Tobold's Blog
Monday, June 14, 2004
Why I'm playing what I'm playing

I spent the whole weekend playing Puzzle Pirates. And then I asked myself: Why? I still have a subscription running for City of Heroes, and I'm not yet bored by that game. Why would I play a puzzle MMORPG with simplistic 2D graphics, if I could play a 3D superhero MMORPG instead? While thinking about that question, I came up with a number of reasons:

1) Puzzle Pirates is new to me. When I did the Bartle Test some time ago, my score leaned heavily (70%) on the Explorer side, which is the most frequent of the 4 Bartle types. That is bad news for game companies, becauses it means that player retention is always threatened by new games coming out, even if the new games aren't necessarily better than the old ones.

2) The server is in the right time zone. I'm European, and I subscribed to the local version of Puzzle Pirates (35 Euros for 6 months, cheap). City of Heroes doesn't have European servers. The main interest of playing a MMORPG over a single-player game is the interaction with the other players, especially with your guild of friends. Now my multi-gaming guild The Echelon in CoH is the nicest bunch of guys you could imagine, but the large majority of them lives 8 time zones ahead of me. When I log in on a weekday evening, they are still at work or school. When I log in on a weekend morning, they are just going to bed. And when they come back to play on a weekend afternoon, I'm just about to call it quits. Really frustrating. Nobody's fault, although I'll go with the pope and blame Gallileo for it, a flat earth wouldn't have time zones. :) And not only the time zone in which your guild mates live makes a difference (I was in a European guild on a US EQ server), the time zone where the server is located also makes a difference. If you play when it is prime time for the majority of players, it is a lot easier to find pickup groups, or people to trade with. And language also makes a difference, I often played FFXI when the Americans were sleeping and the Japanese were playing, but being in a group of people you can't chat with isn't all that much fun. So now in Puzzle Pirates I'm on a server in my time zone, speaking my native language.

3) Walking the talk. I always claimed that MMORPG should contain more mini-games, so now I'd better play the one game that offers them. :) Not only out of principle to stick to my word, but also because I knew it would be more fun. For example combat, which is the most game-like "basic repetitive unit" of a classic MMORPG, is still not much of a game. You have very few options which buttons you could press, and when, in a classic MMORPG combat. In Puzzle Pirates each combat, one-on-one or group-vs.-group, is a Tetris-like mini-game, lasting about 5 minutes. You try to build big blocks with falling sword blocks of the same color, and then shatter them, which sends pieces to your opponent, messing up his game. It is a lot more demanding than playing a tanker in CoH.

4) Player skill making a difference. Puzzle Pirates does not have levels. There is some character development through earning money, which then enables you to buy not only clothes, but also better swords (which give a slight advantage in combat), and ultimately your own ship, which opens up new puzzles (navigation related) and content (running a store and shipping goods). Even more money buys you even bigger ships. But the main factor influencing your success in Puzzle Pirates is your own skill. While I didn't "level up" this weekend, I noticed how my player skills in playing the different puzzles increased with practise, which is ultimately more satisfying. If you are skilled, your ship sails faster, and you can beat players in sword combat that have much better swords than you do.

5) Community. I already mentioned time zones, but even more important is what type of players a game attracts. A game that encourages griefing, like Lineage II, is consequently full of griefers. Games in which you can get to the highest levels if you just spend enough time playing, attract the "l33t d00dz", the type of player that can't even correctly spell a single phrase, and then looks down on you because his level is higher. And a game that is all about puzzles attracts people that like to think while playing. In Puzzle Pirates, griefing is nearly impossible. If you attack a ship weaker than yours, a ghost ship full of 100 skeletons can turn up, which is unbeatable and will take all your cargo. Of course all types of players exist in all games, other MMORPG have intelligent and mature gamers too, they are just harder to find there.

So I think I'll play Puzzle Pirates for a while, or switch back and forth between it and City of Heroes. In the end, for a Bartle type Explorer like me, it is all just temporary. There are a lot of "can't miss" games coming this year, World of Warcraft being the biggest one, but EQ2 coming close behind, so 2004 is not really the year in which to settle on one game permanently.
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