I was reading a thread on recently where someone wanted to try WAR and was looking for tips to avoid being bad. (It’s double amusing because WAR isn’t the sort of game where anyone would really care as long as you’re putting some welly into it.)

And I’m thinking, wait up. First you are bad, then you learn the game, then you become good. That’s how things work. You can’t go start a new game and immediately not be bad and make newbie mistakes, unless it’s really close to other games you already know.

So what precisely is this difficulty with going through the normal learning phases? Is it really worth spending hours sorting through forums (with the associated forum whines) just to avoid the possibility of making the occasional non-optimal choice in a game? Especially these days when games fall over themselves to make all choices reversible later on if you change your mind.

I can understand doing a bit of research to figure out what class you want to play. But then again, why not just play it for a bit and if you don’t like it then swap?

I see three main reasons for players to take this route.

  1. The first is because of normal human tendency to dislike risk and to shun new things. Many people are not confident in their ability to learn.
  2. The second is because designers have made the learning curve so potentially painful for MMOs that experienced players just don’t want to do it. Yes, they want to actually avoid playing the game – and I say that because I think the learning phases, the laughing at your own inevitable mistakes and improving, can be the most fun parts of an MMO.
  3. The third is because the game is full of other real people who may not have any tolerance for newbie mistakes any more. So if a new player wants to play with them, it makes sense for them to skip as much of the noob experience as possible.

1. I don’t want to have to be a noob again

You’d be amazed at how many people stay in bad situations purely because they are afraid of change. It isn’t just sticking with an MMO when you know you are already bored and burned out. People stick with miserable jobs, doomed relationships, horrible houses, and so on. There’s even a saying ‘better the devil you know’ – which means it’s better to stick with a bad situation than take a chance on something new which might turn out to be worse.

So the more research a player does in advance about a new game, the less risk there is in starting again (theoretically). I don’t think you can really learn everything about how a game plays just by reading bboard posts, but some of the risk of picking a horrible class and speccing it really badly can be reduced.

This tendency is more marked in people who see themselves as being among the elite in whatever game they are currently playing. Their self image is simply not someone who makes noob mistakes (even though they probably once did). They are a ‘pro’, they enjoy playing with other people who take their gaming seriously and don’t want to take any chances that may make it harder for them to hook up with a hardcore guild in the new game.

The funny thing about this is that if you are a keen gamer, it will show in many many ways regardless of whether or not you make noob mistakes in character speccing. Other seasoned gamers will recognise you as a fellow. It really isn’t anything to worry about. But people are protective of their status and worry about how they will be perceived.

In addition to that, lots of people HATE asking other people for help or advice. They see their role as being the person to give advice, not take it. So they’d much rather learn about the new game from reading bbposts than from asking people on channels or in guilds. In some cases, this fear of showing weakness by asking for advice is almost pathological.

If the game itself had a way to offer advice, that would be even better. If they could learn everything they needed to know to be pro organically while playing, I suspect this rush for the bboards would be less intense.

2. Fool me once, shame on you

Remember the first MMO you played? If you were like me, you picked a character because it looked cool and sounded fun. You played around. You explored. You roleplayed. You did lots of random stuff because it seemed fun. You picked talents that seemed either interesting or useful to the way you were playing at the time.

And later you found that you were pretty gimped compared to hardcore players who researched like crazy, who focussed on levelling fast to the exclusion of all else, and who often acted like arses? Anyone who wants to know if the genre is horribly broken could do worse than starting with why this has to be the case.

We have learned that fooling around, having fun, learning the game as it presents itself and not worrying about the game mechanics will bite you in the butt later on. So it’s a logical step to say ‘If I want to have fun in endgame, I need to do some dull research now’ – a simple transfer of fun now to fun later. This is by far the worst thing about MMOs right now in my opinion, and games like Free Realms do a lot to break the cycle. Because they offer a wide variety of fun now, in ways that won’t impact what you do later at all.

So there’s a lack of trust between players and developers. It’s like saying ‘we don’t trust you not to switch and bait between levelling and endgame so we’ll just start by researching what we need for endgame and not bother with whatever distractions you have put in.’ I blame WoW for a lot of this type of viewpoint, but other games are hardly blameless either.

