Tobold's Blog
Tuesday, July 31, 2012
 
Blaming the games

Edward Castronova at Terra Nova wrote an article about Zynga's and Facebook's decline. He thinks the reason is the lack of payoff at the end:
Are there genuine human fundamentals behind the demand for Zynga products? Yes and no. Yes: There are some people with psychologies such that they want or need mindless, endless, repetitive tasks rewarded on a Skinner Box model. But there are far more who will enter something that looks Skinner-Boxish on the assumption that there will be a major payoff at the end. Zynga does not provide that payoff. The journey is the destination, and the journey, well, it stinks after awhile. When those people discover that this is all there is, and when they have tapped out on that experience, they will no longer be drawn into Zynga games or anything like them.
And then of course he adds: "I think something similar has happened in MMORPGs. When WoW came out, millions began the grind with the unconscious hunch that eventually there would be some great feeling at the end. Yet we know that that game and all others like it are not really going to give us anything but grind." I chuckle at the notion that it took a professor of MMO-logy over a decade to discover that there is no "major payoff at the end". I've been blogging for year about phenomena like characters getting WEAKER through leveling compared to the challenges that face them, or their epic rewards being made obsolete by the next patch or expansion.

Fortunately I think that the average player isn't quite that stupid to keep waiting for the major payoff for years. I think Edward Castronova generalized a very narrow and comparatively rare player type here. There are a lot of players who are perfectly aware that there is nothing at the end, but they happen to enjoy "living" in a virtual world. Others are more competitive, but even they know perfectly well how ephemeral their epics are: The important thing is at any given moment to reach the currently available "best" stuff before everybody else does, and thus look good in comparison.

I think too many people were like Prof. Castronova fixated on the endgame, and failed to notice that the majority of players in a game like World of Warcraft doesn't even participate in that endgame. The reason why WoW is still the most successful game and competitors never managed to catch up with it is not the end game, but the fact that World of Warcraft has a so much broader base of the pyramid. WoW is horizontally much bigger than any other MMORPG out there, and there are a lot of people on their 20th alt still discovering new stuff and having fun. Replayability problems only crop up at level 60 in WoW, which is a lot later than in its competitors. Try playing an alt on the same side in SWTOR and you'll quickly see what I mean. And WoW also has a lot more alternative activities than most competitors. The financially most promising feature, keeping the most people subscribed for the longest time in Mists of Pandaria will be pet battles, and not any added levels or new raids.

The core gameplay of Zynga games and MMORPGs is not a cleverly disguised grind. It is an activity which in itself provides a certain amount of fun up to the point where you burn out and get bored of it. If it takes years to get burned out from MMORPGs that only proves that the inherent gameplay is more fun than that of games which bore you after 10 hours. I fully agree that most post-WoW MMORPGs are so very similar to WoW that the burnout and boredom transfers from one game to the next. But the burnout is in our heads and not a suddenly revealed grindy nature of the games. Somebody starting WoW now as his first MMORPG would still have years of fun ahead of him before burning out as well. And even Zynga games are fun for a limited period, albeit obviously for a shorter one than most MMORPGs. When gameplay turns into a grind, something in our heads has changed, and it took us that long to see that there is no ultimate reward. We knew that from the start and had fun playing anyway.

Comments:
Now the statement of "someone starting now is going to have fun for years" is not true.

It would be true if the other players on the server (or at least his guild) were similar newbies. But they are bittervets who find the newbie annoying, dumb and generally useless since he didn't even read EJ.
 
I chuckle at the notion that it took a professor of MMO-logy over a decade to discover that there is no "major payoff at the end".

For raiding, there very much is: taking down the last boss of the instance in HM. This is also why after doing this for all the guild people, raid frequency goes down a lot (the guild I'm in has declared "holidays" some time ago...). It's a temporary "game over", if you want.
If you compare to something like "The Settlers Online" the difference is clear, in TSO you don't have any clear "game over" goal.

@Gevlon: there are a lot of guilds such a new player could join: not everyone is obsessed with being the best, a lot of people play just for the fun... incredible as it may seem you.
 
