Category Archives: Gamification

MMO Heartbreak

This Tuesday Bhagpuss over at Inventory Full revisited the topic of MMO fatigue or rather I would call it disenchantment, that phenomenon all of us who have played in virtual worlds for a while, know so well and keep wrestling with. It is a well-argued post beautifully written and full of heartbreak by one of my favourite (and most prolific) writers of the blogosphere. If you do not follow Bhag yet, now’s the time to amend that. His words rang wistfully in my ears for the rest of the day. To highlight just a few of them:

 I used to abandon plans just because I saw someone having a tough time. They wouldn’t even need to be asking for help. I knew things and I wanted to share. I had a Chipped Bone Rod and I knew how to use it and what’s more I knew where to take you so you could buy one too. I knew how to get to the sewers under Qeynos and I knew how to get out the other side. I knew barbarians couldn’t see in the dark, while my half-elf had infravision, and even though I’d only just met you I trusted you to give me back my Greater Lightstone at the end of the tunnel to Blackburrow because otherwise what were you going to do? Stay in Everfrost the rest of your life?

That was when we were all living a shared imaginary life in a shared imaginary world. Before we all started playing games. How long did that last, really? That it took years to wind down to an ending is maybe the most amazing thing of all.

And we miss it so much. Perhaps that’s why we chase every new game almost before it appears, hoping we’ll catch the unicorn by the tail and swing back astride before it vanishes around the corner, yet again. All we get are a few strands of silver that quickly lose their shine or, worse, a thumping kick, a humiliating stumble, a painful fall.
[Read the full article here]

The waning star of the magical MMO experience, we have all felt its decline. The more veteran the player, the keener that sting becomes over time. We wonder whether it’s us or the games or everyone, we lament how all things change and people move on, yes the good ones too. I’m with Bhagpuss in acknowledging such a thing as unique collective experiences in time that cannot be reproduced. There is a singular nostalgia reserved for members of the first hour. I do however hold the conviction that there will always be new and great games for somebody.

Each time I think of WoW, I’m so so glad I was there for vanilla. And yeah, TBC was good too and WotLK was great in places; but we were there when the days were young, with all paths wondrous and new and everyone in the same boat of “whoa”. If you missed vanilla, I’m sorry, what can I tell you – you missed the 60ies, friend. [source]


Still finding rainbows.

Once we have moved past the age of wonder, we may become more self-complacent or demanding or cynical. Yet, magic is still to be had in MMOs for the travel-worn; it is in fleeting moments, in unexpected kindnesses and starry night skies where fireflies roam. Bhagpuss laments the transition of the MMO “world experience” to just MMO gaming, and I am right there with him, but then what is life really if not a never-ending quest for moments of happiness and joy amongst the struggles and demands? We grow up in MMOs the same way we grow up in real life; at some point without notice or warning, our toys stop holding a life of their own. The magic’s gone and we can’t quite say why and when we outgrew them. No toy, no matter how new, can fully bring us back.

But as I grew older, it became harder and harder to access that expansive imaginary space that made my toys fun. I remember looking at them and feeling sort of frustrated and confused that things weren’t the same.

I played out all the same story lines that had been fun before, but the meaning had disappeared. Horse’s Big Space Adventure transformed into holding a plastic horse in the air, hoping it would somehow be enjoyable for me. Prehistoric Crazy-Bus Death Ride was just smashing a toy bus full of dinosaurs into the wall while feeling sort of bored and unfulfilled.  I could no longer connect to my toys in a way that allowed me to participate in the experience. [Hyperbole and a Half]

Today it may be smaller things that charm me in MMOs, rather than dramatic social experiences. My mind is less overwhelmed by novelty but more appreciative of details. And I don’t race to a promise of endgame because I’d really rather not die just yet. Maybe all that means is that my mind has matured and I am closer to a world simulation after all, rather than just playing a game.

QOTD: Completionism, No Thanks!

I am blessed as a player of MMOs in that I have not one tiny jot of the Completionist gene. If I’m not enjoying something I can easily stop, leave and never come back. I don’t feel any nagging pressure to finish anything in a video game. If it isn’t entertaining me it can go die in a ditch. [Bhagpuss]

I want to say amen to a sentiment expressed by Bhagpuss yesterday about his relationship with completionism in MMOs. As a fellow explorer and potterer, I have given up such past ambitions after realizing three things about my own completionism-monster back in vanilla WoW:

  • the (rat-) race never ends
  • it’s not actually enjoyable (duh)
  • this is not what I’m here for

I am not much into progressive content nowadays and yet, I am a fairly progression-minded player in the sense that repetitive tasks with foreseeable outcome bore me a great deal. There is a degree of repetition to all the games we’re playing but completionism in today’s MMOs is often defined by collectivism for collectivism’s sake (lots and lots of achievements of no further consequence) and the type of grind that solely exists as timesink and where the balance between journey and reward is broken. There’s no purpose or meaning in 100 of the same daily quests, no challenge and satisfaction in performing the same motions over and over in so many similar bossfights. The underlying narrative to many of our activities has become strangely reductive (as in stripped of all decorum) and circular:

Why do you farm 100 tokens? – To gain an achievement.
What does the achievement say? – That I should farm 100 tokens.

