Is it "fair" to compare new MMO's to old and established ones?

With the release of The Old Republic rapidly approaching, I’ve seen many examples of old MMO discussions popping up all over various gaming forums. It’s the argument about how you cannot compare a completely new MMO (In this case SWTOR) to a long running and established MMO (In this, and most cases frankly, World of Warcraft).

The latest example I saw was on a big gaming site forum where a user was stating that the “looking for group” (LFG) solution that SWTOR currently has is very bare bones when you compare it to WoW. While WoW streamlines the process of finding groups to an extreme degree (too extreme for the tastes of some players even), the SWTOR tools for finding groups are much more basic, largely consisting of providing you with a chat channel and ticking off a flag that indicates to anyone looking at the zone population list that you want to group.

It did not take long before people started angrily complaining that the thread author was being completely unfair in comparing SWTOR with WoW. Their argument was that obviously WoW has been out for 7 years now and would have a lot more features than anything you could expect from a game that was just about to launch. The SWTOR defenders did not argue that the way that SWTOR handle grouping currently was in any way a better solution than what WoW does, simply that it was okay for BioWare to release SWTOR with a sub-optimal LFG tool set and then eventually patch in a more fully featured version at a later stage.

There are many variations of the above argument, with different features being called out and different new MMO’s being compared to established ones. But the basic premise of them all are that it is unfair for players to compare one MMO product to another, if one of the products has been around for a long time.

It’s an argument that is bizarre to me. When SWTOR comes out it is going to be competing against WoW in its current state, not what WoW was like 3, 5 or 7 years ago. It’s going to be a full price MMO, so to a consumer they will be able to buy and subscribe to either WoW or SWTOR for around the same price. Does it really make any kind of sense to turn a blind eye to the issues of a game simply because it is new, if it’s offering an inferior experience to an existing and comparatively priced product?

If you try to apply that logic to another product it’s clear that it doesn’t make much sense. Let’s say that a new car company just launched its first car. They decided to price the car at around the same level as a large BMW. But their car didn’t have ABS, no power steering, no climate control and the front passenger door would occasionally fall off if you turned too hard into a corner. Obviously no sane customers would pay for this car. No consumers would say “ah, well they don’t have all the decades of experience with building cars that BMW do. I’m sure they’ll eventually figure out how to make sure their doors don’t fall off”.

It seems to me that this kind of argument is all too often used by people that are already so emotionally invested in a new or upcoming game that they feel the need to defend “their” game by any means. Even if its by using logic that is so poorly thought out that even a Scientologist would shake their head and go “now that is just dumb”.

There is one important point that I want to make, though. While I think it is completely fair that players compare MMO’s regardless of their age, I am *not* saying that all MMO’s necessarily need to match each others feature set 1:1.

When WoW came out it could not match the most popular western MMO of the time, Everquest, in every way. Everquest was a big established MMO with several expansion packs under its wings and many years of polish. But WoW managed to offer an experience that was different and compelling enough that it didn’t matter that Everquest had some features that WoW did not. The overall experience of playing WoW was simply more enjoyable than playing Everquest, despite this disparity of content and features.

Likewise it is entirely possible that SWTOR will not need to have as streamlined a LFG tool as WoW does to match or even beat the success of WoW. Perhaps the deep stories will mean more to players. Or perhaps players will be overjoyed by the companion system. The point is that an MMO can still beat out another MMO even if it is missing some features. In the end it is all about the overall experience for the players.

I just wish that people would stop trying to “protect” new MMO’s from criticism by saying it’s “unfair” to compare them to MMO’s that have had years of post launch updates. At the end of the day players will play whatever game that presents the most fun experience to them and no one is going to care if the game came out in 2011, 2009 or 2004.


  1. Well, Rift looks far more humble in budget compared to WoW and SW:tOR and it has a very acceptable dungeon finder. So yes, I expect tOR to at least have a “dungeon” finder available right from the start or in the first few months to facilitate grouping of soloers and members of very small guilds (the later was my case in 7 years of wow).

    Other than that, if SW is as good as Vanilla WoW was, I will be one happy gamer!

  2. People think everything is “unfair” because they’re brought up to believe in what is their “fair share”. If people would just stop being gimmes and enjoy competition again then they’d stop complaining all the time. I say they need to GET OVER IT!

  3. I am one of those that actually doesn’t like the dungeon finder tool. In fact a lot of the things added/changed since Vanilla WoW have not been inprovments. They were things that made the game easier/accessible, but not more fun. Its very easy to click a box and be instantly grouped up with 4 other people and run a dungeon. But all of these things just further distance everyone from each other. There is little to no meaningful interaction with other players in WoW. These ‘tools’ are one of the reasons.

    While I have no desire to play ToR, this specific ‘lack’ of a feature is, to me, a good thing.

