Are we too obsessed with choices in games?

Suzina writes at Kill Ten Rats about her disappointment with the crafting system in Star Wars Galaxies. There were lots and lots of different professions to choose from … but many turned out to be mostly disregarded by the rest of the player base.

if you chose to be an crafter, a doctor, or an entertainer, you were completely worthless most of the time. Most of the time, nobody had to interact with you and nobody wanted to. Eventually, someone might want a guild-hall, or a face-lift, or some death-penalty removed and they would be forced to interact with you until they could get back to doing fun stuff.

She goes on to wonder what a game would be like that only had one class. Imagine that everyone could easily switch between every role in game.

The trouble with choices is that on the one side, you get to pick what is more fun for you to play. On the other, there’s a good chance that some choices will be mechanically superior to others. Others might be inconvenient, or so time-consuming to level that they don’t fit with less hardcore playing styles. Eventually, the playerbase drifts towards cookie cutter specs because they actually are better. So the choice is either an illusion, a trap made to catch newbies and anyone else who doesn’t know what the current best specs are — or else it’s not a very meaningful choice because anything you pick will be fine. I don’t believe that the second option really is meaningless though. Choosing how you prefer to play is always meaningful, and if no class is better or worse at anything than any other, they might still play very differently.

We see it with crafting skills also. Some end up being more desirable than others, some are easier for building cash, some may have added bonuses. (We joked in the beginning of Wrath that WoW had turned into World of Jewelcrafting because jewelcrafters got daily quests, lots of extra drops, vast money making potential and bonuses that scaled well — it’s still true.) Yet somehow, they all involve the same ‘click on recipe to craft item’ mechanic. So from the player’s point of view, all that ever can really matter is the profits and any side bonuses. They all play the same.

For many people, choosing what class, spec, or crafting skill to play is heavily dependent on what other people are doing. If you pick a rare (but needed) class/spec combination, you will have an easier time getting into groups. If you pick a rare (but needed) crafting skill, you will be able to fill a niche in the market and may be more sought after. Being rare feels more individual and unique, and being unique is very highly  prized among players.

It can also lead to the situation Oriniwen finds herself in, where she’s just happily levelled a new alt to find … that her co-GM picked exactly the same class and spec for a new alt, and they both hit max level at the same time. Does it matter? Well, yes if they both share a role for which there is limited demand. With the best will in the world, it’s hard not to be gutted when you realise that you have to compete with a friend for groups.

I’d welcome a game where anyone could switch to anything, although I am curious as to how it would affect how we identify with our characters. I also wonder whether facing the very real choice of ‘What would I prefer to do?’ rather than the illusory choice of ‘What do other people on the forums say I should do?’ might be too much for some to bear.

How do you feel about choices in MMOs?