This week on What’s In a Game, join me on a journey to learn what people are trying to say (and see how people really sound) when they call a game a “WoW Clone”. You’ll also see why I think calling a game a WoW Clone is disrespectful and more than a bit ignorant. Things may get a bit bumpy, but just ride it out and hopefully we’ll all make it to the end. Fair warning, there are a lot of games mentioned that I’m not going into detail over (because I haven’t played some of them, but primarily because this isn’t the place) but I will still provide ESRB ratings.
Before we dive straight into the meat of the topic, a brief history lesson. I’ll do my best not to go on for too long, though we all know how I tend to get. Believe it or not, the internet and MMORPGs existed before World of Warcraft (T). Everquest (T-1999), Asheron’s Call (T-1999), and Ultima Online (M-1997) were all huge before World of Warcraft was even considered. These were the ‘big three’ of the late ’90s, though they weren’t even the first of their kind. World of Warcraft didn’t even release until November of 2004.
More to the point, all of those titles have, at some point, been called a “WoW Clone”. I get it. They’re set loosely in the same genre. They have similar combat systems. They might even have similar crafting/questing/advancement/leveling/this/that/the other systems in place. Fine. But how can a precursor be a clone?
I’ll let you in on a little secret. Yes, World of Warcraft did (and does) many things right. They took the good from their predecessors and cut out all of the annoying or tedious bits, combining systems and ideas and control schemes (hotbar, anyone?) into a lean, mean, cut-the-fat-gimme-the-content style. (Almost) Every idea or system in World of Warcraft is based on something from a game that came out first. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing. Nope, not at all. Honestly, streamlining the process to eradicate the bad has helped MMOs greatly. But if World of Warcraft is allowed to cut out the bad and find a system that works, why on earth do we ridicule other companies for capitalizing on the same system?
Every game I have ever played had at least one unique thing about it. Sure, the currency and conversion systems are the same, but is a bit of familiarity all that bad when you’re exploring something new and exciting? Rift (T), for example, adds an entirely new level of play by having holes in the sky open up and unleash horrible terrors from other dimensions. It’s a form of open-world raiding that’s absolutely amazing (unfortunately that’s about the only memorable part of Rift, but that’s another article altogether). Many players immediately wrote off Rift as “Oh, it’s just another bad WoW Clone” and moved on. Those that stuck around badmouth the game in global chat discussing why WoW is so much better. The same can be said for most high-fantasy MMOs on the market today. It’s disgusting to see people playing a game and talking bad about it the entire time.
Believe it or not, I’ve even had people call Star Trek Online (T) a WoW Clone when everything from the genre to the combat are completely different. Honestly, I think that’s part of the “It’s a Clone” defense. Players who are afraid of straying away from what they know will regularly call out games they are unfamiliar with (even across content genre) as just another WoW Clone. The other side of the defense involves elitists who want to believe that their special game is the best of the best and everyone else is just trying to take away business. They’re two sides of the same coin, and quite honestly, both make the person sound incredibly ignorant.
I, personally, believe that when someone says “WoW Clone” they simply mean “high-fantasy genre MMORPG”. They might also be implying it uses a hotbar, minimap, and item slots. Huh. When you think about it in terms of what’s being “cloned” it kind of makes sense, doesn’t it? Can you imagine a game without a hotbar, minimap, or item slots to equip your character with? That can’t be the only requirements, right? Otherwise Minecraft (E) almost classifies, and I’m fairly certain it’s a sandbox title. Maybe it has to do with questing or class/race systems. Nah, that can’t be it. That makes it sound more like a Tabletop RPG (Dungeons & Dragons, anyone?). Calling something a clone implies that it is 100% completely identical in every respect. Nothing is a WoW clone, it just shares some common (and let’s be honest, functionally necessary) characteristics.
Thoughts, comments, questions, or concerns? Am I completely wrong in my assessment? Let me know in the comments section below and I’ll get back to you all as soon as possible! Have a great one!