Emotional Labour in MMOs: things you can’t get players to do

“when people say games need objectives in order to be ‘games’, i wonder why ‘better understanding another human’ isn’t a valid ‘objective’”

Leigh Alexander (who is a really good gaming writer, if you haven’t heard of her), twitter

Given that being massively multiplayer is one of the unique selling points of the genre, it’s always impressed me how far players will sometimes go in order to avoid having to interact with others.  (This isn’t an argument about forced grouping by the way, don’t worry.) I do this myself too sometimes – there are times when I just can’t be asked to interact. Maybe I’m not in the mood to teach a group a new encounter, or maybe I’m  in “the zone” and happily solo grinding/ levelling away and don’t feel like going all social with a group, even if it would be more efficient.

But players and designers have been wondering since the birth of the genre about how to encourage players to be more social, whether it be via forced grouping or rewards that require social organisation to solve, giving groups extra tools and props (like guild housing), providing social spaces and encouragement to socialise during downtime, better chat and communication tools (yeah, still a fair way to go on this one), and so forth. Some have worked better than others. We know that social ties are important to players and can help make an MMO more compelling as a long term proposition.

So it’s not unnatural to wonder if there are better ways to encourage players to interact. I’ve wondered the same thing that Leigh wonders in the quote above –  could you make it as fun/ rewarding to empathise, communicate, and be kind to other players as it is to defeat and grief them? Could that be the basis of some game mechanic?

Raph Koster takes the same tweet and runs with it, arguing basically that it isn’t a valid objective because it isn’t really the role of a game to guide how players feel. He notes that this is more of a non interactive narrative and, interestingly, that he thinks players feel controlled if they are told that they have to stop speaking and listen to someone else.

His argument is comprehensible only in a context of single player games – and certainly don’t apply to roleplaying (I wonder if he thinks RPGs count as games). In my tabletop games, I absolutely did expect players to be polite, considerate of each other and to listen when someone else was speaking. That’s a core multiplayer group based dynamic. We can call it “playing nicely with others.”

Oh noes, player A thinks the man is trying to control them if they are told to play nice with others! Whatever will we do?! etcetera.

But the question remains, could games teach these kinds of skills? Could they teach people to think about how the other person might feel before they let loose with some racist, sexist, homophobic smack talking rant? And if any games could, surely multiplayer games would be the right genre to try.

There’s work and then there’s WORK

Let’s get one thing straight. MMO players adore working on their characters. Not everyone has the bloodymindedness and tenacity to grind out every last faction and endgame upgrade but this is a genre built on the expectation of 10s and 100s of hours of play. Spending a long gaming session levelling, crafting, PvPing, instancing, or raiding for some minor upgrade is absolutely par for the course. It’s not as fun to feel forced to do something you don’t enjoy but the actual concept of work in these games isn’t a dirty word.

Listening to other people and empathising with them is work, it’s called emotional labour and lots of people have to do it as part of their jobs. And even these people like to switch off at the end of the day (because it’s actually quite demanding work, emotionally). This is one of the reasons why it does often feel like more work to interact with strangers than to grind away slowly on your own, because it is. And it’s not even all that fun unless they are listening and helping you too. Can we admit that socialising often isn’t fun? I think we can.

By the same token, splurging incontinent emotional backlash all over the game/ internet may not be fun per se, but is cathartic and relaxing(?) for people. Or maybe some people find it fun.

So when we are talking about wanting a game to encourage people to do the former and not the latter, we are looking for a mechanic that can reward people for doing  emotional labour, and discourage them from something that they find liberating. No wonder it is a tough sell.

Although anyone who likes the Bioware romances or Japanese dating sim types of games will at least be open to the idea that it might be fun to get to know someone, figure out what they like/ dislike, and be rewarded with some kind of relationship. So  maybe in order for empathy to be fun and not to be a pointless grind, there must be the possibility of a meaningful relationship (not necessarily romantic) at the end. Players have to believe that they too will be valued and accepted by a peer or a peer group on their own terms.

Why social pressure can’t solve this one

For all of that, there is a real issue that players feel controlled by in game communities. Some in game communities can be very controlling. One of the great appeals of soloing is not having to be beholden to the minor dramas and power players of a guild, not being told when to play or who to play with, how to use chat or which bboard to hang out on, and so forth. This is one of those cases where art mirrors life; RL communities are controlling too (you may not notice this if you fit in Smile ). In return for some conformity, you can then get support, security and friendships – things that are really key to making life worthwhile.

