Maybe being hardcore is a particularly human talent

I am sure there are people out there who have never been hardcore fans for anything in their lives. They’ve never geeked out about which is the best Pink Floyd album cover, their favourite pylon on the London-North East railway, the optimal way to survive a naked run in Diablo 2, or the best raid composition for the Black Temple (at level, of course).

(Yeah I have known people in my life who were Pink Floyd album cover geeks, and electricity pylon geeks. Envy me!)

But still, it’s these little things which give our lives meaning, and knowing that they’re little things is part of the fun. Will the world end if I don’t get my favourite seat on the 7:24 train from Spinksville Station? Of course not, but it’s still my favourite seat and if you wanted to listen for 5 minutes I could explain precisely why.

I was mulling this over after reading Gevlon’s comments on social gaming. His insight is that casual players usually play casually, won’t get too attached to a social type of game, and will drift off after a short amount of time to something else. This is exactly how I interact with social games, if the short amount of time is less than 10 minutes total. But there are undoubtedly people who, given the chance, will get all hardcore about a game like Farmville.

I don’t understand why. I don’t understand why anyone would pay any money to play that game at all. Why would anyone care about being hardcore on a game that is so obviously casual? And yet, enough people clearly do to bolster some very large companies.

Maybe we just have to put it down to an odd quirk of the human spirit. Maybe it’s that ability to get all hardcore about minor things which made mankind come down from the trees, develop tools, and take over the planet. That strange hardcore geek who had a thing for playing that odd little game with sticks and stones …

MMO nostalgia aka why you couldn’t pay me to play EQ

I’ve heard a lot of excited talk on the MMO blogs I read about the new EQ progression server. Yes, you too could travel back in time and experience what it was like to play a game with crappy graphics, arsey raiders, and where it was considered normal to camp a rare spawn for 17 hours.

Don’t believe me? Here’s a BBC article about it from 2002. (He’s talking about a 3-5 day wait for a single quest mob to spawn and believe it or not, some people actually waited and did not decide, “This game is shite.”)

So why are players flocking back to try the new (‘old’) servers?

I can only assume nostalgia, and an attempt to capture the memories of playing MMOs when communities were forced to be more tight knit, everything and everyone was new, and maybe to reclaim some of their forgotten youth, especially if other ex-players can also be cajoled into going back. You can’t actually go back to those times, people know now which the best classes are, what the best shortcuts are, and I wonder how many of them really do want to spend hours camping the same spawn of mobs to level. I suppose we’ll find out. SoE sensibly gave old players the first month for free, which explains part of the popularity.

To understand some of my disdain you also have to understand that MMO dinos (ie. old players) cut their teeth on a handful of games (note: I’m not including MUDs or MUSHes here). These in the west would typically have been Ultima Online, Meridian, EQ, Dark Age of Camelot, and Asheron’s Call. Whichever game you played will have shaped your expectations of how MMOs should be. And because games back then were so time consuming, typically you would not have played more than one if you were seriously into it.

So I think DaoC was the best old school game ever, despite its flaws, and EQ with its big breasted elven paladins, stupid long spawn times, crazy hardcore endgame players, and exclusive guilds was an evolutionary dead end which unfortunately caught on with new gamers who weren’t experienced enough to know better.

Tobold is enamoured with encouraging players to go back and try it to find out how awful it really was – actually he wants hardcore players to find out how hard it is, but I’m translating into english here. I actually think all of the elements on his list of good things about EQ have been improved by every single game since, especially WoW. And thank Thrall for that.

I would say skip it. Play the Rift open beta instead, it’s equally free. You’ll have more fun, you have way way way more chance to get the actual new game feel if that’s what you want, and you’ll be able to support a new company at a time they really need it.

Arb and I are both playing Rift at the moment so expect to hear more about that in future.

Thought of the Day: When reaching your goals is all about the journey

The perennial casual vs hardcore debate rumbles on, and I thought this was a really interesting thread on the topic on tankspot. It is particularly interesting in WoW at the moment, because people are deciding what their goals will be (raiding and guildwise) in the next expansion.

And I just wanted to pick out one quote:

I think the reason Hardcore people really get progression(and so much faster) is because when you put 25 people in a raid who want to be the best at X class, instead of 25 people who want to get X gear(or X boss). you’ll get much further.

There does come a point where it’s all about recruitment. But there’s also a point where a lot of people would say, “who cares about being best at X class as long as you’re good enough”. Clearly not a hardcore attitude, or is it? Spending Z extra hours to nail that last 0.5% of performance when it isn’t necessary is not a very efficient use of time.

I think there’s two different types of goal setting.

  • I want to do/get X as fast as possible.
  • I want to do/ get X as efficiently (i.e. as little excess work) as possible.

Optimising efficiency hasn’t really been popular gameplay in western games, it’s a little alien to designers.

