ”

    When people return to bad relationships, it is typically a mark of low self esteem or revisiting abuse from their childhood that they haven’t properly dealt with yet. (sorry, couldn’t help myself)

  16. vortal says:

    I still play WoW cause I think it is fun, I take breaks but never truly “Quit”. I’m not sure what exactly draws me to the game, but I definitely think at this point it’s friends. If you have a group or guild you hang out with, and they have become your best buddies why leave them for another game. That’s what happened to me, but I don’t regret it, World of Warcraft is a great game despite what others might think.

    • Gordon says:

      You’re right, it is a very, very good game and often unappreciated for its merits.

      • Vims says:

        You’re showing signs of rationalising your own decision already.

        Plonk down the dollars, go back. Familiarity is good and comforting – like a neighbourhood bar, and until you derive your satisfaction from somewhere else, it’s always easy to resub.

        Playing a game is NOT a lifestyle choice, no need to overthink it.

  17. Pascal says:

    Gordon, I still love Age of Conan more than any other MMO.

    Hearing Helen Boksle sing; the sheer brutal combat and the feel of the game has lured me in more than any other MMO. I enjoy all of them; but when I heard that Age of Conan is creating a Blood and Glory PvP server I thought to myself – why am I playing all these other games when I really loved Age of Conan?

    So I resubscribed and discovered the game is indeed a lot better than I remembered it. Offline levels, Alternative Advancement, Veteran Rewards – there is a whole heap of good things in it now as well.

    Plus, old subscribers have recently been rewarded with some play-time until the end of May, I believe. So, if you are wanting to try it – it may very well be a lot of fun.

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  19. Vura says:

    I did wonder about the same things, why does WoW appeal to me so much while with other games (like Rift, LOTR etc) I lose interest so very quickly. Well I pondered for a while and relaized WoW has created that particular atmosphere that keeps pulling me back in. For me the difference does not so much lie in the gameplay, but in the scenery they created.
    Most newly developed games try to make things as realistic and detailed as possible, they dont understand it’s the atmosphere that counts, I just need the feeling of the wall being mossy, not the actual thousands of tiny pixels (sorry if I’m getting all nerdy on you guys) of moss on the wall which eventually just makes the entire world grainy and gives me a feeling of chaos instead.
    Also the images are fairly large, if you compare things to your character theyre XXXL-Oversized. This gives you the feeling of being drawn into the game, of actually standing there instead of just your character at some distance on your screen.

    What appeals to me are the magic flashes, the bright colors, the unrealistic world in which I can completely forget the real one around me and allow myself to drown in their fantasy forests, deadly deserts and soar through their stunning skies.

    I admit, I’m hooked and loving it.

  20. Avadonja says:

    I have almost quit WoW three times, all because of guild drama, but never because I was done with the game.
    Once I didn’t play for over a month – it was crazy.
    Right now it’s really hot here, but in Moonglade there’s a soft patter of rain. It’s escapism, pure and simple. It also, if you are a pve player, simplifies life. You do A then B before you can C, removing all the chaos of rl and giving an opportunity to feel successful.

  21. Dragonpalm says:

    I have read this entire thing, and I keep seeing people saying that they have played WoW for a long time and now they want to quit. So, here is a different point of view. I am very new to WoW. I played my first 10 day trial right after WotLC came out… and once the 10 days ended I just make a new trial account to start over as a different race/class. Just a few days ago, I saw an ad stating that WoW was now free up to lvl 20. I don’t know if this is still the 10 day thing, but if not, I will probably keep my newest trial account until I turn 18 and can pay for a sub. For over a year now I have been drooling over less than half of the MMO experience that WoW offers, and I can’t wait for the full thing. For me, its the massive and quite beautiful landscapes, the extensive and still expanding character customization, the deep and emotional story, and the impossibly large amount of people to share all this with that has be begging for a game that has been spoon-feeding me beginner content for this past year.

    I have seen and heard all of the stories and stuff about people obsessing over this game and dying. The Governor of California even went to the Supreme Court to try and ban some videogames for minors. For years now people have been bashing games because some 7 people die every year from playing videogames. However, I know that videogames haven’t killed anybody, but stupidity has. Several hundred people die every year from vehicle accidents, yet no one is trying to ban cars, because they all know that if you know how to drive properly you won’t wreck. The same is true for games and for WoW. People don’t have to worry about WoW ruining their life if they can learn how to take a break. So when I do get WoW and start playing, I won’t quit until I stop having fun, because I know that if I pace myself and only play 2-4 hours a day, I will have nothing to worry about. The fun will probably last a lot longer that way too because I won’t have drained all the content in a single month.

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