As an observer in this industry my duty is to analyze what happens from a personal point of view, that is equal to my sensibility and limited knowledge, and underline the tendencies. So that I’m able to anticipate if something is supposed to go in a good or wrong direction. This is the direct reason why I often play to foresee the future and predict how things will go. Peoples usually mock me (rightfully) at this point. In most of the cases what I repeat is glaring obvious as predicting that the sun will rise the next day. Now the point is that I’m still an observer, till the game companies will keep doing obvious mistakes I’ll have to keep predicting the obvious.
The fact that “the servers will crash” isn’t obvious till I won’t see the problems addressed at best. So I’ll keep underline it. How am I supposed to know what is “at best”? It’s simple. In the case of World of Warcraft I preached since August that their choice to divide the servers by timezones would make the overcrowding problems more serious. This problem isn’t trivial as it seems, there are a large number of implications. What was the result? The result was that what I predicted was ignored till Blizzard got swamped in the problem and had to start to suggest the players to log in servers that do not correspond to their timezone and relative peak times, disrupting directly their plan and even a few important design implications, like the 24h clock, GM support and scheduled downtimes. A couple of weeks later they released an emergency patch to remove from the UI the timezones.
Again, it was obvious. Again, it was ignored. Now let’s move on. The game is now released and we hit another prediction I made. Blizzard is not correctly prepared to sustain the scope of this project. They somewhat admitted it and I don’t have the knowledge to judge if what they are doing is the best possible or if they are committing errors in the process. But I can still observe the game and understand what it needs. The direction that will help it to improve and not just decline as all mmorpgs are supposed to with the passing of time.
Maybe, they aren’t committed enough to this game. Maybe they are moving the focus on other projects, leaving only a small, not adequate, team on this one. The reasons and the choices depend on elements that I don’t know and I cannot control so the best I can do is to point out a doubt and the reasons of this doubt. And I move forward of another step.
This another step is about a “direction”. The game needs work. As I often state the release is just the beginning for a mmorpg, the real development and challenge (with yourself, not with the competition) start now. But what is the best direction to move to? What will damage the game? What will improve it? These are the topics of this new step. Peoples everywhere claim for “content” but this path isn’t that obvious. I believe that one of the worst things that may happen to World of Warcraft is a rise of the level cap. If everyone reaches level 60 and starts to whine because they reached an endgame that sounds like a “game over”, the most direct solution is to push forward the finishing line. Let’s move the cap to level 70 or more.
This is a common process that can be assimilated to the concept of “mudflation”. The keypoint here is that the term defines in particular those games that are generally considered “content-intensive”, EverQuest for example. You aren’t supposed to complain about the lack of content in a world like EverQuest but the fact is that, concretely, the lack of content is its main problem. And here I said once again an heresy. The reason comes exactly from the meaning of the world “mudflation”. Its meaning is about an “erosion” of content. The mudflation is an active process *on the content*. It means that the elements in a game are replaced and made obsolete by something new. It’s true that *apparently* there’s load of content, but this content is actively eroded and forgotten.
Why does this process exist? Because it’s a recursive process. You cannot stretch too much the treadmills or you shatter the community. If the whole development is about adding terrain for the treadmill, it will become increasing hard for the new players to join the game and integrate themselves. The space between the first levels and the last increases exponentially representing an unending ladder to climb just so that you are supposed to join your friends and their activities. These treadmills are barriers between the players. They do not work by definition because they break the accessibility and uncover the true, emptied nature of the model. The mudflation is a process that exists to solve this situation. The mudflation is a positive “antibody” developed directly by the game itself to survive. It’s the only way for the game to remain cohesive, to not finish fragmented into too many pieces.
So there are two elements to consider here. The first is that the mudflation is a direct, positive consequence to fight back a process that was started “outside”. It’s an auto-defence of the game. It’s “wrong” only because it is reacting to a damage from the outside. The players still need a communal ground where to meet. Communal goals to achieve. Too much content would actively shatter this. Spreading all the players everywhere without them joining to reach their objectives. This would produce a dispersion, a desert. The mudflation is the consequence of a *problem*. This is the second point to consider. The problem is elsewhere, in a broken model of development. To excuse this development only new goals to achieve are added. These goals, to be considered worthy, need to become bigger rewards. The development model here is the one of a stain. The original release of a game is the center, then the developers keep adding stuff (areas, monsters, items) around it, like a stain that is slowly enlarging.
The mudflation is an antibody to this model. It’s an attempt to keep everything together. The erosion of content is needed to sustain the expansion. An expansion that isn’t mirrored by the expansion of a server. The players become just drifting ships on this stain. The more the time passes the more the ships will crowd the borders of the stain (the end-levels). As new content is released the stain will expand again and the ships blocked on the border will drift once again till the new border. This while the center is exsiccating. Noone looks the center anymore. Even if the center is the game. The center is the heart and, still, it’s ignored because all the ships are on the border, not anymore in the center.
Soon this heart will die but noone can see this because there are still the boys surfing on the borders. Where the game seems still full of life. The mudflation is a desperate attempt to counterattack this unexcused expansion process. To keep its heart alive this growing stain tries to cut away what it can. The less important parts are abandoned so that the life sources can still be focused elsewhere and sustain the unending, pointless and foolish enlargement.
At the end the moral is that this cannot be an optimal process. There must be something better. The games modeled on a stain give only the illusion of content because the truth is that they are kept alive thanks to the mudflation. The truth is that the erosion, so the loss of content, is the reason why they still survive. This rings a bell? How it is possible that an old game can only survive through a loss of content when that content is supposed to be its main strength? How it’s possible that this loss underlines a quality (and probably the only one it has)?
Those are the questions that is useful to answer. If they will remain unanswered the unacceptable and inexplicable destiny of these games will remain the same: die of age.