Thought of the Day: How we define challenge

I’ve read a few bloggers recently commenting about how challenges change in MMOs. Tobold joked that hunters were changing to FPS gameplay, as a way of talking about how WoW is tending towards twitch based challenge and away from knowledge/ puzzle solving — granted it wasn’t ever very puzzle based but it’s clear that designers now assume everyone will look the strategies up and are trying to find other ways to challenge players.

Gevlon has been thinking about why hardcore players complain about nerfs. Looking at the marathon example, the hardcore don’t ever have to be in contact with the casuals so why would it matter what they do? Again, it’s to do with the perception of the challenge and people being concerned that their previous achievements will be less ‘valuable,’ especially in a game where people often define their self-worth by what challenges they have beaten. (Sure, there are other reasons to complain about nerfs, I remember being sad when Ulduar was first nerfed because I was enjoying the original difficulty.)

This all reminded me of a wise comment I read recently on a bboard. From an post by David J Prokopetz:

The ready availability of strategy guides and online FAQs seems to have lead many hardcore gamers to conclude that the only “real” challenges are those that test your reflexes, and those that test your patience.

Exploration-based challenges are deemed worthless because you can just look up where to go next; likewise reasoning-based challenges, because you can look up the solution; resource-based challenges are out because you can look up the optimal distributions; strategy and tactics disdained because you can look up an algorithm and apply it by rote; and so forth.

Ultimately, any challenge that doesn’t boil down to pure twitch or interminable grind will be dismissed out of hand.

So maybe it all does come down to spoilers in the end. But it speaks to something in player mentality where someone who levels naked (in game) or beats Ulduar in blue gear will be widely respected, whereas a group who go into a raid instance ‘blind’ so that they can figure out the strategy themselves will be mocked for not looking it up like everyone else. The player base values some challenges more than others.

It doesn’t look good for the non-achievers or people who prefer puzzle based play to twitch. But at least we still have single player games. And of course social players face the biggest challenges of all: running a successful guild or raid group.

And because it’s still being great, here’s the obligatory Torchlight screenie. My vanquisher at level 12 with a new gun. Why is it that I hate the thigh boots and miniskirt look in Aion but really like it here, I wonder?

Vanquisher with gun

11 thoughts on “Thought of the Day: How we define challenge

    • Precisely. Aion’s boots are for formalwear (or maybe a bit of light B&D from the look of it), while Torchlight’s boots are functional. Aion’s miniskirts also show rather a lot of cheek, which Torchlight has the self-confidence to keep covered.

  1. For an ever increasing number of MMO players challenge is being replaced by simulated challenge. It’s all about the game designer convincing you that you were challenged. This happens quite a lot in Wrath of the Lich King with elite mobs you need to kill in quests that really aren’t elite.

    Sure there is some real challenge at the cutting edge of raid content but MMOs have become all about pleasing the lowest common denominator.

    Real challenge is anathema in modern game design because the game designer’s job is to entice as many people as possible to purchase and play the game. Alienating this wide and varied demographic is suicide.

    In the case of a MMO, the only real effort required to succeed is to show up and knock down some cardboard mobs. True challenge has been replaced by false heroism.

    • I think they are trying to offer different levels of challenge (for some value of challenge) but it’s not really being very satisfying, I agree.

      However, the big challenge in MMOs is organising guilds and raid teams (I always think of it as a kind of elder game). Maybe that too will fade and we’ll all have teams of NPC minions to order around instead …

      In fact I was going to write tomorrow about what the new LFG type tools might mean in terms of how we think about guilds in WoW. (Basically, if the guild is just a tool for finding groups then maybe what people need is a better tool rather than a better guild.)

      • Well, that’s ~A~ big challenge, sure, but it’s not ~THE~ big challenge (implying there’s only one challenge in MMOs). Players can also create their own challenges by handicapping themselves, e.g. trying to do 5-man content in LotRO with 2 or 3 people; soloing content not intended for soloing, or content considerably above one’s level; adventuring with no armour; etc.

  2. The Vanquisher seems like a ladies idea of what a badass lady dresses like whereas the Aion outfit seems like a dude is touching himself inappropriately while looking at it.

  3. Challenge in the sense of “difficulty” of a game is not nearly as important as are immersion and fun. This leads to many games nowadays being too easy, and Torchlight is no exception, I play on normal and wish I would have taken your advice and started on hard.

    @Dlangar posted a nice link how many people actually complete games, Call of Duty was leading with 70% players who completed the campaign on the XBOX, most other games were around 10-20%.

    It is a bit too much to say they quit out of frustration because of the difficulty being too high. Maybe it was exactly the opposite, the game became too stale, was too easy and monotonous.

    I think challenge should not be confused with frustration, compelling gameplay is what is wanted. I am absolutely happy if I can snipe a ton of mobs with a Ricochet-shot around the corner in Torchlight for instance, which is not hard to set up at all.

    And this is the result of thinking that simulated, cinematic hero experiences are enough: Simple, piss easy and boring gameplay that is not only easy, but also very dull. This is not exciting at all.

    Good level/area design is a form of art and challenge is definitely part of it.

    Regarding Aion style vs Torchlight style: Aion is naughty, Torchlight is snuggly. It is also a cultural thing, east versus west. I do not really want to think about why asian designers envision females as naughty girls in lingerie and all that. A lot of westerners like it, too, after all.

    I also mentioned it already on Twitter, I think your Spinks-Avatar (she is called “Captain Flynn” IIRC) on Twitter would perfectly fit into the world of Torchlight in place of the Vanquisher char model, dual wielding flintlocks. 🙂 I think their graphics style has a lot of appeal and is somewhat similar to your own.

    P.S.: Why must all rogue types since WoW have this ugly outlaw-style “duster” headgear. Even Guild Wars and LOTRO rangers have this duster instead of proper headgear. LOTRO rangers usually have a hooded cape on top of that.

  4. Pingback: Massively Multiplayer Online Dungeon Crawler « Mordiceius' Gaming Blog

  5. @ Longasc: I started Torchlight last night on Hard and now wonder if I should have chosen Very Hard. Admittedly my char is only 8th level now, but he’s never been close to dying, and has only consumed 3 health potions and no mana potions so far.

  6. I think exploration-based challenges are bad not so much that you can look them up, but many times to complete them in any reasonable amount of time you have to look them up.

    People aren’t big on them because many of them are a lot of aimless wandering around with poor or nonexistent clues or direction. They are the hardest ones to do well, and the easiest ones to break.

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