I feel that I take a halfway road here. I do usually start with messing around, try a few alts, see how things go. But if I get more serious about the game I will go and research. It’s self preservation. The more time you put in, the less risk you are willing to take that you will have to start from the beginning all over again. It’s not so much an issue of wasting time – all gaming is time-wasting – as not wanting to sink a load of effort into a character and then have to throw it away and start again.

3. I want to play with other people… but not noobs

Some players don’t mind the newbie experience but what they really want is to avoid other noobs. They want to be able to play with the more experienced gamers as soon as possible in the new game and think that’ll be easier to do if they do all the research first. They don’t want to risk being laughed down and treated as if they were ‘just like all the other noobs.’

I find this hatred of noobs to be terribly unhealthy for the genre. But some games have toned down the issues. I doubt most players in CoH or WAR care if you are a noob as long as you are on their team and making an honest effort. But this is because they aren’t particularly difficult games so having an inexperienced player along for the ride won’t hinder everyone else too much.

But especially if you are coming from a game that is very fault intolerant, it’s not surprising players might assume that people in the new game would be the same. Players in older games like WoW can be extremely poisonous in their hatred of noobs (I say noobs rather than new players because it’s the lack of tolerance for people who are still learning the game that marks it out.) They don’t want inexperienced players in their groups, their guilds, or their raids. This is partly because raids in particular are not tuned to allow much leeway for inexperienced players.

You can of course avoid these people. The games are massive, there are plenty of people who really don’t care, and it isn’t that difficult to find them. Some guilds are happy to teach newbies who want to learn. Others are at least casual friendly. But they’re unlikely to satisfy a very achievement-focussed player. Especially if their self image is wrapped up in how pro they are in their MMO of choice.

I realise of course it’s no shame to be bad, but it’s no great honour either!

It simply isn’t possible to jump straight into a new game and immediately be as good as people who have been playing it for over a year. But it is possible to avoid a lot of noob mistakes if you spend time doing research.

I find that I can live with making mistakes if I have fun doing it. I’m confident in my ability to learn new things, and I enjoy doing that by actually trying them (learning by doing) and seeing for myself what does or doesn’t work. But then again, that’s why I’m an engineer …

For someone who prefers learning by studying theories or written guides, spending some time on the bboards can be just as fun and productive. Although games in general do favour the ‘try it and see’ approach.

But in either case, if a lot of people try to avoid the noob experience and the noobs in general, it doesn’t bode well for the future of the genre. It’s no surprise that new games become easier to learn and foster more interaction between new and experienced players. In fact, I hope that they do.

Are you afraid of being bad when you try a new game?

16 thoughts on “Bad-o-phobia

  1. In a new release I wouldn’t worry at all, me noobing about would blend in perfectly with the other new ones having fun exploring.

    But if I was to start in an old game like.. World of Warcraft, I’d probably be more worried about “doing it wrong” as most players there are seasoned and won’t let any chances slip to scold an obvious newbie for his mistakes..

  2. A few of my friends have this “I do not want to be a noob again” attitude, too. They even said it exactly the way you said it (in German, of course).

    This is rather odd, and contradicts Raph Koster’s book “A Theory of Fun for Game Design”. Learning and mastering new things is the main factor of entertainment/fun in this theory. I really like Raph Koster games, I loved UO and SWG as you know.

    I do quite some research before picking a class nowadays. This is why I picked Sorcerer and not Spiritmaster in Aion – their pets cannot fly, and flight becomes more and more important in combat. I do research to make sure my class is not gimped in the endgame. I did not do that in my first MMOs. Before I met someone who was AFK macro casting magic arrows on an object, one of the first min/maxers that I met in Ultima Online.

    I have to try out stuff myself, otherwise I won’t believe it. One of my friends asks often “what class is good/shall I pick?” and this really made me mad. I explained him pro and contra of many classes, but he actually just wanted ONE answer: “Take class X”.

    This is probably why some players have a newbie hate, and sometimes also creating overly huge player egos among veteran players.

    I am not afraid of being bad. The only thing I am afraid of is that the game has no depth and complexity. I was very afraid of this in Aion while playing my Sorcerer in the early levels. Now that I had to deal with pesky Assassin mobs, anti-caster mobs and how to stay longer in air than other players (mastering glide vs flight, crash dives and all that) and had apply different tactics to deal with them, I am quite relieved and already looking forward to some new skills and combos of combos (Delayed Blast and Flame Harpoon or Flame of Hell remind me so much of the delayed Explosion + Energy Bolt spike of Ultima Online) and all that.

