Links for the weekend (E3 prospects, and the state of raiding)

  • E3 is next week, and is the first of the big summer gaming conventions. Destructoid summarises the publishers and games expected to be there, so there will be plenty of news/ press releases about those. I don’t feel massive excitement about any of these, although “El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron” is a good title.
  • There are also expected to be some hardware announcements: Nintendo has a successor to the Wii to announce and no one will be surprised if Sony and Microsoft also come up with something. Venturebeat run down some of the more stable rumours about next week’s announcements. Allegedly Bioware are already working on Dragon Age 3 so that might also get an announcement.
  • Yngwe writes a guest post for Kiss my Alas, pondering the ways in which real life has made him a better raider. (But leaves the question open as to whether raiding has helped him iRL.)
  • Staying with the raiding theme, Wugan writes a thoughtful post on Flow asking whether it’s too easy for individual players to act as free agents, shifting guilds as soon as they get frustrated with progression. I always think that a raid leaders’ ideas on what is wrong with raiding can seem so different from a raider/ non leader’s ideas that you sometimes wonder if they are playing the same game.
  • Stabs describes issues that he’s had with filling raids in Rift and explains it using psychology. I felt bad reading this because I’d be one of those people who thinks “I’ve done proper raiding before, I know how much time and commitment it takes, so better that I sit out in this new game than risk being all those horrible things people call you if you get one enchant slightly wrong in WoW.” Not that my Rift character is level 50 yet, but soon.
  • Rhii asks how people feel when someone they are raiding with keeps talking about their other guild/s and other raid/s. In WoW, it’s not uncommon for people to have different alts in different guilds/ raids – I suspect this is more common now due to the way the lockouts work.
  • Scott Andrews, in his excellent WoW Insider column, predicts that Firelands will not save your (raid) guild. Is he right?
  • Psychochild lists 10 games that he thinks designers should play and asks for your suggestions for what games or types of games you think designers should experience.
  • Syncaine eases my troubled mind by explaining why gaming bloggers are not leechers. What he’s actually getting at is that if you are really into a game or hobby, you probably prefer to play with other people who are similarly engaged. And this actually applies just as much to casual roleplayers as it does to hardcore raiders (he doesn’t make that connection, but it’s true.)
  • Danc writes a fairly controversial post in which he critiques game criticism and particularly that written by gamers. In my opinion this is pretty much a straw man because what a reader can get from a well written and well presented experiential blog post is simply a different style of game writing than a critic would be expected to produce. And I’d argue we should value the players who are able to do this well without lumping them in with the critics. I think this is particularly true in MMOs or any game with a virtual community because we don’t really have the theories yet to fully explain how players interact with each other online – it’s a new field. And as in any new field, the observations have to come before the theories and analysis. Be scientific, game devs! Pay attention to the (good) observations.
  • The Last Psychiatrist ponders Second Life and real life, and points out that in some ways they are not so very different. Is getting your hair done to look like a celebrity iRL so different from sculpting your avatar to look like them online?
  • scrusi wonders if exploration and story are mutually exclusive.
  • Tipa notes that the Rift devs have been borrowing a lot of ideas from WoW and wonders if they could take a few pointers from EQ as well.

How we learn. And what is fun anyway?

The discussion this week about levelling in WoW – too fast? too easy? not enough challenge for experienced gamers? has inspired me to do some digging around for information about how adults learn. Sorry if this gets a bit technical.

There is a lot of interesting work done on this topic, and I think the notion of Andragogy (how adults learn) is actually pretty cool. I especially like the notion that as adults, when we learn something new we want to be able to use it as soon as possible. I always thought that was just me being really impatient ;)

There are two basic views on adult learning:

1. Learning should be about overcoming a series of challenges. From this point of view, a bit of anxiety is part of the learning process. It would be very common (maybe even necessary) for people who are learning something new to think, “Eek, I feel a bit lost and out of my depth here, how can I do this new thing?” You have to get to that stage before you can move on and actually learn, and deciding to ease the anxiety by mastering the new topic is one of the ways adults motivate themselves to learn things.

There’s an interesting quote here in which one psychologist claims that learning isn’t really fun for adults, and says that learning only happens when survival anxiety (omg I need to know how to do this OR ELSE) outweighs learning anxiety (erk, this is a new thing and I don’t know how to do it.)