Which means, in games as in RL, if you want to feel less controlled you have two options: go lone wolf, or find a group of people where you fit in and are comfortable with the rules. MMOs are typically really bad at helping players find compatible guilds, it’s a flaw that no one ever has properly addressed.

Guilds have a much easier time than game mechanics in encouraging players to play nicely with others. The threat of being thrown out of the group is a very powerful one to our social monkey brains. The more pressing issue is that antisocial players tend to form up with other antisocial players, in groups that accept that behaviour.

This is fine in a group based game. If your Diablo group wants to swear at each other, no one else needs to care. But in a massively multiplayer game, groups will interact with each other.

That is what an MMO mechanic to encourage empathy would have to fight. Not the soloers (who are probably mostly happy to be left alone and will return politeness with politeness if they really do have to talk to anyone), nor the more fluffy or mature guilds who do encourage good behaviour, but the howling packs of invective laden muppets who are having plenty of fun doing what they are doing.

I think the best answer is better moderation, and better tools to let players ignore the people who are annoying them. Some things you can teach, other people need a slap round the chops (technically we call this “appropriate use of authority”). So what if they don’t like the feel of being controlled? That doesn’t mean everyone else has to pander to it, especially if it means designed won’t even try to make more emotionally nuanced games. Some of us enjoy controls, constraints, boundaries or railroads in games – it’s wrong thinking to dismiss them all as “that isn’t a game mechanic.”

It would be possible to go further, to look at how the justice system tries to get offenders to empathise with their victims. But so difficult in an online setting to actually isolate someone from their terrible peer support group.

Or else we could just design games like Journey where it is only possible to help other players, and never to grief them or interact in a negative way.

Can hardcore players destroy a MMO?

I bet anyone who ever played a massively multiplayer online game has come up against the scenario where you realise that someone you are playing with (or against) is putting way more time, effort, research and social networking into the game than you are.

  • Maybe it’s That Guy who undercuts all your glyph auctions half a second after you have posted them. Every single time.
  • Maybe it’s the really powerful and organised alliance who seem to have a zillion players in every timezone.
  • Maybe it’s The Guy in your raid group (or LFR) who is all geared and tweaked out and times his/her rotation to the millisecond.

It’s easy to feel demoralised if you are competitive and you see a situation where you know you don’t want to put in the time/ money/ effort to compete with that. This is one of the big structural problems with MMOs: how do you have a game where a wide variety of players can all play together without breaking the game? Do you encourage the hardcore players/ guilds to be part of a separate more hardcore endgame? Do you encourage players to play alongside others of similar mindset and give them separate instances  to mess around in?

Gevlon has a good take on this in a post about RMT where he muses that if you let players cash out their earnings from the auction house, it would attract a more professional crowd (note: his opinion of professionals is a bit higher than mine).

What effect would it have on the game? Every market fully covered, leaving no trading income to casual/newbie players, only similar professional traders could compete. The simpler income sources, like doing PvE would be covered by real world corporations using minimal wage labor (after all, ratting can be done by half-illiterates), leaving absolutely no in-game income source to the real players.

He even decided to cut back on his own trading, “giving more space to other players to play in Jita”. This isn’t a case where the hardcore would be destroying the economy, it would still function fine. Just there is a theoretical case where there are enough ultra competitive players to mean that there are no niches left for casuals in that side of the game.

There are other theoretical ways in which the ultra hardcore could push a game into a stasis from which it could never escape. You could imagine a turf holding game where all the turf ends up belonging to a few large alliances who have mutual non aggression pacts.

The only way out would be if the ruling alliances deliberately cut back on their expansionary plans (much like Gevlon describes in his trading) in order to promote a more ‘healthy’ ecosystem in the game. Where ‘healthy’ could mean anything from ‘more welcoming to new players’ to ‘more likely to give us some fun territory fights in the future.’

In a themepark game, this is all largely irrelevant (I think it’s mostly theoretical in most sandboxes too). There simply are fewer parts of the game where players would have this much control that a large powerful guild could simply win the game. But it’s interesting I think to compare with RL – sometimes looking to the long term good of the community might be worth more than going for pure domination.

Have you ever played a game where you felt you or your faction dominated so hard that it wasn’t fun any more, or where you gave up because you felt the hardcore players meant there was no point?

[Social Games] Game of Thrones, and other improvements in Facebook gaming

game of thrones

It’s ironic that just as people are cooling on Facebook as a gaming platform, the quality of gaming on  FB is improving in leaps and bounds. This has been a long trend, encompassing more classic games like Words with Friends and Draw Anything, as well as Bejewelled and Hidden Object style gameplay.

