Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Quality in MMORPGs, Part 2

Tobold wrote a reply to my post about Quality in MMORPGs. In this blog post I will reply to him. I will do so line by line. This way it is guaranteed that I do not just post my own opinion, but actually reply to his.

Nils and I have agreed that our lengthy exchanges on opinions are better handled blog-post to blog-post instead of totally overwhelming the comment section, and this already lead to a marked increase in the number of commenters here. Our current discussion is on the subject of what a good game is, sparked by a comment from Ben who said "Britney Spears isn't the greatest artist of all time, it's really not that hard to understand the discrepancy b/w sales and quality."
Nothing to add, really. For some reason those socials feel uncomfortable if somebody writes one long comment instead of several short ones *grin*.

Now it is easy to get 100 people to agree to the statement that Britney Spears isn't the greatest artist of all time. I'd sign that too. The problem is that if you ask those 100 people who they think *is* the greatest artist of all time, you will get 100 different answers. And the people making statements like the one above are usually those who think that their own subjective answer of what is good is more valid than the subjective answers of the other 99 people. They also usually think that Britney Spears is a *bad* artist, or that the Harry Potter books are bad books, *just because* they are popular. I don't agree with that.
No blogger I ever read thinks that something is of bad quality, *just because* it is popular. I do not and I am pretty sure no other blogger does, either. I’d appreciate if you had a quote that proved me wrong.

Any book, film, song, or game can be measured on two very different scales: The scale that measures their entertainment value, and the scale that measures their artistic value. Where Ben is totally right in saying is that the two are not correlated. But they aren't inversely correlated either. Something which has a high entertainment value will be very popular, but that doesn't tell you anything about the artistic value, neither that it is artistically good nor that it is artistically bad.
You introduce a beast here: A distinction between entertainment and artistic value. I will not delve into that. My post was about the individual, subjective quality that players assign to games and how an objective (or quasi-objective) measurement of quality should relate to it. This subjective quality, that is the benefit of a player when he uses a product, can be applied to art and pure entertainment, likewise. I see no need to differentiate and open another box.

I am a scientist. I do not like judgment on artistic value, because that is so highly subjective. I'd claim that for the example the Harry Potter books have an artistic value, because of the way the language of the books matures with the age of the hero, which is both very subtly done and used to great effect. But that is my subjective opinion of the art of writing, and I'm sure many people would disagree.
I studied Financial Mathematics and Physics so I guess I am a scientist, too. But I feel uneasy about the way you mention it here. It feels like those ads where people stress that their statements were tested with "scientifics tool" or by "scientists".

In my opinion, any objective measurement of quality needs to rely on subjective measurements. Otherwise, there were no connection. Now, that would be a strange definition "of good game".
Of course, also the definition by sales numbers indirectly relies on subjective valuations of quality. Do not mistake measurability for objectivity!

Furthermore I would say that games, especially massively multiplayer games are not like books, films, or songs, in that games very rarely qualify as art at all. Yes, there are a few borderline cases like Myst or Ico, but the kind of game I'm discussing on this blog is not art in my opinion. MMORPGs are huge projects created by hundreds of people, and even an "art director" or anyone else on the team can hardly claim the whole game as a work of *his* art, not like the author of a book can, or the director of a movie (and lots of movies aren't art either for pretty much the same reason). Games are most of the time not created with any artistic aspiration in mind, but *only* for entertainment value.
I agree with the last sentence. Otherwise, I already stated that I consider the distinction of art and entertainment, for the purpose of defining an ‘objective’ way to measure quality in games, redundant.

Therefore if you hear me speaking about a game as being "good" or "bad", please keep in mind my narrow definition of what a "good game" is: As I assume that the fundamental purpose of a game is to entertain, I judge a game on its ability to do exactly that. A good game for me is one that is entertaining to its players. If you personally think that to qualify for "good game" a game has to fulfill other criteria, be that some artistic value or something else, we simply risk to miscommunicate, because we are using so very different definitions.
I, too, think that a game should entertain. But I do not see any reason to assume that the entertainment value is determined well by the number of subscribers. The number of subscriber has a lot of problems if you use it as a measurement of quality. I have listed several in the last post. It would be great to read your response to that.

I'm not saying that my definition of "good" is the only one possible, or the best, or anything. But I'm saying that this is the definition I use, and have always used on this blog.
Tobold, you can use whatever definition you want. Hell, you can define your blog to be always right. (I know: You do not. That is the point). This only shifts the problem of finding a good definition to finding out whether your definition is good.
So, thanks for the clarification. We now know what you mean when you say “good game”. But I still consider your definition a bad one. And I listed many reasons for this opinion in my last blog post. What would really help would be you answering to these points and why you consider them unproblematic or non-significant.

