New isn’t always improved

Poor Sara Pickell. I did it to her again, posting a long rambling rant in the comments section of her blog, answering her post as if I knew exactly what she was basing her post on, which honestly I didn’t.

I *have* to stop doing this stuff to her. Something about her posts just gets me charged up for debate though. Maybe that means she’s succeeding. Anyway Sara if you’re reading this, feel free to nuke my comments over there, cause I’m basically going to turn that tirade into a post here.

Sara’s post, titled “Do Players Want Something New?” started thusly:

During the latest round of blogs, I’ve heard a large number of people saying “players don’t want something too new anyways.” This is hardly a new topic of thought for me, but I thought I’d go into some persuasive hyperbole on the topic.

I assumed this post was tied into the backlash against Brent at VirginWorlds. I may have assumed correctly, or I may not have, but either way assuming is never a good idea.

But I *am* going to respond to the backlash to the backlash, so to speak. It’s like a blogging tennis game or something. Here’s what I left as a comment on Sara’s post, a bit cleaned up. I’m building off a few prior topics.

The gist of Brent’s post, to me, said: War isn’t anything new, ergo War is no fun.

To which many of us posted something along the lines of “We don’t need new mechanics to make a game fun.”

To which Sara responded: “You can’t know you don’t want something that hasn’t been invented yet.”

OK so let’s finally get to it… and really it won’t all make sense if you haven’t read Sara’s post. So go read that first.

———————–

Well first of all, anyone that says “Players don’t want..” anything is wrong, since “players” encompasses so broad a community that about the only absolute you can apply to them is that they have an interest in games. Tangential, but my pet peeve this week is bloggers speaking opinions and personal preferences as if they’re absolute truths. I’m trying to get better about that, myself.

If someone invented a vacuum cleaner that was cheap, silent, and converted the dust it sucked up to energy so you’d never have to plug it in, pretty much everyone would now want that kind of vacuum cleaner. Because now we have a more efficient TOOL. It would be almost universally hailed as “better” and an improvement. New *and* Improved.

But games aren’t tools, they’re pastimes. When FPS first hit the market, it didn’t mean suddenly Commander Keen and Jazz Jackrabbit were no longer fun. To this day, there’s a large sub-section of “gamers” that really enjoy retro games more than they enjoy cutting edge, boundary-pushing games. For them, New does not equate to Improved.

Turning it around and looking at the on-going Brent vs The Blogosphere discussion another way, Sony has been promoting The Agency as a very different kind of MMO. If when it ships, it’s another Diku variant, I’ll be disappointed because the expectation is that we’re getting something ‘new’.

But Mythic never said Warhammer was a revolutionary new kind of MMO. Those of us who got excited about it were fine with that. We didn’t want or expect something ‘too new’. We wanted a Diku MMORPG with strong RvR components based on Warhammer Lore. And that’s what Mythic is delivering. No foul, at least from our point of view. Had Brent said “I was really hoping Warhammer Online was going to be revolutionary, but Mythic chose not to build such a game, so I’m not interested in it.” that would’ve been fine. But instead he said it wasn’t fun, and then (what a stunner!), he went back to Age of Conan, which is *less* revolutionary than Warhammer!!

OK, let’s turn the issue around yet another way. The Superbowl is around the corner, and my friends and I are pumped. We’ve got the party all planned. 6 foot subs, a keg, big screen tv… we’re all set. Then they announce that this year, the Superbowl will be broadcast in a new VR technology. This technology puts you right there on the field and lets you watch the game in ways we’ve never dreamed of…but to watch it, everyone has to climb into a VR Isolation Pod.

Here’s something “better” that we never expected, but guess what? My friends and I were all ready to watch the game the old fashioned way. We WANT the old fashioned way. We want to slap each other on the back and cheer together. And here’s Brent telling us that we’re wrong, that the Superbowl is NO FUN to watch the old way. And we’re saying “We don’t want this to change.” and you’re [Sara] faulting us for that, trying to show us the error of our ways. [In retrospect, this was very harsh and unfair of me, but for completeness sake I left it in.] For us in this example, New != Improved.

When you get to my age you’ll learn that sometimes, or at least for some people, the old ways really ARE better. Taking an established lore, beloved by many, and applying it to a tried and true methodology is a Good Thing for some of us. And from a business standpoint it makes even more sense. It has nothing to do with not being able to want what doesn’t exist yet. It has to do with enjoying the container that we have now, but filling it with a new kind of wine.

YOU [again, Sara, who lists herself as a designer] should be (and I have no doubt you will be) creating the revolution with your smaller, niche products. Prove the concepts, then apply them to a huge multi-million dollar product that directly impacts the livelihood of hundreds of people.

But please don’t gamble our chance for a Warhammer MMO on radical new ideas. We want to enjoy the lore in a familiar framework, and that’s what Mythic has promised us from the start. If it isn’t what you want, then give it a pass. I don’t see how tearing down a game (and now I’m referring back to Brent) for being what it set out to be, and not what you wanted it to be, is in any way productive.

/end cranky old man rant

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One thought on “New isn’t always improved

  1. While this may be a propos in the realm of MMOs, where lore can be integrated with an existing, largely unchanged game concept, I honestly disagree with this argument when it comes to other genres. People really don’t often know they want something until a realization of this “something” comes along and makes the current crop of games in the genre seem… stale, or in need of evolution. Again, this isn’t much the case with MMOs because players of this genre love conventions… I’d argue more than others.

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