That MMO “Feeling” – What’s Missing? A Purpose? What’s My Motivation?

Destiny's Edge + 1

Ever had a thought that just refuses to lay down and die?

It rattles around in your brain, tossing and turning, gnawing and worrying while you spend days trying to pin it down and articulate it to some degree.

It began with Syl’s post about a lack of purpose in our MMOs of today.

There was something to it, especially in regards to Landmark needing to link some kind of functionality and give reasons to do their various activities (for certain subsets of players anyway, who don’t seem to find the existing framework motivating enough), but it sounded… off. Not quite right. Especially when extrapolated in a general sense.

Further questioning in the comments revealed that Syl meant something like a “shared purpose.” A united vision, a commonality of purpose across players, to work hand-in-hand towards… something.

Be it taking down a raid boss together, or perhaps contributing towards building a project in Glitch (RIP Glitch :( ) or a monument in a Tale in the Desert, or maybe even Tarnished Coast and Jade Quarry’s dastardly goal of making sure Blackgate doesn’t just easy mode cruise into a WvW Season 2 win. :P

Then it continued on across various Reddit and forum posts trying to express why some players really want to like GW2 but can’t seem to deal with the leveling process.

There’s no reason for it, they say. No purpose. Something’s missing, and it’s just not lack of direction or guidance. They’re running from one point of interest to another, connecting the dots, but somehow feeling disconnected with the world. Like there’s no story for the players to be the center of and our characters just wind up around the periphery clearing wasps and helping groups of NPCs do something or other.

Personally, I never had that problem when the game first launched. Everything was new and shiny and unfamiliar. There was something AWESOME to see around every corner, and something novel and cool to discover. Even after hitting level 80, I held back on 100% world completion for a long time because I was terrified by the thought of officially consuming all the content and making the world familiar. Known. Habitual. Boring.

In the lull between Living Story seasons, I have been taking my time and leveling a charr engineer the old fashioned way. While I’m still having no problems keeping apace with levels, probably because I kill everything and am not above popping a food and wrench (20%), and occasionally a 50% XP booster to go with the 18% account bonus from achievements, I started feeling…

…what’s the word… Bored, maybe.

Like something was missing.

In my case, I suspected that I was meta-gaming way too much. I’ve seen all these maps before, several times. I know their schtick and what the NPCs are up to in each of them. I could probably find each jumping puzzle entrance unaided by a wiki, going from memory alone. The personal story from the orders on is SO SO DONE before.

Always on my mind is the possibility that I could log in on one of five other level 80s to do something -else-, and by god, are there a lot of something -elses- to do in GW2 – world bosses, TTS runs, WvW, a dungeon, gather or farm stuff, etc.

Except that I’ve also repeated a bunch of these activities… if they’re not quite to the point of being nauseating, they’re at least to the point of “having been done before.”

Strangely enough, a temporary cure for this malaise was serendipitously found when I saw the “Fear Not This Night” video and decided to watch a series of all its Youtube variants in the other screen while I went around leveling.

Between the stirring music and watching all the fantastical cutscenes and incredible art and rekindling that sense of potential GW2 had when it was new, I think I recreated some of that sense of wonder and awe that I personally CRAVE like a thirsting man needs water.

theworldisjustawesome

I started feeling more like a hero, more immersed into the world again, rather than my character acting as Tool #6 for Future Experimentation with AoE Spam in WvW and Condi Builds in PvP.

There was still one more thing missing though.

And this was where I really started missing the Living Story. It was -hard- to find a story, a linear narrative that my character could get involved in.

In GW1, this was front and center. Every story mission you went on, there was this one big overarcing story that we traced.

In GW2, the stories are fractured and scattered. Yes, I could chase the Personal Story. It’s the most linear narrative we have. It’s spread out geographically though, and with level gaps that enforce pauses and breaks in between.

I could do dungeons and follow Destiny’s Edges’ story – assuming I don’t get kicked out of impatient PUGs for daring to watch cutscenes – but again, the story is broken up by dungeons and levels. Anyway, we know the story. They squabble a lot. Our character tells them they’re being idiots. They eventually wise up, kiss and make up.