And as my definition of "good" only judges a game by its entertainment value, and entertainment value is highly correlated with popularity and ultimately sales, I do like to use subscriber numbers.
Woa. Stop! Why is entertainment value highly correlated with popularity and ultimately sales? I agree that there is a correclation, but a high one? No.

Firstly: Careful with popularity: Second Life is arguably more popular than WoW and I am pretty sure you do not consider it better entertainment.

Secondly: Using entertainment value as a definition still has the same problem that sales numbers have. I.e. sales numbers can change without the game changing. Sales numbers are influenced by advertisement, prices, network effects, etc.
Sales numbers, as well as popularity are influenced by a lot of factors that are not inherent properties of the game. Now, in my opinion one property a good definition of “good game” should have is that it is not significantly influenced by factors that are outside of the game.

Although I of course agree with Craig Morrison that "1 million registered users" and "1 million subscribers" are not the same thing, and you need to look at all numbers closely to avoid being misled by some marketing trickery. MMORPGs with monthly subscriptions are relatively easy to compare, because the pricing tends to be similar. And unlike listening to a song, which is most often free, or reading a book, which usually just requires a single payment which you might end up regretting, a game with a monthly subscription requires a continued statement from its players, who are effectively saying: "Yes, this game still entertains me enough for me to be willing to pay $15 for another month". That constitutes a valid measure of the entertainment value of a game, and that is what I like about these numbers. But remember, that is *my* definition of what a "good game" is, to which not necessarily everybody agrees. (/wave Wyrm, Ben, Nils, etc.)
I think, you mistake measurability for objectivity here. It is the same mistake the guys on wall street did some time ago. Just because your way to measure risk produces hard numbers, does not mean that it is a good indicator of risk.

Besides, don't you think that revenue is a better measurement than sales numbers? (Not that revenue would be a good one, either, in my opinion).

My suggestion for a definition of “good game”
In my humble opinion a good measurement of quality of a product is this:
"Aggregate, potential consumer benefit"

What a monster :). Yeah. Sometimes there are no easy solutions.

You remember that table from the last post? If not, you should look it up. To find out “how good a game is”, you should ask all potential players to write down how much they like the game on a scale of 1-10. Or any other scale, of course. Then you add their ratings.

Now, why is this a superior definition?
Firstly, because all potential players are asked. Not only the ones that know about the game by watching ads. Secondly, because network effects, or any effects outside of the scope of the game itself, play no role. Thirdly, because this is a proven method in microeconomics to judge societal benefit of a product.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Annoyance and Anticipation of Fun

In a MMORPG, you cannot give rewards "just like that". You need to add something the players need to do before they get the reward.

What you put in front of the reward will most often not be inherently fun. Beating bosses that are obviously easy to beat, wiping in front of bosses that are obviously not easy to beat, searching for other players, running through the landscape, reading EJ, being killed by another player ...

Fun is not an inherent property of an isolated activity.

- Just running around in ICC and pressing buttons without any consequences (like rewards) is not fun.

- Just receiving rewards for doing nothing is not fun, either. If it were, I'd be a millionaire with my super-cheap, super-successful games :).

But the combination of running around, pressing buttons and eventually receiving rewards is fun.

I wrote about it before here and here.

At some point an activity, like running towards a dungeon, an activity that once was full of pleasant anticipation, can become annoying. That is deeply connected with 'expectations of entitlement'.

It is comparable to singing in front of the Christmas tree before you go for the presents. It can add a lot to the atmosphere. However, given specific expectations of entitlement, it can turn into an annoyance.

Another example would be cooking. Many people enjoy making their own meals. Not only because the meals taste better. (Often they do not :).
It is the pleasant anticipation that makes it fun. If you strip that anticipation away, you can access the reward faster, but you also lost something: The fun of anticipating future fun.

What also plays a role here is a feeling of natural order. If you feel that it is completely natural that you need to a walk to a dungeon before you are there, you enjoy the pleasant anticipation: The anticipation of future rewards that is fun in itself.

But once you got to know teleportation to dungeons, that feeling of natural order is gone. You have been spoiled. And there is little you can do about it. From now on, you consider the walk to the dungeon an unnecessary annoyance. Therefore, the implementation of the teleporting dungeon finder in WoW was probably only a matter of time. It is the logical consequence of summoning other players to "meeting stones" that disrupted the feeling of natural order and made walking an annoyance.

Finally, the activities prior to the rewards not only offer the anticipation of future fun, that is fun in itself. They also give meaning to the rewards. If there were no mobs to beat, the rewards in form of items that make beating mobs easier, had no meaning. In fact, they stopped being rewards to achievement-oriented players. They have become 'fluff'.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Quality in MMORPGs

How do you measure the quality of a game? A common practice is to use the sales figures. As you can see below, that approach is contentious.

