Afternoon, everyone! If you are in North America, except Florida, it seems like we're all experiencing snow in one form or another no matter which State or Province you're in (even Hawaii has snow-capped mountains), so Happy Winter to you all!
I want to talk a bit about the large versus the small today. Specifically, I want to discuss the current elephant in the room, "World of Warcraft" (or WoW), and a growing trend for small, bite-sized gaming, represented by my personal website of choice, Big Fish Games. There are pluses and minuses to both of these names, and I want to describe them both a bit before getting down to brass tacks.
First off, we have WoW, arguably the biggest Massive Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game, or MMORPG, of all time. Eclipses Everquest by a huge margin, and is the current online game to be playing if you are into the whole sword and sorcery thing. The game itself consists of you controlling an avatar that you build from scratch, venturing out into this massive world in order to level up your character, abilities and weapons/armor in order to get involved in major story and quest lines, furthering the mythos of the game itself. Make no mistake, there is an epic story being told here, but you need some form of dedication to the game in order to experience a great deal of it. For those not interested in losing touch with their day-to-day lives, there is a robust economy to be played with, and many holiday-themed events to enjoy for characters of all levels. The requirements for your computer do increase with each additional expansion to the game, but the monthly cost of pay-to-play is fairly reasonable.
Conversely, there is the Big Fish Games site, or BFG. Here you can find tons of little games, with a pricing system mentioned earlier in a previous post (January 7th, 2011: Currently Playing). The games are on average three to four hours in length, with some stand-outs in both directions. All of the games can be bought at any time, day or night, and system requirements are at the low end of the spectrum and not expected to rise significantly over any given year.
There you have a very generalized idea of what we're putting into the ring today, to duke it out for our enjoyment. We'll start off with dissecting the big boy first, then go after the little fish with a fine-toothed comb.
The good thing about WoW is that the monthly fee can buy you as much as the entire month of never going offline. When I stopped playing, $14.95 was the monthly fee I was paying, but I can't remember if it was pre-authorized credit card payments or pay-as-you-go cards I was using for that price. Suffice it to say that days got lost during the years I was active, often from six to eight hours at a time. So, there is zero complaint regarding the price, and that's fair. One movie at a theatre will run you over $10 just going alone and getting a small drink, so given the number of hours bought monthly on WoW it is a worthwhile entertainment expense. The problem isn't found here.
Nor is the problem to be found with the diversity of the content provided. There are ridiculous numbers of quests to go on, hundreds of little challenges to complete, and thousands of achievement points to rack up (remember the name of the blog folks, here is where it came from - well this and the 360, but I digress). You can barter with the best of them in the Auction Houses by choosing a profession and making worthwhile trinkets to sell, and hunt for deals on better armor and weapons between quests. There are tons of cities to explore, dungeons galore, and over thirty unique 'countries' to travel between. Content is rich and robust, music is plentiful and engaging, Non-Player Characters (NPCs) are everywhere, and the world does indeed feel vibrant and alive. Each expansion grows upon this core, adding new continents of material, new quests, new regions, new weapons, new creatures...the game just keeps getting more expansive and immersive with every year. So, why, then, am I not currently a player? Why have I closed my account for now, and am taking a year-and-a-half-plus long break? Two reasons actually, and here they are...
Reason one, simply put, is that WoW accounts can be hacked. Hacked hard. Hacked and then sold out from under you. Less than a week after I vowed I was going to stop playing, and mentioned it online to friends I had made whilst gaming, my account was taken over by someone who took each and every item, some of which I had taken over 80 days to accumulate (no exaggeration, that) and sold them to vendors for gold. I contacted Blizzard, the makers of the game, and they apparently discovered that my account had indeed been hacked, and returned everything back to my characters. I assume they did so anyway, because I haven't been back to check. That is due to the second reason.
Reason two, just as simply put, is that I got sick of dealing with other people. Within WoW you can become part of a guild, a group of apparently like-minded individuals who wish to quest together through some of the hardest content in the game, for the best equipment in the game, and who are supposedly willing to help you improve your game for the betterment of all the guildmates. This is the idea of forming a guild, but don't you believe it. I was in a guild, whose name and realm I will not be mentioning, whose sole reason for existence it seemed was to complain about people not helping others, and then go ahead without helping others themselves. The last week I played, I spent hours trying to get people together in order to take a look at some content that had just been released in a patch the week before (a patch is when the company making the game gradually adds content in between major expansions, as a way of keeping players involved in furthering their characters and exploring new areas more than one big push per year), and never got close to entering the dungeon I was attempting to explore (for anyone interested, it was the Arena that was placed in Northrend, near all the jousting and such, back in September of 2009). Simply put., the guild was pathetic, and having to deal with these people when I was playing was just depressing me more, so I took time off with the promise that when I return, and I will, I would move to a different realm to play with different people (realms are the names given servers, which are the computers running the game - by switching realms, it is possible to play with people from entirely different countries ie. when I go back, I wish to play on a European realm so that their schedules will suit when I wish to be playing, and give me more opportunities to get into the upper-end content areas).
The downside to all this is that, if you really want to get deeply into the storyline, and there are those who could care less, you really have to not only spend a good amount of time in the game, but you also have to be good enough to get involved in some of the most challenging aspects of the game world, and this means having people you can rely on at your side. This I found lacking, and thus I split. As I said, I'm an achievement whore, but even more importantly I want to get my money's worth out of a game, and by missing out on major plot points due to being unable to get into areas with the dregs I was playing with, I figured I'll take a break, get craving it again, and then tear back into it from a new angle. I'll keep you posted when Gutrend the Warrior (read that as Tank) re-enters Azeroth.
On the other hand, we have BFG, and the upside to this is that hours need never be spent on any game purchased form this website. Unfortunately, that's also one of the biggest drawbacks. Don't get me wrong, right now I'm all about BFGs bite-sized games, but there is no multiplayer aspect to them (at least, in none of the over 100 I've demoed) and they are ultimately too short. Each game comes with a free demo, and I can't count how many times I've bought the game based on a wonderful demo, only to be done the title less than an hour later. That sucks, and even if I am buying them at the cheapest possible price, I still feel cheated about six times out of ten. However, there are some real gems I've found amongst the titles. "Gemini Lost" is a great title, set up for a sequel that many are clamouring for. "Settlement: Colossus" is another great title, the forum for which is where I met a really great person I have great chats with through the website (you know who you are, Shasta24). There are fun Match 3 games like "Cursed House," and fun life simulations like "Life Quest."
However, there is one last drawback to BFG, and that is the vast majority of their games turn out to be middle-of-the-road quality Hidden Object games, and it is only the few that really stand out in this over-populated field. I still love the site, but I wish they'd expand just a little more as far as their selection of game titles. BFG is not the only site that offers great but inexpensive games. There are others out there; Alawar comes to mind. These sites are increasing because the games are 'save anywhere,' not 'after another hour because we have to down this boss' types. Bite-sized gaming for bite-sized lifestyles. I love individual titles, but I'd rather spend ten hours instead of two, for my money. And achievement points, don't forget the achievement points!
So who wins, the bruiser or the mouse? Well, ultimately the gamer always wins when we have such diversity to choose from. As for which one you prefer, it all comes down to investiture of time, and the less of it we have stretching our imaginative skills, the smaller the real world becomes. Then again, I could be wrong, and the whole thing could just be some misguided ramble. Either way, gamerscore ho!