    But back to topic. You are dead on about matching feature for feature in rival games. It’s not needed if the game is actually fun. Sure some features are all but mandatory to me (like an auction house), but these little things mean nothing. Its like comparing the specs of just about anything on the back of their respective boxes. Sure speaker A may have bigger numbers, but if it sounds like crap, who cares.

  4. Paqman, yeah I do think the LFG system could have been done better by now.
    But as you say, and as I try to get across in the article, we might still have a fantastic time with SWTOR, even if many of the aspects of the game are as rudimentary as WoW was at launch.

  5. I don’t see a point to the “unfair” argument really and I have to agree with you saying who gives a damn when the game was released. people still play tetris for god’s sake.
    and why wouldnt you compare a genre-classic to its followers?

  6. Qix, glad you agree with me. I think that a lot of people miss this point and just jump to the defense of their beloved game without actually raising the more interesting question of whether the game is still fun without that specific feature.

    Gamercharts, well put, man. doesn’t make sense to me either.

  7. Sounds like the auithor is emotionally invested in his game – wow!

    First, people HAVE complained that LFG wow style is bad for the game. A lot! So your statement is very false, I would bet intentionally false – like the other wow fanbois.

    Second, you ever hear of electric cars? You better go back and study sociology a bit better — and wake up and look around. There are many other reasons to buy an electric car besies the price and features. By your argument they would cease to exist.

  8. Tormeanted, I have not played WoW for almost a year now so no, I’m not invested in that. Neither would I say that WoW is even the best MMO that I’ve played, though it is the most polished.

    As I mention in the article I am aware that some people dislike the WoW LFG system. I was not trying to make the argument that the WoW LFG system was good or bad, just that someone was criticizing SWTOR’s LFG system and this was how people chose to defend it, which I think is a bad argument.

    Your point about electric cars actually fits in perfectly with the logic that I explain at the end of the article. Namely that you don’t necessarily have to match a competitors product feature to feature.
    If you can provide customers with other features that are compelling enough, they will be willing to overlook some gaps.
    In the case of electric cars there are people willing to overlook things such as the lack of range and speed of the car because it helps the environment and makes them feel good about themselves.

    You’ll note that at the end of the article I state that it’s entirely possible that SWTOR’s other features can compensate for some of the stuff it misses that WoW has.

  9. While I agree w/ your main premise (compare existing reality of products when making judgement), the analogy used was far too extreme. Perhaps done to enhance the point, but it fealt too disingenuous for me to take seriously. In your created scenario, the feature sets would be more akin to cheaper interior finish, non-LED lights, manual key ignitions, and smaller oil tanks. Inferior options, yes, but nothing that affects the primary performance of the product.

  10. I agree with Qix about the LFG tool in WoW…and I believe I saw a video somewhere that Bioware intentionally left this feature out. They said there will be no cross realm garbage and they want people out exploring the world and building up their own community. Long ago were the days of wow where you actually had to play with people on your server, made new friends or enemies and had a community of people that knew each other. Now you just sit in Ogrimmar or Stormwind and queue up to everything you wanna do and play with people you will probably never see again since they are on different realms anyway.

    Also in SW:TOR do you really need a LFG tool to find 1 person? Because you can run a Flashpoint with a companion, you only need 1 more and their companion to fill a group of 4.

  11. Hey wait up, I have spent about $2k playing WOW, I have once I get and play TOR for a month, I will have spent all of $80. If players want 7 years of development in a game will they actually pay for that in one go?

    If any sane car manufacturer want to sell me a car for $80 then point me in their direction.

  12. Steve, sure that applies to someone who have spent a lot of time playing WoW already. But to a gamer that is making a decision between WoW and SWTOR that is not a relevant comparison.

    Shadow, fair enough. Where I’m from (Denmark) we have a saying that basically goes “exaggeration promotes understanding” so I hope that my point came across at least, even if the specifc example was a bit too extreme for your taste.

  13. @Steve, you don’t get any payback on the $2k when you leave WoW, so the decision the players make is not $2k on WoW vs. $80 on tOR but $15 (not sure how much does it cost in US) on WoW vs. $80 on tOR. I think your comment boils down to “but it’s not fair” which is exactly the complaint addressed by the article.

    @Tormeanted, I think that people who think WoW’s LFG feature is bad will never argue it’s unfair for tOR to compare it. They might argue it’s unfair for WoW. ;-)

  14. The premise is simple and correct. If you are spending the same money on any type of product you will compare feature by feature, so it is not “unfair” to make the comparison.

    Whether air conditioning or electric windows is your feature of choice to spend money on though, is completely up to every consumer.

  15. A complex looking for group tool is only useful to anti social nerds. A game is better off without such a feature. Players then actually talk to each other to find groups. If BMW put a govenor in their engine that made it only go a maximum of 60 mph, then perhaps that new car would sell far better…

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