Rants tag

Rants, ruminations, and rambling remarks from my mad, muddled, meandering mind.

Monday, January 13, 2014

The Hornets' Nest

Back away slowly.
I seriously did not expect the hue and cry over my weekend posts. Many people delivered impassioned arguments about why there is such a thing as pay-to-win—or at least pay-to-make-someone-else-lose—and the ability to change classes is the Devil's doctrine. I'll make a few more comments and then let you guys duke it out in the comments if you so choose. You probably won't like what I have say.

Trivial Pursuits
That's what I think is really behind the cry of P2W. The awareness that the game is trivializing something I like to do.
Arcadius has a point, and I certainly have railed against games that trivialize my preferred playstyle myself. The truth is that the way I play is trivial, and the way you play is trivial. and the way sports fans watch football all weekend is also trivial—to anyone not involved in it. While I thoroughly believe that recreation and hobbies are important for health and other benefits, the specific way people spend their leisure time is trivial to everyone else. Because the rest of us don't care. The only person in the debate that managed to express anything close to a legitimate argument was Balkoth regarding his top-end raid group. And sorry to say, but he provided his own evidence as to why top end raiders are just as trivial a market segment as any other special interest group in MMOs.

The funny thing is, the insta-90s are coming, is it that hard to imagine the opportunity to skip right to raid-ready status (for a fee)? No one—at least at Blizzard—is talking about selling top-end gear for RL cash.

Is Nothing Sacred?

Fredric March, Carole Lombard, & Walter ConnollyMeanwhile, what Syl calls the Last Bastion of Character Restriction is showing early signs of crumbling. Allod's has started offering the chance to switch character class (for a fee). Upon hearing that some of us approve, the naysayers said nay.

Now a while back, when they introduced the ability to change race, faction, etc., I remember the folks at Blizzard saying basically that changing class was beyond their technical capability. I don't know if that is really the case any longer, if a bit complicated. Of course, the conversation seems to have shifted over at Syl's blog, from what I understood to be a fairly permanent change in class, to a more fluid, switch at will kind of class swapping, akin to the weapon swapping of TSW, or the multiple professions of FFXIV.
As a “player,” I'm primarily the facilitator and observer of my characters. They tell me what they want to do and I help them to do it. It needs to be consistent with their worldview from a perspective that stands within the culture of the virtual world in which they exist. (This is not role-playing, by the way).
~Bhagpuss, over on Syl's post.
Only for a certain definition of role-playing, Sir Bhagpuss. I have never heard anyone express their relationship to their characters this way before. Syl countered by declaring that she is her character, it is an avatar, and better to be able to multi-class than to hop alts on a whim. I am somewhere between, I personally love my alts, but I wonder if I would have developed into an altoholic if not for certain game mechanics in WoW, namely classes and rested XP.

Don't get me wrong, I would love for there to be a valid in-game reasoning for such a change. I came up with head-canon for why my Shadow Priest switched to Discipline, even though the in-game reasoning was flimsy at best, and instantaneous.

Over on his own blog, Klepsacovic expounds on why he doesn't think class swapping is a good idea, but much like the anti-P2W crowd, he decides that his personal feelings should dictate what is or is not available to the rest of us. I responded thus:
I'm with you, changing classes doesn't make sense for us. I couldn't imagine Rowanblaze as anything other than a Human Priest. I bet changing the race or faction of Kelpsacovic doesn't make any sense to you either. But the option is available for those players who are interested in changing faction or race. This would be the same thing. An option. A reformed warlock who took some time out to study the arcane. A warrior who felt the call of the light—or the shadow—set down the sword and board for vestments and staff. And aren't deathknights, at least from a lore perspective, converted from many other classes? There are plenty of RP justifications for changing class. If other players have the option to change the class of their character, how does that really, honestly, affect you?
In the end, players may rage all they want on the forum and the blogs, but if the game companies see an unfulfilled demand that they can monetize, you can bet they will do so.
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  1. Of course, if you play other types of games, like fps, or rts, you start out as good as you are going to get. There is a level playing field. You are "raid-ready" as soon as the game boots for the first time.

    1. These days, even FPS have progression, leveling up weapon skills, unlocking abilities, and so on. RTS seems to be the last bastion of two players with the same UI and the same gameplay options facing off on a symmetrical map.

  2. If you listen to or read a lot of interviews with authors you'll see they divide into two very distinct camps. On one side you have the meticulous plotter, planners and researchers with their timelines and charts. They have every character summed up and every nodal point neatly graphed before they begin page one. Nothing that happens once the writing begins in earnest surprises them in the slightest.

    In the other camp you have the writers who start with not much more than a stack of blank paper and an idea. Their characters form as they write and the author has relatively little foreknowledge of what they might do or say and even less control over either. You frequently hear those authors replying to questions about certain passages in the narrative with something along the lines of "I had no idea that was going to happen" or even "Well I had other plans but that character just wouldn't go along with what I wanted him to do".

    I've written some fiction in the past and I'm firmly in the latter group. I can spend several hours writing a story, read it back and have no idea how it was written. At times it can be almost a trance-like experience with echoes of automatic writing or channeling. It's both mildly uncomfortable and quite exhausting, which is why I don't often write fiction any more.