---Which objective measure of merit do you suppose to gauge quality on rather than supply and demand?---

Why must it be objective? Use the powers of persuasive argument to demonstrate why (for example) nonconsensual PVP is worse than Battlegrounds. Sales receipts aren't an "objective" measure because the feature may not be the cause of success. Maybe it's advertising, or circumstances, or a million other things.

Britney Spears isn't the greatest artist of all time, it's really not that hard to understand the discrepancy b/w sales and quality.

So what you are saying is that while no objective measure is able to tell us what a good game is, God Almighty has blessed YOU, and only you, with the gift of the one true subjective measure?

So, pray tell us, which one IS the greatest artist of all time?

I think it just happens that you like a smaller game more. That is okay. But trying to tell everybody that they are wrong, they are stupid, and only you can identify a good game is total bullshit.

MMORPGs are not songs. People pay for monthly subscriptions continuously, and often for years. If a large number of players does that, it is proof that the game is good.

Let’s first try to find out where we agree: We probably all agree that using sales figures is problematic. By sales figures Big Macs are the perfect meal. As are small and cheap cars the best cars around. The artist analogy has already been commented on by Ben. There are countless others. Of course, that does not mean that we should only use our own subjective taste to measure objective quality. It is a typical Tobold strawman (sorry) that can drive his commenters insane (if they care).

Now, let us do the next step. We agree that sales figures are a problematic way to measure quality. But what if it is the only one? Let’s assume for a moment that we could not come up with a better way to measure quality. Let’s assume that sales figures are the only way we know. Does that mean that we need to agree that a product that is sold often is very good?

We can certainly agree that the answer to that question is »No«.
Explanation: Assume you want to guess  the distance between sun and earth and your only tool are your eyes. Your guess is 1,000,000 km. Is it a good guess, just because you only had your eyes? No. Just because your only tool is a hammer, there is no reason to assume that all your problems are nails!

If sales figures are a problematic way to judge quality of a product, then using sales figures to judge the quality is just that: Problematic. It does not matter that you have no other tools at hand. In general, your conclusions do not magically become better, just because you lack the tools to achieve better conclusions.

Market Segmentation
Now, let’s have a look at how problematic, exactly, the sales figures approach is. I copy/paste from an old post.

Imagine five players and two ways to design your game: Option A and Option B. Option A could be “Introduce a feature” while option B could be “Do not introduce the feature”.

Imagine a scale of 1-10 to measure the subjective quality of the game, as rated by the individual players. 10 means a player loves your game; 1 means he hates it, considering the respective options A or B.

Let’s further assume that
1) All players buy a game if they give it at least a rating of 6/10.
2) All players pay the same price, there is no price differentiation.

Now consider this situation of possible ratings (=individual and subjective player benefit):

Player benefit of Option A
Player benefit of Option B
Player 1
Player 2
Player 3
Player 4
Player 5

To maximize aggregate player benefit you would have to choose option A, but with option B you sell the game 5 times. With option A you only sell it 3 times. Option B means 67% more revenue!

Thus, the game companies go for option B. It is better for them to make a game in a way that it is just good enough for every single player to play it. That means that the products that sell most are either products where consumer tastes do not differ, or option B like products.

There are a few ways out of that dilemma. For example, allowing players 1, 2 and 3 to pay more than players 4 and 5 for an option A game. This way they get what they pay for. Another way would be to make the same game twice. One version with option A and one with option B. This is called market segmentation by price differentiation or product differentiation, respectively.

Since the MMO industry does not do much price or product differentiation and since there are wildly different tastes in the MMO community about what is a (subjectively) good game, there is every reason to assume that the companies (just like Hollywood) always go for option B. It maximizes their profit. But does option B always make for a better game? Not for the majority for players. Three of five players, in the example, liked option A more. Also, the aggregate player benefit is higher for option A.

Even More Problems
There are even more problems about the sales figures approach. Firstly, there can be constrains, like money. A lot of people would like to buy better wine and better cars, but they do not have the means to do so. Secondly, as Ben already noted, some artists sell their products exorbitantly more often than other artists, not because they are so much better, but because of advertisement, network effects and the-winner-takes-it-all characteristics. A slightly worse product always runs danger to not be sold at all, because it is, well, slightly worse.

Other Tools
However, there are other ways to judge product quality. Consider good meals. There are experts who judge restaurants and chefs. They do not care about the costs of the meal, they do not care about advertisements and, hopefully, they are critical enough and do not care about network effects. They are able to rate a slightly worse meal just slightly worse. They know about some tricks, like too much fat and too much salt that can make a non-specialist always prefer McDonalds to Kathleen Daelemans.

