Begone, Phat Lewts!

pile20of20gold31If gold selling and buying are a symptom, and the grind required to get money and/or items in game is the disease, then what would happen if we removed — or severely restricted — or changed, somehow — what is considered a “good” reward in MMOs?

Again, WoW casts a huge shadow over MMOland in this respect, but it didn’t create the shadow. Kill monster, get xp, look through its pockets for loot (even if it’s a pocketless rust monster) is several decades old and started out on paper. You could probably argue that go forth, rescue the damsel, get your proper reward (hur, hur) is pretty much the same thing. It is, and it isn’t.

Right now, in a game like WoW, you have two basic choices. You can go out and get your own phat lewtz which, if I understand it rightly, means some kind of insanely repetitive long-ass grindfest, regardless of whether you’re grinding faction or grinding an instance or grinding 18,000 foozles to get the Super Sword of Foozle Smashing — whatever its shape, it’s a grind. (Grind: any action you have to repeat so many times that that activity becomes unpleasant and tedious, and goes past the point of even remotely being “fun.”) Or, in some cases, you can buy said phat lewts off the Auction House. And aside from that, there are the various rewards you can get in-game, like mounts, that cost a quintillion gold AND an insanely ridiculous faction grindfest, so that’s twice the grind bang for your in-game buck.

That sucking sound you hear is soul and fun leaving the game. I don’t really care when or why it became all about Monty and his Haul (and if you don’t know that term, you’re too young to be reading my blog. Begone, and return only when you have played at least 5 years of bad, but ridiculously fun, beginner D&D campaigns!); fact is, it’s all about the grind. For money, for rep, for Slackassery-Tokens so you can get your Slackassery special items — whatever; it doesn’t matter what the label on the tin says, inside it’s all grind-produced spam.

I’m going to ignore the point that the grind design method and the subscription payment method go together like crack and pipe — they mostly do, but I’m concerned more with what constitutes “reward” in games than with what constitutes “gaming fun,” though I’m sure the two are probably pretty closely related and may end up dovetailing in the end. What I’m trying to ponder right now, though, is the idea that items and coins — or some recogniseable facsimile — are the only things people will recognise as rewards in MMOs (or for that matter just about any game out there right now).

Sure, money is a reward-type we all understand, and it probably makes the MMO worlds go round just as it does this one. But is it the only thing that will work, or is it the only thing we use because it’s the only thing we know? (There are pretty good barter economies out in the real world, and capitalism isn’t the only working model out there. Granted, most “working” models are much smaller-scale, but they’re there.)

This is where my own basic assumptions are holding me back, because for all that I’d like to see an alternative to money/items as rewards, everything I come up with seems to end up being a thinly-veiled variation. Hey, pay me in chickens! (Chickens becomes the new currency, so chickens = gold. No innovation there, just more feathers, and Banks would be called Coops.)

Don’t pay me in titles or other intangibles — I thought about that, and I know some people find it great, but for a fluff-lover I’m oddly cold about things like titles. They’re about as useful as those fake moles women would paste on a few centuries ago — pretty (maybe) but also pretty useless. Titles don’t give me much of a feel-good buzz; if all I ever got was titles, I’d get rather bored rather quickly. And this is my problem — stuff tends to give me a feelgood buzz, so I’m just as bad as any other Purples-chaser and the only difference is that I’m chasing deco- and fluff-items as opposed to gear. Okay, how about… Brownie Points? But isn’t that just a thinly-veiled version of reputation? Or reputation and/or currency, whether you can clink it in your hot little hands or not?

I have a suspicion that we apes need currency, however it’s represented, because we like to interact and trade and get stuff for giving stuff. Whether the currency is gold, chickens or some kind of non-coin brownie-points system — it’s still currency even if it clucks. And phat lewt is still phat lewt whether it’s the Ultimate Pants of Killing Doom or the Coolest Pirate Hat that Does Nothing EVAR. Maybe I’m just showing my middle-aged lassitude and wanting to change up my life of empty materialism. Maybe there’s nothing wrong with endless materialism in games, since we have a drive to acquire, provided the path to acquisition is relatively entertaining (which it isn’t, but grind-design is another issue).

Still, I’m feeling oddly unfulfilled by my MMOney and phat lewts. Maybe I should jet off to the MMO equivalent of the Seychelles and “find myself” for a few weeks till my acquisitive drive returns.

Witching Night in WAR

So far I’m a little ambivalent about this event, or what I’ve seen of it today — which was only tier 2, with Amariel (the Archmage).

The good includes how much fun it is to have gigantic moshes in open RvR; at one point there were 30+ on the Order side in the Troll Country Witching Night PQ, and probably 20-25 Destruction. We owned them several times over, despite having to continually ask our own side to move back *inside* the PQ area. Kill someone outside of it, and there’s no PQ kill-credit. The line wasn’t exactly drawn in blood on the ground, but it wasn’t all that hard to work out, either… and yet a handful of people just kept charging past it.

Mask of the Bloodletter

I need to learn to be lean and mean in RvR — if you’re not in the right spot, no heals for YOU! No rezes, either! No more Ms Nice Archmage!

The second part of the PQ, which is a giant Lord-level skelly, was remarkably anticlimactic, though maybe that’s just because nothing is going to resist two dozen wound up players for very long. I think he’s also only around R14 or so, which makes it a pretty quick kill. The really BAD downside of this is that old Warband-credit bug: only the group that does the most damage (?) to that mob actually gets the Tome of Knowledge kill credit. Given that 10 credits are required for… whatever it is you get for killing 50 ghosts, 25 crones and 10 lords, that’s going to be tough for almost everyone to complete. Not so good.

The other major downside, at least of the T2 PQ, is that the influence bar needs something like 48,000 influence to fill up. Yes, 48 thousand. (I know this thanks to my handy dandy Influence Text mod.) We spent most of the afternoon doing that PQ, call it somewhere around 6 hours, and we managed about 8k. The event runs for 5 days, so… assuming you can play 6 hours on each of the 5 days, you will still only end up with 40k of that 48k you need. Again, more disappointed people, and again, not so good.

Time to add to the Good side: the PQ roll pixies were looking the other way tonight, and I won not one but two gold bags from that RvR PQ. I feel a little bad about that given that the only really neat thing in it is the very snazzy Mask of the Bloodletter, which Amariel is modeling for your viewing pleasure. Reminds me of the bad guy (you know, Tim Curry) in Legend, only skinnier. It has no stats, but doesn’t need em — its coolness is enough.

The second item of choice was a purple jewellery bit, R15 I think, with +11Wis/+9Tough/+80Elem resist… Nice, but not The Cool Mask(TM). I actually wish I’d rolled lower so that someone else could have picked up a mask. Shame you can’t pass to the next person down.

And finally, the really REALLY bad part of this patch — loading and logging times. There has supposedly been a hotfix tonight to resolve this, but don’t believe it. Poor Mort spent upwards of 10 minutes in transit every single time we used a flight master, and both times I tried to log out today I just ended up hanging in limbo, never even reaching char select.

A mixed bag so far, pardon the pun. I’ve heard horror stories about scenario load times too, and who wants to spend 10 minutes loading into a 15-minutes (tops!) scenario? Mostly, I wish more people had more of a chance at the fun stuff. I’ll be impressed if a majority of folks fill up that INF bar (unless it’s a per-account thing? now that would be neat), which means that there are likely to be quite a few either disappointed or not very impressed WARriors come Monday morning. We shall see.

EDIT – I’m told the loadtimes hotfix did have a positive effect on the times people were experiencing. Jolly good.