I’m Feeling Snarky

June 21, 2008

Richard Bartle, the designer of the first MUD and also the Bartle test I talked about last week, spent some time talking about World of Warcraft (which he grudgingly plays) over at Massively. He also had this profound statement about WAR:

“I’ve already played Warhammer. It was called World of Warcraft.”

Now, I don’t know the guy personally, but that’s like ten kinds of stupidity in two sentences from a guy who is one of the ancestors of the modern MMO scene. You’ve already played Warhammer? So, you’re in the beta? No? Oh! Sorry, my mistake! You simply played another game and made a gross assumption that the gameplay, visuals and features of one title are virtually identical to another!

So, by that logic, I’ve already met you, Mr. Bartle, because I’ve met the guy living next door to me. You both have the same basic features and underlying mechanics, right? Same-same.

Sheesh. You think that a Ph.D. would think before he passed gross judgment like that.

Update: Mr. Bartle responded in the comments section to clear up the context behind the remark.



  1. I 100% agree, apparently this person is out of touch with the current MMOG landscape if he things such an assumption is anywhere close to correct. WoW and WAR share stylized graphics, high fantasy setting and a few other MMOG standards like UI elements, etc. After that, the similarities end as far as I can tell. Everything I’ve read has lead me to believe that it has a PVP centric focus, completely opposite to WoW’s PVE focus…opposites. This guy lost all credibility on that statement as far as I’m concerned.

  2. It’s so odd that the “creator of MMOs” is now one of the biggest haters. >.>

  3. He seemed so grumpy in that interview. I wish Michael Zenke had been able to nudge him a bit further on comments like ‘no MMORPG is fun’ to see what he meant by that. He doesn’t show much understanding about why these games are so popular if they aren’t fun, and I’d have called him on that.

    I do think the guy has interesting things to say (I thought all his suggestions for WoW were solid) but man, that was a dreadful interview.

    And yes, a game designer should be better informed about the new stuff coming out and what it’s all about than he sounded there. Like I say, I find it frustrating because I’d like to talk to him myself about MUDs and MMORPGs 😛

  4. Looking at some of his interviews and what not lately I’m pretty sure he’s lost it…

  5. Yes, and the only reason he levelled 3 characters to level 70 in WoW was for research, and he found it so labourious that he’s planning on doing it all again for WotLK. Riiight.

  6. I thought the whole interview was really quite pitiful. He really came across as an arrogant prig. The fact he said no MMO could be fun was doubly strange.. so don’t play them dude, you obviously aren’t teaching anyone anything crucial about them anyway ;p

    He also mentioned how he’s a developer at least once per paragraph..

  7. So he doesn’t “play” games, yet he leveled 3 characters in WoW to 70. For me. Gee, thanks Richard Bartle!

    I actually PLAYED the game for 3 years and I only had 2 70s. Good thing I wasn’t playing for “credentials” and just to have fun. Oh wait, no MMO’s going to be fun.

    He sounds like one of those old washed-up rock stars who used to be cutting edge 30 years ago, but are so out of step with the times that all they can do is slag off all the current relevant bands and wax nostalgic about how things “used to be so much better” out of a mixture of jealousy and delusions of grandeur and just end up sounding completely clueless.

    Oh, and is he a designer? Because I’m not sure if he mentioned that.

  8. To be honest, we’re lucky this wanker didn’t say “Played Warhammer? I wrote it, back in 1978, and I called it MUD.”

  9. I think you hit the nail on the head Andrew about the rock star comment. It’s too bad he couldn’t be more supportive of how this genre has developed.

  10. I’m in the Warhammer beta and while I’m obviously under NDA, I just have to say that Bartle is just showing his ignorance with that comment.

    And yeah, I too think the rock start analogy is spot on.

  11. I tried to give an analysis on my site about his interview but let me see if I can try to summarize more so here.

    I agree with you 100% that it was a dreadful interview for the average gamer, yet as one person commented after the interview, he wasn’t really talking to gamers but towards game developers. Understanding his viewpoint will help shed a lot of light on why he said what he said and how things might be misconstrued as meaning something else.

    Also he’s not the creator of MMOs but the creator of MUDs. MUDs and MMOs are quite distinct and separate realms. From his viewpoint, comparing MUDs to MMOs, we’ve actually de-evolved in gameplay.

