[Thought of the Day] Difficulty isn’t always about difficulty.

Berath wrote last week about returning to LOTRO after having missed a couple of expansions. She was struck by how much there is to know, how many things have changed, and how hard it is to adjust once you have been used to playing a minmaxed/ optimised character in the past. She compares this experience with that of a new player on her kinship forum who is still struggling with being able to move, steer and fight at the same time.

I feel very much that the real currency of MMOs is knowledge. It’s the knowledge of how to play many facets of the game (tactics for all the bosses, instances etc, knowing your way round all the zones, how to counter every other class in PvP, work many different PvE markets), how the lore developed, and how the game has changed over time that marks out the real dinos. This is one of the reasons that although themepark players enjoy new content, they don’t always welcome expansions which make old content irrelevant or mean they have to totally learn how to replay every character. It makes that process of knowledge collection worthless. But at the same time, ensuring that players must work to keep their knowledge up to date means that current players can feel a sense of achievement, and that there will be payoffs for keeping up to date with the game.

The persistence and progression of player knowledge (along with a social network of gamers) is the true persistence and progression of MMOs. This is one of the reasons it can be so difficult for a new player to join an older game. Because they are consistently playing with people who just know more than they do, and may have no reason to either share the knowledge or teach newbies.

We tend to wrap game knowledge up as a part of gaming skill. ie. you can’t be good at game X unless you know A, B and C.  This is fine for people who enjoy collecting knowledge. Of which I am one. MMOs suit me fine; I have a good memory, like learning pointless trivia and don’t mind relearning it regularly. Being expert about in game lore and mechanics can also be quite sociable, it isn’t really a twitch game, and it encourages community/ blogging/ etc.

We really should stop treating in game knowledge as if it was optional or unimportant. And the game that can crack the nut of encouraging player communities to welcome and teach new players will have solved the numbers problem.

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7 thoughts on “[Thought of the Day] Difficulty isn’t always about difficulty.

  1. I’m very much about acquiring complete knowledge of a game, and once I’ve seen all or most of the details then interest in continuing playing begins to wane.

    Speaking of Lotro, I’ve bought the last expansion but not played it yet, the big sticking point is the changes they’ve made to the warden class that I’d like to continue playing. The way the warden works now is much more complicated than the way it did when I was more consistently playing the game. It makes getting back into the game a big challenge. Sure I remember the gambits, they are ingrained in my brain, but now they change depending on stance. If there ever was an example of changes to a class making it difficult to re-engage with it, then that would be it. I’m following developments to see how they’ll streamline the class in the future. Whereas if I went back to playing WoW, then I can see myself reacquainting myself with the classes more quickly, despite not playing it for 3 years.

  2. /applause

    You captured my thoughts completely, Spinks.

    I watch my kids struggle with MMOs from time to time, and they insist that they don’t need any help. But at the same time, I realize that offering tips are the easiest thing to do and will help them immeasurably. I’ve taken a middle path with their MMO work; wait until they’re not in-game to discuss strategy, so that they don’t feel pressured into doing things a certain way.

    On the one side you’ve got the ‘L2P noob’ crowd, which doesn’t give a damn that new people are entering the game (“Hey, it’s fresh meat today!” one person said in response to a player’s complaint that they were new to WoW and BGs), and on the other had you’ve got the people who never even notice that there are new players around because they’re so wrapped up in their own little world (guild + friends + relatives) within the game. I give Blizz props for trying with the newbie guild idea, and EVE Uni is another good idea, but the community itself has to want to encourage new players for such activities to truly succeed.

    • EVE Uni I think gives a taste of what a sandbox game could spawn if the devs and game community in general were less focussed on “harden the fuck up, noob.”

      Older MMOs in general probably had more helpful guilds, because the games were just that arcane that newbies really needed the help.

      I still suspect that MMOs can potentially be an amazing learning environment for kids, with some parental guidance. Because it is possible to go out and learn most of the stuff you need to know, test it out, see the improvements (or failure) etc in a fairly safe environment. And I think your idea about discussing strategies when they aren’t actually in the game is a really good way to encourage reflection (which is also important for learning).

  3. It has always bothered me that WoW has eliminated a lot of the “figuring it out” elements to the game. The talent trees are a good example of this. In earlier versions of WoW, there were more discussions on the best talent specs, what you need to take, what can be skipped, etc.

    Now, I feel like what you take is just self-evident. Last time I played, I didn’t change either of my builds at all after visiting Elitist Jerks. I really had nothing to learn from the best of the best about either class? That’s disappointing.

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