WoW Design Improvements: Player Skills

This article is part 8 of 8 in the series WoW Design Improvements
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Yesterday I mentioned an article on game design, which tries, among other things, to give some pointers towards “fun” game design. Having recently finished a series on the design of World of Warcraft, I felt reminded of that game and it’s particular flaws.

I suppose I should explain first why this particular post you’re reading is also part of the above series. To be honest, I felt the series was ended with it’s seventh entry. This post however exemplifies that such a large topic is never really finished — consider this (and possibly following posts) to be appendices to the original seven part series.

This particular post deals with player skills vs. character skills.

First, a quick recap of one aspect of the Gamasutra article: Put briefly, the article postulates that the fun in gaming comes from acquiring and applying new skills — that is, skills of the player. A player pushing a jump button at just the right moment to cross a wide gap has acquired a skill: that of timing jumps. She can now apply that skill to reach areas of the game world previously unreachable to her. Fun comes in constantly trying to improve existing or learn new skills, in order to get you further in the game world.

Those are player skills. Compare them with skills your character can learn, and you’ll find that the connection between them — very roughly speaking — is that acquiring a new skill for your character gives you new buttons to push, new player skills to master. That doesn’t mean that acquiring character skills is the only way of acquiring player skills in WoW — figuring out how to get down a raid boss is one prime example of this.

Depending on your point of view, the largest part of WoW is either spent acquiring character skills or not. That depends on whether you view the endgame as the largest part of WoW, that is the time when you’re finished leveling and acquiring character skills, or whether leveling a character is what you look for in the game1. But whether it’s the endgame for you or not, leveling and character skill acquisition comes first — you need to reach the endgame in one way or another before you can play it.

Acquiring player skills comes with a potential pitfall, also outlined in the Gamasutra article: if the player learns a new skill that she can’t apply, she won’t use it, and it atrophies. Because one skill may depend on another skill, these dependent skills may never be learned if a basic skill isn’t exercised. If a part of the game depends on one of those skills, they may never be reached, potentially leading to great frustration. Good game design, as in game design that provides for fun throughout the game, should therefore not let you acquire useless skills, or let skills you’ve obtained atrophy.

  1. Due to the PvP system, there’s yet another aspect of the game with it’s unique set of player skills, which can be pursued almost independently from leveling. []