Tenfold Hate

Smashing the Calculators
January 29, 2008, 4:42 pm
Filed under: MMORPGs

There are always whisperings of MMORPGs moving away from the classic Gygax-inspired class specific and level-based progression systems that have been with us since the master introduced D&D to the world in the seventies. While I’d like to see games over the next decade introduce different types of character progression, I must admit, there is something satisfying about that type of quantifiable achievement–a concrete affirmation of advancement often times absent in real life. Other quantifiable in-game measurements (from gear bonuses to skill/talent tree “builds”) always seem to dodge the bullet when this issue comes up.

I think the main flaw of current MMORPGs besides static, unchanging worlds is that it’s turned many gamers into statisticians more than role players. Numerical stats are a necessary evil in pen-and-paper because they effect the outcome of the dice. Computer gaming has thrown a veil over the mathematics of things to a certain extent, leaving probability and outcomes to the programmers and giving us “real time” play, mouse clicks, and button mashing over dice rolling.

It’s about time gear and character attributes catch up. Knowing the exact durability or attribute bonuses of a particular item is handy–I’m not arguing that, but I think it saps a good part of the life and imagination out of the game, especially as more and more players enter the genre who don’t come from an RPG background.

Number crunching sucks the life out of the more fantastic elements of fantasy, with players dissecting their characters like a frog in biology class. Sure, you get to know the bits and parts of the subject, but by the time you’re done, old Kermit is lifelessly pinned to the table. There’s nothing inherently wrong with existing formulas and predefined ways to “build” your character–it’s just a shame that it takes so much of the thought and spirit out the more important elements of game play.



I’ve been reading Rules of Play, which is an excellent book. It talks a lot about meaningful play, and I wonder how much levels and character progression means to MMORPG players and what taking it away would do. I think for a lot of people the status is quite important… and I guess we’ll see when WOW starts making it even easier to get from 1-60 how those who fought their way through initially will react.

Comment by shoinan

I’d imagine you’ll have a minority of WoW players who scream and moan about the easier xp curve from one to 60 just as you had hardcore raiders whining when level 62 greens in BC were equal to Tier 1 and some Tier 2 gear. Personally, I love it. I feel it equals the playing field which is always valuable–a great solution until the days of outrageously gear-centric MMOs are dead all together.

Critics see a lot of what WoW did in BC as a further “dumbing down” and simplification of things–but I think it’s one of the many things they got right. No matter how easy or difficult progression is in a game, you’ll have the players who stop and smell the roses, have fun, and enjoy all the game has to offer and the others whose only goal is to burn through levels to endgame. I LIKE the fact now that a casual player can BG for a couple weeks and earn epic gear. Let’s face it, in WoW “epics” are not truly “epic.” Even if only 15% of players are hardcore raiders and 15% of the population has “epic” gear–what is unique, distinctive, or epic in any sense of the word about it?

Raiders pounding their fists about this always struck me as nonsense. They should be raiding for the achievement of downing the bosses and experiencing the content–and most importantly because it’s fun. Just because Blizzard is giving more casual players access to their own fun, doesn’t cheapen theirs. I play WoW and MMORPGs in general for personal enjoyment and achievement. There’s no frenzy for me to be “better than the next guy” even if I’m PvPing–I’m there to have fun. When my old guild started grinding out MC, BWL, and Ony several nights a week for gear, I quit the game for a year. Maybe that’s what gave me the perspective I needed to come back to BC with…

Admittedly, I’ve never read “Rules of Play.” I really should check it out since there’s nothing I love more than to talk about game theory.

Comment by tenfoldhate

You definitely should, it’s got me thinking about the basic concepts of game design rather than getting lost in the mess of standing out and being different.

Certainly I think you have a point in that if people didn’t leave the game (although some did) after Burning Crusade and the gear shift, they are unlikely to leave once the levelling gets really easy.

That’s deviating a little from your article. I think personally it would be nice for MMORPGs to feel a little bit more like roleplay and a little bit less like a leaderboard battle. At the same time if you take Oblivion, where character advancement really signified character specialisation and not progression (since enemies levelled up with you), you lose something from the experience. It’s a difficult balance to master, and I guess in many ways WOW has done it. After all, you and I play it, both safe in the knowledge that we’ll never be the best at it, but we both have fun and have our own goals (mine is to eventually hit 70).

Maybe the answer lies in skill aswell, something that is pretty bereft from most MMORPGs. I admit, I don’t see it happening since RPGs have had little to do with skill in their history. The problem now is that the “best” players in MMORPGs are simply those who’ve played it the most.

Comment by shoinan

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