Time, adversity and too many choices

This morning I was reading Dusty Monk’s latest post over at Of Course I’ll Play It. It’s a great read about Guild Wars in particular and difficulty in games in general. Dusty just finished the Nightfall campaign after a lot of struggling, research and experimentation. So how’d that feel? To quote him: …when you do at last get through that last mission, you are filled with an incredible sense of accomplishment.

It got me to thinking about difficulty in games and overcoming adversity to get those tough wins. I have vague memories of such conquests from back in Ye Olden Times but really nothing that recent. So that set me off to naval gazing about my gaming habits again.

To be blunt, when I run into a really difficult point in a game these days, I just move to another game. I wish that weren’t the case but it is. Is it because I’ve become a gaming wimp? Do I just suck more than I used to? A little bit, particularly when it comes to twitchy games. My reflexes and eyesight aren’t as keen as they once were.

But the bigger issue is that I HAVE TOO MANY CHOICES! Whenever I’m playing a game about 85% of my concentration is on the game I’m playing and the other 15% is thinking about what I’m going to play next, since my “Pile Of Shame” (games I’ve purchased but not really played much) is always growing. So whenever I hit a point in a current game that stops forward progress it makes me feel like it’s going to be even longer before I get to the next game.

Now obviously this is a First World Problem. Gaming is my main hobby and I’m financially comfortable enough that I can buy pretty much any game I really want. I’m not complaining about that. But it does create a situation much different from the days when a good game would come out once a month or even less often. Back then I had fewer distractions and so I was more willing to stick with a single game.

So well I really enjoyed reading about Dusty’s extensive research (both hands-on and archival) that finally brought him to the end of his journey, I have to be honest with myself and admit that I’m never, ever going to finish a Guild Wars campaign if it means hours of research figuring out how to do it. In the same way I’ve accepted that I’m never going to play EVE Online meaningfully since it, too, is a game that requires a lot of research and playtime in order to play the game well. Wurm Online, same thing.

I love that these games exist but I have to accept that I just don’t have the ability to focus on one game for that long any more.

And yet at the same time I rant and rave about it when an IP gets a long-awaited sequel or reboot and it’s been made easier.

Because I am apparently a crazy person.

Side Note: My old PS3 died a week or two ago. Tried to fix it but no dice. So I ordered a new “Slim” model. Rather than copying the data from my old PS3 over, I just copied off my save games. On the new PS3 I’ve installed just 4 games. Assassin’s Creed 1, Little Big Planet 2, Dungeon Hunter: Alliance and Need For Speed Shift 2. My plan is not to install anything else until I’ve finished one of these 4, just as a way to try to keep myself focused. My old PS3 had 95 PS3 games and a bunch of Minis and PS1 classics installed on it. It was overwhelming!

The end of the MMO road?

I’m not the first blogger to write a post like this recently and I wonder why it’s happening all of a sudden.

Nickle tour of my MMO gaming life: I’ve been playing them pretty much since they’ve been making them. I played MMOs before they were called MMOs and you had to pay $6/hour to play on GEnie. Or even more on Compuserve. All the big early players, I played at least for a while. And I might be done.

I came to this realization when thinking about this weekend’s SW:TOR beta. I wasn’t excited to partake in it. I have the client, have the account set up. In theory once it opens all I have to do is log in, and I probably will, just to gawk a bit. But really play? No, I don’t think so.

I was thinking that it just wouldn’t be worth the effort, given that our progress gets wiped on Monday.

And that’s when it hit me. I play MMOs for progress and really only for progress. I don’t play them because the minute-to-minute experience of playing them is fun for me. It used to be; I remember a time where every battle, or at least many battles, felt exciting and interesting. These days it feels more like an exercise in mundane repetition.

Just to be absolutely clear, this isn’t a slam on SW:TOR; the game systems of pretty much all MMOs are the same way. I’m just using SW:TOR as an example, and anyway this is about me and my personal preferences, not about the games, which continue to be wildly popular. Also consider I solo much of the time; battles of course get more interesting as you add more people to them (and therefore more variability). That’s why I liked Rift so much in the early days when people fought the titular rifts.

