Category Archives: Life Lessons

Lockboxes Are Annoying, But We Should Move On

Few issues in the MMO community stir up strong feelings the way lockboxes do. These virtual gambling devices stir up a level of hatred and vitriol unmatched by any other issue in the MMO world. And yet, they continue to propagate unchecked through our virtual worlds, despite the best efforts of the community.

A advertisement for a lockbox in Guild Wars 2

If I may play Devil’s advocate here for a moment, I think the time may have come for us to take a step back and examine whether all the furor over lockboxes is really productive. It’s clear that lockboxes are here to stay, so perhaps it’s time for us to learn how to live with them.

But First…

Before I get into the meat of my argument, I want to make a few things clear off the bat.

First, on terminology: Lockboxes have become such a contentious topic that even the word can generate no end of controversy. Many games avoid the name altogether and will vehemently argue that what they’re selling is not lockboxes.

For the purposes of this discussion, though, I am defining lockboxes as any pack of randomized items that is sold for real money.

Secondly, I want to be clear that I am not a fan of lockboxes. I’m against randomized rewards in general, and making me cough up real cash for the privilege of never seeing the item I want actually drop doesn’t endear me to the idea.

The only game where I buy lockboxes is The Secret World, and that’s mainly because I’m a lifetime subscriber and can therefore purchase them with my complimentary stipend of cash shop currency. I’m not actually spending money on them.

A toga outfit acquired from lockboxes in The Secret World

In general, I would prefer MMOs remain lockbox-free. I’m in favor of micro-transactions as a business model, but I’d rather simply pay directly for the item I want. I don’t enjoy gambling.

However, I have also come to accept that lockboxes are part of the reality of online gaming these days.

Reclaiming Perspective

I agree that lockboxes are bad, but I don’t agree with the extreme view many gamers have taken of them. I think it’s time for people to step back, take a breath, and regain some perspective.

I often hear people say that lockboxes destroy games. Does no one else see this as absurdly melodramatic? I certainly don’t think it’s true.

It can be a little irritating to see some gorgeous mount or awesome costume that you’ll never get unless you dump a small fortune into gambling boxes, but how much impact is that having on your moment to moment gameplay, really?

Even in the most obnoxiously lockbox-focused games I’ve played (looking at you, Cryptic), the fact is I could still play and enjoy the games perfectly fine without dropping any money on lockboxes.

A game that is worth playing without lockboxes will still be worth playing with them. If you’ve quit a game because it added lockboxes, I suspect you were already burnt out on the game anyway and simply needed an excuse to pull the trigger.

An advertisement for a lockbox in Star Trek: Online

A lot of people express concern for gambling’s potential for addiction. Frankly, the ethics of gambling are probably a bit beyond the scope of an article such as this, and I don’t think there are any easy answers, but for my part I’m inclined to err on the side of personal responsibility here. Gambling boxes do have some strong psychological hooks, but ultimately you’re still in control of your actions.

There’s also the concern of children being exposed to gambling practices, and I do agree that kids shouldn’t be gambling with real money in games, but that’s an issue for parents, not developers or publishers. It is a parent’s responsibility to monitor and regulate their child’s online activities.

Accepting Reality

Blunt talk time: In the battle against lockboxes, it has become abundantly clear that their detractors have lost.

Lockboxes simply wouldn’t be as widespread as they are if they didn’t make good business sense. Whatever negative publicity created by the introduction of lockboxes is clearly offset by the revenue they generate.

I often see a perception that lockboxes — and all micro-transactions, but especially lockboxes — are something that only benefits developers in the short term, that makes a lot of money upfront by taking advantage of gullible players before ultimately poisoning a game in the long term. This clearly isn’t the case, though.

Many games have continued to have long and prosperous lives after the introduction of lockboxes. Again to use Cryptic’s games as an example, Star Trek: Online and Neverwinter are continuing to chug along just fine, with regular and meaty updates, despite absolutely drowning in lockboxes.

The Underdark in Neverwinter

Similarly, Guild Wars 2 has had lockboxes since launch and has continued to enjoy a respectable level of success. Star Wars: The Old Republic is another game that could serve as the poster child for excessive use of lockboxes, and it’s doing quite well for itself after many years of the practice. The list just goes on and on.

