Friday, October 2, 2009

Social shortcomings of MMO's

I've been listening to several WoW/MMO podcasts during the last week. In fact, about two a day, as I found out I can do that while driving to/from work. Interesting things have popped out and come up, and I have to apologize for not remembering where the ideas came.

However, the butterfly effect of all what I have hear and read over the week has made a connection with real game incidents and caused this post.

I have come to the conclusion that there are in fact three games in a DikuMUD type MMO like WoW (WoW being my main example because, well, I play it and blog about it):
1. Levelling game
2. Gearing game
3. 'End game', which is actually the continuation of the gearing game.

The shift from levelling game to gearing game is very drastic: it requires the player to change their perspective of the game and the way they play it immensely. It hit me very hard, and last night my brother Bishopgeorge got enough of the change. He, as a healer (disc priest), has been taking the blame for failed pugs and runs for the last week or so, even though I know he can heal in a very, very difficult situations. But his performance as discipline priest in 5mans isn't enough for the pugging people on the server we're in. Knowing he's very pedantic about his performance and gaming, his announcement to me to retire from the capped game struck me very hard.

Granted, his gear is suboptimal, crafted and quest rewards mainly, which isn't enough at the cap. And this difference (you gear isn't enough like it was enough while levelling) really hits hard when you think you can enter the normal 5mans at the cap. It just isn't so.

I thought earlier that it's just tanks who suffer from this, but obviously it isn't. The gearing game is the primary part of the 'End Game', which gets longer and longer the older the capped content gets. Blizzard has tried to ease that up by creating artificial loot piñatas like ToC's and Onyxia, but getting into those even you have to have certain level of gear to be accepted into the groups doing the content.

If not, you are the blame of the week.

In Shut Up We're Talking episode #54 there was an interesting discussion about the social game in MMO's and Richard from Middle-Earth Adventurer made some interesting points in the blogpost which was discussed about. He states very clearly -and with a good example- that the social experience within the game enhances the gaming experience and gives him more reason to really adventure in the content he has played already. The idea is along the same route I have been posting earlier about, too, as I find it much more rewarding to play in a group and laugh at the stupid things you might end up doing.

When you're in a similar minded group the dying itself is a very funny thing. A sideshow to success which comes from effort put to down the boss, kind of.

The group effort and social contacts are something our current MMO's do not have any mechanic for. Sure, there are guilds, chat channels, friend lists and such, but the game mechanics actually reward you for soloing the content (faster levelling game), being selfish (faster gearing game) and raiding with the best possible players (end game content, giving the reason to call others 'noobs'). All this takes the fun out of the game and puts addictive game elements in.

The switch from levelling game to gearing game would be a lot easier with proper social tools and social awareness of the level capped population. Instead of being only interested in their own advancement (which is natural and human to an extent) there should be a way to reward the helping and advancing others, too. Now it is left to the few magnificent souls who try to help the unknown without any personal gain or reward.

And -like in Bishopgeorge's case- it isn't necessarily enough.

Sure, it's easy to say that he should have stayed out of PUG's and stuck to the guild runs. But this is where I see the WoW's mechanics failing: the change from 'easy mode' levelling game to 'look for yourself' gearing game is way too abrupt and the paradigm shift is supposed to happen over dinging in a way: nothing prepares you to the fact that you should have grinded the reputations to get at least adequate gear to start with, or that you should have been pugging and enduring the abuse several levels earlier to gain anywhere near appropriate gear to start with.Especially when the levelling up in Northrend is fast enough for you to overlevel the content altogether (heck, I went through three areas from 70 to 80 and visited one instance en route to cap!).

There is a tutorial on how to play the toon and how to use the skills you gain, but there is no tutorial on how or where to get the gear you need to succeed in the gearing game. Not ingame at least. And that is a severe lack in the WoW's in game mechanics, I think. I mean, what is a game in which you cannot play properly without reading extensive amount of off game material?

To ease your mind, dear reader, I can tell you that the guild we're in took the issue seriously. When Bishopgeorge logs in the next time, he will be expected and treated 'well' to ease his anxiety and rage. While I agree with him that when the game becomes too serious and like work, losing the fun in it, it's time to step back and do what is fun, I know that the most fun in the game comes from the social playing. The guild is that instance which enables the social, mutual gain game, and that is what I want the Three Stooges to be part of.

A greater community of good people playing the game together.