Tobold's Blog
Monday, March 06, 2017
Challenge accepted

Yesterday Gevlon challenged me with the question "Are you finally accepting that games changed for the worse over the last decade? Remember the vibrant community back then around WoW!". No, games didn't change, the audience did. To understand what happened, we need to go back in time and look at what happened with TV:

In 1980, 80 million Americans watched Dallas at the same time in order to find out who shot J.R.. A few years later, in 1983 the final episode of MASH had 106 million viewers. Today even a hit TV show like Game of Thrones doesn't get more than 8 million people in front of the TV at the same time. So, does that mean that 80's soap operas and sitcoms are better TV than Game of Thrones? No, it means that the audience has dispersed. The number of available TV channels to an average household in the USA went up from 10 in 1980 to hundreds today. Ownership of VCRs took off in 1985, DVD players in 2006, and DVRs in 2008. And that's before Netflix and other "video on demand" services made their breakthrough. Today far more people spend more time than in the 80's to watch TV series, but they don't watch the same series at the same time as they used to in the 80's.

The same dispersion is happening to video games. In all of 2013, 562 games were released on Steam. In 2014 that went up to 1769, in 2015 to 2936, and in 2016 to 4811 games released in a single year. And that is just Steam, the number of mobile games is far bigger, three quarters of a million games on the Apple app store alone. Even a niche genre like MMORPGs has 200 different games listed on Wikipedia.

As I said yesterday, for game blogging that is a problem. Just like today you can't start a conversation at the water cooler any more about last nights' episode of Dallas and be pretty sure most people around you did watch it, today I can't write about games any more and assume my readers played that game recently. It would be hard enough if I played games when they came out, but as I said, with Steam sales I now tend to play last year's games.

That doesn't mean games changed for the worse. If it were possible to get a group of game testers today that have never played World of Warcraft before and let them play both vanilla WoW and Legion, I'm pretty sure the majority would prefer the modern version. If the "vibrant community" isn't there any more, it is because that community dispersed over the many games that came out since.

In addition we all get older. Sometimes you hear very old people tell you that sugar was sweeter when they were young. Well, white crystal sugar is a single chemical compound, not a mixture, and so it can't ever change its taste. But in older people the taste buds on the tongue deteriorate, and to them sugar now tastes less sweet. I put a second lump of sugar in my tea myself these days, but I don't blame the sugar for it. MMORPGs taste less sweet to us because of age and experience with these games, the novelty is gone, and so are our guild mates. None of which has anything to do with the quality of games today.

Yes, if you pick a random one of the 4811 games from 2016 on Steam, chances are that the game won't be very innovative and novel. There simply aren't that many genres of games! That doesn't mean that those games aren't good, or that innovative games don't exist any more. They just get drowned out in the flood. I can still sometimes find a game like Beholder and say "I have never played a game like this before". Or I find a game like Empires & Puzzles on the app store and find that while it has very familiar components (match 3 puzzles, heroes collection, base building) it combines those features in ways that are quite good and haven't been done quite so in that combination before.

Just as I think that TV is better in 2017 than it was in the 80's, because I simply have more choice, I think that gaming is better today than a decade or two ago. We just don't watch or play the same thing at the same time anymore, which makes talking about them harder and gives you less of a sense of community. But much of that "community" was an illusion anyway, there is a huge difference in quality between friends and online friends. So overall I think it changed for the better. Until the industry crashes, which is inevitable for any exponential progression bubble.

I'd agree with you but I have pretty compelling evidence that this is a bit of unintended bias. You and I, Tobold, are not very community driven in our gaming, so it's absence impacts us less. But I have friends and specifically a wife for whom gaming communities are fundamental to the process, and she and her online compatriots spend a lot of time working to keep those communities together. That said: if your community is strong, it will survive. But back in the day, it was possible to experience something really novel, a game that fostered a new kind of community, which is now very hard to do today. I'm incredibly antisocial in my online gaming, and even I had "friends and connections" as a result of WoW online that I miss, and know I will almost certainly never see the likes of again....and it is all because the lighting in a bottle that was 2005 made that possible. It's possible--but highly unlikely--such a phenomenon will ever happen again because we as people have changed, and the market for gaming is vastly different now. But while games have "improved" I really can see an argument for saying that there was something unique and special early on that we accidentally (or deliberately, you pick) lost, likely forever for most of us.
Good post. BTW I'd say that you can replace "TV series" with anything else which moved from niche to mainstream and all your points still apply.