What would be considered a payoff to playing these games? It's obviously not just loot.

I personally think Meta style things are the way to go if you want to give players a payoff.

This may sound strange but I consider account wide achievements/titles/mounts/pets to be a piece in the puzzle to giving the player a payoff to the endless grind.

I'll give a personal example. I played a Druid for a large chunk of BC and for ICC raiding in Wrath. That druid has cool titles that I grinded out and just love. Because of that even when I burned out on him I didn't feel good playing my alts because I didn't have those titles that I loved and the thought of grinding them out again just put me off even more from playing them.

Now having those titles on my alts gives me this sense that I'm not restarting the grind. I still carry my past actions forward on this new character. The same feeling applies to things like Netherwing which I loved when I did it and throughout all of cataclysm was bummed that the toon I had earned it on I wasn't playing anymore.

So just that tiny change has created a sense that I am not just grinding for no reason put progressing. Even if it is just in my mind.
 
For once I agree with you, Tobold. It's all too rarely that we get reminded that the huge majority of MMO players never even get to the "end game" let alone start off working towards it. Or that most MMO players are trundling around passing the time pleasurably in a virtual world, chatting and doing this and that with no goal beyond spending a couple of pleasurable hours winding down and relaxing.

Because almost none of these hordes are sufficiently interested or involved in the hobby to create blogs or post on forums they don't figure in any discussions from the rarefied academia of Terra Nova to the argy-bargy of EQ2Flames. Without them, though, there wouldn't be much of the Massive in our MMO.
 
This comment has been removed by the author.
 
Yeah, I think the idea that MMOs and Facebook are dying because people realize that there is no goal is bunk. We humans simply tire of the same thing over and over after a while.

I also think Gevlon has a point, in that even newbies are affected by the weary, bitter discussions of the veterans.

Off topic (simply because I've wanted to post this for a while): Tobold, I think you should give The Secret World a shot. The combat isn't super interesting, but the story, the atmosphere and especially the investigative missions are amazing. If I hadn't played Magicka earlier this year I'd say it's the most fun I've had with computer games in years (not that gameplay is even remotely like Magicka).
 
I think you should give The Secret World a shot.

I'll do that. When it goes Free2Play.
 
We have work social and play social. A mmorpg is no different than bowling or shooting pool. The reward is simply having fun with people of similar interests.
 
There is a payoff when you finally down the last boss after you've been working on him for weeks. The release, the cheer, the exultation the first time we finally took down Archimonde was amazing. That was after 70+ wipes.

"Try playing an alt on the same side in SWTOR and you'll quickly see what I mean."

I just finished my Trooper after playing a Knight to max level. There were some repeat quests, but many of them I had forgotten. The game was still fun, in fact, I probably had more fun with my Trooper than I did with my Knight. So there's something obvious I'm missing?
 
Grind can be fun, and sometimes actually is. You just need to have grind goal "in sight" - entering next area, getting better/rare item, being ready for raiding/PVP, helping friends, and many others.

Once you lose sight of the goal or turn away, it stops being fun. It's rewarding while you can still maintain sense of anticipation - and anticipation can be undermined from many directions.

Alternative to grind appears? Epics fall from the sky? Brains work their magic to make you feel grind is not worth it compared to alternatives - even if you can still feel fun masterfully slaying thousands of creatures while actually having time to admire scenery or to maintain conversations in guild chat at the same time.
 
The journey is the destination? That's all they got?

The key is that everyone's journey is a unique snowflake, while destinations are essentially static. Your journey through FarmVille may have been just as impactful and fulfilling as my journey through WoW, or Syncaine' s journey through EVE.

Point is (Gevlon), that your past experience in a game has little bearing on what my experience will be. Despite your monolithic view that it's going to be crap since the conditions aren't the same as when you played. How's it going in EVE with all those bittervets who find you quaint? Ready to ragequit, yet?

Of course theres a payoff. Destinations or payoffs all take the form of understanding. We gain awareness of what the game offers to us, what it's like to play it, how it feels to get better, which allows us to choose whether to continue the journey or not driven by a desire for better understanding.

