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An Ongoing Tribute to my own lameness.....

General random thoughts about gaming, both within and outside of the MMO genre.

Author: Jimmy_Scythe

Autopilot

Posted by Jimmy_Scythe Sunday May 25 2008 at 1:41AM
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I personally have never used bots, macroing or multiboxing, but while playing MMORPGs I'm normally on autopilot. The game is more like a graphical theme thrown over a yahoo chatroom. Why? Because I don't have to give my full attention to what's happening on the screen. Every now and again I may have to click over to a different mob and initiate attack or spam a skill button, but I'm more entertained by the conversations in the chat box than the life and death struggle my character is having with "large radioactive undead rat" #3475. When conversation in game, mostly spent discussing banal internet drivel rather than situations arising from gameplay, is more entertaining than the game itself then there's a problem.

MMORPGs are boring. Not a constructive statement but it'll serve as a sketchy thesis. After endless hours of playing MMORPGs, I can't think of a more repetitive and monotonous way to pass the time. Yes, other genres have you doing the same things over and over again. The difference is that other genres require either a physical or strategic component that creates variation. Let's expand on that.

Tetris has both physical and strategic components. The strategic component comes from five different shaped blocks that fall from the top of the screen and you have to fit them together like a puzzle. When you fill a whole row, that section of the well is emptied, giving you more room. The strategic element of the game is complemented by the fact that you can see the next block that's going to fall after the current one lands. The physical component is introduced by the speed at which the blocks fall increasing over time. So you're repeating the same action over and over again, but the pieces vary and the speed ramps up with every block dropped into the well. This means that you have to pay full attention to what you're doing or the well fills to the top and you lose.

An MMORPG has neither a physical nor strategic component. You see a mob, you click on a mob, you wait for awhile and the mob dies. In rare cases, you my decide to press a few hotkeys for abilities or health / mana pots, but the pace is consistent and doesn't require any level of dexterity. Strategy is also a non-factor since you are always grossly overpowering your enemies. If an enemy is too difficult for you to defeat, you just go one-hit easy mobs until you level up a couple of times, and / or get enough money for better gear, and then go back to kill your original target. If you're already at the level cap you go and get more players to take down the big baddy you're trying to farm.

All the gameplay in MMORPGs is divided between combat and crafting, both of which have all the interactivity of a slot machine. Okay that wasn't fair, combat and crafting have slightly more interactivity than a slot machine since you're allowed to stack the odds in your favor before doing anything. In the case of crafting, you simply have to wait for success since you have nothing to lose but time.

This lack of involvement is then compounded by an experience system that's designed to monopolize your time. You get a quest to collect five wolf tails, go kill wolves until five of them drop "wolf tail" items and go back to the quest vendor for a reward of some kind. Twenty levels later: You get a quest to collect fifty giant space hamster teeth, go kill giant space hamsters until fifty of them drop "giant space hamster teeth" items and go back to the quest vendor for a reward of some kind. The difficulty is the same. The fights are exactly the same. The only difference is the number snipes you have to hunt and the amount of time you need to invest in order to upgrade your character's stats and gear. A time investment that increases exponentially with each level I might add.

What's that? You say that your character gains new abilities and the monsters become harder to fight? Bullshit. Killing the generic level 1 wumpus is just as easy as killing the generic level 60 wumpus. Don't believe me? Go search for "bots" with the title of any given MMORPG. If that's a little too unsavory for you, search for "macros" with the title of any given MMORPG.

Keep in mind that these macros and bots were not made by hardcore or professional programmers. These were hacked together by everyday people that played these games enough to know the content by rote. You can tell me about how a person that bought a level 60 character with all epic gear doesn't know how to play that build, but you can't tell me that it takes the hundreds of hours that you spend grinding to the end cap and acquiring epic gear in order to learn how to play.

None of this is really new. Most of these problems go all the way back to the MUDs of old. Like modern MMORPGs, MUds had macros, bots, and multiplayers. Many of the more common macros were eventually made into MUD features in the same way that early MMORPG macros have become standard UI. The most glaring example in MUDs is the 'wimpy' setting. With this command, you can set the number of hitpoints at which your character will flee from combat. So if HP dips lower than say... 30% then your character runs away to safety. With macroing, you can set it up so that the character will automatically quaff health pots at certain HP levels. The fact that many players, to this day, feel the need to automate a considerable amount of the gameplay is a pretty good indication that there is a serious flaw in the game design.

