Thought of the Day: We have gamed through a privileged era

I have been mulling over EVE and pondering why PvP sandboxes seem so much easier to set up than PvE ones. It’s related to why competitive games are easier to set up than co-operative ones. With EVE in particular, the griefing culture isn’t purely down to character progression since there are plenty of choices in how to play the economic and PvP game, not all of which involve scams or griefing.

Partly it’s due to the content issue: players will happily compete against other players when dropped into a sandbox. Some will happily continue to compete in the similar scenarios ad infinitum. It’s cheaper and easier for players to entertain each other than to need a constant stream of PvE content.

But it’s also because people generally only co-operate when they don’t have a choice. Many enjoy co-operating in groups but if they didn’t need the group then they might not join in the first place. Competition seems to come more naturally to us, maybe we’re socialised into it.

The internet in general has been friendlier towards strongly co-operative games than you’d expect. This I think is because the early adopters were blown away by being able to interact online with other people from around the world in real time. Our first inclination was not to try to fight them, but to get together and build stuff. That’s the culture in which early MUDs and MMOs were born. And it’s also no surprise that so many early designers had been avid roleplayers — pen and paper RPGs are one of the few breeds of tabletop game that are genuinely co-operative.  I suspect that culture  will be seen as an anomaly.

Those of us who have been able to play games online where grouping was strongly encouraged, where co-operation was part of the game’s culture, where players were inclined to trust others until they did something to prove untrustworthy, and where people were prepared to put their own interests second to be part of the group have been privileged to be part of a gaming culture that is vanishing. Even though those games may have been deeply frustrating at times, they represent a very unique experience.

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12 thoughts on “Thought of the Day: We have gamed through a privileged era

  1. Yeah, I only got to catch the tail end of that era, but I ‘m still sorry to see it fading away. I got to enjoy some of that sort of community for a few years, at least.

  2. I think the real question I’d like answered is whether MMORPGs stopped being cooperative focused because of our tendency for competition or just to make them more business friendly. If the latter is true, how do we know people wouldn’t rise to the occasion in games similar to the original MUDs and MMOs?

    As a guild leader I consistently find people that are less focused on themselves and more on the greater good. People that go out of their way to helps others and work together. That may just be a raider mentality but I like to believe that more people in life will work together for a common goal than compete if given the choice.

    The sad truth is that MMORPGs aren’t really giving us the choice lately. They cater to “me first” and competition pretty handily.

    • My feeling is that large raid-type guilds always relied on a mix of people who were very team focussed, people who were very goal focussed (where the goal required a team), and people who were very reward focussed (where the personal reward required a team.) When the goals and rewards can be achieved more easily without being in the team, you won’t be able to keep those players. Sure there will be some left who love team play, but will they all be of the standard that you require, able to play as many nights as you need, and able to make your schedule?

      Good on you if you can make it work, and I don’t think the playstyle is dead yet, but I fear we’re a shrinking minority and as people get older they have less and less time for heavy schedules.

      • If people get old enough we’ll get more time for heavy schedules. The number of people who have retired from work and who want to play MMO games will become significant within our lifetimes.

  3. I think it’s to do with how challenging/harsh the world is to the players.

    If it’s so harsh that solo and self-centred play is utterly ridiculous, people will suddenly realise grouping isn’t such a horrific endeavour after all and that they *can* actually find people to group with without spending their entire evening typing in /lfg for a group (yeah, I’m getting sick of people making excuses for not grouping.)

    But, in something like EVE, where you can realistically do quite well for yourself on your own (so long as you have the time) then players develop a self-centred approach.

    WoW’s development is really quite paradoxical: as group content has become more and more commonplace and accessible, people have become more and more selfish.

  4. MMO co-op usually requires a knowledgeable, well-organized, trustworthy group with a healthy amount of free time and the right class-makeup that either 1) is exceptionally smart and capable, 2) is really patient and understanding, or 3) knows the content before it ever experiences the content.

    Overcoming all these obstacles certainly makes for a satisfying experience, but then again there are ten ex-raiders for every raider. For every raider that made it there are nine that couldn’t find the time, or the discipline, or the patience, or (most likely) couldn’t find a group of 9 or 24 other people who all had the right classes, time, discipline, and patience.

    Outside MMO’s, co-op is flourishing, because it removes these barriers. There are few time issues, there are few decisions (like loot or raid spots) to cause friction, there are no required tank/healer/dps roles, success is always mutually beneficial and griefing is impossible or ineffectual, there are no static groups required, and everything’s simple so a new player can drop in and instantly contribute and have fun.

    This “simple co-op” is everywhere. I’m dabbling with buying a number of (non-MMO) games this year: Gears of War 3, Battlefield 3, Space Marine, Toy Soldiers: Cold War, Resistance 3, Ratchet and Clank: All 4 One, Bastion (which is already out) and Might and Magic Heroes VI. Every single one of those games has co-op (“simple” co-op) except Bastion; some of them (like Gears) not only have co-op modes but entire co-op campaigns. Currently I’m winding down a month-long obsession with Terraria, which I’ve been mostly playing with my brother and some friends.

    Co-op is doing great! It’s a golden age for co-op. It’s just MMO co-op that’s broken.

    • I suppose there is Diablo 3 and Torchlight 2 also, for non-shootery things. But they don’t really bring out the crazy emergent player organising behaviour in quite the same way.

      You’re quite right about it being increasingly popular to have co-op modes in PvP games.

  5. The norm is independent play. I always viewed the group play in MMORPGs as the anomaly.

    And just why are people running from it? Just take a look at any games forum. It is filled with “group” players lambasting solo players, calling other players lousy and various other insults.

    That is all anyone needs to know when it comes to the problem of group questing. Most are happy to be able to leave those co-operative players behind, far, far, behind.

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  8. I am not sure of Eve is a good example of this. Sure it is always easier to pit players against each other and thus creating these fantastic, dynamic situations vs. generating a ton of PvE content, but at the end of the day, these PvP conflicts, at least in Eve, take a fair toll. Ships with a good outfit cost a lot. In nullsec, setting up a base can be one of the most costly endeavors in the game, not to mention hep defend it. And in order for all these in-game elements to come together, the back-end needs to be coded specifically and extensively to support these systems. The PvP in Eve has evolved constantly, because the developers have kept introducing newer elements into the existing infrastructure to continue to spice things up.

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