Firefall boss feels MMO developers have “killed a genre” by catering to accessibility over achievement

Saturday, 29th June 2013 17:28 GMT By Stephany Nunneley

Red 5 Studios CEO, CCO and former World of Warcraft developer, Mark Kern believes that by making MMOs accessible to causal players, developers have “killed a genre.”

Speaking in a guest blog on MMORPG, the Firefall boss pondered the “cost” of omitting traditional MMORPG systems.

“It all started with the drive to make MMOs, which in the EQ and Ultima days were a niche and hard core game, more accessible,” Kern wrote. “Accessibility was the mantra when I was leading the World of Warcraft team. We labored over the user interface for the game, going through many iterations, to find one that would be easy and intuitive for players new to the genre. We created a massive number of quests to lead the player through the world, making sure that they never had to think about what to do next.

“But even that wasn’t enough. As WoW grew in population, reaching ever more casual gamers, new expansions introduced even more refinements. Quest trackers were added, and xp was increased so that it was easier to level through all the old content to get to the “new stuff” of the expansion. Gear from the a new expansions first quests made raid gear from previous expansions a joke. And the level curve became faster and faster until we reached a point where everyone is just in a race to get to max level, and damn everything else in between. Why care about level 20 gear when you would blow by levels so fast it was obsolete before you even logged off for the night?

“And it worked. Players came in droves, millions of them. But at what cost? Sometimes I look at WoW and think “what have we done?” I think I know. I think we killed a genre.”

Kern said one of the many ways the genre has been “killed” is the sense of achievement players felt when overcoming a difficult quest or mission. When the difficulty curve is lessened, so is the sense of fulfillment.

“When the bar is lowered so that everyone can reach max level quickly, it makes getting to max level the only sense of accomplishment in the game,” he said. “We lose the whole journey in between, a journey that is supposed to feel fun and rewarding on its own. Nobody stops to admire a beautiful zone or listen to story or lore, because there is no time to do so.

“You are fed from a fire-hose of quests that you feel compelled to blaze through, whose content is so easy and quick to accomplish, that you are never in one place long enough to appreciate the incredible world around you. We feel bored by these quests, simply watching numbers on our quest trackers count down to completion before we are fed the next line of quests. And you don’t feel satisfied from playing the game because it never challenged you.

“And since these quests are so easily and quickly accomplished, the developer is not motivated to spend any time creating rich quests or events for players, since they will only be done once and discarded in the blink of an eye. Developers have no choice but to rely on kill 10 rats, fedex or escort for nearly every quest, and to do so with the least amount of work possible, lacking in depth or story. Its simply not worth it to do anything more.”

Kern feels this makes things even worse, as these quests chains become simpler and more cookie-cutter which ultimately causes the “moment to moment gameplay” to suffer.

“As content gets easier in order to appeal to a wider market, it at some point also pushes that market away. We feel bored by the same formula over and over. We never explore the world, having been indoctrinated to just follow a laundry list of tasks,” he said. “It may be great for relaxing and having a fun couple hours of gameplay, but it doesn’t last.

“No wonder we have such a huge crowd of jaded and bored MMO players. Every MMO that follows the WoW formula is a trivial exercise, dominated by rote and convention, trading off the joy of the journey for a series of meaningless tasks. And when we race to the end, we expect some kind of miracle end-game that will keep us playing. It never does.”

It’s an interesting perspective from someone with plenty of MMO development experience, and Kern said with Firefall, the team is concerned about such trappings; therefore, it is focusing on the “journey” instead of end game.

Firefall goes into open beta on July 9, and Founder’s Packs will be available through July 8.



  1. silkvg247

    Pretty much agree 100%.

    #1 2 years ago
  2. JB

    Same shit, different people.

    Every time a new MMO launches it`s wow bad, casuals bad, new game hard, new game better…

    #2 2 years ago
  3. silkvg247

    Sod it, I’ll give it a go.