But this is not the time to get back into it all: the different playstyles and player focuses, intrinsic vs. extrinsic motivators, longterm vs. instant gratification, journey vs. reward, themeparks vs. sandbox worlds, the value of randomness, meaningful choices, incentives of cooperative vs. solo content and so many more topics that I’ve written articles about over the years. Instead, I am leaving you with three links, old and new, that discuss this subject in different ways:

  • On MMO Gypsy: Achievement (Hate), Exploration and Mystery

    About the ways questing and exploration have changed in MMOs over the years, why more and more rewards cannot make up for journey and how dominant achievements/achiever mindset have contributed to the current status quo.

  • Tevis Thompson’s Blog: We are Explorers

    The inspiring article for my own post and possibly the greatest and most important read on the subject of mystery and exploration in games I have ever read. Deals with the subject of how the illusion of scale and immersion in virtuality are juxtaposed to completionist mindset.

  • Recently on The man who made a game to change the world

    About Richard Bartle’s dream of virtual worlds as a safe haven, MUDs/MMOs changing society and the ways current games have failed to live up to that potential (thanks Spinks for the link via twitter!).

The true traveler doesn’t know where he’s going. Happy exploring!

What ever happened to /hail?


While marveling at SOE’s name giving for their newly announced MMO title, a recent twitter conversation with @Mylin1 made me painfully aware of one simple thing: how much I miss hailing in MMOs and all it stood for.

What ever happened to /hail? In my memory it was the most common greeting in older MMOs, certainly in Ultima Online and it wasn’t just for the role players. /Hail was part of early MMO culture, maybe MUD culture too (feel free to jump in), and it instantly gave every social exchange a more serious, almost solemn coating. It was like a portkey for immersion, a sign that this was a different world you traveled – a world of dragons and magic. In real life you were Sam the history teacher but here you were Lorella Stormcloak, five times Grand Mistress of Arcane Arts.


image @

When and why exactly we lost /hail I do not know. Maybe it was that later MMOs outgrew the classic medieval setting of Ultima Online that set such a perfect stage for the odd Shakespearean prose. Maybe it’s that after WoW’s successes, the genre became too mainstream and “Mr. T-cool” to allow for this kind of geeky eccentricity. I remember still seeing /hail around in vanilla WoW but that’s about the last time I’ve encountered it in the world of online games.

Oh hail, how I miss thee. Like so many other things we’ve lost on the way, you’re a remnant of a bygone age, a symbol of our early beginnings.

Happy weekend holidays everybody and a solemn /hail to all of you! May your road be safe and your loot plentiful.

Achievement (Hate), Exploration and Mystery

The epic quest of kill ten rats has humble beginnings. Once upon a time the explorers of virtual worlds received hardly a hint of where to go or what to do but such are not the times we live in. Those who embarked on this journey before Blizzard’s time will remember that era of glorious uncertainty but early WoW players too, know how considerably the questing experience has changed over the course of a decade. The “kill ten rats” of yore and the “kill ten rats” of today have precious little in common.

Kill ten rats: a history of epic questing

Year #1
Player X overhears NPC talking of a special breed of rats with silver pelts that may exist “somewhere”. Player finds said rats by accident one day. Player kills rats, loots five pelts in 30 minutes. Player feels special. Wahey.

Year #2
NPC asks player X to find rats with silver pelts and deliver them. Player finds said rats one day, thanks to friendly advice in zone chat. Player kills rats, gets money in return from NPC.

Year #3
NPC asks player X to find rats with silver pelts at the barn northwest of the inn. Player finds said rats after some searching, kills rats, gets money in return from NPC.

Year #4
NPC with an exclamation mark asks player X to find rats with silver pelts at the barn northwest of the inn. Also, there is a yellow marker on the world and mini-map. Player finds said rats, kills rats, gets money in return from NPC.

