Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Ripoff or Developing Design Standards?

One of the charges often leveled at LoTRO is that it is a WoW clone or a ripoff. I’m not so sure. Yes, many of the icons look similar and function similarly. Bags, for example, function in a similar way and are even in the same location on WoW’s and LoTRO’s toolbars. The combat system is similar as well: clicking special attacks in between auto-attacks. Thus the charges by many WoW players (and not a few fanbois) that LoTRO is just a WoW ripoff. I think that what we may be seeing here is not necessarily a ripoff but possibly the creation of standards of interface design for MMORPGs. Something similar continues to occur in the web development marketplace.

Web design is based on HTML. HTML is very flexible about how you create a web page, yet good web designers need to adhere to some common design tactics. Ever notice that most navigation links for a web site are along the top or the left-hand side of the page? A designer can technically place those navigation links anywhere on the page that HTML will allow them to go, but they are usually at the top or left. Using theories of Interaction Design, web designers create their sites to be user-friendly. The user should be able to use a site and the site’s tools without having to think about how to use the site itself (See Don’t Make Me Think for an example of intuitive design theory.

Rather than ripping off other games, what we may be seeing is a development of MMORPG standards. Perhaps someday you’ll be able to pick up a new game and know as soon as you log in how that basic parts of the game work. Opening bags, using items, equiping items, etc will all be industry standards. The changes that would occur from game to game would relate to class distinctions (like how a WoW hunter and a LoTRO hunter are different), content distinctions (such as storylines and map areas) and content improvements (LoTRO’s Hobbit FedEx quests for delivering mail, for example). Perhaps with some standards in place for basic game-play, the MMORPG industry could focus more on creating cool encounters and content.

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