Anyway I’ll wait for SW:TOR to launch and play it then when my progress will be saved. I’m still interested by all the people talking about how compelling the stories are. In my first beta weekend I only got to level 7 so really didn’t get engaged in any stories that time out. If the stories are really that interesting I’ll stick around, otherwise I’ll just play my 30 days and move on.

I might need to give DC Universe Online another look; as I recall that had combat that was a bit more fun. But why can’t MMOs have combat (and other) systems as rich and interesting and compelling as non-MMOs? How about throwing in the odd puzzle, or climbing section, or something to mix things up? Why do I have to turn to Uncharted or Skyrim to have a good story and fun combat and a rich mix of things to do? Shouldn’t we be getting more from a $15/month game than we do from a 1-shot $60 game?

Fellow gamers: We have free will!

So you may have heard, Skyrim launched. I’ve been playing every spare minute this weekend and so far, it’s quite fun, but like any other open world game there’s gonna be some quirks.

This one was making the rounds even before the game launched:

Silly, huh? I kind of love it when people weird stuff like this.

Not everyone finds it amusing though. I’ve encountered at least one person, a game designer at a major developer, who is calling on Bethesda to “for the love of god” fix the issue. When someone else asked him why, he said that it breaks the illusion that it is a functioning world and turns the game into a farce.

(I’m not mentioned names or linking to the discussion because that last time I did that the person who I linked to got very upset and has since stopped interacting with me, and anyway I’m just using this one incident as an example.)

I thought this outlook was a little bit extreme, given that the issue is easily avoided and in fact if this video hadn’t been making the rounds very few people would have ever considered putting a bucket on the head of an NPC. Full disclosure: I’ve been playing since Friday and I’m not sure how the person you made this video picked up the item to move it like that. My interaction with things has been limited to ‘click to put it in inventory’ or ‘click to drop it from inventory.’ [According to the YouTube comments shudder you hold down the ‘pick up’ button…haven’t tested it yet.]

If Skyrim was a multiplayer game I’d be more sympathetic to the idea that this is something Bethesda has to fix ASAP, but it isn’t. It’s a completely single player game with not even so much as a leaderboard to compare your progress to that of friends. You should play it the way that you enjoy, and if using the old ‘bucket over the head’ trick breaks the game for you: just don’t do it!

This isn’t the first or the last time that this kind of an issue comes up, and the person I’m referring to isn’t alone. It seems to be a compulsion among video gamers that every corner that can be cut must be cut, and every exploit uncovered must be used. Why is that?

When did we lose the ability to create our own rules and follow them? Who didn’t have ‘house rules’ for Monopoly back in the day? Pen & Paper RPGers make up complete rulesets for themselves. Boardgamers do the same thing. If something about a game bothers them, they come up with a house rule to make it more to their liking.

But as soon as a game turns electronic and starts enforcing the rules for us, we seem to forget we have free will and can layer our own ‘house rules’ over the rules the machine enforces. So make a ‘house rule’ that says “No buckets on the heads of NPCs” and enjoy the damned game!

Real emotions from our games?

Over the weekend I read an interesting post by Dan Cook over at Lost Garden: Shadow Emotions and Primary Emotions. In it, Cook coins the phrase “shadow emotions” to indicate emotions that we experience second-hand, while “primary emotions” are emotions that impact us directly. Using Cook’s examples, feeling sad after reading a news story about a mother dying is a shadow emotion, while feeling sad because your own mother died is a primary emotion.

Cook says AAA game developers work hard to deliver shadow emotion experiences in much the same way that books and movies do. But, he suggests, game developers can do more and that games are one of the few art forms that can let us feel primary emotions. When your character dies in a permadeath game the feeling of sadness you feel is a primary emotion, for instance. (Still using his examples.) When a spawn camper takes you out several times in a row, the rage you feel is a primary emotion.

