Do you like being a small cog in a big machine?

Space is big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mind- bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it’s a long way down the road to the chemist’s, but that’s just peanuts to space.

- Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy

Discussing raid sizes yesterday, it’s clear that some people just enjoy the experience of large raids. Milling around with tens or even hundreds of other people brings out the massive size of an MMO. But the experience can also be dull and impersonal. (Not as impersonal as people often think though – I knew every member of the team when I was officer for a 40 man raid.)

PvP has similar issues. Some people adore the huge city or fortress siege operations where half the server turns up to join in the fun. Others prefer the steel cage death match of a three man arena team. Or even hunting solo.

And it doesn’t stop at group activities. Some MMOs offer a vast virtual world to explore, where you can run for ten minutes in any direction without seeing a town or city. Others are more focussed (Aion comes to mind) and the zones are simply bunches of mobs and quests laid out in an interesting pattern — but at least you won’t get lost.

Then there is the economy. EVE offers a truly vast economy, where players can make every item (just about) that is available in game. They have day traders, haulage, and lots of scope for deep play by traders and manufacturers. Games like Guild Wars barely have crafting at all and trading is done via shouting on city channels.

Single player games typically offer a very crafted experience. The player starts at the beginning, goes on to the end, and then stops. In a single player RPG, the world exists purely to serve the needs of the game or the story. Games which have a large world to explore are rare. But in MMOs, you have a chance to be a small cog in a big wheel – the game is big, and you are small. There are many other players and you are just one. I wonder, though, if this aspect of game design is changing and perhaps players are less interested in being dwarfed (both physically and in terms of content) by a huge virtual world.

  • Do you like a game world to be so large that you will get lost when first learning your way around?
  • Do you like that there are so many possible activities that you will probably never be able to do them all?
  • Does it bother you if there is content that other people do and you can’t (assuming you have enough to do to justify whatever you are paying for the game)?
  • Do you like having lots of options (for example: massive raids, large raids, small raids, instances, solo) or would you prefer a more streamlined experience?
  • Do you like to feel totally immersed in the game world?
  • Do you like to feel like a small cog in a big machine? To be part of a larger virtual society?
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17 thoughts on “Do you like being a small cog in a big machine?

  1. Screw persistent world: let the MMO world be so large you get lost and really have to explore your way through it. Let it be such that the small cog can make the difference and really change the world. Kill the dragon by chance and change the encounter for good. Let the mobs and bosses gain strength, gear and followers over time they are left alone.

    Damn it. Let there be life in the MMOs instead of dead spaces, yet let there be consistent stories to go through by quests and/or narratives if need be.

    A non-persitent, player changed world could be divided in chapters, triggered by events the players cause. five chapters and the world collapses or ascends, and the whole thing starts again in new one based on the old.

    Hmm… that’s what Cataclysm pretends to be… but doesn’t reach the depth.

    C out

    • A non-persitent, player changed world could be divided in chapters, triggered by events the players cause. five chapters and the world collapses or ascends, and the whole thing starts again in new one based on the old.

      You’re describing A Tale in the Desert here. :-)

  2. When I first enter a game world I like having the feeling it’s big and full of secrets to explore. However later on it can get very tiring and inconvenient if you have to travel an hour before you can pick up your chosen activity. Reason why people love fast mounts, portals and items that yank you to some distant place is really how many times can you sit and stare at your screen flying from Darnassus to Gadgetzan? Even worse if you couldn’t alt+tab it and had to actively execute the travel, first time it’s fun, hundredth time it’s tedious and annoying. Same reason why people dislike levelling in the Barrens or Darkshore, too much running doing nothing.

    And I don’t think I like “so many activities I can’t do them all”, sometimes I have that completionist drive and if I can’t do all I’m disappointed.

    The exception is if I can totally ignore some activity, for example I dislike pvp but if I was ganked on every step or the best rewards for character’s progression came from pvp, then I would find “this game isn’t for me”.

    I like the crafting aspect, while I don’t really love the system of profession-bases bonuses which make professions “mandatory” and some choices better than others. At least Blizzard did a huge step towards “profession isn’t determined by your class / role”, but still not enough. When I heard from my hunter friend he “had to abandon engineering and pick blacksmithing to stay competitive since hunters need armor penetration above all” I was hissing before my screen, everyone should be able to pick a profession they enjoy (or none at all if they can’t be bothered) and not be “forced to reroll fotm prof. every patch”.

    On another note, items crafted by professions should be wanted by the population of players, not considered trash and unwanted by-product of raising your profession skill.

