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.

18 thoughts on “Multi-boxing & paradigm

  1. *cheers*

    I think you defined my thoughts on the topic better than I did. If you’re actively playing more than one character, then I’m not going to fuss about it. But if you have characters on running a script-like, hands-off activity, then I’ve got a problem with that.

    Essentially at that point you’re a gold farmer.

  2. I couldn’t care less if someone multi-boxes. It’s their money, it’s their time. I haven’t even encountered that in more recent games because we get so many character slots these days, and the games are either more solo-friendly so that leveling is always possible, groups are easier to get, or both.

    Can’t say that I would group with a multi-boxer though for doing actual content, because while you’re getting multiple characters, you’re also getting reduced attention and abilities while the others are on /follow or auto-attacking. Not saying there aren’t skilled multi-boxers out there, I’m sure they exist, but I haven’t met any, nor do I care to.

    Macros are a no-no; a holdover from the “Ye Olde Days” of MMO’s that to me are more an indication of a lack of design forethought and sloppy programming than anything else.

    I’m a little torn on the “active presence” though. MMO’s have always claimed to have a “persistent world” but that is mostly an illusion. Mobs respawn. That princess still needs saving again. The only “persistence” is that the game is still being played while we’re offline. Then again I could pick any random FPS server and say the same thing; does that magically make FPS “persistent online games?”

    EVE lets people train offline. Star Trek Online will let characters train their *non-combat* skills while offline. Fallen Earth will have a sort of “realtime” crafting where, say if I want to craft a dune buggy and it takes 4 days. I start the crafting process in my shop, then I can go adventuring or logout (if I’m correctly understanding what I’ve read) but the crafting continues for those 4 days. SWG used devices to continue gathering resources rather than having us actively chase randomly respawning resource nodes. SWG also let us have shops to sell our wares which gave a sense of having some sort of presence (moreso than *just* using an AH or Bazaar as SWG called it) in the game even while offline. So I’m in favor of having means to present more of a sense of persistence while I’m offline, but of course not towards anything combat-related or other activities that require active participation.

  3. I believe it is pronounced, para-dig-em (not sure of that joke made it over there, was a funny commercial here).

    I agree with most of your points. Although I don’t feel I ‘accused’ you of anything, that is a harsh word. It’s more the impression that I got. Apologies if I made it sound like an accusation.

    “my efforts feel somewhat trivialised by someone running half a dozen chars, though I willingly grant that this is a rather subjective judgement.”

    The impression I got from this, is your fun/enjoyment of the game is relative to others progress. I don’t think this is the only factor of course.

  4. On persistent shops, I rather like the EQ2 model. You can buy from anyone via the broker, but you pay a fee. Alternatively you can go to their shop and buy directly and save the broker fee.

    You can also decide to go there to preserve your own sense of immersion, vs the Norathian model. 🙂

    A lot of F2P games have the ability for players to set up shop anywhere and it gets incredibly cluttered incredibly quickly.

  5. My use of “accused” was probably harsh. I remember reaching for a synonym while I was writing and must have forgotten in the mad rush to get things down on e-paper.

    I don’t *much* measure myself against others, but to some extent I do. If it involves someone somehow scamming a system when I play fair (according to whatever the rules are), then I feel somehow cheated. Other than that, nah.

    Gah. I think what I’m trying to say is we all measure ourselves against others, whatever yardstick we may use — items, levels, reputation, PvP ranking, etc. It’s how much we let that affect us that matters. My particular “hard done by” button is pressed when I feel folks are achieving stuff in ways that aren’t open to everybody according to the game systems, like running combat macros in games that don’t allow them, etc.

    This is getting too convoluted even for me. 😛

  6. Why care what anyone else does? They’re paying their $15/month, let them play the way they want. If they want to power-level, or multi-box, fine. What impact does that actually have upon your gameplay?

    Similarly, I don’t let anyone else tell me what build I “must” use, or how I “must” play my character or role in the group unless they’re paying my $15/month.

    Most “folk” aren’t running third-party macro systems. Bots are. There’s a difference. Please tell me you’re not going to get upset that a bot leveled faster than you? That’s kinda what they do… and bots are not “playing” the game either.

    If you see another player with a title or gear that was hard-earned, just think “wow, that’s awesome! Maybe someday I’ll earn that or something similar.” But this isn’t a competition. Being snarky here, but I doubt anyone over the age of 15 gives a crap about “server firsts” anymore…

    What I care about is that I am enjoying myself with online friends doing things I like doing with them and not getting roped into doing things that I/we do not enjoy.

