I’ve written here and there about a hypothetical Harvest Moon Online MMO, spurred by the initial mention of such by Capn’ John. I see a lot of potential in an MMO that takes crafting and the economy to new levels, and I’ve perceived the Harvest Moon IP as a great way to express that idea in shorthand. Thing is, I’ve not actually played any of the games, I’ve just watched them from the outside and had friends rave about them while explaining the mechanics.
So I borrowed Harvest Moon: A Wonderful Life. I want to know what this is really all about. I started a new file, met the old groundskeeper, got the grand tour, claimed a lost puppy, met the neighbors, then went to bed, only to get up at stupid o’clock in the morning… to do chores. Wait, whut? I’ve not spent much time with the game, but the initial impression of being plopped in a static farm and being told to get to work just didn’t sit quite right with me.
So what now? I’m honestly a little baffled. I don’t see the magic. My wife apparently really likes the game, after playing it with our toddler… but I still don’t get it. She thinks I just want to kill monsters. There may be an element of that, but I play Puzzle Pirates for hours without killing anything. What gives?
Well, one, my stepfather’s parents were ranchers. I’m allergic to dang near everything in their hometown, and I’m biologically incapable of changing from a night owl schedule. I’ve tried. Maybe it’s just that farming isn’t something I want to role play because it’s not something I would actually enjoy in real life. But then, I’d not really enjoy slaughtering wildlife, either, or sailing, so I’m not sure that’s the trouble.
No, I think the trouble is the sense of obligation. I played two iterations of the Animal Crossing game, and got tired of the need to constantly weed the town and water the plants. I don’t play games to do menial chores. I don’t mind carving out a subtle life in an MMO, puttering around harvesting ore or plants in WoW or crafting for the bulk of my time, as I’ve noted before, but somehow Harvest Moon crossed my mental line into “chore” rather than “game”. I had much the same reaction to the Sims, another game that my wife enjoyed.
So yes, the line between “chore” and “Zen-like fun” is different for different people. This is nothing new… but it has given me pause and made me question a few things:
1. Saylah (rightfully, I think) has called WoW’s Daily Quests “chores”… but what if that is the gameplay for some people? Does anyone really log in just to do the Dailies, not because they need gold, but because they enjoy them for what they are?
2. Raiders have appropriated the “farming” terminology for dungeons they have mastered to the point of triviality. Do they enjoy playing them still, or are they just “chores” to complete to pass the gear checks of later dungeons? I think the terminology is telling, and I suspect that more often than not, this sort of “farming” is more akin to “chores” than “fun repetition”.
3. If somehow a Harvest Moon Online made it to market (or something very much like it), what form would it take? Would it consist of repetitive menial tasks, or would it place players in a bit more of an automated role, hiring grunt labor and managing the ledgers? EVE Online is occasionally called “a spreadsheet with spaceships”… but y’know, some people like that. An open market can be a heady playground for certain people. (Not just psychopaths like Bernie Madoff or Henry Paulson.) Would HMO offer both grunt labor positions and managerial spots?
I can admit that I might like a personal farm if I could control more than HM:AWL gave me; I want to decide where the buildings go, how the farm is laid out, that sort of thing. Ditto for housing. That game didn’t give me such freedom, so it felt more constrained, and more like getting fitted for a job, rather than being given freedom to play around.
4. What about crafting? Certainly the WoW crafting system is pretty mindless, but some people slog on through for the high end goodies. (And repeat the process each expansion.) Does anyone really enjoy crafting itself in WoW? What about EQ2? I’ve heard that system is more involved… is it more fun? Not the marketing of the stuff you make and use or take to market, is the crafting itself fun? Crafting in Puzzle Pirates means playing the minigame puzzles, but then, so does nearly everything else. That one’s very WYSIWYG when it comes to gameplay.
5. Most importantly, what is it that I find interesting in the Harvest Moon IP and its potential applications for an MMO? I’m still sorting that one out…
…for now, though, I like the potential of giving more control to the whole food chain of an economy, and the ability to carve out a fulfilling life in a fantasy world that doesn’t involve attempted genocide. Would it seem like doing chores to some? Probably. In my mind, I tend to think that any of these subsectors of MMO world creation can be made interesting to play in and of itself, as well as a component to a larger, organic whole. I’m just not quite convinced that pulling weeds and milking cows is exactly what I want to do. I’m more of a spreadsheet guy, I guess, for better or worse.
Those of you who are dreaming of Harvest Moon, what is it about the IP that makes it appealing, and how would it work as an MMO? I refer here to Capn’ John’s excellent article on the same, for a great starting point:
It’s funny… I’m not really sold on the gameplay myself, but it’s still intriguing enough to want to dig into it for game design reasons. I’m trying to understand the appeal, I really am.