Introducing Games to Non-Gamers

Chess

Last week I introduced a new game to some non-gamer friends. I showed them how to play and then sat back as they experimented for themselves, stepping in only to clarify misunderstandings about the rules and discuss strategy around the different moves.

They loved it. They can’t wait for next week when we’ll be able to play the game again. One of them had previously worked with young offenders (young people who have been in trouble with the police) – she commented that they’d have loved this game and she wished she could have played it with them, since it would suit their competitive instincts.

The game was chess (the clue is in the picture). And what my friends most loved was that it was perfectly balanced, utterly and ruthlessly fair, and that they could already start to think about strategies even as new players in their first ever game. You finish a game of chess and discuss it, and already you are thinking about what you could do better next time.

This reaction was surprising to me. The reason the topic came up was that we discovered an old chess set that someone had donated to the university and since none of them knew how to play, I offered to teach. But I never really think of chess as being fun, I have too many associations with being beaten by much younger kids at school and besides which, surely computer games are more entertaining. Aren’t they? Right?

Reading Dusty Monk’s post about a vision of the future of MMOs (I linked to it yesterday) made me wonder if there’s any juice left in the genre for people who like slow paced thoughtful balanced games with depth and strategy, or whether we’ll end up going back to square one on the chessboard and leave the genre to the guys who want to play shmups with space marines. (Incidentally, I was never big on MMOs for the slow paced strategy, I liked exploring virtual worlds and building virtual communities and societies, but if it has to get gamey, why can’t it include gamey bits that I like?)

Thought of the Day: Blogrolls, and why social networks fail

There has been some discussion of blogrolls among bloggers this week. In case you are reading via a newsreader or haven’t heard the term before, a blogroll is a list of links to other blogs. Most blog templates have room for them in one of the margins.

Now, I know of several different strategies for blogrolls:

  1. Social climbing. Link to blogs where you want to impress the owner. Who knows, maybe they’ll notice you worshipping them from afar.
  2. Can’t say no. Link to anyone who asks, but only if they ask.
  3. Tit for Tat. Link to people who link to you. If they remove you, you remove them too. (This can involve some emails at the start, to inform the person of your strategy.)
  4. Blogroll is content. Treat the blogroll as part of your blog’s content and link only to blogs that you think your readers will enjoy.
  5. Unrestricted content. Link to any active blog you find that’s roughly relevant. You’ll find that people who are trying to encourage new bloggers will tend to do this.
  6. Aide Memoir. The blogroll is purely for the blogger’s benefit, to remind you of which blogs you like to read regularly.
  7. Slacker blogroll. This is where you add links for whatever reason but forget to update the blogroll much so it’s usually out of date.
  8. Friends and guildies only. Link only to the blogs of people you know (either in real life or virtually).

I started with a mixture here. I think Larisa’s was the first blog on my roll and I was stunned when she left a nice message to say thank you and to wish me luck with the new blog. (She’s awesome like that.) Then there are a few friend/guildie blogs, but mostly I stick with blogs that I think readers might like, and they’ll tend to be thematically consistent. (ie. if you like my blog, you might like these too.)

So there are some awesome blogs I skip. I don’t usually link to single-class blogs unless I think the writer addresses wider issues also, for example.

I’m also a slacker and don’t update or prune as often as I should. By all means drop me a note if you’d like to be on the roll – I don’t promise it will happen, but it won’t be personal either way. I don’t actually think all that many people check the blogroll but … yeah.

Gevlon took the opportunity while discussing blogrolls to have a pop at socials – people who add blogs to their roll for purely social reasons. So that adds another strategy: Link to people you like or want to like you. And I think this also goes a long way to explaining why social networks fail quality-wise after getting above a certain size.

There is an assumption in social networking that people will choose which information to share wisely, after all, you want to impress your friends with your cool links, not embarrass yourself. Right? You want that blogroll to be useful and for people to think, “Wow, Spinks must be awesome. All her links are amazing!” This does tend to be the case in smaller communities where people are trying to impress with good information.

But as the network gets larger, a lot of people use their links  to share their personality with the world, and impress everyone by the amount of friends they have. “Hey guys, everyone on my blogroll is my BFF and if you aren’t then you aren’t one of the cool crowd!!.” That’s the 9th strategy, and it tends to swamp the rest.

The problem of stealth in MMOs

Melmoth writes about his fabulous Warden in LOTRO – it’s a very powerful and capable class, and great for both solo and group work. It can tank a bit, has some self heals, ranged as well as melee attacks, gets some AE capability, and can even teleport around the map (very useful in LOTRO, which has a large world map).

Whereas my burglar …. has stealth. Which doesn’t work all that well in groups, in raids, or against tentacles (this is a real tentacle by the way, not a tame pond one in the garden).

watcher_dangling

Stealth classes are usually popular in games. Being able to pick your fights is a huge advantage in PvP – the classic stealther attack of leaping out of hiding and backstabbing an opponent is fun to play (and a nightmare to balance).

Stealth has advantages in PvE also. In particular if you are an explorer.

  • Ever wished your game had a pause button? If you are a stealther, then it does. Any time you need to get the phone or grab a drink, just hit the stealth button. Your character will (probably) be safely there when you get back.
  • Ever needed to get to a quest mob that is behind a bunch of trash and wanted to do it quickly? Stealthers can usually avoid a fight whenever they want to. It’s great for exploring dangerous terrain also.
  • Or even if you’ve ever just wanted to check quickly if a quest mob is present, stealth saves the bother of having to clear an area unnecessarily.

But stealth simply isn’t that great an advantage compared to just being generally badass. You won’t notice this so much in WoW because the classes are all generally very powerful. But if a champion can mow through mobs almost as quickly as a burglar can stealth, then stealth isn’t really much of an advantage. Avoiding combat is never as rewarding as killing mobs in most MMOs.

Most players like to mow through mobs. A rogue-type class that dances around with crowd control, debuffs, and juggling survivability cooldowns is never going to kill a bunch of mobs as fast as the plate wearer with the devastating AE attacks. In WoW they just gave rogues better AE, and watered down the roguelike feel of the class.

In games like WoW that have become so focussed on the group content, and where the main object in instances is to clear then as fast as possible, rogues and their stealth playstyle has no purpose. The tank pulls, the healer heals, and everyone else AEs. No one wants stealth or the more strategic sneak-and-dodge pace of pulls which goes with it.

LOTRO isn’t quite the same style of game. They do provide many more quests which ask characters to scout out an area – something which stealthers can do quickly and neatly. There are entire zones (ie. most of Moria) where simply exploring and finding your way around is a big challenge, and stealth can be really useful. There are solo dungeons where a stealther can explore and set up ambushes without worrying about a group zooming ahead of them and just nuking everything anyway.

It may be that the different pace of a soloing stealther is one that can never really fit into a group based MMO. Not unless the whole game was about thieves (which would be pretty cool, actually). Maybe stealth belongs back in the era where games were more about exploring and less about quick badges and achievements.