I think Cook makes some really interesting points, but I don’t want to follow him down this path. The basic premise of the essay seems to me that primary emotions are a goal game devs should reach for. My problem with this theory is that most of his examples are of negative emotions. Sadness and anger. His positive example (elation) revolves around hitting a goal in a game.

The problem, for me at least, is that as much as I gain satisfaction from reaching a goal in a game, that emotion is fairly fleeting. But if another player pisses me off to the point where I feel rage, I can carry that baggage into my real life far too easily. I’ll be in a bad mood for the rest of the day, sometimes. Maybe this is why I generally play solo?

I think, when I come home from a long, tiring day at work, that ‘shadow emotions’ are plenty for me. I’m not sure I want my games invoking powerful primary emotions, either good or bad. I play to relax. I might be swayed if someone could convince me that we’d get as much positive as negative emotions out of our games, but I’d have to experience that kind of game to know for sure.

I’m also not sure how to categorize the feeling of contentment I get when I finish a game. Is that primary or shadow? I’m not sure it’s different form the feeling of contentment I get from finishing a book.

Anyway, agree or not, it’s a fascinating essay and I encourage you to give it a read.

Game devs: don’t challenge me!

So yeah, The 3rd Birthday is already starting to gather dust. Why? It isn’t you, Aya. It’s me.

I’ve discovered something about myself; I don’t want game developers challenging me.

Now wait! Hear me out. I don’t want them challenging me…I want them to give me ways to challenge myself.

Let me explain that.

About 1% of the way into The 3rd Birthday I hit a level where I have to avoid a monster. You’re told you can’t fight this thing: it’s all about evasion. The creature has 2 attacks. One of them knocks down about 1/3rd of your health with each hit, the other seems to 1 shot me. You have to dodge this baddie for some set amount of time, then you get warp out of the area.

I failed this mission the first time. And the 2nd. And the 3rd, at which point I headed to Gamefaqs to see if there was a trick. There wasn’t. Then I failed a 4th and 5th time, then I put the game down and haven’t gone back to it.

I’m not saying it’s a particularly difficult mission. But I’m old, my reflexes aren’t what they once were and the camera controls are awful so I can’t keep an eye on the beast. The difficulty, or lack thereof, of this mission isn’t the point of my rant today.

My point is, there’s nowhere to go in The 3rd Birthday except past this mission. The developers have challenged me to beat it, and I’m feeling resentment about that.

That doesn’t mean I want all my game playing to be easy, though. Consider a typical MMO. When I log in, I can decide “I’m going to try something really difficult tonight!” and head for some tough mobs or into a dungeon. Or I can decide “I’m feeling pretty mellow…I think I’ll just grind some low level mobs for coin and to feel mighty.” and do that. I can dial in my level of challenge on a minute-to-minute basis.

This isn’t limited to MMOs, either. Minecraft is in the news today because it has a launch date. I love Minecraft, buy y’know Notch hardly challenges us at all. Sure we can die but so what? The level of challenge in Minecraft is totally internal. Maybe you just hate to die but you’re determined to rid the world of creepers. Maybe you want to complete a structure before bed. Maybe you’re figuring out how to build a logic-switch in-game. Again, we dial in our own level of challenge.

Lots of (but not all) RPGs give us some leeway too. If an encounter is too difficult we often have the option of going somewhere else for a while, either to take on a different task or in order to level up our characters. This is that “grind” thing that MMO players hate but that lots of single player RPGs revel in. Particularly, it seems, lo-fidelity RPGs that run on handheld gaming consoles. Me, I don’t mind grinding, as long as it’s a choice, not my only option.

I’m sure there are other examples of this. I’m trying to quantify the difference between a totally single-path game that forces you to bang your head against every obstacle the devs put in front of you, and games that have enough lee-way that they offer some other activity for when your frustration level rises. I personally like to feel that I’m making some kind of progress. Die/restart/die/restart/die/restart is the worst of all gaming worlds for me. I come out of those sessions annoyed to have wasted my time and wishing instead I’d read a book or scrubbed a toilet or something. But Die/Restart/LevelUp/Die/Restart/LevelUpSomeMore at least feels like I’m inching forward. Getting some more bits of story can also feel like progress.

