Tobold's Blog
Thursday, September 23, 2010
Sanity or Competence?

This week boatorious made a remarkable comment on this blog:
"It's absurd that playing WoW involves so much time out of game researching and watching youtube videos. And it's frustrating that most people don't do this and waste my time.

I don't hold anything against them -- they’re clearly the sane ones. I just wish I didn’t have to choose between sanity and competence."
While it is a bit extreme a sentiment, this is basically the opposite view from the elitist jerks who are constantly complaining about how dumb other players are. Sorry, knowing arcane details of theorycrafting or boss strategies has nothing to do with intelligence. Just like knowing how the capital of Mongolia is called has nothing to do with intelligence, it is information which you either learned or didn't learn.

Much of the information in World of Warcraft is not obvious. Everybody "knows" that spirit is good for priests but useless for paladins, but it would take an inordinate amount of time and effort to find that out just by playing the game. Instead there are theorycrafting sites and blogs giving class-specific advice, who'll tell you. It is essentially cheating.

If you only use in-game resources, the only way to find out what some boss mob has for abilities is to fight him. I fully plan to enter my first Cataclysm dungeons completely uninformed, although I'm sure that somebody will complain that I don't know all boss strategies by heart on the first day after release already, using Youtube videos and sites like Bosskillers with info from the beta.

Not looking up everything is not just a question of "sanity", as boatorious expresses it. It is also a question of *playing* a game. It is undoubted that playing lets say an adventure game or single-player role-playing game is faster and more efficient if you use a walkthrough guide. But what exactly would be the point of that? Isn't *not knowing* and finding out things part of the game, and part of the fun? For me the fact that a RPG is massively online multiplayer doesn't change that fundamental concept of discovery essentially *being* the game, or at least a big part of it.

Not that I have anything against competence, but it only really is competent if you find things out by yourself. Following written instructions by somebody else may make you *appear* competent, but doesn't actually require all that much intelligence. How hard is passing a test if you have all the answers written down by somebody else available? Most players would be completely unable to fight a boss mob with random abilities, because then there wouldn't be a YouTube video telling them what to do.

And where does that so-called "competence" get us? Strictly nowhere! It enables players to finish a dungeon in 20 minutes instead of one hour. Everybody chases speed, without considering for a moment where to the path leads that everybody is rushing down. You can't win a MMORPG, and the only prize for reaching the end faster is being bored earlier.
If you define competence as being able to analyze the encounter and being able to devise appropriate countermeasures within X minutes/tries, then the vast majority of players are incompetent. And just like in PvP games, if they fail more than they succeed, they will eventually get frustrated and stop paying/playing.

One method of counteracting this is to teach the players with tiered content. But if the difficulty curve is not properly tuned, it can lead to players complaining that the majority of the game is cordoned off from them by the proverbial cliff face of difficulty. Therefore the easiest solution is not to require any true competence.

I sympathise with you on a very deep level regarding exploration. I very much hope that I'll be able to try out the Cataclysm dungeons together with other intrepid adventurers setting out into the truly unknown.

However, to be fair to Boatorious, I don't think he ever claimed that the competent players are also intelligent. The opposite of competence is incompetence. The opposite of intelligence is stupidity. The two are not synonymous.
Isn't the capital of Mongolia Ulaanbator? I could be wrong, I was never very good with geography.
I submit that people have different views of games. Simple Flash games I tend to not even read the one page of instructions if it exists.

But all "real" games, I have read at least a book before even playing: bridge, chess, go, poker. ( Real money was involved so I read several poker books before sitting down to a table. )

So I regard any game that you don't need to research either has a tiny user base or is trivial. Needing to research something outside the game is, to me, the sign of a non-trivial game. The problem is that WoW is so much more twitching than thinking that the "strategy" guides are not strategy. At best they are some proven tactics.

Re WoW: the closest thing I found to actual "strategy" were some of the AH-PVP (i.e. gold making) sites. They tend to contain far more strategy and addressing the principles and ideas than the typical Tankspot stand here in phase 2 video.
I hope you plan to visit the new instances with good friends. Because if you use the Dungeonfinder Mr. Légôlàrsss may spoil your fun with spamming "OgoGGooO" in /p :)

My favorite place to explore new dungeons is LOTRO. We (our kin) wiped about 20-30 times until we found a reliable strategy to beat Mr. Gorothul in Sammath Gul.

