Friday, September 21, 2007

The optimizer craze

Oakstout is absolutely right when he says that MMOs, including WoW, aren't easy by nature. In most big-budget MMOs, players can choose their own difficulty through simple and obvious gameplay choices. Even "solo classes", like the warrior, can be made difficult by choosing to fight more powerful NPCs or by choosing gear with more in mind than just number-crunching.

It's the player culture that has grown around the games. This culture expects players to optimize, rather than choose whatever class, skillset, or gear that entertains each individual most.

If you don't pick the optimal skills, the optimal gear, and so on, then other players give you hell about it constantly and sometimes even exclude you from their group/raid. If you're not interested in the quests with optimal xp and loot, you're probably going to be soloing... because odds are that nobody will want to come with you.

When I played EQ2, I used to hunt a lot in the Commonlands. I wasn't running back to town every 10 minutes to pick up another quest. I was just hunting; freely, without NPC guidance. Yes, that denied me the great quest xp, but it allowed me to play the game at a quicker pace and pick the NPCs I was personally interested in fighting. While other players were farming one type of enemy over and over and over, I was over in the savannah area... killing whatever came my way and enjoying a more dynamic experience (there was a greater variety of creatures there; and they wandered, rather than sitting around to be farmed -- meaning I actually had to watch my back for a change, which was fun).

I was enjoying the content my own way. Only twice was I able to entice other players into joining me. And they all commented on how refreshing it was to be able to wander and not be worried about the path some developer lined up for them. Of course, they did eventually feel the call of faster levelling awaiting them back with the quest NPCs.

Developers encourage players to optimize, to number-crunch, and to focus on meta-game information. If levelling wasn't designed to be such a dominant goal... if gear choices weren't designed to be all about upping the numbers... if quests weren't designed as merely xp-and-loot chests in disguise, then perhaps the MMO player culture would have turned out differently.

I'm sure we could all blame it on our D&D roots. There were a lot of things I really loved about that game when I played it over a decade ago, but the whole "Shortsword +1, Shortsword +2" nonsense was not among them even then. I understand why it gets repeated sometimes, but I have trouble believing everyone is still doing that because there's no viable alternative. There are other ways.

Sometime next week, I'll start looking back over my blogs and notes. I'll briefly outline the many aspects of current MMO models that I want to see buried. No, let me rephrase that: beaten, bloodied, burned, and then buried. After that, I'll start laying out the tweaks and (perhaps more often) the replacement systems I hope to implement as soon as Metaplace comes around.

I'm going to be designing for me. I'm going to try to make the sort of game I want to play; and that's going to mean some radical movements away from past games. If I can get it right, maybe I can prove that player cultures can learn to enjoy MMOs without optimizing and number-crunching.

P.S. I'm moving out of my apartment this weekend, so don't be surprised if I'm a little scarce over the next few days. Though, honestly, I wouldn't be surprised if I put off all the packing I need to do until tomorrow night. =P

1 comment:

  1. I actually had someone say to me that End game wasn't about skill, but about gear. Which in fact is true and sad at the same time.

    But you have to know your role in that raid inorder to be asked back. I'm trying to learn mine in the Kara group I run with, but sometimes after spending all day Soloing, I tend to be over enthusiastic about casting spells, and I've been bitch slapped by mobs for my troubles. (Again, another arguement that even if you do lots of instances, you still have to relearn your role in a raid group)

    But the arguement can also be said, that if I'm drawing agro off the main tank, why isn't the main tank fixing that problem on his end?


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