    And I wouldn’t say he’s grumpy but more frustrated. Again think of his history and background with regards to the entire evolution of games. Even more so that is why I think he said what he did about WAR and WoW. Because in the years of game development and research he’s done, WAR is right next to WoW in terms of the evolution of games. So that’s why he saying they’re basically the same thing, especially if you compare them both to MUDs which often have way more freedom and creativity then most MMOs do today.

    I mean the funny thing I find about this backlash against him is that he actually sounds like an extremely hardcore MMO gamer who has seen it all and want game developers to take some risks and do something truly revolutionary. He wants more radical and revolutionary changes than the tiny evolutionary changes that happen between WAR and WoW because he sees such huge possibilities of what could be done. Yet for him, it’s not so much about the fun, it’s more about the science, academics, and research of games (which is where he gets his enjoyment).

    Finally with regards to him saying WAR is WoW, it seems people didn’t mind saying a week or two ago that there really isn’t anything new in WAR because a lot of the concepts were initially created in other games (i.e. public quests, etc). What’s the difference? So we can basically say WAR has nothing new in it but it’s rude for him to say WAR is WoW because of the same very thing (it has similar components on a fundamental level)?

    Again the interview was horrible but I think it was horrible because it’s totally out of context and people aren’t fully understanding the viewpoint he’s coming from.

  12. Hmm, I think perhaps it didn’t come across very well what I was saying with that “I’ve already played Warhammer” remark: I wasn’t saying that WAR was just a knock-off of WoW, I was saying that the Warcraft universe was a knock-off of the Warhammer universe.

    That said, when you take the wider perspective, WAR is indeed quite close to WoW, in the same way that AoC is; it’s an evolutionary change, but it’s not a revolutionary one. It has a very different atmosphere, yes, but what is there that’s new? What’s going to inspire other developers to say “what a great concept – I’m putting that in my game”? Is there anything that’s going to knock our socks off, or are all the changes incremental?

    Remember, by the way, that I was speaking at a conference for independent game developers when that interview was recorded, and that my intended audience was therefore designers, not players. It’s rather ironic that my complaints about complacent design, about lack of experimentation, about giving players the same old fare they’ve been fed for years, is taken as somehow being anti-player and anti-MMO; what I want is a stream of newer, better MMOs, taking us to places we haven’t been dozens of times before, offering experiences that aren’t mere retreads with “more realistic graphics” or “grittier atmosphere”. I want virtual worlds to leap ahead to fulfil their potential, not cling to aging paradigms that hold them back.

    If you seriously think that WoW or WAR or whatever is just a smidge off being the best we’re ever going to get, and that only minor changes to gameplay or atmosphere are all that’s needed for MMOs to reach the pinnacle of what they can be, OK, feel free to take pot shots at me on that basis. If, however, you sense that there’s a sterility to the designs of these worlds, that they have much more promise than what they deliver at the moment, and that there are games that have yet to be written which will blow today’s out of the water, why wouldn’t you want to say so if you were talking to people who have a chance of making them? I was talking to such people, so I said it. Believe it or not, I’m on your side here. Why would I want to design MMOs otherwise?

    Another point: when I said I didn’t play MMOs for fun, I wasn’t saying that MMOs weren’t fun for players, I was saying that they weren’t fun for me. I envy players, in a way, because they get 18 months of fun from an MMO whereas I only get a few hours’ worth. When you’ve looked at play for long enough, you grok the concept. If you think you’re going to play the same kind of way 20 years from now as you do at present, think again: you can’t help but pick up on the patterns, and you can’t help but learn from them, and then you can’t help but lose the desire to run through those patterns time and time again every evening.

    In terms of having fun playing MMOs, this is bad news. In terms of design, though, it has some benefits. If I did enjoy playing MMOs as a player, that would mean I couldn’t really be an unbiased designer. People play MMOs for many reasons, and their different playing styles are all in balance. The key to design isn’t to enjoy play, it’s to understand what the players will enjoy – yet the players enjoy different things. If I were looking through some particular lens of experience (gaining in power, PvP, figuring out how the virtual world works, whatever), that would compromise my ability to provide fun experiences for other types of player. My fun comes from designing and interpreting designs, not from playing; if it came from playing, I couldn’t design for other playing styles.

