Friday, October 23, 2015

My Life as a Gamer: The Problem With Players

(Note: If you're here for Narrative Warfare, come back tomorrow.)

Alternative Chat, a World of Warcraft blog about stuff that isn't all about raiding, had a nice long post about how the Looking For Raid feature turned out to create results contrary to what the developers intended. She agrees with critics of the feature that it is unfit for purpose, surplus to requirements, and therefore should be removed from the game altogether.

There's a lesson here. Allow me to summarize the relevant points:
  • "Looking For Raid" (LFR) is a random matchmaker queuing system for the large-group content in the game, the raids, aimed for players whose real life commitments don't allow them to participate as a member of a raid team. A secondary concern was to raise participation in raid content to justify its development expense to the bean counters.
  • LFR was intended as a "tourist mode", deliberately meant to be easy enough for an uncoordinated and largely incompetent group of players to blunder through the encounters and still succeed. The rewards are lesser than with proper, formal raiding to compensate for the ease.
  • Most players don't care about the context behind the scenario premise of the raid. They neither know, nor care to know, why their character is in that place, fighting that opposition, or acquiring that treasure. They just want the gear.
  • The developers failed to recognize the error, and then compounded it by placing quest items for Legendary treasures and currencies for improving existing gear into these modes of play. The raiding community, operating on a "Best Or Benched" paradigm, immediately made running these modes mandatory to maintain one's position on the raid team and turned an already bad social mix into a toxic one.
  • Performance, outside of the day of the weekly reset or the day after, plummets in both frequency and quality of participation to the bottom.
  • Superior alternatives that actually work to solve the actual problems are available, and should be favored by eliminating LFR and diverting the attention to those alternatives.
So, what is the lesson?

Uncaring people will take the most direct and efficient means to the end possible.

The end is power. The tool is gear. The means to get it are by crafting, raiding and dungeons, Player-vs.-Player (PVP), and questing. Of those, raiding is where the best gear for all but instanced PVP purposes can be found so players focus on the route that gets the job of gearing up done fastest. The reason? It's something the developers, after 10 years, still haven't figured out despite it being a fucking meme:

The real game begins at endgame

The players, as demonstrated by behavior over time, want a gameplay state that removes as much randomness--as many elements that are out of player control--as possible. They want only skill and gear to matter, which is why the ideal way to structure World of Warcraft would be to take levels out entirely, make raiding the way to gear up, and then make PVP to control strategic resources to advance the war campaign.

This is hardly confined to World of Warcraft. The player mentality is applicable to every RPG ever made, electronic and tabletop alike, much to the dismay of developers, designers who haven't yet figured out that they're not making fucking literature. Players don't care about context unless it directly and immediately applies to what they're doing or what they're after. They're in Working The Job mode, and when you're on the job what matters is only that information which directly applies to your situation then and there. Everything else just gets in the way.

If you want players to care, make it relevant to what they're doing here and now.

And I mean "directly", as it "fist to the face" direct. The lore matters when not knowing it means that the players fail at the task before them, and they will care about the task when there are no better alternatives to the power that they seek. That is the secret to a successful product in the RPG field: you make knowing the lore a load-bearing pillar to the players succeeding at attaining and wielding the power that they seek. That this is somehow greeted with shrieks like that of a Pod Person spotting a norm, after 40 fucking years of RPGs being a thing, makes me wonder just how intelligent some folks really are. I'm saying it because it works, reliably, regardless of genre or participants or medium.

And that's the problem with players: they're people, and not literary characters or robots, which is why so many RPGs in all media fail to satisfy them.

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