Toldain Talks

Because reading me sure beats working!


Toldain started as an Everquest character. I've played him in EQ2, WoW, Vanguard, LOTRO, and Zork Online. And then EVE Online, where I'm 3 million years old, rather than my usual 3000. Currently I'm mostly playing DDO. But I still have fabulous red hair. In RL, I am a software developer who has worked on networked games, but not MMORPGS.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Grindstones and Noses

Tipa has been complaining about level grinding.

I’ve had my level 75 cleric on Luclin for about… four months now. The level cap on EverQuest is 80. There have been three expansions since I last played her, The Serpent’s Spine, The Buried Sea and Secrets of Faydwer (I played TSS just long enough to get to level 75). A new expansion, Seeds of Destruction is about to come out.

And I don’t care. I haven’t even joined one group her level. Because I know what my job will be — sitting on my ass watching other people have fun while I press the heal button occasionally.

That character is, if you couldn't guess, a cleric. In EQ, not EQ2.

Just counting my main characters, I figure I have heard the ding 2270 times (counting AAs in the EQa). And that’s really low, since I have bunches of alts in every game I didn’t count. Also that doesn’t count DAoC, FFXI, LotRO or the others. Call it 3000 times counting everything.

Color me impressed. I might have 1000 levels, if you count AA's and toons in all games. But then, I try to never grind levels as the reason for fighting. In consequence, I level more slowly. I try to do something that I think will be fun. If I can't have fun logging on, I don't do it.

I can't say I blame Tipa for this attitude, it's easy to feel led around by the nose.

It's very hard not to get caught up in it anyway, and I celebrated when I hit the level cap. First of all, leveling gives you lots of positive feedback. You get new or improved skills, you get more hit points, and there is a very pleasing sound played in your ears. We are all being trained by the game companies to play again, and play more effectively, even though only a few of us are actually Ratonga. We're being dragged around by our behavioral noses, or should that be whiskers?

And there are lots of social rewards and pressures. You want to keep up with your friends who are leveling. There is significant social status to be had by dinging 80, and by getting the kewl l00t. There's always the question of competition, and trying to be the first, or top 10 or 100. Competition is a great social motivator. If you fall behind, you will have a harder time getting folks to group with, and after all, isn't that why you play this game? Ouch, you've got my social nose, and your rubbing it on that grindstone.

On the other hand, all these rewards result in extrinsic motivation. Research on heavily reward-based behavior in schools shows that explicit rewards both increase the amount of behavior (in this case, leveling, e.g., playing the game), and result in burnout, which I would describe as an abrupt cessation of the desired behavior. Somehow, when the rewards are explicit, it stops being play and starts being work.

When the only reason that you do things is because its fun to do it, and you are playing around, then there's less burnout.

Two former guildies, Chuman and Cosecha (of Butcherblock) run the guild Lineage. They raid weeknights. But Chuman has said to me, and others, "It's not about the drops, it's about the kill." This is what I would call intrinsice motivation. That group has learned together, improved their game, adjusted their strats, and overcome pretty much all the toughest obstacles in the game, while becoming better friends and have a really good time with one another. I've been on a few of their raids, I know both how good they are and how much fun they have. That's what I'd call intrinsic motivation. It can still exist in the game.

Unfortunately, I can see several business advantages to features of games that I don't especially like:

  • Level grinding keeps more people in the game longer. Which keeps them as paying customers longer. As does the raiding grind.

  • Deeply leveled characters represent a big investment of time and emotional energy, not to mention money. People will be less likely to walk away from them and stop paying their monthly fee.

  • Games that can't be soloed effectively will have fewer players, because most players are group-averse.

    There are good reasons for being a little aversive to a pickup group, and voice chat only makes it worse. Coarse, rude, and offensive speech is often greatly mitigated when people have to type it. But when they can just push a button and babble away, you end up with lots more of it, and none of it is reportable.

    Also, skill level varies greatly, and in most current games, the best way to grief people is to group with them, ninja loot, overpull, get everyone killed, and then whine in broadcast chat about how you want a good group. So people are group-averse. Hence, a group-centric game, while it would promote group-oriented players, would also restrict playership.

  • An increased death penalty would increase the tension involved with dangerous situations, and encourage better play. Of course, It would also mean more unhappy players mad at the game company for making things so hard. And it would make players even more conservative about grouping, and give greater scope to ingroup griefing. Is this the path to greater revenue for your game company? I think not.

Sorry for the burst of cynical pessimism. There might be a game design out there that solves some or all of these problems. It might not be a persistent world mmo, who knows? I think it might take a game company that is willing to think a little smaller, accept a niche role. Tipa is looking at a lot of the play-for-free games out there, that's probably a good direction. Especially for those of us with sore noses.

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Anonymous Tipa said...

Thanks for the love :)

A lot of people have recommended Guild Wars to me. I don't know if that's the answer to everything, but it has a lot of really vocal fans.

Another reason I haven't been LFG with my cleric that I didn't mention in my post was the fear that I will be drawn in again. Logging in night after night because people I enjoy being with are depending on me. Strapped to that grindstone, as you say, by bonds of friendship.

And that isn't so bad a prospect, really, except that it hands control of my free time to other people, which will eventually cause me to resent the game and stop playing :/

5:39 AM  

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