Tobold's Blog
Wednesday, March 04, 2009
 
Going for the easy win

I received an interesting mail from Feanadir, in which he wonders why people in games like Team Fortress 2 or World of Warcraft are trying to avoid challenge and go for the easy win instead. He, and I agree with that, thinks that fun in a video game comes from beating a challenge. So why do people try to avoid the challenge and get the reward / win in an easier way?

I can't speak about TF2, but I think in WoW the major problem here is that the challenge is fixed, while the power of players to beat that challenge is variable. Last night I was helping out a guild group in Halls of Lightning (normal) with my priest. Said priest being in full epic gear, we did the Loken fight by just healing through his nova, and not moving at all. That kind of removes most of the challenge of one of the otherwise more difficult 5-man boss fights.

HoL, and especially Loken, on normal are very tough if you have a group of level 78 players, okay if you have a group of freshly minted level 80 players, and trivially easy with level 80 players in full Naxxramas gear. Heroic HoL is very tough with freshly minted level 80, okay with better equipped level 80s, but will probably become trivial when people start running around in Ulduar gear.

As I said, I never played Team Fortress 2. The only shooter that is currently installed on my computer is Call of Duty 2, and I have Call of Duty 4 on the shelf to play after that. Now there is no denying that I suck a shooters, due to lack of practice and maybe age. Nevertheless I can have fun playing Call of Duty, and somebody who is much better than I am can have fun too. Why does that work for Call of Duty, but not for World of Warcraft?

There are three answers to that question: The first is that Call of Duty has four selectable difficulty levels. World of Warcraft has two selectable difficulty levels for instances, none for open world content, and effectively none for raids either (as putting a raid on heroic changes the number of required participants, not just the difficulty level).

The second answer is that in Call of Duty your ability to beat the challenges of the game only goes up with your skill; in World of Warcraft both your skill and your gear goes up, and thus the difference in power level between a fresh level 80 and a level 80 who has done Naxxramas ten times in X hours tends to be greater than the difference between a new Call of Duty player and one who has played through that game for X hours.

The third answer is that Call of Duty is a single-player game, and you gain skill by playing through it all alone. In World of Warcraft there are basically no single-player challenges, all the challenging content is group content, and the bigger the group, the bigger the reward. Thus the possibility to skip the challenge, and get to the reward anyway, by joining up with more powerful players. As less than 25 players can beat Naxxramas on heroic, it is totally possible to fill the remaining spots with players that aren't geared and skilled enough, and give them the non-challenging guided tour with a bunch of free epics to boot. And that isn't limited to heroic raids: One of the big problems with 5-man heroic pickup groups is that quite often the person organizing it is undergeared, and invites only overgeared other players, hoping for a free ride.

So why do players do that, try to find an easy way to "win" and get the reward? I think what happened in the last decade or two (and video games might be partially responsible for that) is that some people started to value the reward more than the challenge. Thus if they can find a way to get the reward without really facing the challenge, they feel they "beat the system", they feel they won, and maybe even think they did it more clever than somebody who got to the same reward the hard way. "The win" isn't beating Kel'Thuzad on heroic, "the win" is having the achievement and maybe even loot that drops from Kel'Thuzad on heroic, regardless of how much you actually contributed to that.

And then of course you get the backlash from those who contributed more to beating some challenge calling the people who contributed less "morons and slackers". Which is extremely simplistic, because it groups those who have a bad attitude and want a free ride with those who have the right attitude, but contribute less because for various reasons they play less, and consequently have less gear and less skill. People like me who favor a social and friendly environment get constantly asked why we would want to boost the freeriders. Answer is: We don't. We want to get to know the people we play with better, thus preferring guild runs over PuG runs, so that ultimately we can sort out the freeriders from those who with a little help from their friends would be willing and able to contribute more. It takes a social environment to know the attitudes of those you are playing with. If you don't take the time to get to know people, and simply select the people you play with based on their Armory profile, you risk rewarding the successful freeriders again, and punish those with the right attitude but limited play time. In the long run the latter make for better guild members, because the freeriders will leave and join the next better guild as soon as they leeched of all they could from their current guild.
Comments:
You should really try and play TF2, Tobold, it is a really good game. The most casual shooter out there, but much more fun for it.
 
He, and I agree with that, thinks that fun in a video game comes from beating a challenge. So why do people try to avoid the challenge and get the reward / win in an easier way?

Because beating the challenge is often exactly what makes you avoid the challenge...
In Fallout 3 I play with max difficult settings and own made rules to only carry one rifle, one pistol, and one melee weapon at all times. But I wish the producer had thought about this. In a MMO beating the challenge is even more important, because you play again/with other people. Therefore your own-made rules are almost impossible to enforce.
 
