Jim Rossignol at Rock, Paper, Shotgun recently made a post laying out a theoretical game that merges the generic fantasy appeal of World of Warcraft with the flat, level-less design of Eve Online. It’s not an altogether original idea, and I suspect that most players who have tried both games will have hazily imagined such a chimera sooner or later.
There are obvious contradictions with this basic design: Eve Online is all about the complex interactions between its players that its mechanics allows and the profound way that these interactions can shape the universe they inhabit. As such the Eve universe is appropriately enough a mostly blank expanse of interstellar space populated by planets, moons and asteroid belts. World of Warcraft on the other hand derives its appeal in large part from its aesthetics, in the form of player avatars, the environments they live their adventures in and the plethora of enemies that they fight. It’s part of what makes it “compelling and immediate” as Rossignol writes. It’s not obvious to me that the intersection of these two different groups of players constitutes a broad enough player base to commercially justify such a game given the resources that would be required to give a Eve-like game WOW-like eye candy. As an exercise in theorycrafting though, it’s great fun to speculate on the many ways that WOW would need to be changed to make it more like Eve.
For one thing, in Eve, location matters both for players and for their worldly possessions. In WOW, players can send items attached to a letter to each other and a short while later, the recipient can pick up their package at any mailbox in the world. It doesn’t actually need to be delivered. It just appears automagically. In Eve, nothing moves by itself. For an object to move from one location to another, someone, somewhere needs to haul their ass and get it done. In fact, a common newbie mistake in Eve is to buy a cheap item for sale only discover that it is located in a very inconvenient to reach location.
This brings us to our next point. In Eve, travel, even in an era of warp drives and jumpgates, is arduous. The universe is huge and trying to get from one end of it to the other would be a monumental undertaking. In WOW, on the other hand, there are plenty of ways to get around physically travelling from one place to another such as hearthstones, warlock summons, mage portals and dungeon meeting stones. In order to give WOW the sense that control of territory is important, that such control needs to be upheld through regular patrols and that travelling through enemy territory is hazardous, not only do these travel shortcuts need to be removed, but WOW’s zones need to made bigger as well, a lot bigger. These changes make trading in WOW far less convenient and, as in Eve, allow for different prices for goods in different regions depending on local supply and demand.
Next you’d have to deal with the problem of physical mass. In WOW, a stack of 20 arcanite bars have the same bulk as a letter and each player is capable of carrying a ludicrous amount of loot. This is will need to be changed to avoid the problem of a lone rogue stealthily penetrating into enemy territory and ninjaing resource nodes. By making transport of significant amounts of war materiel an involved affair, perhaps using something similar to the giant carts found near the starting towns in Hellfire Peninsula, you can have transport convoys complete with outrunners and escorts while raiders look for opportunities to make away with some of the regular cargo.
In fact, the more you think about it, the more changes you can find that will be necessary: player-constructed buildings and towns, needed to secure control of a territory and farm its resources; forcing players to resurrect only at graveyards in friendly areas, which would be absolutely required if players respawned naked of weapons and armour; complex systems of alliances and treaties to determine who’s allowed to enter controlled territory and use its resources etc.
We’re certainly a long, long way from such a game, but playing armchair designer for it can be a satisfying game in its own right.