This same tool, expert opinion, could be used in the MMORPG industry. Trust bloggers who seem to have the same taste you have (but still read the others!), trust independant game magazines (are there any?). Trust good arguments and your experience. And have a look at the sales figures if you want to. Just don’t think that they are a good indicator of product quality.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Ghostcrawler is Great

Random Player:
The Devs may be correct, in theory, that we don't need to squeeze every last drop of DPS out of our talent trees to down bosses. But in practice, you try to get in a raid with a tree that sacraficed 1% DPS for some fun utility, and you don't get an invite. Why would the raid leader take someone that didn't even spec the "right way"?

Posts like this make me very sad. You're portraying yourself to be at the mercy of uninformed yet tyrannical raid leaders who are quick to judge your performance based on perceived "tells." I know you need some basis to evaluate potential recruits or even pug members. But I do wish there was some way to turn around this virtual phobia of inefficiency -- this terror of being WRONG -- that we have managed to instill in our player base. I honestly think it's one of the greatest challenges facing the game.

Just realised that Larissa also found this part of the forums.

For years now I say exactly this:
The community is never responsible/guilty. It is always the developers. Ghostcrawler knows this, but that is not much of a surprise. The guys at Blizzard might not be the most dedicated virtual world/immersion guys, but otherwise they are the best of the best (payed) english-speaking MMO developers ;)

Players are predictable. They respond to the game they play. Often with considerable delay and in looping patterns that not always result in an equilibrium. That is the problem.
For example, awful DF-PUGs are an indirect result of the DF mechanic. The guilt is with the developers and Blizzard makes a stand here and accepts the responsibility.

So, what needs to be done by the developers? Now, they could disable the armory, disable talent specc lookups, disable recount and things like this.
Since that is probably out of the question, they should change encounters.

Encounters should require DDs to specc into suvivability a lot. Raid leaders should not only look at "damage done", but also at "damage received". Next, they need to stop adding artificial enrage timers and add soft enrage timers that come naturally when healers run out of mana. Cataclysm seems to take some steps into this direction. I also wrote about it much more extensively before. Encounters need to be more diverse, but not too diverse that you feel pressured to respecc before every fight.

Blizzard has made players so powerful during WotLK (and late TBC) that they now have problems catching the ghosts the called. People now exspect to have dual-specc, cheap respeccs, teleports, the armory, no RNG loot, inspects, ...

As I wrote before: Rules exist to constrain players. It is their very nature. Good games have strict rules.

Actually, this is the most interesting aspect of game design. There is an endless feedback loop of player reaction to the game and game reaction to the players. Some of these feedback loops are stable, some osciallate, some are unstable or even chaotic. In this property game design and social sciences are very similar. I guess this is the reason why I love (MMO)game design almost as much as social sciences, like economics.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Dungeon Finder and Raiders

This is going to be very short about the Dungeon Finder.

Usually raiders these days like how fast they can gear up and get to the 'meat of the game'. Which, for them, is raiding about every other night.

Now, after reading a rant from a returning raider, Blacksen got doubts about the Dungeon Finder and since it is very well written, I link it for you.

The World of Warcraft Community: Just One in the Crowd

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

A Discussion with Tobold

Related to Tobold's post on nostalgia yesterday, I emailed him and we started a discussion. The discussion was in German, so it would be useless for this blog. I translated it into English as well as I could. In yellow you can read my emails. Tobold's are cyan. I let out a few personal parts

Hi Tobold

Out of interest:
Do you really think that nowadays games are better than older games in every single detail and that all discontent is explained by nostalgia alone? I wrote a post last Friday, arguing that there is a selection process at work. Do you think that is completely wrong?

The entire blogosphere is full of nostalgia posts at the moment. It seems very noncredible to me that nostalgia is the whole truth. Nobody denies that nostalgia plays a role.

Thought experiment: You put WoW from 2010 into a time machine and transport it back into the year 2000. Which game would all these bitter veterans have played, EQ or WoW? I think WoW, and I think that also applies to the people who claim that EQ was better.

You are right in that this is not the whole truth. But the rest of the truth is unflattering. A lot of what veterans miss is that they have been a small elite and nowadays everybody plays. I can understand that well, but it is not especially nice to refuse to give the other kids a place in the sandpit. Nor is it nice to not respond to the wishes of a broader public. In my opinion, a lot of what Wolfshead writes is very insulting. For example the idea that games nowadays are more stupid and address more stupid players.

Mmh ... As you know there are differences between you and me when it comes to ‘world vs. gameplay’. An age-old debate. We could discuss in length what is more important, but we can certainly agree that you consider gameplay more important and I consider the ‘world’ more important.

Would you agree that WoW moved in the direction of gameplay in the last 10 years? Probably – a few weeks ago you made a post saying that you are glad about it. :)

Would you agree then that this fact, combined with the fact that I am less glad about it, also is responsible for the fact that I consider WotLK (in parts!!) less enjoyable than Vanilla WoW?

Would you agree that this is “part of the truth”?

