Tag Archives: Pokemon Go

Why We Love Doing Dumb Things in MMOs

Kill ten rats, craft a linen hat and sharpen spearheads (0/20). Wow, cool stuff, let’s login to the game right away! …right?

If you look closely, a lot of things to do in MMOs are super dull. Nobody in their right mind will claim that sharpening spearheads or doing dailies are the most thrilling activities a game has to offer. Sometimes it feels like I’m working rather than gaming. Why then do we do these things, and heck, why might we even enjoy doing them?

The Demand for Dumb Things

Even though excitement sells games, I would argue that there is a certain demand for doing dumb things in MMOs. Being deeply involved with something exciting is fun, but taxing. This is something I can relate to from personal experience.

Doing challenging content is one of the reasons I’m drawn to the MMO genre. I raid two days a week, so I would not call myself a typical casual gamer.

However, most weekdays I don’t get to login until 9 o’clock in the evening. After a long day at work, I don’t have much energy left. My head hurts when I hear other peoples’ voices and I lack the brain power required to focus on what’s happening around my characters and what skills I need to use. On such evenings, I like to login to the Elder Scrolls Online and do the crafting dailies on all my characters. Dumb, menial solo tasks are the perfect thing to relax.

Crafting dailies in the Elder Scrolls Online (ESO)

Others might not even enjoy challenging content when they are rested. Who am I to argue?

My point is: there is a market for dull MMO content. This doesn’t completely answer the question, though. Because why would I do dumb things in MMO games when I could be binge watching my favorite TV series? This brings us to a second incentive to do mundane tasks: the reward.

Positive, Immediate and Certain Rewards

The best dumb things to do have a predictable, reliable reward. In management and behavioral science this is referred to as positive, immediate, certain (PIC). Game developers that want to encourage behavior (in this case, have customers play the game), will have the most success when the behavior is met with positive (you get a nice thing), immediate (you get the thing as soon as you’ve done the task) and certain (every time you complete the task, you get the thing) consequences. Sounds familiar? Indeed, I basically just described the pillar stone mechanic of every MMO: the quest.

But this is not all: a positive relationship exists between behavior and the frequency of PIC consequences. Basically, the more regular the reward, the more likely we are to execute the desired behavior. This makes dailies such an effective tool for getting gamers to login and play. Considering PIC strategies are a big thing in management science as well, perhaps we should not be surprised that the lines between gaming and work begin to blur.

Achievements as a Way to Cope

In-game rewards are not the only driving force behind gaming as if it’s work: the reality is more complex. Let’s look at a gamer type that spends particularly much time doing things that resemble work: the achievement hunter.

The main goal of the achievement hunter is to complete everything there is to do. In-game rewards matter less. Sure, the achievements that offer exclusive rewards are a nice bonus, but what matters is to do them all.

MMOs generally come with a helpful list of all achievements that are tracked as the player progresses. The entire content of a game is basically summarized in one big to do list. And this is interesting, because to do lists are also a huge management tool in – you’ve guessed it – business environments. So why do achievement hunters like to do lists so much, even if it’s reminiscent of working?

The achievement tracker in Guild Wars 2 (GW2)

In an interview with the Guardian, psychologist Dr David Cohen mentions three reasons we love to work on lists:

  • They dampen anxiety about the chaos of life
  • They provide with a plan to stick to
  • They are proof of what we have achieved

The first stands out to me. Are to do lists a way of coping with the overwhelming amount of content that MMOs these days offer? Game system upon game system, mechanic upon mechanic are piled up as MMOs keep adding things to present their players with something new. New players have so many things to take in that a first reaction might be to panic and log off. I know I have felt that way on more than one occasion. Working towards completing achievements brings structure, offers boundaries and reduces stress. On top of this, lists are a proven way to increase productivity – both on the job and while gaming.

I would argue that the desire to hunt achievements may be fed by games, but the basic drive comes from within. In fact, our brains come up with such creative things to track that in-game achievement trackers never keep up. This is why you see players writing things down in notes that lie on their desks, or keep track of things in spreadsheets on their computer.

Playing for Fame

Thus far, I have focused on the “soothing effects” of doing achievements in games. Better known, and well-researched, motivations for achieving in games are competition and prestige.

According to Wikipedia, “One of the appeals of online gaming to the Achiever is that he or she has the opportunity to (…) hold elite status to others. (…) They may spend long periods of time engaging in a repetitive action in order to get one more reward.”

