Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The WoW-Clone Syndrome

NOTE: If you don't want to read a bunch of feature lists, skip to the conclusion at the bottom.

I'm going to hunt down and flog every single little twit that continually calls Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning (WAR) a WoW-clone, simply because they saw an early alpha screen shot of an Orc. These are the same people that believe Age of Conan to be the new "hotness".

First, WoW-clone needs to be defined. This is simple.

1. Level based advancement, primarily via solo PvE quests. Variation in quests is limited. Required group interaction minimal. Other activities do not contribute to leveling.
2. Classes based on archetypes: healer, tank, and DPS.
3. End game focuses on instanced PvE raiding and group-required content. Other end-game content a sideshow to main PvE aspects.
4. Gear centric approach to character advancement at max level, also known as meta-levels. Division of gear: one set for PvP, one set for PvE.

Other than that, everything else in WoW is really just good game design, applicable to all games in all genres. No need to list "responsive controls", etc. Those are items expected out of all games, but for some reason not seen in the MMO space until WoW.

Now that the WoW-clone is loosely defined, we can put the contenders up to the test to see which one is the true WoW-clone.

Age of Conan

PvE leveling via solo quests: yep.
Variation in quests limited: yep.
Required group interaction during leveling limited: yep.
Other activities do not significantly contribute to leveling: yep.

Classes based on archetypes: yep.

End-game focuses on PvE raiding and PvE group-required content: to a degree.
Other end-game activities: yes, cities, border kingdoms, but still to be determined level of importance.

Gear-centric advancement at max level: yep.
Differing sets of gear for differing aspects of game: unknown.

My WoW-clone'o'meter for Age of Conan: 90%

Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning

PvE leveling via solo quests: yep, but in the form of public quests which can involve interaction among many solo players.
Variation in quests limited: yep, but once again public quests break the stereotypical quest mold, offering a staged series of events to unfold for the players participating.
Required group interaction during leveling limited: unknown, but again shattered by public quests.
Other activities do not significantly contribute to leveling: false. WAR will offer three very distinct activities to contribute equally to leveling: PvE questing experience, Realm vs Realm experience, and Tome of Knowledge experience will all contribute in part or in whole to leveling. Most things a player does in WAR will contribute to leveling.

Classes based on archetypes: yep.

End-game focuses on PvE raiding and PvE group-required content: to a degree, but end game PvE raiding will be a result of the Realm vs Realm campaign.
Other end-game activities: yes, the campaign system, scenarios, sieging, and open-field RvR, all contribute equally as much as PvE raiding and PvE group play.

Gear-centric advancement at max level: yep.
Differing sets of gear for differing aspects of game: unknown, but unlikely.

My WoW-clone'o'meter for WAR: 50%


People are going to yell at me for comparing feature lists. Others will scream that AoC just launched and WAR is still in beta. Unfortunately for those yelling, the base of these "games like WoW" are not going to change. WoW hit the nail on the head in terms of online game play, and not just for MMOs, but for games in general.

That leads me to compare the features of each game, because honestly, there are not many features in WoW. WoW is a great base of a game, with a ton of potential being wasted. I hate to say it, but I was wrong for a very long time thinking that WoW could ever be anything more than a well done and simplistic PvE game.

Age of Conan is almost a direct WoW-clone, but saves face by adding some new end-game activities in the form of player-owned cities and border kingdom PvP. AoC's combat is pretty standard, with just a bit more clicking. AoC is taking the WoW base, copying it whole-sale, and fluffing the fringes to make it feel unique.

WAR is half a WoW-clone, which really isn't a clone at all. WAR will have a PvE end game, but the means of getting there will be drastically more dynamic than what is found in WoW. On top of this, WAR is shaping up to be a far deeper and more feature-rich game than WoW will ever be. WAR is taking the WoW base and piling on the goodness.

I fully embrace playing new games that "feel" a bit like WoW, because honestly, that is the way I want my games to play. I would kill for WoW's responsiveness and controls in a dozen other games I've played over the last few years. However, the time has come for a game to capitalize on WoW's success by adding a full feature set and in doing so, become the non-WoW Clone of the "next generation".


  1. Syndrome? More like the official Business Standard for MMO development.

    Just one point: Developers, I BEG you. Please ship at least 1 non-MMO before you ship an MMO. It helps.

  2. I agree, I think WAR will be one of the furthest things from a WoW clone that the fantasy based MMOG market will have.

