Ex-Blizzard dev: World of Warcraft killed a genre

Ex-Blizzard dev: World of Warcraft killed a genre
Aaron Lee

By Aaron Lee

July 1st 2013 at 12:33PM

Mark Kern claims WoW team lowered the MMO difficulty curve too much

Massively multiplayer online games have become too easy, claims a former team lead behind World of Warcraft and long-time Blizzard developer.

Mark Kern, now founder of Red 5 Studios, wrote about his efforts to expand the appeal of MMOs with the arrival of World of Warcraft in a blog post on MMORPG.com. The mantra, he said, was to make them more “accessible” and refine the game's content and quests so that players “never had to think about what to do next”.

In the post, Kern laments some of the choices that were made in order make the game more accessible, which he said lowered the difficulty curve at such as rate that players were simply in a race to get to the maximum level.

“It worked. Players came in droves, millions of them,” he wrote.

“But at what cost? Sometimes I look at WoW and think ‘what have we done?’ I think I know. I think we killed a genre. There are many reasons I feel this way, but I’d like to discuss one in particular, the difficulty curve.”

Kern added that lots of the game’s other content, and even the elements that simply add flavour to it, such as beautiful areas to explore off the main path, went unappreciated because of the imbalance in the game’s difficulty.

“The main thing we lose when lowering the difficulty curve is a sense of achievement. When the bar is lowered so that everyone can reach max level quickly, it makes getting to max level the only sense of accomplishment in the game. We lose the whole journey in between, a journey that is supposed to feel fun and rewarding on its own.

“Nobody stops to admire a beautiful zone or listen to story or lore, because there is no time to do so. You are fed from a fire-hose of quests that you feel compelled to blaze through, whose content is so easy and quick to accomplish, that you are never in one place long enough to appreciate the incredible world around you.”

Kern when on to say that MMOs should be savoured, and it’s the journey that matters, not the end game.

At his new studio, Red 5, he’s currently working on Firefall, an MMO which he said is focusing “on the journey, not the end”.

“Firefall is not a trivialised distillation of an MMO. We found that adding a little difficultly and depth has actually made the game more fun, not less. Maybe, just maybe, as an industry we’ve made things too easy, and its time to get back to games being challenging as well as fun.”