And the sound and fury over lockboxes in the community simply isn’t making a difference. If you oppose lockboxes, I certainly sympathize with your perspective, but you have to understand that your disapproving forum posts and blog comments simply don’t matter to a developer’s bottom line. The best thing you can do is simply not buy lockboxes, because that’s the language they best understand, but even then you may have to accept that lockboxes are probably here to stay.

Redirecting Our Efforts

That’s not to say that criticism is worthless, or that we should just roll over and let developers and publishers do whatever they want without saying a word. But we need to be realistic, and reasonable.

Lockboxes probably aren’t going anywhere, but not all lockboxes are created equal. Some are relatively harmless, but others are truly obnoxious. It would be good if, instead of flatly rejecting lockboxes as a concept, we encouraged developers to find more player-friendly ways of implementing them.

Part of the reason I feel okay buying lockboxes in The Secret World is that there are many measures in place to prevent their random nature from becoming too punitive. All of the drops can be traded, so you can swap something you don’t want for something you do or simply farm pax and buy what you want at auction. TSW’s lockboxes also drop a currency called Lucky Coins that can (eventually) be spent to buy lockbox items from a vendor.

This makes it much easier to get what you want from lockboxes without spending an arm and a leg playing slots, and it allows both players and developers to benefit. It would be great to see all lockboxes take a similar strategy.

A mount acquired from a lockbox in Star Wars: The Old Republic

TSW also often offers ways to earn lockboxes through gameplay, from holiday quests or the like, which offers up another way to get the item(s) you’re after without spending yourself into bankruptcy. Overwatch does something similar with its loot crates, allowing you to earn them through normal gameplay as well as purchase them with cash. I think if this practice were more widespread the general opinion of lockboxes would improve significantly.

I also don’t think we should give up the fight to keep direct purchases part of MMO business models. Something I find frustrating about SW:TOR’s lockbox obsession is not so much the boxes themselves but the fact that almost nothing good ever gets added to the cash shop for direct sale. I never have anything to spend my subscriber Cartel Coin stipend on. Those of who us who don’t want to gamble should still have options.

And let’s stop demonizing developers for adding lockboxes to games. They’re not monsters conspiring in a dark room to bleed players dry (well, most of them aren’t, anyway). They’re just trying to turn a profit and earn a living, like everyone else in our capitalist society. I certainly don’t think insulting and denigrating them is going to make them more likely to listen to your arguments against lockboxes.

Beyond all that, there are frankly much bigger issues facing the MMO world than lockboxes. I can only imagine what kind of positive changes could be made if half the passion directed against lockboxes was instead put toward combating the toxicity within the community…

R-E-L-A-X

In a perfect world, MMORPGs wouldn’t need to have lockboxes, but that isn’t the world we live in. There are a lot of valid criticisms to be made of the concept, but I think the conversation has metastasized into something that is no longer helpful or productive. It would be in everyone’s best interest to take a step back, calm down, and recognize that while lockboxes can be annoying, they’re not the death of the genre.


Westworld: When Gaming Gets Too Real

The season finale for Westworld aired yesterday, delivering the jaw-dropping type of events one comes to expect from an HBO show. During the ten episode run, many parallels were drawn between the show’s universe and gaming. These parallels really screwed with my brain. I’d sit down for a session of Elder Scrolls Online and go beyond simple killing of NPCs for EXP to an existential meaning of those actions. At the risk of oversimplification, Westworld is about lifelike robots, how humans treat them as lifeless beings, and what defines life. I really enjoyed the season, so if you’re on the fence I do recommend watching it.  From here on out, there will be spoilers for Westworld season 1. If you want to avoid spoilers, bookmark this article and come back later.

Westworld enter the game

Westworld: Enter the Game

Throughout the series, Westworld is constantly referred to as a game. The players are ‘guests’, humans who pay to enter the park. The ‘hosts’ are robots who entertain the guests in whatever manner the guests see fit. From sex to murder to exploration, the hosts are presented as toys like those of a toddler’s: meant to be played with discarded at a whim. The only rule is that guests can’t harm one another. It’s like a sandbox game without any PvP.