But the more typical social games themselves have also been improving. You can’t get away entirely from the more annoying aspects – the popup windows urging you to use the store to speed up your actions, or to spam your friends with invites and/or gifts (less of an issue if you have a spare gaming account and keep your FB gaming ‘friends’ separate from people you actually know) – but there are more games around now which feature more interesting options, and more intriguing gameplay.

Game of Thrones Ascent (now in beta) is a good example of the type. As you might guess from the title, this is the official game of the series so it isn’t surprising that it plays the TV theme at you when it loads. The team are also respectful to the IP, tying your own stories into the better known NPCs and noble houses that you’ll be familiar with from the books/ films. You play the founder of a minor noble house, swearing fealty to one of the larger houses (Lannister forever! I hold out the faint hope that Charles Dance with no shirt on might show up if I’m loyal enough!)  and getting a castle of your own to name and improve.

Along the way there is crafting, some castle simulation (you know the type of thing: improve various buildings, craft/trade various things), and you can recruit and train sellswords to send on adventures. You get to build up your skills as a fighter, merchant, or sneaky bastard and decide whether your noble values their family over the realm, the new ways over the old, and whether you prefer cunning or honesty. There is also a narrative thread about you building up your domains, which also ties into the storylines from the series (first book, so far) where you get little episodes with choices to make and that may also need you to send off your minions to do various things. It’s nicely done, and as I say, respectful to the IP.

There are also boss fights which are more like MMO raids where you can invite your friends to come help. I’ve seen this mechanic before in social games (for example in Rage of Bahamut) and it’s an interesting tweak on the social baseline. In the few I have seen so far, it is possible to finish off the boss mob alone, it will just take longer. The game also includes a chat window (which is a bit odd since it’s on Facebook which has a chat window anyway) which I guess means you could chat to your mates while taking out the big baddy.

There is also some gameplay I haven’t got to yet which involves PvP, possibly in alliances. It’s a very MMOish social game.

I’m finding this interesting enough for a blog post, it’s still in beta and can be a bit sluggish, but recommended if it’s your kind of thing!

Bungie unveils Destiny: Shared World Shooter

Let us be very clear on one thing, Bungie does not want people to think that Destiny is an MMO. Instead they are describing it as a console-based first person shared world shooter that will require an internet connection. There’s also a hint of a 3rd person social hangout/city, and players being able to use space ships to travel round the solar system, with an implication that space combat may be supported. So, this thing is going to be big, the artwork is super pretty, and also they have already specified no subscription.

Also there will be evil space zombies to shoot.

Bungie invited a bunch of press in recently, so now we do know a bit more about the game itself. Although not a great deal about the gameplay, which wasn’t demonstrated. IGN have a large writeup, and also a shorter FAQ for people who just want the basic summary version. Here’s a sample:

What the heck does “shared world shooter” mean?

  • Basically, it’s an MMO, but you can play the entire game solo or in small co-op groups.

Give me an example.

  • You and a buddy could be fighting some bad guys on a planet, and another player could seamlessly appear, help you out, and then you could group up or all go your separate ways.

What does it remind you of?

  • A bit of Planetside 2, a dash of Borderlands 2, and of course some Halo.

Are you sure?

  • Nope. Bungie didn’t show any real concrete gameplay. We’re hypothesizing based off of everything they told us.

No doubt we will hear a lot more about this venture over the coming months (no release date as of yet, the journos speculate 2014). The current furore is around “How dare they not release this game for PC?” (There’s an interesting note in the comments there to the effect that pad-controlled shooters tend not to make as much use of vertical space because it’s so much hassle to adjust the camera for the player.)

I thought the more interesting point is that Bungie clearly feel that a large, immersive, persistent, game world is still really important to players. Important enough to hang an entire game around. In fact, world is the first of their seven key pillars (one upping Bioware’s four key pillars, I guess.)

  1. A world players want to be in.
  2. A bunch of fun things to do.
  3. Rewards players care about.
  4. A new experience every night.
  5. Shared with other people. They did specify also that no one will be forced to PvP unless they explicitly want to. So this sounds to be primarily a co-op game.
  6. Enjoyable by all skill levels.
  7. Enjoyable by the impatient and distracted.

This has been said before, mostly with respect to accessibility, but I wonder whether pillar 7 will be the weak link that brings the whole structure down. Because I’m not sure if most players really want to play with people who are constantly impatient and distracted (unless they match their own playstyle very closely).