Game of Thrones still became culturally relevant. "Winter is coming" or "shame, shame, shame" is known to everyone. Also, 8M people watching it on TV isn't the sum of the consumers: people watch it on DVD, Netflix, local TV dubbed to local language and so on. While there are zillions of TV shows, GoT still shines out. So did House MD, Sex and the City, Lost, Walking Dead.

Dispersion is also not an excuse for lack of blogging. We never had millions of followers. WoW bloggers were blogging about WoW, for a couple hundred or thousand fellow WoW players. WoW is still played by millions of people, yet there are barely any WoW blogs left. I don't know of a single BDO blog, despite that game has 1M players over the World.

Age isn't an excuse. Just because WE got old, the community shouldn't have. New members should have taken up the torch and they didn't.

Finally and most importantly I believe testers would prefer the old WoW over new, as evidenced by the nearly half million who played on Nostalrius. WoW - and games in general - were better by these exact points:
- your actions had an effect on your success. Now you always succeed.
- there were winners and losers (in MMOs: full epic raiders and green noobs). Now everyone is a hero
- if you gained something, other player could only gain it by the same effort. Now there are "catchup" and "welfare" mechanics.
- most importantly: you used to pay for gaming access (subscription or box). Now you pay for advantage in the game over other players. This is the crucial point: you can't write a blog about "look how I bought all those gold ammos and pwned all those noobs"

That was a great post with good points, Tobold.
There are more effects than dispersion. If there are few choices (in games or in TV), one effect is that people are forced to explore more outside their preferred niche. Some will do it anyway, but there are probably folks who watch all-in wrestling 24/7 now. Back when there were few TV channels, they had to watch other things - and conversely, everyone had to watch all-in wrestling when nothing else was on, or find something to do apart from TV.
@ Gevlon good points, I just wanted to add my 2c to these ones:

> your actions had an effect on your success.
> Now you always succeed.

That's not entirely true: you now have a lot more things to do in WoW. Most of them are mundane tasks that anyone can accomplish (true) but there still are hard things to achieve (high-end Mythics/raids, hard achievements, ...). Vanilla WoW was extremely "small" and simple with less content, less variety, less options in general. Now you can enjoy more content and -if you want- you can challenge yourself too. It's not "always win".

>- there were winners and losers (in MMOs:
> full epic raiders and green noobs).
> Now everyone is a hero

Yes this is true. Everyone has "that cool mount", everyone has "that cool transmog", everyone has that "very-rare pet". Once upon a time someone with two warglaives was a rare sight. Ashes of A├ČLar? Same story.

> - if you gained something, other player could only
> gain it by the same effort. Now there are "catchup"
> and "welfare" mechanics.

Also true, yes. But I think this is a good thing. Everyone pays the game and everyone should be able to enjoy its entire content. This is why LFR is a great tool for those who want to play the easy mode and accept its (very) low rewards.

>- most importantly: you used to pay for gaming access (subscription or box).
> Now you pay for advantage in the game over other players.

Can you elaborate why? High-end gear (legendaries) still need to drop, you can't cheat the system or buy them.
Interesting post and thread so far. Lots of good points.

I think MMOs are as good now as they've ever been. Movies, music, fiction too. TV is probably better.

The internet means I can sample things I would never even have known existed back in the 70s or 80s. I was up until 1.30am last night watching Malaysian indie bands on YouTube, for example.

All in all, everything entertainment now is equal or superior in most every way to anything I've known in my life. Some of that is exposure, some is experience. The new builds on the old and makes it better.

A good future awaits.
Also, let's not forget the immense help we get every day from WowHead, Youtube, Reddit, official Blizzard forums, addons, etc. The "vanilla" times had their sources too (Allakhazam, Thottbot, ...) but theu can't be compared to the gigantic (modern) websites/sources.

We should ask new players to try the game without Wowhead for example. I am sure it would be a pain in the back.
@Rugus: you can challenge yourself. The game doesn't challenge you. If you fail the challenge you set, it won't set you back.

LFR rewards aren't very low. They beat last patch mythic. They are the reason that gear doesn't matter anymore. Every patch resets your progress, you'll be at even field with the drooling noob again.

You can pay a guild to carry you from your legally RMT-ed gold.

@Tobold: I forgot to specify the elephant in the room. If there were lots of DIFFERENT games, we would both have a favorite that we happily play. Instead I'm between games (technically playing BDO but only for the blog), you try dozens of short games. You can still watch Dallas. You can still watch "story about extended family" type of telenovellas. But you can't play old WoW or anything like that. The games we liked are gone and replaced by thousands of games we don't like.
To add to what Tobold is saying here, you just need to look at what has happened to the community around WoW vs EVE. The more 'accessibly' WoW got, the smaller the dedicated community got, because people didn't need it or look for it. EVE hasn't changed in that way, and has retained its blogging/podcasting community, as well as overall having a highly active and involved social structure.