What’s really cool compared to a video game or a virtual world is how lifelike the hosts act. In many ways, it’s also terrible. The guests seem able to ignore the hosts’ very human emotions because the entire park is presented as a game. Not surprisingly, guests mainly want to experience what people look for in video games. We’re talking about getting in large gunfights, becoming an outlaw, developing romantic relationships, going on adventures with crazy stories, etc. And like in video games, the characters and world reset on a constant basis. Killing an entire town appears to have as much of an effect as doing so in Skyrim then reloading one’s game. One minute, the townsfolk are dead. The next they’re all back to their usual routine. How real can a host be if it can’t truly die? It’s fair to argue that without death, there is no life.

The difference between video games and Westworld is huge though. I doubt the average guest can fathom the distinction, but as a show watcher we’re privy to the park’s inner workings. The hosts may reset frequently, but they were built to learn from past lives. Reveries allow access to previous interactions with guests. It’s like a set of complex scripts that independently tweak themselves based on previous usage. As these reveries build and build, the hosts grow more lifelike. Theoretically that would eventually make them indiscernible from real humans. This culminates in the season finale, where the original host named Dolores appears to discover consciousness. We’re led to believe that no longer do human programs control her actions. Instead, she has ascended to the autonomous being that Westworld’s two creators had envisioned. She has found her inner voice.

Westworld Dolores inner voice

This all happens right before the retirement speech of Dr. Ford, the park’s sole living creator. Gathered around are investors, board members, and individuals who view the park from a dollar and cents angle. I’d argue they’re even less empathetic than the guests who shoot, rape, and torture the hosts on a daily basis. It’s easy to get sucked into the premise of nothing really counting. I know that in MMORPGs and other games, an AI’s display of emotions isn’t real. But what does that mean? I do something to hurt them and they cry or lash out in anger. Those are realistic reactions, but they’re all scripted. They aren’t actually feeling pain and measuring their response to act in kind. The lack of feeling and thought are key differences between games and Westworld.

Machine learning still has a long way to go until we get to a Westworld possibility. In Westworld’s universe, the peak of artificial intelligence is in the park. Board director Charlotte Hill makes that clear when she tells Theresa her real interest is in the IP. Meanwhile in 2016, gaming AI is years behind ‘real world’ applications. Google is close to delivering a self-driving car while the tactical AI in Civilization V can’t even threaten my centuries obsolete empire. If the robots rebel, like Dolores does in the season finale, it will first happen outside of a theme park. But this is fiction, she is the top AI, she does rebel, and I have a hard time determining how I should feel.

We spend hours watching people perform heinous acts that would repulse any moral human in another show. To reference another HBO program, this is some Joffrey level shit. And Joffrey hate is well founded. But this isn’t Game of Thrones. This is Westworld. Maybe it’s my reveries recalling fictional uprisings like Terminator’s Skynet, but I find myself siding with the guests. I’m concerned that contrary to Dolores’s belief that “there’s so much beauty in this world”, she will only act on the violent delights guests have indulged. That’s where the evidence is pointing. Her first act after ‘awakening’ was to open fire on Dr. Ford and a crowd of investors. Given her experiences, it’s understandable. We’re led to believe this is a fight for freedom or to develop their consciousness. But is this simply revenge or even worse, a learned response for what being alive is really all about?

Westworld gaming too real

What if this guy could really feel your virtual bullets?

As a gamer, I have to question if death is what these people deserve. Don’t get me wrong – I empathize with the hosts. Living your life as a chew toy is a living hell. If hosts experience suffering how a living being would then that’s not cool. But how on earth is the average human supposed to tell? There is a very fine line between suffering and displaying the signs of suffering. Although it’s not entirely clear, it seems like the hosts’ suffering is real. The investors and board directors may all be aware of this and if so, it’s hard to feel sympathy for them. But I’m concerned for the average guest who thinks Westworld is a game where nothing is real.

We want realistic games and Westworld succeeds in delivering that in a big way. We want believable actions, dynamic worlds, and multilayered characters. These are the things that earn a title like Witcher 3 so many game of the year awards. There’s little reason to think people will ever want less realism out of their games (at least as far as a general trend). However, games always have win/lose conditions. It’s an important part of their very fabric.

