July 16, 2013

Confusing Gear to Play as Learn to Play

One thing you will often hear in the world of MMOs in general and gaming at large is the term, learn to play. Now this can often be abbreviated many ways and many of you have probably seen the various ways it can be spelled, abbreviated and other ways such as L2P, lrn2ply, learn2play and quite possibly many more out there that I don’t know or have tuned out not to even bother remembering them. In a previous blog, I stated in the context of the phrase, learn to play, it is generally used as an insult by some people to denote how much better they are than some people. But in the reality that the actual phrase falls in, learning to play like those players denote, generally doesn’t mean what they think that phrase means.

Let me clarify a bit; in past games, your actual skill and ability determined a lot of your playing power in various games long ago. However, in this day and age your skills and abilities have relatively been replaced by automated systems, assistance programs or even the lowest of the low, what is known as pay2win type deals that actually give a significant boost to your character’s actual growth or abilities. In these type of systems there is really no learning curve so the term Learn to Play doesn’t even remotely apply. This is what is not as well-known as a term called Gear to Play.

Now gearing to play takes many forms in games these days, the most common of which is obviously in the title of the description; getting gear for your character to increase their relative power or give them more damage in their attacks or more useful abilities. This is an obvious point of that statement but there is an additional layer to this, one that is becoming more prevalent in games in general but has been a staple of MMOs for a long time, which is the leveling up system which provides increases to the characters relative power in itself, but when these two types of systems are combined the general concept of learning to play as many would present it is completely thrown out the window.

Now in gear based progression systems, gear is very powerful. In many cases they make up a huge chunk of the character development. The level based progression generally uses levels as a sort of small benchmark for this, with increasing power on a relative curve system, with the curve generally spiking higher the higher level a character goes. But even in games where levels just only unlock things like new combos or new guns, levels are still important because access to those new types of gear are important to the overall growth of the character, and in many cases some of the powers, combinations or gear items are so powerful that progression through the game otherwise would be monumentally difficult at best, to near impossible at worst.

While “learning to play” does have a small part in these types of systems, over all in the longevity of the game, they play a very small part and at the end of the day what determines your overall ability will be your level and your gear/abilities you are given to that character. This presents the issue that skill is less important to the overall play experience and more emphasis on your time investment to find items.

Now is this solely the fault of developers with these types of systems in play? Not really, again this stems back to the whiney, self-entitled lot that we gamers actually are. Gamers are highly competitive, no matter what they claim, and many out there can’t handle the fact that someone could actually be better than they are by default, so they’ve demanded that developers put in overt handicaps into the system at large to give a leg up for players that either refuse to or just can’t improve themselves to get better. Is it a bad system? No, not in the least, but sometimes things just go too far.

Now, of course, when you take a step back and look at everything as a whole, you realize the entire system blew up in the faces of the whining mass of gamers, because instead of it being a learning system where you utilize placement, timing and such to their fullest, now it’s a time based system of investment and those that have more time will be ahead of those that don’t. The end result, the playing field is now even wider a part as the skilled players now has the handicaps on top of their own skills to give them an even greater boost. The result, gamers inadvertently, through our own petulant demands (and we were rude about it on many occasions, which makes me wonder how devs could stand it) have created the gaming world at large where it isn’t a matter of just learning the system anymore it’s also a matter of putting in the time to get the gear to play.

In short, gamers and developers need to take a large step back. Learning curves have been replaced by easy hand outs and gearing systems that try to replace the need of skill with either easy lock on targeting, insane power boosting systems, or just giving out insane weapons that completely replace any need for relative skill anymore. In short, learn to play practically doesn’t even exist anymore especially in most MMOs. It’s gear to play or go home. Skill hasn’t really been a part of such systems for a long time as gear progression systems continuously replace the need of learning skills and abilities to actually improve yourself.