Fox takes a critical look

dinsdag 27 maart 2012

The science of selling yourself short

In great anticipation of Arenanet's upcoming mmorpg Guildwars 2 there have been countless discussions around the mircotransaction system, and i have already shared my own opinion on this topic in a previous blogpost. However, it has become clear to me, by joining the discussion around this particular topic that some of the major complaints are completely based around the wrong idea's of being competetive. These people are selling themself short, and it has nothing to do with the system.

The different roads to fun.
The goal of gaming: fun for young and old
To begin with, let's step back and take a look at the core reason we play games, fun. However not all people are the same and while one game appeals to a certain crowd, another game may be totally different. (a mistake people sometimes make is to generalise games) When we look beyond the general interest in the topic of the game, wich can be something like sports, science fiction or reality, we can divide the way games provide fun into 2 categories:
-Pve: player versus elements: facing the challenges the game provides.
-Pvp: player versus player: facing other players.

A history of Pve and Pvp
Early Pve evolved from the puzzle and book/movie experience. The focus was set on bringing a story trough some challenges, wich involved solving riddles and defeating enemies in basic calculated combat. (wich basicly ment it was another riddle, to be solved with numbercrunching.)The first ever single player game was just a simple tic-tac-toe (in some places better know as OXO) against the computer. Early Pvp in games was much easier to do, since you could just take input from 2 sides and do something like hitting a ball to eachother on the screen. "Tennis for Two" was soon followed by it's popular succesor "Pong", and the world was first introduced to using a game computer.
Tennis for Two, one of the first games.
From here both genre's evolved and as Pvp games followed it's early route towards sports and competing, pve continued down the riddle and story path. Of course both sides never lost sight of eachother and as pvp took over some elements of storytelling and generated more fantasy like settings, pve started introducing more complex enemy systems and AI to mimic pvp, and started using coöperative components in it's gameplay, wich could be experienced with your friends on a slot machine or a console. However both sides never lost eye of their clear goal, competition for pvp, challenge and/or immersion for pve. That said, pvp games started to experiment with AI for simple practice purposes. The evolution of the internet evolved pvp to a new level, as  more players could face eachother, first on networks, like the PLATO time-sharing system, a network first ment to allow students to acces data anywhere on campus created by the University of Illinois and Control Data Corporation wich evolced to a sort of mini-web, and later online. As expected coöperative play also went trough an evolution because of this.

The rise of the mmo
The mmo changed pve-game completely
Once the internet started to flourish a new magnitude of coöperative play surfaced: Massive Multiplayer Online games. While mostly following the traditional model for pvp, the pve aspect of these games, where a massive amount of people could play in the same world, realy changed the whole concept of pve, even to an extend where we need to consider the mmo pve a complete new category. While being a multiplayer game, mmo's now had a new problem to face, and while some games required players to do everything together, it was quickly clear that players didn't want this, and that instead they enjoyed and experience where they could go off on their own and explore the massive worlds created for them, only to be required to group for certain "hard" content. The questing system as we know it in most Mmorpgs today was born, and trough this the genre of the mmorpg started to take form. The format further evolved into the games like Everquest, and later the game that would lift the genre to a new level, World of Warcraft. However, this evolution towards massive multiplayer had a some side effect. Aditional costs started to rise, as companies needed to support more and more servers to be able to support the massive online crowd. Therefor suscribtions were introduced. This system, wich was started for maintenance purposes, of course soon proved to be an excellent source of income to support future development. There was one catch tough, in order for a suscribtion to work, people needed to stay suscribed to the game, and with the normal pve-questing content, they would just finish the game and move on. So something was needed for keeping  players interested in these games after they had finished the content. There was pvp, but a large number of players showed no interest to play other people. At this point the current endgame system was introduced. By upping one aspect of the game, challenge, drasticly group content was created wich required coördination and good gear. Trough this content you could get even better gear, that was then used to fight even harder content wich got released at a steady pace to keep people playing. The gear threadmill was born, and trough the years of doing content over and over, the immersion factor in mmo's sort of died, and the challenge reduced the more you played.
Rewards to get more rewards
At this point the mmo had lost the 2 big aspects of pve that were important to most players, story and challenge. So what kept people interested? There was of course the fact that you need certain loot from a certain boss, and getting the reward you want is like a winning the lotery. Next to that there were achievements and all kind of unique mounts and pets or just plain achievement points, in order for players to be able to show what they had done in the game. The rewards became the only reward and pve became competitive, as your only goal was to get more rewards then others, just to have a goal.

A rewarding experience
The outcry for a new kind of mmo, wich somehow got rid of this system was loud and hard. And many games have tried to answer. Rift, ToR, and now Terra and GW2 have all tried to innovate the genre. I feel GW2 is the only one that is going to be succesfull because it's fundamently trying to change the basic systems. The questing system has been changed into the event system, and there simply is no gear grind. Rewards are cosmetic and do not affect players in any way. Guildwars 2 has clearly chosen for a route where the actual experience of the game is a reward on itself. In this way, GW2 bends it's experience more towards what makes pve games in general, and not just mmorpgs, popular: the actual game experience and challenge.

Selling yourself short
Guildwars 2: a rewarding experience on it's own.
There has been a boatload of discussion around the microtransactions in GW2 and some arguments against the system are that it's pay to win (wich it isn't) or that it helps players achieve the same thing but faster, and that people can buy gold to get more stuff. It is said that this system doesn't value your time spent in the game, as other people get rewards faster then you. Now there is one thing we need to understand here, the thought that time spent in a game should matter is one of the remains of a system where reward and achievements were the most important things in a game. This system is gone. There is no reason to go for rewards in GW2 other then affecting your character. It is time to let go of a system where pve competition is the goal, just to have a goal. Pve is going to be about working together, having fun getting involved in the world and being challenged by the content again. Stop caring about everyone else and start enjoying yourself, because if you are going into GW2 with the mindset to beat everyone in pve, and if you are gonna look to everyone with more stuff then you as a gold-buyer, then you are going to disappoint yourself. This has nothing to do with the game, but rather with you blocking your own fun. And have you forgot that dungeon tokens can't be traded? Or that achievements will set you appart? So in fact the only way you are affected is leveling.

A few examples, mmo and RL
-If a new player in wow would be able to pay for heirloom items, instead of having to earn them with a higher character, this would give him better stats and experience for his entire lvl experience. (wich he will get with a new character anyway) This is pay to win? Does it affect you in any way?
-If an older person takes viagra to enjoy the same experience in bed as you have, is it pay to win? (young people take viagra also, because they are stupid, about the same as players with loads of time buying xp boosts) Clearly he wants to just enjoy himself like you do. Will you enjoy yourself less because of it?
-If you go snowboarding with your friend, and he has a longer vacation then you, but you take lessons in snowboarding to keep up with him, is it pay to win? Would you still buy lessons if you know you had the same time to learn it?

The only way the microtransactions can hurt you is if you get into the mindset they can. Not buying microtransactions doesn't mean you miss anything, in fact it means the opposite. On the other hand they do help people that are affected by time, and let them play the game just like you.

Don't sell yourself short.

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