Let’s look at players that spend extreme amounts of time grinding boring things. With the risk of sounding derogatory, I will refer to this achiever sub type as the “no-lifer”. The no-lifer is someone who spends so much time gaming that it is inconceivable that the gaming experience itself is still exciting and fun. The goal is not to ridicule this type of player, but rather to understand what drives them.

A while back, I saw a video by the well-known YouTuber Trainer Tips that finally made me understand the draw of the “no-lifer” playstyle. “50 Raids in one day with the world’s #1 Pokémon Go player” offers a fascinating insight into the prestige earned through an extremely grindy playstyle. We see a day in the life of BrandonTan91, the Pokémon GO player with the highest amount of experience (XP) in the world. Brandon spends every day in his car, driving from pokémon raid to pokémon raid. He runs complicated calculations to determine the most optimal routes of earning XP. So far, this does not sound very appealing.

But here is the trick: Brandon does not play alone. He has accumulated an entire crew of Pokémon GO players that drive around with him, helping him beat the raids. In interviews, these followers consider it an honor to play with him. It is clear that Brandon is a hero and inspiration to them. Before they met him, they didn’t even spend half as much time playing the game. When asked, all these players recite their accumulated XP count by heart: clearly, this is a social status indicator in their game community.

It is easy to ridicule BrandonTan91’s playstyle as “no-lifer”, but it’s just as easy to see the appeal of spending your days playing your favorite game, together with other players that are just as enthusiastic about that game and treat you with the greatest respect. Even though I may never personally enjoy grinding in Pokémon GO, it is clear to me that these players are genuinely having fun.

For those of you that think Brandon lives in his mother’s basement: if we may believe the YouTube comments, he has found a way to monetize his hobby. For a fee, he catches pokémon for other players. We’ve come full circle: from gaming as if it’s work to gaming that has become work.

Conclusions

We’ve seen that playing as if it’s work is stimulated from within the game: by offering daily or weekly tasks with positive, immediate, certain (PIC) rewards, and by having achievements to fulfill. Moreover, though, it comes from a natural desire within. Keeping track of accomplishments reduces stress and provides with a plan, goal, structure and boundaries. In-game achievement trackers offer a reminder and proof of what is achieved. Finally, prestige is an important drive to live a “no-lifer” lifestyle. The more time is spent gaming, the higher the potential for increased social status within specific gamer communities.

Does working make a game come to life?

Right when I thought I had it all figured out, another thought crossed my mind. What if menial tasks are what makes me feel engaged in the gaming world? When I start losing interest in an MMO, boring, repetitive actions are usually the first victim. I will only login to play dungeons or raid with my friends and stop caring about gear and crafting altogether. When someone asks me whether I still play a game, I almost feel guilty when I reply with “yes”. Even though I technically login and thus play, my heart is not in it. The dumb things I do in MMOs make me feel part of the living, breathing online world – without them, I feel like a pretender.


Is Augmented Reality the Future of MMOs?

Pokemon Go is a huge hit. There’s no doubt about it. The mobile game sensation earned over $200 million in its first month of operation. Much of the game’s design and locations originate from developer Niantic’s first augmented reality title, Ingress. Real world locations act as key destinations for players to visit and interact with in both games. In Pokemon Go, these are gyms where players fight their Pokemon and Pokestops to collect resources. It seamlessly blends in with the real world and requires only a phone to see the virtual overlay. Pokemon Go boasts many similarities to MMOs so it got me thinking. Is Augmented Reality the Future of MMOs?

augmented reality ingress

Augmented Reality, Present Day

Few games integrate reality with core gameplay. Of those, only Ingress and Pokemon Go come close to the offering of a fully fledged MMO. It’s certainly a step forward in the evolution of mobile gaming though. Pokemon Go encompasses all of the basics of an MMO. There are tons of players who can interact directly and indirectly with one another. Players also gain levels in order to access more challenging content. None of app’s gameplay is very complex, which is no doubt a huge reason for its success. Anyone that can flick an object and tap a screen can play.

This simple gameplay has created an environment for friends of all skill levels to play with one another. Unlike MMOs that segment players by level, Pokemon Go’s augmented reality locations benefit everyone. Grouping doesn’t confer any direct benefits, but players can help other players by sharing locations of rare Pokemon, setting lures to increase Pokemon appearance, or capturing gyms to place Pokemon in. People playing Pokemon Go are often hard to miss so it also acts as a potential discussion opener. Like MMOs, this conversation is not always welcome, but there’s no doubting augmented reality offers a rich social component.

