Toldain Talks

Because reading me sure beats working!

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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, February 13, 2009

MMO's Teach the Wrong Thing?

His post is nearly two years old, so maybe it's old helmet to a lot of you, though it just came up on another mostly-non-gaming blog I read. David Sirlin writes on Gamasutra about the fact that games, all games, teach real life lessons well beyond their window dressing. And that WoW, and by extension most MMO's, teach the wrong lessons.
To paraphrase David, the bad lessons are:

  • Time spent means more than skill.

  • Groups are more important that solo.

  • Guilds are all-important and exclusive.

  • It's not enough to follow the implementation of the game, you must adhere to "Terms of Service"



So, does time spent mean more than skill, and is that a bad thing or a good thing?

Grind to 80, raid 4 times a week, as a new part time job, get your mythical. That means you're a great player, right? Do enough TSO missions that you have a full set of high-tier armor and jewelry. That also means you're a good player, right? Farm (sparklies/rares/masters) endlessly to get enough cash for the adornments you need to trick yourself out.

I don't think this is wrong, but I don't think we'll ever be shot of it. At the core, what's behind this is the idea of meaningful work. Malcolm Gladwell's latest, "Outliers" addresses the concept in explaining high performance. He cites two main criteria to define "meaningful work":
  1. The work must be complex enough to not be boring
  2. The work must show an apparent benefit: working must show that things are different somehow in a way that you like, in a way that is readily apparent to you.


Most of the stuff in MMO's qualify under that definition. Even when you are working on something very long term, you get intermediate rewards. For example, I have earned the title "Exalted" from the Concordium by grinding many many writs for the Concordium. Most of them were in Lavastorm in my low 40's. Each time I finished a writ, I got a little more status and faction. Every once in a while, I passed a new faction level, and could get new titles and house stuff. And in the end I got the title "Exalted Toldain Darkwater", which I turned on so everyone could see it.

Was that skill or just time spent? Probably some of both. Commercial MMO's that use the subscription model have a financial interest in getting their players to keep playing, so they add in these time-consuming chores. Now a title has absolutely no effect on how well your character can carry out game functions, or how valuable you are to a group or a raid.

On the other hand, endless grinds for critically important gear creates a big problem in my mind. I'm not talking about a two hour instance. The endless grind for Void Shards gives me this feeling though. As does the long faction grind necessary for the tradeskill epic, and for the best tradeskill stuff in TSO. Perhaps the problem is that it gets too repetitive, and thus, boring.

In contrast is all the stuff one needed to do to get the Hammer that ported you to Jarsath Wastes. You needed to max out 3 factions, however, you could do this by doing quests, each one which had you doing something a little different, in a slightly different place. The final quest had some fun storytelling and animation to it as well. On the whole, a medium long task, but interesting and a unique reward.

Most people are motivated strongly by peer approval and want to be seen as competent or skilled. And to the more immature and/or insecure, that means they have to have the best gear, even if it means losing sleep and having no life outside of EQ2.

Leveling seems to carry some of this time-sink function as well, though I didn't always see it that way. But I'm not normal, when I log on, I ask myself "What can I do today that would be fun?" instead of "What can I do today that will level me up, or get me better gear". But as it stands, the "Ding" from leveling and the "grats" from your guildies makes it a big, non-random reward for playing.

For all of these things, some skill is required. There is a learning curve, and being better will make things go faster. But as in life, smarts only takes you so far, and there's a point where being smarter doesn't help -- you still have to put on your hair net and get to work on the assembly line.

MMO's employ positive (and negative!) reinforcement, maybe it should have been random reinforcement? The problem with non-random reinforcement, where you get a reward every time you do the desired behavior is this: If the rewards stop, so does the behavior.

Random reinforcement, where a behavior is rewarded sometimes, on an unpredictable schedule, reinforces behavior that "has legs". The reinforced behavior will die very slowly after all rewards have been removed. In order to use this principles, MMO's would have to be rethought from the ground up. For one thing, I think you'd have to get rid of leveling and quests. Ok, but where would the fun be?

Well, I can see from the length of this post that this is a rich topic, which I will have to return to. I started out thinking "Right on!" when I read David's assertion that "Time spent is more important than skill". Unfortunately, I'm not sure that that isn't an accurate lesson about life, if not a satisfying one.

Eighty percent of success is showing up -Woody Allen

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1 Comments:

Anonymous Milia said...

Which type of quest do you prefer? One that has a ding every kill (or action) or one with the "No Quest Items Found". For people who like puzzles, that is the way to go - think Nek Castle and Unrest.

I think skill does have something to do with it. How long is an incompetent healer going to last in a raid? I think I could be a much better player if I sat down and figured out a lot of things - or read about other people figuring them out.

I hate the grind, but I also hate "No Quest Items Found".

9:53 AM  

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