    Age of Conan is similar in every way based on your listed criteria. I believe that I'll be playing WAR because of these differences when it launches. I'm playing AoC atm and while I am enjoying it I wonder what the PVP will be like when the serves mature.

    Anyway, good read and I've got you in my blogroll now listed on my blog, come and visit if you like :)


  3. Anonymous2:34 PM

    Although you make some good points, there are many other factors to the design of an mmo besides that tiny list you presented here. Art design, combat system, and maturity levels are just some of these other factors. And whether you like other variations on these factors or not, it does show a different approach and prove that there is still a lot of evolution available in this market.

  4. Korrath, you are missing the point. All the items you listed are exterior to differentiating a games features. Combat will always be about hitting things, art will always be about putting things on screen, and maturity level will ALWAYS be in the eye of the beholder.

    The things that I listed are not some "tiny list". These are the the things that make WoW the game it is. These are the things that should be present for a game to be tagged as a WoW-Clone.

    I simply laid out how AoC follows most of them, while WAR does not. But because of some exterior art direction arguments about orcs looking like orcs, WAR gets cast as the WoW-clone, when it simply is not true.

    The 50% that WAR will have from WoW are the things that WoW has from the games before it. The difference is that WoW produced these with quality in mind and in doing so upped the bar for WAR and other games that follow. Some games will copy them directly(AoC), while other games will copy and improve them (WAR). And WAR will go a step further by fleshing out everything in the game.

    So, when I am playing WAR in the future and someone goes "this is just like WoW", I'm going to rip their fucking throat out.

  5. Anonymous3:55 PM

    You and Syncaine should be co-founders of the "WAR Fanboi" club, seriously. Seems fitting, considering how much adoration you have for an MMO that hasn't even launched yet.

  6. I'd rather be labeled a fanboy than just another among the crowd any day :)

    If my faith in a developer and praise for a game that is doing things right is too much to handle, I'm sure there are other blogs to go read.

    I suggest sticking around a while though, or reading a few of my other WAR posts, before you think I'm just gushing with over-ripe enthusiasm for everything WAR.

    I love WoW, but I'll criticize its failures until the cows come home. I'll be doing the same with WAR.

  7. What gets me is these games launch and the 'fan boys' bristle at any comparison to WoW. The forums overflow with venom when the eventual WoW comparison comes up.

    The cold honest truth is: Blizzard did so much right with WoW that it's just natural that other companies are going to poach the good ideas off of WoW and incorporate them.

    And I don't think that's a bad idea. Take those features, execute them as well (or better) than Blizzard has and make sure any innovations of your own you've put into the game work well and compliment the established features and you should have a game that shines in it's own right.

    Case in point: Lord of the Rings. It felt a lot like WoW (at least PvE wise), but added enough in other areas to distinguish itself as an alternative to WoW, and is doing fine.

    At the end of the day there's a reason that millions of people, many of whom where there day 1, are still playing the game 4 years and just one major expansion pack down the road...The game does what it does...and does it well.

  8. Edit: Should've added this...

    My buddy whose a huge Warhammer fan pointed out the other day that WAR is going to get dinged for some of the similarities it has to WoW...but it was Warcraft and Blizzard that cloned Warhammer in the first place.

  9. Anonymous5:28 PM

    We obviously all have different opinions to what factors of a game make it too similar to what else is out in the market. Some of us are tired of solo leveling, some of us are tired of the auto-attack combat system. "WoW-clone" is an ambiguous term which noone is certified to define.

  10. Korrath, simple exercise.

    You change WoW's graphics to a more realistic tone. You still have WoW.

    You change WoW's combat to "click to attack". You still have WoW.

    You change WoW's gear centric end-game to a hard cap gear system and you suddenly don't have WoW anymore.

    I'm not saying you are wrong that different things attract players, but they are not a defining feature of whether another game is copying them or not.

  11. Anonymous11:58 PM

    I'm saying both AoC and WAR copy different features of its predecessors - as they should. We obviously have different opinions as to what defines a game. WoW with cutting off people's heads, beginning with a single-player campaign, and sieging guild battlekeeps..is not WoW, imo.

    Graphics design is the most obvious thing for the masses to use to make assumptions about a mmo title - this is why many people will always give WAR the rep of a "wow-clone". Simply because the majority of the people don't know the whole picture (esp with the NDA). As I said, the definition for "Wow-clone" is up to interpretation and opinion. Just another term that is thrown around the forums to flame on the next-generation mmo market.

