Community Blog Spotlight: Competitive PvE?
In this week's Community Blog Spotlight, Community Manager Laura Genender highlights two blogs with opposing viewpoints about PvE and the competitive nature of MMOs.
This week’s blog spotlight is a head to head debate between poster Vajuras, author of I Have a Dream; and poster NetSapiens, the mind behind Family Man Gamer. These two bloggers take differing standpoints on the competitive nature of gamers even in PvE: parsers, braggarts, and the optimal build.
In his blog, NetSapiens states that “people in a competitive environment will want to optimize their characters, in order to compete. You can’t compete in a game of Tennis if one guy brings a tennis racket and the other brings a gun and a basket of oranges.” For NetSapiens, gear analysis and DPS data makes perfect sense when it’s PvP.
But “Why,” he asks, “do so many people make PvE a competitive environment? Exactly WHY do you need to see the DPS of a weapon to the last mathematical detail?… You cannot beat me in PvE! It’s not possible…because there’s no contest.” To NetSapiens, leveling and DPS aren’t a race, because not everyone is aiming for the same thing. So you out DPS’d me, and you’re bragging about it? “You just got up from a game of solitaire in the mall, screaming ‘PWNED!!’ to everyone else eating at the food court.”
This extends beyond gear and into class choice and group makeup, too. “Of course you want a skilled [group]of adventurers, all of whom will help you triumph in the Dark Caves of Atchoo…but have you ever tries to enjoy the route through Atchoo? Try going in with four tanks, three healers, mix it up. Try going in with less than a full group.”
“Don’t compete in PvE,” NetSapiens addresses his audience. “Please, PvE is about the journey, and if you’re SO stuck on the prize, you’ll miss it.”
Now, you’re probably expecting vajuras to argue for competition in PvE – rather, vajuras argues that the game itself encourages this activity, and the solution to this problem isn’t in player mindset, it’s in the developer’s.
Vajuras starts by outlining The Problem: “Within the constraints and boundaries placed by the Game Developer, players will always strive to optimize their builds, teams, and guild compositions.” If there is a known strategy and class-mix that can beat an encounter, he says, players will take it. In my experience, this is true. Players are more willing to sit around looking for a tank for an hour than they are to hunt without a tank.
“At an early age children are taught to optimize. Think about school when you are taught how to speed-read (scan an article for important information quickly). This is a form of optimization in which children at an early age learn techniques to maximize learning potential. We are also taught at an early age how to recognize patterns and improve our cognitive skills. Puzzles – yeah, blame the puzzles.” Vajuras hypothesizes that this world-view instilled in us as children effects our MMO gameplay. We are programmed to find the easiest route, to cut corners, to look up encounters instead of playing them on our own. This is further reinforced by the XP and loot systems in MMOs: “Tradition level/class based MMORPGs reward players with more XP and [gear] the faster we complete objectives.”
Essentially, if you can complete two quests in the time it takes me to do one, you progress twice as fast as me – even though I got to read the lore. Even if there were special textual cues that solved the puzzle presented by the quest, all you had to do was go look it up on a fansite. Players and guilds push through content as fast as they can, and ultimately punish themselves with burnout and boredom. Games try to combat this with lockout times and the like, but that just means we finish the quest in 3.2 hours and then sit around for 6.8 while we wait for respawn. Yeah, that’s much more fun.
So then, what’s the fix? “The solution is not to discourage optimization [which] is a vital component to learning and developing but rather create an ideal atmosphere in which all our potential archtypes will see meaningful gameplay sessions due to the randomness of our encounters. See – the real issue isn’t optimization but diversity.”
Vajuras suggests that game developers create dynamic encounters, where X group is optimal if Z happens, and Y is more optimal if Z doesn’t, but Z won’t always happen.
The downside I see to this is that, well, players will optimize that too. If the perfect group for Z is Tank, Healer, Healer, DPS, DPS, Crowd Control and the perfect group for no-Z is Tank, Healer, DPS, DPS, DPS, players will start using hybrid classes, or bringing Crowd Control but only one healer, or two healers but no CC. Players will always have a “perfect build” for every situation, and that perfect build will take dynamic encounters into account.
For the most part, though, I tend to agree with vajuras; there isn’t much to be done about our competitive nature. As much as we are taught to optimize, it’s ingrained in us to compete even when there’s no competition – that’s how you climb the evolutionary (or corporate) ladder. Even among my friends and guildmates, I secretly must have more DPS than my good friend Soandso. Them having more DPS ultimately helps me, because it means my group kill faster – but I still must have the most. The trick, to me, is not to be an ass about it – if you parse more DPS than your friends, do so quietly!