I am still looking forward to the new stuff in WoW ... the instances are simply more polished *sigh*
You are going to do this instance 50 times. They could balance it for your first run, or they could balance it for the other 49 runs.

The instance is designed assuming you know the strategy already. The devs know this about their players. If you don't know the strategy going in, you are the one not doing the content the way it was designed to be done.

And you are taking 4 other poor bastards with you as you do it wrong.

Thank you for bringing in a different perspective. You provide a good illustration for Günter's point: it's best we avoid exploring those instances together with you.
We have this conversation on this blog with a certain frequency - just like the regular phases of the moon, every few months or so we chase the notion of 'the purpose of playing a MMO' around. I submit that this is all a red herring, and actually think you'll agree with me Tobold.

I think that the majority of your readers think, as I also think you do, that the purpose of playing any game is to have fun. If people step back from the silly arguing between 'casual' and 'hardcore' for a minute, I think they will readily agree to that. The question, then, is to define what fun is. But that notion fairly obviously differs from person to person. Indeed, it is well known by the regular readers here that you Tobold enjoy games that offer slower strategy with a sense of adventure. There is nothing at all wrong or dumb about this. Similarly, however, it must be allowed that others like to play games differently. For some, trying to complete content as fast as possible might be what they enjoy about playing games.

The wonderful thing about WoW is that Azeroth is big enough for all of us.
I think it's quite similar to chess: chess is a game too, right? So you can just play and don't worry, keeping in mind the fundamental rules about how pieces move and no more. You can have endless hour of fun, if you just like this game. I play chess in this way, and i complain i play way less than i'd like and love to do.

But for sure, if you plan to try a tournament of some non-amatorial level, you NEED to know some theorycrafting, study some famous game between champions and so on: it's proven that if your opponent start with a given opening there are some proper ways to counter it, some less proper ways, and some completely improper ways.

The same for WoW: if you want to kill VanCleef it's ok to simply look for 4 other guys, go to Deadmines and have fun. If you want to kill the Lich King, on the other opposite, good luck going to ICC with no idea of what is expecting you and hope to just discover things by direct experience!
a good post. i might add that some people love to make wow sound like rocket science with all their theorycrafting when really it is not.
you CAN go and research every last bit just to minmax in this game, but you dont HAVE to. wow is one of the most user friendly and forgiving MMOs i've played and it has nothing to do with intelligence or not in the first place.
like you said its about reading up more or less and that really is a choice, not a necessity. and you're certainly not automatically a better player just because you do. the quote fails to acknowledge that.
If you define competence as being able to analyze the encounter and being able to devise appropriate countermeasures within X minutes/tries

I'm afraid in this context players define competence as "already knowing the strategy before even trying once". That has nothing to do with analyzing or devising countermeasures.
Well, I didn't really enjoy raids that much so in that case for me it was a way to get through them faster. I did like a lot of the 5 mans in BC and prior. But running a Raid for 3 hrs was a huge bonus opposed to the 4-5 hrs of wipe/learning and eventually "getting it".

It's partly why I never hung on to WoW for long stretches. Though doing Bear runs in ZA was about the best gaming experience I've ever had. That raid was the exception for me.
I'm afraid in this context players define competence as "already knowing the strategy before even trying once".
Yes, it's as absurd as people knowing the capital of Mongolia without visiting it. I bet most of them "cheated". We've had this discussion before, and I doubt that we'll get any closer to agreeing this time.
It's the only way to separate M&S from other players. Why would I spend 1 hour in a thing i can make in 20 minutes? Time is money and mine cannot be wasted with lolkids and newbDKs who don't want to spend those 20 minutes just doing basic research.
I agree with Taekwandean in that I don't think this is a casual vs. hardcore thing. It's just a matter that some people actually think that repeatedly failing trying to do something is fun. And another set of people having a really hard time understanding this first group's motivations.