    Signed up to founders.. got three beta keys left. Anyone want?

    #3 2 years ago
  4. TheWulf

    Eh. I don’t think that’s true at all. What’s killed MMOs if anything has is a lack of variety. You’re always doing the same thing over and over, ad nauseum. I can’t see Firefall being any different.

    #4 2 years ago
  5. DSB

    Yup, spot on.

    The things that helped to make MMOs become a cultural phenomenon were just slowly dialed back in the hopes that the developers might attract a few casuals, with the end result that the experience just became predictable. The gameplay flatlined and the games themselves reverted to cloning instead of innovating.

    #5 2 years ago
  6. Erthazus

    He is correct.

    #6 2 years ago
  7. KineticCalvaria

    Played the beta, it’s a pretty boring game, exactly as JB said it’s same shit different people.

    #7 2 years ago
  8. GwynbleiddiuM

    You wont find me arguing with that. But I’d say this is something that all portions of the industry is suffering from, not just MMOs.

    @TheWulf catering to accessibilty imo is a contributing factor to that lack of variety you mentioned.

    #8 2 years ago
  9. GrimRita

    The world is ready for a decent sandbox mmo. No more generic shit like WoW or their clones.

    #9 2 years ago
  10. TheWulf

    Wow, the elitism is strong with this thread.

    So… if you were to include, say, a puzzle that involves lots of research, riddling, and even real world research, that would be making the game less desirable? And that would make it more “casual?”

    A casual player isn’t one who lacks skill, a casual player is a person who can’t sit in front of their keyboard pressing 1-2-3-2-3-4-5-2-3-1-2 for long stints. A casual player is someone who has enough of a life to not be able to engage in eight-hour long raids, with prerequisites of eighty hours a week played to gain consumables.

    A casual player can beat VVVVVV with barely any lives lost, a feat that would probably turn the most “hardcore” MMORPG player into a dribbling vegetable, because there’s never been difficulty in MMOs, just time investment. WoW is a fine example of this, it’s the very essence of time > skill. If you have enough basement time to get all of that elite armour, then you can just trounce anything.

    So what I frequently find? A casual player is the player who has more actual skill. The casual player is the one with great muscle memory and reflexes. The casual player is the one with the mind logical enough to figure out hard puzzles in adventure games without using walkthroughs. And to be honest? Casual hate smacks of jealousy.

    MMOs are usually what you play if you’re not good enough to play anything else, frankly.

    This is why I said that MMOs need variety. Not to make them more “hardcore,” but to make them more hardcore. Hardcore in the ways that casuals like, hardcore in ways that are challenging to a person’s ability, rather than to just a person’s wallet or time.

    #10 2 years ago
  11. GrimRita

    @10 There was – SWG had all that pre-cu and you’d get a great sense of achievement once you unlocked a skill.

    The diverse skill tree meant that you really didnt know what to expect during moments like pvp, which were fucking awesome. None of this bull shit instant shame hole for warzones,raid,or other generic name to do pvp zone.

    I doubt very much if we will ever see crafting like that again as well.

    #11 2 years ago
  12. Hybridpsycho


    What a load of crap. You obviously have never even played hardcore in an MMO.

    It doesn’t necessarily take up that amount of time if you’re a good player.

    Also what you said about “Time > Skill” about WoW was also untrue (at least in the Burning Crusade).
    The fact that you’re saying that the casual player has more actual skill is just laughable. It’s based on nothing and most likely solely comes from your own time as one not being able to reach the hardcore content.

    Please don’t write anything more on here ;D

    #12 2 years ago
  13. silkvg247

    Games like wow are only partially about skill. You need:

    Pattern recognition

    Things that aren’t skill but knowhow:

    Speccing to cookie cutter / best spec (google fu)
    Best / fastest way to level up

    See there’s no element of aiming or critical hits on weak spots. Therefore wow isn’t purely skill it’s like 50% skill. The game + your gear decides how hard you hit and whether you miss or not. The only thing you can really control is making sure you run out of the bad places at the right time.. which yes we can argue is skill in terms of a reflex check on the player.