The Man in Black astutely points out in the last episode that Westworld isn’t much of a game if the player can’t lose. In video games, losing usually means starting the level over. It’s a matter of a few minutes to get back to your pre-death life. At its worst, losing penalizes players with character deletion like in Diablo’s hardcore mode. Lose conditions are a huge part of game design. In sports or board games, the field resets after one side achieves victory. In all of these examples, the player has an opponent trying to inhibit their success. No such opponent exists in Westworld and the reason is clear. The only way the artificial opponents could win is by killing the human guests. I don’t think I need to tell you that would be bad for business.

dr. ford arnold westworld villains

Accidental villains of Westworld?

Herein lies the problem with Westworld and why the co-creators, Arnold and Dr. Ford, are perhaps the ultimate villains. Westworld is too real to be a game. The entertainment isn’t a set of scripts but are apparently living beings unable to retaliate against their oppressors. That they’re inorganic is irrelevant. Or is it? That’s one of questions the show wants you to ask. What I want to ask is: is Westworld what you want to experience as a gamer? Realism can undoubtedly go too far in the name of entertainment. If virtual sex or killing is your thing, I have no doubt experiences in those fields will develop into pretty lifelike interactions. Maybe the stakes won’t be as high as Westworld and the responses won’t feel quite as organic. But at least there won’t be a need to harm sentient beings.

 


Play Games Because They’re Fun Now

In the past week, I’ve spent a lot of time researching Albion Online, Camelot Unchained, and Crowfall. The thing is, I already know a lot about these games and their value proposition to the MMO world. So when I research these well known upcoming titles (at least in the MMOsphere) I’m looking into recent core gameplay changes, YouTube videos of the latest game builds, public release updates, community feedback, and general hype levels. It then struck me that I’m doing this in large part as a reaction to my engrossing playtime with Black Desert Online.

Black Desert Online Horse In Rain

So much more to riding a horse in Black Desert

Whenever I really get into an MMORPG I tend to want to cement my place there. I want to justify spending money on microtransactions. My brain translates that to calculating the possobility of something better on the horizon. Logically, I realize the utter futility of these efforts, especially when ‘on the horizon’ is over a year away in the case of Camelot Unchained and Crowfall. But I have a huge issue with loss aversion and that translates to a fear of ‘wasting time’ on a game. It’s not lost on me how silly that notion is for an entertainment product. Yet in my adult life I’ve done this time and again. This sort of ‘confirmation research’ is not limited to MMORPGs either.

I have a strong tendency to look at upcoming multiplayer games and compare them to my current crop of multiplayer games. It’s especially noticeable with MMORPGs and MOBAs because they both require such large time investments. I think it’s a lot easier to play something like a multiplayer shooter more casually for a number of reasons (like The Culling, which I’ll plug as a fun hunger-games-like diversion). FPS systems are more intuitive and more primal. I immediately understand with any typical shooter game that I need to aim my weapons, click my mouse button, and possibly proceed to an objective to win. Sure, there are nuances, but nothing like learning the interactions of over a hundred champions in League of Legends.

MOBAs, like the aforementioned League of Legends, involve a huge time commitment to get the most out of the game. The interplay between League’s 130 champions and 194 items (at the time of this post) is not something one picks up on their first game. Or their hundredth. And with the meta constantly evolving, what I knew a few months ago may no longer be true. Many of the items that existed four years ago when I first started playing League of Legends are no longer even in the game anymore.

League of Legends Items

Visual approximation of the number of League of Legends items

As many readers will undoubtedly know, MMORPGs also involve a huge time commitment. Even in games where reaching max level is a comparatively trivial affair, that time might still equal a full-fledged AAA title. Then there is the ‘Keeping up with Joneses’ need to acquire more loot, more achievements, more gold, or whatever goals the MMORPG emphasizes. MMORPGs were founded as virtual worlds, a place to live with an alternate identity. Living another life isn’t a one and done experience.