But if your goal in Wrath is to kill the Lich King, there’s no special benefit to being in a hardcore guild if a more relaxed setup could also do the job. Each week we’re seeing more raids take down Arthas for the first time. It’s a really big moment for any group that had been raiding together for most of the expansion, however casual.

And the particular  challenges facing casual raid guild leaders who need to pull together players with varying goals, commitment, and availability and keep things running for months on end are not well understood or rewarded in game.

To all of them, and everyone who raids with them, congratulations! You rock.

Free-to-Play Hardcore

As the countdown to LotRO going free-to-play starts, I’ve found myself pondering all sorts of random elements about games going free-to-play. Possibly the most bizarre of these, is the concept of hardcore and how it relates to the micro-payment structure.

Will the new hardcore be those who reach the level cap without paying a penny? I like the idea of this one, and I’d give it a go if I wasn’t already a lifer on LotRO – it’s a little like Ysharros’ non-quest quest, but with additional difficulty of not buying adventure packs.

I actually hope someone does give it a go, so we can cheerlead them along, in whatever game they choose to do it in.

A Kingslayer is you! And some thoughts on raiding.

deathofarthas

Yup, this is what a 25 man LK kill looks like (kids, don’t take screenshots before the mob is actually dead — what I did here is wrong).

It is harder to describe what it feels like. We were screaming on voice chat. Screaming the way we hadn’t been all expansion. Because this isn’t just an unusually awkward raid boss at the end of the patch du jour, for my raid group it represents the end of a long journey which we’ve taken together. And there have been up times, and there have been down times. People have left and people have joined. I’m sure there have been times when the raid leaders wanted to throw in the towel from sheer frustration.

Although we all talked confidently about killing the Lich King someday, at the start of Wrath we were scarred from our experiences in the previous expansion. In TBC our alliance was very newbie friendly, we took on lots of new raiders and taught them to clear Karazhan and Gruul. We never made heavy inroads into Serpentshrine Cavern, people tended to leave to join more hardcore raid guilds if they were keen. It’s what I did also, when I wanted to see Zul Aman and the Black Temple.

So it seems fitting to put that in context. I’d seen more hardcore guilds and decided that wasn’t what I wanted. I didn’t know how the tanking would work out, or if we would see Arthas die. But like all the other members of our raid, I wanted to try and make it work.

Wrath has been our expansion. The one where the raid game was aimed primarily at raids like mine. No matter how much more hardcore players try to seize control of the narrative and tell us that only the hard modes really count, I think that’s a decision that each player has to make for themselves. Gevlon has a great post up today where he’s looking at  how players decide to define what it means to win.

[Sirlin says] “A scrub is a player who is handicapped by self-imposed rules that the game knows nothing about.”. Very accurate and very true. But why would anyone do that and how to fix them? “the scrub labels a wide variety of tactics and situations cheap.

In this context, I think self imposed rules such as  ‘I want to raid with my mates’, ‘I want to only raid one/two nights a week’, and/or ‘I want to be part of an established community’ definitely fall in this category. But it’s not cheap, nor does it make a player a scrub. One of the beauties of MMOs is that there is plenty of space for lots of different self imposed rulesets. All you need is a group or leaders that agree with the ones you have picked. And no harm is done to anyone who plays differently, they can just go play with a different group.

So yes, there was a 30% damage/healing/stamina buff in ICC yesterday and although the LK is mostly an execution fight, it definitely helped. But for what it’s worth, last night’s kill feels GREAT.

We played by our self imposed rule and got our self defined victory. So that’s a win. Hard modes await, and we’re not expecting to get the LK hard mode kill. Most of us probably aren’t even interested in that. It’s more about completing Shadowmourne for our raid’s chosen wielder and chilling out with friends until the next expansion.

We were actually the 5th horde side raid to get him. This says more about how few 25 man guilds actually made it to this point in the expansion than it does about our raid alliance, but maybe keeping a casual light-schedule raid together and focussed for this long is an achievement in itself. I know the players who joined us after their more hardcore raids split up said they got a buzz from the kill too.

I wish there were achievements for raid leaders. Because ours deserve them every bit as much as any hardcore raid leader ever did, if not more. For now, the screams of excitement over TS may have to be enough.

We’ve come a long way, baby

longway

If you look back through this blog, you’ll see one of the first entries was me explaining how nervous I felt about being tapped to main tank in Naxxramas at the start of Wrath.

And even before that, like many other players I first encountered Tirion Fording (key NPC in this storyline) back in the Plaguelands, all those years ago. He’s actually one of the big WoW NPCs who was entirely introduced in the MMO and not previously.

Yup, we’ve come a long way baby.

kingslayer

ps. this is the shot from after he actually died, with the achievements at the bottom of the screen and everything to prove it.

pps. naturally he didn’t drop a tanking weapon.

