Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Those Dalaran Portals

Big Bear Butt has an interesting article online.

Essentially he asks the question whether it is a good decision by Blizzard to remove those portals in Dalaran. In this post I will analyse this question. I will also give reasons to assume that this is, in fact, not a "gameplay vs. immersion" - problem!

About Gameplay & Immersion:
First, it has to be noted that many things that are good for immersion are also good gameplay (i.e. a backpack, looting, fighting, etc.). Secondly, many things that are good for gameplay are also good for immersion (i.e. high fps). Thirdly, sometimes gameplay & immersion are deadly enemies.

In this case, however, there is no gameplay vs. immersion problem. In the World of Warcraft lore, obviously, there can be a lot of portals. From an immersion point of view, there should be portals all over the place!! If anything, the small number of portals has gameplay reasons!

In fact, this is just and only a gameplay problem. And as such the only reason that some players like a world with portals more than a world with less portals has to be player specific.

If a player has only half an hour every few days and (thus) started to play WoW with WotLK, he will not be able to enjoy travel times for more than a few minutes. If, on the other hand, a player plays WoW in chunks of several hours, he will not have as much of a problem with long travel times. The proof is classic WoW and other (MMO)RPGs. To have to actually move through the world to get somewhere creates the feeling of playing in a living virtual world. Teleports, on the other hand, transform the perceived virtual world into connected hubs, like Hellgate London did.

However, many players who have a lot more time than half an hour, also hate the removal of portals. How can this be explained?

Gamers are usually very bad game designers. Games are self-contained elements of the real world that consist of equipment, players, goals and rules. The fun comes from reaching the goals within the rules. But for a player it is often very hard to see whether he is beating the game within the rules or by changing the rules.

You often see this argument in WoW forums. For example people argueing:
"If you increase my dps the game will be more fun to me"
This is, obviously, absurd. After all Blizzard could increase your dps as much as they want. You want 1mio dps? No problem for Blizzard.

Fact is, that for a short amount of time 1mio dps can be fun. But in the medium and long term it is no fun. However, once you had 1mio dps it feels terrible to be put back to 100 dps even by an outside intervention. To understand this, it is helpful to assume the role of a game designer, not a gamer.

As a game designer you will know the Fun Fallacy.
Example: Some years ago I ran around Molten Core for many, many months spamming nothing but frostbolts! You tell me how that particular activity could have been fun. Because it was!

Fun is not an inherent property of an isolated activity. Instead, fun activities are embedded in an environment that is more important than the activity itself. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. That, of course, does not mean that any amount of running around is good. Quite obviously, real world distances and travel times would be absurd in a computer game.

Walking somewhere can include the pleasant anticipation of future fun. And this pleasant anticipation is what MMOs generally thrive on.

So, how much travel time is actually good, depends on two things:
- The situation of the player (how much time does he invest in the game?).
- The attitute of the player. I wrote about that before here and here.

The first cannot be influenced by Blizzard. All they can try is to aim the game at the people who like to pay the most $ in aggregate. The second, however, can be shaped by Blizzard. And during WotLK they did shape it. With Cataclysm they try to reshape it and this will be very painful.

- Pleasant anticipation and the feeling of playing a character in a living virtual world can make travel fun.
- The optimal travel time for WoW is player specific and player-attitude specific. The latter can be influenced by Blizzard, the former cannot.
- The optimal travel time is probably higher than what it takes to teleport for most players.
- Reshaping the attitude of players will be painful and will have a negative, albeit temporary effect on subscriber numbers.
- This issue is no gameplay vs. immersion problem. From an immersion point of view, people should teleport all the time according to the magic existent in WoW. If anything, the small number of portals has gameplay reasons!

1 comment:

  1. I like your analysis. I might not entirely agree with your conclusions, but I can definitely see the logic of it, unlike most other opinions On "the portal issue" I've encountered.

    On a personal level, if I can get up from my computer, take a bio break, come back and I still have minutes of flight left? the travel is taking too long. if I have to sit idly, waiting for my transportation to arrive for more then a minute? annoyance starts to outwieght anticipation.

    Unfortunately, both are currently present in WoW in a greater degree then pre patch 4.03.

    I suppose blizzard is trying to find that golden middle...I hope. but at the moment it seems unbalanced.