There are self-imposed rules used even in WoW actually. Heard of Gutrot? Link
It's not that many that does something like that but it happens.
 
Gutrot reminds me. Jumping into an online "Diablo I" game, I got flamed for healing another player. He was doing the whole naked, no help from anyone, thing - I'd never heard of such a thing, but immediately understood why the guy was upset! Everyone's messed around with self-imposed rules. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5YUCIConUOw

1 rifle, 1 pistol, 1 melee weapon in Fallout 3 eh? Respect! I really wish they had have made ammo peristant in the weapons in that game. I hate switching weapons and magically having full ammo again. Really grinds my gears. Having the tactical sense to know when to switch weapons, vs when to reload adds a sense of realism and tension to your gunfights. They've gone and completely screwed it up and I can't see a good reason why. Having said that, there are probably mods for that by now...

Anywho, it all just goes to show that different people get different things out of games. One man's treasure...
 
I think the fact you consider Call of Duty to be a single player game underscores how little you play it.

I wasted many hours of my life playing Call of Duty multiplayer.
 
No, it underscores the fact how much I suck at it. :) I can switch computer enemies to easy, but would be ripped to shreds if ever I tried a shooter multiplayer.
 
I guess the answer to your question lies in the title of your post Tobold. A win is a win whether it comes easy or not and always provides some instant gratification and self affirmation.
 
"So why do players do that, try to find an easy way to "win" and get the reward? I think what happened in the last decade or two (and video games might be partially responsible for that) is that some people started to value the reward more than the challenge. Thus if they can find a way to get the reward without really facing the challenge, they feel they "beat the system", they feel they won, and maybe even think they did it more clever than somebody who got to the same reward the hard way. "The win" isn't beating Kel'Thuzad on heroic, "the win" is having the achievement and maybe even loot that drops from Kel'Thuzad on heroic, regardless of how much you actually contributed to that."

Slowly you're getting the point... In a couple of months maybe we'll have Tobold's HARDCORE MMOPRG Blog! :)
 
In Fallout 3 it is actually much worse than in WoW. Even without any magic ammo tricks you can mixmax your character to a degree that even at full difficulty you rush through the game. I like to roleplay and having a giant backpack that has rockets, miniguns, gatling lasers etc inside really killed my imagination.
With focus on small weapons and detonation (grenades, mines - do you ever use them without own-made rules?) you can kill almost everything if you just switch to the weapon the enemies drop.
Right know I try the same with Energy weapons / detonation / melee / sneaking, which is much harder, because the amount of energy weapons you can find is low and there is no energy-sniping-rifle. The trick is to really use your mines and grenades wisely and basically sneak all the time.

This is also much more 'realistic', credible. Did you know, that you can draw enemies to your location by jumping or letting small things fall on the ground? Once they are near enough and decide that it was noting, you come out and give them a sneaking crit in the head from behind. Ants or robots have antennas that you can destroy so that they attack each other. Most cars can explode in small fusion bombs (okay, absolutely not credible, but, well.. :)

I wonder why they have all these wonderful mechanics in the game, when you normally NEVER need them. At normal mode without self-made rules you can basically bomb your way through the "role playing game". Every fight is the same and it quickly gets boring.
 
Slowly you're getting the point... In a couple of months maybe we'll have Tobold's HARDCORE MMOPRG Blog! :)

You're completely missing the point. If Call of Duty had been designed by Wyrm, it would only have that hardcore mode, and I would be unable to play it, thus the game company would lose a customer. You don't like anything to be too easy *for you*, and as you are relatively hardcore, anything that is challenging enough for you is probably too hard for quite a large number of players. My idea is *not* to make WoW 100% easy mode. My idea is, and has always been, for WoW to supply all sorts of customers, from the ultra casual to the ultra hardcore.

Naxxramas in its current form is great. It's perfectly balanced for the needs of the AVERAGE WoW player. Now there is obviously a lack of content for the more hardcore players, and I'm not even sure Ulduar will completely fix that. What I would have done is to do Naxxramas heroic the same was as heroic instances: Same number of players, but much harder. The current design, where a "heroic" raid is only heroic in getting the players together, but not actually much harder in gameplay, isn't satisfying. Blizzard would better have done one raid dungeon for 10 players, with a normal and a heroic mode, and then another raid dungeon for 25 players, with a normal and a heroic mode.
 