  7. Again, I’m not expressing myself clearly. The last thing I care about is server firsts. However, after two days of attempting to say what I mean in a way that will make sense to others and not say “B” when I mean “A”, I’m just going to give up.

  8. Well, the way I see it is simple. What’s right and wrong in a game are up to the game’s designers. Some games allow RMT. That’s fine, if the game is designed for it (such as Legends of Norrath). Buying gold and items from farmers or anyone else isn’t in and of itself immoral, wrong, or bad. Its a simple economic transaction for a service, like any other, like buying a hamburger, movie ticket, or paying my cleaning lady for doing what I probably should be doing myself but don’t.

    Since most (but not all) MMOs aren’t designed to handle RMT, or automated players, they make them illegal (in the sense that an illegal forward pass is illegal) in that game. Hence, most MMOs ban RMT and macroing. If you do that, you are breaking the rules, and are a cheater, just like running around hitting the other hockey players with your stick is against the rules of that game (though no one seems to be able to put a stop to that either.)

    I don’t know any MMOs that bans multiboxing. In fact some, like Eve Online, even encourage it (which I don’t think I like, but that’s a separate issue). The game I play doesn’t have a rule against multiboxing; however, it does have rules against macros and unattended playing, so of course I don’t do that. I have no problems with the former, but I despise the latter.

    Ysh, I hope you didn’t feel like you were being attacked on my site. I don’t think anyone meant to come across like that. I appreciated your comment, as it sparked a discussion, which I enjoyed.

  9. Nah, my “server first” comment wasn’t directed at you, just at the general subset of people/children who go for that type of thing as if it’s a competition.

    As for the message you’ve been trying to convey, what I’ve gotten out of it (and perhaps I’m just reading into it in ways I shouldn’t be) is that you’re somehow feeling cheated by multi-boxers and botters. That’s fine; it’s your prerogative. What I’m trying to say is it’s your game, your time, and your $15/month. Play the way you want, when you want, and with whom you want. If you and your friends have little friendly competitions, that’s one thing. But MMO’s are not one-shot deals. The mobs respawn, the princess will still need you to save her too, and that raid boss will be waiting for the day you get to him.

    Any title, gear, or other accomplishment some other player got should be your inspiration, if it’s something that interests you. I don’t make a habit of reading ahead on every single encounter and every piece of loot, I like the surprise of learning and experiencing it. So there are plenty of times I’ll meet another character with gear or a title I had no idea existed, and it inspires me to reach that new goal I never had before.

    Anything one can do, all can do; it’s just a matter of taking the time and actually doing it.

  10. To all — I didn’t feel attacked by anything or anyone except my inability to coherently express what is so clear in my head.

    Failure of communication frustrates me, and shaking the box only seems to give me a headache. 😉

  11. Actually, if someone does farm some mob for a drop and flood the market with it, it is helpful to casual players – since many more of that item are available on the market than otherwise would be, and due to the larger supply the cost will be less than if only a few were available. This goes for any kind of farming for any materials. Increasing the supply only helps other players, it doesn’t hurt them.

    Of course players who want to organize a group and go kill that mob will find someone already there, but that could happen any time. And certainly it does already happen, without even multiboxers. More casual players will almost always find other players camping such a mob the few times a week they try to get it. But by getting tons of items and putting them on the market, the casual player has a chance at an item they otherwise might not get to see.

    In my experience the main dual boxers i’ve known did it 1. when their spouse wasn’t playing, sothey put the other char on follow, or 2. to have a pocket healer /rezzer (since even with the low death penalty of modern games it’s still annoying to die), or 3. do more challenging content than they usually can solo, but without the waiting around for a group, ninja looting, and all the other hassles that can come with other people. “Farming” is only one aspect.

    levelling is a process and a path in itself, not something that only leads to something elselevelling is a process and a path in itself, not something that only leads to something else
    This depends on both the player and the game. WoW used to have good and interesting leveling. Now even the designers at Blizzard minimize leveling time and made it trivial. When the game company itself tells you leveling is a waste of time and to get it over with as fast as possible, then that’s how players will treat it.

    WAR thankfully tries to be different, but still fails. They put big prizes and rewards at the top of the hill, then say “hey buddy don’t look up there look at these shiny things I put along the side of the path”. But it’s hard for many players to resist the carrots placed in front of them. After all game design itself sets goals and players only respond to the incentives that already exist.

