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Posts Tagged ‘tourism’

In a sense, are we not all MMO tourists?  We don’t really live lives as citizens of a virtual world, we just punch the clock and reel in the loot, saving the real citizens who just won’t stay saved from threats that just won’t go away. (Does the Lich King have Joker Immunity?)

Some MMOs have player housing, but for the most part, that housing is less a measure of citizenship and more of a trophy room or Simsish minigame.  Some games even use housing as a currency/time sink, charging “property tax” for the privilege of maintaining the place.

What is citizenship, though?  What is the point of taxes in the real world?  What do they buy?

Perhaps oversimplified, I view citizenship as a state of being where people who live within a community take an active interest in that community.  It is a mixture of responsibility and reward.  Citizens are not only interested in the people but also the place and the governing policies of the local politics, likely also the history of their chosen locale.  This is manifest in simple ways like picking up the trash as you walk past or cheering for local football teams, and in more significant ways, like taking part in politics or local business.  There are very good reasons to “buy local” and support your neighbors, since you’re stuck with them if the larger political structures collapse.

This sense of spatial importance is one significant thought process where rivalries and wars tend to stem from.  After all, few things are more visceral than protecting your home turf.  Personal insults can slide, but challenges to your space are immediate and tend to elicit stronger responses.  Barbarians or undead at the gates tend to prompt action.  It’s also easy to demonize the “other” who lives over thataway.  If there’s not someone somewhere else to criticize, we may have to own up to our own flaws.

Taxes are a way for the government to respond to those threats, imagined or imminent.  Not everyone wants to serve a stint in the military, after all, or work on infrastructure.  Taxes are the cost of living somewhere, and they go to maintaining, protecting and improving that place.  (…at least in concept.  The reality doesn’t always correlate, but I’m not really angling to flame broil well nurtured beefs with taxation and representation today.)

So, what exactly is the point of maintenance costs on MMO housing?  What does it do beside keep the place impossibly clean and perfectly locked in a pocket universe?  Maybe that’s all that it needs to do, but what if property tax in an MMO actually were tied to a place, and players had more citizenship within those places?  What if it meant something to the rest of how you played?

To be sure, the lion’s share of that concept weighs on the shoulders of the players.  Still, if there were game design mechanics to make place matter, and give players a reason to take up citizenship in certain places, what might that do for factional warfare and immersion?  Could there be local politics, either NPC or PC based, where elections have a real impact on gameplay?  Could home town pride make PvP more interesting and impactful?  What if you could raze enemy players’ houses to the ground, and rebuild your own when the inevitable retaliation hits?  What if that were subverted by paying taxes, with an NPC security force?  What if you had to pay the salary of Stormwind guards?

…some of that sounds pretty onerous, actually.  Not unlike really being a citizen and giving a flying feline fiddly bit about politics.  But what if a game could capture the good parts without the costs?  Is it possible to make location an important thing again in these MMO worlds, beyond just finding the sweet grinding spot or binding to Dalaran so you can get to the best vendors?  Can PvP be interesting and tied to a location without being a huge inconvenience and griefing tool?

Do we care where we are in MMO worlds, or are we just passing through, looking for the next sweet loot drop?

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Game Tourism

Bartle thinks I’m an Explorer.  (EASK 100/50/50/0, to be precise.)  I spend more time looking around and taking screenshots in MMOs than any other activity.  I love sites like this:

Postcards From Azeroth

The WoW Map Viewer makes me very happy.  (Of course, it’s broken for patch 3.2, which makes me a sad carebear, but since it’s a labor of love, I can’t really complain.)

To me, the most interesting part of an MMO, and most other games, is the worldbuilding involved.  Some of that is due to my career (I’m an artist in the game industry), some of it is just personal preference.  A large part of it is due to my constrained gaming time and very low tolerance for grind and abusive game design.

Shamus of Twenty Sided fame has a great Escapist article up on this, coming at it from the angle of wanting an “I Win” button.