The open world itself has teeny tiny storylets that are unfortunately caught in time. They’re interesting, no doubt. I enjoy the Fields of Ruin for instance, the tension between the charr and the humans and the peace treaty and the characters that are still clinging on or struggling to get rid of old prejudices. But we can’t progress those stories in any meaningful fashion.

A narrative needs a beginning, middle and end. A line. Not a closed circle that continuously loops.

So I end up stuck waiting for the Living Story – our last, best hope for narrative in GW2.

Thing is, what’s missing for me, may not what’s be missing for you.

Which led to a fevered attempt to brainstorm motivations and reasons for why people play MMOs.

(Which has, of course, been attempted multiple times by others – some far more scientifically than me.)

In no particular order:

  • To feel like a hero – to be at the center of a story, or to be unique or stand out in some fashion, via prestigious cool-looking armor perhaps?
  • To feel like one is improving oneself, eg. via increasing stats or levels, or demonstrating competency via overcoming challenges
  • To be validated or acknowledged by one’s peers, eg. earning social respect via leadership or game skill, defeating others in a competition, etc.
  • To experience a shared purpose, commonality of goal, ‘teamwork’
  • For self-expression – customisation of a character and its looks, or to tell a story or build a home or express creativity in some other form
  • To experience a microcosm of life – MMO as a ‘flight simulator’ of life, test running and learning life lessons about social relationships and interacting with people within the game (a role also fulfilled by reading fiction or otherwise experiencing stories)
  • To feel like one is in a world – interconnectedness, have real people be doing stuff all around you or roleplaying, playing someone you’re not
  • To experience constant change and bursts of novelty, “new content”
  • To discover and learn new things
  • To master mechanics and optimize for efficiency
  • To experience a story – which segues nicely into the dev-created narrative or player-created narrative debate
  • To experience emotions, such as awe and wonder from seeing fantastic landscapes or large-scaled monsters in comparison to yourself (see WoW raid bosses and Shadow of the Colossus), or triumph and victory from defeating a difficult challenge, or a sense of belonging via falling in with a community of like-minded people

I’m sure there’s more.

And of course I noticed that a bunch of these were overlapping, so to speak, and I struggled to try and categorize them in some fashion.

We could fall back on Nick Yee’s main categories of Achievement, Social and Immersion.

Things to do with advancement, power, ambition, improving of self, mechanics and efficiency, perhaps competition might fall under Achievement.

Anything to do with belonging, relationships, player interaction, shared goals, teamwork and cooperation, perhaps even competition might fall under Social.

Immersion being the grab bag that then covers things like escapism, wonder, awe, curiosity, discovery, story-seeking.

Though we end up with a last hanging thread that I might end up terming as Self-Expression – being creative, enjoying customisation, being unique, storytelling and roleplaying (which overlaps onto Immersion), standing out (which overlaps back onto Achievement)

But then I noticed that maybe, just maybe… there was something even more universal at play here.

Note the many repeats of words like “feel” or “experience” or the various emotions that get named.

We say we play a game “for fun.”

We know that this “fun” means different things to different people, and we keep struggling to neatly delineate even more and more subcategories of “fun” in an attempt to get at what we’re really after.

Perhaps we’re really playing a game to feel -something.-

Preferably not boredom.

Many don’t like to feel anger or frustration in their games, but a few others do crave some of those negative emotions, if only to make the opposite emotion the sweeter when it finally arrives after a long struggle.

Different people crave certain feelings over others.

Different games feed certain feelings over others.

(GW2, as is, is pretty good in the Achievement and Social and Self-Expression categories – they keep pushing those agendas anyway, with a stress on cooperation and community organization rather than competition or elitist domination – but they’re kind of dropping the ball on the Immersion one and I think we’re seeing some of the repercussions in the recurring complaints about stories, lore, new zones, lack of caring about roleplaying, etc.)

If we end up feeling nothing or an overall lack of excitement in a game, that apathy becomes a problem which seems to eventually lead to the game being dropped.

