Is WoW really player friendly? Tobold doesn't seem to think so. Says he, there's a lot of things that it doesn't tell you or you can miss the first time around, such as spending talent points, and that at the end game, he constantly has to check outside sites to figure out what he needs to grind to get certain drops and recipes. WoW does things better than most other MMORPGs, he says, but it is far from perfect.
But, me, I'm not sure he has it quite right.
I definitely agree with him that WoW does the whole user-friendly thing better than other MMORPGs. Out of EQ, DAoC, and all the others I've played, WoW still manages to give a basic introduction to how to play the best. But where I am unsure if I can agree with Tobold as to whether WoW's way isn't enough, or whether WoW owes us more.
Firstly, I think Tobold overlooks how helpful the tip system is. The system, which is on by default for every new account, offers small, easy to digest tips for nearly every new aspect of the game as the player experiences them. In fact, I believe it even offers a short explanation of talent points when the players gains level 10 and gets their first one.
In addition, WoW's game play is pretty fluid and intuitive, for the most part. The quests almost always give directions that are relatively easy to understand, and the fighting system shouldn't take much more than a quick glance at the manual and provided tips to learn.
But aside from whether or not Tobold is being fair to WoW's user-friendliness, it is true that Blizzard doesn't provide the in depth information on drop locations, drop rates, and all the rest. Does Blizzard owe us in-game mechanics that work like sites like Wowhead or Wowwiki that will walk us through quests and drop locations for real recipes and all the rest, or is it better to leave that stuff up to the community?
Two types of players
To be honest, I side with the latter opinion. Honestly, I believe that it is very possible to make your way through the game and level to 70, even doing a few dungeons on the side, without constantly looking at other sites. Quests are intuitive, and generally once you're done with one quest hub, you've probably gotten some information or a quest from another NPC that will lead you to the next hub. So in that case, if you're just looking to play the game organically, it is rather easy to do it on WoW. Adding an in-game version of a database site could just take a lot of that mystery out for players who prefer it that way.
Then there's the min-maxers or the more serious players who want to know exactly where to level up, where to farm primals, exactly what they should be wearing to tank the best, heal the best, or do the best DPS at their level, and all such information as that. Chances are whatever Blizzard could feasibly create with their time and money isn't going to satisfy these people. Having the expertise and devotion of their fellow fans to fall back on will, in the end, help them a lot more.
Building a Community by Sharing Expertise
In addition, a lot of the worthwhile community surrounding games come from player-made sites that fill in the gaps. A lot of the value of reading sites like Wowhead is the comments on various items for information on where to find NPCs or how to use items. Wowwiki, of course, is by definition a community project. Fans being able to contribute information and commentary gives them a sense of belonging. You'll feel a lot more invested in the game and in your characters if you know you're sharing your knowledge on a widely dispersed fansite where many other players will benefit from what you say, and you feel connected to them as well. If all needed information was just distributed by Blizzard, it seems like a good portion of that community feeling would be lost.
There's also a lot of specialized information that people can contribute, and they can do faster and cheaper than WoW can. There's plenty of excellent guides for skilling up tradeskills or gearing up as efficiently as possible that Blizzard might never have duplicated. There's even addons that show enough information that you may not need to alt-tab out to another site for quite some time:
Atlas gives you maps of every instance
Atlasloot Enhanced not only shows you what every instance boss drops, but has seperate modules that list factional loot, pvp loot, and even list all crafting recipes and what skill and ingredients are needed for them.
Cartographer is a map replacement with extra plugins that can show quest objectives, herb and mineral nodes, and more.
Sure, Blizzard could technically add all this functionality, but they'd have to pay people to do it. The fact that the community can do it quicker, faster, and with more passion than a paid drudge would is more than enough for me. Combine that with the fact that I'd rather play the game myself, and look up information at my own pace and need rather than have Blizzard walk me through the whole thing, and I rather like the setup we have now.
That said, I wouldn't be against a little more guidance and nudging in game for some things. I'm amazed, for example, at how many hunters don't know how to keep up a decent shot rotation, or how many affliction specced Warlocks can't quite get a DoT rotation down. In cases like that, I have to say that I could see class trainers giving short lessons on basic techniques for the class -- but then again, they may even get that wrong. People are innovating and finding new ways to play the same class on nearly a weekly basis sometimes, it seems.
In the end, I think you still want to leave a little bit to chance and discovery on the part of the players. Yes, you want stuff in game that guides a person on how to get around in the game world and perform basic character functions, organically as possible, but it's probably beyond the pale to expect the game to tell you exactly where to find every rare mob, every recipe drop, and all such things.
You wouldn't want to be hand-held through any other genre of game, and if you do, you expect to go to an internet hint or cheat site, or hit up an official or unofficial guide from your local game store. I never went into Final Fantasy 7 expecting it to tell me exactly how to unlock Yuffie or Vincent Valentine, or into King's Quest 6 expecting the game to tell me exactly where to find all my magical spell reagents, including the optional ones, and It seems to me MMORPGs shouldn't be any different. There's certainly a level of user-friendliness some MMOs may have forgotten to include, as Tobold rightly points out, but I'd say WoW is head and shoulders above that, and is very well close to perfecting the balance between user-friendliness and outright hand-holding.