The freemium cash shop sells some nice incentives for purchasing real money currency without enraging free players (so far). It permits Pokemon Go to operate on the popular free to play model that’s allowed numerous MMOs to thrive, or at least survive. Finding MMOs that aren’t pay to win can be a rather difficult task. Pokemon Go might just be in a class of its own with its freemium model. There is some argument over whether Pokemon Go is pay to win, but the masses seem to have no problem with it. Ultimately, that’s what counts when it comes to future game development.

Augmented Reality as MMO’s Future

What augmented reality lacks compared to traditional MMOs is depth. The gameplay in Pokemon Go and Ingress can feel repetitive pretty quickly. The game revolves around a rotation of catching Pokemon, leveling up Pokemon (basically by catching more), and conquering gyms (to get resources to catch more Pokemon). Everything comes back to catching Pokemon and the faster one does that, the faster they progress. There’s only one real path so if it gets too worn, the player may not stick around.

augmented-reality-pokemon-go

That’s not to say Pokemon Go is in danger of going extinct anytime soon. I do think we’ll see revenue taper off in the face of this repetition. Complete MMOs and even browser MMOs produce a wealth of content that could be enhanced via augmented reality. Imagine for a moment an MMORPG like World of Warcraft with it’s crafting, raiding, questing, and PvP. Now consider how much more engaging these activities would be with a real world tie in. The core mobile elements with deeper gameplay systems would be revolutionary. If only it were as easy as that.

Mobile bandwidth can really dampen the play experience. Pokemon Go ran into some serious server issues at launch and Niantic is still working on a consistent experience for its users. This is with relatively static, asynchronous content. If an augmented reality MMO developer wanted to introduce something more dynamic like PvP combat, lag alone would ruin it. Phones, especially in more rural areas, can’t always maintain consistent connections. Really, complex combat of any kind would limit any potential audience on a technical level alone. The bright side is that with 4G LTE, bandwidth is becoming less of an issue. Yet, connection consistency and speed is only half of the battle.

The attention span of mobile users is another serious hurdle for augmented reality MMOs. Pokemon Go is succeeding in large part due its pick up and play nature. The gameplay is easy for anyone to grasp and light enough to be rewarding with just a few minutes of play. By contrast, MMOs often ask players to commit to hour long sessions. That’s not a time commitment the majority of people are willing to make. Most would be Pokemon masters are transient passersby. On the flip side, several people can be seen playing at major Pokestops for hours on end. A potential augmented reality MMO would need to appeal to a range of play styles without blocking off content for more casual players.

Why Augmented Reality?

It’s one thing to think that augmented reality MMOs are a possibility. It’s another to ask whether it’s something developers should consider. I think the answer is a resounding yes, for a few reasons. One is that grinding and leveling in even the best MMO can get repetitive. Real world tie-ins mask that. The social component of augmented reality games dwarfs any classic MMO. Face to face interaction is a healthy human interaction that can’t be replaced by emotes and voice chat.

I like that augmented reality games promote exercise. Spending too much time sitting on an MMO will damage one’s health eventually. It’s easier to feel less guilty when walking from place to place to accomplish anything. Finally, it’s good for businesses. Many retail stores are using Pokemon Go to spur sales. This interest by local establishments could be used to enhance the game with cooperative tie ins. Instead of a player-developer relationship, a third party enters the picture. This opens brand new doors for content interaction.

All in all, I feel that augmented reality MMOs are on the horizon. It’s a merging of genres that makes a lot of sense. That doesn’t mean we’ll see traditional MMOs and MMORPGs die out. Desktop and console gaming will always deliver more complex gameplay than a mobile phone. Still, Pokemon Go and Inress are just the kindling of augmented reality’s bright future.


We Love Pokemon Go Despite Hating Everything About It

Pokemon Go has certainly taken the world by storm. Nintendo’s stock has risen a tremendous 44% since Pokemon Go’s release last week.

Nintendo stock up 45% from Pokemon Go

Nintendo stock up 45% since the July 6 NA/AU release date of Pokemon Go.

The augmented reality (AR) game is certainly making news, both good and bad. It’s encouraging people to walk, which fantastically combats increasing worldwide obesity rates. However, not all is well as criminals used the game to locate groups of players to rob late at night. It’s also steering focus away from the real reality, making a Pokemon Go related car wreck seem inevitable. Nonetheless, Pokemon Go is clearly the latest hit in the gaming universe. It’s funny too because it is full of things we as MMO players and gamers in general say we hate.

