Tobold's Blog
Wednesday, September 25, 2013
Grown immune to extrinsic rewards?

Reading MMORPG and gaming blogs I am of course aware that World of Warcraft released patch 5.4 this month, and there is a new zone called Timeless Isle where lots of epic loot can be gained. After reading lots and lots of discussion about that loot pinata I realized I wasn't interested at all. It seems I have grown immune to the promise of extrinsic rewards in MMORPGs and am only interested in intrinsic rewards now. 

That is problematic insofar as MMORPGs have grown very bad at offering any intrinsic rewards. Whatever sense of adventure and achievement there was a decade ago has died the death of a thousand cuts, with too many games and expansion offering the same basic gameplay experience over and over again. Especially if I try a new game these days I am faced with a trivial and boring experience; the remote promise that there will be a better experience one day in the end game isn't really enough to motivate me to play through the boring parts. And it isn't just achievement that has been removed from the leveling game, but also many exploration and social elements. It is very hard today to find a game in which playing in a group is more efficient than playing solo during leveling, not to mention the old "forced grouping" concept that is long dead. And exploration has been replaced by guided tours; and if the game doesn't guide you, then somebody on YouTube will.

Handing out extrinsic rewards can only fool the brain for so long. At first you think that if the game rewards you with "an epic", you must have achieved something. But sooner or later you realized that the "achievement" you actually got rewarded for was simply playing the game (or more importantly paying for it). That isn't limited to MMORPGs, even Steam is handing out achievements and trading cards for buying and playing games. But ultimately just putting time in or money in is a rather hollow achievement.

With MMORPGs not delivering what I want, I'm playing other games these days that are better at delivering intrinsic rewards. That can be challenge, for example Card Hunter is a very challenging game. Or it can be exploration, with games that do a better job at telling a story or letting you explore a world without endless repetition. And I also like games which are about creation, e.g. building a city, which is an intrinsic reward that doesn't figure much in MMORPGs at all. No amount of easy epics can give as much satisfaction than the intrinsic rewards of those other games.

The Timeless Isle loot isn't an extrinsic reward. Anyone that did the previous tiers LFR would have better gear. What it does do it provide a catch-up mechanism for new players and alts.

For already geared up players, the island rewards are almost entirely intrinsic. Other than a couple of small of upgrades and the two weekly raid boss kills, the main lure of the island is to explore the place, encounter a variety of challenging mobs and compete in a new top tier of pet battles.
I respect your feeling that when you try a new MMO nowadays you find yourself "faced with a trivial and boring experience". That, however, is *your* feeling, not a universal truth. It must be evident to you, however, at least if you still browse MMO blogs, that many players, some of whom have been playing MMOs as long as you have, don't share your ennui.

In recent years I have been thrilled, excited or simply richly entertained by a series of new MMOs, particularly GW2,The Secret World and now FFXIV:ARR. Other bloggers that I read and whose opinions I respect have found plenty to admire and enjoy in other new MMOs like Neverwinter or Firefall.

It seems apparent that MMOs no longer "work" for you and that you are no longer able to find within them the intrinsic rewards you are seeking. That's a personal assessment. Clearly they do still "work" for others, myself included, who remain as able to access those intrinsic rewards as ever they were.

@dobable: As I said, I only get the information second hand, and the blogs I read disagree with you.

That, however, is *your* feeling, not a universal truth.

Which is why my post is full of the word "I", as in "Especially if I try a new game these days I am faced with a trivial and boring experience"
@Tobold: of course when you use sources which tell you what you want to hear, you should not be surprised when you hear what you want to hear...

Dobablo is right, gear on the island is irrelevant, the only reason to go there is achievement hunting (if you're into it -- I'm not), or the Celestial Tournament scenario, which is the only reason I'm there (and I'm still being steamrolled by the pet battles, even if less than last week....).

BTW when you say: Especially if I try a new game these days I am faced with a trivial and boring experience; the remote promise that there will be a better experience one day in the end game isn't really enough to motivate me to play through the boring parts. then you're 100% right in dumping the game from the start. It's not a big problem, anyway, the gaming offer at the moment is enormous, if one game/genre does not keep you entertained, move on.
I tried Card Hunter and I find it a mediocre card game, so I just don't log in anymore and play other stuff (a little fun game on Kongregate: King's league: Odyssey).

And exploration has been replaced by guided tours
If you want exploration go do a world tour on Ryzom, with a level 1 character it may be impossible, but getting to the point where you get the 1st sprint and 1st invuln must take one hour, and at that point it may actually be possible.
"of course when you use sources which tell you what you want to hear"

I have a newsreader full of various blog feeds. I have seen many blog posts talking about the "loot pinata isle", but none talking about how intrinsically fun the isle is. I just randomly cited one, but did not specifically search for that opinion.

Even the blog posts of people who still love WoW talk mostly about the loot there. What blog would you recommend that talks about how great a location for exploration the Timeless Isle is?
What the genre as a whole needs is a complete turnaround to its roots.