Endgame is just a form of graduate school, where the cliche is that you learn more and more about less and less until you know everything about nothing.

And then go around laughing at noobs who are having way too much fun learning the things that you now know are not EXACTLY right.
 
It's unsurprising. There are very few games that really retain people's interest continuously for an indefinite period of time. I do think MMO's manage to string the interest period along by getting people fixated chasing diminishing returns for a while, then putting them on a new course with new looking diminishing returns. But then again even when I was really into WoW, I thought most of the game was crap that I had to go through in order to get what I wanted.

Most people appear to be content to bum around and just do whatever, and I can respect but not understand that. I've tried it and I just end up playing another game where the primary concern is making the player have fun rather than stringing the fun out in tightly controlled doses like a morphine drip.
 
I don't understand this pair of sentences...

When gameplay turns into a grind, something in our heads has changed, and it took us that long to see that there is no ultimate reward. We knew that from the start and had fun playing anyway.

You only just found out, yet you also knew all along?

I think the estimate is accurate, it's just the schism between gut/animal brain and upper brain hemispheres has not been factored in yet.

I think it'll be eventually found the gut/animal brain thinks there will be a payoff, and the upper hemispheres are simply coasting on the 'good' feeling the lower brain gives as it thinks it's onto a good thing. Except that forms a dissonance inside the very individual - probably the source of much acting out of frustration. I think the contradition of those two sentences is indicative of such a situation.

Not to mention, the gut brain just can't read.
 
Probably the best example I've seen of being able to precisely pin-point the moment that gameplay becomes homework/housekeeping is Wurm Online.

When you're building up your estate and tools and establishing a mine and farm, etc, everything is exciting. After a while, though... the house-keeping starts to add up. All the fences need to be repaired. The farm grows too large, your food needs too high, the houses need to be repaired... and eventually you can go an entire gaming session JUST maintaining your shit.

That's when it turns from game to chore. And that's when you quit. Unless you have some sort of escalation of commitment/loss aversion thing going.
 
I started in vanilla and there were veterans of WoW (for as much as they could be) and transfers from EQ (for much longer) and somehow, the burnout of the veterans did not transfer to me. Maybe I picked up some complaints sooner than I would have otherwise, but it still took several years before I was burned out. I will submit my experience as a single data point against the "burnout transfer" theory.
 
I only partially agree about WoW's success being attributed to just having MORE content (horizontally). The major part of WoW's success is network effects. That's the main reason there can be only one major social company (currently, Facebook). In games these effects are a bit less severe but in the case of MMOs, it has been proven empirically that they are strong enough to have a market leader with 50%+ market share plus several niche mmos who are doing fine (EVE, LOTRO, Chinese & Korean ones) by leveraging the same network effects albeit in a different target group.

As to Zynga "games", the case is clear. They are designed by people good at Excel. First X bits of gameplay is free, progression past level X will cost you years or thousands of dollars or endless spam with hundreds of strangers. Only a few get to that stage but they are the whales that support the pyramid. Some would even say, this type of gameplay prays on people with compulsive behaviors the same that casinos play them. Zynga will say you cant save a fool from himself, they have been consistenly complimentary of their target market calling them domapine junkies in plain text (VP no less).
 
WoW is horizontally much bigger than any other MMORPG out there, and there are a lot of people on their 20th alt still discovering new stuff and having fun. Replayability problems only crop up at level 60 in WoW, which is a lot later than in its competitors. Try playing an alt on the same side in SWTOR and you'll quickly see what I mean.

Never really played WoW, can someone explain to me how rolling alts is more unique there?
 
Never really played WoW, can someone explain to me how rolling alts is more unique there?

WoW has more starting zones (to level 20) and more options how to level to 60 in different zones. SWTOR only has 2 starting zones per side, and only 1 series of planets to level cap, although with a few class-specific quests that will vary from alt to alt.
 
Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link



<< Home
Newer›  ‹Older

  Powered by Blogger   Free Page Rank Tool