Schein dismisses the notion that learning is fun, especially for adults. He equates adult learning within organizations with that of the brainwashing techniques he observed while studying prisoners of the Korean War

Each of these anxieties could be managed, for example learning can be constructed in a “safe” environment where the consequences of failure are minimal. Survival anxiety can obviously be increased by threatening job loss, a lack of security, or recognizing competitive elements of the market.

So this is where games come in. The game should be a safe environment for learning where the consequences either way are pretty low. In a more competitive game, or where players are more invested (maybe your guild performance is important to your social life) then you get the other anxiety too.

I think anyone who has raided with a progression guild will probably know that feeling of being terrified of failing to learn quickly enough and letting the side down. But on the other hand, hobby gamers tend to enjoy the learning anxiety and being able to make it go away by mastering the game. We’re good at learning. Hold onto that, it’s a very useful life skill :) People in this group would dispute the claim that learning isn’t fun because for us, it’s the entire basis of our hobby!

Just bear in mind that it actually might not be fun for a lot of other people.

2. Learning through play / experience. The idea here is that people will learn by doing things, and they might not realise how much they have learned until they get a chance to think about it and talk to other people afterwards. There is also an idea that all learners are equal; as long as they are actually doing something (ie. and not avoiding the experience altogether) then they are learning and will have something to bring to the discussion.

This is why the WoW blogosphere is so interesting. Some people want to talk about strategies for high end raiding, others about how they work gaming in around their family life, and others just want to share pictures of their in game pets. They are all sharing different but valid experiences of the same game.

So from this perspective, the goal is to create a friendly environment that should be easy to get into with lots of ways for people to go off and experience it in whichever way they want. In other words, the buffet approach to MMOs.

So there are some kinds of player who just don’t want to deal with stress or anxiety. They aren’t playing because they want to be challenged in that way. They might be challenged in different ways (I want to collect 100 pets! I want to explore the virtual world!) but it will all be very controllable and they probably appreciate having a well marked story path available.

I think that the more MMOs bring in gaming elements, the more they will tend towards the first category. Structured sets of challenges, underpinned by strong competition to motivate people. And the mystery of WoW at the moment is how they are trying to make the low levels offer an immersive learning environment at the same time as the high level raiding offers a very different sort of gaming experience. Clearly, if you are an experienced gamer coming into the game new, it’s just going to be frustrating until you reach endgame (at which point it will be frustrating for different reasons ;) ).

10 cool posts to read over the weekend

I haven’t done a good links post for awhile. But not for the lack of material!

  1. Flaim at The Cognisance Council has some thoughts for tanks, from someone who doesn’t tank. Big Bear Butt Blogger has some more thoughts about the tank’s role in a group, from someone who does.
  2. I’ve often seen bloggers wish that MMOs were based more on skill than on grind. But here’s the other side of the picture, MMO Designer discusses why it may be better to reward players for time spent, rather than for challenge.
  3. Dwism writes a timely post on some of the easter eggs in WoW. The little details that bring the world to life (a bit) which people might miss if they just dash through following questhelper like dogs on leashes.
  4. Leigh Alexander discusses an indie game that lets you take your virtual revenge on guys who make catcalls in the street. (Warning: if it bothers you that some women may not like being accosted in the street, don’t read this.)
  5. A couple of great posts from The Psychology of Games. One on how people pick their guildies, and how players pick their guilds. And another on whether people behave better online if they pick an avatar that looks more like themselves.
  6. Back in March, Keen swore that he’d never touch another F2P game. It’s something that he still feels very strongly about, and he describes why he thinks F2P is going to ruin LOTRO.
  7. Jeff Vogel at The Bottom Feeder discusses anti piracy solutions. And explains why he thinks the options that players hate might be the ones which work best.
  8. Back in February, Larisa was already asking how WoW players were going to keep their enthusiasm going until November. We still don’t really know the answer to that.
  9. Kava is a Wow player and musician who writes a druid blog at Evil Tree. She’s recently been sharing her passion for gaming music, comparing classical music and opera with the Warcraft soundtrack.
  10. Syncaine talks about the lure of grindy gameplay in MMOs. Why do we enjoy spending hours killing mobs or doing dailies to chase that extra 0.1% damage?