Unfortunately wow died for me when it revamped it's old content rendering it COMPLETELY useless and having me dis-"connected" with a once ADORED virtual world. I just don't feel right with the "new" azeroth. Something that is definitely impossible to live again except on private servers that i also detest for other reasons.

I had high hopes for Final Fantasy but that even has an obscene amount of "new" elements into play that make it hard to feel your presence in the world. FATEs for one, MINDLESS grinding for crafting/gathering professions and classes was also a repelling idea from my part. It just isn't fun when you complicate things that much (cross abilities etc.). The only thing i do like was the dungeon difficulty.

Things need to be kept simple with clarity, but with a lot of depth and mechanics that indeed promote cooperation and community.
They have jumping puzzles there!

And periodic (a bit too frequent, i'd say) "rare" spawns - big and small, which lead to people swarming certain places.

Probably trying to replicate some GW2 ideas using WoW engine :)
Well, Bhagpuss is partially right. How much fun you have with this stuff is largely about your take on it. And that is largely a function of how long you have been playing for most people.

That said, Tobold is also right. MMOs are usually not about providing a fun gaming experience, it relies on providing rewards to motivate players.

I've been playing the GTA series since the 90s, and I come back each time. I'm not worried about the money, or leveling. I play it because the gameplay is fun and the story is fun. Or course GTA comes in much smaller doses, so it stays fun. I'm sure if I'd played 200 days of GTA I'd be done with that too.
Have to admit I don't really understand the distinction you're making. The enjoyment I gain in an mmo from balancing stat caps, theorycrafting upgrades, trying new builds, improving my overall power, all seems very similar to the enjoyment I gain from a city sim, trade sim, or grand strategy game, balancing supplies, trying new placement/transit patterns, slowly improving my country's overall situation, and rival countries overcome.

Whatever you're playing, there are fun systems to game and get better at. Not sure what you see as the essential difference that makes one potentially fun while the other pointless.

Don't care about this new zone thing, but that's mostly because I'm off playing GW2.
Basically: intrinsic reward: It's fun to do. I.e. you would want to play it even if all record of you doing was destroyed when you quit playing. For instance, Super Mario Brothers.

Extrinsic reward: it's an activity you wouldn't want to do if not for gaining access to a reward. Like a job; you wouldn't do it without the extrinsic reward of a paycheck. In MMOs, that would include grinding rep, or doing the same raid for the 50th time.

You may enjoy the game for the intrinsic fun of playing with the math, and that's great, but Tobold isn't making a universal statement.
I think after a while of playing these never ending games you reach the point where you see just a poorly dressed skinner box. And at the point you will look quite hard at any new ones if they are actually something different ... which they most often are not.

In the old days you had at least a social environment in the game that was tightly knit, friendly and made up for the shortcomings of the game design, but nowadays there is quite a mercenary nature to guilds.

... it might be also a sign that "the new generation" is slowly reaching critical mass in MMOs and bring with them the "new way of doing things".
Game designers ARE figuring this out. They are just moving very slowly.

In WoW 5.3, Dinosaur Island had VERY little in the way of quests or even objectives. There was a bone grind for non-gear items. Kind of a like rep, but without the rep. Yet my guild spent a huge amount of time there, hanging out. Killing stuff. Having fun.

In 5.4, the Timeless Isle was intended to be more of that. A little more questing, a little gear catchup. More solo friendly. But not a ton of questing Again, my guild is loving it. They group because they enjoy it. No efficiency.
Although MMOs have added more open ended activities to bring back a tiny bit of old school, it wasn't enough to keep me from jumping to Minecraft.

More open ended. Randomly generated. Not typically very hard. Although there are achievements, most of my achievements are personal. Automating something. Build a specific building.

EQNext Landmark is going to have Minecraft-style building in a lead up to the EQNext MMO.

I don't think you are alone in noticing the desire for intrinsicly motivated gameplay. There is a lot of room for it, and a lot of people are enjoying it, and looking forward to more.
Perhaps this argues for new MMOs and peripatetic MMO hopping versus the traditional "been playing WoW/EVE since beta" paradigm.

I.e., for me, "exploring" is learning. So even if one thinks (for example only; not starting a religious war) WoW is a somewhat better game than Rift, one might find the next month or two more interesting in a Rift you have never played than a WoW you have played for years?

For me, I get my learning and interesting decisions before the game launches - understanding the classes and mechanics so I can find out what is best for me; understanding the crafting and estimating the most efficient/profitable paths, etc. Website, fansites, blogs, podcasts - lots of interesting info to explore. Alas, it means that much of the fun is over by launch or at least the first week or two.

EL & EQN are very interesting at the moment; we shall see how they are post-launch.

What blog would you recommend that talks about how great a location for exploration the Timeless Isle is?

Looking at the blogs I follow: none, since it's an irrelevant part of the patch for anyone who raids. The interesting part is class changes, proving grounds and, if you're into pets, celestial tournament. At the same, time (and as I said), I don't see why you would want to even look at WoW if what you seek is exploration.....

