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August 06, 2005

Why I've Stopped Playing World of Warcraft

World of Warcraft

World of Warcraft is a truly stunning achievement. It's beautiful, it's enormous, and it deserves every bit of its success.

And yet, I've completely stopped playing. Twice, actually.

When I first picked it up, what I really wanted was a way to keep in touch with friends on the West Coast. I moved to Maryland from the Bay Area at the end of last year, and I had a lot of friends online playing WoW. I figured this was a good way to get my cooperative game on and still chat with friends about what was going on in their lives. Unfortunately, the three-hour time difference was a killer, and it was very rare that I could actually get in any time with my friends -- typically, we could start no earlier than 11 pm my time, which left a very narrow window, since I was getting up at 5 am.

But the game thoroughly sucked me in nonetheless. Before long I had levelled a Tauren Druid up to the mid-twenties. And one weekend that server had been down, and I had started a human Warlock on another server. Before long, he was into the mid-twenties as well.

Mostly, I played solo. On occasion, I'd group with one or two other players, and we'd do a few quests. This was all just happenstance, however; I'd be up in that area doing a quest anyway, and another player would happen by, and we'd end up grouping and doing something together.

In that way, I met Renwok, a troll rogue who in real life is an 18-year-old New Zealander; while adventuring, we chatted about his foray into Zen philosophy, and we discussed our thoughts about Suzuki and other enlightened thinkers. I also met a fellow programmer who had worked at Skotos Tech one night; we didn't group, but we were in the same neighborhood for a while and were just having a conversation.

These were really interesting evenings. But they were one-offs, and that was kind of unsatisfying. I would occasionally whisper to Renwok, but he'd be busy on some quest or whatever and, given his ability to spend far more time in the game than me, we'd probably never get to play together again.

One night, I actually played with Jamie for a while; I started a new character and we leveled up to about four or so before he had to go and take care of the baby. It was fun, but again, a one-off.

And I joined a couple of very successful groups, always with complete strangers. I did the Van Cleef thing, which was an awesome few hours of play. I did the Wailing Caverns with some folks I didn't know. I did a few things in the neighborhood of Lakeshire with groups. And this was all really fun, for a time. But joining with some people only to never see them again was ultimately disappointing.

Basically, every effort I've made to get to know someone, to spend some time adventuring with someone, has come to an end in an evening. While I really enjoy the serendipity of doing something and having someone come along who can help, I don't like letting go of that so quickly.

Most recently, I had an acquaintance start playing and we planned to spend some time adventuring together. So, I picked up the game after having put it down for a few months, and I quickly leveled a new character up to 12 or so, and I joined him in Westfall for an evening of adventuring. But there again, it ended. He was in the early throes of WoW, putting in a lot of time every week, while I could still only find a night or perhaps two a week to jump in and play. Soon, he had passed 30, while I languished at 17 or so.

I don't fault Blizzard for any of this; I think it's a built-in peril in the MMO framework, built as it is on somewhat flimsy social networks.

I know it can work; I know that there are people who find and form lasting relationships from their MMO play, either entirely online or moving offline. There are guilds where members don't know one another personally at all (in terms of meeting in the flesh), but who nonetheless have strong personal associations through their characters. But what I find¹ is that these are people who typically spend enormous amounts of time in the game, and that's something I simply don't have time to do.

While the first twenty or so hours of playing a character have always been immensely rewarding² because of the density of quests and the little chains of related quests that will take you through a few levels, this thins out after a time (towards level 20 or so) and there aren't enough quests you can do solo for the game to retain that level of enjoyment.

So, I guess I shouldn't be surprised. As with anything, you'll get out of it what you're willing or able to put into it. And as a father of two young boys, a film and book buff, and also a console gamer, there are other things I want to spend my time on that return the rewards I want from them.

I'll always look back fondly on my time with WoW. And in fact, I'm not entirely ready to turn off that account yet³; a small part of me wants to explore being in a big guild, to explore that aspect of the framework. I may even give some upcoming games a try -- D&D Online or Star Trek Online. I have friends and acquaintances working on both of those games, and I'd really like to see what they come up with.

