Choosing not to have fun

The world has officially gone mad, as on a Friday, typically the day for a good blog war, I’m just linking to Tobold to comment on a post (and also because his post above, about blog roll drama, is hilarious). Anyway, the post in question here is about player freedom, or whether a game’s rules should prevent a player from optimizing the fun out of the game.

The discussion started when Tobold co-author Nils (it’s still Friday!) said that the WoW dungeon finder is not a good addition, as it makes it too easy to sit in one city and chain-queue instances all day long (which sounds exactly like WAR in the early days). Tobold is in favor of player choice, so while the dungeon finder is available, he argues that he still has the option to do solo content, see other areas, and generally advance his character (the ‘point’ of an MMO, especially WoW) without being ‘forced’ to chain-queue.

And while I believe Tobold when he says he will exercise the other options available to him to have fun, I also know that most MMO players won’t. They WILL chain-queue whatever is the optimal path, grind themselves into the ground, and then complain that the game is boring and needs to be ‘fixed’ (or they will just silently cancel and walk away). I believe part of a game developers job is to guide the player along to maximize the fun, and the somewhat recent trend of “reward for everything” has made this more and more difficult. Simply designing an interesting encounter is no longer enough, because unless that encounter drops the uber shiny, at most people will see it once and go back to grinding “watch paint dry mob” because he has a chance to drop something to increase your stats by .01%.

Now whether the root cause of this issue is over-incentivizing (WoW) or providing a too-easy-to-follow optimal path (WAR) depends on the game, but the problem still comes down to a design mistake. A well designed game will provide proper incentives to try different activities, or to play for the pure fun of an activity rather than some ulterior motive (gear).

MMOs are an additional design challenge because they need to keep you playing for months at a time due to the business model, so it would simply be impossible to have months and months of content that is all new, all pure fun. A successful MMO will include ‘grind’, that’s a given, its how that grind is balanced and incorporated with everything else that is key. If you are grinding just to reach yet another grind, only to ultimately have the devs hit the reset switch and start you back at square one, that’s going to eventually catch up to you. If the grind is the ‘downtime’ between high point, or if the grind is the ‘buildup’ to something memorable, many players will either look past it or not even notice they are ‘grinding’.

Some players won’t see the benefits and refuse to play along, and that’s a risk you take. Recent years have shown that many players prefer a constant, consistent, slow feed of rewards for chain-queue-style activities, but for me that’s a large change from what the MMO genre is (or was?) all about. Without the lows or downtime, you can’t have the very memorable highs that a good MMO can provide, and to truly get to those high points, you need the players to feel like they determined that path and outcome. It’s just unfortunate that too many elect not to go on that journey, and would rather queue up for the ‘sure thing’, even if it’s watching grass grow.

Chuck-o-the-day: Every time Chuck Norris hears the name “Virgin Mary”, he chuckles to himself.

About SynCaine

Former hardcore raider turned casual gamer.
This entry was posted in MMO design, Warhammer Online, World of Warcraft. Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to Choosing not to have fun

  1. Werit says:

    I’m glad the Blogroll is useful. It’s actually what I use to do my daily reading too.

    WAR still has trouble with players grinding instead of just having fun. I don’t blame the devs though, there is only so much they can do.

    I do whatever activity I feel like, even if it is not optimal. That’s one of the things I like about WAR, a RR40 is closer to a RR80 than a Level 79 player is to a level 80.

    • SynCaine says:

      The RR40-80 thing is very important. You can still have extreme grind, but the returns should be diminishing. That way, those who just absolutely have to be maxed out will still be around for months (instead of weeks and then complaining), while everyone else can do what’s fun but still progress slowly. Too many games are either “max out in a week” or “grind forever, but then become a god”.

  2. sid67 says:

    The discussion started when Tobold co-author Nils (it’s still Friday!)

    That’s too g’damn funny! If I could censor one guy on the internet…

    Not because he’s obnoxious but because he’s so freaking boring with his huge walls of text. I used to read all of Tobold’s comments but now I just skim them.. mostly due to Nils de-railing the post with some scholarly asinine thesis paper.

    • Dàchéng says:

      Too many arguments in blog comments boil down to “Is not!”, “Is, too!”. I love Nils’ scholarly, undramatic approach that synthesizes a position that the drama queens can agree on, or at least presents the nub of disagreement, stripped of the personalities and the theatrics.

      “co-author Nils” is very funny, though!

      • sid67 says:

        I don’t take issue so much with the subject matter but the length and place at which he writes his commentary.

        When “other” people have such detailed thoughts about an entry they write it down on their own blog and then link it back to those thoughts.

        This is one of the very reasons why people *start* a blog in the first place.

        I find the fact that he always has a long wall of text and is always one of the first five to post it (due to the time zone) makes him far more obnoxious and impolite than all the other nub disagreements put together.

        • SynCaine says:

          Or in other words:

          If Nils post
          Check if under 5 paragraphs
          If Yes
          Read = 50/50
          If No
          Read = 0%

          And that’s after having read more Nils ‘posts’ than Tobold posts at Tobold’s blog.

  3. sid67 says:

    Regarding Dungeon Finder/WAR Scenarios…

    My problem with a tool like Dungeon Finder is that it’s cross-server. In my mind, I think that’s what destroys the community and multiplayer feeling.

    Say what you will about WAR, but I found a lot of friends in that game simply because we kept queuing up and entering the same games. Because it’s same server, you start to get to know the other players (on both sides).

    You see who is good. Who heals. Who does their job. And you gravitate towards those players.

    In fact, all of the big-time RvR action I got into was a result of the relationships I (and others) built with those players.

    So while I think the criticism of “optimal path” is a fair one, I don’t buy the argument that such tools (if confined to a specific server or region) destroys the sense of community or it being a multiplayer game.

    I think it’s the cross-server aspect that is the real problem.

    • SynCaine says:

      Yea lack of community plays into it for sure. Who is going to run an instance “just for fun” when the other 4 people are randoms you will never see again, or who might be there for different reasons.

      And part of the reason early WAR was all about scenarios was not just the great XP gains, but also because they ARE fun to play, just not 24/7. If Mythic had simply added a scenario XP cap like FFXIV is planning, people would still have enjoyed them, but then moved on to PQs, RvR, etc as well.

  4. Bhagpuss says:

    Rather more succinctly than I commented on Tobold’s blog, it’s up to the damn player to bring the “fun”. The developer has to provide the space and the toys but once those are in place the rest is down to us.

    There’s a clear line from the Kunark Kiddies in EQ, where I first noticed players carving out their own version of the “Golden Path”, right through to WoW’s Dungeon Finder automation. A really big chunk of every player population I’ve been part of has always cleaved to an accepted, “optimal” progression.

    It’s hardly surprising if developers finally say “You know what? If you want to ignore 90% of our stuff just so you can GO FASTER then sod you. Here, click this “Go Faster” button and knock yourself out”.

    I’ll just keep playing every MMO my own way and be glad I have more elbow room in the interesting places. I just hope there are still enough players like me to make it worth the devs’ while to make those places…

  5. Sleepysam says:

    For some reason, this post makes me want to do some chain scenarios in WAR for a bit. Still lamenting the errors that crashed WAR. Maybe I’ll do some T1 before they kill it.

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