Casual Play: This Notion of Work
By: Steve Wilson
Editor's Note: This is an edition of a weekly column by Staff Writer Steve Wilson. The column is called "Casual Play" and will look at some of the stranger or more frustrating events in MMOs as seen by Mr. Wilson. The opinions expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of MMORPG.com, its staff or management.
Count me among the millions of casual gamers that play MMOs to relax, this notion that the game must be work seems completely absurd.
This notion of work is the often-repeated mantra that implies that casual players want only the easiest content that requires the least amount of pain and effort to enjoy. To which many of us say, “Well, duh.” We’re here after all to enjoy ourselves, to temporarily escape from those real grinds known as jobs, expenses, and the crushing weight of a thousand dreary mundane tasks. We want to feel heroic and be able to do it in thirty minutes to an hour. We don’t need a game like Star Wars Galaxies to give us yet another rent bill to pay. Or mandatory guild raids that turn our favorite game into a literal second job. We’re here only for the fun.
Casual players constantly hear about this notion of work in MMOs. That only the players who put in the work should feel any pride in what they’ve accomplished in a game. Any complaint about having to devote a ludicrous number of hours to raiding, rep grinding, or keeping up on virtual housing payments is instantly classified as whining about not wanting to work for it. As if we should take pride in the fact that we traded way too much of our real lives for accomplishments that only have meaning in a game that might be lucky to last a full decade.
That the casual player has no pride is another charge constantly leveled. What exactly is there to take pride in? Just as many if not more players will roll their eyes rather than be impressed when a guild brags about being the first to kill a tough boss. Putting in endless hours on a frivolous task doesn’t automatically equate to any sense of pride in most people’s minds. Should I also take pride in having seen Star Wars 142 times in theaters? Or covered my fireplace mantle with miniature golf trophies? Or stood in line for 3 days to audition for American Idol? Any of those would be comparable to taking pride in memorizing the punch lines of every Monty Python skit ever shown. If you happen to take pride in these types of accomplishment, that’s great, but not everyone is going to feel that those are accomplishments worthy of the time and energy required. Some players in MMOs might even just take pride in the fact that for a few hours a day or week they can escape the monotony of their real lives.
One of the most common comparisons made is to professional athletes, in relation to MMOs. It takes years of dedication, practice and persistence for an athlete to transcend their game from hobby into even the lousiest paying minor league full-time sports career. This still doesn’t address the multitude of players willing to toss a basketball around on the corner court just to have fun. It’s as if what they are doing is somehow less meaningful because they don’t have NBA contracts. Nor can anyone show me which MMO players have fans and multimillion dollar contracts to play professionally. And honestly, if I were getting millions of dollars to play MMOs I’d probably take the games seriously; even up to the point where they became work. Just because some amazingly talented people can turn their sports hobby into a well paying job does not make this the case in the MMO world. Working hard at an MMO will gain a person nothing tangible except a closet full of digital trinkets until the next shiny game comes along. A person can love basketball to death and still only play enough to enjoy the occasional game at the neighborhood lot, and even be lousy at it.
The most amusing thing about this notion of work is that it was a developer trick meant only to lure players into repeating the same content over and over from the very get go. Developers needed a hook to keep players subscribing using the same content as much as possible. By having insanely low drop rates for uber gear, players would be required to repeat these dungeons, missions and tasks multiple times in order to acquire the gear they wanted. This was the easiest way to get around the losing proposition that is content development. Far more time is spent writing, implementing and testing content than it takes for a player to burn through it. The content that a team of developers might spend a year crafting can be burned through by an avid player in mere weeks. But, by tricking the players into repeating it many times the development to play ratio starts to even out, it gets less expensive for the game makers to produce.
That’s the funny part, that the easiest solution to the problem is now glorified as a banner of accomplishment. Rather than demanding content that is meaningful or effects the world space in any way, the hardcore players seem to just want more of the same. It’s the wool that’s been pulled over your eyes to blind you from the truth.
So take this notion of work and keep it for we casual players, we happy casual players, by sheer numbers will guide this industry along a more entertaining and frivolous path.