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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

Understanding the Difference Between "Casual" and "Hardcore"

Posted by Meleagar Friday December 14 2012 at 10:00AM
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I've come to a much better understanding of how to meaningfully define the term "casual" and "hardcore" since playing (and debating about) GW2.

To make it really simple: casual players, as I'm defining them for this blog, are players who fundamentally consider MMOGs to be experiences to be enjoyed and not games to be won.  They will not do things in an MMOG that are not fun (at least not much of it) in order to pursue some kind of "win" or achievement.  Wins or achievements are, to a casual player, an added bonus to their enjoyment, not something to be pursued for their own sake via otherwise unenjoyable content.

Hardcore players - again, for the purpose of this blog - are those that primarily play to win some kind of identifiable, meaningful achievement.   They are there to have a top-level character in top gear and having acquired all significant achievements. Wins, top power or achievements are, to a hardcore player, the only reason to play a game.  Everthing else in the game is, essentially, "fluff".

For the casual player, the fluff is what is of primary concern; for a hardcore player, the fluff is irrelevant.

Let me explain "fluff"; it is more than just fancy clothes and hairstyle and sparkly ponies in an MMOG.  For instance, when a casual player can wade into a huge boss MOB fight and get to loot the shiny chest at the end, what they are getting from the chest is not important; what is important is primarily being able to be involved in such a battle and being able to loot the chest at the end. 

You see, all of that is the "fluff" - even the loot, unless the loot is something that a hardcore player specifically requires to "win".  The boss MOB battle is just what the hardcore player has to go through to get the "win"; it doesn't matter if the hardcore player has to grind dungeons, grind crafting, grind resources, grind map completion, jump puzzles, WvW, PvP .. all of that, to a hardcore player, is just disposable, interchangeable window dressing - fluff. What matters is the "win" - some form of power progression for their character. 

To the casual player, though, even if the chest at the end just gives them a pile of stuff they're going to sell, it doesn't really matter, because they didn't do it to get the shiny "win" item at the end; they did it to experience a huge, monstrous battle and contribute enough to be able to loot the chest.  They're not grinding the shiny loot at the end; they're enjoying a huge boss MOB fight for its own sake.  For many casual players, such an experience has been out of our reach ever since EQ vanilla came out.

It doesn't matter how many hours you put into the game, what defines you as either a casual or a hardcore player - IMO - is what motivates you as you play. I don't see either playstyle as "wrong", but simply rather as two entirely different demographics that developers should consider in the developmental process.

GW2 has a lot of great casual-friendly features that most other MMORPGs just don't have and future MMORPGs should certainly emulate.

Why I Still Play GW2

Posted by Meleagar Monday December 10 2012 at 9:38AM
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I'm not going to lie to you: I still play GW2, although not as much as before, and I haven't spent any money in the cash shop since they put Ascended gear into the game.  Yes, I do feel betrayed by the insertion of a gear treadmill, I feel let down by the horrible state of content added after launch, and I believe that NCSoft pitched  their Arenanet devision to the cash shop wolves to satisfy investors.

However, finding out that Anet did in fact make comments about adding item progression and higher character levels as early as September of 2011 has softened the sense of betrayal.  I'm at least partly to blame for my expectations of what GW2 was going to be, even though I and many others reasonably (IMO) believed there would be no power creep (considering 7 years of "no power creep" philosophy in GW1).  The fact is that if I stopped doing business with every company I felt did something unethical or produce some shoddy work, I'd probably be unemployed, homeless, naked and hungry.  I'm not going to deprive myself of the enjoyment of entertainment I've already paid for just because I dislike the company. I also don't trash my televisions just because the manufacturer or retail store does something I don't like. That would be rather foolish.

I'm still looking and advocating for a non-vertical MMORPG, but while I do so I still find GW2 reasonably fun to play, and the reason I do so is because GW2 still provides me with several things I - as a casual player (and by casual, I refer to playstyle, not time spent in-game) - never got from any MMORPG before.

First, GW2 allows me to fully participate in raid-style boss MOB fights.  As a casual player having played over 10 years of MMOG including the launch of EQ vanilla, I've never seen anything like the massive battles with Dragons that I've participated in with GW2.  I've never looted those kinds of end-of-the-battle chests before.

