Design Mockument: In which we do not design World of Warcraft 2

Ogre, without layers

Over the course of my professional writing career on this site and that site we used to run before AOL screwed us all over, I think I have designed World of Warcraft 2 at least half a dozen times. One of my friends and I have a little cottage industry wherein we do thought experiments about how to remake WoW from the ground up. So it is, perhaps, a little bit odd to start off an installment of Design Mockument – which is entirely about designing hypothetical sequels to games – by saying that this installment will not be about designing a hypothetical sequel to a game.

Why? I don’t know, Bree keeps paying me money and she ignores me when I tell her that I quit, so now I’m literally just writing columns in which I violate their very premise!

No, no, that’s funny to write but it’s not actually accurate. This may be a bit tongue-in-cheek, but I do actually have a point here because it feels like “and then they’ll announce WoW 2” has been the go-to dream for people who have accepted “the Microsoft merger will save us all” is the latest deliverance that is not coming. It has been for years, though. But the reality is that even that announcement wouldn’t fix anything… and there’s a lot of evidence proving that.

I could, for example, point at Overwatch 2, the sequel that is finally going to include PvE content and multiple game modes! Or one game mode. Well, it will eventually include PvE content! Probably. Maybe. Don’t bother us. Like, it’s sure not any of the roadmaps through Season 3, but hey, maybe it’s going to after that. Just keep kicking the can on down the road.

“How are those the same thing?” Because that’s Blizzard, my dude. That is Blizzard as it exists now. And if tomorrow Mike Ybarra climbed to the tallest building in Irvine and announced that WoW 2 is happening and that’s why they need everyone back in-office because otherwise El Chupacabra will eat their employees, this is the company that is building it. I do not care what you think about the people who built the original WoW, many of whom I have unflattering opinions of, but they are not the team who would be steering the sequel.

Like, seriously, if you do not like where the game is right now with Ion Hazzikostas, John Hight, and Holly Longdale making decisions? You are probably not going to like a sequel that would be overseen by these same people. Sorry, not sorry.

But that’s just puncturing the concept, and it’s not enough to really explain why I’m not going to design the sequel again in this particular column. Because to answer that question, we have to talk about The X-Files.

Special Agent Athenian Goddess and Special Agent Thumb.

If you watch The X-Files now, front to back, you will probably be struck by the fact that it is just not very good. Not because of acting or anything; David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson both give really good performances through most of the show. But the show is very much monster-of-the-week nonsense for several episodes, then it tries to have some actual mystery build, and then… then it just keeps going down rabbit holes that you know it isn’t going to fulfill.

Seriously, rewatching it is just agonizing because you find yourself knowing that any conspiracies that Mulder is just about to uncover aren’t actually going to lead anywhere because you’re on Season Three and there are eight more seasons and two movies and dear sweet merciful Sobek, how was this so popular? There was a time that this show was so popular that a movie based on it made triple its budget back! That movie doesn’t even pretend to have an introduction to its characters or even a lousy goddamn conclusion and nothing in it is ever referenced again, so what in the world happened?!

And if you’re wondering how this happened, I can actually tell you because I was there. It was because the show was airing at a time when the internet was just starting to take off and we could all share theories on message boards, but a lot of the more obscure stuff still felt obscure. (If you wanted to look up El Chupacabra on Wikipedia after the X-Files episode about it, for example, you would have to turn on your computer and wait four years for Wikipedia to be invented.)

Whether it was good or not didn’t really matter. It hit at the right cultural time that its particular brand of nonsense became Very Popular for a while, and a bunch of other elements eventually deflated it especially as it became clear that the story was never going to actually go anywhere interesting. American pop culture was intensely stupid in the late ’90s, yes, but watching two actors stumble around Vancouver forests chasing after a vaguely defined monster filmed with shakycam and never illuminated was seriously the most popular thing right up until it wasn’t.

But its revival didn’t do so well because it turned out this was of a time.

Hello, Thanos Lite.

A lot of digital ink has been spilled over the years asking why it was specifically WoW that hit even as a bunch of other games were using a similar quest format at the same time. Why was it WoW that hit it so big? Maybe it was the fact that Warcraft was already popular enough, maybe it was the stylized graphics, maybe a lot of things. The important thing is that it happened.

But that was a long time ago. Long enough for the company to literally release a rehash of the original launch that is actually a palimpsest for personal recollections that bear little to no resemblance to actual history. And with the history of the game being one that has so virulently pitted players of different preferences against one another, what would a sequel look like?

If you promise to serve the people that the current game does not, they’re not going to believe it because they’ve heard this story before. And if you promise to serve the people that the current game does, even assuming that they aren’t wondering why they should bother upgrading… what would be the point of upgrading in the first place? They already play your game.

So I’m not writing about how to make WoW 2 because at the end of the day, all that would be is a treatise on how to tap into my own nostalgia, the project I would like to see, the few tattered glimpses of something good that haven’t yet been rent to shreds by the game that currently exists. But even if it did that, it wouldn’t be 2004 again. It wouldn’t be the game I had waited for that hit exactly the right sweet spot and didn’t know I wanted; it would just be an MMO, assembled by a company that has lost the creative vibe that once drew me to it, and hopeful that I would be so enamored of the name that I would come flocking once more.

That’s why I’m not writing about how to make WoW 2: because there’s never going to be another moment where it manages to grasp things just right. And that’s a lot more important than figuring out how to re-arrange class structures.

Having said that, sure, I’ll probably do it at some point. I never said I wouldn’t, I just explained why I’m not doing it today. And hey, whenever I do get around to doing it, now you’ll have this to chew on in the background.

Designing an MMO is hard. But writing about some top level ideas for designing one? That’s… also remarkably hard. But sometimes it’s fun to do just the same. Join Eliot Lefebvre in Design Mockument as he brainstorms elevator pitches for MMO sequels, spinoffs, and the like for games that haven’t yet happened and most likely never will!
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