Paradigm, more positively

If the underlying decisions and assumptions made by designers and developers for MMOs (and maybe for single player games too? I don’t play enough to know) were to change, what would we suggest?

How should quests change? Should there be quests at all? Should we have levels? How else would we measure progress? Should there be crafting? How would it work? Should online games reward twitch-ability despite that not being a “level” playing field (not everyone twitches well)? Should online game reward reasoning and puzzling abilities despite that not being as level playing field either? Should we be able to use real life money to pay for things in games — from the trivial (items, titles) to the less trivial (levels, or whatever else is being measured)? Should we be able to use automated scripts? For what? Should we pay subscriptions, pay as we go, or not pay at all (if some other form of revenue can be devised)?

How far away from our current paradigm-comfort zone are we willing to go for the next generation of MMOs?

I have loads of things I’d usually suggest but, since I’m putting myself on the spot, my mind has blanked. Hopefully yours won’t. 😉

EDIT — ok here’s one. At a very basic level, I miss games like Asheron’s Call where I could allocate points to skills. It was a fairly simple system, and there were lots of no-brainer paths, but I still liked the illusion of customisation. If I wanted a HUGE run skill, I could have that. I miss that, and “mastery paths” or whatever they end up calling them in games are’nt really what I’d call customisation, at least not to that extent.

Multi-boxing & paradigm

Listos version for the move-along crowd: one other char, I couldn’t care less. Well I do care, but not all that much, and if you’re PLAYING both then more power and finger-coordination-skills to you. If you’re not playing a char then it doesn’t matter to me whether you have 1 logged in or 18, and when it becomes the accepted or even expected mode of play (as unattended macroing has in SWG), that’s when I switch off and move on.

Seems the surface discussion is multi-boxing, but what we’re really talking about acceptable playing methods. Instead of this rambling post about playing or not playing several chars, I should be thinking about the concepts and assumptions currently underlying most game design, which is why we end up playing the way we do (mostly). But it’s Sunday. I’ll think heavy thoughts during the week.

I commented on multi-boxing elsewhere as being unfair to those who only played one char at a time (and thus levelled one char at a time) and was accused of treating levelling as a competition. Anyone who actually knows me as a player would, I think, laugh at this because levelling is usually my last concern in a game. The replies stung, but mainly because I hate it when I don’t explain myself well and I hate even more when I know I’m going to try again with probably no more clarity than before. Have you ever had debates where you KNOW what you think and what you want to say, but no matter how you try it either doesn’t come out the way you want, or if it does, the others don’t hear it the way you hoped they would? That thought/expression interface can be a slippery bitch.

I’ll get frustrated if it (levelling, but not only — see below) seems oddly fast or slow but that’s mainly a pacing issue, and therefore mostly visible in contrast. If you set a certain pace (fast, or slow) in a game and then change that pace at a certain point without compensating for it, it will stand out. And that works at both rates — if you have fast levelling and suddenly slow it down without adding other stuff (content, side-treks, things to do), players will feel as though the game slammed the brakes on them; and if you have slow levelling and suddenly speed it up, players will feel as though the game is passing them by without letting them experience it properly. Actually it holds true for many aspects of games, not just the levelling: many people have noted how empty some of the higher-tier zones in WAR seem, compared to the war-packed, smoke-filled, atmospheric earlier areas. The bigger the contrast, the more people will notice.

Stupidly, I gave the following example for multi-boxing hurting other players, which is that if someone levels 2-6 other chars at the same time, they’re getting x times the amount of levelling for a fraction of the effort and time invested. I guess that makes it sound as though I think levelling is a competition. I don’t. However, I am not player who thinks the 1-to-max path is just a bump in the road on the way to the (all hallowed) End-Game, either.

Levelling isn’t just a detail that gets in the way of doing X-man instances all day every day — levelling is a process and a path in itself, not something that only leads to something else. In that respect, my efforts feel somewhat trivialised by someone running half a dozen chars, though I willingly grant that this is a rather subjective judgement. Time and effort invested are still the main ways progress in a game is measured — which may be the root of the problem. We no longer play games the way we played games 10 years ago, and we certainly don’t play them anymore the way they are being designed. If anything, base game design is woefully out of date and touch and multi-boxing is something that should be built into games from the ground up, not done on the sly.

Regardless, if you have 5 chars logged on, 4 of which are on passive follow or on some sort of self-running macro, then you’re not by any definition of mine playing 5 characters. As I said above, if you’re controlling them all consciously (and I know people who do), more power to you. If not, then yes, by current game intent parameters, I think you’re cheating.

One of the things MMOs do require, to me, is active presence. What on earth is the point of having these games if I can set a robot to do my playing for me while I’m at work? But again, this might be a paradigm issue. EVE bypasses that to some extent with offline training, and nobody thinks that’s cheating because a) everyone has access to it and b) it’s built into the very fabric of the game.

This will probably be another bad example, but here goes: If a game has a certain rarity of items set up and some not-really-playing farm group spends days on end getting LeRareLewtofPhatness and then floods the market with it, they’re being unfair to a) the players who’d like to have access to said mob to get said loot and b) the company who designed that encounter/mob/whatever. If someone uses however many macro-animated characters while they’re not there to do something I do on my own time (eg harvest resources, farm critters, whatever — my imagination is usually far less vivid than what people actually come up with), then yes, they are hurting me, at least as far as the spirit of these games goes, which is that 1 person does things while at the keyboard with no undue outside assistance.

We should maybe argue that the paradigm itself is out of date — and there I fully agree, it really is — and that we need more gaming paradigms and more gaming models to fit people’s differing schedules, styles, and even wallets. What is and isn’t acceptable behaviour in games isn’t subject to some higher ethical code, it’s subject to what we societally, culturally, etc. think is acceptable; and, partly, to what a given game defines as acceptable (e.g. striking old ladies in GTA). If the base paradigm is that you can play several characters, whether you’re at the keyboard or not, at once or not, then suddenly this whole debate goes away.