December 11, 2012

Challenge versus Instant Gratification

I know it’s been quite some time since I last updated this blog, and most in part because I had nothing really to talk about. Well that isn’t the exact truth, it was more of the fact that I was more or less in a slump as far as what I felt like talking about and nothing really cheered me up in that regard. I can’t say I was depressed, but I wasn’t exactly inspired either. Probably has to do with the fact there is very little interesting going on, other than a lot of MMOs just constantly recreating the same mistakes over and over again.

I do want to discuss something that has cropped up in my mind just recently and that’s the concept of earning something and instant gratification. Now there is a very fine line between the two, that much is certain. How can you decide if you've crossed it? It’s a hard thing to measure in the end, but I think I can safely say that in the modern MMO era that instant gratification is the side that they are heavily leaning on. Hell, even the single player games cater to that play style with games having a difficulty setting with the only difference between 1 setting and the next is how hard the monsters might be in the game. In short, they offer everything up the first play through and have nothing to offer for a repeat performance. This, to be blunt, is just terrible game design.

Why do I say that? Because the player is supposed to learn and grow with the experience as much as the game is giving a return investment for putting skills and knowledge to the test. However, when the experience is flat, the game is flat. In fact a lot of games have been foregoing difficulty for the sake of “story” which is a piss poor excuse, honestly.

Let’s take Mass Effect for example. I’ve made my feelings clear on how terrible I feel that game story and play wise was, but let’s look at this more objectively. The first Mass Effect game had a bit of structure and trimmings, nice things here and there to play around with and discover on your own. It needed some trimming, but otherwise it had a great foundation, but was poorly realized for the sake of the story which allowed the player to be able to walk through the game in around the normal time of a single play session. Mass Effect 2, they did more than trim, they started pruning. Entire systems were gutted out for the sake of “streamlining” but in addition for the sake of the “story” causing the difficulty curve to actually go down further from the previous game. Once Mass Effect 3 rolled around, everything about the original game was gone except for the wallpaper. Everything had been gutted for the sake of that story, and the difficulty curve took yet another step down. The entire crafting system was gone and everything was so “streamlined” that any semblance of choice and character building for uniqueness was pretty much gone.

The same can be seen in MMOs as well. Now I can understand that developers and companies want that bottom dollar, but making things easier only causes the exact opposite effect you were going for. People are less inclined to return if they are assured that they can pretty much cheat their way to the top. Grant it you have a few who love that style of game play, but reality is that many do not. If you start handing out your best stuff within the first few hours someone picks up the game, no one is going to want to have a repeat performance if little else actually is left for them to do.

MMOs are about staying power and you have to strike a fine balance on difficulty to earn something (that dreaded grind westerners seem to be afraid of for some reason) and being given stuff on a platter. There have been many people who have talked about this very thing, including celebrity net people like Yahtzee, but I think it bears repeating that making things too easy is suicide in the long run. I think it’s obvious to many players that WoW has crossed that line, for instance, where your investment isn’t worth as much because your return has been devalued by how easy it is to attain.

Crafting is another area in MMOs that make suffer from this and they were honestly the first victims in the MMO genre. In today’s MMO crafting world, you go out, earn a few points in a specific field then buy a recipe from an NPC for a set amount of in game currency. No mystery, no discovery, everyone who follows that path gets the same thing. TSW tried something different using a Minecraft inspired crafting set up, but FunCom failed to understand what made Minecraft work was there was always something new to discover and be added and the recipes actually mattered in the end, and the overall mod community helps grow that games recipe list even further.

It took a Minecraft mod called Thaumcraft 3 for me to realize what MMO crafting needed, and if I were to ever point at one simple method I would say Thaumcraft has done it. The fact that many of the recipes are actually hidden and require player investment and discovery, it feels rewarding to do the research and you want to keep going. It’s very addictive. MMOs don’t do this, they again put everything on a silver platter for people to get with little effort.

Anyways, over all MMOs and games in general, need to stop making games super easy. The challenge isn’t worth the value anymore when developers want $60+ for a game that can be completed in less than a single playing session. MMOs themselves have this problem when the MMO game is supposed to be about staying power, but they give too much away too soon and people get bored very fast. I think this is something developers need to stop doing now.

No comments:

Post a Comment