But maybe ‘playing with other people’ is going to be a more flexible experience in general. Bungie were specifically comparing the multiplayer co-op to Journey (massive award winning emotional chillout exploring puzzle solving work of genius) of all things.

Really I was hoping to hear more about the space battles (not a pillar!) and what fun things there might be to do in their game (pillar 2) that don’t involve shooting things. I’m guessing that the bunch of fun things pretty much do mostly involve shooting stuff, but who knows? I liked the IGN comparison to Planetside 2, Borderlands, and Halo; I was getting that vibe from the descriptions too.

But mostly the intriguing thing about this game is that they aim to prioritise small group adventures, with a massive player base. How they fare may set the stage for the next wave of MMOs. And in particular, I imagine Blizzard are looking closely at Bungie’s offering because the basic layout (large 3rd person social area, FPS adventuring) has a lot in common with speculations about Titan. But then again, maybe that’s why Bungie is not planning to release Destiny on the PC…

[WoW] Ghost Iron is the new black

wow_bs

jurvetson@flickr

I wrote a post about my adventures with blacksmithing in Pandaria a few months back.

Executive summary:

  • Wow, there’s a lot of ghost iron about.
  • As well as the base material for blacksmithing and jewelcrafting, you can also transmute it into other stuff (like trillium, living steel, etc)
  • Hey, crafted PvP gear sells really well. Who would have thought?

So I made a ton on crafting and selling PvP gear until I got bored of it because I had more gold than I needed. (Which is the entire story of my ventures into the economy on any game, I can never feel motivated after I have enough.) Living steel is fairly cheap on the auction house so it’s still easier to sell crafted PvP gear and use the profits to buy anything else you might need. Life is good.

And then comes patch 5.2, which continues on the whole “hey guys, our entire economy is based on Ghost Iron these days” theme by adding a bunch of entirely new demand for the stuff.

1. A new PvP/ Arena season. This means that the PvP crafted gear gets a bump in iLvL to help starting players (not a huge bump: its going from 450 to 458). Typically what Blizzard have done in the past is leave the recipes alone but have them produce higher iLvL gear with a slightly different name. So as a blacksmith, you don’t actually have to do much to take advantage of this. However, you really don’t want to be left with old stock when the recipe is upgraded.

Often there is a surge of demand for crafted gear when a new season starts. I don’t know if that will be the case this time, it hasn’t really been improved much. But best to assume this might happen again.

2. Large demand for trillium as part of the Wrathion legendary questline. The next stages of this quest are rumoured to require people to hand in 40 trillium bars. Blizzard have been known to tweak files in between the test server and a live patch drop to encourage people not to hoard, but if this is true then there is about to be a huge demand on trillium. Which means a demand for Ghost Iron by alchemists queueing up to turn the stuff into trillium.

(I personally feel the cheapest way to get your trillium is to buy white/black trillium on the cheap and make up the spares by spending Spirits of Harmony at the vendor because a lot of people do not have miners and don’t know how to combine black/white ore to get trillium bars. Also white trillium has been cheap for ages.)

3. Blizzard are tweaking Blacksmithing, and making it possible to level the tradeskills from scratch in Pandaria, using only Ghost Iron as a material. Players have realised for awhile that tradeskills haven’t really been in synch with the new levelling curve – it takes a bit of effort and going out of your way to keep tradeskills up to date while you level now. So it may not really be surprising if Blizzard decided to provide shortcuts, in the same way that they did with cooking. As a crafter, this makes me a bit sad; I quite liked that there was an advantage to knowing where to gather all the materials you might need to level a tradeskill. Although I imagine more hardcore players on large servers just buy it all from the AH.

As a miner, it makes me think that the price of Ghost Iron is going to go through the roof.

4. And you’ll also need a bunch of Ghost Iron to make the new Lightning Steel material that is going to be used to craft new blacksmithing recipes in the next patch.  I’m not all that excited by any recipes that I have seen, as it’s mostly iLvL 463 (blue) weapons that can be transmogged to look like Burning Crusade weapons. I never thought that BC was really the weapons high point of the game, but your mileage may vary.

This isn’t really a gold guide, and if I need more in game gold I’ll probably just keep selling crafted PvP gear. But it’s intriguing to see Blizzard deliberately driving the economy like this. I can only imagine what will happen when they eventually bring in legendary gems (these recipes usually appear a few patches into an expansion) which are bound to be based on Ghost Iron too.