Maybe gaming just isn’t a good activity for us old, slow people who feel the passage of time more keenly than you younger folk do. I’m very cognizant of the fact that I have a finite number of evenings left in my life. I don’t want to waste even one of them playing a game where I make no progress. Not when there are so many thousands of games, books and movies I want to experience before I take on my ghost form!

In defense of new players

I was going to let this WoW discussion go but then Spinks described my humor post as “whining” and got me all riled up again. 🙂 Apparently the first commandment of MMO blogging is “Thou Shalt Not Question Anything Blizzard Does.”

I do admit that one of my problems is mixing twitter and blogs, though. I’ll be having a conversation on Twitter and it’ll inspire a blog post and without the context of twitter the blog post can seem a little unbalanced. For instance on Twitter I’ve been urging people to try out the new WoW starter areas for the lore and storylines. I don’t think I’ve said here on the blog that you should do that: so now I have. The actual gameplay is very bland and unchallenging but in between the gameplay there’s a lot of narrative and spectacle that can be very enjoyable. You can easily burn through this on a 10-Day Free pass or a Scroll of Resurrection and I do believe it is worth seeing.

But let me roll up my sleeves and get back to pissing off the WoW Devoted out there.

A lot of the pushback on my concerns about the new low-level experience is that it wasn’t made for me, it was made for new players coming into the game.

Well I have a lot to say about that.

First of all, I just mentioned the lore and the narrative. Well guess what? Those will mean *nothing* to someone brand new to WoW. The reason I enjoy them is that I have a vague sense of what has been going on in the world of Warcraft. So when I hear about the return of Malfurion Stormblade or whoever, even though I can’t remember the name enough to spell it right, he’s at least familiar to me. When the story goes on about the Night Elves losing their immortality…that means something to me from playing the ‘old’ WoW. A brand new player is going to be totally lost. A hardcore WoW player (which I am not) who is very familiar with the lore will revel in this content.

So my conclusion is that this new low-level experience is intended, at least in one aspect, to give the veterans something new.

Second issue is that Blizzard needed to make things easier for new players because the old system was too hard. The astonishing arrogance of this statement boggles me. Essentially the WoW vets are saying “Well of course WE were smart and clever enough to learn it, but those people out there who don’t yet play WoW are much too moronic to figure out such a complex game without extensive hand-holding.”

This is bullshit. Someone mentioned that 70% of people who try WoW never get to level 10, the implication being that this new, easier newbie experience will reduce that statistic. Well guess what? 70% of the people who try Farmville never get to level 10 either (I made that stat up but I feel confident the percentage is pretty high). If Zynga made Farmville easier (somehow?) would that stat go down? I doubt it. It isn’t that Farmville is too hard, that’s for sure. And y’know what? Low level WoW isn’t that hard either. It never has been.

Maybe 70% of the people who try the game just get bored? Or don’t see the appeal? Or maybe it isn’t exciting enough.

I’m thinking of the much maligned ‘casual’ player coming to WoW from Diner Dash where she (I dunno why the casual gamer is always assumed to be a woman but I’m going with it for now) has had a constant progression of challenge as she advanced through levels. Her brain is in overdrive as she constantly scans the game board and the mouse dances under her fingers as she guides Flo back and forth at breakneck pace to keep the customers happy.

Now someone convinces her to log into $15/month WoW where she finds she is mostly a passive observer. It’s pretty and kind of interesting but she doesn’t really DO very much. Combat is slow paced and no matter how nimble her mind and fingers are, she can’t speed it up.

Now, you and I know that things will get very very different later on in her WoW career, but she doesn’t know that. As far as she is concerned, after playing for 4-5 hours, WoW is kind of an interactive storybook. That she has to pay $15/month to play. So she goes back to her more exciting casual games.