Thing is, who’s in control here of our own emotions?

Do developers have a responsibility to entertain and feed us some of these emotions via their game design, since we’re choosing to play their game, after all?

Will it work if we ourselves are determined to not feel anything, having already been there and done that?

Perhaps an awareness that these things are in play is what we need to cross that divide of feeling and not-feeling.

At any time, perhaps we should be picking and choosing to play games (and do activities within a game) that do reward us with the feelings we’re craving.

It’s not a one-time life choice, after all.

We can swap them in and out like watching a comedy movie when we want to laugh and watching a horror movie when we want to be scared and thrilled.

We just need to remember to do it.

My Particularly Fascinating Brand of Raiding Malaise…

I woke up at 8am today.

I forgot to eat until 8pm.

Perhaps this might help to explain why I’m so allergic to, and personally wary of raids.

Yes, I know it’s unhealthy. The first thing I thought when I finally looked at the time was “Oh god, not again…”

I play games. I’m not immune to how these games are designed.

It’s so easy to get carried away down the slippery slope of the uber hardcore…

It’s just for a few days, right?

GW2: Needs of the Many, Needs of the Few

Random picnic party

I’ve had some great reactions to my recent musings on raids.

Syl posted a nice response, and one of the things she mentions is what she misses most about raids – that sense of steady group progression with a well-oiled and well-groomed team that trusts each other implicitly. I can’t help but draw some parallels to a very tight knit WvW zerg busting guild (though the inclusiveness or exclusiveness of each guild differs by individual guild culture.)

Murf shared some of the things he enjoyed about raids as well.

I’m especially amused by some of the comments over by MMO Gypsy who automatically assume that I’ve never raided, and thus my opinion is invalid or *shrug* raiding is not for him, period.

Or was somehow spurned by an elitist raider once upon a time and thus carry an awful grudge against all raiders, lumping them together as evil elitists, boo hoo. Go cry somewhere else.

Ok, I’m exaggerating for effect, I don’t actually think any of you guys meant that, but I see similar simplistic comments carrying that essence of trolling on forum message boards all the time, probably due to the subject being endlessly debated back and forth.

And there were plenty of other reasonable rational responses, which we will try to touch on later, but ask yourselves, WHY did your mind immediately flow that way?

It’s due to what we understand ‘raids’ are, especially if we come from a World of Warcraft background.

It may surprise some of you that pretty much my only activity for the past three days in Guild Wars 2 has been camping out as part of a huge group of 100+ people on a map, listening in on a Teamspeak, occasionally wandering off AFK for the 1.5 hours between exciting fights (of a world boss raid attempt) or enjoying some of the social aspects if the crazies happen to be in the same group together.

In fact, I’ve chosen to do this non-profit activity over other more lucrative options – such as running around in a mindless Frostgorge champion zerg or participating in a marionette fight that caters more to players without sufficient time or the inclination for organization on a massive scale (that rewards a regular stream of silver/crafting materials/lucky drops and a less regular stream of blues/greens/yellows respectively.)

A little background:

The Triple Trouble jungle wurm in Bloodtide Coast is a new world boss in the Origins of Madness update that has been specifically designed for hardcore groups that are all about the organization and figuring out the strategy and tactics.

At the same time, the Living World content involves the Twisted Marionette boss fight that involves -some- coordination but not as much. It’s on a scale where random overflows might conceivably achieve full success, whereas the intensity and complexity of the jungle wurm fight pretty much requires hefty leadership and organization.

It’s provoked some hefty discussion over why these bosses exist in open world zones instead of private raid instances, given the level of intended coordination involved.

One subset of players are in favor of exclusion by private raid instance, where they can invite their friends and players they trust have the level of ability required to produce serious attempts on the raid bosses. It wastes less time for the lucky collective, and makes it easier to control the group and organize specialized builds and functions, since there is always the threat of outcasting. It produces less frustration for these players as they don’t have to endure interacting with others who don’t match their unique criteria of worth, whatever it may be.