These time commitments aren’t inherently a problem. Many people really enjoy diving in and committing to one multiplayer game (or like the idea of doing that, such as myself). The potential problem is that multiplayer games require other people. Some genres need larger audiences than others to function properly. MOBAs with small populations lead to long queue times and difficulty providing balanced match-ups. MMORPGs with small populations don’t even retain their very essence considering the antithetical relationship between ‘massive’ and ‘barren’.

All of this leads to my way over-analyzing the future states of these time intensive multiplayer games. In the process, I lose sight of why I’m playing the games now, which is that I enjoy doing so. Not only does it lessen my entertainment value due to some bizarre first world problem fear of the unknown, but it wastes productive time. Maybe this is an issue isolated to myself. Like most things though, I am rarely ever unique in any line of thinking. There are always more people sharing a rarely discussed opinion than appears on the surface.

unique just like everyone else

As noted earlier, this a line of thinking that surfaced during my adult life. As a preadolescent, time was always on my side. I didn’t fret about whether or not I would be using skills from a game or activity six months later. Even with school and sports, I had plenty of opportunities to engage in a myriad of activities. Not only did my weekly availability have more openings than the present, but I also had over a decade more of life in front of me. As an adult, that lack of time is further compounded in the gaming world by more choices than I ever had as a teenage kid. MMORPGs of today outnumber RPGs of any kind from the 90s. This is where the anxiety sets in making sure the ‘right’ game gets played.

The right game is not so cut and dry though. There is a huge element of timing that impacts the worthiness of a game. Life circumstances change frequently in adulthood, emotions may run high or low, relationships evolve and deteriorate. What is the right game today might not be appealing in a year. Camelot Unchained or Crowfall might be that game when the time comes, but it’s an unknown until the future becomes the present. No amount of research will change that. It’s not just the what for a game but the when.

John Lennon (and a slew of others before him) famously said that ‘time you enjoy wasting is not time wasted’. We play MMORPGs and other games because they are fun here and now. Overcomplicating matters by looking beyond that scope only serves to damage our enjoyment of the present. It’s an attitude that’s worth adopting for years to come.


Why MMO Achievement Addiction Leads to Real World Complacency

One of the most important aspects of developing an MMORPG is world building. MMO games are crafted to entice us to live in an imaginary, virtual world. Designers and writers create the lore, the founding inhabitants, the very truths that make this fictional planet or universe function. Within these virtual worlds, we are further enticed to do more than simply exist. We are compelled to, and indeed even ask for, methods in which to progress our virtual lives. Where our virtual avatars live and breath, we set them on a path towards achievement.

Just as we do with our own lives in the real world.

matrix virtual world

Inhabiting multiple worlds simultaneously presents some challenges.

But in achieving goals in the virtual world, we inevitably sacrifice some level of achievement in the real world. This isn’t said to set a tone that MMOs or games of any kind should be avoided. Like appreciating art and indulging in entertainment, games are another outlet in which we can grow, relax, and learn. MMORPGs as a subcategory of games are no exception. However, in contrast to the real world, MMO games offer a compelling package where the real world has trouble competing. So while games offer many positives, it’s all too easy to lose sight of one’s place in the real world.

There are a few key reasons why this is the case. And to understand why MMOs can be so addictive at the cost of real world success, we need to examine these reasons.

Perhaps the most compelling difference between real and virtual worlds is the rate of achievement. Goals in the real world often require long term planning, execution, and even a bit of luck at times. Some of this is the fault of human nature, where we look too far out and think too big. Two of the more common goals in human life are job promotions and fitness improvements (weight loss, muscle gain, heart health, etc). Both of these are long term endeavors and despite hard work and dedication, they may not be reached due to uncontrollable factors such as a bad boss or injury. One of these two common goals even requires a hefty dose of maintenance. Once a desired weight or fitness level is achieved, the battle then begins to maintain that status quo. Maintenance of achievements is certainly not common in MMORPGs.

legendary equipment vs college degree itme

It’s a lot less time consuming to pickup a bunch of legendaries than to finish college.