In a recent post Spinks said “Maybe you have even forgotten what it was like to panic every time a mob attacked you, freak out any time you thought you might be lost, and not really understand how the genre works yet.

She may as well have said “Maybe you have even forgotten what it was like to have fun playing an MMO.” Panic from being attacked, freaking out at getting lost? Not understanding every number and nuance of the world? Hell yes, sign me the heck up, PLEASE! That sounds wonderfully fun to me. Robbing new players of that fun seems downright criminal.

Anyway… I think I’ve vented my spleen on this now. I’m not quitting my return to WoW over the new player experience or anything and I still have Cataclysm pre-ordered (Collector’s Edition, even). But, as with so many other games, when I see what I perceive as a design flaw, I’m going to talk about it. WoW doesn’t get a Free Pass just because Blizzard made it.

I love the spectacle of the new player experience. I just think that, if anything, Blizzard will lose MORE new players with this new system since they hold the player’s hand too firmly and for too long. Most players (I think anyway) want some excitement in their games. They want to feel a sense of risk/reward. Take away the risk and it just feels boring. Remember as far as these new players know, this is the entire WoW experience.

Currently my new Druid is level 18 or 19 and still spamming 2-3 skills over and over again. Even when I deliberately ‘broke’ a quest (I left an instanced area prematurely) and got jumped by 4 mobs I wasn’t in any real danger, though I did have to self-heal. By doing just the quests you’re hand fed, you’re constantly 4 levels above the trash mobs and 2 above the named mobs. I don’t think at this point a new player would be learning very much. I *am* very interested to see how the game transitions from this hand-holding phase to “OK now you can go and make your own choices.” I hope they do it well.

Sure, give new players 2-3 hours of hand holding to get them started, but by the time the player has put in 5 hours (for normal people this is 2-3 evenings of play) they should start getting a sense of what the real gameplay is all about. At least, I think so.

When WoW subs shoot up to 22 million you can all say you told me so. 🙂

Question of the Day: Would you play an MMO if you knew it only had a year to live?

Wow, not sure I ever tried a title that long… let’s see what happens.

Anyway, all this idle speculation about the future of Warhammer Online (not to mention Champions, not to mention the early death of Tabula Rasa) has me wondering something.

Would you start playing an MMO if you knew it was only going to be around for 9-12 months?

I’m not going to do a formal poll but I’ll offer my own conflicted answers to the question, just to get you started.

On the one hand, I have an unhealthy level of curiosity about games, so knowing a title won’t be around too long might prompt me to sign up just so I could get a chance to check it out before it ‘dies.’

On the other hand, one of the aspects of MMOs I love is how open-ended and never-ending they are. If I knew one was going to have a limited lifespan, I’m not sure I’d want to bother putting the time into it to ‘establish’ myself.

I do know I quit Tabula Rasa very much intending to come back to it, then when I heard it was shutting down, it didn’t seem worth the effort of going back. Yet I found myself wishing I’d played it more when it launched.

Still I feel conflicted when it comes to answering this question. What about you?

Convenience vs Immersion

By the standards we use to judge games today, Ultima Online, at launch, was a terrible game full of down time and grinding. Let me give you a recap in case you never played it. The land of Sosaria was mostly wilderness when the game launched. There were a handful of cities with guards that offered limited protection (they either had to observe a crime or ‘hear’ you call for help before they’d intercede), but otherwise it was a brutal place to live. Not only was it an open PVP world, but there were thieves who could pluck items out of your pack. When you died, all your belongings stayed on your corpse, available to anyone not above plundering the dead.

Travel? Initially you walked everywhere, dreaming about having a horse. Getting a horse was a matter of either buying one from another player, or spending a lot of time learning to tame animals (first birds and bunnies, then perhaps dogs and cats, and finally horses) and then training it to be ridable. When you finally got a horse, you’d have to keep it fed and treat it well. A mis-treated animal might escape and return to its wild roots. Assuming you did all that correctly you’d have a trusty steed…until some malice-filled cretin decided to kill it on you.

