On the pathologies of optimisation

I noticed last week that it’s almost as tricky to discuss optimisation in MMOs as it is to discuss difficulty. In MMOs, the two issues are deeply connected. Part of the entire point of the game is to keep optimising and improving your character so that content which was once challenging becomes easier and more trivial.

But the other reason it’s tricky is because of the pathology of optimisation. I’m going to pick out srsbusiness’ blog for some examples of this – nothing personal, I’ve seen lots of other people express these views.

But what you can’t do is expect everyone to cheer the idea of dying over and over again to indulge some masochistic yearning to “learn the game”.

Fallacy 1:

If you’re not 100% optimised then you ARE EFFECTIVELY STABBING YOUR FRIENDS IN THE NECK OVER AND OVER AGAIN.

Get this? If you aren’t studying your gearouts and strategies and bosskill videos carefully enough then you personally are responsible for multiple wipes.

Now truth is that outside the very pinnacle of hardmode progression raiding, this is unlikely to be true. I doubt I’ve ever seen any wipes where the cause was one person failing to have completely optimised their gear gemming, for example.

This assumption that people are either fully optimised or doing the equivalent of raiding naked is a really bizarre one. Surely there’s one optimised way to gear and play and many many many non-optimal ones, of which many will be perfectly fine.

But to an optimisation freak, it’s all or nothing.

Fallacy 2:

You have to be a masochist to want to learn to play the game.

This is a weird one. Srsbusiness comments that only a masochist wants to wipe multiple times so that they can learn instances. But at the beginning of a new tranche of content, that’s precisely what people do. I remember wiping in 5 mans with my group, and I don’t particularly think it was masochistic. It’s not as if we were trying deliberately to wipe. (Well, maybe there was this one time …)

If you take that mindset to extremes then it’s daft to play at all in the first month or two of a new patch, and far more sensible to wait until most of the player base knows the strategies and then just tag along. And if avoiding wipes or any failures at all is your goal, you’d probably be correct.

And it’s only one short step away to say that you also need to be a masochist to want to play with people who themselves are learning the game.

Yet at the same time, there are parts of the game where people have traditionally been more chilled out. It used to be that no one really expected perfection in low level instances because it was understood that people would be playing new classes or roles. So being suboptimal due to learning the game was pretty much accepted. I wonder for how much longer that will be the case.

Fallacy 3:

It’s all about progression raiding all of the time.

As soon as people see the word optimisation, they start thinking about their progression raid. It won’t matter if you say that you were talking about how crazy people are about stats in 5 man instances, they’ll be straight into the raid mindset.

I could write about people in lowbie instances being arses about group-mates who don’t have full heirlooms and someone would probably respond, “Why do you want to wipe my progression raid??!”

I think players do understand very well that optimisation is far more of an issue at the top end. The problem is that having played at the ‘top end’ many experienced players then want to use the same techniques all the way through the game with alts, and want everyone else to do the same thing. After all, if a new player’s level 15 character is not playing in an optimised way, then they’re “cheering the idea of dying again and again.”

And then when they start a new game, they tend to panic and stress about the prospect of not being optimised right from the start.

Age and experience beats youth and masochism

Having older players be so unwilling to tolerate newer ones inevitably affects the lifespan of the game.  But that’s not just an issue with MMOs, you see it in other multiplayer games as well.

However, the sheer revulsion at the concept of the learning stage of a game probably isn’t healthy. It’s also not a good trait to take away into the real world (where yes, you sometimes have to go in at the bottom and not be perfect at something for awhile until you have gained experience.)

Interestingly, in our old RP MUSHes, there wasn’t quite the same disdain towards new players as they were all useful faction and RP fodder. (They had other issues to do with cliquiness but if a new player got in with a good clique it would make a lot of RP for everyone involved.)