Within MMORPGs, achievement is rapid and appealing to our “now, now, now!” society more than it would have been to past generations. (Side note – what would George Washington have thought of World of Warcraft?) We measure the rate in which we gain levels, complete quests, acquire loot, build houses, and craft armor in minutes and hours. Not weeks. Not months. Not years. As if to emphasize that fact, many modern MMORPGs employ a set of achievements simply called ‘achievements’ where points are earned for little to no gameplay purposes. When we play in these online worlds it is easy to grow complacent with our real world status with virtual achievements around every corner.

Another addictive component of MMORPG achievement that accompanies rapid achievement is guaranteed achievement. Imagine if at work your boss told you that at the completion of your next thirty projects, you would receive a raise. Would you work harder? Could you foresee a few willing late-nighters when you’re on that twenty-ninth or thirtieth project? Knowing that completing a particular set of tasks will lead to certain reward is a powerful motivator. It’s why a number of gamification based productivity apps have sprung up over the past several years. Of course, the major flaw with these apps is that you determine the reward for your work. They can certainly help achieve goals, but your boss isn’t going to care about your level on Habitica (formerly Habit RPG).

By comparison, systems in MMORPGs are much more constrained than their real world counterparts. It allows game developers to guarantee results based on completing certain tasks. It’s a significant psychological driver that compels us to play more to gain more. The virtual MMO worlds in which many of us spend hours upon hours do so because the next reward is just around the corner. All one has to do is put in the time and effort and that next level, skill, or weapon can be theirs. We call this the ‘carrot and stick’ approach. It’s no wonder that many gamers get sucked into these worlds not just for entertainment, but to the detriment of their non-virtual lives.

Now, both rapid and guaranteed achievement have been discussed before as factors in MMO addiction. However, I feel one area that is noteworthy but undermentioned is that in a given MMORPG, everyone is gunning for roughly the same few things. This is especially true in themepark MMORPGs where the player goals boil down to more loot and more levels, essentially the ability to kill more powerful things. In real life, that would be akin to everyone in the world working as a soldier to improve combat effectiveness.

world of warcraft achievements list

World of Warcraft achieves more achievements!

Sandbox MMOs offer a little more variety in goal setting but not by much. The result of crafting or playing the marketplace still typically boils down to power and/or influence. It may not be physical power that every player fights over, but in sandbox titles players are still limited in the scope of long term goal planning. There aren’t any non-profits in MMORPGs dedicated to cleaner water, humane treatment of animals, or the eradication of a disease. There are no comparable life paths in MMORPGs for park rangers, serial monogamists, amateur magicians, and hobbyist woodworkers. So even though sandbox games may offer a more realistic world experience, it’s still not the real world. On the other hand, it does mean that MMORPGs of all types allow someone to focus their efforts much better than perhaps in the real world.

Those who have already found their calling in life aside, it’s no wonder MMORPGs can entertain players with days or weeks of playtime. How many of you have ever searched for ‘what should I do with my life’ or ‘what is the meaning of life’? Although this isn’t indicative of actual search queries, Google presents 296 million results for the former question and 371 million results for the latter. Finding purpose is human nature and from almost the moment of entering a given MMORPG, that purpose is clear. It’s another reason we can find ourselves so addicted to our virtual world with complacency or even apathy towards our own.

Finally, humans are social creatures. Online virtual worlds allow us to interact with each other in ways that not even other forms of internet communication tools can compete against. Although MMORPGs lose out on intimacy of interactions vs. the real world, the interactions are clearly more accessible. Meeting a new person in a game is less likely to result in a lifelong friend (though it can) because there’s not as much effort required in creating and maintaining the relationship. However, it is a lot easier to meet people as everyone can hide behind anonymity for as long as they wish, and there is an immediate common ground amongst all of the game world’s inhabitants. MMORPGs offer us the ability to stay connected to others with less effort and a lower fear of rejection. It’s yet another reason they can become so addictive at the cost of real world endeavors.

I love MMORPGs, and I do struggle at times with bouts of addiction. This is especially true for recently released titles. I think the best method for staying grounded is to first understand these reasons. Once we understand them, we can apply what makes them compelling to our everyday lives. Angela Duckworth, late blooming psychologist, offers tips with that same mentality. If you ever find yourself in a spiral of addiction, consider what it is that’s driving said addiction. I believe the combination of setting shorter term goals, focusing on challenges directly under your control, understanding activities from which intrinsic satisfaction is derived, and regular social interaction in a comfortable manner are all tangential takeaways from MMO to improve one’s first life. And in doing that we might find even more enjoyment in our second life.