  12. I find it funny that a multi-boxer would claim that you think leveling is a competition. Isn’t the purpose of multi-boxing to have help that you can control to level?

    Far be it for me to tell someone how to spend their money so more power to them.

  13. Sure Jaye, but that doesn’t mean its a competition. 🙂 I’m not sure who exactly I’d be competing with when I box. “Everyone else?” My low level alts rarely see anyone else around, hence, why I box in the first place.

    I described some of the other reasons I box on my blog. Mostly it was to circumvent the awful solo grind in ROK, and also to make leveling alts more interesting. Soloing in EQ2 isn’t really that fun, but dual boxing makes it more fun (mostly because my alts can now take on heroic content in the otherwise empty pre-ROK zones, and heroic dungeons are usually more interesting.)

    But some people might use boxed alts to compete, I suppose. There are lots of reasons why people might do it.

  14. @Lars
    You’re right. To be honest, I have considered dual boxing for the same reason, soloing just isn’t fun in some games. And I tend to be a bit on the anti-social side when it comes to groups thanks in large part to WoW.

  15. To be honest I don’t think many people take issue with two-boxing, and it seems where we make distinctions is more when it’s a case of 4, 5, 6+ boxing where helping out one or another char/alt seems to not be the primary motivation.

    Maybe that’s one thing we can all more or less agree on.

    When people play TO PLAY, I’m not too bothered how they do it, provided they’re not exploiting stuff (as in, using the game in ways not intended and/or allowed by the designers). When people play for non-play reasons, such as to farm gold, sell characters, whatever, I start having more problems with it.

    It’s a game, not a commercial enterprise. 😛

  16. I used to multi-box in DAOC. My reason there was that it was simply impossible to solo. Rather than deal with the vageries of trying to get a group it was easier to run two chars myself so that I could play whenever I wanted however I want.

    I don’t begrudge others multi-boxing, though I think as you I do have this vague feeling of it cheapening my experience somehow. I think this is that it feels that they are effectively getting something for free that I would have to work hard for. That is, a second high level character.

    What I do begrudge is when multi-boxing interferes with my enjoyment and experience in the game. One example I have from WoW. When PvPing and coming up against someone playing 5 shamans at once. Not much of a surprise who wins that. Yes, technically the same effect would occur with 5 different people playing their own shamans, but the feel is different. Plus the multi-boxer is skipping the whole organisation step.

    Other examples are that the multi-boxer is taking extra slots in the instanced battleground up so preventing others from getting in.

    The comment above about loot farmers helping the more casual player is bobbins. Loot farmers tend to screw with the economy. In the specific example there’s no reason for the price to drop as they have a monopoly. If the price does drop it tends to mean that the casual player now can’t get a decent price for the stuff they want to sell. It also prevents the casual player from being able to obtain this stuff themselves. I really don’t want to buy stuff off the auction house that I could obtain myself in game. This sort of thing is why instances were created in the first place.

    Finally, persistence. It is true that the world isn’t really persistent, but continually refreshing. It is true that an DPS world could be considered continually refreshing in the same manner. The big difference with MMO however is that the character, your interface with the game, is persistent. It is that that draw people to MMOs when they’re not drawn to other forms of gaming.

  17. yunk, the market is warped by bot farmers. The supply/demand balance is changed in a way that doesn’t reflect the game population. Sure, a casual player might be able to bypass the farming and get cheaper stuff on the AH, but at the same time, a different casual player, once who wants to do the farming, isn’t getting fair valuation of his efforts.

    Overautomation of gameplay mechanics is a fine line to walk. As noted, if the game is designed for it, it’s not a problem.

    Puzzle Pirates has built-in bot farmers, and the economy runs smoother for it because the devs can keep tighter control over inflation and deflation. The difference there is that the designers have control, not third party farmers. When third parties can automate playing the game or playing the market in a game, it inevitably warps the game or the market itself.

    Inasmuch as it doesn’t affect other players, I don’t mind, but in an MMO, it will always affect others, even if it’s just through misvaluation on the AH and things like Shaman shock teams or Mage Fireball parties. Are those huge distortions of the game? Maybe not, but they are distortions, and without ways to keep a handle on them, whether by initial design or reactive measures, they might break parts of the game balance.

    It’s less about caring about server firsts or fancy shoulderpads and such, and more about the changes to the fundamental game play experience caused by those operating outside the design parameters.

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