    I noticed a general trend of players being quite shy towards other players in all MMOs nowadays. Some MMOs are especially odd in this regard. LOTRO players are very friendly and talkative in groups, but often do not even bother to recognize your mere existence or “say-chat” while walking right through you. Asking questions in the help/newbie channel also seems to be a bit frowned upon! Seems the society is already set in stone in this MMO.

    BTW, there are of course “good” reasons why players hate noobs, one of my beta guild mates believed me to be his personal quest helper software for instance… 😉 I like to ask players for help or to team up, most players don’t refuse and even enjoy it after a while.

    The only thing I am afraid of is picking the wrong/a gimped class. This is why I like skill systems like in Ultima Online that allow you to correct your newbie mistakes. My swordsman became a fencer (sounds the same, but is very different) for example, later on a bard for maximum pve pwnage. But then I decided that my warrior was a warrior and no freaking bard, and he became an axeman. My second character became my favorite, a female tamer riding a nightmare horse. This must be the reason my my male chars are mostly melee and my female chars mages in many MMORPGs nowadays.

    Oh, I got sidetracked… new games are fun, new worlds, stuff and mechanics to explore. How can players hate that! Getting stronger is part of the fun, getting and working towards a house or whatever is much more enjoyable than finally having one in MMOs e.g.!

  3. When I started SWG (not my first MMO, I’d already bene in UO and EQ) I knew I wanted a Wookiee for RP, in PvP they were gimped because they had a small Mind pool and pre CU PvP mainly revolved around pwning someone’s Mind pool (way too many Riflemen). I went with something for a RP story rather than uber combatiness.

  4. I don’t really get this. No experienced player will see your actions. What happens in the Barrens, stays in the Barrens. Even if you bump into an alt of a pro, I doubt he will post on the realms forum that “X is a noob, he did not keep serpent sting up”. He will simply finish the quest with you and don’t start the next one together.

  5. Ask yourself this, is the kind of person that would call an inexperienced player a ‘noob’ the type of person whose opinion you should give a damn about? If anything, it’s a handy barometer for the type of players that I would actively want to avoid playing with!

    What I would like to see more of in MMOs is the ability to set some sort of optional profile for yourself so that others can get a reasonable idea of whether you’re the type of person they might want to group with, e.g.

    Experience: Beginner, Moderate, Seasoned

    Main focus: Levelling/end-game, Crafting, Social/RP, PvP

    Playstyle: Mostly solo, Mostly grouped, A bit of both

    • That’s a really interesting idea. I’ve played on RP type games that let people flag themselves interested in different types of RP.

      It is the sort of information that you feel there should be a way to convey. I remember quite liking the way the looking for guild interface worked in Warhammer, because it let you specify this type of stuff about your guild.

  6. “So there’s a lack of trust between players and developers. It’s like saying ‘we don’t trust you not to switch and bait between levelling and endgame so we’ll just start by researching what we need for endgame and not bother with whatever distractions you have put in.’ I blame WoW for a lot of this type of viewpoint, but other games are hardly blameless either.

    I feel that I take a halfway road here. I do usually start with messing around, try a few alts, see how things go. But if I get more serious about the game I will go and research. It’s self preservation. The more time you put in, the less risk you are willing to take that you will have to start from the beginning all over again. It’s not so much an issue of wasting time – all gaming is time-wasting – as not wanting to sink a load of effort into a character and then have to throw it away and start again.”

    Just had to QUOTE THAT SECTION FOR TRUTH. Big culprits here are the differences between leveling and endgame, and the amount of time you have to sink into a character.

    Aside from that, imo the most important thing as a player is to realize that there are “newbs” and “noobs”. Noobs should be avoided. They are willfully stupid and lazy. Newbs are decent people who just haven’t learned everything yet. Noobs should be reviled, but I make a hard effort to be very careful not to give crap to newbs. Instead, I try to support them and explain what I can if they seem to want help. In short, I try to be very careful to treat newbs respectfully and help them out, while trying to get as far away from noobs as possible.

    Inexperienced people who are smart are no problem to teach quickly. Dumb noobs will never learn no matter how many attempts you give them.

