“MMOO!” The Cry of Gamer Cattle
This week Dan Fortier takes aim at the lack of complex game mechanics and challenging tasks in today's MMOs and the people wouldn't have these games any other way.
Editor's Note: This is an edition of a weekly column by Staff Writer Dan Fortier. The column is called "MMOWTF" and will look at some of the stranger or more frustrating events in MMOs as seen by Mr. Fotier. The opinions expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of MMORPG.com, its staff or management.
I took last week off in order to power up for this weeks massive textual carnage. The rants were getting a little too thin for my taste so I thought it might be time to bring back the old days. This weeks article (As always, I use the word loosely) is dedicated to all the gamers that love MMORPGs on easy mode. You can’t be bothered with complex game mechanics or challenging tasks and you can’t bear the thought of losing something once you’ve acquired it. You, my friends, get all my love this week. Enjoy.
In case you were never a fan of farm animals, the first word in the title is pronounced “MOO!” and has always been a popular phrase among mindless animals led to the slaughter. Sometime early in history we figured out that these animals were slow, dumb and really tasty. Not only were they really stupid, but would also eat all kinds of cheap grass while they stood around in pens waiting to be killed and eaten. Sheep also fit into this category and like cows also serve a useful purpose besides food. Most MMO gamers would also fit quite nicely into this pigeonhole as they prefer to simply follow the path of least resistance along a gradual path to l33tness. All the while throwing their money into the rotten cesspool of companies who did nothing but make a game a six year old could play with graphics to match. When was the last time someone made a nice sweater or jacket from your skin?
Why is a game that requires something more than an epic time sink and a parade route area advancement such a terror? It seems we have devolved as a species to the point were even instant gratification isn’t fast enough. We have become so used to having everything handed to us on a silver platter that the mere concept of a game that we aren’t guaranteed to win is abhorrent. Genres that used to challenge us have become so watered down that the only way to ensure that the game takes some time to complete is to put tons of artificial roadblocks and unclimbable hills to make sure you don’t cheat anymore than necessary. This kind of sideways development is not only confined to MMOs either.
Consider Freespace with its promise of a sandbox “be who you want” design. What you don’t figure out until later is that you can’t get out of the main system even by using pirate jump-holes until you’ve done the mandatory plot missions to ‘unlock’ the next system. Try spending a couple hours gaining faction with a pirate group only to see it completely reversed by a stunning turn of events. What you have is a game that provides you with the illusion of choice but can only challenge you by throwing dozens of craptastic AI enemies at you with every turn. Neverwinter Nights 2 decided that players shouldn’t have to go through the ‘tedious’ process of rasing your slain allies when it would be much simpler to have them just stand right back up after the fight!
What makes a game challenging you ask? Lots of things can contribute to tough yet rewarding game play, but the main principles are based around a few simple concepts:
- Risk vs Reward: This refers to the idea that to gain something valuable you must also put yourself in a comparable amount of danger to gain it. If you can earn the most powerful/valuable items without a chance of being attacked or losing something valuable then what’s the point? Risk also does NOT mean difficulty. Swarms of mobs with huge DPS guarding epic treasure is all fine and dandy but is meaningless if you lose nothing if you fail/die. How much fun is a game of poker if you can get endless free do-overs?
- Emergent Systems: Yeah, it’s a smart person phrase, but what it really means is that complex systems can develop from very simple interactions. An easy way to think of this would be the overused phase “Easy to learn, hard to master.” It involves making a game that is relatively easy to enjoy at a basic level, but has enough depth to keep even hardcore players interested for years. Great Fighting games like Tekken have been using this for years. It is not an easy task but very important for an MMO that wants to have any kind of staying power.
- Player Driven Content: This one is so important is should have been first. Any game that doesn’t create ways for players to shape the economy, politics and warfare of the game in a meaningful fashion will always be shallow. I’m not taking about crafting or powerful guild tools here. What matters is that players must be able to make their mark using guile, wit or brute force. A game that lets NPCs merchants, guards and mobs dominate the content is missing the whole point of a persistent virtual world.
This isn’t to say that every game has to be some epic contest of skill. Some games will always be for those without hand-eye coordination and half a lobotomy in the same way that bowling and golf are popular among ‘athletes’ who are too old to drive their own cart or tie their shoe without help. If you want a simple game that won’t make you cry or get you *grrrr* angry when you lose you will always have a large selection of ‘linear clickfests’. Just do us a favor and don’t try and turn a complex game into Romper Room because you aren’t any good at it. kthxbye
I’ll be merciful now and end my little rant. Take this chance and bash out an equally harsh retort on the forums. Keep fighting the good fight and I shall rejoin you in seven days. Farewell!
- Dan Fortier