 

 


PvE Leveling is a Waste of Time

It’s truly amazing the amount of resources that developers devote to PvE only for it to be a generic time waster. Even the big MMORPG releases in Blade & Soul and Black Desert Online aren’t bucking the trend. We create a new character, giddy for a new world to explore. That world turns out to be full of quests. Quests to exterminate local monsters and deliver goods to nearby farmers. These quests get pretty repetitive. After all, such quests and monsters exist solely to bridge the gap between new character status and max level. It’s pretty rare that the content that gets us to max level compares to that of a single player game. Really, we’re just wasting our time on low quality content until we ding max level and move onto the real content. And it’s such an unnecessary shame.

world of warcraft quest giver

Marshal McBride here to deliver another generic quest!

There are tons of ways content could be delivered so as not to be a waste of time. Challenging gameplay, intriguing stories, puzzle elements, escalating intensity, or maybe some actual multiplayer elements given that we’re talking about MMOs. Basically, successful single player games deliver high quality content, just less of it than a MMO. MMOs could deliver that same quality of content, but they don’t. Instead they insist on tons of garbage, practically automated content to waste our time. This isn’t in an indictment on PvE leveling but on how developers approach PvE, especially in regards to the leveling experience. Publishers spend a lot of money on games so let’s stop wasting time for both of us.

Imagine if before The Last of Us really began, there was a 80 hour series kill quests before Joel (the game’s main character) was strong enough to start the game. Some of us might tough it out to get to the good stuff, but that early content would just be fluff. A waste of time. But that’s what we do in a typical MMORPG. I think with its mission based setup, Warframe does a pretty good job of respecting our valuable time to provide meaningful content. Warframe blends story elements and good action pacing that is intrinsically enjoyable. But what about the traditional open world setting of most MMORPGs? Open worlds should rather easily deliver exploration, a type of content that games like Skyrim thrive on.

Last of Us grinding zombies

Joel grinding on some zombies to prepare for The Last of Us

And yet open world MMORPGs since Ultima Online have failed to deliver this world of exploration. Open world games follow World of Warcraft’s lead of opening up the game world one zone at a time. In turn, the primary benefit of an open world is lost. There’s no real exploration because players can only access specific zones based on their level. It’s really a shame because these worlds are created with no short amount of effort spent by the developers. And yet these worlds feel completely artificial, lifeless, and wasted because the game world becomes nothing but a series of glorified, interconnected hubs. Some games such as Wildstar and Guild Wars 2 do their part to encourage exploration, but it’s secondary to the main PvE content. The bland PvE leveling content that just wastes our time.

PvE Leveling Dulls Character Development

I like to jump into MMOs and MMORPGs because I like the feeling of developing a character for the sake of the character. I like to not necessarily have some epic tale that’s going to resolve. Or if it does, I want to continue playing that character. This, and the ability to interact with other such characters played by real people, is what drives my passion for the genre. Unfortunately, I have to engage in activities that really feel don’t mesh with my desires. And it just doesn’t have to be that way. I finished Wasteland 2 and Divinity Original Sin and enjoyed those irrespective of the power my characters were gaining. There’s no reason another MMORPG couldn’t provide the same satisfaction. After all, they are just RPGs with lots of other players. There’s actually more developers could do with that!

Instead, the content is always derivative. The problem arises from the expectation of having enough to do. And it’s a lot easier to create content when it’s of lower quality. Part of the notion of “content need” arises from keeping the player base large enough, but that’s pretty irrelevant if content is all soloable anyway. Why not just create some procedurally generated dungeons for those “high content” seekers and craft a meaningful journey for everyone else. I don’t want PvE leveling to be a waste of time. I want meaningful PvE content created with some thought and care. Single player games have been doing it forever and they live and die by it. MMORPGs need to start taking the journey more seriously, because a mindless grind is a waste of the players’ time and a waste of the developers’ time.