Tobold's Blog
Sunday, November 13, 2011
Playing for fun versus advancement

One of the things that makes you want to always fight one more battle in World of Tanks is the advancement of your tanks and tech tree. The experience points you gain in each battle allow you to research better equipment for your tanks, or unlock tanks from a higher tier. But recently I noticed something unusual about my behavior in WoT: I stopped caring about advancement. I'm at tier 7 out of 8 in artillery, 8 out of 9 in both medium tanks and tank destroyers, and 9 out of 10 in heavy tanks. But instead of pushing for the last tier, I'm almost exclusively playing my light tanks, which don't advance any more. I have the tier 5 out of 5 tanks in all three nations, while the other tank types are from just one nation. And when I start to play, I nearly always play the light tanks, although they don't earn much credits, and only earn "blocked" xp which I would have to pay gold to convert it to usable experience points.

Now on the one hand that is good news for World of Tanks: There are far too many games which aren't inherently fun enough to keep people playing, and the various rewards and advancements are all that keeps you at them. If I play light tanks over the others it means that at least for me in World of Tanks I keep being motivated by playing for fun, and not just by playing for advancement. Which is good, because all these games of advancement suffer from the fact that advancement always ends at some point, some "level cap" or "maximum tier".

On the other hand I wonder if playing for fun isn't a sign that the pull of advancement is weakening. It used to be that only role-playing games had levels and stats. But these days pretty much every game is a game of advancement. I'd even say that some developers are making games now which are ONLY about advancement, failing to put any fun gameplay in. It has been shown that this constant stream of rewards and advancement works because it makes the brain release dopamine, a neurotransmitter that provides feelings of enjoyment and reinforcement to motivate a person proactively to perform certain activities. So some scientists say they have evidence that by playing a lot of computer games with a constant stream of rewards, our dopamine receptors are being weakened, leading to both video game rewards and natural rewards losing their power of motivation.

The downside of this is that we risk not just burning out of one game, but burning out of all games of advancement. Less scientifically expressed it appears logical that your millionth virtual pixel reward excites you a lot less than your first one. It would also mean that the efforts towards gamification are doomed to failure, because by the time we have turned the real world into a big video game, we have kind of lost interest in these games and their rewards. The upside of the development is that the games which will survive this trend are those which are inherently fun to play, with or without advancement. For me that would be World of Tanks right now. I'm still waiting for a MMORPG which would be fun without the advancement.

All the MMOs I play beyond the initial "new shiny" stage are fun without advancement. If they weren't then I wouldn't keep playing them once the novelty value had worn off.

Over the years I've had many reasons for playing MMOs for an extended period, but advancement of my characters has rarely been on the list, much less at the top of it. Currently my top reason for logging into most MMOs is to think about things to write about them and take screenshots to illustrate the writing. That in itself is an extension of my original motivation for playing MMOs, which was to travel and see amazing sights without having to spend a lot of money.

As a general rule of thumb I'd say I play most MMOs in spite of the advancement mechanics, not because of them. Advancement is important to me in a new MMO for the simple reason that in order to see most of the world it's generally necessary to have a leveled-up character.

With a character at or near the level cap there's no need to go on advancing. If I continue to spend time playing the character after that it's generally down to the actually gameplay being sufficiently entertaining to keep me interested. Quite a lot of MMOs pass that test for me.
I have a lot of elite tanks that I play simply because they are fun. (pz4, su85, easy 8, t2 light). I would play my Chaffee more, but it costs too much in credits.

To me that says that we have a fun game in and of itself, and that the other tanks arent as well balanced, or they would also be fun to play simply to play.
So if you always play light Tier 5 Tanks, I assume you play some others now and then to finance them?

A lot of people use Tier 8 Premiums to do that, and to be fair they (Lowe / T59) are quite close to the T8 you could reach by playing. So I guess that after playing premium T8s with money, the motivation to grind up to T8, just to play a slightly better T8 that looses money instead is quite low.
I assume you play some others now and then to finance them?

Why would I need to? Tier 5 tanks still are profitable, earning on average more credits than they consume on repair cost and ammo. Light tanks need total repair after every battle, but don't cost all that much to repair. The VK 2801 is even profitable, as he deals the most damage, while the T-50-2 and the M24 Chaffee are about self-financing.
Would Guild Wars count? I know you can collect new skills after the low level cap but you aren't really making your character stronger.
It's funny but many of the games (or types of games) you have a professed dislike for are more about fun than advancement. Pretty much all FPSes these days have some form of advancement that is relatively easy to max to the point of being irrelevant. Most MOBAs have no metagame advancement and those that do (LoL) have a very reasonable curve that, again, is easy to conquer. I know and understand why you dislike these games (motion sickness, don't care for PVP), but I would say in many cases, the advancement which was once a flagship feature of games is becoming practically vestigial. I believe that, on the cutting edge, advancement is withering on the vine. People want fun, not XP.
I play first person shooters, I'm just not very good at them, and so I'm limited to the solo part of them.
Instead of fearing that you are burned out on games of advancement. I would suggest that you are exploring other ways to optimize FUN.

You remember fun don't you? It's that thing we are supposed to be experiencing while performing recreational activities.

In fact I think you are doing what in WoW would be called "Twinking". That is playing a game entity below your max level to either gain an advantage or to counter other's advantages.