    In the end, I like being able to shape my character in many possible ways, express my personal taste and preferences.

    What I dislike, is an illusion of choice, there are 10 options but only 1 is “correct” while others are “wrong”, “bad”, “gimped”, “lol”. For example profession that would make nothing useful or desired, class or talent tree that would be “good for nothing”, I start wondering why do they even exist? Redundant and useless stuff is not fun.

    And in some cases I prefer choice “A or B” than “A, B or both” because then not doing both hurts my completionist spirit, and doing both is usually boring or unfun. Oh, and of course we face people who start demanding both “because you can” and assuming you’re worthless if you don’t. See: having dual spec for raiding purposes.

    I have mixed feelings about WoW achievements, especially with the points count “my … is bigger than yours”, I like pursuing game secrets and easter eggs, but again, something I do on my own not because someone hit my eyes with it.

    Yes, I was doing seasonal quests and collecting seasonal vanity items before achievements were implemented, I also had maxed fishing skill, and the map “explored”. Achievements moved some stuff from “doing for fun” into “doing for points”, and that’s what I don’t really like about them.

    No, I don’t like feeling like a small cog, insignificant pawn, replaceable cannon fodder. Games giving illusion of being special snowflake and the hero? Yes please. So many customization options, quests where you have a choice instead of just playing along all the time (maybe you hated having to choose between two rivalling factions, but I loved it, it felt significant), small group activities instead of armies.

  3. Yes to all of the above.

    Part of my gripe with MMo’s is they all bang on about Epic scale but then arnt very big at all (again bar EvE). WoW for example is tiny really. Now I know its hard to balance having a huge sprawling city ala Victorian London/Ankh Morpock/Sanctuary or even a small town (anyone remember Irillian?) and make it playable in a MMO. I think the answer might be a large persistant world with multiple generic NPC’s. So we dont all have to go to the same badge vendor or bank in the same small village/town (Dalaraan on raid night) if traffic gets to heavy people will move. Of course EvE did end up with trade hubs…but as they get un workable more spawn…due to players getting fed up

    EvE is the exception to the rule but it does too good a job of simulating a cut throat dog-eat dog world. If I wanted that I’d go work in London or New York. (Truth is I love the concept of EvE more than actualy playing it, simply didnt have the time alongside WoW which gave more ‘bang/buck’. If I ever drop WoW then EvE will be a possible way for me to go)

  4. One way to look at this problem is to realize that we are in the biggest, most sandbox MMO ever. It’s called Real Life! Only we don’t notice it because life is just so generally full of inconveniences.

    Basically, as you shift from a “World” design to a “Game” design, you start dropping the things that make your MMO feel bigger because in general those things are actually really inconvenient to your actual game-playing.

  5. I think what I like about games doesn’t really relate to any of those criteria.

    I like craft, I like challenge, I like certain social dynamics. I dislike poor English, poorly calculated mathematics.

    I think whether I’m a small cog or the eponymous Hero is less important to me than other game elements, mainly how well the game world is put together.

    If it’s well made then generally I prefer complexity to simplicity.

  6. Answers!!

    * Do you like a game world to be so large that you will get lost when first learning your way around?

    Yes, I love it :) Morrowind springs to mind.

    * Do you like that there are so many possible activities that you will probably never be able to do them all?

    Yes.

    * Does it bother you if there is content that other people do and you can’t (assuming you have enough to do to justify whatever you are paying for the game)?

    No, people who are bothered by that bother me. Jealousy sucks ass. If you want something, work for it.(or don’t)

    * Do you like having lots of options (for example: massive raids, large raids, small raids, instances, solo) or would you prefer a more streamlined experience?

    A lot of options! I loved the messy structure of vanilla endgame, and I feel kinda detatched from Wrath endgame.

    * Do you like to feel totally immersed in the game world?

    of course, but I never felt TOTALLY immersed in an mmo, probably because of the real humans :o

    * Do you like to feel like a small cog in a big machine? To be part of a larger virtual society?

    Mmm, I don’t like or dislike it, but i think it is a VERY important tool to create the illusion of a living and changing world. Also, it creates a sense of unity, and for 99% of humans that means a lot and makes it harder to quit :)

  7. If I were to have my way I’d take sandbox style games every time. I loved SWG when it first came out, sure it was buggy, sure some of the classes were unbalanced but you had a world you could actually LIVE in! You could get yourself a house, your own town, take trips to the local cantina and interact with people. Sure it wasn’t rosy all the time but a large world where you could get lost until you found your way around places was something that I loved. Vanguard tried to do a similar thing but my PC wasn’t up to really running it.