Year #5
NPC with an exclamation mark asks player X to find rats with silver pelts at the barn northwest of the inn. Also, there is a yellow marker on the world and mini-map. And the rats sparkle! Player can’t miss rats, kills rats, gets money in return from NPC.

Year #6
NPC with an exclamation mark asks player X to find rats with silver pelts at the barn northwest of the inn. Also, there is a yellow marker on the world and mini-map. And the rats sparkle! And the fastest route is now also indicated in red on the world map! Player can’t possibly miss rats, kills rats, gets money in return from NPC.

Year #7
NPC with an exclamation mark, now also indicated on the mini-map, asks player X to find rats with silver pelts at the barn northwest of the inn. Also, there is a yellow marker on the world and mini-map. And the rats sparkle! And the fastest route is now also indicated in red on the world map! And the player has epic flying mount of ludicrous speed. Player can’t possibly for the life of him miss rats, kills rats, gets money and silver pelt cloak in return from NPC.

Year #8
NPC with an exclamation mark, now also indicated on the mini-map, asks player X to find rats with silver pelts at the barn north/northwest/south/southwest of the inn. Also, there are many yellow markers on the world and mini-map. And the rats sparkle! And the fastest route is now also indicated in red on the world map! And the player has epic flying mount of ludicrous speed. Player can’t possibly for the life of him miss rats, kills rats, gets money and silver pelt cloak in return from NPC. After delivery, player X receives special kill-ten-rats achievement!

Year #9+
After reading the achievement tab, player X finds NPC with an exclamation mark, also indicated on the mini-map. NPC asks player X to find rats with silver pelts at the barn north/northwest/south/southwest of the inn. Also, there are many yellow markers on the world and mini-map. And the rats sparkle! And the fastest route is now also indicated in red on the world map! And the player has epic flying mount of ludicrous speed. Player can’t possibly for the life of him miss rats, kills rats, gets money and epic pelt cloak in return from NPC. After delivery, player X receives special kill-ten-rats achievement!

..Such explorers we are. Paradoxically, the shorter, the safer, the more navigated and convenient our questing has become over the years, the more MMOs have felt the need to reward us for it. That makes no sense whatsoever but it’s not a coincidence either. More on that later.

Why I hate Achievements

A fair warning: I don’t like achievements. I get why some players like, nay love achievements but I really don’t. More importantly, I don’t think they have any business in this genre.

The unconditionally worst thing that has ever happened to MMOs are achievements. Hate is a strong word and applies for my case of die-hard explorerdom although it need not be yours. Nothing feels more counter-intuitive, more obtrusive or immersion-breaking to me than the flashy achievement fonts and in-your-face achievement tabs that greet me in most of today’s MMOs – yes, even at the bloody login screen of once-great Guild Wars 2. Sic transit gloria mundi virtualis. When did all this happen?

While that’s achievements on the surface, repercussions reach much further. Several times on this blog have I raised the question of why virtual worlds need to save time, why players need to be told what to do and where to go by which path when developers have spent years creating vast open worlds of beauty. What’s it all for – just a pretty, expensive paint around a game telling me what’s an achievement?

Who would wish to complete a world? Completionism, pre-defined paths and goals, extrinsic motivators – none of these go with my personal sense of exploration. Every time unwanted and un-asked for achievements pop up in an MMO, my chosen modus operandi is disturbed or hindered. Every time that happens, that delicate illusion of virtual world is shattered. Worse, there’s no opt-in (why?).

The greatest RPG I’ve ever played was a game I didn’t complete. Where things happened at random, sometimes or never again. Where going south was as good as going north and an endless sense of mystery added depth and immensity to the world.

Even if you can’t design endless worlds, you can create size through mystery. Exploration feeds off mystery – and mystery is neither excellent nor should it be fully solvable.

Mystery resists.  Mystery refuses.  It will not yield.  Not to me.

Mystery resists closure.  It resists completion and clean getaways.  It, instead, insists.  I’m not done with you yet.  Get back over here.

Mystery is not merely the unknown.  It is the impossibility of knowing and yet the continual attempt to know.  It is unknowability itself.  It is futile and essential.

Why do we diminish our own experience?  Are we afraid of not connecting, of confirming our solitude? [T. Thompson]

No really, go read the whole thing.

When the journey is no longer the reward…we need more rewards?

Whether you agree with my passionate sentiments or not, what most design critics can agree on is the relationship between journey/effort and goal/reward in games; the required balance in order to make either feel significant. Long and hard journeys with never a memento to show for feel unfulfilled, just as easy and plentiful loot won’t be remembered by anybody. More than that though, whenever players think back on their greatest achievements in MMOs, they don’t usually name purple swords and special titles but rather the road that led there, the obstacles that had to be overcome in the company of comrades. Naturally, loot matters too and we’ll keep those special items forever – yet loot like an epilogue, is only the last part of that story.