[Solving the Content Problem] The Smörgåsbord: Adding different subgames for different playstyles

dessert_buffet

skenmy@flickr

MMOs have always given players some freedom to pick what activity they prefer to do when they log in. This is one of the aspects that makes them so different from other types of games. For sure, themepark games tend to adhere to the RPG model and prod people in the direction of levelling, or at least in the direction of whatever the other players are probably doing, but players do expect to have some standard options.

For these to make sense as addressing the content problem, these subgames need to have completely separate progression mechanics from each other. I’m not talking here about adding achievements to existing content, but about offering something for totally separate playing styles. You could think of it as being a way to attract more players to the same game, by catering for different gaming tastes.

For example, MMOs often include an economic simulation. Players progress by making gold via trade (or other in game activities). A player who chooses to focus on this subgame can do it largely independently of (for example) endgame raiding or PvP. There can be plenty of depth in a good economic simulation – you only need to look at the sheer number of gold making WoW blogs to see how many different markets and approaches there are to playing this subgame. While the economy can be connected to every other part of the game, in a separated presentation (like WoW), you never actually need to play the economy beyond selling loot that you picked up while levelling. You could happily ignore it.

Crafting  can also be a separate minigame of its own. Players progress by learning tradeskills (maybe multiple tradeskills on multiple alts) and figuring out how to acquire the materials and make the items that they want. Plenty of players enjoy crafting who never have any intention of spending much time trading. It can be separate.

PvP is another very common playing style that is offered as a separate minigame by themepark MMOs. Separate again means a completely separate progression and gearing path. Players who enjoy PvP can often do this without ever touching PvE (after they have levelled).

So: separating playing styles? Is it a good or a bad thing

There are two ways to look at this.

1. The first is that the ideal MMO (probably a sandbox) should have an integrated playerbase. It should be focussed on its niche, and every part of the game should feed into every other part to encourage players to interact. For example, there should not be artificial boundaries preventing PvPers from dominating some aspect of the economy (maybe by annexing some area where rare drops can be found) and at the same time, a player who participates in all aspects of the game (or is in a guild which does) should be able to dominate a player who doesn’t. If the game is large enough and the separate activities have enough depth, it won’t be possible for a single player or guild to dominate every aspect so there will be plenty of room for players  to specialise and co-operate. So there will still be plenty of choice for players, they can still pick which aspects of the game they prefer to focus on. They will just have to live with the consequences.

Note: this ideal would require quite a large, active sandbox game to really work. (This is the problem with a lot of the early ideas about ideal MMOs.)

2. The second is the buffet or smorgasbord approach. The game is like a buffet table, players can pick and choose which activities they want to do. More importantly, they can pick the activities which they want to avoid. There will be communities in game which focus on different activities and that’s fine. The game can never be as integrated as a type 1 MMO, the separate gaming bubbles won’t really affect each other. But if people want to PvP all the time then they can, and if they want to never PvP then they don’t have to.

It is true that there are many ways for players to cooperate or compete in MMOs that don’t involve beating the tar out of each other in PvP. You can argue that the economic game is a form of PvP also, which is true. But from a gameplay perspective, it’s a very different way of getting players to interact. There is plenty of competition but the raw aggression (and bad behaviour) that is so intimidating to so many players just isn’t as great an issue. It also can be slower paced and put more emphasis on strategic thinking.

Over time, players have seemed to prefer type 2 games. Even though type 1 games are probably more immersive and function better as integrated worlds. It might be fairer to say that either Type 1 favours a niche audience, or else that devs could do a better job with Type 1 if they stopped trying to shoehorn PvP into every game, since PvP tends to dominate games where it is not kept totally separate.

Introducing new minigames

I want to give some examples of separated minigames in MMOs, to show how different devs have used this as a way to solve the content problem.