The games and their rules shape how people play them. When you turn a game from requiring a group (vanilla WoW) to allowing you to roam solo and progress, people get less invested with those around them and it ultimately makes it easier to just step away in total.

(As for blogging about random Steam games, it still works, but more to inform readers of something new rather than as an interactive dialog. It's why when I blog about something new the comments are generally low, but days after my Steam activity list lights up with people buying that game. You get fewer page views via Google keyword randomness, but my 'core' of actual human visitors hasn't dropped as blogging has changed.)
So what you are saying is that when 7 people were stranded on Gilligan's Island, they formed a great community, in spite of the fact that the 7 didn't really like each other. But now the shipwrecked people have been rescued and have the choice to go wherever they want. And to your surprise and anger the members of this "wonderful community" would rather go elsewhere with somebody else than be forced to stick around with the people they previously were forced to hang out with.

Choice is good. And it reveals that some things that happened in the past weren't by choice, but by force. Yes, abandoning "forced grouping" leads to less forced groups being formed. But isn't that actually a good thing? It isn't as if you guys weren't constantly complaining about the people you were forced to play with.

> you can challenge yourself. The game doesn't challenge you.
If you fail the challenge you set, it won't set you back.

Running M+ dungeons is a challenge you get from the game, it's not something you do on your own (like, for example, leveling 1-110 all naked). There is a ladder and you climb it only if you're geared AND skilled.

> LFR rewards aren't very low. They beat last patch mythic.
> They are the reason that gear doesn't matter anymore.

LFR lets people enjoy the content/lore and it doesn't require great skills. I think that's a great way to give away some gear AND let people appreciate the amount of lore/stuff that WoW can offer-

> Every patch resets your progress, you'll be at
> even field with the drooling noob again.

Well... yes. That's how the game works since the very beginning. In a way, patches "outlevel" your character just like leveling 1-110 when you change zone and acquire new gear. Your "old" stuff is -indeed- old.

You will be at even field when the patch hits the game. It's a cycle, Vanilla wasn't different. It was just slower and you had to farm the crap out of mobs to level and get some gold. Where Vanilla was "harder" (I kind of agree), it was also VERY grindy and tedious.

> You can pay a guild to carry you from
> your legally RMT-ed gold.

I don't think paying a guild is a common way to play the game among new players. Again. I just think that us (old/veteran players) are unable to accept the changes and keep dreaming of the good old times.

I've been reading some extremely excited posts on Reddit, written from guys who never-ever played WoW (some of them didn't even know what's a MMO). They were so excited that I immediately went back to the Vanilla days.

I think the game changed for the better and we old-farts can't cope with the new era.

You must be the last guy still believing that I am Gevlon. :)
@Tobold: you ENJOYED being on Gillian's Island. You played. You blogged.

Now, with all the "choices" you don't play and don't blog. You clearly lost something.
I used to enjoy beat em up games. There are still some that are apparently good (like castle crashers though even that is old) but I don't care for them anymore. Now I prefer narrative heavy games like Mass effect. Does that mean I lost something or I found something better?
Now, with all the "choices" you don't play and don't blog. You clearly lost something.

Where did I say that I don't play any more? I still play games every day, even on holidays, on my iPad. I don't play MMORPGs every day any more, but that really isn't much of a loss. I "lost" the community of people playing the same game as me at the same time, with who I could exchange thought via my blog. I gained other friends while playing face-to-face games. Overall I'd say I'm a net winner, not loser.

Really, if you main concern is that you are all alone now, because game developers don't force people to play with you any more, the problem is not with the games ...
@Tobold: surely you're not the only person playing those games on your IPad. It would be quite expensive to develop a game (even a browser game) for Tobold only. So there must be tens of thousands of players playing the same game.

Yet you did not care to try to communicate with these players. My guess is that because you didn't think the game is not worthy to talk about. It has nothing to do with player count. Tale in the Desert has (and always had) very small playerbase. Yet you managed to write over 20K words about it. (I've just checked!) So I dare to say that you found Tale "more valuable" than the random mobile games that you use for harmless fun.
@ Tobold

Meh, it was for Gevlon indeed. USE A BETTER COMMENT SYSTEM SO WE CAN EDIT!

Yet you did not care to try to communicate with these players.

Wrong conclusion. It isn't that I don't "care" to try to communicate with these players, but that I think it is technically impossible. In 2005, when this blog was still called Tobold's MMORPG blog I could reasonably assume that my readers were all MMORPG players, and that 80% of them were playing World of Warcraft. And that they would be interested in other, similar games as well.