The journey is the reward. Knowing that we did it, that we’ve accomplished something. The shiny purple sword is a representation of that experienced, gratifying victory. It means nothing if we got it for a bargain on the flea market. (Okay maybe if there was an achievement for that….)

So, if the journey becomes ever shorter, ever more straight-forward and without mystery, what will a game attempt in order to compensate for lack of win? Will it pile on the rewards, the titles, the achievements – desperate to convince us we achieved something anyway?

I don’t need to be told I achieved something in shrill and flashing colors. I should be able to feel it and to judge it was a worthy cause. That’s when you may reward me with items, sometimes, so I may carry them with me to tell the world about my adventures.

And whither there? I cannot say. For now, let’s leave it a mystery!

Does everything have to be a Game now?

I’ve been in the middle of an interesting twitter discussion lately, following up a comment I made after hearing about Choice:Texas (“a serious game about abortion”) via this article on Indiestatik


The replies I received to my comment were intriguing on account of their diversity – from complete agreement to yet another discussion of what constitutes “game” in this day and age. That wasn’t really what I was going for though (even if it has a part in this discussion).

I’ll be honest and say I am completely weirded out by projects such as Choice:Texas and it has nothing to do with subject matter. I am all for making a wider audience aware of serious and seriously difficult but important societal, political or cultural issues, yes even testing new media and avenues of transportation. When it comes in combination with the game label however, I hesitate. This is not the first time either – I’ve had the exact same feelings on the recently published Depression Quest. Now, I’ve read several great reviews on this title and I’ve no reason to doubt any of them. For many personal reasons, one of which being my current employment in a mental care facility, I am a big supporter of getting the word out on illnesses such as depression, on educating a wider audience against common and harmful stigma. Heck, you cannot educate too much on such matters. Yet despite all of this, the title Depression Quest still fills me with cringe.

How do you make a “quest” out of something as crippling and insidious as clinical depression? How does the association with all of this being like a quest – that traditionally heroic undertaking with epic loot at the end – add anything to an otherwise important message? I get it: Depression Quest is an earnest attempt to take away some of the gloom off a heavy subject, in order to make it more accessible and encourage people to put themselves in the position of a person affected by depression. I just genuinely wonder why we need gameplay mechanics, tropes and quests to learn about or show interest in such topics? I wonder too, if the average person truly takes this seriously as usual gamer habits, such as looking for the correct answer or choosing the most efficient path, kick in (I assume that the main target audience of this title would be especially those who do not usually engage with it?). And if such isn’t possible here, is it still a game? Why does it need to be? Can we not learn about the world anymore in non-gamey fashion?

Choice:Texas takes my intuitive misgivings a step further. It is majorly bizarre to me how one can make a game out of “the severe restrictions placed on women’s health care access in Texas”. – Are you serious? That is a game now? You have just lost me completely.

Just to make it plain once more, I get all the intention behind this and the need for education. I just honestly don’t see how applying the game label to such a matter can help. There is an almost insurmountable bias or thematic association I have with the term game and I am happy to bet so have most people. Even if videogames can serve multiple purposes or be designed therefor, historically speaking games have been pastimes, activities done for distraction or entertainment. They are short-lived, limited in severity and therefore trivial to a certain point. And that lies at the heart of the problem for me personally: game is trivializing. I don’t feel it serves anybody to trivialize the issue of abortion laws in Texas to a point where it can be packaged into neat units of gameplay (*).

I don’t see how evoking associations with gaming (and questing, gathering points or beating the game from there) aren’t counter-productive in this case. One could even suspect the creators of Choice:Texas have already had similar doubts or why keep emphasizing how this is “a very serious game”? To clarify: I absolutely think you can create things like comics or even interactive clips / stories etc. on political subjects but why call them games?

Maybe I am completely off here and I’m sure those who think so, will kindly let me know. As I said, I appreciate all underlying intention but to me there is a bad aftertaste of desperate marketing thrown in the whole mix, all other misgivings aside. I think games are a wonderful medium, vast and creative, diverse and powerful, but all considered I still believe some things should be worth saying and hearing without having to make a game out of them. Guess I’m just old fashioned that way.

(*)This is where I take the opportunity to recommend the Black Mirror trilogy, especially season one, episode two: “15 Million Merits”.