  • Skirmishes in LOTRO. This is fairly brilliant design. The skirmishes are PvE instances that can scale from single player up to 12 people. They have their own queue. When running skirmishes you can progress your own skirmish soldier (a companion NPC who can be tank/ healer/ ranged or melee dps/ etc) via skirmish points. So there is a completely separate progression mechanic. You can also use skirmish points to buy levelling gear, cosmetic gear, and reputation items. Plus the skirmishes have their own achievements. Although skirmishes are integrated into some of the legendary book quests (and it would be an advantage to have a levelled skirmish soldier for these), they aren’t required outside this.
  • Pet battles in WoW. Another fairly brilliant design. It’s pokemon, in warcraft. You can go catch wild pets, have them fight other pets or other trainers. I’m not sure what you really get from pet battles other than the thrill of collecting more pets, or the occasional lucky battlestone drop that you can use to upgrade pets. But it’s fun, there’s some depth to it, and it’s very separate from the main game.
  • PvP in Warhammer Online. This is a fairly typical example of themepark PvP. You earn your progression points and gear by engaging in PvP. You may have special PvP abilities that you can buy with PvP points. While you can use your PvE gear in PvP, it isn’t optimal because the PvP gear has specialised stats.
  • Housing in EQ2. You get a house fairly early on in EQ2, and there is a huge array of housing items to collect and place. Fitting out and decorating both individual houses and guildhalls has pretty much become a separated minigame of its own.
  • Wormholes in EVE. EVE isn’t my speciality, but this is syncaine’s description. The reason I count this as a separated game is that it seems perfectly possible for people who enjoy wormhole play to focus on them and for people who don’t to never feel the need to go near them.
  • Space battles in SWTOR. A set of graded on rails space missions, with their own daily quests, tokens, and ship related loot. Bioware never really felt very committed to space battles, they’re fun but limited.

Raiding in WoW used to be a very separated game. The only way to get raid gear was to raid. As time goes on, players are now far more encouraged to dip into raiding as part of a general PvE playing style via LFR (ie. much easier to get into random raids), and have a much wider range of gear available for raiding.

Wildstar is touting separate player paths, and no doubt we’ll get to hear more about how those work out in practice as the game lurches towards release. My personal doubt is how well this caters for players who might be in a mood to fight/soldier one day and feel more like exploring the next. I don’t personally want to be forced to commit to one primary playstyle at the start of a new game and then be told I need to roll a new alt if I want to try something else. There’s separated and then there’s separated.

Separated minigames as content solution?

Both the good and bad sides about separated games is that they are all optional. It is possible for a dev to put a lot of effort into creating a new minigame and for the player base to collectively say meh. (PvP in City of Heroes is an example of a separated game that never really took off, the majority of players just weren’t that interested.)

It is also possible for devs to put a lot of effort into developing a minigame and then to abandon it to its own devices and not add any interesting new tweaks or content in future expansions. Housing in LOTRO feels a bit stagnant for that reason. The houses are nice, decorating them is cool, but there’s not really much to do with your house and it feels like abandoned content.

At its best though, separate minigames do give players a much wider choice of in game activities. And minigames with good depth can potentially add a lot of depth and replayability to the game world. On the downside, they can make a game feel far more complex, and it isn’t always clear to new players which content is optional, and how optional it really is.

[Thought of the Day] Difficulty isn’t always about difficulty.

Berath wrote last week about returning to LOTRO after having missed a couple of expansions. She was struck by how much there is to know, how many things have changed, and how hard it is to adjust once you have been used to playing a minmaxed/ optimised character in the past. She compares this experience with that of a new player on her kinship forum who is still struggling with being able to move, steer and fight at the same time.

I feel very much that the real currency of MMOs is knowledge. It’s the knowledge of how to play many facets of the game (tactics for all the bosses, instances etc, knowing your way round all the zones, how to counter every other class in PvP, work many different PvE markets), how the lore developed, and how the game has changed over time that marks out the real dinos. This is one of the reasons that although themepark players enjoy new content, they don’t always welcome expansions which make old content irrelevant or mean they have to totally learn how to replay every character. It makes that process of knowledge collection worthless. But at the same time, ensuring that players must work to keep their knowledge up to date means that current players can feel a sense of achievement, and that there will be payoffs for keeping up to date with the game.

The persistence and progression of player knowledge (along with a social network of gamers) is the true persistence and progression of MMOs. This is one of the reasons it can be so difficult for a new player to join an older game. Because they are consistently playing with people who just know more than they do, and may have no reason to either share the knowledge or teach newbies.

We tend to wrap game knowledge up as a part of gaming skill. ie. you can’t be good at game X unless you know A, B and C.  This is fine for people who enjoy collecting knowledge. Of which I am one. MMOs suit me fine; I have a good memory, like learning pointless trivia and don’t mind relearning it regularly. Being expert about in game lore and mechanics can also be quite sociable, it isn’t really a twitch game, and it encourages community/ blogging/ etc.

We really should stop treating in game knowledge as if it was optional or unimportant. And the game that can crack the nut of encouraging player communities to welcome and teach new players will have solved the numbers problem.