    Then there’s the group mechanism of using the right buffs at the right time when a boss is at a certain percent. Again that isn’t really skill but know how and common sense.

    I don’t think a casual or hardcore wow player can really call themselves skilled, and this is coming from one of the players who killed ragnaros as a faction first (pre achievements, in vanilla) and spent 20 hours a week raiding. I don’t look back and think wow, I was so skilful. I do look back and think God.. I wish wow was that hard then I might still be playing it. The game went downhill once they did stupid things like make world quests all non-elite.. so you couldn’t try take on a 2-3 man mob solo. That was fun for Gods sake, and it felt like you achieved something.

    Wow isn’t the first or only game to suffer from hidden “turn based computer generated number” combat, it merely copied all the mmo’s before it that did exactly the same. But it’s that mechanic that keeps it from ever being a skill based game.

    I played firefall last night and so far I’d say it’s decent. It plays like an FPS with mmo and rpg elements which is fine by me. It’s also fun.. and I’ve died a few times which keeps me interested. I used to die in Wow too, but now to die you’d have to strip your character naked and run through a pack of mobs. Or run a paint by numbers raid and run out of los of healers.

    I do stil crave a difficult mmo (and no my little wow fans, raids aren’t difficult.. not in terms of skill checks anyhow). Not sure how hard firefall will ultimately be, gonna have to play it a lot more first. I suspect it’ll be as difficult as I chose i.e. I can pick harder encounters. Will try that today.

    #13 2 years ago
  14. livewired500


    Casual == VeryFewGames && (!VeryOften || VeryOften) && (Skill || !Skill)
    // ie. Sports game only once a day. Or mobile/browser game in short bursts

    Core == VeryOften && (ALotOfGames || (VeryFewGames && VeryOften * CrapLoad)) && (Skill || !Skill)

    Hardcore == PaidToPlay && Skill

    #14 2 years ago
  15. DSB

    @13 I think it’s the best example of a team sport in gaming. I don’t see any other game demanding 20-40 people work together as a coordinated unit.

    There are plenty of games that could, but most developers are intimidated at the thought of putting that kind of demand on people, and really, Blizzard wussed out as well.

    You can always wax lyrical on how “difficult” a game is, but it’s pretty much a law of nature that having 20 people work together as a coordinated unit constitutes a serious challenge. Most professional sports teams are a lot smaller than that.

    I think that’s ultimately also why a raiding guild becomes such a tight knit community, to the point of real life interaction. Everybody’s so focused on doing their best, not just for their own sake, but for their guildmates.

    For me that was the difference between a “good” raider and a “bad” raider. A bad raider could have the highest HPS, DPS or TPS in the world, but if he didn’t care about the team and he only thought about himself, then he would always be worth less than the team player.

    #15 2 years ago
  16. silkvg247

    @15 But the raid encounters themselves don’t need “skill” other than reflex checks (go to y when x happens). No aiming, no real strategy.

    I agree it’s difficult to coordinate 20+ people but that’s more to do with logistics than the actual challenge of the game.

    The last time I played in a skill based team game was q2ctf.. you needed team coordination and excellent hand/eye coordination skills – not to mention going against human opponent is always going to be a bigger challenge than AI.

    #16 2 years ago
  17. DSB

    @16 I think that depends on your definition of skill.

    “Skill: An ability and capacity acquired through deliberate, systematic, and sustained effort to smoothly and adaptively carryout complex activities”

    I think that can be applied to what you do during a raid. You have your assignment as healing, DPS or tank, and that’s usually pretty straight forward, but your ability to adapt, perform and do it consistently is what determines whether you kill a boss or not.

