This is going up sooner than I thought. But it is something I was thinking about after I wrote my last blog entry, and that is the concept of failing. It’s hard to miss the concept of failing actually, it’s an internet meme. You probably can’t even throw a rock without seeing some person having posted a picture of telling some other person that they have failed at something. Yet, this basic idea isn’t even possible in the modern MMO. Even if you fail, you still are rewarded, and thus it creates a problem.
This is still tied into the ideas behind a sandbox but this is one of those things that I think is required. Without the threat of failure looming overhead, people tend to get complacent and if you reward someone for failing, even if it is a reduced reward, you just tell them that they can earn something no matter the results, and it creates an atmosphere of no consequence. This type of atmosphere is actually not very good for an MMO and is counter to the whole idea of a sandbox theme world and style. Removing the threat of failure from any aspect of the game just instills into people the idea that they don’t need to try and as such when you actually try to introduce challenging content, people will demand that it be made easier because the developer put themselves into a corner by making the rest of the game easy and impossible to fail.
You can see this concept in action in every modern MMO to date now. While, again, people will tell others quite often how much they have failed at doing something, the truth is there is no way to really fail at it unless you do nothing at all. Every quest is designed that there is no wrong answer to completing it and even if the mission would penalize someone for not doing it the right specific way, it will do nothing other than either remove some invisible bonus or just reset the player so they get a do over with no consequence or worry. This type of no risk and all reward system is not good for a healthy community of an MMO game.
Of course, there are those who believe this would breed elitism, but it is not really elitism when people want to do things right and want others to stop wasting their time. No one wants to have all the time they worked towards completing a goal to turn out to be worthless because someone refuses to actually work with other people. Even these people who bulk at elitists are elitists in their own way, but like any normal human being, they refuse to see they are acting just like the other people that they are slamming.
So how did this no risk, all reward atmosphere come about to begin with? Quite simply; the self-entitled, whiny gamer types that we are demanded it because of self-perceived notion of that a game should always be about winning, and there should be no chance that we could fail or lose because that would defeat the purpose of our persona. This, of course, was acted upon because the big wigs saw dollar signs, and they acted upon it. Quests are fall of a truck easy, and the rewards are large thus whenever a quest given offers a small reward, players are very quick to point it out how a lower level quest or a much easier quest that they just did had a better reward. This is one of those corners that developers have programmed themselves into by listening to gamers too much.
Now, while it is great to always feel rewarded, it is bad when there is no risk involved to gaining that reward. Players might get frustrated with particularly tough challenged and they may hate seeing messages that tell them they failed, but the reality is it makes a player strive to be that much better for the next time they try to do a mission, quest or whatever task they are doing just like it. They stop being complacent and actually try to learn from their mistakes. And, the long term result is that the player feels more rewarded when they succeed because they actually tried instead of shrugging their shoulders because they know there is no way to fail.
In the end, failure is something that needs to be put back into the MMO, for the long term health and the continued interest of the players. Subconsciously, players are realizing they can’t fail these games anymore and it’s having a negative impact on the game industry as a whole. I am not saying punish players for failing a task, but don’t reward them for practically doing nothing. This is what gets raiders interested in your raids because there is that chance to fail the raid, but even that is starting to lose its bite as the trickledown effect is effecting that aspect of MMO gaming as well, as the raids are becoming harder and harder to actually fail. In short, it’s time to stop pampering the players and challenging them to get better.