With the newly-announced World Of Fight looking like a copy of World of Warcraft, Sam "azerian" Maxted asks if Chinese MMO developers are just copying the west.
For those who missed it earlier this week, Chinese company "The9 Ltd" announced a new MMO called World of Fight. Some of you may be thinking "so what?", but if you look deeper into things, the whole situation starts looking dodgy. You see, The9's contract to run World of Warcraft in China expires next month, with rival company NetEase set to replace them. It was only after this was revealed that The9 announced World of Fight, which has an almost identical URL to WoW's Chinese website. Only one letter separates the two URLs, which it might have been possible to say was coincidence if it wasn't for the other available evidence.
If you take a look at World of Fight's website, one of the first things you'll notice is the font it uses. It looks a lot like the title font for World of Warcraft, doesn't it? Also, as reported by WoWInsider, The9 won't be transferring its WoW servers over to the new operator. This makes me wonder what else they have planned for them. Rather than take over the existing servers, NetEase will need to set up its own, making what would be an already-difficult transition even trickier.
However, it's not just World of Warcraft that World of Fight seems to be "borrowing" from - Warhammer Online has also been targeted by WoF. If you look at the image below, you'll see that the game's website appears to feature a Chaos Gate from Warhammer Online. The evidence looks pretty damning for WoF and The9, doesn't it?
Top: A Chaos Gate from Warhammer Online. Bottom: World of Fight's website.
However, The9 isn't the only company to take its inspiration from western MMOs. Although it has plenty of ideas of its own (and is a decent game in its own right), the Taiwanese-developed Runes of Magic also borrows from WoW. Blizzard's vendor interface, quest interface, mini-map and auction house have all been transplanted into RoM, but is that really such a bad thing? These parts of WoW's interface just work - redesigning them would be like re-inventing the wheel, with any real changes making the end product worse than the original.
It's precisely because Asian MMOs have ideas of their own (with RoM's extensive crafting system springing to mind) that it would be unfair to say they're just ripping off western products. In many ways, Asian MMO developers are ahead of the curve and acting as pioneers in places where western developers fear to tread. A lot of Asian games also owe more to Lineage II than they do to western products, which is at least partially due to the series' popularity in the Far East.
Runes of Magic borrows from WoW, but no more so than western MMOs.
To be fair to Asian developers, western games developers "borrow" a lot from each other too - it's how the games industry works. One developer has an idea that's heralded as unique and blows everyone else away, only to have it copied by their competitors a year down the line. Just think: how many times has "bullet time" been copied since Max Payne's release in 2001? MMOs are just as guilty as single-player games with this sort of thing, too. For example, would Dungeon Runners' quest interface or the yellow exclamation marks over quest-givers' heads look as they do if WoW didn't exist? Somehow, I doubt it. What many developers do is give players games that feel similar to the market leader, to make them easy to pick up and play. At the same time though, these games try to build on what has gone before and surpass the original with their own unique features.
Dungeon Runners might not play like WoW, but elements of the game look similar.
In short, games companies will always take inspiration from each other, regardless of where they're based. After all, how much was truly original about WoW in its early days? If you asked me that question, I'd have to respond with "very little". When it was released, WoW took the best elements from the other MMOs on the market and put them in a single product. In some ways it's inevitable that elements from WoW are being stolen by western and Asian companies alike. Elements of WoW just feel right in an MMO setting and it's this feeling that its competitors are trying to recreate. For the most part, any ideas taken from WoW tend to stand out more in Asian MMOs simply because they're from that part of the world. For a long time Asian MMOs have had a particular style to them, and when one deviates from the stereotype and plays more like a western game, it's pretty noticeable. It's simply not as noticeable when western-developed games borrow from each other, as we've come to expect certain styles of gameplay from them.
So does all this mean I'm defending what The9 has shown us of its new project so far? Hell no! In my opinion and with the evidence currently available, it looks to be one of the most blatant rip-offs of a pair of existing franchises that I've ever seen. If you're going to base a new MMO around one already on the market, don't make what you're doing obvious to everyone else. At least some of the ideas in there need to be your own and it's these that you should be showing the public - not what you've stolen from elsewhere. The least that a game can do is to stand on its own two feet and turning it into a copy of someone else's game is both shameless and shameful. The9 might be giving Chinese MMOs a bad name at the moment, but there's no reason for us to look down on other Chinese developers or publishers unless they follow suit.
The editorial you've just read contains views that are the opinion of the author and not necessarily the views of ZAM.com
SAM "azerian" Maxted