When expectations change

Tobold wrote about a week ago about players and their sense of entitlement. Do players have a right to feel entitled to easy levelling, easy loot, and accessible raiding, or is it just as much a sense of entitlement if the hardcore feel entitled to always be a quantum leap ahead of the rest?

The word entitlement implies a sense of  rights. For example,  I have statutory rights as an employee, as a consumer, and as a British citizen. Those rights are enshrined in (local) law. So as a consumer, I’m entitled to buy items that are fit for purpose – and if they aren’t, I can go argue my case in court and the state will back me up if I’m right.

In a computer game, we don’t  have rights in the same sense.  No one is entitled to anything beyond their standard consumer rights when they buy a game. What we do have, however, is a sense of expectation. If I buy a book and I don’t like it, my consumer rights aren’t breached because the book being fit for purpose doesn’t guarantee that it’s going to be a cult classic. It just means that it has pages with words/ pictures on them and can be read (note: insert legal definition of book here if you are feeling pedantic). If the book radically fails to  fit the description on the jacket then maybe, just maybe, I have a case. But if my expectations are shattered then I won’t buy another book by the same author (unless they are shattered in a good way.)

But what expectation do players have from MMOs? The box and advertising will tell you a lot about what it is possible to do in the game, but cannot guarantee that you will be able to do those things, because many of them require the cooperation of other players. That’s  the one thing that no one can sell you, unless the box specifically states, “bring some friends.”

So maybe you go in, sold on the idea that you can create a character of your own to explore and adventure in the virtual world, and meet other people. Those are reasonable expectations. Everyone will be able to do that. But what then? Will the game allow you to finish all of its content, or will some be locked to specific groups of people or need commitments of time or money? If you see someone wearing a cool outfit, will your character also be able to get one? If you read about something fun that another player did, will you be able to do that also?

In a single player game, the answer may well be ‘yes,’ depending on the difficulty and time required. In an MMO, it may also be ‘yes,’ depending on the difficulty, time required, and other players required. But the ‘other players may be required’ is part and parcel of having massive games.

Still, where do the expectations come from of:

  1. Hardcore raiders will become the nobility of the game?
  2. All players will be able to do everything?

The answer is, those expectations come from within the game itself. No one went into their first MMO with any assumptions beyond, “Cool! I can create a character and go explore this virtual world with other people in it.” The assumption that people who put more work into their virtual characters will become more powerful in the virtual world is just a case of people mirroring real world assumptions – that’s not really surprising in itself, but it is the game play that determines what forms of  ‘virtual work’ are most valuable in the game. In a strongly social game, that would mean time and effort spent in politicking and socialising. In a WoW-type MMO it could mean hardcore raiding, or beating the economy.

Expectations can change, or be changed. In Warcraft, each patch has changed the expectations of the player base for the future of the game. If casual players feel more entitled to raids, loot, and achievements, that’s because Blizzard has indicated that this is how the game is now played. It isn’t a sense of entitlement that came out of nowhere. Back in the days of Vanilla WoW there were complaints about raid inaccessibility, but I don’t recall anyone ever expecting that the majority of the player base should or could raid. Similarly, if the hardcore players feel a sense of entitlement, that didn’t come out of nowhere either. The first few years of the game indicated that Blizzard intended a class based playerbase with hardcore at the top. They put dedicated hours into the game on that understanding. Both parties have good reasons for their expectations, but they cannot both be met at the same time.

The developers decide what players are or aren’t entitled to. So when a game changes to the extent that Warcraft has, it isn’t surprising that everyone is on edge. No one knows what their assumptions should be any more. People cling to the last patch as either an aberration that will be fixed in the future, or the shape of things to come. And so we pick apart the discarded musings of the blue posters (official Blizzard posters) as if we could divine the future from their entrails. Our rights in the game may depend upon it.

11 thoughts on “When expectations change

  1. Everyone has a certain Utopia how his favorite game should be. MMOs are changing and developing, classic singleplayer games usually don’t do that.

    “Entitlement” divides the player base into two major factions, and while so many people condemn communism, I see a strong meritocracy vs socialism debate in the contemporary hardcore vs casual debate. Yep, people can beat me for setting “socialism” and “casual” equal, but the feeling of entitlement is often nothing else than some kind of misunderstood idea of socialism, everything for everyone, something for nothing. Elitists is the buzzword for people who say not everything should be that easy or that some content should be reserved for a few really good players, for various reasons.

    I wonder where I would be in my own scheme of things, as I say “raiding is not the answer, bring back the world!” People are too much concerned with loot and contant access rather than what content they actually get delivered. Adding more and more dungeon holes to the initial world often seems to scream to me move on Longasc, you have seen it all, time to explore another world.

  2. What I think it means is that WoW players have gotten too dependent on the developers to provide all their gameplay. (I mean, Blizzard designed the game that way, so it’s no blame involved.)

    A game with more player created content would be freer of having to rely on the devs for all their views of player rights and entitlement. Frex, anyone can go to a RP event and the best roleplayers will tend to be more influential.

  3. So much of this is shaped by the company’s economics.

    Longasc you won’t see world exploration as the dominant gameplay model in MMO because it’s the most expensive to produce and the easiest to spoilerise.

    The hardcore won’t see Icecrown rolled out as a juicy kill him by Christmas target because they will keep paying for longer if there’s a staggered schedule. None of the recent articles on this (the one you linked yesterday was excellent btw Spinks) have said anything to suggest Blizzard won’t make more money by stringing it out. It’s all been variations on “damn you Blizzard, now I have to send you more money” which is hardly going to discourage this type of design.

