Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Let us eat cake

Ryan Shwayder of Nerfbat has an interesting note up on his blog that I've been meaning to comment on for the last few days about Risk vs Reward in MMO's. Basically, he says that in order for the reward to feel rewarding, it has to come with a significant risk of failure.

I want to point out that there are different types of 'fun', i.e. reward, that someone can have in a game. For now, let's talk about just the two examples implied as the reward in Ryan's post. I will define these as:

"Nintendo" fun - the player continually tries and tries to beat something and then feels a rush when they finally manage to do it

"Shiny" fun - the less gameplay-linked aspect of "achievement" fun. i.e., getting new shiny items/levels/powers. I like to also call this "loot whore" fun, mainly to annoy people that I consider to be "loot whores".

Now, some people prefer the 'loot whore' form of fun. These people will be annoyed if an obstacle is too hard, because they are less likely to get their loot. Others prefer the 'Nintendo' form of fun. These people will be annoyed if an obstacle is too easy, because they like challenges. In reality, everybody falls in to both categories to varying degrees, and so will generally be pissed off in some way at some thing or another.

I think the standard MMO design tactic to circumvent this seeming paradox is to create the illusion of challenge. It's challenging to flip tails five times in a row on a coin toss, however there's precious little you can do to affect the outcome of the coin toss. Similarly it's challenging to beat a mob a few levels above you in WoW, but your actual actions in the game don't really matter much. I like to refer to this as 'faux gameplay'.

So, everyone feels challenged (but they actually aren't), and everyone gets loot. But, everyone is left feeling kind of a bit hollow (or maybe it's just me...)

Maybe a better way would be to actually divorce the 'Nintendo' aspect from the 'loot whore' aspect. Give players loot regardless of whether they succeed. Give the feedback for the 'Nintendo' typed players in the traditional form of high scores, ranking charts, harder difficulty levels, optional more challenging areas, etc.

Now, the reduced number of players QQ-ing on the forums may be offset slightly by the increased number QQ-ing about how all the 'n00bz' are getting the epic lewtz and how their e-peen is feeling dangerously under-nourished as a result. However, this is a small price to pay in my book, as this way we could have MMO's with actual gameplay that retain their addictive 'loot whore' nature.

In other words, we could have our cake and eat it too.


mbp said...

Adding the word "multiplayer" to the game seems to change everything.

In a single player game nobody cares that there is a difficulty slider. You can set it to a level that provides a challenge and still enjoy getting more powerful you progress through the game. I have never heard complaints about people setting the slider to easy mode just to get to the ph4t l3wt at the end of the game.

In multiplayer games people get very upset at the thought of others being able to get loot for less effort than themselves even in non-competitive games. I sort of understand it but then again I don't really understand it.

Chris F said...

I go out for dinner by myself, eat, drink, tip. Decent experience.

I go out with friends, eat the same food, same drinks, tip. It is a much better experience.

The "pleasure" from an MMO is that although you are doing something you can do easily by yourself, because other people witness it it is somehow an achievement.

There is little skill required in AAA MMO's these days, because skill is a barrier for entry, which is a barrier to subscription dollars.

Ixobelle said...

Call me a loot whore, but this setup makes no sense.

Players get loot regardless of whether or not they 'win'? Hate to debunk it here, but it's been stated many a time that if clicking a single red button over and over would be the most efficient way to progress in an MMO, over half the population would be camping the red button.

Players optimize the fun out of games. By giving loot away for failing, it's even easier to get the loot, and every group would fail intentionally, because it's EASIER.

Yes, it's sad, but then what are you faced with? People doing fights just for the challenge of doing them, when no reward is offered? I dunno... not trying to be a huge pessimist here, but I really don't see that happening.

Tesh said...

Then Ix, it's not much of a game. If all you have as a designer is the temptation of loot, with the cost of time and a sub cost, you've already conceded the notion that you're not making a great game, just a pretty Skinner box, and you may as well install that red button.

Those who cry for "challenge" or "fun gameplay" can and should be satisfied when they get it. Loot is irrelevant to that notion, especially if you're out to *play* with other people as Chris notes.

Put another way, if loot is the reason you play, that's fine, but it's not the same thing as asking for challenge and fun.

I'll second mpb, too. The multiplayer aspect of these games naturally leads to insecure people whining about how others play the game. I can see some concern with equality in PvP, but if your game is PvE multiplayer, such whining is ridiculous.

Tesh said...

Oh, and I posted a comment over at Ryan's place mentioning the caveat of different levels of risk tolerance and reward desire. It's pretty simple, and a bit glaring in its omission.

Melf_Himself said...

Ooh, discussion.

Ixo: "People doing fights just for the challenge of doing them, when no reward is offered?"

Think back to every non-MMO game you've ever played - why did you play them? Were they more or less enjoyable while you played them than WoW is? I know you would have logged up more hours in WoW, but how would you rate your fun-per-minute in your favourite single player games compared to in WoW? Was it comparable? For me, I've had much more fun in the non-MMO games because I'm not really much into that 'loot whore' side of things (I really don't mean that as an insult, it's just kind of catchy :p)

The 'ooh shiny' system is like the Dark Side of the Force - it clouds our judgement. It makes us want to do stuff that we don't really want to do - the end justifies the means.

Whereas with good old fashioned gameplay, we enjoy the actual ride itself. And we enjoy it not *just* for the challenge - if you look at the links in the OP, we also like the rush of some games, the strategy in others, learning how to beat obstacles in general, etc.

The system I'm talking about is not really meant to be real, it's more meant to make people think. But such a system really could be workable. It could easily be engineered to prevent the players just choosing to 'fail because it's faster loot'. Going to the extreme, you could literally give them that big red 'dispense loot' button, which they can click every X minutes... Divorce the loot from the encounter entirely, it doesn't matter.

Chris: Ahh, but when your meal comes out and it's fancier than what your friends are eating, you don't /flex and jump onto the table do you :p

It is very true that they make MMO's easy to try and reap in the subscription dollars. I hope companies are starting to realise that needs to change, since it doesn't seem to be working for companies other than Blizzard.

Anonymous said...

I don't know if you caught it but Scott Jennings over at Broken Toys had a post about three months ago that covered this topic.

In his opinion as a game developer what you are calling "faux gameplay" is the only game play there is. The illusion of challenge is the art of game design as he put it.

Melf_Himself said...

I've heard that line of thought before Anonymous. I don't really buy it.

Like, some games really are hard.

I think what Scott means is that 'faux gameplay' is the art of MMO design, as opposed to game design in general. That is what I am saying - developers want to appeal to the masses so they give people a pseudo-game that will not scare anyone away, and then cause them to become addicted with lots of shinies.