Archive for July 13th, 2009

After I read much fussing and whining about Blizzard’s proposed change to WoW allowing players to switch faction (Horde to Alliance or vice versa), a thought coalesced in my mind.  (Though maybe I was just hungry.)

I want a different kind of cheese out of the World of Warcraft, or any other MMO, for that matter.  (Whether that’s cheese to go with maze running or whining, it works either way.)

The dominant MMO design ethos is one of a drip feed of rewards, where anything and nearly everything is rewarded somehow on the inexorable and execrable slog to conformity at the level cap, when everyone’s Super (with or without purple capes).  It’s a great little Pavlovian treadmill that has sucked in a lot of people to the tune of $15/month, so I don’t dispute the success of the model.  It’s just not what I’m looking for.

It’s American Cheese when I want something like… Gorgonzola.  It’s a highly processed, plastic experience, when I’m looking for something more organic, variable and interesting… and even a little crazy.  (Eating mold is a little crazy.)

I want these MMO things to be fun to play, not tightly scripted treadmills that play on my canine Pavlovian tendencies.  The current WoW design ethos that focuses on rewards over actually playing is a huge factor in all the whining that comes up when things change in the game.  It’s behind Achievements and guild application drama.  It’s behind the inane arguments over “nerfing raids” and “devaluing accomplishments”.  It’s behind the idiotic PTR culture that is really just a microcosm of the game at large.  It’s behind all the preening and posturing that make high level players so annoying.  It’s behind the hardcore/casual debate, since obviously people have to be playing it the way X is playing it, or else the rewards don’t mean anything.  (Since complaining about how someone else plays is ridiculous, the debate is shifted to the notion of keeping the rewards “fair”… as if that meant anything objective.)  It’s behind the complaints about faction shifting (and my proposed ability to change class), since obviously grinding up a new alt is the Only Way to Do it Right.  It’s behind those who defend the grind as “The Right Way” to play because it’s how they did it and everyone knows through self-evident reasoning that their own way to play is the only True Enlightened way to play an MMO.  (And further, if an MMO doesn’t support that style of play, it’s not a real MMO.)

It’s all just so much… SPAM.

I want an MMO that embodies what Wolfshead is arguing over here:  that Players Need to be the Ultimate Content for MMOs.  The game will need to be fun to play, and fun to keep playing, without resorting to cheap parlor tricks of drop rates, rep grind and alts.  They will need to be organic, dynamic, living worlds to play with friends in when the real world just won’t do for whatever reason.  They will let players change the game world and be the content because they are the prime movers of the game world, not a content-creating cube jockey with a Vision for How Things Work.  The reward will be the joy derived from playing the game and acting, not reacting.

Tangentially, the whole “group vs solo” debate can largely be solved by shifting the reward to the fun of playing as well.  One huge part of the debate is the notion of balancing rewards and how players inevitably optimize the fun out of the game.  In a game designed from the ground up to be all about min/maxing, is it really a surprise that there will be those who get offended when their playstyle isn’t the optimal one?  The only “incentive” that works to get solo players to group is for it to actually be fun to do so. Luring people into group situations with the promise of better loot is what causes the mercenary PUG nonsense, where loyalty and friendship only last as long as the rewards keep coming.

I’m probably just wishing for unicorns here, but if there are plenty of things to do in a fantasy world that let players simply have fun acting in the world, whether solo or in groups, then the very fluid notion of “fun” and playing can be the reward, rather than trying to quantify and compare via epic loot.  If people can get past obsessing about the rewards, they might just find that complaining about someone else’s notion of fun really is as silly as it sounds.  (To be fair, griefing is still something that needs to be kept under thumb.)

I know, some people consider the conditioned response set of the DIKUDing treadmill to be “fun”, but it’s just such a shallow experience that I’m not buying it, myself.  I’m certainly not paying for it.  I can pat myself on the back for free, thanks.  Some might argue that their game needs a way to keep score, or else it isn’t a game.  Perhaps, but it’s been my experience that setting your own goals makes for a lot more meaning when you get around to achieving them.

The MMO that can truly leverage the notion of playing with other people (directly or indirectly, group or “solo play in the same world as others”) in an interesting, dynamic, Gorgonzlolic virtual world will be the one that can capture my attention.  (Ysh, I promise I didn’t swipe Gorgonzola from your article, this one of mine has been in the pipe for two weeks now… funny how that works out.)  I haven’t found it yet, and nothing in the pipeline that I’ve seen even hints at coming close.  I see prettier treadmills and plenty of American Cheese…

and I’m hungry.

So I keep looking, keep theorizing, keep tinkering.  And I keep my money.  If nothing else, American Cheese MMOs are good for that; they help me save money and give me grist for the blog mill.  I guess I can’t complain too much.

*Yes, the book illustrating job is going again, and I’m still busy without blogging.  This just bugged me enough to write about it, consolidating a few thought threads that have been floating about for a while.  And yes, it’s an opinion piece with plenty of links rather than anything academic.  The irony doesn’t escape me.*

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