  8. > small cog in a big machine

    I love that, it describes WoW perfectly. You need all the cogs for the cogwheel to work but the cogs themself have no interaction with each other.

    The cogs are just attached near each other on the wheel (and if they are lucky enough the get 2 EoF a day. :)

  9. Yes, yes, no, yes, yes, and yes.

    Sometimes I miss the days of 100 man raids in EverQuest. I preferred it when games didn’t limit how many people you could bring along so that “less efficient” guilds/groups could zerg content if they wished and it was a point of pride for some people to talk about defeating content with as few people as possible. Any time a game gives more control to the players, establishes less rules, is a win for me.

  10. Wow puts up all these really cool things like castles, houses, etc., but you can’t explore any of it since all the doors are locked, which in my opinion is somewhat lame. Part of having a persistent world is the ability to explore all its nooks and crannies and find something interesting – its satifies the explorer/puzzle solver in me. How many of you thought it was cool to find the engineer vendor by the shore in Azshara when no one else knew it was there? Or when you figured out how to sneak into Hyjal in vanilla. I think they should add some more intriguing finds in the outdoor world and open up all those closed doors and add randomly spawned mobs in them to make it challenging – mobs that are scaled to your level. Everyone needs to let off some steam from group play – and having a world that is larger and explorable is the way to go.

    I would like a game world so large I could get lost in. I would say yes to have tons of activities. No it doesn’t bother me if there is some content I can’t do because of my chosen style of play or time spent in game. Yes to lots of options of solo dungeons, multidungeons, etc. Even if I’m a small cog in the machine I don’t feel that way since I’m choosing what I do – the machine doesn’t control me – I control the machine.

  11. Yes. What world is worth exploring if you can’t get lost?
    Yes. That means I can more easily not do that which I don’t want to do.
    Yes. But this is a loaded question with too many meanings.
    Yes. I like options. But only if they are options.
    Yes.
    Yes and no. All humans need to be part of something. But they also like to choose which part of something to be.

  12. 1. No, doesn’t do much for me. Getting lost sounds cool on paper, but its 2 hours of trying to find where the heck the exit is to the series of box canyons you don’t have a map for, then giving up and deathwarping.

    2. No, because then it becomes an arms race of content between the people who will do them all and the rest of us. When I left FFXI I left with half of the endgame content undone because it took so long, and I put years into the game.

    3. Only if that content is necessary for story. Had that argument in FFXI. Or if the content is needed to get stuff to do future content, then the gap widens.

    4. Options are good, so long as they dont fragment the playerbase.

    5. Yeah, who doesnt?

    6. As long as I am not faceless. I hated that in EVE, you were really just one more ship in a swarm, and nothing set you apart.

  13. * Do you like a game world to be so large that you will get lost when first learning your way around?

    yes, but bigger – I want to get lost later on too. Not necessarily that damnit-wheres-the-exit bewilderment, but the omg-this-place-is-cool sense of lost. How big? Look to the game Fuel (http://www.joystiq.com/2009/05/22/fuel-sets-guinness-record-as-biggest-console-game-ever/)

    * Do you like that there are so many possible activities that you will probably never be able to do them all?

    Yes. I like what that implies too – I’ll be doing activities that other people likely haven’t yet or ever will. There’s scope for specialisation and differentiation.

    * Does it bother you if there is content that other people do and you can’t (assuming you have enough to do to justify whatever you are paying for the game)?

    Nope. There are also other games I could possibly purchase which I also don’t play – same thing.

    * Do you like having lots of options (for example: massive raids, large raids, small raids, instances, solo) or would you prefer a more streamlined experience?

    Lots of options, and lots of options in those brackets too. Why must raids be lined up in serial sequence? I want my raid guild to (eg) specialise in dragon killing, and we’d go off and do the dragon killing raids and dungeons. Some other guild can go handle the rising undead menace of the Dread Moors.

    * Do you like to feel totally immersed in the game world?

    Yes. It helps avoid the existentialist despair of just-pushing-buttons-for-pixels.

    * Do you like to feel like a small cog in a big machine? To be part of a larger virtual society?

    Ah, the illusion of importance of my character. I’d like to see a game which was a cross between an MMOG and Dwarf Fortress – one with thousands of players, each with (possibly) hundreds of NPC minions. A bit like a dominion strategy game, but where I walk amongst my subjects instead of having a gods-eye view. And where I have to watch my back in case another player decides to gank me, one on one, in some dark ally one night.

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