Burning through the pages

It’s Monday morning as I am writing these words, so be warned dear reader, because this is a grumpy Monday morning post. To honor code and good manners, I should ask first mayhaps how you have been, or more precisely how your weekend was and where your path has taken you – across the planes of Telara? Or maybe down into the Maelstrom of Azeroth? Up a mountain somewhere here on planet earth, down to the city, out to the sea?

And did you burn a lot of content along the way? 

When Gods become consumers

Once upon a time there was an MMORPG that gave players a basic, functional setting and stage: a beautiful world of rock and stone, with maps and towns, woods, mountains and seas and a few roads to travel them. And the woods would be populated by beasts and animals and the towns would be bustling with vendors and tradefolk and the odd, suspicious looking traveler or merry minstrel in front of a tavern. And from there the world was the player’s: to explore, to do with and shape as he cared for, to build alliances and establish trades, to command and conquer, to build or destroy, to settle treaties or rage war against one another, within a ruleset and handful of laws.

And so life on that world was never-ending; as endless as the playerbase cared to make it and create their own adventures. There was no content to “finish” and no final goal to “beat”, because the heart of the MMORPG was a second world, not a high score or ending credits like for other, traditional games. Content was created while and through playing, making the player not just a hero inside a story, but hero and God of a much greater story.

That was a long time ago.

If you can burn through it, it’s because it tastes of nothing

Reading through Wolfshead’s most recent article, I came a cross a line that outraged me like no other, elaborated in more detail in a short commentary over at Gamasutra. And it wasn’t so much the whole shallow explanation attempt behind Blizzard’s reasoning, but the wording itself, the greater mindset and concept behind lines such as these:

“And so I think with Cataclysm they were able to consume the content faster than with previous expansions, but that’s why we’re working on developing more content.”

“We need to be faster at delivering content to players,” he added. “And so that’s one of the reasons that we’re looking to decrease the amount of time in-between expansions.”

Our player, the consumer. Our player, that hungry animal who’s wolfing down our content so fast, we have to keep throwing it at him faster and faster.

Without realizing it, the developers have not only reduced their playerbase to an insatiable cookie monster, but degraded themselves and their product to nothing but a fast food-delivery service, more scripted than ever, less dynamic and alive than ever. And like with all food that is so processed that’s it’s completely “dead” and devoid of any nutrition, Blizzard need more and more of it to keep their spoiled yet malnourished customers content. They have created their own vicious circle and now they suffer from the pressure to deliver at increasing speed. An entirely self-created pressure, because they want to do everything and let us do very little.

The player is no God in their world. He does not interact with it, only consume, he does not co-create anything, not cook his own food. It’s like eating 5 burgers a day and no workout on the side either. What’s the point of fantasy worlds if they start resembling downsides of the real one? Will future developers be forced to create “Slim-Fast”-servers to re-introduce overfed players to a more balanced MMO “lifestyle” and re-adjust things back to a more active and healthy playing environment? Metaphorically speaking?

Burning through the pages

Tonight after my work’s done, I will rush off to the local bookstore in town to pick up the sequel of “The Name of the Wind”, Patrick Rothfuss’ formidable debut fantasy novel of his Kingkiller Chronicles. I have burned through the pages of the first book this weekend, over 600 pages in merely two days – it’s been this gripping and entertaining, and overall I was just happy to read some solid high fantasy again after a longer drought in this particular corner of the genre. The second book is apparently even longer and I have no doubt that I will devour it like the first one. Then it’s over and finished until the author releases the next part in a couple of years.

And that’s okay – because it’s his story and his world, he’s the master of all things there, of a story that’s already been told. I’m merely a spectator he’s inviting to enter, I can make it a walk or rush-through, but either way my time there is limited. And you wouldn’t go and ask for more from a book; one volume, one ride for which you pay one time.

It’s okay to consume a book.

8 comments

  1. While some of the expansions may have taken a bit longer than one would have liked to come out, I don’t like the idea of them churning them out at a high pace either.

    The same with patches.

    Maybe it’s because I’m not in a high-end guild that’s always defeating the bosses within a couple of weeks of them being released. Maybe it’s because I don’t play only one character..

    But I enjoy having some time to play the content, sit around and smell the roses if you will. I don’t want to feel rushed, having to complete things at X pace or I’ll be left behind as the next patch or expansion hits.

    It brings me the image of those comedy movies where they serve a multi-course meal – and the protagonist never seems to have enough time to more than dip his spoon into the soup before it’s taken away from him and the next course is set before him. He lifts his spoon to taste it, but someone’s already taking it away, bringing the next plate.

    I don’t want WoW to turn into that. I want to have time to sample my game, enjoy everything.

  2. What you mention Saga, is indeed another part of the issue that I chose to ignore in my post (not in my own comment on wolfshead though) – the question about how true it really is that the entire playerbase wants faster content and whether all of them are really as speedy as Blizzard claims. I don’t think it’s true for Cataclysm, many players and guilds feel rushed by it, when they would really like more time to play the current content.

    It’s a shame – both the rushing and the reducing things to such a level. I wonder how they can’t realize how much they’re shotting their own foot.