Botting and macroing also served a different role altogether. Macroing and botting made it easy for one player to control a whole party of characters instead of just one. Multiplaying, Multiboxing in MMORPG terms, is frowned upon but not despised to the same degree as botting or RMT. Those that object to multiplay / boxing are under the impression that the practice is largely to give the multiplayer's main an unfair advantage in regards to progression. I subscribe to a different school of thought that believes multiplayers are just trying to make the game interesting. Managing an entire party singlehandedly is more difficult, by an order of magnitude, than managing one character. Even so, the fact that players have to go to this kind of extreme just to make the game interesting is another red flag that MMORPGs are lackluster games.

You know, looking back on all my previous entries, I notice that very few of them focus on MMORPGs entirely. I guess part of that has to do with the fact that I don't play MMORPGs that often. Another part is the fact that I see more potential in the genre than actual results. But the number one reason why I haven't written about MMORPGs is that I just don't like them very much.

I've wrestled with the why of that last statement for quite some time now. I played pen and paper RPGs. I like single player RPgs. I like multiplayer RPGs such as Diablo 2 and Neverwinter Nights. I even enjoy Rogue-likes, and it takes a special kind of nerd to truely appreciate that sub-genre of RPG. Ultimately, it all boils down to MMORPGs not requiring the same level of involvement that the previously mentioned styles of RPG require. Hell, even without bots or macros, many MMORPG players admit to doing other things while they play.

Could you honestly do the dishes or cook while playing KOTOR? How about Dragon Quest VIII? Baldur's Gate? Of course you couldn't. You would have to pause the game or wait for your turn during combat or something. A good game engages you the entire time you're playing. MMORPGs, by and large, are not good games.



N64314 writes:

First off i'd like to say that i've always enjoyed ur blogs on MMORPG.com and I must say this was by far the best read yet.

You couldn't of been more right throughout your whole blog. I've been playing MMORPGs now for about 6 years and I have been struggling with one question that whole time. That question is why can I not stick with one game. I have played over 20 MMORPGS and rarley ever stay with one over 6 months. The reason being is they are all just so boring. Well maybee not boring but along the lines of what you said, they don't keep my attention. I don't HAVE to be looking at my computer screen the play the game. If I've been to a place enough times or done a repeatable quest enough times; I sometimes find myslef watching TV while moving my guy around. Taking breif glances at my computer to make sure I am going in the right direction.

I recently purchased Age of Conan hoping to god that this game would catch my attention enough for me to play it for quite some time. But after getting to lvl 30 I am already considering canceling my subscription. I think Age of Conan is a great game when it comes to MMOs but thats it. Its an MMO. It feels just like the last MMO I played, and the one before that, and the one before that.

There is however two things I LOVE about MMOs and that is PVP and raiding. These two tasks acualty make you use your mind and keep you looking at the screen. However both of those thing ALMOST require you to hit the lvl cap before you can really participate in them on a regular basis. Yea there are a few pickup raids and low level pvping but they are generaly very scarce in most MMOs.

In the mean time I will continue to search for that one game I can stick with.

Sun May 25 2008 3:00AM Report
diarheasauce writes:

wall of text CRITS U for 1209809218409214

Sun May 25 2008 6:17AM Report
BarakIII writes:

MMO's, in my opinion, are best suited to roleplayers. They were first developed with roleplaying in mind and that's the group for which MMO's have the greatest appeal. Certainly MMO's have tried to throw off these 'shackles' of being only for roleplayers, but nobody else is going to have the same dedication to a particular game and by trying to appeal to a wider market I wonder if developers aren't just offending their normal market base. I honestly don't understand why anyone but a roleplayer would play this genre of game because much of what you say is true if you're playing the game for any other reason. Even pvp gets boring after awhile.