There was also limited teleportion. You’d have to make or buy a rune and then use it to mark a location, after which you could teleport to that location, assuming you had the required reagents. Those were gathered from the wilderness, either by you or another player.

There were some NPC merchants that sold some very basic items, but their stock was limited. These NPCs would buy items from players as well…assuming they needed what the player had to offer. As an NPC’s stock levels rose, they’d offer less and less for that item until finally they’d just stop buying altogether (one conceit to gameplay…every so often NPC stock would ‘reset’ to get rid of excess materials).

What few ‘quests’ existed were found by talking to various NPCs. These didn’t have an ! on top of their head; you had to find them. Crafting meant tedious gathering of materials and working at a forge or a spinning wheel or whatever tool you needed. Gaining skills meant spending a lot of time in front of a training dummy, or beating up lesser creatures. How’d you know it was a lesser creature? Either by common sense (a rat or a bunny) or by trial and error. There was no ‘con’ system to tell you such & such a creature was 1 level below, or 3 levels above, you. (Heck, there were no levels!)

In short, if Ultima Online version 1.0 launched today it would be ripped to shreds by most gamers and reviewers. And you know what? It was a glorious game. The one game that was so compelling that I truly did get ‘addicted’ to it. I missed work because of that game. Lost sleep. It almost destroyed my relationship. These are not things I’m proud to admit, but I share them just to illustrate how compelling the game was.

Today’s games are kinder, gentler beasts. We have fast travel, and clearly marked quests, and death penalties that don’t even feel like penalties. Why? Because that’s what players say they want. We complain if we have to spend more than a few minutes traversing the world to meet up with friends. We complain if we lose progress. We complain if we have to repeat the same actions multiple times, calling the game a grindfest.

And the developers hear us and they adjust their designs to give us what we want.

And the more the devs do this, the more I hear about RPG ennui. People jump from game to game, looking for something sticky but not finding it. They give up the genre altogether, or resign themselves to retreating to whatever game they have high-level characters (or a bunch of friends) in. Often this retreat is done out of resignation rather than enthusiasm.

Enter Fallen Earth and Demon’s Souls. Now the latter isn’t an MMO, but the point I’m making isn’t limited to MMOs. Both of these games buck the trend of adding convenience to games. Fallen Earth has no fast travel. It doesn’t have an apocalyptic Walmart where you can go and buy anything and everything you need. You have to ‘grind’ a lot in terms of gathering materials to get good enough to make the items you need, or to get enough cash up to buy what you need from other players or the few NPC suppliers out there. It isn’t a complete throwback, mind you. The death penalty is very light, there’s no theft and your transport can’t be killed or stolen.

But a lot of what Fallen Earth does is ‘wrong’ by the standards players demand from modern games. And yet people who try it out tend to stick with it. This shouldn’t be. The game isn’t all that polished, the graphics pale in comparison to something like Aion, the interface is kind of clunky and has to be learned. But the population of the game continues to grow while that of Aion and Champions Online apparently dwindles.

Demon’s Souls should be a flop, too. It’s an RPG with no quests, a relatively stiff death penalty, a ton of grinding, non-consensual PvP and game systems that can only be figured out by trial and error. And yet all the reviews that I’ve read have been glowing, and the community is enthusiastic as hell. The game is compelling and engrossing.

What’s the common theme between Fallen Earth and Demon’s Souls? Immersion. All the convenience factors in modern games make them feel like modern games. The boring stuff, the frustrating stuff…that makes these games feel like immersive worlds. Without pain there can be no pleasure, to go all zen on you. A reward without any struggle just isn’t as sweet (for many of us) as a reward we had to work for.

This doesn’t apply to everyone who plays games. Not in the slightest. But it applies to those of us who still embrace the Role Playing in RPgs. I’m not talking about role playing in the sense of gathering with a few other players and doing a skit. I mean the internal role playing that some of us do. The role playing that lets us use these games as portals to other worlds, the same way a good book can do.