Did you play Terraria and Don't Starve? Both games deducated to exploring with some construction.
Looking at the blogs I follow: none

So why do you accuse me of seeking out only sources that tell me what I want to hear, if you agree yourself that this is the only point of view reported anywhere? Even you seem to agree that the Timeless Isle is about extrinsic rewards, and not intrinsic ones.
So why do you accuse me of seeking out only sources that tell me what I want to hear, if you agree yourself that this is the only point of view reported anywhere? Even you seem to agree that the Timeless Isle is about extrinsic rewards, and not intrinsic ones.

From my answer it's very clear that it's not the only point reported anywhere. The blogs I read ignore it because it's irrelevant. WoW is a vast game, it's very easy to ignore most of it and still play, if this part is not what you look for, why do you care it exists?

And where exactly did I agree about it being about extrinsic rewards? Actually, in the first post I agreed pretty much with Dobablo, and I don't see why you would weigh the opinion of some bloggers higher than his, unless it's because they tell you what you want to hear and he doesn't.

I wrote a letter to blizz about why I didn't take up their free 7 day activation offer:

I thought about reactivating the free game time offered to me recently, and even start logging on to fan sites and the official site to see what's new, check out the patch notes and new activities.

I decided not to take something free.

Yeah. It was so unappealing that I wouldn't do it even when it was FREE.

What's the ratio of levelling content to end-game content? 70:30? 80:20? We hear 'life begins at level cap', but the amount of time and content invested in the levelling process makes that a bait and switch. If you enjoy the levelling process but hate raiding, then the end-game is very literally the end of the game for you.

I'm disappointed in WoW. Solo and small-group content is all I'll ever consider playing now, and it's pretty clear I can just wait for the next expansion to play catch-up. I can't stand raiding and everything that goes along with it, and it frustrates me that the primary focus of anything new in the game is raiders.

Even more so, it frustrates me that if you want to keep improving your character's stats and shinies to grow their lore and power in your own worldview, you're forced to raid. There is no high-level equivalent solo/small group 'best in slot' shinies.

People tell me that 'why do you need raid gear if you're not using it to challenge yourself'? This is a very tired argument and it baffles me that people still don't understand... Most consumers don't buy sports cars because they actually intend to drive anywhere at 200mph. (Since that's INCREDIBLY ILLEGAL.) They buy sports cars because they're powerful and pretty. Same deal with gear. Except that actually, having that extra gear DOES make your solo experience easier and faster when making your own challenges, such as soloing old raids to see the content that involved too much social meta-game-playing to go see the first time around.

The argument also falsely assumes that raiding needs gear more than solo challenges do. That might be true now, but it doesn't have to be. Why is it? The Warlock green fire quest shows us that you CAN make solo content challenging. Why not make it just as challenging as raiding and just as rewarding?

People tell me that if everything of status or power was equally-achievable solo, it would kill raiding. I think it says something very negative about the 'fun' intrinsic to raiding that if you can get equal rewards doing something else, so many people believe that no-one would raid. I really wish you guys would think about that for a minute, about what that means.

The answer to these questions is that Blizzard thinks WoW = Raiding, that raiding is the pinnacle of the WoW experience that it is GREATER and more worthy than any other type of activity that people might enjoy.

That's a problem. If it got fixed, I'd be back playing, because Azeroth is a virtual home to me and I otherwise like being there.
Tobold, I found your blog after searching for "EQ returners". I've noticed a running theme that is more or less summarized by the question: "What is good in an MMO?".

I just returned to EQ on a progression server after 12 years away, playing other games, including WoW. I am having a blast. Why? It's such a bad game, after all. It has bad graphics, it is cryptic, idiosyncratic, clunky, and punishing to mistakes. How could it possibly compete with the size and polish of WoW?

Intrinsic vs Extrinsic rewards is am interesting good way of putting the dichotomy between EQ and WoW. They are related, but not obviously related, to another dichotomy: immersion versus convenience.

What is the difference between an intrinsic and extrinsic reward? An intrinsic reward is something that you feel, and an extrinsic reward is something that you obtain. So, pointing out the extrinsicness of a reward is just another way of saying, "I didn't feel anything good when I obtained this thing. The whole business was external to the life of my mind."

In the end, we only play these games for "intrinsic" value. There is no real argument in favor of extrinsic rewards - nobody says, "Sure, you may have felt more rewarded for obtaining those puny +1 charisma gloves, than I felt when I obtained these +50 charisma gloves in this other game, but clearly my reward is better and thus, I am having more fun." Or, if they do, we can safely ignore them for being psychotic.

So the question really is, how can players be made to feel a sense of accomplishment? There are, to my mind, two main ways. Rewards can either be honest signals of skill, or the game can be immersive. Immersive means it draws your imagination into the world that it creates, and facilitates the play-acting that you are actually a ranger in a cave fighting your way past ugly humanoid funguses.

When you complain about extrinsic rewards, I see complaints about a fundamental lack of difficulty and/or immersion. WoW scores badly in both dimensions.
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