Hasenfeffer got my Rabbit

I had a great comment from Villainelle my article on the Lazy Rabbit and I thought I’d bring it up front.

Thanks Vil.

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Excessive investment of time in a game with a large “casual” player population should be rewarded–with aesthetic rewards. These rewards should not influence combat or overall competitiveness with other players. The gear can look uber, sure, but the stats must be equal to, or otherwise NOT more generally advantageous than, what a non-raider, or non-large-consecutive-block-of-time-invester, can acquire.

Kendricke, your ideas are great for a game that would be designated on-the-box as a serious raiding game that requires a certain time investment for the player to expect to remain competitive in the game world and be able to enjoy all of the game’s content. Your ideas simply don’t work in a game with a large “casual” playerbase. No matter how much you try to minimize the inequality, it remains a fundamental aspect of the game and breeds discontent.

And there is the rub. I think the problem is that we’re trying to force two opposing PvE concepts into one game, similar to WoW’s strained marriage of PvE and PvP (which has failed on the PvP end, as most admit).

Over time I’ve come to realize that the two types of PvE endgame–which I’m woefully generalizing for the sake of brevity as “hardcore” and “casual”–simply cannot satisfyingly coexist in the same game, by their very nature. Why? Because casual endgame is inclusive, while hardcore endgame is exclusive. The casual gamer wants to participate in everything and have an equal chance at an equal game experience, loot, etc. The casual does not want an “easier” game (if I hear this one more time…), but he DOES want an “equal” game. The hardcore gamer, conversely, wants to compete with her peers and achieve something that allows her to dominate, in some way, for a time (world firsts, guild/gear prestige etc.). The hardcore gamer does not want a “harder” game per se (see below), but she DOES want a meaningful reward for her time investment.

Both are valid game goals. They’re just mutually incompatible.

If we’re reasonable, we don’t need to rehash why the “casual” label does not mean “someone who wants easymode.” I hope I don’t need to explain why some people do not want to or cannot participate in a typical 20hr+/week raiding schedule, reside in a large guild, etc. Logically we must accept that there is no reason for “contiguous 6-hour block of time” to be qualitatively superior to “six separate 1-hour blocks of time” in an MMORPG. If game design tries to make it so, then the game design clearly favors the “hardcore” endgame model and is anti-casual, and again, there’s no point trying to force both in the same game; the devs should settle on one goal and pursue it openly. To do else is folly and will alienate the casual base; see World of Warcraft.

But I do want to debunk the “hardcore gamers just want more challenge and don’t care about loot” myth. Being a powergamer and a hardcore raider who has done a hard bit of self-examination, I feel quite qualified to posit my theory on this one. Someone on a game forum offered up an excellent thought experiment that nailed it for me:

Let’s say MMORPG X puts in a raid instance, and when you enter the instance you’re presented with a choice: Easy or Hard Mode. Both modes reward IDENTICAL loot. The Easy instance is just…easier! And so on. No one will be able to tell how you got the gear. There is absolutely no special reward or penalty based on your choice of mode.

Now what would you, as a hardcore raider, choose? Knowing that “casuals” will have absolutely no qualms about throwing together a PUG and going for an Easy run to grab some great gear?

If we’re being honest, most raiders would choose Easy first, gear up as quickly and efficiently as possible, and perhaps for kicks someday, try a Hard Mode run. (My former guild in WoW occasionally tried some silly challenges when we had nothing else to do…like having me, a rogue, tank Onyxia in an alt farming run. Sadly, with my Naxx epics, I did better as an evasion tank than some poor warrior in blues/T1, and managed to hold aggro (after a minute’s headstart of DPSing) too.) Very few people truly invest so much time into hardcore raiding chiefly for “the challenge.” Our main goal is THE PRESTIGE. Challenge is a SIDE goal for most; it keeps things interesting and makes competition more fierce, but honestly, inside most raiders there is some degree of gear lust, a desire to collect shinies or some completist/collector urge (rare recipes, full armor sets, etc.).

I say again: I’m definitely in that group; I love collecting gear and strutting around looking pimp after slaving in some choreographed raid chorus line for weeks. That’s fun for me. I’m a chick, so, you know, it’s okay if I’m into dress-up. But it belongs in its own MMO, and it’s not fair to tack on that sort of endgame onto a game that is primarily populated by–and worse, MARKETED toward–casuals.

But I think this is only a real problem for WoW, which has been in the throes of an identity crisis since release: is it a hardcore PvE raiding game? Is it a PvP game? Is there any place for casuals after hitting max level? WoW’s fragmented community and census numbers of late indicate that it at least has not succeeded at blending these three aspects, and glancing over the huge amount of commentary on the web regarding this issue tells you that it’s the PvP and casual PvE contingents which are most dissatisfied.

I think once Conan and Warhammer are released, we’ll see the PvP crowd finally leave WoW en masse, as to some degree the casual PvE crowd has been steadily bleeding away or jumping ship in small handfuls to games like LotRO. Unfortunately, there is no flagship casual PvE game out there, although LotRO may gradually win this spot by the favorable word-of-mouth it’s generating. (It’s been a fun diversion for me, although I know it’s inevitable that I’ll powergame it to death and soon become bored.) While I was ultimately dissatisfied with WoW’s endgame despite being the right type for it, I think the game development and community will be much healthier once players have true choices and stop trying to wring out of WoW what it simply can’t deliver. WoW is the slicker, newer EQ–and better at it than EQ2 is!–an excellent, dedicated raiding game with abortive attempts at PvP and casual PvE grafted on; I’ll be less resentful of Blizzard for my own broken hopes once they have the balls to admit that. But again, I don’t see that happening until these next-gen MMORPGs are released, and the first-gen MMORPG players realize they have a choice aside from WoW.

MMORPGs aren’t niche anymore. WoW proved they have broad appeal, yet failed to satisfy all gaming types equally; it remains to next-gen online games to realize that a smash-hit jack-of-all-trades like WoW is unlikely to happen again any time soon, and that specialization–and a necessarily smaller market share–is the next step for the genre. Once we’ve had a few years of highly specialized games refining their respective modes of gameplay (PvP, raiding, casual grouping, soloing, crafting, role-playing/socialization, everything), we may see another brilliant synthesis of all that has come before, as WoW was the culmination and dazzling refinement of all that came before it.

And maybe, by then, Blizz will freaking fix Vanish.

One can dream.

-Vill

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