    As for the “aging rock star” analogy, that would work if I’d ever been a rock star in the first place. I haven’t. People don’t invite me to speak at conferences because of what I did 30 years ago, they invite me because of what I’m saying now. As soon as they think what I’m saying is irrelevant, they’ll stop. That’s the same rationale behind the consultancy work I do, by the way (which, incidentally, means I’m not only “in touch” with today’s virtual worlds, but am also apprised of what the immediate future’s virtual worlds will be, too). In turn, this just adds to my frustration that this industry isn’t moving forward anywhere near as fast as it could and should.

    I believe virtual worlds in general and MMOs in particular are a force for good. I just want to see better ones, before I drop dead of old age.


  13. Thanks Richard, for responding and presenting your viewpoint and context. I agree that we’re on the same side of wanting MMOs to improve and jump forward, but I think you’re being far too harsh on the current crop of games in an industry that is still in its baby phase. Evolutionary development is how most forms of entertainment grow — the movie industry had a few revolutionary jumps, but by and large, most of it was evolutionary in nature. And by nature, things will be slow to change, even slower in an industry that doesn’t pop new AAA-title MMOs out more than 1-3 times a year, and where they cost tens of millions of dollars to develop. When development costs were lower, people could take more risks; right now, companies want to take risks to differentiate their product, but they can only do it so far without getting into the area of “unacceptable” risk.

    Why this irks us in the Warhammer community is that it appeared as if you were quickly dismissive of WAR as having the “same old patterns” without taking into account the features and style of gameplay that has either never been done before or has been done poorly in this field — the Tome of Knowledge, Realm vs. Realm conflict, Public Quests, Living Cities, Living Guilds, etc. These are features that are well worth your notice, and all we ask is that you reserve judgment until the point where you actually test them out and see if they represent a leap forward for the genre or more of the same.

  14. I think the biggest problem with the slow development of mmos is the current technological and financial limitations. Lets not forget that a mordern day MMO is a huge undertaking, from both a programming and hardware infrastructure point of view.

    Yes MMO’s in a perfect world where money was no issue could do so much more but itll take time, and to put things in perspective “modern day” mmo’s, have relitively only just enteried the main stream and proved themselves as execellent investment oppoturnities since the dreaded “WoW”.

    WAR for example has been in programming from around the start of WoW, and yes they’ve been able to watch and see and evolve as WoW has, which had to be done to stay competitive, but its not going to be until the next run of MMO’s before developers start experimenting.

    You need a foundation of widly accepted concepts to start you game from before you hit the “new ideas”, as new ideas are great and all but if you dont have the game content to backup these new ideas the game will fall flat.

    And unfortunatly WoW is providing the current benchmarks, I have faith in the fact WAR will elvolve, it’s seen as very similar as WoW but is that really a problem? hell if WAR comes out with many of the key design ideas in WoW that make it work it’ll be great, as after all WAR still has some unique items for its launch, and as with all MMO’s it can evolve to be more than the sum of its parts.

  15. Indeed thanks Richard for clarifying your viewpoint. It sounds like I was pretty close to the mark in assessing your viewpoint (i.e. evolutionary vs revolutionary).

    But Syp you’re totally right, that these small evolutionary changes are very significant and shouldn’t be passed over. Yet again, why was it that a week or two ago people were saying that these elements within WAR had already been done elsewhere (i.e. public quests), so it wasn’t really original. I mean those statements almost upset me just as much.

    People think that if somethings been done before by someone else, that it’s a carbon copy and nothing really to talk about. I think that’s so untrue. It’s what the new developer does with the existing technology or idea and implements it in their own way that really makes it stand out or not.

    I mean to me it would be the equivalent of saying the iPhone is just a cell phone which obviously isn’t the case. Apple took an existing product and rethought the entire implementation of it and made it the best that it could be. And if you think about Blizzard, you could almost say that they did the same very thing with WoW when they launched it years ago. It’s PVE was unrivaled compared to other PVE MMOs because they polished the implementation and experience of it.

  16. You got Rick(Bartle)-Rolled!

    Sorry, I couldn’t resist. 😛

  17. Syp>Why this irks us in the Warhammer community is that it appeared as if you were quickly dismissive of WAR as having the “same old patterns”

    I can see why you might think that from the transcript, yes. Sadly, though, I don’t have enough time to go firefighting every blog that damns me for it, so I guess there’ll be a lot of people who continue to think that, too.

