The Vengeful Polyglot

Star Wars “Versus” World of Warcraft

Posted on: January 15, 2012

Originally, this post was going to be about Star Wars: The Old Republic alone. I’ve been playing since the beta and enjoying myself immensely, despite generally not being a fan of “space games.” I’d love to start blogging about SW:TOR as I do WoW (that is, inconsistently — har har). I haven’t felt the need to compare SW:TOR to World of Warcraft, though, because they fulfill different niches for me. But the discourse surrounding SW:TOR’s launch (which I’ve been following mostly in the WoW blogosphere since I read those blogs anyway) has been occasionally troubling and disappointing. Without intending to be insulting, I expected better from such a vibrant and fun gamer community.

There has been a wave of criticism directed toward SW:TOR recently, particularly during its beta and at the time of its launch. This is fine. I take no issue, generally, with criticism. In fact, I think criticism of new media is highly important. It’s valuable for developers to incorporate constructive criticism into a final product, or, in the case of MMOs, to address valid concerns after launch. Providing these sorts of evaluations is what a lot of us bloggers are here to do. The issue I have in this specific case is that the criticism of SW:TOR, while sometimes valid, seems to be entirely — not partly, not occasionally, but entirely — based on comparisons to WoW.

Of course, every MMO which comes out is inevitably going to be compared to WoW. It’s the biggest thing out there. It’s “the one to beat.” In other releases, though, I haven’t seen this level of, well, obsession about comparing everything about a newly-launched MMO to the current behemoth. Nor this level of… vitriol. From what I’ve seen (which, granted, is anecdotal), Rift’s launch was not nearly so besieged. This is not to mention that in addition to this criticism not being based on SW:TOR’s merit as a game independent of 6-year-old, established WoW, the comparisons are often fallacious.

By far, the most frequent one bumping around Twitter, Facebook, Blogger, or what have you, is not a criticism at all, but a dismissal: “SW:TOR is nothing but another WoW clone.” Even in cases where it seems the person feels positively toward SW:TOR, they start with this assumption almost as a given. Generally speaking, the critic doesn’t bother backing up this assertion, taking for granted that it can stand on its own (and, to be fair, “WoW clones” have come and gone in the past so frequently that, yes, the meaning is fairly obvious by now). But on the occasion that the person does cite some specific examples of copying, by and large, they tend to be, in my opinion, tropes or mechanics of MMOs as a genre.

This is why this “criticism” bothers me. In my opinion you cannot run along this line of reasoning, “SW:TOR has a group play mechanic. It has a talent system. It has tanks, healers, and DPS. It has mounts, non-combat pets, and spells,” and still consider yourself to be reasonable if, “It’s exactly like WoW. Space WoW. WoW with lightsabers,” is your final conclusion. Well, I suppose you can, but I certainly won’t agree with you. See, you can’t take any similarities between SW:TOR and WoW and wind up with the conclusion that one is only a pale imitation of the other without understanding that, no matter how much you like WoW, it wasn’t the first MMO out there, and without also understanding that MMOs have some themes and mechanics in common out of necessity.

To put this briefly, you can’t take mechanical similarities between the two and conclude, “SW:TOR is nothing but a WoW clone,” without also transitively stating that, “WoW is nothing but an Everquest clone,” or some such.

With that one statement, I imagine I’ve pissed off just about every WoW fan out there. “Of course WoW isn’t only like Everquest,” they’d protest. “It built off of it!” And here is the crux of my argument. I believe that protest is eminently valid myself. WoW isn’t merely an Everquest clone. It’s an MMO made by Everquest fans who borrowed the mechanics of MMOs we all know and love from Everquest, which probably borrowed them from another MMO, in order to try to make an even better game. Many of these elements, in other words, have been borrowed by SW:TOR only after they were borrowed by WoW from other games. Just because WoW is currently the most popular and largest MMO out there doesn’t mean it “owns” mechanics and themes which are tied to the genre. Sure, SW:TOR does have game elements which are similar to those in WoW. What is being inherently denied by these critics is that most MMOs share these characteristics, and that they didn’t necessarily originate with WoW.

That’s a fallacy. That’s internally inconsistent. I also think the statement itself, “SW:TOR is a WoW clone,” is patently false for separate reasons, but I’ll get to that later. I understand loving WoW, and I understand that perhaps some people aren’t aware that these things existed prior to the blockbuster of market and cultural penetration that is WoW. That said, I expect better from the people I respect in the WoW community. These are not “John Q. Publics” commenting. These are people who are educated in the culture and history surrounding WoW, as silly as that might sound. These are people who I would expect to recognize this fallacy, not commit it.

