Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Patterns in Revealed Preference: The MMO Pattern

In MMORPGs we have two significant expressions of the pattern. The first was Runescape. The second is World of Warcraft. In both cases we have a game that developed a fork when a significant mass of players decided that they wanted an older version of the game because that version better fulfilled their gameplay desires than the current edition. Runescape's old-school form is now official, and has been for a while; World of Warcraft has not launched its official old-school fork yet, but the unofficial ones remain sufficiently popular to compel the official version's launch.

The pattern is the same in its development. The developers did not fully comprehend what they had when they launched the original version that hit so big (especially so for WOW), so when the succeeding cohorts came along and complained that the game did not work the way that they thought that it should, the developers changed the game to conform to those preconceptions. Over time the character of the game--and therefore the experience of playing it--turned off the original cohort, who would go on to establish the unofficial revivals of the original game.

Unlike the D&D experience, this being a videogame it is trivial to look up videos and compare the experiences of the current edition vs. the classic one. You can see the system in operation, observing the inputs and outputs. The full extent of these games' content, rules, and mechanics got fully documented well before such an effort began with D&D which made the forking and restoration easier to do and maintain- important for when officialdom opposes the effort.

The result is that we can see that, despite sharing a name and aethestics, Class and Current are totally different games and therefore serve totally different audiences. This awareness is now mainstreaming, and not just in MMORPGs; the tabletop RPG world is slowly accepting this as true also, which will have positive effects going forward so long as the major player doesn't go Full Retard and attempt to stomp out the Classic fork. ("Attempt", of course, because success is impossible; Blizzard can't stomp out the Vanilla private servers, so you know WOTC can't even begin to stop retro-D&D.)

The secondary result is that the contrast between the Current and the Classic games--in both media--reveal the preferences of the served audience, and they are similar: acceptance of a competitive attitude towards the game, acceptance that player skill is a vital component for success, a depreciation of One True Hero narratives in favor of Just An Adventurer psudeo-wargame aethestics, and the shunning of narrative tropes as well as metagame convenience tropes infringing upon the gameplay experience- and that experience is one that prizes the immersion into the world most of all.

The Classic mode of play is classically masculine in its character, ethics, and approach. The Current mode is significantly feminine, with its focus on keeping everyone happy ("game balance"), feeling special (One True Hero), depreciation of skill (storygaming, et. al.), and prizing of convenience (Looking For Dungeon, Organized Play, et. al.), and Big Daddy backup in officialdom to stop the meanies while depreciating the facing of challenges and other examples of overcoming adversity. (You have no idea just how bad a lot of current WOW players are.) The Classic mode is a proper game; the Current mode is an experience that looks like a game, like how Gone Home is not a real game, but an experience (and not a good one at that).

People looking for feels trips are not loyal customers. People looking for challenges are. This too is now revealed by behavior.

And this has consequences, which are not hard to fathom, going forward.

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