If you are talking about WoW only, I agree that there is more gameplay, but not less world (unless you insist that a world you are not forced to walk in is not there). I just don’t like the generalizations, like “all games of today are dumb”. There are a lot of games with a lot of world and not a lot of gameplay.

And Cataclysm will make WoW a bit more difficult. So, even in the case of WoW one cannot say that it becomes dumped down more and more. The pendulum of balance is swinging.

Before I rejoice about the first compromise in a year: So you agree?


*rejoicing* :)

And you say that *I* consider discussion PvP? I have never rejoiced like that about the fact that somebody tells me that I have been right.

I do not rejoice about ‘winning’, but about having found a common ground.
All you just agreed to was that nostalgia is not 100% responsible (perhaps just 99% responsible).

99% is not my opinion. My opinion is that nostalgia is about 20% responsible. But we just made a first step! The next one would be much more difficult.

We agree that nostalgia is not 100% responsible. Is it not nice to have a discussion go like this: Trying to find where we agree and then step-by-step addressing what we do not agree on?

In comments I haven’t made it so far often, if ever.

I never said 99%. My guess is a bit more than 50%, let’s say 60%. And nostalgia does not describe the phenomena completely. “Burn-out”, for example, is also part of it. “Strange, somehow these games are not fun anymore after 10,000 hours. Probably the damn patches are responsible”.

Mmh.. Neither your blog post, nor your first email today seem to be consistent with this. It appeared to me that you considered 100% to be correct. (Go read my email and your first answer again, if you want).

In this case all our emails have been for nothing. However, now there is even more reason to be happy: We even agree that there are a lot of reasons for people to consider WotLK (in parts!!) worse than Vanilla. This is in addition to nostalgia (at least 40%).

In this case you should perhaps tell Oscar, Bhagpuss, Askander, Tallyn and Syl. Judging from their comments they also thought that you were talking about 100%.

In my first Email today I wrote:
“Do you really think that nowadays games are better than older games in every single detail and that all discontent is explained by nostalgia alone?”

Why have you not answered: “No, in my opinion nostalgia is only responsible for about 60%”?

Well, in my opinion

You: Argument 1
Me : Argument 2
You: Argument 3
Me : Argument 4

Is a lot better than
You: Argument 1
Me: You are so right, holy Nils.
You: I love you, too.

Just because I answer with some argument that does not mean that I do not agree with anything you said. And if you have a look at your comments at my blog, I cannot remember you partly agreeing with me. Either you had a completely different opinion (rarely, and with some bite to it), or you attack full force, although I certainly had said something reasonable in a long blog post.

On the contrary, if I write something that is 99% correct, I get endless hate-comments about the 1%, just like some time ago by Darren.

You criticize that I try to lead the discussion and .. yes, you are right.

You are welcome to send a question to me tomorrow and we will discuss that question and that question alone. Considering your emails today, if I had responded to all I disagreed with, we had been jumping around like bouncing balls, always past each other. Just like in the comments: The one guy says 1+1 =2 and the other guy does not say “You are right”, but criticizes the space in front of the =.

A discussion, to achieve some kind of result, requires a precise question to be tackled. If there is no moderator, the participants themselves need to concentrate on the precise question at hand.

Of course, I could have responded to burn-out and vanilla raider epeen. But that have just been distractions, have they not?

My offer is serious: You are welcome to lead a discussion with me and I will try to not distract, but come up with a true answer to your question. And if you can detect some inconsistency on my part you have ‘won’. And so have I!

Well, you cannot expect rhetoric on the level of Aristoteles or Cato on the internet. If Wolfshead writes that WoW and Farmville are the same, I will NOT say: “I agree in so far as I also welcome Cataclysm becoming more difficult again”. That is not the core statement of his post. If some discussion on the internet concentrates on a core statement it is already one of the better discussions.

The kind of discussion you would like to have, were only possible if the starting point were moderate. If Wolfshead just writes a hate post and claims things that are not true, there will never be a moderate discussion. On all objective scales of complexity, World of Warcraft is far away from Farmville, with thousands of players in between. If WoW were as simple, we would not have gigabytes of databases and thousands of addons. That these databases and addons make the game more simple is true, but it is not the responsibility of Blizzard, but the responsibility of the players. And if millions of players work hard to make a game more simple, it cannot have been that simple to begin with.

Friday, September 10, 2010


Nostalgia. This word is really popular in current MMO debates. That has two reasons:

1) There are a lot of influential players who think that WoW: WotLK was a relative failure and there were much less such players at the end of Vanilla WoW or The Burning Crusade.
2) A lot of players think of themselves as especially insightful when argueing that the only reason for (1) is nostalgia.

Now, as you can see by the way I wrote (2), I am not a fan of this point of view.

It is not that I think that there is no nostalgia involved. Nostalgia plays a role. Nobody sane could deny it. But nostalgia is not everything. Nobody sane should deny that, either.

