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The Casual Life by Wintyre Fraust

An older, casual player's perspective on MMOG's in general and GW2 in particular.

Author: Meleagar

Ending The Powergamer Distortion

Posted by Meleagar Sunday June 13 2010 at 4:58AM
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Powergamers represent a highly vocal segment of the online gaming community.  They are usually very active in a game's forums and interaction with developers and community managers.  They usually comprise the bulk of the beta testers that can modify game structure before the game is even available to the general public, and after release can be found advocating for further changes  and additions on both company and third-party fan sites. This same group, by and large, burn through content much faster than casual players and then begin demanding more higher-end content.

This presents the game developer with a very skewed perception of what a typical consumer might want or expect from their game, and what is currently desired by the majority of the actual player-base.  But, what to do?  How can such games not be be skewed by those that developers have come to depend on for testing their product and providing feedback?

This "Powergamer Distortion" is yet another product of the current, standard MMOG design. In Beta, besides looking for bugs and stress-testing server populations, developers are looking for class and skill imbalances; the reporting/advocating by beta-testing powergamers can lead to many serious alterations to class abilites, level advances, skill trees, and advancement structures. Obviously, any design tweaks that occur at this stage are generated in response to those who might not actually represent the largest segment of future players.

In a game such as the one advocated in this blog - a 24/7 character advancment sandbox game designed around the casual and solo player - the game cannot be distorted by the powergamer perspective or playstyle.  First, players can only advance at a set amount, so how much time one has to spend at the keyboard doesn't skew any result or perspective.  Second, since one's character advances at a certain rate regardless of any other considerations, and can advance in any area one chooses, there really is no such thing as an "unbalanced" skill set or talent combination, because if one talent is particularly useful, anyone and everyone can gain that talent.  However, since advancment of one's character is not dependent upon such class skill or talent effectiveness in gaining experience, it would be hard to define how any particular talant would come to be considered as "imbalanced".

Another powergamer distortion is how quickly content is consumed; in a 24/7 character advancment game, content can only be consumed at a pace predetermined by the development team.  If the designers need 6 months to come up with higher skill advancments, they can set the parameters so that even a narrowly-focused advance down any particular skill tree cannot acquire the current top skill for 8 months.  In this manner, the development team is never "pressured" by any advancing segment of players who "burn through"  content much faster than everyone else and require additional high-end content; they cannot advance any faster than anyone else.

How content is designed in the first place; how it is modified (nerfed) during testing or just after release, and how future content is configured or paced would no longer be distorted around the playstyle of powergamers, because - quite simply - powergamers only exist in any game in relationship to how they can advance faster and min-max particular categories of character traits.  Since they cannot advance faster, and because no character trait can affect character advancement negatively or positively in terms of experience advancement, and since all character traits are open to all characters, how powergamers can influence and distort a game, either in favor of their playstlye or as a negative result of their playstyle, will be removed, because nobody can be a power-gamer in this game.

aoelis1973 writes:
Interesting post, but I think to “outline, [what] would be a perfect MMO for casual players [aka player’s that actively choose to ignore the social aspect of a massive multiplayer online game” is good in theory, but difficult to bring such a concept to fruition.
  One can subjectively outline what makes a good role-playing game, but the “perfect game”?  Who can make such a determination that this is right and this wrong? The premise here appears to refute the original argument that a specific group of gamers have a struggling hold on how game content is developed, in turn causes others to be forced into a specific playing style.
By making the “perfect game” won’t this limit the player’s ability to choose how they wish to interact with the gaming world thus in turn creating the same distortion that you wish to end?
An ideal game would be a better match, since the wording “perfect game” is to all inclusive what might be perfect for someone, might not be perfect for someone else hence the issue of power gamers, grouping vs. soloing.
*if* a perfect game existed, which I have not played one I think a good story needs has to be at the foundation of any MMOG.  There needs to be a tension in the gaming world, there needs to be something that will push the players to an ultimate goal of fame, wealth and gold. Character development should provide less restrictive by forcing race or class restrictions, what about classes system or dual or tier class system. The possibilities are endless.
Good post. 
Sun Jun 13 2010 9:12PM Report
Meleagar writes:

The term "perfect" is just a bit of literary hyperbole.  I don't consider "perfection" to be a static, set "thing", but rather an open-ended sandbox full of diversity and opporunity.

I also think there should be story at the heart of any "perfect" mmog, but the way current MMOGs are constructed prevents the game from attracting or rewarding much player interest in the story.  My previous post was exactly about this very thing.

Thanks for your comments.

Mon Jun 14 2010 6:56AM Report writes:
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