If you don’t know what I mean by that, this post won’t make sense and I’m sure you’ll disagree with it. That’s fine. But if you get what I’m saying…if you know the delight of just sinking into a good virtual world and existing in there for a few hours, then please give Fallen Earth and/or Demon’s Souls a try. Both are excellent ‘throw-back’ games that bring the immersion back to our hobby. Games like this need our support. We need to send a message to game developers that there are still players who appreciate a good immersive game, and who still appreciate a challenge.


I’m a bit behind schedule, but there’s been some talk about Achievements lately and I wanted to toss in my 2 coppers.

So for all intents and purposes, Achievements got their start on the Xbox. Lots of games had 1-off kinds of things like in-game medals to collect, but Microsoft hit on something huge when they launched their cross-game points-based Achievements. Gamerscore became data point #1 for bragging rights.

Now, I’ve had a Gamertag for 6 years and my Gamerscore is 3,510, so that tells you something about how interested in Xbox Achievements I have been. (Plus I’ve gone long periods nursing a seething hatred for the Xbox 360 due to reliability issues, though I’ve gotten past that now.)

In terms of MMOs, Achievement-esque systems are big these days. LOTRO has the Deed system, Warhammer has the ToK, WoW has Achievements, Champions Online has Perks… all variations on a theme.

But a lot of these systems are rubbish. Why? Because the rewards are rubbish. Kill 5,000 mottled southern orcs and get a title. Big whoop. Finish this Xbox game on Insane Difficulty and get 100 gamerscore. Yawn!

LOTRO’s Deed system is meaningful in that it helps you sculpt your characters (you get Traits that you can slot by doing Deeds). Champions’ Perks seem to have some real impact on your character as well (I’m being vague due to 1 part NDA and 1 part ignorance here). WoW, as far as I know, only gives you titles. And I think Warhammer gave you badges that no one could see? Someone will correct me if I’m wrong here. I know I got badges from somewhere!

But anyway I digress, because there’s a new game in town. Microsoft recently released the Avatar Marketplace, where you can spend money on clothing and accessories for your Xbox Avatar. But more interestingly, the system supports *unlocking* clothing and accessories via earning in-game Achievements.

Sony is doing the same thing. For a long while their Trophies were just a score card, but now they’re adding virtual items for your Playstation Home apartment and avatar. (Granted we still need a good reason to log into Home to see this stuff. Playing Buzz is a tiny step in the right direction.)

I’m excited about these new systems. Points and Titles grew passe long ago, at least for me, but stupid little virtual geegaws from my stupid little avatar? That gets me excited. And no, sadly enough, I’m *not* being sarcastic, though I am laughing at myself as I admit this. Warhammer’s badges, had they been more visible, would’ve had me running all over the place trying to earn them, but they were so subtle that I couldn’t even notice them on my own character, let along on other peoples’.

I guess it all boils down to individuality. Earning these bits and bobs gives me the raw materials I need to make a more unique avatar. It’s all fluff, of course, whether on the 360, PS3 or in an MMO. But I’m a huge fan of fluff. I’ll happily do a quest to get some decorative item for my in-game house, y’know?

No real point to this lunchtime ramble beyond: More, please! I hope more MMO developers pick up this idea and run with it, adding achievement-related ‘appearance items’ or housing items to let us customize our characters and build a visible record of our journey. EQ2’s house items often come from quests, not achievements (though I suppose its a thin line between one and the other when you come right down to it), but it’s still cool that you can go into someone’s house, look at the various trophy items on their wall, and know where they’ve had to go in order to earn those items (assuming you’re steeped in the lore, that is).

On both the Xbox and the PS3, these new systems are just starting to ramp up. I hope they wind up being wildly popular. It’s always a good thing when devs add another way to enjoy the games we’re laying out $60 for.