Let's stay with WoW: It has changed. Not just a little, but a lot. There was a time without raids, without battlegrounds, with regular open PvP, with totally unbalanced classes, superfluous damage dealers in groups, forced healing speccs in raids, only one tank specc, few flying routes, almost no teleports, strange bugs, severe stability problems, extremely expensive normal mounts, unreachable epic mounts, almost no epics, only two legendaries, farming raid groups, long distances to travel to get to anywhere, no flying mounts, only one viable weapon enchant, bad graphics, no shadows, many elites in the open world, too much auto attack, terrible UI, not enough addons, strong advantages for Alliance when raiding, ...

I tried to list good and bad things and you might see that the bad things probably outnumber the good things - no matter your preferences. So was early WoW better than current WoW? That is a really tough question .. and a totally unimportant one!

What is important is that the vision behind early WoW was something I like much more than the vision behind current WoW. But since early WoW also had a lot of execution problems, it is hard to say that it itself was better.

Early WoW tried to create a seamless (no loading screens!) virtual world. A world with a lot of quests and some sandbox elements, like open PvP. WoW never tried to beat Eve Online at being a sandbox, but it tried to resemble a virtual world.

Current WoW does not have the vision of a virtual world. .. If you do not agree, I can weaken that statement to: Current WoW has a lesser focus on the virtual world aspect than early WoW had.
Two examples: The rewards in dungeons suddenly change during patches without any immersive explanation. Some NPCs seem to have all the equip you need to defeat the Lich King: Why don't they just give it to you ? You can suddenly teleport to automatically assembled groups of strangers from other servers and do a random dungeon with them. After that you automatically get teleported back to were you were. Not even by some NPC, but just by the game mechanics.

The vision has changed and with it changed the game. The fact that some players nowadays often feel like early WoW was better, is not just nostalgia. It is also due to the fact that people who had liked WotLK in 2005 did not end up playing Vanilla! There was a selection process at work! Those who did not have the time to play Vanilla stopped playing Vanilla! They are not around to tell you that they like WotLK more!
Therefore, it is reasonable to assume that those who mourn after early WoW, in fact, are not nostalgic, but actually are only present, because they liked early WoW.

If there is one thing I learnt from participating in the MMORPG blogosphere, it is that people, indeed, prefer different games. As incredible as I think it is: Some people indeed like to be teleported around the world. They do not consider it an immersion problem. They like AoEing in dungeons, hate crowd control and do not want leveling to be hard at all!

In the last 5 years, the market did not just grow. It grew by attracting players with different attitudes, different gaming mentalities. If you want to play WoW the way you play a console game, you will like WotLK more than Vanilla. Regardless of when you started to play WoW. But it is more likely you started during WotLK as you would not have liked Vanilla.

Up to now the companies still try to make games for all players. But in the future there will have to be market segmentation and product differentiation. A polished Eve Online-like fantasy MMORPG will attract players. But these players will not want to play together with other players who consider a teleporting dungeon-finder a necessity. And vice versa!

MMORPGs cannot cater to everybody anymore. The market became too big, too diverse. At some point the developers need to make a stand and try to convince the players that their vision of a game is actually fun. That does not mean, however, that game developers cannot pool ressources. In fact, they should!

Guild Wars 2

Another Guild Wars 2 post. But I will try to keep it short.
Have a look at this video.
For 72 minutes the Guild Wars 2 designers explain their game.

First: I think these are smart people. They talk alot about player mentality. That alone is prove that they are smarter than most developers :)

They analyse a lot of problems correctly. It is just that usually these problems have several solutions and they consistently pick the 'wrong' one. At least from my point of view.

Problem: Players are conditioned to ignore a poisened lake, because there is no ! on top of it (player mentality).
Solution: A lot of green gas erupts from the lake. Thus it is easier to spot. Unfortunately, it also does not look like a lake anymore! They also add NPCs with symbols over their head. Just to be sure.
My solution had been: Make trailer/intros that condition players to lookout for problems in the world. Add an extensive tutorial.

I congratulate the GW2 team to make a new MMO experience and to try to move the genre forward. That is quite a deed! I even like some elements they introduce.

Unfortunately, they cater to a completely different player than I am. So I will buy that game, have some fun and then .. hope that CCP makes a good MMORPG - finally.

On the other hand: All they seem to want from me is to buy that game once. Not to play it for some months. I consider this a waste, but .. well. They will get what they want. I will spend 50€ on the game once, instead of some 200€/year. Serves them right.

Pleasant Anticipation: Vorfreude

Most English speakers know the German word Schadenfreude.

What they probably do not know is that there is also no Englisch word for another German one: "Vorfreude".
In this context "freude" can be translated as "fun" and "Vorfreude" means something like "pleasant anticipation".