But for me, I think couch co-op games with friends and my sons are going to continue to be the best format for me. In these cases, the games we play may be one-offs, but we'll play them because the gaming will grow and inform our existing relationships, not serve as a source of them. At this point in my life, that's the most that I can ask from a game like this.

¹Anecdotally, of course. I had a colleague at LucasArts who was spending some time playing Everquest at work during the week or two after his project was cancelled, and I asked him how much time he spent on it. So, he typed some command in and it told him 135 days. So, naïve me, I said, "Oh, so you've only been playing for a few months and you're already level 60?" and he said, "No, that's the total number of days I've actually spent logged-in." I was amazed. That's a significant amount of time, when you think about it. It's about a year and a half working a standard 40-hour-a-week job, for example.
²I've created about eight characters that I've taken to level 10 or beyond, and a couple that only made it to level four.
³Making me exactly the kind of customer that every MMO dreams of -- the paying customer who doesn't actually play.

Posted by Brett Douville at August 6, 2005 10:29 AM


I never paid for WoW. My brother does, and the plus side of having a roommate is sharing the bills. I only got one character past level 15. The only part of WoW I really dug was the social aspect of it. I spent more time socializing others and being a clown as I did gaining xp.

In example, in Ogrimmar you can finagle your way onto the Auction House stage. So I'd go up there and talk to people as if I worked there. I'd wait by the mailbox and tell people I was waiting on my Night Elvish mail order bride. Did you ever see someone run into a bunch of guys doing a dungeon and shout "Everyone stop! Dance party!" and proceed to boogie for ten seconds before being slaughtered? That was me. I did those types of things. Whatever I could do to have fun with folks or get a laugh out of them.

As to why I would never pay for any current MMOs... All in all I just could never get the point of the grind. Few games stay fun forever (Tetris.) And I just don't want to pay constantly for a game that I can't get full enjoyment out of unless I spend, literally, months playing it. (And even then that's only with one character/profession.)

Posted by: Jeffool at August 8, 2005 04:56 AM

I'm in the same boat as far as trying to keep in touch with friends on the West Coast through online gaming. For my money, Halo 2 via Xbox Live is the best way to enjoy the company of friends in an online game environment. It supports the kind of easy commraderie you get in face-to-face multiplayer games. The VoIP makes it so much easier to communicate both about the game and in a social capacity, and the pacing of games alternating with matchmaking gives you time to chat between matches. If we don't feel like playing against strangers, we do smaller deathmatches amongst ourselves.

We've tried Guild Wars and even other Xbox Live games, but Halo 2 is the one we always go back to. I'm about to start WoW on my own, and I may be able to sucker some friends into joining as well, but I think I may have the same experience.

Posted by: Clubberjack at August 8, 2005 09:32 PM

wow !! You dpnt have no Life . i stoped playing wow and now i am more happy then ever .wow is really a addiction because it can pull you in the fake World and you can forget who are your real freinds .

Posted by: Jonathan at December 4, 2008 03:13 AM

Well! Nothing like having someone come from out of nowhere to comment that I don't "have no Life" in regards to a three-year-old post (and with the typing and grammar of a three-year-old, to boot!) I'm tempted to delete the comment, but leaving it is like a very subtle form of revenge :)

And yes, I'm playing WoW again, to play with friends on the West Coast. So sue me.

Posted by: Brett Douville at December 4, 2008 07:33 AM

If you get addicted to WoW, that is your fault. I play WoW, talk to my friends and hang out with them in real life, and I get amazing grades in school. If you can control yourself and manage your time, you should have no problem with WoW taking over you.

Posted by: John at January 7, 2009 10:41 PM

Better that you quit WoW now rather than later and wake up with what have you done with your life.

Totally understand how the game can be slow for the more ' casual ' player, In all respect I understand that ' botting ' , is cheating, which allows you to continue leveling whilst your busy at work, home or whatever, BUT, it is something I have done for years to keep me up with the rest... although might be something to look into, I will not recommend it for its addictiveness.

Enjoy your gaming experiance!

Posted by: Andrew at January 14, 2009 07:06 PM