I would have to say that in WoW, it’s because the game teaches you early on to avoid challenges. Have a level 10 5 man quest? Why bother tracking other level 10 players when you can just bring one level 30 player out there to one shot the mob?

Why run a heroic with 5 under-geared players when you receive the same reward, with less time spent, tracking down 4 over-geared players and just plowing through it? Until we see a game that adjusts difficulty on the fly based on the power of the players, I think you will always have this problem.

As an example, I just took the GMAT, the test to attend graduate school for business, and plan on starting up this fall for my MBA. The test has a bank of 500 questions that it pulls from but each person will get a different test. The GMAT will adjust the difficulty of the next question based on how you did on the previous question. Keep getting them right and it just keeps pulling harder and harder questions. Scoring is based on some complicated algorithm designed to produce a standard bell curve.

WoW’s problem is that the difficulty is entirely optional on most encounters, and generally not very well rewarded. Outside of achievements and a few specific encounters, there is little incentive to do the “hard mode” of boss fights. Why is there no special treasure box at the end of a heroic instance ONLY if you complete all of the boss related achievements on that specific run is beyond me.
 
"You don't like anything to be too easy *for you*, and as you are relatively hardcore, anything that is challenging enough for you is probably too hard for quite a large number of players."

No. I'm not even skilled at playing the game. Never theorycrafted or anything. I just enjoyed feeling I was in a true challenge to overcome obstacles. I was one of the idiots who bang their heads just to get to Attumen in our freshly minted lvl 70 and loving it all the way. We didn't wipe on trash twice and then QQ in the forums that karazhan was too hard and only for no-lifers. Challenge is nice, no challenge at all will hurt any game in the medium term, even WoW.
 
Oh, and you will soon find out that now you are the hardcore in WoW. If you keep saying things are too easy with Naxx, then pretty soon you will be the no-lifer as called for the players who do struggle in Naxx10... if any...
 
But I never said Naxx is too easy! I repeatedly said that Naxx is just right for an entry level raid dungeon, and that is an opinion that isn't going to change. It just would be better to have more raid dungeons, covering a wider range of difficulties, without changing the difficulty of Naxx10.
 
Well, if you say that there should be harder raids, don't you think those would be unavailable for players who can barely finish Naxx25? If you try to cater to all audiences, the 90% of WoW player base, the ones who want none of that challenge malarkey, will still complain that they want to go to the "big boys" raid?
 
My complaint with Naxx isn't that it's too easy, it's that it's too big. I'm in a decently geared raiding guild, and we run Naxx25 every week. We can down about half the bosses on a single try, and the rest with only one or two wipes, but it takes us about 2 hours or more to clear a wing. I like raiding, but 8 to 10 hours a week for a full clear is too much for me.

I've taken a little break from WOW (writing a PhD thesis doesn't mesh well with a couple 5 hour Naxx raids), but I have been playing TF2 for about a week.

They're very similar games. Both have a cartoony style, are designed to encourage new players to make a contribution while rewarding more advanced players, and while neither innovates they both take existing ideas and tune them to (near) perfection.

I would disagree about the ease of TF2. It's a purely multiplayer game, with no PVE or solo-campaign content at all. If it's easy for you to kill me, then it's also easy for me to kill you. This isn't easy mode, this is just good balance.
 
I've often wondered what would happen if MMORPGs had servers of varying difficulty levels: that way people could choose the level of challenge that suits them. If you're the kind of person who plays for relaxation and doesn't want too much stress in their game-time, you could pick an "easy" server. If you enjoy being challenged at every turn, you could pick a "heroic" server.
 
WoW’s problem is that the difficulty is entirely optional on most encounters, and generally not very well rewarded. Outside of achievements and a few specific encounters, there is little incentive to do the “hard mode” of boss fights. Why is there no special treasure box at the end of a heroic instance ONLY if you complete all of the boss related achievements on that specific run is beyond me.

I'd say the problem is that the game is so focused on "reward" in the first place. If people are aiming for a reward, they'll find the easiest way to get to it in most other areas of life, so it makes sense that this is how things would happen in computer games as well.

(The same mentality seems ot apply to beating things as well, even without a loot based reward.)
 
Because people are fairly rarely really having fun in WoW.

They have a decent time maybe, if they are lucky. But they do the not terribly enjoyable task to get something, not because its fun.

That's why people take the fastest easiest way. If they were really having fun they'd do it the hard way to make it last longer.


On a semi related note, that's what I really liked about WAR; its the only MMO where I actually had fun (I.e. would do it for free) while leveling. Of course, lots of it sucked but the bgs were a blast with some friends.
 
