Peer pressure and single player games

I’ve seen a few people write that after having played MMOs, they find themselves uncomfortable picking options in single player games in case they pick a poor class/ build.

And it occurs to me that even if you did, as long as you could still play the game and have fun, you might never know nor care if one of the other options was more powerful. Or if you did realise, you’d put it down to poor game design.

These days we’re far more likely to share our single player game experiences with others online than we were in the past. Maybe this will be via blog posts and comments, or posts on a forum. Maybe it will be via Steam achievements or an online high score table that you forgot to opt out of. Increasingly single player games are also requiring an online connection as an anti-piracy measure, and trying to manufacture some social networking via sharing player progress.

I wonder what the effect of this will be in terms of peer pressure. Looking up optimal builds and strategies for every game should be a harmless (if anal) alternative to just playing the darned thing and figuring out something workable for yourself. But if the lessons of MMOs are true, this will become more and more the default playing style, fuelled by social pressure and people not wanting to look like idiots in front of their friends.

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17 thoughts on “Peer pressure and single player games

  1. And then there is the Masochist Cup (unofficial challenge) from Master of Magic:

    Klackon Klunkers (Masochist Cup)
    Limit yourself to one city.
    Race – Klackons.
    No Heros, mercenaries, or summoned creatures.
    Skills:
    Charismatic, Artificer (cruel since you can’t use heros)
    Channeler, Conjurer (cruel since you don’t cast spells and summon creatures)
    Alchemy (cruel since you are not using magic)
    Remaining spell picks left – Nature x 5
    Cast no spells at all,except Spell of Mastery.

    Folks have been commenting at Kill Ten Rats that you can intentionally make suboptimal choices to increase challenge. There you go, beat that challenge on the max difficulty a few times. :)

  2. I remember all the whining in the bioware forums about DA:O classes not being ‘balanced’. i.e., if you played mage it was probably easier than if you played warrior. Or different skill tress were more or less effective.

    I never understood why it mattered a good goddamn, but it seems to be common these days.

  3. I try not to head over to GameFAQS before my first completion of a game, but games like Fallout: New Vegas and Dragon Age are pushing me to start treating them like WoW and “reading ahead.” For example, unlocking Blood Mages in DA. I was halfway through the game before I realized how much more (potential) fun I could have been having had I did X, Y, and Z nearly 40 game hours ago, but there was no reasonable way to know that you needed to do X, Y, and Z at the time. Whoops, picked the wrong class at the character select screen, GG. Is figuring that sort of thing out supposed to be fun?

    Then you have a game like F: NV which does an absolutely terrible job at letting you know what the perks you actually select do, or the impact on your gaming experience. There is nothing fun at designer “gotcha!” moments, especially when you end up having to live with a poor choice for the rest of the game experience.

    I have been tempted to write “Quick and Dirty Guide to X” spoiler-free guides to these sort of games, just so people know that in DA Traps are useless or how getting Fireball early will radically change the difficulty of the game. You know, things I wish I knew before I started playing in earnest. I like exploring and experimenting with strategies as much as the next guy, but fumbling around not knowing what something is or does feels like something else entirely. Namely, a waste of my time.

    • See, for me there was no way I was going to unlock the blood mage, however powerful it was. Because my character wouldn’t have been dealing with demons.

      I’m not saying all gamers should play like I do, but I think I reject the idea that going that route was bad play because of being unoptimised (note: I know you weren’t saying this, I’m just musing) – it was good roleplay and storytelling in a roleplay/ storytelling game. In a story, sometimes it’s the right thing to do to make a decision to give up potential power because it can make a better story; I wonder if that can ever be true in a game.

      • I think the problem here is making having a powerful character be an interesting choice. Interesting choices by definition don’t have a “correct” answer. They occur when the trade off required puts them on the cusp of being advantageous.

        So, for example (not having played Dragon Age) – say, you can be a “good” mage or a blood mage. If you unlock blood mage and consort with demons your character becomes more personally powerful, but your ickiness puts off potential allies and you get less support along the way. Come the final battle with evil, a good mage has an army of peasants with pitchforks at their back. If you’re the blood mage, the peasants see nothing to choose between the dark lord and yourself and stay at home instead. If the fight’s tuned right, it’s about equal difficulty either way but you get a different story based on player choice. If it’s not, then one way is an easier way to finish the game and being a blood mage wasn’t actually an interesting choice because it could be seen as “gimp yourself or not”.

  4. I’m the type of person who is generally obsessive about squeezing all the goodness I can out of a game, so much that I enjoy the metagame at times more than actually playing something.

    It’s not a good sign, to be honest. :(

  5. I have found myself looking up “builds” and such for single player games lately and suddenly realising what I’m doing and stopping. It’s important to remember you’re here to have fun and/or experience the story. SP games should not be a competition, unlike how we play MMOs :)

    Good post :)

  6. Those of us that were heavy into console gaming around the time the XBOX 360 launched are well aware of the change that has occured with single-player gaming an peer pressure. It use to be that my friends and I would get a new game and enjoy playing it however we played it an them enjoy the conversations that came about when we learned that our buddy did something completely different than us. Then XBOX Live came along with it’s GamerScore… All the sudden, gaming was about finding the most efficient way to get the full 100 points (or whatever amount it was), which meant playing a game in a “suboptimal” way, meaning anything that did not garner achievement points, was useless.