    From the moment I started playing MMOs running my characters felt like a much lighter, more enjoyable version of the same experience. I've often compared it to directing actors. I give them direction, I even tell them what their motivation is, but they have their own interpretation of the part.

    In essence, I stand to my characters as either the author to the characters in a story or the director to actors on a stage. In the same way no-one would mistake the director of a movie for an actor within it, or the author for a character in his novel, no-one should ever mistake my MMO characters for me. They should, however, see my influence as it acts upon them.

    It's definitely not role-playing.

    1. I have experienced what you are describing as an author. But never as a player. My various characters alts have personalities and such but that rarely comes out during gameplay for me, partly because of the strictures of the MMOs I have played, I am sure.

      Not that I am trying to invalidate your experience with gaming, just pointing out that it is an unusual approach. The same way a child might play with dolls or action figures and give them voice or action in some scenario.

      And I would guess that to most "outsiders," making gameplay decisions based on what the character would do is RP, even if you're not speaking or behaving "In Character." Maybe we should call it Director Play.

  3. For me it boils down to this: if one can buy everything they need in the game.. then what is the point of the game? It no longer is a game as it's circumvented absolutely everything that would make it a game.

    1. I would agree, if people were expected to buy everything. But that's not likely. What is more likely is that people have and will buy things that allow them to bypass some aspect of the game they consider unpleasant that is otherwise preventing them from playing some aspect of the game that they do enjoy. If MMOs were one-trick ponies, this would be meaningless. But they have many dimensions, and not all are equally enjoyable to all people.

      The prime example is the leveling game. Now, I love questing and leveling. But some folks would rather just get to the endgame raids. Given the choice between losing the player and her wallet, or charging a nominal fee to get her where she wants to be and then continuing to have access to her wallet, which do you think the game company will choose.

  4. "And sorry to say, but he provided his own evidence as to why top end raiders are just as trivial a market segment as any other special interest group in MMOs."

    I would point out two things:

    First, it's something people aspire to. People hear about groups fighting tough bosses with great rewards and often want to do something like that. The top guilds are part of the vertical progression ladder to the top. There's a trickle down effect -- if the 5% of whatever of the playerbase that does heroic raids vanished, so would a lot of resources like add-ons, UI improvements, class guides, boss guides, and more. You might argue it would be a GOOD thing if people didn't analyze the game and such but that is another debate.

    Second, I'm really struggling to see any reason why a person not doing heroic raiding needs gear from heroic raiding. Right now LFR drops 528, Flex 540, Normal 553, Heroic 576. If Blizzard added an option to let people instantly get max level and full 522 gear, which would get them into LFR and Flex -- I wouldn't care.

    For the same reason, I really don't care about instant 90s -- I've talked before how I'm not fond of the leveling paradigm anyway. Unless it's something that affects competitive PvE or competitive PvP, I don't really care -- because P2W is ONLY an issue when it comes to competition!


    1. It's something *some* people aspire to. Like "end-game" raid content in every version of WOW, it's something that very few players ever get to see (even through nostalgia runs). Yet it's still something consumes a tremendous amount of developer resources.

      "I'm really struggling to see any reason why a person not doing heroic raiding needs gear from heroic raiding." You're totally right, no reason for it at all. THere is a similar discussion in TSW; if you're not doing doing Nightmare-mode dungeons, then you have no need of the top end gear. But many players have no other means of measuring their progress, since they have maxed out their levels. So they jump on the raid treadmill, or they quit, which obviously the game company does not want.

      Thanks for the link. I liked your post.

    2. Sure, I'm not saying most players aspire to it, it might even be only like 20-25% of players. My point was mainly that it's a heck of a lot more than the 0.2% who have Heroic Garrosh down or even the 5% in Heroic modes period at the moment.

      And allowing progression at the end-game can definitely be an issue, which is one of the reasons WoW has tried to bring in stuff like the legendary cloak that spanned the whole expansion, pet battles, collection achievements on the Timeless Isle, and more -- stuff more involved than "Get better gear somehow."

  5. Always glad to provide an example of the fool who takes himself too seriously. (lol)

    But I think with this post you’ve finally provided the answer you’ve been looking for all along. It doesn’t have anything to do with win conditions or equal access or any reasoned argument. The answer is that it just isn’t worth getting worked up about.

    It’s all vanity and chasing the wind.

    Sound and fury, you know.

    Christmas… Humbug.

    The only place where you might be wrong is that I don’t think the things that come out of games are automatically trivial. I don’t consider the time spent with my friends, and my sharing in their small triumphs to be meaningless. I don’t think your blog is trivial, or the pleasure of our brief conversation.

    Even to people who aren't me. I'm glad that there are people playing games with passion and having serious discussions about the way games affect them, even if I never get to read them.

    I appreciate your approach that says, "let people play the way that interests them." But this is a social game and one of the strengths that MMOs offer is that we all buy into a social contract about how we will interact. And when the contract is changed, (yes, Darth Vader voice here) it's perfectly acceptable for people to express how they are affected by it.

    One final thought. Just because something is inevitable doesn't mean that it's for the better. It doesn't mean that we shouldn't offer plain spoken commentary on it when it happens. Isn't that our job as part of the commentariat?

    Anyway, thanks for facilitating a thought-provoking discussion.

    1. Thank you! I wrote something longer, then decided to use it for tomorrow's post.