And then there is a German proverb: "Vorfreude ist die beste Freude".
Which could be translated to: "Pleasant anticipation is the best fun there is."

Now, I don't want to teach German here.
This proverb contains some wisdom, I think, especially when it comes to MMOs. When you "grind" heroic dungeons in World of Warcraft for the first time, it is a lot of fun. This is not because the isolated activity is a lot of fun. It is because you anticipate future rewards and this anticipation itself is fun; in fact: the best fun. Because, as soon as you got all the items you will probably hate heroic dungeons and the joy of having gained all the items does not match the prior "pleasant anticipation" for long; if ever.

When I wrote about the Fun Fallacy I mentioned that "circumstances matter". Actions do not have some mysterious inherent fun attached to them. Instead, circumstances matter. Fun is not derived from an isolated activity, but from an activity that is embedded in the rest of the game.

Vorfreude is one of the most prominent circumstances, especially in a reward-driven game like World of Warcraft. But it is very powerful in all avatar-progression-based games; that includes most sandboxes and themeparks.

Therefore, when discussing fun, we always need to remember that the anticipation of fun is fun in itself. In fact, it is usually more and longer lasting fun than anything else.

Thursday, September 9, 2010


There has been some talk about 'grinding' in recent days. In my opinion it comes down to player mentality.

1) If a player wants a MMO to be 'just a distraction' after work, every minute of his 'valueable time' should be fun. He will not remember any activities, because they do not have any meaning for him. And because he does not even want to remember them. It is all about passing time. An example is using the dungeon finder in WoW although there is nothing to gain from it. It can be fun, but it has no meaning. The player does not remember it and there would be no reason to.

2) If you want a MMO to be interesting, like watching a good play at the theater, however, you are interested in a meaningful activiy. The main motivation is not to pass time, but to experience art.
For this player mentality, monotonuous repetition is not a problem, if it is still immersive. Repetition is part of the game designers toolset. Hacking lumber to build your own in-game house for two weeks may be boring as an isolated activity, but it can still be a lot of fun, if the final house means something to you.

The problem in understanding (2) is that some players look at fun like an inherent property of a isolated activity. I wrote about that fallacy before.

You should also check out what Evizaer wrote about grind. I like his definition a lot:
Grinding is when the mental process of play breaks down because it became separated from the game’s meaning.

Babylon 5

Babylon 5 is a Sci-Fi series created between 1993 and 1998. Therefore some readers have a good chance to not know it.

But.. a post about a 15 years old Sci-Fi series on an MMO blog?

This has two reasons:
1) On my absolute scale (1-10) of the perfect series, Babylon scores a 7. And I do not know any other series that scores more than a 5 on that scale. Stories are art and to tell them well is incredibly hard. Babylon 5 does exceptionally well.

2) This blog has a focus on what I usually call immersion. Essentially that is the feeling of experiencing something important when you play an MMO - or watch a series.

Babylon 5 is what I recommend to watch, experience. Not over a few months, but rather a few days. Buy/rent the box, take a few days off and watch the entire series in a week (will about take that long). That is not especially healthy *grin*, but well worth it.

Once you did that you will understand why I critizise immersion in MMOs and why I consider playing/watching anything for less than 60 min only a distraction, instead of experiencing art. You will understand what an epic story is and that your T10 set is not epic, but a f***ing joke.

As a little appetizer: Here are a few Youtube videos. They should not spoil it too much for you. To understand the complete story you will have to watch it twice, anyway.


And two must-see videos:

About this "nostaliga" thing: Babylon 5 was not my first Sci-Fi series. There have been good ones before and then there came a better one. Even Babylon 5 can be beaten. Even in Babylon 5 there are inconsistencies, and technical/financial limitations applied. The reason good stories and games do not happen often is, because they are so hard to make; and even harder to finance.

From Wikipedia:
Straczynski set five goals for Babylon 5. He said that the show "would have to be good science fiction" as well as good television ("rarely are science fiction shows both good science fiction and good TV; there're generally one or the other" ); it would have to do for science fiction television what Hill Street Blues had done for police dramas, by taking an adult approach to the subject; it would have to be reasonably budgeted, and "it would have to look unlike anything ever seen before on TV, presenting individual stories against a much broader canvas." He further stressed that his approach was "to take science fiction seriously, to build characters for grown-ups, to incorporate real science but keep the characters at the center of the story." Some of the staples of television science fiction were also out of the question (the show would have "no kids or cute robots"). The idea was not to present a perfect utopian future, but one with greed and homelessness; one where characters grow, develop, live, and die; one where not everything was the same at the end of the day's events. Citing Mark Twain as an influence, Straczynski said he wanted the show to be a mirror to the real world and to covertly teach.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

EVE Online

I do not play CCP's EVE Online as I dislike the user interface and the character progression system. I am also not a fan of any form of RMT.