    Many of my friends stopped playing for pure enjoyment, for a time at least. We’ve wandered back to our roots as of late, where getting trophies and what not are a neat plus, but not a goal in an of themselves.

    I think single player games have the advantage of difficulty sliders too, which MMOs do not. If I chose a terrible class build in Oblivion, I could just lower the difficulty so that I could still enjoy the game playing whatever class I wanted.

  7. Well I still remember playing games that basically were impossible for most people to complete if you picked a really difficult build, so it’s not that bizarre or necessarily linked to MMO elitism. It depends how far you go though, I mean for example if you want to find out (say) that one class is kinda tough if you don’t know what you’re doing but another basically plays the game by itself, that’s just figuring out the difficulty level before wasting time on something that might not be what you’re looking for. Whereas finding out the best items that can possibly drop and reloading the game repeatedly until it does… you see where I’m going? It’s a continuum.

  8. I found myself overwhelmed in Fallout 3 and started and stopped a number of times over the last few years. I was frustrated by not being able to complete certain tasks in the very first town and getting blown to bits by Super Mutants when I tried to “explore.” A guide has helped me overcome the wandering monster problem and now I am on my own.

    I think the Bioware games provide more scaffolding and while the characters may not be balanced, all of them are fun in their own way and of course the difficulty slider allows one to play through with a “gimp” character.

    In my 2nd play through of DA2 (first as a mage on normal), I consulted a guide and played as a 2h fighter on hard. It was a totally different experience, made more so as I chose different dialog options.

    There is value in both ways of design, but I felt that FO3 was “drinking water out of a fire hose” as it gave me too much all at once. I wonder if the DA2 demo wasn’t genius as it previewed what one’s character could become.

  9. DA:O is a great example of this for me personally. Before even starting the game, I decided based on things I had read to pursue the blood mage… not because I wanted to, but because it was determined to be so overpowering. The result? I ended up hating DA:O. I wasn’t enjoying how I was playing. I wasn’t enjoying the character I created. After that, I decided to never read anything about a particular game until I had already finished it once. I did that with Mass Effect 2 and enjoyed the heck out of it.

  10. My roommate and recovering six year mmo only player somehow lost the ability to make uneducated decisions in games. After him burning out on WoW I got him to play titles like “Mass Effect: The quickload edition” and “New Vegas: The game crashed while browsing gamefaqs”. Watching him play is kinda sad and funny at the same time.

  11. I do think that we can have bad game design in single player games that let you gimp yourself without a way to “respec”, or exclusive choices that don’t give you adequate feedback.

    There’s also the trouble I’m having with Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance. I don’t know how much money I’ll be earning, or how much I’ll be needing, nor do I know how best to optimize my characters to make a team that can actually *finish* the game. Some of that is due to the typical sudden difficulty spike that tends to come in FE games in the final mission, some of it is simple unfamiliarity with the game’s unique quirks.

    Playing that sort of long-term metagame is crucial to success in FE games, because you can’t retrain units or recover lost allies. Without a good idea of how that metagame can shape up, though, you’re stuck with either multiple playthroughs of the entire game or looking to FAQs. It will be easier to play and plan ahead on another playthrough… but when I’m lacking time to play a whole game, hearing from others who have played through already is very beneficial.

    It borders on broken design, as it is quite possible to make a team that cannot finish the game, but you’ll only know at the end of the game, when it’s too late to make a difference.

    So… I’m usually very happy just doing my own thing and playing a game on its own terms, but when it throws a curve at me in the final hour of a 40-hour epic, and the only solution is to go back 20 hours or start over, yeah, I’m less than pleased. I don’t think that’s terribly common, but it’s common enough that I have a tendency to check out FAQs at least for the broad strokes of a game to make sure I don’t get tripped by that sort of stupid design, blowing tens of hours of play.

    …but that’s not a social pressure I’m caving to, it’s a desire not to waste my time. *shrug*

  12. Absolutely.

    The problem, if there is one, with optimization in video games is about how EASY and FREE it is to optimize, and bypass the “what do I do now” part of games. That’s the part that everyone remembers as fun 5 years ago, but that everyone hates when they’re actually doing it.

    And it does seem as if (at least in the blogosphere) fewer people are playing games to have fun, as much as they are to write about it or at least KNOW about it. And that requires playing as many games as possible, as efficiently as possible.

    Why not just be able to take my stable of optimized, familiar toons and play any game I want with them?

  13. Some single player games seem to expect people to either flail around a lot or go look things up in a game – more so, I’d say than MMOs, but I’ve never really played MMOs as a competitive venture.

    Also, all this talk of unoptimized builds rather makes me want to go play the Champions MMO again. It’s just full of unoptimized builds, most of which could be quite fun as long as one never PvPed. (Then again, PvP in that game was probably the worst I’ve seen for cookie cutter one build to rule them alls.)

  14. I do not look up much information about an MMO outside of the game and certainly not to optimize any character.

    I might look for info to check if I am doing something significantly wrong if I play something that I find really not fun, in case I have misunderstood something. But then also only look for general hints rather than any optimized/detailed builds.

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