I don't know if I really call myself a roleplayer, but I do like playing within a setting with a storyline, or even in a sandbox style game where players develop their own stories. I did play NWN for three years straight and played on a roleplaying server. It was only after playing that game that I tried an MMO, and to be honest I don't see how anybody can roleplay in an MMO with all the distractions. Oh, it'd be fine I think if everybody roleplayed, but even on so called 'roleplay' servers roleplayers are in a minority and the distraction of all these non-roleplayers make roleplaying very difficult if not impossible for me.

Very few MMO's are even successful and yet most developers spend millions developing them hoping for that success and WoW has only added to that drive. WoW's success outside of mainstream MMO players has developers licking their chops for that kind of success. In the end I wonder if, with everything you've said in mind, can achieve and/or maintain that success; or will they dwindle in popularity to those few who have always enjoyed the genre, or if they will lose even those players in their attempts to appeal to wider markets.

Hopefully this post makes sense, if not I plead lack of sleep. It's 7am and I have yet to go to bed.

Sun May 25 2008 6:56AM Report
JB47394 writes:

I've often thought that designers should include a powerful automation facility in their games and that they should let players automate anything they wanted to.  They should then compile statistics about the frequency of tasks being automated.  Those that are being automated should be redesigned or removed because clearly players don't enjoy the process of playing them - but they just as clearly want whatever happens as a result of having played them.

Also, if any given game had all elements that were purely artistic removed from it, I wonder what would be left.  That means eliminating canned animations, textures, effects, skyboxes, and even all 3D models that have no substance.  In fantasy MMOs, it doesn't leave much.

Sun May 25 2008 7:36AM Report
carack writes:

Jimmy_Scythe, I think the reason you find that MMOs so frequently turn to mindless button mashing is because that's what most video games are.  However MMOs are trying to get you to play that same game for a long period of time.  If you breakdown the basics of any video game, yea they are relatively simple. 

I think that the reason people flock to MMOs is because of the community in which they meet other people.  Also some people might enjoy playing through the storyline or exploring a massive open world.  I know that I enjoy MMOs because of the new content that gets added frequently, which I then get to play through on a game that I have already mastered.

MMOs can be broken down to just the button movements and the flashes on the screen, but I think that is doing them a huge disservice.  Video games on the whole are made easy because they want everyone to be able to beat them or else they lose a lot of potential clients. 

Good video games provide challenges to every player.  Just because you don't have to pay attention 100% of the time doesn't mean the games aren't engaging; that's the nature of MMOs.

 

Sun May 25 2008 10:31AM Report
grimfall writes:

Your original analogy is flawed.

You, generally, don't just log into an MMO and hit auto attack and wander away from the keyboard.  You have to make decisions on what type of monters you are going to fight, you have to decide if you're going to quest or grind or group with your guildmates, you have to decide what items you're going to pick up and which ones to drop, you have to decide if you're going to take on these three monsters or move on to look for a single target, you have to decide if you are going to price things in the AH at low, medium, or high prices to get the best return, you have to decide if you want more mana or strength on your armor.

All of these are tactical and strategic decisions that you make all the time, and they, for the most part, are more complicated than how you are going to place two Tetris pieces.

I didn't read the whole blog. I am assuming it's all based on the flawed logic in your initial comparison - it may not be and you may have some great things to say, but that first part ruined your credibility in my eyes. 

Sun May 25 2008 4:12PM Report
grimfall writes:

I read a little more, and you've contradicted yourself.

"Managing an entire party... is more difficult than managing a single characters"

But you just got done telling us that there's not strategy required to control a single character.  Any number times none still is none, correct?

Sun May 25 2008 4:21PM Report
Jimmy_Scythe writes:

A good strategy game is composed of decisions... all of them hard. The "strategic" component of MMORPGs is composed of the simple min / maxing  of your character's stats with no sense of diminishing returns or trade off.

And no, there isn't any contradiction in the article. It doesn't take any strategy to move a single pawn, but give each player three pawns on a nine square board and you have hexapawn.

Tic tac toe is simple enough that even a three year old can move the game to a stalemate. make the board 7X6 and force players to work from the bottom row up and you have connect four.

MMORPGs don't have even the involvement of these simple examples. I know you want to defend your decision to play these "games," but If you're really into playing progress quest then nothing I say should put you on the defensive. Unless you're afraid that you AREN'T having as much fun as you've been telling yourself....

Sun May 25 2008 6:17PM Report

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