@ Toxic: That's probably why children eat ice so fast. So do not really enjoy; if they did, they would make it last longer ...
 
Nils: Yeah... that's it. Raiding is so much fun, that people do it the easy way because they can't resist the fun. Same reason people buy arena teams. It's cause pvp is just so much fun that they want to share with others.

Seriously, the moments of true fun in WoW are pretty far apart.
Let me prove it:
1) If a dungeon had no drops, no rep, no reason to do it, would you ever be able to get a group?
2) If a raid had no drops, no rep, no reward aside from the experience of doing it, would you do it? Would you do it twice? You certainly wouldn't do it every week!
3) If arena teams have no arena points no gear, would people play 40 games a week? How many would play at all?
4) How often would you do a BG if there was no honor points?
5) A questline with no xp or money?

You get the drift. People play WoW because the feeling of advancement is the reward, not because the tasks themselves are very much fun. Even with the fun stuff, they tend to do it past the point of fun to maximize the advancement.

I play CoD because I like shooting people, not so I can get weapon X. In WoW you play to get weapon X, not because you like fighting Boss A.



Actually, kids do tend to go slow because if only from ice cream headaches. Even the fat ones.
 
"1) If a dungeon had no drops, no rep, no reason to do it, would you ever be able to get a group? "
Almost by definition, if there's absolutely no reason to do it, people won't. The question is, what is the minimum reason that people would do it for? Well everybody has fun in different ways, so I can imagine some doing it for some reason that seems minor to others, such as advancing an interesting plot line or getting a fun non-combat pet. I had great fun sneaking past lots of mobs to pick up my worg pup. None of these advance your power in the game, but they are still reasons for doing something.
 
Sure Sven.

I'm just asking how much of what people do in WoW is because it is, in and of itself, aside from any reward or title or pet or something, but by itself, as an activity, FUN TO DO. You know, like people have fun in other games and do them simply because it is fun to do. Think Tetris or something.

There isn't much is there?

And that is why people always look for the most efficient way to do something. The reward is the food pellet that drops out when you hit the button, not hitting the button itself.
 
I realized several years ago that I don't LIKE challenge. I don't play games for a challenge. When I played console games, I played them to experience the graphics and story. I play WoW to explore the lore, experience the boss fights that Blizzard has painstakingly designed, see the graphics and hear the music. And of course, to build up my characters, through levels, gear or achievements or other things. I greatly enjoy playing Warcraft 3 with godmode cheats turned on, because I like seeing the cutscenes and watching the lore unfold, and clicking on my units so they say silly things. I don't enjoy it as much without godmode, because I'm very bad at RTS games and I just get frustrated when I fail the missions over and over again.

Some people play games for challenge, and that's fine. But not everyone does. I don't want challenging boss fights, because chances are I'm just going to get frustrated when these idiots in my group can't stop standing in the fire.
 
I don't understand how TF2 is an "easy win".

It's a shooter PvP game... Sure it has cartoony graphics, and all the objectives are spelled out for you, and you actually see the person who killed your rather than instant-die from some unseen assailant. But it's still a twitch based FPS PvP game, how is that "easy"?
 
Kiryn, you need to read some books. Not only are the stories almost always better than video game lore, but you wouldn't sound like a complete pussy who buys games to hear the units say silly things.

I mean shit son, for real? You play games FOR THE CUTSCENES? I never imagined that level of carebear existed in this universe. Really really did not.
 
@ Toxic: If ice didn't taste good I wouldn't eat it. The reward is part of the fun. You cannot artificially separate it.
 
No Nils, just no. Are you so warped by Wow that you don't get this concept?

Good taste is not a consequence of ice cream eating. You don't have the taste of chocolate on your tongue for the next day because of the ice cream. It goes away shortly after you finish. It is a contained event, and the consequences might even be negative (if you eat a lot of ice cream you get fat). You eat ice cream for the fun of eating ice cream. Or at least that is why most people eat it most of the time, anyways.

I am asking, if you took away all the consequences (i.e. permanent results from doing an action) from WoW, would you do it anyway just because it tastes good?

The answer is obviously NO. Nobody would raid Naxx every week just for the pleasure of tasting the bosses. It is not until there are permanent positive consequences that people do it.

That isn't an artificial separation, the reward and the act are two separate things (as anyone who has killed a boss and gotten NO loot can tell you. So far as I know, its very rare to find someone who has eaten ice cream without getting to put it in their mouth).

I am asking, how many activities in WoW would you want to do if you never had any prospect of a reward aside from the pleasure of doing it?

In other words, if you hit the button and no food pellet came out, would you still like hitting the button?
 
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