Lobby-likeness of WoW over time

| Wednesday, April 10, 2013
A common refrain I hear is that WoW has degraded into a lobby-based game.  You wait for the queue, teleport to somewhere entirely unconnected to the world, and then bounce back at the end.  That sounds rather lobby-like to me.

But is it new?  Is it more lobby-like than it was in the past?

The teleportation and automatic queueing certainly makes it look like a lobby-based game.  Players may find themselves waiting around, passing time with a chat function.  What a bore!  Or that could be quite fun.  For me, it depends on my mood, and in general I think it is more a matter of preference than an objective better/worse.

Contrast this with the past.  Once upon a time you formed groups manually.  You got to the instance manually.  There was even a time when flight paths were not automatic: you'd land and have to pick the next destination.  That certainly doesn't look like a lobby-based game.

Yet I think people miss something important: the lobby.  Where are you waiting?  In the old scenario, with manual grouping tools and limited communication, you either had a guild/friends group or you were in a city to find it.  That last part is the key: the lobby in which you waited was a particular place, bounded, with limited activities.  You could do some crafting or auction house activities, but mostly it was chatting.  Waiting around chatting while you tried to form or find a group.

Contrast that with the present.  What is the lobby now?  Everything and everywhere!  You're not in Stormwind, Ironforge, or Orgrimmar staring at trade chat.  You're anywhere.  You're out questing, farming, exploring.  The entire game world is the lobby.  At some point I think that means it ceases to be a lobby.  It's not a waiting area anymore.

While the teleportation and automatic grouping features may make current WoW seem like a lobby-based non-MMO, that's merely a product of the mind.  Open it up a bit.  Remember that the world is still there, the entire world, not just the few cities where people gather to form groups.  That's the great irony of the teleportation: while it removes the sense of travel and location that once came from instance runs, it also means that you can travel to any location.  You're unshackled.  For some players (such as me) this may make the world seem smaller, since everywhere is equally accessible.  For those who weren't so willing to forgo grouping for exploration this removes the tradeoff, so that they to may see the world without wondering which groups they are missing.

When the lobby is the world, maybe we've got it backward, and it is the instances that are the lobby.  They are the generic places we stay while waiting to go out into the wide world beyond.


Syl said...

This is a really good point, one worth pondering further. funny how often conclusions on game design matters are paradoxical. a game where you have to pretty much hug one spot/city for action or lfg chat IS a lot more lobby than one where you can be anywhere and do other things while 'waiting'.

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