Little Billy and his trophy

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).

About SynCaine

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

26 Responses to Little Billy and his trophy

  1. Saucelah says:

    So would you want gear scores, build scores, and performance scores in Rift?

    • SynCaine says:

      In essence, yes (how does a build score work though? Even the forums can’t agree on the top warrior DPS spec for one boss, let alone a ‘general’ best build).

      Those are all tools. How a community uses those tools is the key, and THAT is highly influenced by game design.

      • Saucelah says:

        Of course I just made up the term build score — but I suppose it would just be the ability to inspect someone’s build

      • Barrista says:

        I never was a lazy one in WoW, but if they got gear score in Rift I would quit. All things can be used for good or evil and I found it was eventually used for evil.

        You can say everyone is lazy that doesn’t have a great gear score depending on circumstances and that is what was done. I was in a heroic in WotLK (easy, right?) and someone was complaining about a dps blue gear. It was ALL blue, which might make you think that this person just hit max level. But nobody has the time or patience to care, they would rather just label because it is easier and doesn’t require as many brain cells… kind of like raiding in WoW using DBM.

  2. Zapod says:

    Syncaine you are forgetting that the devs still need to ensure Rift is bringing in the dough. If the casuals run out of content due to a wall of difficulty they will cancel their subscriptions which means less revenue.

    By dumbing down the content they encourage players to continue playing and paying for the game. However you want to argue it Rift is no Darkfall and still has all the disadvantages of being a typical themepark MMO.

    • SynCaine says:

      I get Rift needs to have X subs, I do. I just don’t agree that making the current content drool-cup easy = more subs. Again, at what point do you make things TOO easy and it starts to hurt you, long term.

      • Angry Gamer says:

        The success of Wow until cata
        the success of Rift

        all argue that easy does in fact equal more subscriptions.

        You want to play a well funded game… you have to put up with the kiddies that pay entrance fees to ride the kid rids and occasionally run under your feet.

        Syn you have a very limited numbers of choices really and the MMO marketplace is being brutally honest here.

        1) You can have a wide appeal online game that has “nerfed” content that the kiddies can play. it’s well subscribed and funded and gets updated fairly often

        2) You can have a difficult/challenging game that seems to appeal to the hobbyist and is not well subscribed and funded and gets updated by people that may be gone in 2 weeks or already gone (oh and your credit card gets hacked too)

        3) You can have an obscure spreadsheet interface game with stars as a background that seems to have a stable hobbyist + hardcore playerbase that can’t seem to get a toon mini-game made where you can pop out of your pod and walk around. maybe stable game… but who knows?

        Wow-cata went down this road of “harder = better” and many people just ran to Rift.

        When the market is telling you something… it’s good to listen it has a very DIRECT feedback mechanism to your families well being.

        Just sayin that yelling at the whirlwind that you don’t believe in the choices presented is pretty much a waste of time.

    • Pai says:

      “If the casuals run out of content due to a wall of difficulty they will cancel their subscriptions which means less revenue.”

      A real ‘casual’ would not have run out of content this soon after the game’s release. The sort of people who burn through content and then hit a wall because they’re not good enough and then cry, are not casuals, they are entitlement-babies.

      • Paul says:

        Pai: surely you realize that the argument doesn’t depend on exactly why the people who quit due to difficulty are doing that? Game companies lose income if “bads” quit just as much as if so-called “casuals” quit.

        Of course, most of those who call themselves casuals are either unable or unwilling to do the things that would make them hardcore. This primarily means joining hardcore guilds and behaving/performing in such a way as to remain in that guild. Aren’t these people just lazy bads in the eyes of the elite?

  3. Wyrmrider says:

    I still remember a little league game where I failed to steal second base, and the ump let me take it anyway. I was outraged (seriously!). Apparently that kind of thing happened all the time.


  4. Dink says:

    Big Billy might get farther if he went to “college” instead of “collage”.

    • SynCaine says:

      I always do that. So fail.