QOTD: Virtual Worlds

The “G” in MMORPG is the one letter we could do without. I’m not here to play games. I’m here to see worlds. (Bhagpuss)

I don’t do quote-of-the-day posts often, in fact this is maybe the second time ever on MMO Gypsy. That’s weird considering how much I love words and quotes but the reason is probably that QOTDs don’t create discussion. They do however spread words worth spreading and that is one hell of a quote-worthy statement right there. Happy Monday, all ye MMO world travelers!

[GW2] Just can’t get their throat stuffed

Back from summer break, which I spent castle hunting and aching from bike tours, I was reluctantly excited for the Bazaar of the Four Winds update in GW2 which follows ANet’s recent announcement of aiming for bi-weekly content patches in the future. Yep, that sounds wild – and you’ve heard it here first! Really, it’s a rare thing when a MMO developer goes and fulfills what you’ve wished for specifically on your blog in the past. That has me convinced I need to continue my wishlist category!

In the end however it’s not just the frequency of new content that matters. Is it content? – Or is it rather that someone at ANet just can’t seem to get their throat stuffed on back items?


Ye shiny graphics, they don’t fool me.

GW2: The Magic Formula

As you arch an eyebrow at above expression, let me elaborate: it’s a liberty I am taking on this here blog from time to time that I literally translate sayings and idioms over from my native tongue. Every now and then there’s an expression just too perfect and impossible to translate adequately – and in this case it’s GW2 (and other MMOs for that matter) just not getting enough already of the same item-grinds and achievements. Are we there yet? Do we have enough yet?

Seems not. They can’t get their throat stuffed (or full) of the same old or maybe it’s really what the player base wants. I don’t know – it’s not like anyone is allowed to complain much about an essentially free-to-play MMO but then, I’ll keep doing it. Personally, I find it highly insulting that we aren’t only grinding items and achievements with every new “content patch” but the same items! Welcome to GW2’s magic event formula: new weapon and armor skins, new back items, mini-games and jumping puzzles! Oh and that last one is all around you this time because the friggin’ bazaar is sky-borne! I have been to one of the world’s biggest, most famed and wondrous bazaars: it was dark, cramped and stuffy, like a city’s underbelly maze. I would’ve preferred this a hundred times over to the lofty acrobatics required to get to the Bazaar of the Four Winds – but nomen est omen so doh @self!

Magic formula ranting aside, I am still looking for the actual content here. My first impressions are bitter and sarcastic (I’m sure you needed this update) but Syp is having fun and so I shall give this investigation some more time. I understand that several achis are linked to an event further down the line, so maybe I can bring myself to care about that. That said, I am starting to take grim pride in the pitiful amount of achievement points I’ve accumulated on my character so far (which apparently is going to disadvantage me now too); it’s one of the more bizarre side-effects this current generation of MMOs has had on me that I am developing inverted snobbery where things like gear or achievements are concerned. Achieving nothing is the new purple!

Anyway, there’s apparently a “best dive” achievement for this event that sounds right up my alley. Nothing feels more adequate than throwing yourself off a high cliff in desperation after facing even more back items and jumping puzzles! Fingers crossed my PC won’t crash again as my character swan-dives from 10’000 feet altitude. Geronimooo!

Wildstar and why I don’t like the Explorer path

Just when I thought I was pretty much not going to play Wildstar this year, Zenimax Online dropped the bomb and announced that The Elder Scrolls Online release date would be pushed back to spring 2014, to meet the launch date of Sony and Microsoft’s next-generation consoles. That’s one of the many things this “MMOs go console”-trend is gonna do for us in the future: delay stuff. Porting to different systems, creating individual interfaces and testing everything cross-platform takes time. Well, great. If it meant that the MMO community is growing, I could probably live with that but since servers will be split between different systems, there’s not really an upside there for PC players other than that Zenimax make more money (which will hopefully go back into designing great, future content updates).

So…Wildstar. A while ago I mentioned that no doubt this is a polished game with a good shot at the World of Warcraft demography. Since then, Carbine have been pretty open about it too – yes, we’re coming for ya, Blizzard! Only, we have the updated questing system and awesome player housing, along with all the PG-rated candyland. The latter is still one of my biggest qualms with the game: I am so over the Warcraft cartoon aesthetic. I do greatly appreciate the maturity in MMOs like Age of Conan or LOTRO, Rift and GW2 too are on my good side even if slightly more to the center of that Venn diagram. Wildstar shoots the hyper-fantasy rocket into deep space where it crashes somewhere between Outland and a Pixar movie. This is certainly no sword&sorcery MMO. But I digress.