  3. Even though we “took our time” with the new content when Cata came out, it still didn’t take that long. They just made it too easy and too quick to level. New content will always be devoured by some; the ubers that just MUST BE FURST!!!!! But that clearly can’t be representational of the rest of the player base. I would have preferred them to made harder content or bosses or whatever compared to more of the them more regularly. That just dilutes them even more – especially as they’re just regurgitating old content over and over.

    Hate to state the obvious, but it isn’t NEW if it’s been used before.

    The players most definitely have to take some responsibility – the producer is, after all, only responding to demand. However, they need to analysis the WHY part of the question. Why do the customer’s want more? Why did they finish that last lot so quickly?

    It will never happen.

    Since leaving, what seems like an eternity ago, there hasn’t been any sort of spark that makes me want to climb on board again, that makes me want to buy-in to the story and game anymore. This has a lot to do with the current ethos which is “Quantity > quality”, or “Regurgitation > Originality” in my case.

    My question is: Is this specific to just Blizzard, or will other software designers follow the same path?

    My fear is it’s leaking out into the MMOsphere – judging by the rate of knots that Trion are releasing new content for Rift, this could be a very bad thing for MMOs as a whole

  4. “Why do the customer’s want more? Why did they finish that last lot so quickly?”

    I think the customer wants more simply because there’s nothing else to do – the onus of delivering is entirely on Blizzard. it’s all they do, they deliver the content and that’s the problem, because all the players do now is consume. and they get good at it.

    this is a problem the devs have created themselves and they even realize it. no wonder that the players are too fast if consuming is all they do and Blizzard is doing all the ‘work’. they don’t let you create anything yourself, the whole way of “getting to things” has been short-cut because the focus is on the goals – the item, the shiny, the achievement. everything keeping you from them is a “timesink”. so, the classic longterm MMO aspects like story, simulation or need for cooperation have been cut down, they’re not in the center of focus anymore. it’s all item-centric.

    there’s pretty much zero impact and player generated content in today’s WoW. so naturally, if the players arent part of creating things, you are hard pressed to deliver content. it shouldn’t be like that. they’re throwing quantity at people, in form of moar quests, moar bosses, moar items because the true longterm ‘hooks’ that create depth are missing from the game.
    where do you still invest time to create anything in WoW, instead of harvesting and going for stuff that’s already there? the only thing I can still think of is the organisational aspects of raidguilds. and even that you can mostly circumvent if you care to.

  5. I find it hard to consume content if I’m creating it.

    …that’s probably why I spend more time making games than playing them. It’s more fun, and I have total control over not only the throttle but also the spigot.

    Tangentially, I have little sympathy for the argument that the game is too easy. It’s trivially easy to make the game harder on yourself, but far too many players seem to want the game to bring everything to them, including challenge. Whatever happened to the idea of challenging one’s self? So, if we’re talking about going out and finding adventure, I’d say that’s already possible, albeit not to the degree I’d like, to be sure, given the incredibly static world.

    Oh, and if they would drop the subscription and charge for content, it would matter far less how quickly (or slowly) players consume it.

  6. “I find it hard to consume content if I’m creating it.”

    I didin’t really mean to use the term ‘consume’ that way; I rather used it to illustrate an entirely ‘passive’ and ‘receptive’ way of playing MMOs while you just as well might ‘consume’ the game by playing it as an active partaker of the world and its story. there’s content to be found in both.

    strictly speaking, we’re consumers either way – as long as we play and pay for a product and spend time with it, we’re consumers.

    I mean to differentiate between playstyles though; one being a player who’s not looking to interact or shape a world himself, but mostly looking to ‘beat’ ready-made content put in front of him, level up fast and harvest items. you can call it the ‘gamified’ way if that suits you.

    and the other player being somebody who enjoys to generate content himself, simulate a certain amount of “life” and story, find ways to impact on the world – which is obviously hard in a static one like WoW. you ‘can’ do these things if you have a mind to, but the truth is that ‘need’ usually constitutes how far these things go and how willing others are to participate. plus some basic freedoms from the developer’s side. I can decide to set up my own alchemy shop in Elwynn forest tomorrow, but the reality of the game is that I have neither the means in terms of design, nor any way of interesting enough people to credibly run a trade in such way, given all the competition in place (shops, AH, plentiful drops) and the lack of needed cooperation.

    MMOs used to live from player generated content, social dynamics and interaction. that was the whole point? you could spend hours, days, weeks on these things with no pressure on a developer’s side to constantly release more dungeons, quests and loot to keep you busy. of course the entire world was fashioned in a different way, too – so the point is rather moot in WoW’s case as they’d basically have to start over.

  7. *chuckle*

    I don’t think we disagree. ;) That’s what I was getting at by noting that I like to create content; I’d rather be an active driver of the world.

    Indeed, I’m all for games that *facilitate* interplay and interdependence. I just draw the line at demanding it.

    So yes, I’m one of those latter players who has the itch to create and be an agent of action, not merely a passive recipient. That’s part of why I can’t stand the “the game’s too easy” argument; go make some adventure and challenge for yourself already.

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