Monday, January 22, 2007

We Like MMORPGs?

Lots of people like MMORPGs. Lots of people can't play them for long at all. The weird thing is, it's almost impossible to tell which is which. I mean, it's relatively easy to tell whether someone is likely to like RPGs, or FPS games, or sports games... but a MMORPG? It's all over the map. A lot of people who don't like any computer games like MMORPGs, whereas a lot of people who love RPGs hate them (like me).

Well, here's a new theory that I came up with today, thanks to a too-scattered conversation about MMORPGs:

In a MMORPG, there are a lot of distinct "play loops" - mining ore, or killing monsters, or trying to find gall bladders, or seeing the world, or whatever. However, each of these play loops is painfully bland. Even players who like a given play loop would find it unbearable if it was the only play loop in the game.

Fortunately for Blizzard's coffers, they aren't the only play loops in the game. There are dozens of these crappy little play loops, and sometimes even multiple copies of the same play loop at the same time.

The loops are built with a kind of loose reward structure - this has the potential to give you statistical upgrades, this has the potential to be worth money, this has the potential to give you skill points, this has the potential to let you see something cool. Each play loop feeds into one or two of these basic reward structures, and feeds out of these reward structures. Moreover, in some ways, the rewards can be transfered to one another, and therefore considered a coherent "power level".

While the loops are not actually connected to each other, they are all connected through this central reward system. Moreover, you often stay only a few minutes on any given play loop and switch opportunistically between them - mine a few things on your way to the auction house, or whatever.

Also, a lot of people tend to do metagame simultaneously. Chatting or surfing the web while grinding some boring part of the game. This is essentially the same thing: shifting between play loops keeps shallow loops from getting too boring.

I think that the reason people who like MMORPGs like them is that they have the capacity (or tendency) to intertwine these play loops manually. Part multitasking, part value abstracting, they like playing with many simple, loosely joined play loops.

This has the advantage over more rigidly defined games in that the player can choose pretty much any play loops they feel interested in at any time. However, it suffers in that any player who does not multitask or value abstract cannot play the game.

Whaddyu think?


Anonymous said...

I think that's a pretty good assessment... if you're just focusing on the gameplay itself. I think there's another important element to consider -- that of the social interaction. Whether that is a very direct method of bragging about your play skills, or a means to scracthing the acting/RPG itch varies from player to player.

The reason I find WoW temporarily compelling is that the gameplay itself is, as you point out, simple and cyclical enough that it doesn't distract from the ability to spend fun roleplaying time with out of state people I don't have access to for table top sessions.

Craig Perko said...

No, see, I thought of that, but the facts don't fit the data. There are a lot of people who are quite social, are video game players, are good friends with the people playing the game, and hate the game. Being in a college cauldron that got swept up in WoW, I've had unusual opportunity to examine who plays and who doesn't.

As far as I can see, the only thing these non-players don't have in common with the players is that the social, friendly nonplayers can't multitask and likely don't value abstract.

So, no, I think that although it is a social game, that is not what makes it playable or not playable.

It is, however, feasible that someone who dislikes the game will keep playing in order to be social. It is also possible that this would result in them coming to like the gam. That's just not what I see. The data don't agree with those theories.

David said...

I would say the social aspect is a big reason why those same not-multitaskers don't play. Why pay $20 a month or whatever to sit around and watch other people shout OOC about stupid things? Also, whose idea of fun is it to watch your avatar do the same thing for 20 minutes while reading forums on that topic? Isn't it better to just read a forum on an interesting topic while you play sudoku? That's repetitive. no? : )

Craig Perko said...

I'm not sure I understand exactly what you mean, but the data I have seem to show that whether someone is highly social or a loner has very little effect on how likely they are to play WoW.

David said...

You spoke about the interaction outside the game, the metagame, which to me is sorta ridiculous... and true of all MMOs... they expect you to spend all this time basically outside the game... if the game itself isn't interesting why spend all this time trying to learn it. If I'm not a multitasker, that means I have to spend time simply at the website/forums and not even in the actual game, in essence, most of my bill goes towards reading their forum. Then when I do get in the game, everyone else -they're not even playing... they're chatting about the game or something on the forum... so the "social" aspect, for somebody who isn't multi-tasking, is a turn off... since the "social" loop of the game is pretty much just an extension of the "meta" loop. I fear I'm not being super clear... I'm one of those people who hates MMOs in general and your post sparked me to think about why. : )

A said...

Well, speaking as one of those highly social video-game-playing friends-of-players people who hate the game (who also is quite good at multitasking and is a math major in algebra, so valuing abstract is a life skill), one of the reasons I hate the game is because the tasks are trivial, repetitive, and boring. Why would I waste my time with something that isn't fun? That's the same reason I didn't like Morrowind, even as I got sucked into the game -- because a lot of it simulated MMORPG play without the social element.

Now, if you look at the Bartle types when it comes to MMOG playing, I won't hide the fact that I'm a Social primary and Achiever secondary. But, while I enjoy MUDs (if I can be bothered to join one in the first place) I generally hate MMORPGs.

Going back to the Morrowind example, it's the Achiever aspect of my play style that makes the grinding and like addictive. The optimization section of my brain gets obsessed with the problem, but after a while I realize that I'm not having any fun doing this and stop. And I've found that while the social elements in MUDs can make up for that, in MMORPGs there is too high a stupid-to-fun ratio to make it worth my time to waste my time. Especially considering that I often have more important things to take care of on my to-do list.

But even if I had the leisure and lack-of-drive to play regularly, I still wouldn't. To put it another way, it's the same attitude I take towards mathematics: anything trivial like calculation I just make a computer do. It's the theory that makes it interesting, but there's little "theory" when it comes to MMORPG play (and I mean "theory" in the context of the metaphor, not in the terms of the silly optimization schemes folks have cooked up, which still aren't really actually theory). Just lots and lots of computation. And, as a social primary player, the social doesn't make up for it.

Craig Perko said...

David: Yes, I think understand what you're saying, now. I think I agree.

A: It sounds like you, like me, don't do the value abstraction thing. It has nothing to do with math and everything to do with assigning emotional value to points.

A said...

Ah. Keyword "value" not "abstraction." Makes a lot more sense now.