We MMO Players are natural sprinters…
…very dangerous over short distances. (5 points to whoever can identify the adapted movie quote first)
I was playing Aion today when I started to think how I felt at that exact moment about what I was doing in-game. I felt rushed. It’s not because I’m still only level 22 (about to hit 23) or because I want to get to the PvP or end-game content. It’s nothing about me personally — it’s how the game is designed. In fact, it’s how most mmos are designed now. Players are encouraged to think about moving forward. Don’t tell how it has to do with today’s mentality or any of that nonsense because a great deal of us are the same people today that we were 7-12 years ago but we still are feeling this way when we play.
The games want me to rush forward really quickly. I’m being encouraged by the game to focus on leveling up and encouraged to get better gear in order to make the leveling up quicker. The game is pushing me to always be doing something and not to let anything fall behind. One example would be gathering skills: In most games if you don’t keep your harvesting/gathering skills up then you’re forced to go back to lower level areas in order to collect the materials. In Aion today I spent most of my time grinding on mobs that were near a lot of titanium nodes. I noticed that I cared a lot about those titanium nodes — enough to pick this particular location over another. But why? I gain nothing personally from the titanium for crafting and I do not want to sell it. The fact is that I needed to harvest it in order to raise my gathering skills because I knew that I was already behind and would fall behind in my leveling if I had to go back and raise gathering again. Efficiency is emphasized and players are made aware that they’re being inefficient. In fact, we’re punished for not “keeping up” with ourselves.
The gentle push to progress has always been there so I won’t deny it. In every mmo I’ve ever played there has been some form of progression or the purpose of working towards something. That’s inherent and fine. It’s how quickly and how insistent the game pushes players to have to participate in this act, and to what degree, that matters. It’s another one of those fundamental discussions that we’ve been having in my recent blog entries which means it boils down to the core of the game and how it is put together/designed.
Content has been hyper-condensed and as a result we’re speeding up, perhaps without even realizing it. Content used to be really spread out and involve a great deal more. People stood around, sometimes just talking, because everyone was moving at a much slower pace. Content was spread out and you had less “to do” (or at least the illusion of less) and thus took things much slower. It would be very atypical and odd to log in to a game like Aion and say “today I’m going to focus on gathering some Titanium Ore for my crafting” and have that be all that you did that day. However, in a game like UO it would not have been odd to say “today I’m going to be mining” and have that truly be the focus of activities for that day. [Before the Darkfall crowd comes in to remind me that you can smack rocks and trees all day in Agon… remember that I’m talking about more than just the act.]
Activities, actions, content, and even ‘moments’ do not last in today’s mmos. When people would hang out in the Cantina (SWG “tavern”) and just socialize or talk to people and it was never considered a waste of time — you wouldn’t get people saying how they got nothing done today or only had X time to play and “can’t spend it standing still”. The only explanation that I have, that makes sense, is that the games have changed and started to train people to play and think differently.
I would like to see content extended again. Content should be leveled out so that it is no longer a vertical climb but a gradual incline of progression. We need more thought put into how players can slow down without feeling like the game is not supporting them in their decision. It would be goofy to expect people to stand around in Dalaran and just socialize because the rest of the game passes them by and punishes them (indirectly) for doing so. Interesting enough, socializing and building relationships were actually constructive use of your time years ago. Knowing people was just as important to me as my level or my sword back in the old days. I felt like I really accomplished something in a day if I made a friend. If I had a great group and we all added each other to the friends list then it was a diamond in the rough. I would benefit tremendously from socializing. That does not matter nearly as much today.
Developers: Slow the game down. Less vertical and more gradual/horizontal gameplay. Don’t pressure the players to always be moving forward at a pace that the game sets. Elongate the content. Don’t funnel so obviously and definitely do not indirectly punish players for not keeping up with themselves.
Players: Don’t resist the idea because you immediately associate slowing down with ‘going slow’ and ‘being bored’. Don’t think that I’m simply talking about a sandbox game. Be willing to give it a chance and think about how much fun it could be, and what you could do, if you didn’t have to worry all the time about what you’re doing with your time.
Update 1: I would like to add the phrase “Sprinting in the moment” to summarize what I’m trying to say here. Games, by design, need to stop encouraging or even forcing us to sprint in the moment.