  7. As someone who just recently switched from LotRO to WoW, I’d like to leave my take on the situation.

    I played LotRO for quite a while. Maybe not THAT long in WoW-terms, but a span of something like 20 months is not a short time, no matter how you look at it. I started “slow”, it was my first MMO, I was having fun with doing this and that, never pushed my levelling too much, roleplayed, spent time just running around, whatever. I read forums and gathered hints here and there, but when the talk came to endgame, I hardly understood a word and just read them as some sort of fantastic stories. One day I’d do that too, or not, I wasn’t really bothered. At some point I hit the level cap. I still remember how, and it was nice (funny, I don’t remember how I hit the expansion-raised level cap. Go figure…).

    Time went on and I was learning. From the game experience itself, from the slowly but constantly accumulating hints on the forums, from everyone I met and played with, I tried to learn something. I got together with a nice group of people who introduced me to the high level group instances, and I kept learning. I got into a really fine raid alliance, and, well, went raiding, and kept learning. I was learning and learning, over the course of many months and countless encounters.

    At some point I turned into “that guy who knows stuff” myself. I would sit down with pen and paper and make mathematical calculations on how much impact weapon speed really had on damage output; would run practice tests on different subjects, leading to stuff like “Rem, why the hell are you naked in Dol Dinen!?” – “I’m testing diminishing returns, doh!”. I came to know many aspects of the game inside out, not because I set myself the goal to do it, but because I went through a gradual learning process.

    Why I quit LotRO anyway, is a subject for its own rant, and totally unrelated. But quit it I did, and now I’m here. A noob, a newbie, whatever you wanna call it, the hat probably fits. And it’s not that I’m afraid of making mistakes, I’m not. If I make mistakes, I learn from them, and there’s virtually nothing I can do now that would somehow screw me up later in any relevant way, beyond class selection (and there never was a doubt that I want to play warrior. That was a no-brainer).

    The problem, for me, is a purely emotional one, namely going straight from “and as soon as phase 3 starts, you best should take five steps to the right” to “hey, what’s that tree thing over there?”. Seriously, you don’t need to be an elitist pro for it to feel weird to go from being pretty good at what you do to not having an effin’ clue. You can say that’s one of the key points of discovering a new game, but that doesn’t make it feel less weird.

    It’s made worse by the fact, that WoW carries such a HUGE legacy. For the newcomer (me) it feels like everyone has been raiding for the last 5 years straight, earning their lumps in a thousand different dungeons, amassing infinite experience and Oh My God How Can I Ever Hope To Catch Up With That!? I often need to stop myself, take a deep breath and just go back to enjoying the game (and WoW is a highly enjoyable game!), without worrying about what will be and what won’t be. It’ll all be okay somehow, after all, it worked out in LotRO before, as well. *takes deep breath*

    So, I read a lot. Can’t help it. First I was reading the official forums, both EU and NA, and learned a lot of what I needed to know from there. But the incredibly high QQ levels are bad for the morale, and the incredibly poor language usually used didn’t satisfy the part of me that likes reading just for the sake of reading. So, I cut that out (only going back for blue posts), and am now rather feeding on community sites and blogs. Like yours. Hi. My name is Rem* and I’m a Night-Elf Warrior. What’s your game?

    *not my actual character-name

    • Good luck with the warrior! (I still think it’s the most fun class in the game.)

      And when you explain like this, you can see what a big wrench it can be going from a game where you’re basically an expert to … being back on the bottom of the knowledge totem pole again. I’ve had a similar feeling switching jobs, even when I knew it was the right thing to do.

      I hope there are some fun parts about being back in a game where there’s still so much to explore too?

      • Oh, of course there are! By and large, it’s a very nice experience. And, luckily, most of what’s really important, cannot be learned from reading, but only from doing. So, every day of play teaches me something, and I’m enjoying it.

        It’s just important to remind myself every now and then, that, no, I don’t need to have the perfect keybind-layout for the ideal raid-performance just yet. Some things will come with time, it’s just not always easy to calm yourself down and let them.

        Yes, enjoying the warrior very much. Not yet decided if my ultimate focus will be on Prot or Arms. Intended to go Prot at 51, but am 50 now and Arms is so much fun…
        Also, took two days to reply to this, because a) didn’t want to do it from work and b) when home and done with duties, actually playing WoW took preference. You see, I really DO enjoy the game 😉
        Caved in and posted this from work now!