Gevlon, I'm sure there's no point arguing with you. But still. I hope you don't spend any time with anyone against your will. On the other hand, I hope you can respect that some of those people you don't want to spend time with actually don't consider it a "waste" of (paid game!) time to wipe in unknown environs.
It simply boils down to are you playing the game to relax not obsess about perfection or is it a second job? There are many people who are so controlling that they can't even relax in thier hobbies. In america when these people grow up they are the ones ruining your kids little league or soccer games because they have worked out what is necessarry for little johnny to become the next sports superstar.
I like the idea of games that are so involved that to play effectively requires research and study outside of the game. It is why I have spent 3 years playing wow but only a few hours playing Frogger or Tetris (fun tho those games are). In a way, I think all of the 'outside' work as part of the game. Giving the game added dimensions beyond simple playing time.

I would also say, for me personally, watching the Tankspot video of the Putricide fight and reading about the fight strategy - both activities I did several times - barely prepared me to fight him the first time the raid I was in made it to him. Hearing someone say 'stay out of malleable goo' is a lot different then seeing malleable goo being thrown at you as you are trying to cast at putricide and not step in green circles, for example.

But, on the other hand, I agree with you about playing slowly and enjoying the journey. I see no point in spending 48 hours straight playing just so I can get to the next level cap very quickly. Its hard enough now to keep myself interested in the game I certainly don't want to go through new content too fast. It is why I also don't do beta or watch the boss fights until I think I might actually meet that boss.
@Oscar: It's not the real Gevlon you're commenting on if you think that. It's the copycat. He's running a campaign against me and Gevlon right now.
It is the very nature of these unchanging boss fights that bothers me. I would much rather fights be random so that a group's skill and quick thinking is put to the test rather than following a tankspot script and being criticized if you misstep.

Imagine if the LK fight was different every time? Imagine if he caught you wandering the halls of his citadel in the first wing? It could be so much more fun. Unfortunately, Blizzard will not break their formulae.

Thanks. I always fall for that trick!
Part of that reason could be the feed back loop. Back when ICC first came out, I was given some free days of WoW, and I played in the 5 man dungeons.

The boss of the first new ICC dungeon (the floating head one, with the funny voice), was easy to figure out (don't stand in the beam). The team asked if anyone knew it, I said no, but I'd figure it out.

The guy told me the strategy anyways, and I thought, "REALLY!? No one would figure this out on their own?"

The problem is the M&S. If they weren't there, then people would be much more forgiving of trying a boss once or twice, as figuring it out with rational people would be easy.
Isn't interesting how the copycat
can comment under the little goblin's name and no one can distinguish them both? I find it somehow funny although I understand that is not. But being above the average in life's terms has this little different approaches ;)
Nice try, fake Larisa.
Yay. Finally a fake Oscar too. Tobold, I don't blame you if you don't want to go to the trouble of deleting the fake's posts, but if you do – feel free to delete this one too :)

And yes, Larísa, it is a bit cute. :)
I thought this was an obvious caveat but judging by the comments I guess not.

Of course any good video game involves learning and growing in skill. And, of course, any person who wants to play the game should want to learn and grow in skill.

However you should grow in learning and skill by PLAYING, and not by conducting out-of-game research. Most video games do a very good job of this. MMO’s do not. You could play WoW for a thousand years and never learn spell rotations, which are the simplest building block of raiding and dungeon running.
A particular peeve of mine: people think it is wrong or obsessive to look something up on WoWHead, but is OK to ask trade?

I.e.: looking up that vendor X is at Netherstorm (35.61,14.23) [US decimal separator] seems to be no less immersive and far more efficient for everyone than the "hey guys where do I train Y?"

More on point to the instance, I find that a priori reading of tankspot to be no different than "hey guys, anything special to watch out for here?" or "where should I tank him?"

And Blizzard's LFD is the exact opposite: it will tend to mix the undergeared, and presumably new here, with the overgeared. Whereas there would be less frustration if it grouped all the farmers and all the virgins together. If you regard heroic Nexus as no different than a saronite deposit - just another resource node to be harvested, then you would want other like minded folk. While the experience of a progression group, learning the fight together is quite special.