    >without taking into account the features and style of gameplay that has either never been done before or has been done poorly in this field

    Some of those changes look interesting, and I’m eager to find out more about them in due course. Some are variations on a theme (RvR has been done well in Korean MMOs, but only really DAoC has tried it successfully in the West up until now), but it’s the nature of the variations that say so much. That’s what I want to get from WAR – a sense of what the designers were trying to say. One thing I like about Mark Jacobs as a designer is that although he isn’t above making occasional pragmatic changes to improve gameplay, his designs are consistent and direct. I don’t always agree with what he wants to say in those designs, but that doesn’t stop me admiring how he says it. For example, his designs plan for launch, you can feel it in a way that isn’t usually there in MMOs, it’s very distinct. So part of what I want to pick up from WAR is how true the design team as a whole has been to this basic vision.

    >These are features that are well worth your notice, and all we ask is that you reserve judgment until the point where you actually test them out and see if they represent a leap forward for the genre or more of the same.

    They’re innovations, and for all I know they may be on a par with, say, instancing or VoIP in their impact on future MMOs. That doesn’t alter the fact that much of the rest of WAR is strictly paradigm. When you come from WoW or EQ, well yes, these things do look to be advances. However, they’re not radical departures in the way that, say, EVE is. Before anyone flames me, no, I’m not saying EVE is better than WAR, I’m just using it as an example. If WAR were as different from WoW as EVE is, but in some entirely new direction, now that would be more exciting!

    The thing is, though, it was never going to be that different, and for a very good reason: it’s a continuance of Mark Jacobs’ oevre, which he’s been building on for 25 years. He has every right to take it in the direction he wants to go; he’s one of the few designers around who actually knows what he’s doing, and although I haven’t heard how much of WAR’s design is down to him, you can bet his philosophy is embodied in it somewhere. If you look at it in that context, WAR is the latest articulation of themes explored in DAoC, Imperator, Dragon’s Gate and (probably – I don’t know enough about its design, sadly) Aradath. So, rather ironically, WAR is one of the few MMOs where incremental changes are to be not only expected but celebrated.

    That doesn’t mean I can’t rant about it, though..!


  18. […] someone without letting them respond, I’m reposting two comments Richard Bartle left in the “I’m Feeling Snarky” post, along with my interlude comment. I think we have our disagreements here, but I respect that […]

  19. […] was one of the many, many people to write a post aimed at my interview with Richard Bartle at Massively. Unlike most of those other people, though, Syp […]

  20. […] like they need to pounce on anyone who dares question Bartle’s position in history, for as he himself noted in a response to this mess, he’s relevant for as long as people think he is and are willing to pay him for his input. […]

  21. […] treat him like an anonymous troll forum poster by calling him “Crazy,” “stupid,” “senile” or “Old Guard.” (Although Old Guard isn’t […]

  22. […] Gaming Scene, Tobold, Keen and Syp from Waaagh have all commented on Richard Bartle’s interview on Massively this week that has the  […]

  23. […] taking. That said, the glimpse of the possible MMOG future came from this Richard Bartle comment on Syp’s blog. Another point: when I said I didn’t play MMOs for fun, I wasn’t saying that MMOs weren’t fun […]

  24. […] and WOW, but poor Bartle’s really getting a roasting from the WAR and wider MMO community. Here, here and here, for instance. He’s “stupid”, he’s “crazy” and […]

  25. The only way to describe Richard’s comments are “Petty” and “Fearful.”

    That is the beginning and end of it. There are some truly innovative features in WAR that other MMOs will be trying to replicate for years to come. To name a couple –

    Fully realized open field warfare / RvR – Innovative in the ideas that make this truly work for the first time in an fully featured fantasy MMO.

    Public Quests – Every MMO from now on will pirate this idea. you can count on it.

    Look at where they are taking WoW – this is the antithesis of ingenuity. This guy is a hypocrite and a mendicant. Has he damaged his rep. enough for it to hurt his career? I wont be sad if this guy no longer designs for a genre I care about.

  26. […] screenshot as a joke.If you’ve been following this debate (which already reached a raging napalmic inferno of internet vitriol when Richard Bartle compared the games in an interview with us) then you know […]

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