Feeling the Explorer path

Carbine’s spin on the Bartle profiles is interesting and if I was to choose a path for myself, no doubt that would be the explorer’s. Or such would’ve been my initial reaction because y’know – wandering around at random is awesome, listening to the world, discovering secrets and taking the long road whenever possible. Only, that’s not really what exploration means every time.

It struck me that while exploration has been widely praised in GW2 (and justly so), it’s also one of the most popularly gamified activities in the entire game. Players say exploration and mean “climbing all vistas”, hitting all pre-marked (!) points, “doing all jumping puzzles”, “getting the 100% achievement”. See that there? – Not me! I couldn’t care less if my world map is complete in GW2, I’ve a feeling it’s currently somewhere around 60% and that’s with me playing since launch. When I explore I don’t set out to find every last corner of a zone, let alone doing silly jumping puzzles. Oh, how I hate them. I want to smell the flowers and go wherever chance takes me. As for “mapping the world” –

“…there’s nothing worse to me than a world that’s fully discovered, fully mapped and fully understood. The moment we draw the last line in that picture is the moment we limit our world, the moment where it becomes small and finite – when hypothesis and speculation become hard fact and there is no more ‘may be’.

To a traveler and explorer “finishing a world” is the death of his playstyle. I want to stand at the shore of the southern sea and wonder forever what may lie beyond.” [source]

What am I gonna do once I’ve mapped the entire world? Let’s not map it!

Now, seems to me Wildstar’s explorer sounds an awful lot like exploration in GW2. The shiny somewhat wishy-washy job descriptions on the official page can’t conceal what gets very obvious in this explorer showcase or devspeak: climby vista-missions and timed (!) scavenger hunts, power maps (more jumping), achievements, completionism…on the clock.

To clarify: I realize that achievements can be a great motivator for some players to go and travel the world at all, although I can’t judge how much they are actually seeing and exploring it when they’re out hunting marks. In any case, that makes me wonder about two things: a) Is this path for people who are already explorers (and therefore need no achievements as ‘incentives’) or is it just another coat of paint for the achiever? And b) What’s in it for me who finds achievement spam, event markers and countdowns obtrusive to the exploratory experience rather than helpful?

Of course that begs one more question, namely what the hell I was expecting and I guess that’s fair. Exploration being such an intrinsically motivated activity for me of almost meditative quality, there’s just no active setting up or instrumentalizing this in an MMO, the way the devs would like to. Explorers like me need a living, breathing open world first and foremost, one that doesn’t flaunt its riches and doesn’t scream at you but offers reward in terms of discovering secrets and random events. Proper scale and size matter too, extensive travel and eye candy – plenty of that. It’s especially nice if you can “do” things – leave a mark, create or change something no matter how small (how would player-created geocaching do in MMOs I wonder?). What I’d like to see too is literally drawing your own maps instead of getting world map view all the time.

I’d be up for more erring in general; it’s bizarre beyond words that designers spend years creating virtual worlds and then hand you all the maps, event/location markers and even lists of “what you can do there” (aka achievements) from the get-go. And then they wonder why it all lasted a few weeks only.

Anyway, my preferred modus operandi isn’t nearly enough for a fully fledged, gamified playstyle with tangible progression and rewards, I get it. So for now the big question of which path to pick in Wildstar is back on the table. I’ll probably have to do the usual: “force” my inner explorer on any given path. It appears Settler is quite en vogue, so maybe I should just roll Kill…err Soldier out of spite and blow up all those jumping puzzles they no doubt created.

Off the Chest: Unlearning Convenience, One-time Events and what would you do in a Sandbox?


It’s one of those days where I have too many thoughts on different blogging topics which don’t warrant a blogpost of their own but still, in my mind, ask for more dedicated commentary. I tend to leave longer replies on my fellow bloggers articles for this reason and often that’s good enough; yet for a while now, I’ve been thinking about a format or style of post that allows rambling on various topics that have come up, vexed me and yet didn’t quite make it into a single post – usually because I feel somewhat late to the party or then I simply cannot bring myself to present you with anything less than a WoT. It’s true.

Be that as it may, I herewith introduce “off the chest” as my on-and-off, multiple-subject (and likely ranty..ier) commentary, where articles are shorter wrap-ups or openers to bigger subjects and where I get to be wonderfully incoherent. Summary posts can be quite enjoyable, so maybe these can deliver some information or entertainment to somebody sometime (or else they’ve just been of highly cathartic value for myself)! Without further ado, three topics I needed to get off my chest for a while now, in no particular order.