    The actual execution of that definitely takes skill in my opinion. But at the end of the day I think it’s a pretty useless measure of a game, and I think TheWulf is grasping for straws as per usual. The vast majority of games are pretty banal at the end of the day, and few teach you anything worth naming a skill.

    Counter-Strike is “running around shooting guys in the head” and Starcraft 2 is just “building stuff in sequence and clicking the map really fast”, and while both statements are true, the reality is a bit more detailed.

    #17 2 years ago
  18. silkvg247

    @17 Maybe this will sound egotistical but I don’t find a single aspect of wow raiding difficult and that’s why I struggle to label it as skilful. Every single raid wipe I’ve been involved in has been down to other players being unable to follow simple encounter mechanics. Iv’e tanked, I’ve healed, I’ve done lots of different dps.

    I feel bored constantly during every single encounter, it’s why I stopped playing. To me wow raids are like.. an impromptu outdoor basic dance class. 20-40 people stood there, and an instructor going through one simple movement at a time whilst the others try and follow in sync. If one fucks up, they all have to start again, and frustratingly the only thing we’re being asked to do is clap, double clap and hop albeit in a rhythm.

    Wow encounters would become skill based if the fights became more about position and aim and dodging (also timed parries and blocks) than gear and pattern following. Like I said, I’ll agree there is some skill, but I’d say less skill than any action/real-time combat game.

    #18 2 years ago
  19. DSB

    @18 That wasn’t my experience. Farming is business as usual, but progress raiding was never a linear experience, and there were always random events that needed handling, whether it was a random attack falling in a bad place, or at a bad time, or just people screwing up like you said.

    The dance class aspect is true for any team sport. If every footballer was at the right place at the right time, doing the right thing, then obviously you’d have a league of nothing but successful teams, but the reality involved in making that happen is a lot more complicated.

    Penny Arcade made the same connection between MMOs and American football, and being someone who likes both I think it’s dead on.

    At least in my time with WoW, it was pretty obvious from watching their recordings that the guilds who fought for the top spot were just that much better than everybody else.

    #19 2 years ago
  20. silkvg247

    @19 Sports aren’t set in stone, raid encounters are. Learn what the boss will do and when, and how to react, and then he is on farm status. You can’t do that vs. other human beings.

    #20 2 years ago
  21. DSB

    @20 Sports are certainly more dynamic, but there are only so many ways to play them, and most team sports are highly dependent on communication/coordination and improvisation.

    Some bosses were easier than others, we would often refer to some as “retard checks” – and boss timers take some of the sport out of it – but on a boss like Archimonde for example, there were still lots of random factors that would challenge a raid.

    Doomfire might cut off ranged or melee DPS, or it might force healers to move out of range of their targets, and in those situations everyone had to adapt and improvise. I’d say the difference between those who did and those who didn’t was skill.

    #21 2 years ago
  22. jaacfour

    #3 silkvg247 I’ll take a firefall beta key if you have any left.

    #22 2 years ago
  23. klepp0906

    I hate fucking laptops. lost a 4 paragraph response. FUUUUUUUCK!

    anyhow LONG story short. He is right, blizzard got greedy and ruined an entire genre. I have said it for years but now it comes straight from the horses mouth.

    the only people who will deny or argue this are the wow kiddies themselves. Cant blame them though, they are ignorant when it comes to a real MMO and they have an entitlement complex that wouldn’t allow them to last long in one anyhow.

    I now understand why old people hate kids. Sad state of affairs when a 30 y/o feels that way about kids just 10 years his jr.

    #23 12 months ago
  24. klepp0906

    now that ive actually read the blog. Mr kern, you hit the nail on the head. Perhaps if more of your colleagues hopped off the bandwagon and admit they saw it your way, the genre could be salvaged. alas good luck getting a business to look away from the almighty dollar.

    Analogy? the Nintendo wii. It did amazingly wel and it was awful. SAME EXACT THING.

    #24 12 months ago

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