Second, it gives me (through my characters) a true sense of power.  I love wading into a bunch of MOBS that are a higher level then me and being able to dispatch them all with special video and sound effects that make my characters feel awesome.  In EQ and WoW, I'm used to characters that could barely hold their own against any smilarly-leveled creature. In GW1, I can tackle a Veteran 2-3 levels above me an, if I play it right, own them. I can show up at an outpost that has been ovverrun and save it, single-handedly. It is very satisfying.

Third, it gives me plenty of content and stuff to do that is really meaningful to my characters. At over 500 hrs played, I still haven't seen over 50% of the map on any character, nor have I come close to finishing any storyline.

Fourth, it gives me great diversity within even a single character and many different ways to play that character - I'm not stuck doing one thing one way every time I log in with that character.  

There are a lot of things ANET did right in GW2, even if they got some things very wrong since launch. I give them credit for that and I'd love to see that kind of appeal to casual players going forward in future games.


Do MMORPG's Need Power Creep/Gear Treadmills?

Posted by Meleagar Thursday December 6 2012 at 7:34AM
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Most games that have ever existed were designed around a fundamental concept: a fair competition on a level playing field.  They existed almost universally for thousands of years as an entertaining, fun, competitive activity.  There was nothing equitable to a "gear treadmill" or "power creep".  In fact, the idea that someone in the game would have a significant artificial advantage over other players, or over the materials that served as the playing field, would be contradictory to the fundamental concept of a "game". Even most video games do not employ power creep or vertical progression.

Yet, the MMORPG genre is comprised almost exclusively of games that employ ongoing power creep and gear treadmills, even though there is nothing inherent in the concept (or even the name) of the genre that implicitly or explicitly refers to vertical power progression. I will agree that the roots of the genre - fantasy role-playing - did employ some limited power progression, but that progression was hardly the defining characteristic of the genre.  The changing, fluid interaction of game-master created environment, including clues, puzzles, and conflict, vs the intelligence, wits, and luck of the adventurers in meeting interesting and challenging environmental goals and problems more defined the Dungeons and Dragons concept than what is now simply a gear-grind for it's own sake.

For whatever set of reasons, the concept of a gear-grind power creep took hold in the MMORPG genre and essentially took it over, to the point that those who play, and those who develop games for the genre, apparently cannot even imagine an MMORPG being successful without it.  We're all familiar with the term "content locusts" - players that consume vertical progression in a game and then either complain that there is "nothing to do" or move on to other games. Developers often attempt to keep up with vertical progression content locusts by churning out more vertical progression every few months.

Obviously, thousands of games have been successful without power creep or gear treadmills. People pour millions of hours and billions of dollars into games that have no power creep gear treadmills. So why the myopic and obsessive focus on that particular mechanic in MMORPGs? It's obviously not necessary for a game to be successful, and you can make a pretty good case that it drives a lot of potential customers away for many reasons:

1. It destroys any sense of "fair competition" between players.

2. It "forces" players to do things in the game they do not want to do (hence the term "grinding") in order to stay competitive.

3. It forces players to play the game as if it were their primary job in order to stay competitive.

4. It funnels game structure and design concepts down a very narrow path, basically making the game all about the grind, regardless of what else is offered in the game, which is psychologically off-putting for players that don't want to grind to stay competitive.

5. It biases development time towards trying to keep content locust type players satisfied, which is off-putting for those who are not interested in grinding.

6. It ruins many other potentially profitable and fun systems thout could be in such a game, like WvW or PvP that is competitive from a player skill point of view.

I'm not saying that developing a game that serves the content-locust mentality is a bad thing, nor am I arguing that being a "content locust" is in itself a bad thing. All I'm asking here is: Why is the MMORPG genre so obsessed, from a producer/developer standpoint, with a game mechanic that is a very marginal concept when it comes to the gaming industry as a whole, when there is absolutely no such limitation/focus inherent in the concept of an MMORPG?

It's like the genre has put itself in a power creep/gear treadmill straightjacket for no good reason and cannot conceive of anyone that wants to play an MMORPG without the strraightjacket on.