The second criticism I’m seeing time and time again, after complaining that SW:TOR is no different than WoW in anything but setting, is that some element in the game dares to be different from a comparative element in WoW. “No Dungeon Finder, what’s wrong with BioWare? I can’t change my Advance Class, what is this, the middle ages? I have to watch whole cutscenes to get quests? No addons?” I can’t provide all the examples, because I’d have room for nothing else. The basic idea here seems to be, in contrast, that if SW:TOR is going to have the gall to be a copy of WoW outright, it could at least be a good copy! I’m guessing the inconsistency here isn’t hard to see. First, attack the game for being “just like” another, and then complain that something about it is different!

So, are we to then assume from these comments that there is nothing about SW:TOR which is both novel and good? Of course not. I actually think that most of those who are making these complaints probably are enjoying playing SW:TOR, at least those who have tried it. If this is so, and a lot of the commentary going on on social networks seems to point to that, then what has motivated these two conflicting, and not necessarily valid, criticisms? What has made the fan community so seemingly hostile toward the launch of what is probably the most promising new MMO in several years? We all love games here, right? I mean, I’m literally sitting on Tatooine right now listening to people complain that SW:TOR is just another clone while playing. It just doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me, playing a game only to rip on it. If you don’t like it, stop playing. It’s not an affront to you simply because it exists and other people like it. And if you do like it, be able to discuss its flaws maturely, not with insults — why would you want to mindlessly tear on a game you like, anyway?

I suppose these responses could be made misguidedly out of love for WoW, because these comments often seem very defensive. But there’s no reason to be defensive, because there’s no reason you can’t like both. There’s no global rule that only one MMO can be successful at a time. Love of WoW doesn’t excuse the derision and, well, cruelty flung at SW:TOR during its release. We’re bigger than just shouting back “yeah, well, your mom’s fat!” or something equally juvenile just because we feel threatened by something which, honestly, isn’t a threat.

Obviously we’re all entitled to our opinion, but when you see a number of respected members of a community go from discerning, intelligent commentary to flinging insults about without trying to justify them, you wind up asking why. It’s a game, I know. Its feelings aren’t hurt. But it upsets me nonetheless to see people who otherwise could be enjoying a perfectly good game dismissing it for no reason. Giving it a fair shake isn’t disloyal, guys. I’m not saying everyone needs to play it or love it, but don’t dismiss it as a copy. There’s no cogent reasoning behind that.

For my two cents, no, I don’t think SW:TOR is a WoW clone at all. I think it fulfills a much-needed niche in the market — that of a story-driven MMO. Aside from the mechanics it owes to the genre, I actually think it’s quite different from WoW. I’m subscribed to both because I get different things from each of them. Nothing will ever surpass my love for WoW, but that doesn’t mean that SW:TOR isn’t a fun and damn compelling game. I enjoy the voicing and the multi-dimensional story, particularly so the continuing class quests. I like choosing between light side and dark because I think it adds another layer of player customization. I think the idea of ACs is nifty, all the more so because it’s a choice that really matters to your character immediately. I love my companions, which surprised me. The crafting system, while different, is something I think I overall enjoy. BioWare did an excellent job of drawing me in and making me feel epic, right from level one. I rolled a Consular and bam, I was force-hurling space junk at people. That’s awesome. The epic battle music is awesome. Changing the color of your lightsaber is awesome. Getting random titles all the time is awesome.

None of these positives detract from WoW in any way. There are just different reasons to like each. They’re different. SW:TOR wouldn’t have been such a highly-anticipated release if we thought it was nothing new. I don’t understand why it can’t be evaluated separately, on its own merits, without letting nostalgia and “allegiances” get in the way. It’s a game. There’s room for more than one good one. That doesn’t mean SW:TOR has to be the “WoW killer” that people posit every now and then. It’s not an exclusive situation. We’ve only had WoW for so long — at least, for me, it’s been the only compelling option — so having another is unfamiliar. But so what? It’s not the end of the world. We can be mature. We can continue to have productive criticism instead of knee-jerk reactions. We can be balanced.

I understand that a lot of the internet is comprised of extremist rhetoric and trolling, so this sort of entreaty may not have much effect. As that may be the case, I hope this can also serve as a rather long-winded way of saying thank you to all of the awesome and reasonable people writing about games out there, whether you like SW:TOR or not. While a lot of the discourse has me bummed, there are still a lot of good ideas going around. Valid criticism is always a joy to read. You make me proud of part of your community, no matter how along the fringes I may lie.

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Blog by a programmer cum linguist cum writer cum total geek. One who pretentiously uses "cum" in place of any other logical connectives. Direct questions to the Ask Lauren page!

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