Devs speak out: “MMOs are for the hardcore.” “Immersion makes people spend more in cash shops.”

For today, a quick look at comments made by developers which caught my eye this week.

Aventurine speak out

Tasos Flambouras, from the Darkfall team, had a Q&A session with Rock Paper Shotgun this week. One of the things he was talking about was the type of players who are attracted to MMOs.

When you play any MMOG, you’re making an investment, these are not casual games and they continuously evolve.

Nothing much to argue about there, you’d think. But commentators have interpreted this as meaning that MMOs are for the hardcore only. They’re right, of course. But it depends how you define hardcore.

Even the most casual MMO player has some kind of ongoing commitment to their favourite game/s and to their character/s. That commitment might go on for months or even years. Even if you just log on once a week to chat to your friends and solo a bit, that’s pretty hardcore compared to most gamers.

But it does go further than that. These are massive, complex games (even if old time players don’t think so). They reward time spent researching or looking up information online. The more time you spend thinking about the game when you aren’t playing it, the better. The more time you put in, the more you get out of the game – that’s been the traditional way things have worked, and it sounds to be the type of game Aventurine are proud of producing. So these are also games which have tended reward players for being more hardcore and challenge them as to who can be the most hardcore guy on the block.

Even if the competitive hardcore aspect was toned down (as is the trend), a casual MMO player would still come across as amazingly hardcore compared with the average gamer.

However, convincing Darkfall players that they’re more hardcore than everyone else has been one of Aventurine’s marketing strategies so it would be surprising if Tasos didn’t mention it several times during the Q&A session. He does forget his hardcore persona and go slightly off-message later in the article when he adds:

Darkfall is not the strictly hardcore game it’s made out to be. We have numerous casual players who enjoy the game as much or even more than the hardcore players. We were also surprised to find a healthy population of role-players during our events.

I’m intrigued as to what a healthy population of role-players is. If you are too, and like full PvP in games, they have a free trial on at the moment.

If a game world is immersive, players will spend more

MMO Crunch post about a report that shows how immersion affects buying habits in virtual worlds. (But they fail at linking to the actual report so I can only comment on their summary – which is that players spend more in immersive worlds.) This sounds plausible to me, although I was sad not to see the report because I’m curious as to how they measured immersion.

But another well known developer also spoke on a similar issue this week. Legendary Nintendo designer, Shigeru Miyamoto, answered questions in a video interview for IGN (partly transcribed by eurogamer.)

And then what happens is as the player begins to understand the world that they’re playing in, then they’re going to begin to think about ways that they can play within that world; they use their own creativity and their own imagination to tell the story or to come up with their own parts of the story, and at the same time they come up with new ways to play in this world that has been created for them.

So in a time when many MMO players have been wondering if devs are giving up on presenting immersive worlds, there are two different angles on why immersiveness might be THE single most important part of a game.

The first argument, straight to the bottom line, is that being involved in an immersive gameworld encourages players to spend more money. And the second, straight to the gameplay, is that players are more encouraged to play in immersive worlds.

So don’t give up hope yet!

The fun of deciding NOT to do something

Say it in whispers, but one of the things I like about MMOs is that it isn’t possible for me to do everything in the game. There just isn’t time, so I have to decide where I want to focus my efforts.

I know that other people don’t have the same time constraints and also don’t seem to get bored at the same rate, so they can throw way more hours into hardcoring it up. I just don’t find hardcore as fun as the more thoughtful gameplay choices that casual players have to make.

I’m playing far more casually at the moment, and that means that even in aspects of the games I enjoy, I’m always weighing up whether the benefits (including fun) of an activity are worth the time/ effort. Whilst a lot of hardcore gamers really thrive on grinding for hours for that last 1% bonus, as a casual I enjoy being able to say, “Nope, I’ll skip that grind. I can be 99% as good without it and put the time into something else.”

So for me, playing with time constraints (and boredom constraints) makes the day to day decisions of gameplay more fun. The decisions matter. I know I won’t have time to raid simultaneously on several alts. I know I won’t have time to get good at thousands of different specs. So I have to choose carefully and stick with my decisions. That’s fun for me; important gameplay changing decisions are fun. And it isn’t just time constraints that come into play – I enjoy exploratory gameplay where I’m learning new things. So I’ll prioritise that over grinding for achievements.

I could make time for more in game grinding if I really wanted to do that. Maybe that last 0.01% would make a difference to our raid performance after all. But I know the truth is that I enjoy deciding not to do something just because it’s there, just as much as I enjoy throwing myself into some new feature. I love that there is content which I deliberately decided not to complete, but that other people do. I know that to a hardcore gamer I must look like an unmotivated slacker.  But I don’t think that slacker really describes the way I play at all.

Do you pick and choose which parts of the game you play, or do you feel duty bound to do everything you possibly can to advance your character?