OTOH LFD: mixing the two and adding in this is the internet and they are strangers you will never encounter again makes some issues.
@samus: Then how to server firsts happen? How can you know it before you know it? Makes absolutly no sense.

People are lazy and don't want to die 5 or 10 times to learn stuff on their own. Watching videos and reading how-to's makes you smarter on the fight, but it means you don't want to bother to learn it on your own. It means you can't think to figure out a strategy on your own and have to rely on someone elses.

I did HoR the day of release twice and we didn't know what to expect. In neither group (both pugs) did we hide in a corners. We stayed at the entrance and there were NO problems. We actually used our CC's on the ranged and easily got past it. Enter the corner method and the pugs I'm in can barely get past this initial part of the instance!

"Isn't *not knowing* ...part of the fun? "

For me it is, but nobody wants to die in order to discover anything.
If you pay attention you can learn those things by playing and maybe some minimal reading. When I started researching my pally at 70 and what I *should* be doing, I learned that my rotation was right, but many of talent points were in the wrong place. And it was just that I wasn't thinking about certain situations (this being my first mmorpg). Now that I've seen my error, I find I don't need as much help using my talent points on my paladin or my alts.

But I understood your meaning (I think), that you shouldn't have to put this much outside effort into a game, but you still wish people would just to save you some hassle. Close?
Tobold, if you took your MMORPG approach to board games, you wouldn't find anyone who'd want to play with you. "I wanna play my way!!!" is destructive in a social environment.
I guess the only truly competant players are those who play for the top 8-10 guilds in the world - the rest of us are simply performing the script they write.


I’m saying that I’ve played probably a thousand different video games during my life, and WoW is the only one where I need to watch videos and do research merely to be competent.
Here Here. I plan on going into Beta Fresh,and full of wonderment. I don't want to get burned out on beta before it even is launched.
I think the basic problem with MMOs is people treat them like jobs or chores instead of playing just for fun. As long as you have games with gear, leveling, achievements, you'll always have the power-users trying to burn through things as quickly as possible.
For example on my priest I first had a build including Lightwell, played that for several weeks, and then switched to a build without it. Who is more competent here? Me, who now fully understands the advantages and disadvantages of Lightwell, or the guy who copied the build without Lightwell from the EJ forums?

Learning how to play not only is more fun, but also leads to a deeper understanding that somebody just copying the correct solution from somebody else can never achieve.
That, and Lightwell is awesome! It's just that noone cares to use it. I understand it's about to receive a serious buff in Cataclysm. :)
Interesting topic. I'd read something similar on the Euro forums for WoW recently. I have played WoW for just over 3 years now almost exclusively with friends from our small RP Guild. We rarely do PUGs, but especially new content we will always do just as a guild. Why? We're all explorer focused, 'give it a good few tries' kind of people. We never ragequit or argue over blame. Yes we might concede that we can't defeat a boss with the current group, maybe swap a few alts around to try something else. We may even give up all together eventually, but that's only a temporary break, with a few more levels or gear-ups we can always come back.

It's much more fun for us to learn from the failures and work out our own tactics regardless of how optimal they are. In the long run some of us may redo the same content and learn something else and bring that back. But we don't camp out on WoWHead as soon as content is released. The only time we ever resort to the websites and guides is if we're raiding with alliance members - then it's not just us so we can't dictate the playstyle. But personally I find raiding boring in comparison, mainly because the community at large doesn't allow for the unknown...
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@Shawno - That would be awesome, really! There would be a true element of danger entering those dungeons. For the sake of letting players become familiar with layout and such, maybe limit him to one hall or only access that content once you have downed him the first time. The latter would be even better - keep players coming back for a long time.
I'm kind of confused, as i seem to remember you mentioning in older posts complaints about people you played with who didn't do what you considered good dps in dungeons. isn't that the same thing? You not only need to keep up with elitist jerks and cookie cutter current builds, but also addons telling you that you are doing it 'right'. The only real in game 'tell' is that mob is dead and you aren't.
Wait ... so spirit is of no use to Paladin?

Ha, that's a purist argument, I don't think most players are either or, most players try and then reach a point where the extra help won't hurt. Boatorious has a point, it takes a lot of time to become competent, and some players find a mix between competence and sanity.
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