I was having a discussion yesterday with some friends about whether or not the MMO player actually wants carefully crafted story driven content. When you look at the lackluster support that Elder Scrolls Online, Star Wars: The Old Republic and The Secret World have gotten overall, you could easily come to this conclusion… since each of them are deeply story driven and carefully constructed experiences. I think we are maybe seeing something else at work. If you look at a game like World of Warcraft, some of its deep story arcs have long been heralded as some of players favorite content. However the vast majority of the content is nothing like this, and I think it is simply a case of not everything has to be “art”.
It is in essence the filler content, that is just good enough to keep you from throwing up your hands in frustration, that make you appreciate that gem in the rough of a quest. Games like ESO, SWTOR and TSW attempted to infuse deep story and meaning into almost everything you do, therefore shifting story driven content to the status of a commodity. I suggest that games need busy work, to make you appreciate the transcendent content when it is placed in front of you. The “kill ten rats” quests are there to cleanse the palates so to speak, so that when a deeply engaging story arc is put in front of you… you actually take notice and don’t resign it to more content to grind through.
Epic Crafted Content
When I think about epic custom crafted experiences I think of the Mass Effect series. I have gushed on this game so much, and watched friends play it over and over. As much as I enjoyed the entire trip through the series… it is not the type of game that I would want to play every night. That ultimately is the problem with MMOs, you are asking players to come in and inhabit your space… hopefully making it a nightly traditional to log in and play with their friends. As much as I might like a Mass Effect or a Transistor… I wouldn’t want to play these games on a nightly basis. I want a space that is much more malleable, and doesn’t require so much of myself to play it. Essentially one friends assessment that MMO content “needs to be exactly good enough to be passable” is really not too far off the mark.
One thing that the busy work tasks excel at is helping drive your own personal narrative forward. The players who inhabit an MMO and really live there on a night by night basis, whether they realize it or not, are crafting a custom narrative about their character based on their own actions. Each time you kill some baddies, save a villager, or deliver a package to some far away mountain… these actions are complementary to whatever narrative you have in your head about your own character. When you ask a player to participate in something longer, more story driven… the end results are predetermined and may or may not be complimentary with this personal narrative. When you have a few of these long epics scattered throughout the game, they are welcome interludes. However when everything you do is based on some narrative that you don’t necessarily fully control… it can be jarring.
While I would not want to play Mass Effect every single night, I still want to play it often… so there sets up the paradox. Right now I find myself compartmentalizing games as either “fun to play with other people” and “fun to play by myself”. Elder Scrolls Online is very much fun to play by myself, with brief flurries of playing with friends when it comes to dungeon and pvp content. This is part the game and part me. Firstly I hate questing as a group, and it has been something I have tried to avoid like the plague since the early days of World of Warcraft. I’ve always found the experience to be generally frustrating since someone is always a step behind or a step ahead of where you happen to be. Trying to keep people in sync is madness… but Wildstar and its focus on leveling the guild through grouped content is trying to change this.
They’ve given me a hook, a reason to group up that so many other games haven’t. I greatly prefer to experience “content” by myself and then group up to do “group content” whenever I can. But the fact that the only real way to level your guild is through players grouping up together and doing content, makes the entire concept of group questing much more friendly. They’ve given me a shiny bauble for my troubles, and also given me tools to make the entire grouping experience more meaningful in the way the various “paths” interact with one another. So this construct is making me re-evaluate the way I think about content in general, and start looking for ways to group up to accomplish things rather than solo everything.
In part my reluctance to group comes from my Everquest roots where your ONLY option was to group for everything. When MMOs gave me the option to be self sufficient, I took it and ran with it and have simply never looked back. So in a game like Elder Scrolls Online, I greatly prefer to be wandering around by myself. I go AFK frequently, often have to take my headset off to respond to my wife, and am generally not always super engaged with what I am doing. In short I feel like I am a liability for grouping, and in those cases I try and solo the entire night. The problem is this becomes a pattern with me, and I simply NEVER group unless it is content that I can’t do by myself. I find it interesting that Wildstar is somewhat successfully making me re-evaluate that point, and seeing that grouping is something that is beneficial to me, the guild, and the players I am grouped with.
Room For Both
Another thing I have learned about myself is that I seem to always need a “WoW”. I am talking about this in super generic terms because the game has shifted at various times… but I always seem to be playing one. Traditionally this has been me shifting back and forth between playing World of Warcraft and Rift… while at the same time playing a game like The Secret World or Elder Scrolls Online. Wildstar seems to be my new “WoW” game in this equation, and it speaks to my desire to play that type of themepark/themebox type experience. The thing is there is always going to be room for an Elder Scrolls Online as well. I find myself right now wanting to pair down to just those two games, even though I have a ton of other games that I somewhat want to play. It is like I have various itches that need scratching on a regular basis, and no one game ever quite covers them all. However between a combination of those two games it might get close to covering all the bases.
The more I play Wildstar and enjoy it because it is new and shiny and exciting… the more I want to spend my weekend delving into Elder Scrolls Online and exploring Auridon and more of the Veteran level Aldmeri content. I functionally need both experiences, because so far I have not been able to get both from the same game. However after seeing the lackluster reception that Elder Scrolls has received versus the glowing recommendation of players for Wildstar, it is pretty clear that most players just want a better “WoW”. There is no shame in this, because to some extent that has been what I have been looking for as well. I want to visit these worlds with rich story, but I want to “live” on a nightly basis in one that is more of a “choose your own adventure” novel. Wildstar inundates me with choices of things to do… and there is a never ending list of achievements and things to explore, giving me a constant stream of adventures to be had.
League Beginner Night
I realize this mornings post has been an odd rambling one… without much of a firm point. I blame a clear lack of sleep on my part, and a measure of exhaustion on another. Hopefully there is something worth reading up there in that big mess. Tonight is the Alliance of Awesome League Beginner night again, and if you are a member of the AofA community I highly suggest you check it out. The start time is 9pm CST, but if we have a critical mass of players on mumble beforehand we might start a little early. Last week we had enough time to play a 3v3 Twisted Treeline and a 5v4+bot Summoners Rift. We had a ton of fun in the process.
If you have never played League of Legends before, and have been interested in getting into it… now is the ideal time to try it out. Last week we had several first timers, and to make things easier we broke apart into separate mumble channels to help tutor the new folks in what they should build and where they should be focusing their efforts. This in part involved me barking orders to Maric quite a bit, but he seems to have survived just fine and is signed up for this week again. I am still very much a newbie myself, but as a whole it is a really fun time to be had and presents a wild divergence from the types of games I normally play. I wish we had enough people in Heroes of the Storm to be able to have a similar night for that game.