  8. A friend of mine and I were playing as a duo in a mid-20’s dungeon, me as tank, him as healer. We were doing quite well, but could use a bit more dps, so when we ran across a soloing dirge, we added her to the group.

    She was, in a word, *terrible.* I was very tempted to boot her out several times, early on. But as we talked to her as we progressed through the dungeon we found out why she was so bad: it was due to the fact that she was a true newbie — it was her 1st character, she didn’t know a lot of the game mechanics still, had crappy gear, her special attacks were all of poorest quality, etc. She didn’t know what all her buffs did or anything either.

    Since I have a dirge myself, I was able to ask her to put up the buffs that (IMO) would be most helpful to our little group. It took her a while to find them in her spellbook, but once she did we were good to go. Even with her “bad” spells and “pathetic” dps…. she still was buffing the group and adding dps. The only thing she did to really screw us up was that she kept casting her fear spell, in spite of repeated requests to not do so. She eventually just took it off her hotbar so she wouldn’t keep “accidentally” hitting it.

    We cleared the dungeon. Probably would have even as a duo, but the trio made it that much easier. She noticeably improved as we played too. As we were teleporting back home she said this: “Thanks for keeping me in your group. I know I’m bad at this game still, but everyone just keeps kicking me out of groups so I haven’t been able to learn how to be better. I learned a lot tonight!”

    I gotta admit, I got warm fuzzies from that. 😉

    All my characters are at least T5 now, though, so I don’t get much opportunity to be where a lowbie might need help anymore. I did get to help a 1st time in T8 tank with some solo quests a week or so ago, which was nice, but mostly…. seems like it’s a solo game or a full (more or less well equipped) group in a TSO instance looking for shards.

  9. One interesting article that I like to link in cases like these is Jonathan Baron’s Glory and Shame article.

    Here’s the most applicable quote:

    If the stadium in which the NFL Pro Bowl was played was filled with pro football players as its only spectators, imagine the psychological impact upon the players on the field. Now imagine that every new football player had to play in front of this audience from the moment they first played football. Imagine that every beginning football player had to take to this field and play amongst these players.

    I think that’s one major part of it: looking stupid in front of other people, period. Even if it’s people who won’t remember us, or people know understand, people still have to show some lack of knowledge. When you’re in a world full of pros, it can be uncomfortable to be the scrub.

    The proper answer here, I think, is for players to just relax and have fun. Most games make it damn near impossible to permanently screw up your character these days, so don’t worry about it. Easier said than done, of course.

    Longasc wrote:
    Asking questions in [LotRO’s] help/newbie channel also seems to be a bit frowned upon!

    That’s the opposite of my experience. I’ve found that people have been super friendly, in general. You’ll still find the occasional asshole who tells you to “go google it”, but for the most part people will answer questions and be kind about it.

  10. 1 isn’t a factor, the whole point of playing a new game is to be new. You do research mostly because MMOS usually have sucky tutorials that don’t cover the entire game, and the game changes from beginner, to midgame, to endgame.

    2 is dead on. As someone who has wasted time with gimped classes, you get very wary of spending months of your life wasted on a class no one wants. A lot of times your first character may even be a training one, spending 6 months just learning to then roll an alt of what you really want to do.

    3 is because a noob can waste hours of your life in some games. When the raid is once per week, and a noob shows up and forces an unrecoverable wipe, it’s really hurting a lot of people. In a party, a noob tank going afk during a pull means you have to spend an hour of your time replacing the buffer exp he lost for you, maybe even solo if the party disbanded and no tanks were lfg.

    Usually the death penalties and wasted time being out of proportion is what causes noob hatred. You need to have spent three hours in a frustrating party only to end up minus exp, and losing progress, to understand why.

  11. I disagree completely.

    What’s the point of doing something if you’re not going to put forward the effort to be good at it? Doing a little background research feels really *good* when it pays off by helping you avoid stupid mistakes.

    It also helps you recognize what went wrong when the inevitable mistakes occur. I agree that solving a problem yourself can be satisfying, but that only works if you have enough background knowledge to understand the problem.

    Bumbling into things without doing a bit of research first is neither smart nor fun. It’s just a waste of time. I’d rather do my reading first.

  12. Pingback: A holiday, a holiday, the first one of the year! Best of 2009. « Welcome to Spinksville!

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