Player Modifications in MMORPGs
Editorial by Hasani Davis
A growing concern amongst the online gaming community is the debate between Mod uses, just how bad is Moding for competitive gaming?
The encyclopedia defines cheating in online computer games as; a broad category of activities, all of which are generally regarded as modifying the game experience in a way that gives a player an unfair advantage over the other players.
I think back to when I first started gaming and Mods were simply viewed as wrong. By changing or adding files you make the game play easier to fit your own style. But as time passed and more games came out the lines began to blur as to what was considered an acceptable UI or Mod. It did not take long before Moding got out of control in second generation games either, with Diablo 2 and Anarchy Online respectively. In AO, player tampering of pre-set controls was called cheating and became so rampant it led to the game’s demise. In Diablo 2 the program was kept on the client side so players were able to adjust their own characters to what ever advantage they could desired.
World of Warcraft hit the market in 2004 and allowed full macro, scripting, Mod and UI customization. To some this is the straw that broke the camels back. Blizzard, fresh off the heels of having Diablo 2 ruined by not being able to police cheating, began work on WoW. Instead of spending its resources towards what ruined their last game, the envelope was pushed further. This new game allowed for easier changing of pre-set game mechanics, (pretty much what was considered cheating in first generation games), and it is now considered to be okay. WoW allows you to easily write scripting code into macros. Where as first generation games such as DAoC and EQ had simple macro commands (say one line of speech or do one /slash command such as /dance /camp) WoW has allowed for: multiple actions, pauses, variables, /slash commands, and character skills to all be used in one macro. For an example in DAoC you could write a macro that would target the same target as someone in your party such as: /assist Legolis and you would target Bob. This was as far as you could take the macro. The button would not make you attack, you had to do that yourself, and you had no clue what Bob was targeting you had to find it yourself. In WoW, you can write a macro which will target the same opponent as someone in your group and say out loud “I am attacking Bob.” A large red glowing circle would appear below Bob’s feet to indicate he is the target and his picture would flash on your screen. This same macro will also use your strongest attack if Bob is over 70% life. If you do not have enough power to use your strongest attack, the very same macro will perform an auto attack. The same macro will also perform an automatic hamstring attack if Bob is moving too fast. Last but not least, if Bob is under 20% life your macro will use a finishing move, quite a change eh?
This may sound outrageous to some people who come from other games, but that’s just the normal way things are in Warcraft. Third generation gamers have softened with these third generation games. In fact it is a rule in most raid guilds that you have to use a certain collection of Mods in order to be allowed into the guild! Let’s talk about Decursive, may the MMORPG gods forgive me for I have said the D word! While this seems like a simple function in WoW, I will explain it to the general public. Decursive is a Mod that automatically removes any negative effect your character is capable of removing from every person in your forty man raid. You not only don’t have to target the people, or check the icon to see if it is something you can cure, you just have to be alive and have mana to cast it. If it is a new spell and you do not know if your class can remove it or not, this macro will bypass your knowledge and make the decision for you. Forget knowing your class; forget making smart choices and tactical decisions, we will let the script do it!
My stance is that any type of Moding should not be allowed in PvP games of the future. We have tried the first generation games without them, tried the second generation ones with them, we should be taking what we have learned from the past 15 years of MMORPGs and know that Moding is bad for competitive gaming.
Point blank a Mod gives an advantage. Advantages should not be something you have to write, or download. An advantage should be based on tactics and conscious decisions you make while playing a game. While this advantage is mild in a PvE game as you are only going against the environment, it becomes huge in a PvP situation.
Let's take something as simple as User Interface Moding. I had someone tell me that UI Mods are okay because they are just helping to fix poor programming and speed up things that are tedious. In Warcraft you have eighty buttons to press. Remember back in DAoC when your healer had around forty spells you could cast, but what made each healer different was they had the ten spells that they put on their MAIN BAR? Yes, your effectiveness was boosted by the decision of what spells you where mainly going to use in combat and you would sometimes change your spell bar based upon what situation you are going into. In WoW you can not only have eighty buttons, you can make it so that icons will black out when you cant use them and flash when ready to use again. You can also change the UI to make a reminder pop up in big flashing letters for you to use certain skills, or alert you when hostile spells are being cast at you. Remember when you used to pretend to cast an offensive spell to fake someone out? Nope, that won’t fool that scripting! You will be able to identify more information, and make better decisions (if not have the decisions made for you) by having the right macro equipped.
Giving someone even a fraction of a second advantage by using a Mod snowballs into an avalanche in fast paced player vs. player combat. Can you imagine if they had Moding in other player vs. player games and used the same excuses such as “it just helps with poor programming” and “it helps me with tedious things?” Why don’t we change Ryu’s Shoryuken to automatically execute whenever you press the jab button? It’s the programmer’s fault that they made it too similar to his fireball and thus hard to use right? Why stop there? Perhaps in Madden we should have Mods that black out covered receivers so you can’t throw to them and only make complete passes. It's “tedious” to look at the receivers and coverages. Or how about one button that will pick the perfect juke moves to avoid tacklers instead of having to pick one of the eight to press? You would never in a million years see Mods added to these competitive games, so why should we accept this in our PvP genre? I feel it’s time we draw a line in the sand and make competitive games against other players “competitive.” Allowing players to make their own changes to games is a Pandora’s Box waiting to spiral out of control. Remember, you can’t moderate what happens on the client side of a game, only server side.
Look at Mods like steroids. You only harm yourself if you use them to put on a little bulk, but what happens when you use them to gain a slight advantage while playing baseball or football? That fly ball turns into a home run; that tackle at the one yard line turns into a touchdown. It makes you half a second faster to finish first instead of third. The people who are against you are forced to work twice as hard as you just to be on the same level, their only alternative will be to use them too.
Moving forward I hope that the next generation of MMORPG developers and the RPG community as a whole take a long look at the state of our games. Not only do we support role playing games like Final Fantasy Seven where the characters no longer have roles and can multi-class to get any ability; we also have games that aren’t actually being played by the players anymore. You’re not deciding which level of heal you should cast on the warrior to save his life and seeing if you have that heal ready, nope, that perfect heal is going to be cast for you, no need to make a decision! Lets hope that new games on the horizon like Age of Conan and EA Mythic's W.A.R take steps to bring back some of the player skill and strategy that seemed to have vanished in the current day of online competitive gaming.
What ever happened to the skill and tactical decisions made by a player, along with the roll of the dice, being the deciding factor in your success? I am not a FPS fan; I am an MMORPG fan, so why do we tell people who want things fair again to go play Counterstrike? We should be more like the other communities and desire intense competitive play when we face each other, instead of resorting to shortcuts to make game play easier for ourselves.
After 20 years of online gaming is this what we have come to?
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