This is a type of play that I really like. I like to play at MAX LEVEL - 1 on a few toons to counteract the "no life" min max dopes who you know spent 1000 hours to get all Best in Slot gear to pwn the tourists.

Once you learn to play a game with competence you notice that your results are dependent on your equipment level relative to your opponents.

So one can sign up for 1000 hours of grinding to get the best purples or play in a manner that does not require that time investment.

Right now in MMOs that is playing in less than MAX level brackets.

To extend this idea I believe this is EXACLY why most players hate PVP. It is absolutely no fun to get completely dominated by an opponent. Most MMO PVP looks like a team of Pro Sports Athletes playing against a local pick up team. The pick up team get's slaughtered while the pwners make rude jestures and mock their inability to compete.

MMO's should offer more in the way of brackets to prevent this kind of farming... you know maximize the less skilled fun instead of maximize the no life's sense of self worth.
I do believe there is a middle point where the advancement provides a secondary reinforcement of the mechanical fun.

For example, I had a lot of fun playing a warlock in random BGs. There was just something very fun to me about being able to frustrate other players with chain Fears, loading people up with DoTs from the bushes, and so on. And then, suddenly, the only gear upgrades I could get came from Arena Points. The Honor from random BGs was useless.

I stopped playing my warlock, and moved on to a warrior.

While one might argue that I was unconsciously playing for advancement or otherwise confusing myself, I don't believe that is the case. What the advancement did was give meaning to those hideous losses in which I was unable to have the normal fun due to be locked down by a premade or whatever. Surely we can all agree that just because a game is fun, does not mean you cannot become frustrated by it. So in that sense, the advancement smooths out the frustration by saying "Yeah, that game was awful, but at least you got X."

Which, if I understand correctly, is what World of Tanks does as well in that you continue gaining resources even after you die. Would you still have fun in WoT if an early death was a total loss? Or if you needed a series of wins just to dig out of a hole of several losses?
Well part of the reason WOT isn't an advancement game is that you can only fight people that are more or less your equal. You move up a tier, but so do your opponents. Hell, if you move up a tier you start losing really badly for a while because a stock tier 8 is worse than a fully loaded tier 7. It's not like WoW where having the best pvp gear means you'll be able to faceroll 80% of players. Getting a Maus only means you'll be fighting IS-7's and E-100s all the time.

Also, Bhagpuss, you have an unusual psychological makeup. Based on your comments over the last year or two you can derive pleasure from activities that most gamers would find painfully tedious. Your experience cannot be extrapolated into a useful model for what most gamers would find fun.
I dunno, it might sound like 'duh', but I don't think it's been mentioned?

On the subject of "no fun MMORPG without advancement" -- it would seem that the only reason WoT is still entertaining is that you play with other players against other players. I.e. PvP. Furthermore it's a lobby game, so there's zero downtime and roughly balanced teams.

So in looking for something that is fun without advancement, you'll have to first look at PvP MMORPG (or at least MMORPG with PvP) and then, probably, for something lobby-based to ensure a degree of fairness.

You know, it sounds quite like WoW battlegrounds :)

Now since you don't like twitch either, it's down, to I don't know, Wizard101 or something like that?
I really enjoyed EQ but i only ever played my ranger in short bursts then switched to levelling up alts for a bit then back to the ranger, rinse and repeat.

I only took him to max level when the level cap was raised i.e. when it wasn't max level any more.

Looking back, as someone with no interest in the end game, it was like i was stopping myself getting to the point that to me would signify the end.

So i was rationing the advancement.
@Angry Gamer: playing a lower tier tank in WoT isn't twinking, exactly. Twinking is when you have an over-geared low level character that has been provided with equipment far beyond what anyone could have obtained at that level through their own efforts. A Tobold-driven tier 5 tank doesn't have anything beyond the equipment mounted on anyone else's tier 5... although having a more experienced player driving it probably counts for something.

@ Solf: I'm not sure WoT's attractiveness is necessarily down to the fact that it's a PvP game. The attraction is that it's a tactically complex game with reasonably smart opponents. It could still be a tactically complex game if one team were all bots with decent AI and some randomisation, and would be a lot more attractive than typical MMO PvE with its utterly predictable 'do the dance' scripted encounters and purposely dumb AI.
I don't know, you could say that my Tier 2 Light with ventilation, 100% crew, camo net and binos is twinked.
That's exactly what makes WoT one of the best online multiplayer games EVER! XD
Even if it takes a lot of skill, you can take out "paying members" - whereas other games paying members are close to invincible. :-/

I'm still waiting for a game you can just hop into and kill elite members (Can you say World of Warplanes? :D) or at least fight them with skill verse having your advantage come from cash you paid or the time you have to play up in advancement.

~A semi-gamer with dreams of Big Gaming.
I love getting better Tier Tanks,But I really have fun just going fast in myT-28 and M 5 With 75 m guns...That is why I bought the Type 59 Tank from China not for the higher Tiers or the conversion of points ,because there are no other Chinesse Tanks, but for Fast Fun..It does however provide 30,000. to 45,000. points a round but it and my T-28 are just for fun..Like you it is better to have fun then to get caught up in Tank Companies who want just Tier 8-10's and go slow..Thanks
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