Unlearning Convenience

One of the fascinating things about the mixed MMO community in Guild Wars 2 is that you can tell who the ex-WoW players are after a while, judging by the degree of convenience they are used to or rather, the degree of discontent they voice in that particular area. After an era of WoW and not GW, I absolutely am a spoiled MMO brat: for example, I expect a lot of menu choices and customizability for things like name tags or combat info (ally healthbars anyone?), I want the market place search to be refined so it’s actually functional (armor class search?) and I expect a quick disconnect/relog from WvW not to throw me back into a queue of doom with no way to rejoin my team mates. Stuff like that, missing polish like that, is just horribly frustrating and it gets more frustrating the longer ANet take to fix it. These may be small(er) issues and not top prio in a launch week or even month – but come on, address this shit already!

How long is the average MMO player of today willing to ignore disfunctionalities or little bugs after a fresh MMO launch? How long is your personal tolerance span? Rather than Halloween content I would’ve welcomed some long overdue fixes, some of them as old as open beta! And I haven’t even yet mentioned the camera / first-person view, botting or culling problems. These are not “aspects of GW2 that are just different”, these are issues that need fixing ASAP in any MMO! /GnaRghL

One-time Events

Speaking of Halloween, GW2’s one-time only Halloween event of this Sunday past has sparked quite some debate and of course both negative and positive reactions. This is an incredibly interesting subject because it shows us just how ready today’s MMO audience really is for the often hyped “unique content” and “meaningful impact”. Or to quote a passage in my last post’s comment section:

I think we do not need to content ourselves with impact only ever existing in offline/single-player games. like you said, GW2 makes some good attempts – but they could be much better even. I think MMOs need to lose the idea that everything is always available and repeatable for everybody. much of the generic feeling comes from everything that players do happening over and over, respawning, resetting….why? why not make some events more unique? what if somebody misses them – so what? you could add small content patches for this on a fortnightly base, like I suggested a while ago in an article on expansions. give players a real sense of story progression, unique experiences and impact. let them change things permanently!” (Syl)

That’s the thing: you can’t have it both ways. You can experience triggered quests that are available all the time, or more random events to which you are sometimes too late or early. You can finish quests with zero to marginal impact on the world and people around you – or you can witness really memorable events. Once in a while. And you can most certainly miss those. There is a flipside to that coin of memorable and special MMO moments that gravitate towards simulation and open world a lot more than towards gamification.

I actually missed this Sunday’s Halloween event in GW2 as I was on holidays in France; and yes, I am a little sad about that. On a less personal note however, I am very happy ArenaNet made this decision. Maybe next time I’ll be around for it. Either way, now the community has something to talk about and tell each other! Missing the Mad King’s appearance in Lion’s Arch or having to re-watch it on youtube is a price I will gladly pay for MMO worlds to become less generic, feel less repetitive and predictable! But that’s me and my idea of games worth playing. And living in, really.

So, what would you do in a Sandbox?

It’s become a trend of late to invoke the mystical spirit of the sandbox wherever MMO players feel the blues and are simply unhappy with their choices in current games on the market. I get that dissatisfaction and I’m in fact more than up for future MMOs to revert to a more open world state of play, with less orchestrated content. Still, I wonder how many players have truly ever experienced a sandbox game, stuck with a sandbox game? And what is it exactly you wish for, from your next sandbox MMO. Do you know? I’m not so sure we all mean the same things when we talk about sandbox elements (worth having).

Pure sandbox games ask a lot of a player base, both in terms of time and commitment The feeling of freedom or impact doesn’t come for free. So, if by any chance you belong to let’s say a player demographic depending on a) linear progression, b) endgame, c) set achievements or d) in fact any kind of pre-conceived content….I have bad news for you: you won’t like a sandbox! You won’t thrive there. If you already felt that GW2 was “finished” after four weeks, if you lament endgame and progression and ask questions like “what to do next?” in an MMO, the sandbox is not for you. While we’re at it: there’s no “rushing through” or “winning” a sandbox. There’s a lot more in terms of self-defined progress, achievement and goals than in a themepark or playground or whathaveyou MMO. 

Can you deal with that? If so, I hope you’re also up for outdoor PvP and griefers. The big, shining beacons of sandboxy gameplay currently out there, such as EvE Online or Darkfall, are basically MMOs that revolve around the simple principle of “building clans and defending clan bases” and then “warring against other clans and clan bases” (terminology may vary). This is by the by, what the sappy memories of vocal UO and DAoC veterans are made of: strife. Territorial (or resource) warfare with all its little neat side-effects. That’s also why community building was so important in these games to begin with. Sure, you could do many other things too, but erm…..territorial warfare impacting on you! 