    Frankly, I am a fan of both games and hope they both do well in the long-term.

  12. Heartless, I don't think you can dismiss combat mechanism so easily. If you would change WoW combat into a combo-based click-to-attack combat in which every swing is an area attack, WoW wouldn't be WoW any more. Combat is what a player of a MMORPG does most often, and having played it I can assure you that AoC combat feels much different from WoW combat.

    I agree with you that WAR's public quest change gameplay, but only that fraction of the gameplay that you spend doing public quests. And I could very well imagine some WoW expansion adding WoW public quests (cleverly disguised with a different name) to World of Warcraft. I cannot imagine WoW changing its combat system to something resembling AoC.

  13. OOF dude I can tell you from beta that WAR is almost a 95% WoW clone. But it is alright at what it does I guess. Hey it takes WoW elements and deepens them so its all good

  14. You forgot one comparison in your post

    AoC equals 0% WoW
    WAR equals 100% WoW

    How combat looks and plays:
    AoC equals 0% WoW
    WAR equals 100% WoW

    Fanboi much?

  15. Oh Uh, I think the trolls followed your comment from Tobold's blog and have started to munch on your posts!

    In all seriousness I like stylized artwork much better in my games so I will probably be switching to Warhammer when it comes out. On the other hand I'm in love with the combo system in Age of Conan so I'm not so sure I can go back to auto attack.

    The beta for Warhammer still leaks all over the place and most sources say the last build actually had combat worse then WoW. Hopefully this latest round of beta invitations hints that the new build is almost ready and combat is much improved.

  16. Blah. I guess some people just are so ingrained with WoW that they approach and play every new game as though it was WoW, failing to see the actual differences.

    Let me clear this up. The way I will be playing WAR the majority of my /played will be so drastically different than that of WoW that I will completely forget that WoW exists.

    If players come in with the idea that they will be playing WoW 2.0 in WAR, that is what they will get, and in two months they will gone when they realize that the WoW features are not the point of the game.

    So, yes, believe that your phased beta testing experience is a WoW-clone, but don't for a second believe that is what the game is as a whole.

    Yes, I am going into 100% fucking fanboy mode and you can't stop me. Why? Because you are all wrong.


  17. Anonymous1:45 AM

    Lol, cheers to the next generation of MMO's!

  18. You change WoW's gear centric end-game to a hard cap gear system and you suddenly don't have WoW anymore.

    You'll be delighted to hear then that AoC's stats are capped ;) The system wants to focus on skill, not gear.

    Skills and magic in AoC also have different effects in PvP and PvE, including different amounts of damage, not just "every CC is less long" like WoW.

    I agree that level based advancement and class archetypes are the same as WoW, but then, that should rather be dubbed "EQ clone" or "UO clone" instead of "WoW clone", because WoW didn't innovate the slightest bit when it comes to those.

  19. And of course, you're playing down the impact of the vastly different combat system.

  20. Anonymous4:47 PM

    Ok, just received my WAR Beta account and


    This is a true WOW clone.
    First of the graphics SUCK, its WoW just with less saturation. My girl actually asked why i installed WoW because she thought i hated it (which i do).
    Looting: WoW
    Leveling WoW (yepp even with a rested state)
    Bars: Wow, Pictures Wow

    To cut that short that whole UI is WoW, the gameplay is so WoW like and the community stinks shitloads.

    If you like WoW, Buy this, its like an addon.

  21. Anonymous9:53 PM

    Actually in regard to this whole "WoW Clone" business... Its completely ridiculous. No game should be compared to WoW, when WoW in fact did not innovate any of its features, it just put many features that were used previously in MANY RPG's and put them into one game, that being probably its one innovation.

    Level based advancement? Can you say Final Fantasy, or even better Dragon Quest? The idea for level advancement is NOT new, nor is it new to ANY MMO, it was innovated via console like many RPG elements. The only thing MMO's did was add the "Massively Multiplayer Online" aspect to RPG (Role Playing Game). If you compare any standard non MMO RPG you can see the same features generally done FAR better than an MMO's version of the same features. WoW is truly nothing special, it is a product of good marketing but not of true innovation. Look at the past everything was taken from before, so don't compare MMO's and say "WoW clone" because I guarantee every feature of WoW can be directly linked to a "clone" of another game's features before WoW even began being developed.


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