You’ve probably heard people who do not like D&D 4e say that it feels like playing World of Warcraft more than a tabletop RPG. How true you feel this is probably depends on how much you like or dislike 4e. There is another way to look at this, however. Even if 4e doesn’t feel like playing WoW, perhaps the design needs of WoW slipped over into some recent tabletop RPG designs like 4e. In a post on theRPGSite, J Arcane made an interesting argument that it has. Warning: The quote uses the “F” word and other mild profanity.
I’m telling you guys, this shit is all about the World of Warcraft forums. Sure, the idea of “balance” existed before then, but it was always just a vague and nebulous way of saying “more or less fair,” or at worse “roughly equal.” Rifts was not a balanced game, most games on the other hand made at least some effort to keep things on an even keel.
But then you have WoW come along, and the mindset is very different. WoW is an MMO, of course, and one with a completely atrophied RP community from the start. It’s player base is mostly culled from other Blizzard games, especially the Diablo games. Everything is about the numbers, and about getting the loot as efficiently as possible.
WoW also has PvP, and not the open-world sort of PvP of older games, but arena-focused, almost FPS-like PvP. And with it, a ruleset mostly built for co-op PvE play, suddenly has to be expected to perform double duty, and this forces “balance” to go from casual consideration to front and center, as every motherfucker who loses a game runs screaming to the forums if it looks like another class did more damage than him or somehow managed to kill him. It’s never that you suck at the game, it’s that the class is broken/overpowered/underpowered/etc.
….[more info on WoW culture]…
So now you’ve got new players being pulled in, many of whom are guys like Gabe at Penny Arcade, guys who’ve grown up on video games and whose idea of an RPG is informed more by Final Fantasy and World of Warcraft than it ever will be by D&D or Tolkien. And with them, they bring their WoW-influenced ideas of “balance” and “optimization” and “broken” and all the other memes and ideas that are fucking standard in that culture, but were only ever sidelines before, and before long they’re driving the bus while all the original drivers are being laid off by Wizards of the Coast to be replaced by a new wave of guys who’ll do what corporate says and suck up to the forumites that are telling them all about how “broken” and “unbalanced” 3.5 is.
And so we get 4e. A game so obviously designed to ape MMOs and MMO design culture that literally, when designing a project to actually convert WoW to tabletop, I inadvertently wind up repeating a lot of the same design ideas, especially vis a vis power design. Making Drums of War was the biggest eye opener for me about 4e design I ever encountered, because in trying to emulate the same source I found myself basically doing a lot of similar things because I’m working straight from the sources, the raw mechanics of the WoW video game.
Is J Arcane right? I have no idea as I’ve never played a MMORPG long enough to have an opinion (like most CRPGs, MMORPGs just don’t interest me for more than an hour or two), but it is an interesting argument.