On the other hand, we have the existing case of open world bosses, where people in the same Reddit discussion thread linked above are giving examples of how they organically stumbled onto an organized group attempt, met up with nice people, joined their Teamspeak and had their eyes opened as to how rewarding such ‘hardmode’ content can feel, as many raiders already know.

We also have the rare maniacal leader-types that love the “extra work” that comes with guiding others, improving team work and progressing together. For these treasures, there is an emotion called naches, where they take pride in the achievement of those they have so patiently grown and trained from the ground up.

On the NA servers, the founder of the TTS community, Ahlou, can deservedly indulge in this as he created something that had never been seen before. A server-agnostic collection of 11 guilds, dedicated to being inclusive and take down hard mode raid bosses in GW2. It has a waiting list hundreds of people long, only stalled out by the lack of leadership types that have stepped up and volunteered their time. We’re blessed as it is that a small council of 10+ leader types stepped up to support and grow Ahlou’s vision, with a minimum of ego and drama.

(I believe an equivalent TxS community exists on the Euro servers.)

The sad truth is, there is still unavoidable exclusion.

A map is hard capped at 100+ players. (I don’t know the exact number, but it’s around there.)

Exclusion is by a sort of lottery, whoever is first able to zone in to the maps where there is sufficient leadership to attempt the bosses get to do it. Those who can’t zone in, for whatever reason, are shit outta luck. Until the next time, anyhow.

It also favors those who have oodles of time to stand around waiting for the next spawn, even if it is an hour and a half away.

It favors those who are willing to make the effort to download a voice program and join a Teamspeak, if only to listen in to leader commands, as taxis are first offered by voice to those gathered in the channels.

It favors those who are ballsy and persistent, observant and determined enough to read guild member rosters and note down the names of leaders and those who commonly taxi into instances and pretty much blindly /join and wiggle their way into the instance, as long as checking on Teamspeak reveals that an attempt is going on.

It favors those who are dedicated and driven and -crazy- enough to sit around for an hour spamming right-click on a party member’s portrait, clicking “Join party member in X zone” repeatedly, for a chance of merely participating in non-guaranteed discovery attempts at the correct tactics and strategy, leading up to a potential world first. Loot is not at all guaranteed, but potential fame and glory.

It’s produced quite a number of indignant complaints from those who feel excluded, since they don’t have sufficient time for such madness, or can’t be arsed to go through all that kind of trouble for a non-100% chance at good loot.

You may be surprised, but after some thinking it over, I am more or less okay with this particular sort of exclusion in this particular set of circumstances.

Me, the champion of being philosophically inclusive.

I think, in the end, everything seems to be about tradeoffs. We exclude one group of people, at the cost of another group that don’t meet some set of criteria.

We endure mind-numbing wait time for the potential memories and social connections we build through people being bored out of their skulls.

Deathrifyerr Cobalt team synced /rank on an unsuspecting Crimson.

Deathrifyerr’s Cobalt team synced /rank on an unsuspecting Crimson.

But maybe only a hundred people (and probably less since a good percentage may be AFK) got to enjoy such socializing, compared to how many people playing Guild Wars 2 at any one time?

Is it fair to cater to the needs of the few as compared to the needs of the many?

Should we be concerned about being fair? Or making sure that there’s something for everyone?

In this particular case anyway, it’s probably a temporary state of affairs.

The TTS leaders (and probably a decent amount of its members) share and espouse a very similar sort of inclusive philosophy as I do.

The jungle wurm is in a “discovery of strategy” phase, not an “on farm” phase. There’s insufficient leadership to spread out to create multiple overflows, as was promptly done once an effective strategy to down Tequatl was found. Then information spread out and disseminated as experienced leaders and members felt confident enough to teach the strategy to others.

It’s most likely the case that the same will happen with the jungle wurm once some optimal strategies have been found. More space will open up. Anyone who wants to attempt the bosses will be invited and taught, as long as they open their mouths and ask, and even those who randomly stumble into the boss being taken down by the group will get a chance.

