Destination? Journey? Destination? Journey? October 23, 2013Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, EVE Online, EverQuest, EverQuest II, Lord of the Rings Online, MMO Design, World of Warcraft.
I always feel a mixed set of emotions when something like a double experience event gets announced. Lord of the Rings Online has one going now as part of their ramp up to the Helms Deep expansion in November.
That is a pretty long stretch of double experience. A lot of games will toss that sort of thing out for a special weekend or maybe a holiday or “please come back and play!” event over maybe a week. But a 30 day stretch seems like a lot. I cannot recall off hand any other game going for double for quite that long. I wonder what SynCaine would say?
And when I saw that offer on the front page of the LOTRO site, a little voice within me said, “Wow, I should totally take advantage of that to get a few level!”
I mean, I made it through Moria with my captain on Brandywine (5th server, 5th guild) and if I just pushed a little bit forward I could actually get into Siege of Mirkwood content that I purchased a couple of years back.
Basically, opportunity! I should take advantage of it.
Then another voice in my head coughs and says something along the lines of, “Weren’t you just grumbling about how fast leveling is in MMOs these day?”
And I must sheepishly admit to myself that I have groused about how trivial, for example, the 1 to 60 game in World of Warcraft has gotten. One of my issues in my quest to see the Horde side of the post-Cataclysm world is that I seem to out-level the quest chains in a given zone long before I am done. The achievement for doing all the quests in Azshara, as an example, shows 60 quests to be completed. But the zone had pretty much gone gray to me just after the 40 quest mark with one character. And with another, with whom I did a couple of instances, I was beyond the zone before the 30 quest mark. In fact, I was so far beyond that the Warchief’s Call board directed me to essentially skip the next zone in line as well.
Likewise, back in LOTRO, I was skipping whole sections of content. I actually optimized my path through the game to visit some of my favorite zones… The Lone Lands and Evendim being two where I ran down the whole zone of quests… but otherwise leapfrogged until I could get into Eregion and then Moria. Even in Moria I ended up skipping a big chunk of the content while running through some of the areas. As it turned out, I think I picked the better areas… the content in Moria is somewhat uneven, with areas in the old fetch-and-carry quest hub model while other areas are in the more recent, more dynamic vein that Turbine has adopted… but there was still a lot left behind.
Of course, I write that in full knowledge of my own hypocrisy. What is that I have equipped in my pocket slot?
What has it got in its pocketses indeed! A 25% XP boosting item!
Well there’s your problem.
Or at least an insight into the problem, the competing aspects of such games that pull some people, like myself, in contradictory directions.
While seeing the world, experiencing the content, ought to be the part of the package, at the same time level based progression oriented games like this also push the achievement button for people. As somebody who tends to be very goal oriented, at times I find myself quite caught up in the progress aspect of games. Pushing on, getting another level, getting access to another zone, another instance, another expansion, another whatever, can quickly become my focus, especially if the content is nothing to write home about. A series of fetch-and-carry and solve the local bear/boar/wolf problem quests become an obstacle to overcome in pursuit of the next stage of the progression aspect of the game.
In getting my fourth character to level cap in Rift before the Storm Legion expansion, my run became very much a matter of progress over everything else.
Progress, and giving feedback on progress, can be very powerful motivators. There is a reason we went from the dark ages of TorilMUD, where you had to travel back to town to speak to your guild leader to see where you stood in your progress to the next level (and he would only give a vague answer that you could translate into which 10% segment of the climb you were in), to the tiny little five bubble experience bar in the character window in EverQuest which used to cause people to track progress in pixels (I had a friend who used to take a before and after screen shot every time he played so he could compare the bars and get an exact pixel count), to experience bars that are part of the main UI and which go from edge to edge across the screen, chopped up into nice little 5% increment.
This whole thing is exacerbated by the general “more levels” expansion plan that MMORPGs have been using since at least Ruins of Kunark. When you start a game and you are staring at 85-90 levels to get to the latest content… presumably the “best” content, or at least the content where most of the population is playing… It becomes just that much harder to ignore progress in favor of content.
And it is not just the fantasy MMORPG where this holds sway. I was thinking about why I left off playing World of Tanks earlier this year. In part I think it was because I had hit a point where I was logging on every night to get my “first win” bonus XP with a couple of tanks on trees that I wanted to advance, and then logging off when I was done. The fights seemed like they were becoming secondary to progression, at which point you sort of have to ask yourself why you are playing. In my case, that dialog seems to happen somewhere in my subconscious and I simply stop logging in if it comes out the wrong way. And now that I have picked up War Thunder, which has a similar daily bonus scheme, I wonder if I will end up in the same rut over there eventually.
It is easy at this point to say that we should focus on games without levels and the like. But we will find our various progress metrics. There are no levels in EVE Online, but people will track their progress in ISK, skill points, kills, standings, loyalty points, or being in one of the alliances on the sovereignty map. We do like to have our cut and dried indicators. And I think if you worked to eliminate all such things, you might just end up with no game at all.
Progress is in these games for a reason. It can be both a good and a bad motivator. I like the idea of getting to level cap. In a number of MMOs my having arrived at that point meant me feeling done, in both a satisfying and a terminal way. And progress, in my mind, is invariably tied in with the journey. I couldn’t really get myself on board with SOE’s play to sell the jump to level 85 in EverQuest II. In part that was because of the mire of skills and points and what not you are handed without any context. But it also feels a bit like cheating, jumping up all those levels. That is my own feeling anyway. I wouldn’t point fingers at those who chose that path, but in my gut it feels like skipping all that progress… even though I have no inclination to do it myself at this point… is skipping the game.
Which sort of ties progress back to content in some odd way in my brain. But, in the end, do I play the content in order to progress, or progress in order to play content? And is there a “right” balance in there somewhere?
How do you feel about the balance between content and progress?