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five ways to miss the point entirely

January 28, 2009

Five ways to miss the point entirely

So, Omelettez called this article by Tom Chick to my attention today. It really made me laugh, for three reasons actually. First, I’m a marketing student. Second, I have a long history of gaming. Finally, because the writer in question is a somewhat respected writer and actor. MMO games do have many problems, most of which are inherent flaws with any game. Remember those thumb blisters? That’s a pretty big complaint about hard, non-ergonomic, flat-top-button controllers. As you can see, it’s very easy to miss the point, which Mr. Chick has been kind enough to remind me. So, join me in looking at five exceptionally good ways to miss the point.

5) The point: cost

Most gamers that I’ve met are spending an exceptional amount of money on their gaming habits. Building an army in a tabletop game is a huge investment. Buying a new game for your precious PS3 each month is going to cost you twenty dollars if you only buy old games, and over sixty for new games, or specialty games. On top of this console gamers have also put in a large investment on their gaming system of choice (or choices).

Most console games, and non-subscription games in general are a one stop shop. You buy the game, that’s it. The game developer has no reason to create new material for the game except for their own gain. They want people to continue buying their game and they want their game to be favorably received as a continuing experience so that buyers will purchase more of their companies games. With subscriptions, you are making a commitment, but so is the company. Their income is based on their users enjoyment of the game and so most developers will pay constant attention to their game. Are companies perfect? No, but a company would be absolutely foolish to ruin a game, or ignore a game. All they care about is money, and you give them that money.

The real point is: MMO subscription fees can be canceled with no impact on your character in almost all cases and at the same time are less expensive than buying a new game.

4) The point: artificial intelligence

‘Aggro’ is highly relevant to most MMO games. Aggro is simply who is being attacked by who. However, Mr. Chick’s first comments were about threat, rather than aggro. Threat is often hidden, but is almost always based off a tangible action. Players who care about a game will study it and gather a large amount of knowledge and understanding of how threat works. The importance of threat is in making computer controlled opponents make sense in a multiplayer environment. The reason it is called threat is because it is a representation of how much of a threat you are. Perhaps Mr. Chick should have played more D&D, or watched Lord of the Rings. How often have you seen a larger, stronger warrior force their opponents attention away from their weaker companions?

His second point actually referred to aggro radius, which is an entirely separate mechanic which, as you all most likely know, causes monsters to attack you if approached within a certain range. Does it make sense? Not entirely, but again as with the above, you are dealing with artificial intelligence. You might notice that enemies in many MMOs have some form of indicator of how dangerous they would be to you. As I channel my inner thrall (no, not Thrall), I find it hard to believe that I would be too eager to attack someone much, much more powerful than me. At the same time, if he steps on my toe, I could easily lose my temper and do something quite stupid. The same is reflected in ‘aid’ mechanisms, in which monsters call for aid, or simply assist other nearby enemies. They’re much more likely to throw themselves into a fight where three of their friends are already engaged than all alone against a lone demi-god like hero.

The real point is: Threat and aggro radii are manifestations of artificial intelligence used to govern monsters behavior to make them seem more realistic.

3) The point: information

I think this, despite being ranked as third, is where Mr. Chick’s true colors came out. For the life of me I cannot remember the last time I had to actually look at my HUD for more than a glimpse to check on some lengthy cooldown. My UI is highly modified from the default in every MMO I play. The keyboard and mouse are the interface, at low skill levels I’m sure that staring at buttons is extremely common. Modern MMOs use their HUD to present information in a way that users can customize to their own needs. Those needs are quite simply for information. How much information do you need about certain things. The HUDs on most computer games serve a very similar role, they share information. It’s amusing that Diablo is brought up, as well, because Diablo’s HUD was the original basis of WoW’s UI.

The real point is: Your controllers are your mouse and keyboard, not the small icons meant to kept track of cooldowns and give easier mouse access. Make your UI to your own taste and use it for what it is.

2) The point: lasting interest

MMOs are designed to last a player for a rather long period of time. At the same time, many players enjoy sight-seeing and nastalgia. Is it frustrating when your third alternate character is forced to do the same quests? Yes, it can be. However, how often have you played the first level of Super Mario Bros? I can’t even count. That’s the thing though, the world is a singular entity. Large epic events are exceptionally fun, but the fact is many MMO companies throw them. Blizzard certainly does, and so has Mythic. Do you remember the opening of the gates of Ahn’Qiraj? The scourge invassion from Naxxramas? The opening of the dark portal? The invasion of Undercity? WAR has not had an event of this scale yet, but I certainly remember Heavy Metal and probably will for a long, long time.

Having a meaningful impact on a game world is a nice dream, but truthfully, I would regret altering something on a large enough scale to be merittable. I would simply regret doing things of that nature the the knowledge that now others could not.

The real point is: Did it really matter that your princess was in another castle?

1) The point: strategy

Here is the thing I’m really not sure Mr. Chick understands. It’s very hard to play any game with everyone you want all the time. Is it a flaw that Street Fighter 3 was a two player game? Was it a flaw that a tournament level player would destroy a novice easily? Was it a flaw that different characters played in different ways?

If you’d really like to see what a community can do, you should look at raids in WoW. There is a lot of strategy done as a group, tailoring their characters to function as a unit. The same is true of WAR. The same is true of D&D. These are all games where not every player is a carbon copy of the others. You have squishy healers, you have resilient healers, you have tanks, you have DPS, you have casters, you have rogues. It’s quite possible to make a game that does not have this ‘flaw’ but it’s not something the gaming community would benefit from. For that to work, everyone would have to do everything. I don’t want to be vanilla class #6 on a list of fifteen to choose from purely because they look different. I don’t think anyone else does either.

The real point is: Taking out the need for a strategic group of similar skill levels would oversimplify a genre that already has a figurehead that is criticized for being too simplistic.

Truthfully, I think MMO detractors are far too often burned out WoW players who feel let down by Blizzard. I know I’ve been let down by Blizzard and the WoW community as well, but that’s no reason to divert blame from serious problems, to rather silly ones. Let’s talk about the carrot on the stick ideal. Let’s talk about the catering towards casual players. Let’s talk about Blizzard’s constant rebalancing and unbalancing. Let’s talk about a PVP game’s conclusion centering on PVE. Let’s talk about something that matters. Let’s stop trying to distract from real issues because playing devil’s advocate will get you some attention.


One Comment leave one →
  1. Omelettez permalink*
    January 28, 2009 10:37 pm

    Totally off topic, I can’t stop laughing over the fact one of your “Possibly related posts” thingy is PUMPKINS OF DOOM!!!!!


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