The danger, of course, is when designers tweak up the challenge to a level where only certain groups have sufficient stats or builds or reactions (or whatever form of player or character ability) and other groups simply don’t, regardless of how much teaching and training and information dissemination is done.

The automatic response of players optimizing for the best solution is, naturally, exclusion of players who don’t meet those criteria.

You may ask, why do I feel that this is such “a danger” given that I have accepted that -some- kind of exclusion is likely to happen, no matter what kind of raid variant is designed?

Well, part of it is naturally self-centered. I personally have a better shot of seeing raids completed in a TTS-style organization than your typical raid organization. They match my on-again, off-again type of scheduling. I like that I can just jump in when I have the time to one of the scheduled raids, and as long as there’s space in the overflow, I get a spot.

Whereas I would simply go nuts in a dedicated raid style organization. What? Perform the same role over and over? Prepare laboriously for days before the main event? Set an alarm clock to raid at a certain hour or let down the group of people that are counting on me? When real life interrupts, I can’t just sneak out of the raid and let someone else who desperately wants in get in? Do the same thing over and over for WEEKS and MONTHS?

I’m an explorer. I like the new and shiny. I’m crazy enough to enjoy the discovery aspect of developing a strategy. That’s why I’m camped out at the jungle wurm, giving up loot and gold earning time from all the other alternatives I could be doing. I KNOW I will get bored within three months once the thing is on farm. Like how I can’t endlessly show up in WvW night after night doing the same thing over and over. Fixed schedules and me don’t really mix well. They lead to obligation and obligation leads to erosion of fun, for me.

The other revelation I’ve had is that I’d personally much rather enjoy raids as a social club, not a competitive sports club. I don’t mind having the leeway for 30 to carry 10. Because after all, we are all good at different things. And there’s no chance to learn and improve if you aren’t allowed to keep practicing something for fear of wiping or letting down the team.

The other part of it is what I think it implies for the overall health of a game.

Closed raid communities become insular, deriding PUGs as part of a very human ‘us vs them’ tribal mentality. It becomes hard to penetrate into such social environments. Sure, the community is GREAT once you get in and stay in. But can your average newbie or person with irregular time schedules get a chance at it?

A more open and inclusive raid community allows for penetration. It makes room for those who just want to or have time to show up for one kill, just to say they did it or saw it or whatever. It makes room for those with irregular schedules. It still gives the crazy dedicated a chance to shine, especially by leading and organizing or just staying longer for insane amounts of time, at the cost of them occasionally having to put up with the company of those they consider ‘lesser’ than them.

It promotes a culture of positive behavior, of friendly encouragement to each other, cheering each other on, rather than a toxic mindset of blame and shame and only interacting with a special select group, reducing the occurrence of a negative hostile atmosphere that discourages new people from participating.

I’m not going to ask which game will have a larger population over time or be more successful.

Folks can point to World of Warcraft and Eve Online and demonstrate how they are thriving and doing great, despite the reputation of a toxic, hostile culture. Hell, for that matter, look at the success of League of Legends.

But -I- know which game I’d rather be playing and supporting.

Signing off,

Your neighborhood carebear furry blogger.

P.S. The last thing I sort of wanted to say regarding the needs of the many and the needs of the few.

I think there’s room in the MMO gamespace, and indeed in each MMO as multiple activity types, for many options and alternatives to cater to all sorts on whatever spectrum you draw up. Hardcore or casual. Time-plentiful or time-starved. Competitive or cooperative. Inclusive or exclusive. Hard difficulty or easy. Majority or minority.

But we need to stop assuming that what we have is all that will ever be.

That raids are THUS, as defined by World of Warcraft, or Everquest. (And I’m sure connoisseurs will tell you the differences between both games’ raids.)

That if you don’t like it, shut up and go to your solo leveling corner of the world, you antisocial excuse who should be playing a single-player game instead of whining.

Instead, we need to break down all the aspects of raids that we like, and all those we don’t like.

So that a creative team of developers out there can start taking a little of column A and a little from column B and glomming them together to give us new raids and new challenges that we haven’t seen, that cater to different groups of players.

Only then will we see progress and innovation and novelty.