      Edit: Worst part of it all is like literally the only time I use college is in situations like this, where it basically totally destroys my point when I spell it wrong.

  5. DSJ says:

    Of course when I pay $15 a month for premium TV channels I don’t get to watch 90% of every show and then have the screen go black and a message flash up on the screen with “NEWB – you didn’t work for it”. The conflict you see will not go away and a lower bar is what developers will continue to design for because MMO’s are more akin to TV than to any game league involving real skill (baseball, bowling, etc). MMO’s are entertainment and the most successful MMO game company on the planet has found a way to sell you one TV station for $15 a month with no new content except once every 6 months to a year, so of course they will lower the barriers to let people see the ending …. and Trion will too as soon as the money makes a difference… there simply isn’t a market in making your subscribers go away. The great benefit of an egalitarian market is it’s ability to deliver value to millions (a limited, shared experience) … if you want an elite experience with a more refined clientele go to the opera. Of course operas don’t make a profit. The first mistake anyone makes is expecting something with the word MASSIVE in the title not to go to the lowest common denominator fairly quickly. Standards by definition can’t be enforced on voluntary paying customers when alternatives exist … and realize … RIFT is trying to be the alternative to WoW.

  6. bhagpuss says:

    Good post. I think you frequently reference the solution to this problem without actually recognizing that you’ve done so, though.

    You repeatedly qualify your calls for minimum standards by confirming that other standards are or could be available and that’s fine. That’s really the nub of it. Everyone can win prizes if there are enough leagues for everyone to compete at an appropriate level.

    In your sports analogy, that’s pretty much how it works, isn’t it? If a sport is popular enough it generates enough grades of competition that even the feeblest competitor can find somewhere that his contribution has value.

    In MMOs, all abilities are lumped in together. In Rift, for example, we only have one difficulty setting for T1 or T2 dungeons. If Trion tune that down it affects everyone, negatively and positively.

    What we need are more difficulty settings. Or MMOs that are more overtly designed for and advertised at specific ability levels. And if we are going to have a single standard for the top end, then perhaps it should be openly labelled “expert” and it should be made clear in all the promotional material that this content will not be available to all purchasers.

  7. Barrista says:

    I don’t see the difference between dumbing down the game via nerf’s by the dev’s and dumbing down the game by using DBM. I guess if we dumb the down the game it’s okay, but if they do it’s not?

  8. Angry Gamer says:

    Ok let’s call this like it is…

    I’m tired of you guys tiptoeing here.

    This is the classic Sport vs Game argument that is played out on every existing game that has professional athletes.

    The problem is that A) MMO’s are not a sport…
    B) the fledgling pro gaming scene is ALL about first person shooters or simulations of pro sports games guys.

    Now if at some point in the future we start having pro-wow players or pro-rift players, you know who get PAID to play these games… yeah I’ll say maybe there is a purpose to keeping kiddies with their participation trophies out of your sandbox

    But until then you are just a guy at Disneyland lamenting the numbers of strollers out there at the land that Mickey built.

    Waste of time.

    • SynCaine says:

      First, there are pro-WoW teams, both Arena and (last I checked) raiding. Not sure what they make, but they get paid/sponsored. Gaming is also the second biggest sport in Korea (the good one), behind soccer, and RTS games rule that scene.

      Second, the sports league I play in is certainly not a pro league (we pay, rather than get paid), but we certainly don’t let little Billy play.

      It’s not as black/white as you would like it to be, in sports or in gaming.

  9. bonedead says:

    It is the pussification of America my friend.

  10. John says:

    You seem to be putting folks who just want to see the end-game content in the same bucket with folks who want easy rewards and instant gratification.

    Atlantica-Online has a feature that lets people watch pvp arena matches. Would it be that terrible if people could actually watch raiding guilds do their thing? They wouldn’t be able to interact with any of the action, and none of the raiders would be able to see them, but they could have a “ghost” avatar that could tag along as a spectator.

    • bhagpuss says:

      Guild Wars has this for PvP matches. I used to use it quite often. It’s a nice addition.

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