So, just in case any of the above gives you headaches but you still yearn for the sandbox…well, I keep my fingers crossed the next such MMO comes with big enough safe sectors! Or alternatively, still deviates enough from its predecessors to accommodate you. A real sandbox is about building your own little castle just as much as it is about destroying your neighbour’s. And it most certainly isn’t going to present you with linear progression and endgame. Don’t say I didn’t warn ya!

My oh my, what a wonderful day!

Massively Multiplayer Misnomer?

I’ve come to a conclusion (drum-roll): the vast majority of all MMO players out there today are not in fact MMO players. Even less so MMORPG players. That’s right. We need a new name, more than ever.

What caused this insight? It’s not so new – in fact I’ve asked for a change of name-giving before. In the meantime though, things have moved on from there with considerable speed. Or as the Dude would say: New shit has come to light!”

Two cases against the “MM”

By now, the “massively multiplayer” label is a complete sham; a false premise, an empty promise. Think about it: what is the maximum of players you actually share your time with when online? When you run dungeons, how many do you need? 4 more people? 9? And how many friends have you made online the past 5+ years? With how many people do you effectively have regular exchange in your social group, guild or band of brothers?

A massive amount? I doubt that very much. If I think back on my time in WoW, some 6+ years of raiding, I have spent 95% of my time with the exact same 10 people. I don’t remember any fleeting acquaintances, I certainly don’t remember anyone from my friendlist that I stopped using halfway through TBC. What I do remember though, is all the downsides from playing on big servers: the headache to choose a guild or recruit, the over-camped outdoor bosses, the cringe-worthy general chats, the awful anonymous PUGs. Oh, there was quantity sure – but quality?

My recent thoughts on Skyrim and player-hosted servers has brought me to an inevitable bottom line: Online games don’t get better with bigger servers. Opportunity does not equal the need to play with others, nor does it improve matters for the individual player after a certain number and size. What is the effective difference between an online server with 50-100 players who play cooperatively together, know each other, benefit from more available space and resources and a server of 100’000 people? Wait, I know – the auction house. If a convenient economy is the only up-side, then I believe I have made my point. Any MMO player currently out there who is dreaming of the immersive experience, the role-play, the simulation, the story, the building of community down to player housing and whatnot, would be better off on a drastically limited size server.

My second argument against the “MM” in MMO is influenced by the current trend we can observe in popular games like WoW or SWTOR: NPC companions. Tobold draws a particularly dark image today of the future raidguild that hires bots rather than people for crucial raid spots. Maybe even most raid spots. Who needs flawed human beings when a program can do the job much better? What will happen if NPCs do not only look, talk and follow you like a best friend, but get an AI to out-perform even the best player?

The cooperation factor in WoW took a massive hit with the introduction of the anonymous dungeon finder. Already now, many players spend most of their online time solo with a companion pet by their side, doing the odd 5man run with mute strangers from a different server.

Are smart NPC companions the next step in the MMO-evolution towards player isolation? Like the vast cities of man where every individual sits alone in his apartment at night, tragically independent, surrounded by baubles and clutter?

Not so “RPG” either

Whether it’s MMO, MMORPG or online RPG – terminology has been in disarray for at least 5-10 years. The more online has entered the world of gaming on every conceivable platform, the more you could hear the term “MMO” used, misused or mixed up in various context. Frankly, I am not sure I know anymore. Anything since UO that has looked remotely like WoW has been called MMO, even Call of Duty and League of Legends are obviously online, cooperative games – just not the kind classic MMORPG players (who don’t exist by now) used to refer to.

It’s the same with “RPG”; less than ever does role-play actually define the MMORPG genre. What does role-play mean? Is it just to play a given character and control him, or is it to invent your avatar from scratch, to add a past, history and personality that defines him? Is it to be completely in character (and have the tools and means to do so) or to at least act in a way that is consistent with the setting and world you play in? If not, then any game where we just “steer a hero character”, Mario Brothers included, is a role-playing game.

…What makes WoW an RPG? Or is the online component maybe by nature an enemy of immersive role-play?

Rock bottom line: Uh-“O”

At this point I realize that I have completely disintegrated an entire definition and from there a genre I happen to love. I’ve stripped it, reduced it, lost it. One letter is all that’s left to me: “O”. That’s all I’ve got for you, one stinking letter! That one is a dime a dozen; the future is definitely online. I’ll happily invest in online shares.

As for the rest – it lies in darkness, doubt and uncertainty. Change can be a good thing, but I’m not sure I’m ready for too much change and re-definition. I can see the nice features along with the new….yet all the while I keep thinking that I really just want my rug back (peed on or not).