With over 12,000 PC games on Steam and over 750,000 iOS games on the app store, and my blog being less focused on a single type of game, I simply can't assume that any game I write about is either known or interesting to my readers. I certainly wrote over 20K words about various PC and mobile games.

So, I fully agree with your statement that the community isn't there any more, and that is a problem for blogging. It isn't a problem for gaming. Games today are better than a decade ago and I have far more choice.
@Tobold: "Games today are better than a decade ago and I have far more choice."

This is self-contradictory. "better" and "choice" are mutually exclusive. This is best explained with the old WoW talent system: while there were zillions of combinations, only the one published on Elitist Jerks were used by raiders and everyone experimenting with others were called "n00bs". Why? Because the EJ talent was better.

If Game A is better than Game B, then A gets the players and B dies. There should be one king of the hill for every genre. The reason why there are so many games is that they are all crap and players wander between them looking for a "better", but never find one and never settle. If one would make a better game, his game would attract the players. The reason why no one makes it is that there is more money in making several crappy games, grab the money of the whales and fold.
> If one would make a better game,
> his game would attract the players

There are app-games with a huge playerbase. Clash of Clans and Clash Royale come to my mind. Almost every kid here plays them (and often even their parents). There are hundreds of copypaste games like them but still they hold the crown.

Gevlon: there is no contradiction there. The games today are both better AND more diverse than a decade ago. Thanks to advances in technology, evolution of game design and the growth of the market, we can now cut the pie into more pieces and each individual piece will still be larger than the entire pie back in the day.

In terms of WoW analogies, you are saying that a level 1 character is by definition better than a level 110 character. You look at every level 1 player in grays using the same single-target nuke (the only one they have) and autoattack, and declare it to be a sign of a healthy robust community of like-minded enthusiasts. You look at level 110 players switching between rotations, talents and gear sets depending on the activity and encounter type (PvP vs PvE, AoE vs single-target, self-sustain vs glass cannon) and decide that the only explanation for the phenomenon is because ALL of their choices are individually and collectively worse than autoattacking and spamming Rank 1 Smite while wearing grays.
Gevlon said:

"- your actions had an effect on your success. Now you always succeed."

Let's focus on that. Is it really a coincidence that the only games in the last 5-ish years that have managed to create a rabid following are the Dark Soul games? They even spawned an entire new sub-genre of brutally hardcore difficulties.

He also has a point about the age thing. As the older members of the community aged and stepped away, the entire community diminished more than it should, meaning less fresh blood has been trickling in. But then again blogging is something that has been dieing out as a whole, as people just turn more easily to the convenience of sites like Reddit and social media.

@Tobold: while I'm not one to believe on the tinfoil theories that say you and Gev are the same person, you guys certainly seem like the 2 sides of the same coin, like it or not...
Sorry, but I'm having to throw the bullshit flag on a lot of the posts I see here.

Even with knowing the fact that there are tens of thousands of games that are out there now, how many of those games are able to keep anyone's attention span for more than a short period of time?

Can those kinds of games be successful without community? Sure, but we all know that the games without a sense of community aren't played for the same reasons as those that provide one, and I think that is the main distinction that needs to be made here. I highly doubt that Tobold would sit in his D&D room and play his sessions with complete strangers that he has never previously met, nor would he play his sessions with people who didn't have any knowledge about D&D. His posts indicates he is well beyond that, and that his preferences have changed over the years. He has even indicated that he has issues with the various versions that have come out over the years, yet he is still able to immerse himself in the game and write blog posts about his adventures as if nothing has changed to the point that he would throw up his hands and just walk away from it.

Regardless of which Bartle type anyone claims to be, and not to get caught up in "romantic regression" as I write this, there are still things upon which games should be judged - Game length, story/lore, variety and the games ability to keep one properly immersed during their stay in the game world. In the case where community plays an important role in maintaining this immersion level, such as in Vanilla WoW, it cannot be discounted that people would feel differently when guilds were negatively affected with the addition of the LFG/LFR tools. Although I didn't quit WoW after these changes, I did have to find a different way of looking at the game since I didn't want to walk away from my still solid and very "social" guild. I would suspect that it's the same reason that Tobold hasn't walked away from D&D. It's all about having the drive, and a reason to continue investing one's time and energy into something that they enjoy, even if the core of the game is something totally different from what it once was.

I suspect that the types of people who consider themselves to be living in a dog-eat-dog world will dilute their energies and lower their standards by playing whimsical, no-nonsense brainless games. I think it's the nature of all things human, but that doesn't mean they're playing the wrong games. We all have a choice in how we spend our precious recreation time, and that's how it should be.
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