Monday, July 11, 2016

Anyone for a friendly game of pick-up?

MMO players tend to be a bit of an odd breed.

No, I don't mean in the "u suck noob!" manner, and not in the "obsess over a game" manner either.

But in how a significant portion of the player base is constantly looking at new, unreleased material and that this is considered completely normal.

Imagine about 10-20% of the people who saw The Force Awakens got to see it about 2 months beforehand, multiple times, and a) got to provide detailed write-ups of the entire plot and the fights before the movie was even released, and b) used the viewings to organize friends into the optimal movie watching strategy for the Midnight showing. And consider that the really hardcore viewers were in a race to see who could finish watching the movie first, and you've got a bit of what it's like operating with the PTR servers for an MMO.

It may sound silly when converting the MMO concept of a PTR server into other forms of entertainment, but to a decent sized portion of the player base a PTR server is absolutely vital to playing an MMO. Working out boss strategies, figuring out optimal pathways to world firsts, exploring every corner of a new expac (major or minor) and writing up a world guide, and figuring out what the newest "hot" PvP class will be are all integral to the MMO experience.

For MMO developers, the PTR provides free player feedback and bug reports, so it is a win-win for them as they can tweak the patches prior to formal release. As an IT person myself, I completely get that; it's the equivalent of a QA server where people can kick the tires prior to a formal release to Production. And I like that, as it means that I have a better chance at a bug-free release.

But this also highlights what MMOs are to a certain amount of the player base: an exercise in (group) mechanics and achievements, where the theme is secondary (or tertiary, if you count the toon sex appeal on some games*).


I'm guilty as the next person for trying to do things such as figuring out a rotation or going to Elitist Jerks and try to min/max my toons' gear, but I have to wonder whether the MMO community has lost something over the years.

Go ahead and Google "legion is coming are you ready", and scan the results. I see forum and blog and YouTube posts from as far back as August and September 2015 on how to maximize your output and prep your stable of toons to be ready for when Legion drops. Remember, these are posts from almost a year ago about what, mechanically speaking, you need to do to prepare yourself for the new WoW expac that hasn't dropped yet.

To me, as a long time boardgame player, these articles remind me of discussions surrounding the hard core Eurogames, such as Puerto Rico or Tigris and Euphrates. If you hang around BoardGameGeek enough, you'll find that there's an "optimal" strategy for Puerto Rico, and if you play with some of the hard core, you'll be berated if you deviate from that strategy; yes, the exact same "L2P NOOB!!!" behavior exists in the board game community. And, like the MMOs, the theme is less important than the mechanics and the team requirements to win the game (or finish the raid). Eurogames in particular were infamous for a tacked-on theme hiding behind an optimization game, and if you were out shopping for boardgames it made a lot of sense to read the entire description on the back very carefully so you'd know whether the game is the sort that you'd be interested in or not. What might be a game that sounds like wheeling and dealing in Istanbul's grand bazaar is really an economic simulation that requires you to figure out how many wheelbarrows you need to transport goods to market to exchange for rubies. The theme itself is secondary to the mechanics behind the theme.

Comparing a Eurogame to an MMO isn't really fair, since MMOs are much bigger than any Euro, and because they are bigger, they can appeal to far more than simply the min-maxers and the others. But at the same time, those subgroups do take up a lot of the oxygen in the room.


I used to gripe at Blizzard for shoving a lot of plot and background development off screen and into their books. "The game is right there," I'd say, "why not incorporate all of this into the game instead?"

My belief was that Blizz had decided that it was cheaper to pay an author to write a tie-in novel rather than develop the story in WoW itself, and I'm sure that's still part of the equation. But what if Blizzard did this because it wanted to get some of the story out of the game? Maybe Blizzard recognized that enough players weren't interested in the story, so to preserve the story as much as possible yet still accommodate those players that weren't interested, they decided to push the story into novels. The critical path storyline is still present in the game, but all of the background material that a decent portion of the player base wouldn't be interested in was moved offline, as it were.

If this is the case, then Blizz is performing one more balancing act that I'd not have considered beyond the traditional PvE vs. PvP and the class balancing ones: how much story to incorporate in game and how much reveal before release.


I've picked on WoW a bit in this meandering post because Legion is due out soon, but this argument that MMO players are focusing so much on mechanics --to the extent that they spend time in playing the game in PTR to be ready for when the game is actually released-- could be applied to just about any other MMO out there.*** It just seems somewhat unreal when you think about it, that a player willingly sacrifices their sense of wonder at seeing something new just so that they've got their practice in when the big day comes.

In that respect, maybe MMOs are a bit like sports after all. There are those who play for purely social reasons, and those who make a commitment to dedication to work hard and do well. And then there are the pros (and the wannabee pros) who practice so that nothing is ever left to chance.

As for me, I realize that I'm never going to be hardcore, and I know that my physical skills aren't as good as they were even 5-6 years ago, so I'm not worried about being the best I can be. Competence is enough. And I know enough now to realize that while I've got elements of a completionist and a perfectionist in me, it's about the journey rather than the destination.

That's not going to keep me from griping at rules changes, and nothing screams "stay off my lawn!" more than grousing about how things were back in the day.

* pretty much covered my opinion of TERA, particularly Item #4.

**I'm sure Blizz could generate statistics based on how quickly players click through quest text.

***Or MOBA.

EtA: Corrected a grammatical issue. Or two.


  1. Heh. I never get the types either that want to do everything as soon as possible, as if it's some kind of race. For me it's definitely more about the journey than the goal. I don't even participate in beta events: I rather wait for when the content is released and be surprised than being the first to beat it.

    1. I've played an MMO beta a few times --Rift and Wildstar-- mainly to see if I wanted to purchase the game. But for an MMO getting an expac, no. Cataclysm taught me a hard lesson that even in MMO space reality won't necessarily measure up to hype (even for a company with the reputation of Blizzard), so I've tended to view hype articles as what they are, and nothing more.

  2. My brother-in-law has Puerto Rico, so I've played it (and enjoyed it) a few times, and I guess it doesn't really surprise me that hardcore boardgamers would have worked out an "optimal" stragegy for it. Reading that still gave me a surprised chuckle, though! But I *don't* want to know what the "optimal" strategy is -- it would make the game less fun to play it in that sort of mechanical way.

    1. I honestly don't know what the strategy is, but I do know people who go ballistic when you don't play the "optimal" strategy. I sometimes wonder if they'd just prefer playing Puerto Rico solitaire or something....

  3. I think the "needing to know what's coming next" issue seems to be more of a WoW thing than an MMO thing actually. At least I haven't seen or even heard about anything comparable happening in other games. It may have something to do with the sheer size of WoW's community, but it definitely works well for Blizzard: They don't need to worry about hiding stuff from the dataminers anymore (I remember in the run-up to Wrath there was a big scandal about a fan site posting spoilers that were still supposed to be under an NDA), and they get people promoting the game when there isn't actually any new content to play on the live servers.

    It's honestly another thing that I find somewhat off-putting about the current state of WoW - I've really come to appreciate being surprised.

    1. WoW is by far the biggest offender, particularly with datamining and whatnot, as that is pretty much baked into the culture these days. Still, I find that the behavior does exist to some extent to most of the MMOs I've interacted with. That's a big reason why I try to avoid the forums/major news websites for any MMOs these days unless I absolutely have to, because I've been burned by datamining results laid out front and center.