Saturday, September 26, 2009

Fun vs. Addictive: a reply

Recently Rakanishu over at Level Cap posted an article about  games being fun vs. addictive. I found it rather amusing considering my last post was about how thought, jokingly, that I might be addicted to Eve. Certainly online games have an addictive quality to them. They provide constant and on going challenges, there isn't a specific ending in mind for characters so there is always more to do if you so choose. I'm not entirely sure this is a bad thing or if this takes away from the fun of a game.

In his article Raknishu said:
"World of Warcraft is crafted around keeping people playing the game. Loot, skills, bosses, and achievements are all cheap tools for getting people to play more. I feel that developers have become too dependent on these tools and are forgetting to throw in challenge, innovation and immersion...."
"It’s hard to remove things like loot from a game. I like finding loot and customizing my character. But it should not be the driving force when playing a game. Loot, leveling, and achievements should all be secondary to fun. "
 I have to respectfully disagree on most of these points. As I stated in an earlier post, Blizzard has put several innovations into their games. They also have added a great deal to provide greater levels of challenges to all of those who want them. The most recent method is by creating hard and normal versions of raiding dungeons. This gives players even more options to challenge their abilities and skills.

Likewise, skills and loot are merely elements of the game, not the core of the game. They are a secondary element, a means to an end. Regardless of gear or level, a player still needs to bring a personal level of skill to the table. I have seen players with the best gear who don't know how to play their class do terribly. The argument, however, that skills, level, and loot should be removed from a game is very alarming to me, especially in a fantasy setting.

I have had extensive experience as a tabletop game player and have played in overwhelmingly immersive games. I have had characters who I have played for many years, building and developing into a rich full personalities with backgrounds and life stories that I could expand on ad nausea. When playing these characters I was excited to level up, or to recover a new and fantastic piece of equipment because it meant even more avenues and adventures were now available to my character.

Rikanishu and I agree on one point, however, immersion is something that many MMORPGs and games in general lack today. However, I disagree as to whose responsibility it is. In a single player game it is entirely the job of the developer to craft a game that will draw me in and keep me interested. In that media the game developer is almost like an author of a novel. They want me to keep playing just like an author wants me to keep reading, so the burden of the effort is upon the story provider.

This relationship changes when you make the jump to a MMORPG because of the multi-player aspect. In WoW, for example, Blizzard is responsible for creating the world. They are the ones who have written the lore behind Archimonde and what he is doing on Mount Hyjal or how Yogg-Saron came to be in the lower chambers of Ulduar. For their part they have written a very detailed story arch and they have only gotten better since the first game. There are still quests that are simply grinds, but many of the quest lines in WotLK relate to the main story and a player who stops to read the text Blizzard has put in place will find a very engaging story with a great deal of subtle twists and turns.

However, the game is massively multiplayer, and with that comes a problem. When I sit down with a gaming group to play Dungeons and Dragons or Call of Cthulu I know, for the most part, that they aren't going to be jerks. They want to have an enjoyable immersive experience where they get to weave rich interactive stories together. If I tried to sit down and do the same thing with a group of 2000 people the chances of having a rich and immersive experience goes right out the window. Blizzard, for their credit, has attempted to combat this - they have created RP servers, and while you still get jerks I have a friend who plays on one and enjoys it immensely. She writes fiction based off her interactions and has a large group of friends who she roleplays with on a weekly basis.

Eve, in a way, has also accomplished the same thing. They have created a world that is moderately immersive, though in their game there is far less story provided. In this respect Eve is a giant sandbox game with mechanics and rules and the bare minimum of a story - my apologies to CCP who is doing more with storyline arches, but in general the approach is hands off. Out of that sandbox you can see countless fantastic stories and interactions being produced on a daily basis.

In short, in terms of immersion in an online game what you get out of it depends a great deal on what you bring into it. I could see creating a system that was different than the current paradigm of games where you could truly experience immersion and hopefully "fun" but this post is already far to long so I'll save that for a separate time.

I think that online gaming is fun, otherwise I wouldn't do it. People claim WoW is addictive, I would say for the most part it is merely engaging. I used to play it quite a deal, I've stepped back for reasons that run a gambit from family and other commitments, but that doesn't change the fact that while I did play I was having fun and I don't think any game would succeed if players did not have fun while playing it.

I'm not sure that loot and character customization are necessarily the driving force of the game.

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