Thursday, June 17, 2010

Why MMOs make you a Crap Gamer

Those that know me know I play a lot of games. I’m not that good at many games but I sure enjoy playing them! What I want to talk about today is a specific genre of game. The MMO.

I put a couple of years into World of Warcraft but I never had enough time to be “hardcore” and what free time I did grab for WoW was to the detriment of my relationship. But I honestly thought this game was simply the best thing since Malt, Hops and Barley were mixed together in water!

When I first loaded it up using a free trail from a friend (isn’t that always the way?), I remember being a little disappointed. The pace of the game play was deliberately slow and the combat was quite abstracted from the user input, this I later figured out was to accommodate for laggy internet connections but it really made the game feel less immediate. Despite this initial disappointment I remember rushing to level 10 driven largely, I must say in an effort to be useful to my friends who were already well into the game.

Then when I did meet up with them I remember them laughing at my lame gear, which sent me off again in search of upgrades. Well that pretty much set me on the treadmill. From there on out I was chasing the twin carrots of levelling up and better gear, so I could be more useful to my regular playing group.

It eventually occurred to me I was doing the same things over and over. The same three or four button combos to down an enemy, repeating the same instances hoping for the right item to drop from a boss. So many hours wasted just seeking an item that would allow me to down an enemy a few seconds faster. But because of the hours I’d sunk and my regular playing group, I attached immense personal value to the fruits of my virtual labours.

Eventually though I did just crack. When I saw the treadmill for what it was, I just couldn’t be bothered to sink the hours required to gain a better grade of gear.

I then moved on to games with more responsive controls and less “hamster on a wheel” style game play and I had a ball!

I’ve concluded; the MMO essentially rewards crap play, almost as well as skilful play. You can achieve maximum level in an MMO regardless of skill level. It’s in the developer’s interest to never make you feel like giving up you are paying a monthly fee to play their game after all.

Once I moved on from WoW I found really challenging multiplayer games like Soul Calibur 4 or Dawn of War 2 so much more rewarding. There is no persistence in these more challenging games but I didn’t miss it at all, I felt so much better when I was able to be competitive on an even footing.

To be competitive in an MMO you need to chase the correct gear, you can chase that gear regardless of skill level and yes gear does make a huge difference. Once you have the correct gear and know the correct combat rotation, there’s not much else left to do.

What threw this into stark relief for me was the Dawn of War 2 mod; The Last Stand. It takes the DOW2 engine and creates a survival mod where you fight waves and waves of enemies while also adding RPG-like persistence, that is, they tacked on a levelling up component. As you level up you get better gear and can thus survive longer. Making you value levelling up more. It was like a tiny MMO where it only takes a couple of days to hit max level. Then seeing how many people could get to level 20 but still be quite awful at the game it all became clear...

MMOs are dumbing gamers down.

Gamers no longer compete on a level playing field; it’s no long a finely balanced scale of skill and luck. If you find an area challenging just stick with the game long enough, you’ll be able to come back with a higher level character and better gear and kick some ass.

The tendency to introduce elements of persistence in modern games is sold as “adding replay value” to the game. But really it’s a potentially harmful concession to the lowest common denominator. Give me games that require skill, I’ll find my own replay value!

Anyway I’m off now to play Dungeons and Dragons Online! :P

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