I’m not a fan of the “everyone is a winner” approach, be it Little League Baseball or MMOs. Handing out a trophy just for showing up is, to me, silly at best. I don’t care that little Billy is 6 years old, if his team loses he doesn’t get a trophy, and if he asks you why, explain to him that the other team was better. If you don’t do it at age 6, when do you do it? At 18, when bigger Billy gets rejected from his top college choice because the other applicants were better? At 25, when big Billy loses out on a promotion because the other guy was better (or dating the bosses daughter)? Because at some point “everyone is a winner” no longer applies, and the sooner you learn and accept that lesson, the better.
To an extent, themepark design of late has tried to follow the “everyone is a winner” model to keep the maximum number of players happy (more on this later). Mostly. Everyone gets to the level cap, everyone gets epics, and everyone sees the content.
Except for the top-end raids.
So it’s not a surprise that little Billy, with his massive trophy collection (congrats on last place!), starts to rant and cry that he can’t see the end of the final raid. He showed up (paid his sub) damnit, give him his trophy/epic!
In life there are travel baseball leagues, which hold tryouts, have eliminations, and only one team walks away with the trophy. It’s shocking (sarcasm) that the best players play in such leagues, and that players and coaches have certain expectations in such a league. Also shocking (more sarcasm) is the fact that professional leagues work like this as well. Players get cut if they don’t perform, the stars get paid way more than the average guy, and entire cities expect championships from teams. Just showing up means nothing.
Maybe I missed it, but can anyone link me the forum/blog post from little Billy demanding he not only be allowed to play in the Majors, but to also walk away with the World Series trophy?
Because I can link you dozens of little Billy posts asking for the end-boss loot drop, and show you an entire expansion (WotLK) that basically did just that.
And before you remind me that an MMO is “just a game”, I’ll remind you that my time spend is my time spend, and no, I don’t enjoy carrying someone through group content. Nor do I enjoy group content being nerfed to a level just below rolling your face across the keyboard. Don’t get that confused with someone setting out to cater to that level however. If someone wants to create something of faceroll difficulty (Farmville), knock yourself out. I’ll avoid it, you can play it, life goes on. I’m not talking about that, I’m talking about CHANGING a game to that level, based on little Billy’s demands, and what impact that has.
At some point Billy realizes that not only is getting a trophy for last place an insult, it’s also not very good motivation to improve, and improving and finally actually accomplishing something beyond just showing up is far more rewarding than any backhanded trophy. At age 6, Billy is too young to understand that. Most MMO gamers act like spoiled 6 year olds, and the devs are the parents. If you continually cave into little Billy’s crying, you end up with a teenager that snorts coke and steals from you (or so reality TV tells me). That or welfare epics and AoE-spam instances. Maybe both.
Yet unlike baseball, which along with hard work also requires some natural talent that blocks out most people advancing, MMOs are easy-enough for almost anyone to be successful if they put in the effort. Some might require more than others, but at the end of the day, if we are talking difficulty among games (I know, brain surgery is super-hard compared to gaming, cool…), MMOs are pretty damn easy when compared to something like MOBA, RTS, or FPS games (again, on average. I’m sure there is a Farmville-level FPS, etc).
So excuse me if my patience runs a little thin when someone can’t bother to come reasonably prepared for an instance, or shows up with a build they know is inferior for content that is tuned for above-average performance. If you want to play a single player game on easy and gimp your character with whatever ‘flavor’ build you created, knock yourself out. Hell, do it in an MMO. So long as you do it solo, or make those around you aware that you are likely going to perform at 50% or so of a ‘normal’ player. There are entire guilds out there that cater to such things, which is great for them.
‘Reasonably prepared’ is, of course, subjective. If we are talking world-first raiding, ‘reasonably prepared’ means min-maxed out of your ears with the next 12 hours completely dedicated to the game. If we are talking a casual leveling guild, ‘reasonably prepared’ is likely little more than online and conscious, with the latter being optional. If it’s queuing up for expert 5 man content, then sorry, but ‘reasonably prepared’ does not include your melee mage build, or you geared in stuff you think looks cool but is 20 levels below you. If it’s queuing up for the top-end content, then it might also include running a build that’s within a few % points of max efficiency, along with a certain gear level. If I’m advertising for a speed run of instance X, you responding without having run that instance is not being ‘reasonably prepared’.
What we have seen in WoW, and might be seeing in Rift with 1.2, is that the ‘reasonably prepared’ barrier continues to get lowered. 50% optimal build? Eh, tune instances to deal 50% less damage and players won’t be judged for running a bad spec. Joined an instance PUG in all green gear with the wrong stats? Tune the mobs to die anyway, or even better, just give out a token for zoning in so that eventually that player replaces his gear with epics, successful run or not. You get the idea.
And again, much like a player informing everyone ahead of time that they are at 50% power, a game starting out at this level is one thing. The issue is when the other players find out, an hour later, that you are inefficient for the job, or that the MMO you have been playing for months has suddenly gone drool-cup easy.
As for the notion that easy = more subs, that’s only true to an extent, and greatly depends on who your audience is anyway. If Farmville tomorrow is made 50% easier (is that possible…?), would they get a ton more people? Or would they lose more than they gain because the ‘game’ becomes so easy that those who enjoy it today no longer like it? If Darkfall was ‘dumbed down’ to a tab-targeting combat system, I doubt it would see a surge in subs because it had become easier. Will Rift benefit from easier 5 man expert instances, or will the current players burn through them even faster, and ultimately start looking around for more content, faster and faster? We’ll see.
Finally, allowing more players to see more content with less effort is a great short-term solution (most players will be happy to get rewards faster, simple creatures that they are), but has some negative long-term impact in the form of rapid content burn. In a perfect world content would be limitless, but the reality is that devs can only create content so fast, and the faster you burn through it, the sooner you are going to demand more. This is increased if the level of effort is already low for success, because not only will those who put in more effort burn through it even faster (forum ‘elite’ always asking for more), but later asking more from your players will be met with resistance (see Cataclysm in WoW).