Revisting Bartle’s MMO player types

We haven’t talked about the old Killer-Socializer-Explorer-Achiever thing in a while. Time to drag it out and beat it again…

So to start, I would self-categorize myself as almost full on Explorer. Logic:

Killer — I don’t like being killed in an MMO. And I assume that other people don’t like being killed, either. I am, when centered, a generally nice person. I don’t like to inflict pain, suffering or unhappiness on other people. (Other people would probably not say I’m a nice person because I am often not centered, and when I’m frustrated, or angry, or sad, I’m a royal son-of-a-bitch, but we generally point our introspection lens at ourselves when we are ‘neutral’.) So I don’t like PVP because I don’t like killing other people because I assume that upsets them, and I get no pleasure out of upsetting other people.

But, curiously enough, even though I don’t like being killed, I do kind of like being in danger. It really adds something to the MMO experience when you know you can be unexpectedly attacked at any moment (in days of yore you’d have to worry about that from NPCs, but that’s not often the case these days).

Point being, I don’t put my Killer quotient at zero, but it’s pretty low. I enjoy, now and then, the thrill of running through PvP areas and having to be on the lookout constantly.

Socializer — I solo almost exclusively. I don’t chat a lot; I’m *extremely* impatient with people who are intolerant, and most MMOs are full of people who are intolerant. The irony of me being intolerant of people who are intolerant is not lost on me…I wouldn’t want to talk to me, either. 🙂 I do like to swoop in and save people in trouble; that makes me feel heroic. I do like player-driven economies and the dynamic feel that lots of players brings to a game. I love people watching, in game and out. People are strange and twisted beasts and you never know what they’ll do next.

Point here being, Socializer again very low, but not quite at zero.

And now things get really interesting.

I would self-evaluate myself as being low Achiever, and high Explorer. Or I would have, until I got into a comment thread with Tipa over gaining levels. Quick summary: Tipa thinks of leveling as a chore, and she’d just assume games not have levels. She points to Eve as a game where you can go anywhere and do anything on Day 1.

Now that baffled me. It’d be like saying you don’t like ice cream! There’s nothing wrong at all with not liking ice cream, but I just find it hard to fathom. I love gaining levels, or speaking more generally, progressing a character (levels, talents, skills, traits, gear…whatever ‘increases’ to make your character more capable).

Tipa says she is an Explorer, not an Achiever, and that explains why she feels the way she does.

It took me a few days of pushing this around in my brain before I realized that I *am* an Achiever. I never thought I was because I very, very rarely make level cap. I never log in with intent to gain more levels, but when I do get them, I smile a lot. I never raid, I never stay up past a reasonable bedtime in pursuit of a goal. I don’t feel driven my Achiever-ness. But it turns out I am an Achiever.

I’m Explorer too, but that exploration has to be tempered with Achiever goals. Give me a brand new MMO where I can toggle on god mode and fly everywhere around the world and see everything the game has to offer, and I’m done with the game in a week. To me, Exploring new parts of an MMO world is the reward for Achieving new levels. [Tangent: I love Japanese RPGs, too, even though they tend to be very linear and so not very popular in the West. I love having to ‘earn’ the next bit of the story, the next area to explore. Same basic mechanics as in my MMOs.]

All of which is why I probably don’t buy into the popular “DIKU-MUD based MMOs must DIE” sentiment that is so popular these days. I don’t play for the game mechanics, I play to Explore a new world. Once I stop regularly visiting new areas in a game, I move on to another game. The mechanics are irrelevant, and in fact I might argue that I prefer them not to change much because I don’t feel like putting in the effort to learn a new set of controls. Take WoW or EQ2, strip out the geography, lore and npcs and replace those with new geography, lore and npcs and I’ll happily repurchase as a new game.

So I think if I were to self assign my Bartle archetype, it’d be something like:

Explorer: 40%
Achiever: 40%
Killer: 10%
Socializer: 10%

(Not that Bartle results add up to 100%)

For reference, the last time I took the test I was:

How about you? Forget the test… how do you see yourself?

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After reading such a diatribe, I can at least share with you the kinds of views I play for:


Click through for 1680×1050 wallpaper versions.