Grinding

The core gameplay of Pokemon Go revolves around walking to Pokestops to gather pokeballs to catch Pokemon that wildly appear while walking around. When the wild Pokemon appear, the player flings the pokeballs in order to catch their prey. To level up these Pokemon, players must catch more of the same ones to acquire the necessary materials. There’s no real critical thinking involved, either in the capture or evolution mechanics. Thus to become a legendary Pokemon master you will simply embark on an epic adventure of repeating the same activities over and over to raise the seemingly unending combat power (CP) value. Meanwhile in other games, people bemoan comparable methods of grinding to progress.

Tutorial

It’s incredibly frustrating for a game to hoist activities on you while leaving critical components of those activities unexplained. Pokemon Go isn’t very complicated, but it’s also not very intuitive. Trial and error and logical deduction will eventually teach everything, but the game explicitly explains very little. The game shouldn’t really necessitate guides, and yet lengthy articles such as this one on tracking Pokemon are continually cropping up. Core systems such as the aforementioned Pokemon tracking, combat, and gym PokeCoin generation are left to the user to simply figure out. Players can get by without these subtle nuances, but they’ll be at a disadvantage without that knowledge.

Hardcore Commitment

MMOs requiring hardcore time commitments are falling by the wayside. Pokemon Go, however, can only be fully experienced by those who put in serious effort. The endgame of Pokemon Go takes place in the gyms around town. Players align themselves to one of the game’s three different teams to conquer and defend local gyms from teams of opposing colors. To conquer these gyms, players must use Pokemon with high CP in order to compete with other trainers. Holding onto these gyms at certain points of the day will reward gym guardians with PokeCoins, the game’s premium currency.

Pokemon Go Gym

Pokemon Go Gyms, the only place where combat takes place.

Players can also store Pokemon at friendly gyms but only if space is available. Players can make space by training at the gym but will ultimately require high CP Pokemon in order to do so. To realistically acquire PokeCoins without paying, a player is going to need some strong Pokemon. As already discussed, that’s only possible through grinding. This creates a cycle where the rich get richer. Even ignoring the items that only PokeCoins can buy, not being able to participate in realistically winnable battles can be frustrating for those without a hardcore level of commitment to Pokemon Go.

Pay to Win

To be fair, I’m personally not labeling Pokemon Go as a pay to win game. Players cannot purchase untenable power. The size of one’s wallet does not impact the need to go out and grind Pokemon captures. Reaching Pokemon master status will always require a certain level of “work”.

That said, the PokeCoin store’s inventory is full of time saving advantages such as EXP boosters, egg incubators, and Pokemon lures. Assuming equal time commitments, a paid player will quickly outclass a free player. The balancing mechanisms here are teamwork and the maximum levels and CPs of trainers and Pokemon, respectively. Eventually a free player can catch up to a paid player, but early gym dominance simply adds to that difficulty. Many players deride “time = money” cash shop purchases as pay to win so it’s worth pointing out.

(Sub)Optimization

Pokemon Go is surely not a friend of environmentalists. The game drains battery at lightning speed. Minimizing is not an option, lest Pokemon go uncaptured without optional push notifications. I’ll give the bugs and server issues a pass because it’s nothing new to online game world launches. The design decisions and lack of optimization options need to be brought up though because it impacts the long term enjoyment. A game isn’t very fun when it won’t work because it killed the power source (i.e. your phone). It’s similar to major PC releases that cause slowdowns and video lag due to poorly optimized code.

Love Transcends Hate

Let me sum this up in way MMO veterans can understand. Imagine if you took everything that made World of Warcraft a worldwide sensation and did the exact opposite. Pokemon Go would be the result.

world of warcraft pokemon go opposite

Flip World of Warcraft upside down, get Pokemon Go?

That said, the game is clearly addictive. I still have it installed and open it up during my regular walks. It’s probably the most social game I’ve played in a while. It’s pretty obvious who is clearly capturing Pokemon alongside me, so it’s easy to strike up a conversation. (I’m eagerly awaiting the first marriage proposal to arise from this game.)

The simplistic capturing mechanic, achievement addiction, exercise encouragement, nostalgia, teamwork, and augmented reality all make for a wholly unique experience. It’s quite simply why we can love a game when we hate so much about it. I’d argue the game element isn’t even that good, but we’re willing to overlook a lot of faults when the full package delivers this much fun.