    So while we may be heading towards a socialist paradigm we are doing so because of pure capitalist reasons.

  4. As aside, one thing that personally pisses me off, is people who confuse entitlement with expectation and then get all righteous about how they “have a right to blah” and go on and on as if they’re position is well-founded. Idiots.

    • Yes, entitlement is such an emotive word really. The biggest arguments aren’t about people who demonstrably are entitled to stuff (eg. some people are entitled to welfare and if they don’t claim it then they’re passing up free cash), it’s about what people /feel/ they are or should be entitled to.

  5. Rights?

    Much like your rights as a British Citizen really….you don’t have any. You have privileges/expectations that may be withdrawn/ignored at any time at the whim of the governing party/devs.
    As with your ‘privileges’ as a British Citizen if you don’t like what happens as your ‘buyer experience’ you can make your displeasure clear by withdrawing your support from the brand responsible (ie vote for the opposition/stop buying the products or emigrate/move brand). You could even radicalise and invest your time in trying to improve it but buying shares or becoming a party member if you think the part/company is worth saving…although this is a minority approach.

    I suspect that what we’re seeing in WoW right now is a change in direction. As with many mid/late term governments really (to extend the analogy). The vision that made people buy into the product is fading, leadership has changed and now we see a desire to maintain market share/power as over riding concerns. Partly down to Activision’s desire for cash perhaps partially as Ghost Crawler is a vocal populist on the forums. So we’ve seen WoW’s model move from large amounts of time spent on the ‘nobility’ of hardcore 40 man raiders to a much more accessible raid game where really the difference between 25 and 10 man content really only counts to the true Grognard (o/). After all what’s the difference between clearing TogC on 10 man Normal mode to 25 man Heroic ? Ones harder and gives better loot but from a game play perspective basically nothing. What does your average player care if you have the ‘Tribute to Insanity’ achievement? Nothing at all. As functionally outside of raiding you wont be able to do a single thing that someone who’s doing it on normal mode can do. So I suspect this is the way of the future. Normal achievements do able by the vast majority of people and 25 man and 10 man hardmodes added to keep the old nobility if not happy then at least appeased. 25 man Hardmodes to give those groups something to aspire as a switched on 25 man raid group is going to run out of content fast even with gating.

    How many Raiders are saying ‘I just want to Kill Arthas’? Trouble is I don’t see much in the way of viable rivals coming. There are good other MMO’s out there but WoW’s probably the most accessible MMO right now, hard to jump ship to EQ2 or the shiney new game when you have a string of 80’s and even your third alts looking pretty well geared. We’ll see how good Cataclysm is but Blizz is bound to keep the model of a more populist Raid game with extra hardmodes if they even keep raiding in the game at all. And as a PvE head I hope they do as I don’t have time to emigrate…….

    Sorry for the wall of text there…but this ties in so well with somethign I’ve been podering all weekend. Probably should start my own blog at this rate 😉

    • I see lots of potential viable rivals coming — but I don’t know if any of the upcoming MMOs are designing from the idea of becoming virtual homes for people. I’m sure FF14, Guild Wars 2, SWTOR etc will be good games, but will they be fun for more than a month or two?

      On the other hand, if the community and sense of home is the only thing really keeping you in a game, what do you do when your community folds? How much can the gameplay change before it’s so irrelevant that other things take priority?

      Also, I’m surprised more people haven’t complained about the ‘tribute to insanity’ thing, because it’s as if Blizzard is having a pop at hardcore raiders there, and saying that you have to be insane to do it.

      And you should totally blog 🙂

  6. I was thinking about this very issue this morning Spinks. How odd. I think it’s possible for there to be too much change. The question I asked myself this morning is whether I’m making a time investment in a game that I may not enjoy playing in a year, not because I’ve become bored with the game but because the developers have moved the game in a direction in which I don’t want to go. It’s a kind of whiplash, really, that breeds uncertainty.

    To be fair, however, there might be some truth to change or die. If WoW had’t changed would anyone still be playing it. Unknown. But perhaps a real fear on the part of the developers.

    I think finding the best rate of change is a difficult calculus.

  7. I’ll add another thought here as well. How much does the fact that WoW is a subscription model change this issue. If I purchase a six month subscription can I have a reasonable expectation that the game will be the same six months from now? With a SPG the game I get off the shelf is the basic game. If I don’t download new content the game doesn’t break. But in a subscription MMO a patch (which I have to apply) can change the game significantly. Have I now been deceived? Is that false advertising?

    The box I bought the game in has a disclaimer that says “game experience may change during play”. How far does that go…not as a legal matter but as a set of expectations.

    I do agree wit your fundamental thesis that most of the expectations players have about WoW are not invented out of thin air.

    • I think the subscription model does make a difference, but MMOs in general have been sold as a long term commitment until fairly recently. Even free MUSHes/ MUDs were played with an expectation that what you did might affect your game in a few months time.

      I do think that Blizzard have been fairly consistent with their goals in Wrath. The signs were all there. Just it takes a few months for people to work through and realise that … if raiding is more accessible, maybe they don’t need to spend 5 nights a week on it. So what do they do with the rest of the time? And if they want a game that can consume that much time, what if this isn’t it any more?

  8. Pingback: TLC Thursday: Hawt Voices, Brain Food, and Goodbyes - Sideshow & Syrana

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