I wholeheartedly agree with the sentiment.  I’ve matured past the point of wanting to prove my self worth by conquering an abusive video game.  (Truth be told, I hated it back in the NES Ninja Gaiden days.  I didn’t quite have words to express it then, I just knew that I liked some of the game and hated the “gotcha” moments and “Do It Again, Stupid” gameplay.)  I detest grind (known as “do the same thing over and over so you can qualify to do something else”).  I can’t stand memorization as a general rule, so long “Quicktime” events bother me.

I come to something like WoW or Guild Wars and want to spend a lot of time looking around.  I’m a tourist, that’s what I do.  It’s a matter of priorities.  I don’t care for the mindless treadmills that pass for “gameplay” or the puerile cesspool that passes for “community” in most games.  I want to see what the devs put together, and how their worldbuilding comes together.

Devs, if you believe that you have an interesting setting and great game world, let me look around in it.  Let me see it at my leisure and poke around the fringes.  Stop pushing me through cattle runs and Achievement galleries.  Let Team Ninja do the whole “we’re the Dev Gods, kiss our feet” routine wherein the player has to qualify via self-flagellation to see your magnum opus.  Players bought the game, let them play it and see what you made.  Some players are masochists, sure, but if you want to make money in the mainstream, realize that those players aren’t the bulge of the bell curve.

Devs, if players who have purchased your game are only seeing half of it because they don’t have da skillz to see the rest, you ripped them off.

So, how about some potential fixes for the problem?  Complaining is cheap and easy, right?

I worked on Tiger Woods for the PS2, and we had a “dev cam” that we could take control of and look around the scene.  This was a vital tool for us to actually see what was going on with our art, and how we could fix things.  I want that as a player.  Make it a cheat, fine, but give me control of the camera for when I just want to look around.  I can promise you that I’ll have a greater appreciation for the artistry involved with the game if you let me study it, especially if you let me pause the game and then take control of the camera.  (Frame by frame control would be brilliant, too.)

It’s scary, since some visual elements are indeed constructed like Potemkin Villages, and letting players look “behind the curtain” to see the wizardry might feel a little… drafty.  Thing is, in a world ever more preprocessed and spun into superficiality, I think that some players would appreciate such candor.

For MMOs, let me buy levels, or just do away with the gating grinds in the first place.  Ultimately, what would be great is if there were a Map Viewer in every MMO.  It doesn’t need to affect the live game (though a “Ghost Mode” would be great).  In games where moment to moment tactical information is important to conceal for playability, an offline Viewer would be perfect.

Make all of the cinematics available from the start.  If someone wants to spoil the story, that’s their choice.  If they don’t understand the context because they didn’t play through some parts, maybe that’s a good reason for them to go back and play the game some more and have a bit of fun playing through. 

(Tangent:  Why are these heavy story-based games pretty much just “story for a while then game for a while, the two rarely mixing”?  One simple reason is that interactive stories would require a lot of permutations to work and that gets expensive.  So, if you’re going with the traditional “play game, play movie, repeat” route, let gamers skip the game part if they so want.  And vice versa, to be sure, let players skip any cinematic they so choose.)

Adjustable difficulties are another great tool, adjustable at any time.  (Or as close to any time as possible.)

Invincibility codes are the baseline on this one (at least for single player games).  It’s an absolute minimum, and it should be hardcoded into the game itself, and noted in the instruction manual.  No Game Shark, no hex editing.

In an age when we can pause live TV and many people buy DVDs for the extras, I still find it odd that we don’t actually have more control in games.  You know, those silly entertainment things that are all about letting the end user control the experience?  Devs, if you’re trying to force your players into narrower and narrower chutes, perhaps you should be making movies.  Let game designers do their job.

And let the players look around and play.

Addendum:  What about a game that is all about giving players control of pausing time and not just looking around, but playing in those interstitial chronological spaces?  Think The Matrix meets Okami.  (I never thought I’d make that particular pairing.)

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