However, EVE Online is the only reasonably popular and successful MMO that focuses on an immersive virtual gaming world. Thus, CCP managed to keep me subscribed without even playing their game. My hope is that by donating monthly money I can increase the chance for a fantasy version of EVE. Not necessarily done by CCP, but any able company.

A faint dream of mine is that the guys at Blizzard want to diversify their portfolio with their 'next-gen MMO', thus not killing World of Warcraft, but complementing it.

The idea that the world really needs more good sandboxes, obviously, is not mine alone. CCP themselves give designers a little headstart by talking about some înteresting problems and their solution when designing a sandbox.

A very interesting article, especially for anybody with some programming background.

Infinite Space: An Argument for Single-Sharded Architecture in MMOs

And maybe CCP eventually rework their entire user interface. Then I would start playing again, instantly.

Friday, September 3, 2010

The Fun Fallacy

Yesterday I had a short discussion with Tobold, from Tobold’s MMORPG Blog. Eventually he decided to use this argument:

It is YOU who doesn't WANT to run around anymore. There is nothing in WoW which would prevent you from doing it.

As you can guess the subject were teleports.
This kind of argument is what I call the fun fallacy. It is the result of a pseudo-scientific approach to games. In general in goes like this:

1) The developers want to find out if activity X is fun.
2) Therefore they conduct an experiment: They allow the players to skip activity X, with a click on a button.
3) If a vast majority of players skip the activity, it cannot have been fun. qed.

Let me reduce this argument ad absurdum.
1) Blizzard wants to find out, whether raiding ICC is fun.
2) Therefore they introduce a new NPC in the ICC lobby. You can click on him and buy the complete T10 heroic set for 1G.
3) A vast majority of players clicks on the button. Within two weeks raiding in ICC drops by 90%. Therefore raiding ICC cannot have been fun.

Next, we introduce a button at the start of the game: “Gimme level 80 epic char”, and the next month we introduce a “Gimme gold cap” button. Eventually we introduce god mode. Suddenly, the only people who play WoW are those who use it as an expensive chat room.

What is wrong with this kind of argument is the idea that fun is an inherent property of an isolated activity: It is not.

Imagine eating one sweet cookie every day before you go to bed. Now imagine eating 500 sweet cookies all at once. Fun does not multiply. The isolated activity of eating a single sweet cookie might stay the same, but the circumstances matter.

Some months ago I was exploring the mountains around Jebel Toubkal in Northern Africa with a few friends. It was very hot and very dry. At one day I found out that I had not taken enough water with me on the trip. It was quite terrible. However, a few hours later we arrived at the top of one of the smaller mountains and to our surprise there was a guy who sold coke. Just like in a movie. Now, usually I don’t drink coke, as it is too sweet for my taste: But this one coke was easily one of the best drinks in my life. Having returned home, I retested coke and found that it still is much too sweet and not enjoyable at all. Circumstances matter.

Imagine this one cool dungeon in your new MMORPG. You just love it. The dungeon has a great atmosphere, good story and although it certainly is not easy to beat, you managed to do so the last few times. Now imagine somebody telling you that the loot in this dungeon sucks and there is another dungeon that drops much, much better. Moreover that dungeon is quite easy to beat and people generally consider it the norm to run this dungeon, instead of the other. They call you stupid to do the wrong dungeon. How much fun will you have the next time you run your favorite dungeon?
Some stuborn people might want to insist that they would feel the same. Well, a lot of players would not. Circumstances matter.

But there is more to it. Games consist of
- equipment,
- players,
- goals and rules.

The reason for the rules is to constrain the players from reaching the goals. And to do so in a fun way.

Think of chess: There is the board and its pieces, the players, the rules that tell you how to move the pieces and the goal of the game: Drop the opposing king. Dropping the king could be easy in chess: Just use your thumb. But playing chess this way is not much fun. It is the rules that constrain you that make the game fun.

But good rules are hard to come by. There are trillions of ways to play “The Settlers of Catan”, but only a tiny proportion of them is fun. When we buy a modern game, we also pay for the rules. In fact, the rules and goals are often the most valuable part of the game, as they are the only thing that cannot be bought with money.

It is important to understand that rules constrain players. That is their very nature. Developers should be wary of players that wish to be less constrained. These players usually do not look at the matter from a developer PoV, but a pure player PoV. They ask whether they could have their queen move like a knight, too.

In classic WoW I had to ride to every single dungeon I wanted to visit with friends. I usually tried to get to the dungeon ASAP. Had you given me a teleport button, I had used it. But that does not mean that introducing that button had increased my long term fun.

With the Dungeon Finder and its teleport to every dungeon, I do not see the world anymore and I miss that. I miss the rule that disallowed teleport. To tell me that I do not have to teleport does not help. Fact of the matter is that I can and circumstances matter.