55

We MMO Players are natural sprinters…

progressioncurve

Truly sad how quickly we leave behind past points on the curve today...

…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.

Tweet about this on TwitterShare on Facebook0Share on Reddit0Share on Google+0
Skryre - October 13, 2009

Gimli! Do I win?

Mahlah - October 13, 2009

Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers,

Also – its a symptom of the end game being “the game” concept. As long as all content outside the “end game” is considered just a time sink, people aren’t going to bother sticking around.

I think of something like EVE, where your skills progress in real time, regardless of if you are logged in or not, and I like that pacing. It encourages you to play however you want, without having to necessarily worry about efficiency, although some will argue ISK takes the place of exp, but its not quite the same. It also benefits from the “end game” (which I’ll define as 0.0 wars), its accessible from day 1 if you have the support of a corporation involved in them. In fact, pretty much all the content is accessible right from the get go, sure you can get BETTER at doing the content, and there are missions that open up when you get higher standings and such, but its different.

When people of vastly different “levels” can play together and both get something out of it, there is no need to sprint to the end anymore.

Keen
Keen - October 13, 2009

I used to think this entire thing was to blame on end-game syndrome, but now I’m seeing it manifest itself in other ways that have little to do with end-game. Simple acts like gathering, exploring, or stopping to say hello to someone are not associated with end-game but we’re told that we have to do them at this rate/pace or don’t bother doing them at all.

Sprinting to the end is definitely a problem, but sprinting in the moment (dang that’s a good phrase… I should have used it in the blog entry) is immeasurably worse.

Mahlah - October 13, 2009

I’m not sure they aren’t as connected still. I mean, the reason you have to gather at a certain rate is so that you can gather the crap in the next zone (and eventually gather the crap in the end game zones, and therefore craft end game items).

Exploring and stopping to say hello aren’t really encouraged in most MMOs at all, so I don’t really see that being a sprinting in the moment issue with those.

If you’re really wondering why people don’t stand around a chat in town anymore, its because progression is king, at all costs, if you are chatting, you aren’t keeping up with the Jones’s. Most people are in guilds, and friends outside of your guild are generally not important to have.

Its not just a symptom of games, its also a just the changing player base. Stick 1000 WoW players into SWG (pre NGE even), and most of them would just progress their characters as fast as possible without doing all that stuff, regardless of what the game was “encouraging” I think.

Keen
Keen - October 13, 2009

@Mahlah: Nooo don’t say it’s a symptom of the changing player base. 😛 I refuse to really accept that. I think the player base is trained by the games. Can’t blame them if it’s all that they know.

We agree mostly, I think. We both seem to agree that the games are all about progression, at all costs, throwing everything else to the wind. That’s sprinting and moving too fast.

Then we take a step back and look at the content or what the players are doing while having this mindset and we see that games have changed a lot. They’re all about quicker bursts of content, faster more efficient ways of doing things, and all about sprinting in the moment … perhaps to get to the end but sprinting in the moment nonetheless.

There’s a bigger force at work here than people wanting it and wanting it now. A lot has to do with my past few blog entries: designing the games for more people than they should be and trying to appease mass quantities of people.

Seraphina Brennan - October 13, 2009

Really interesting article you have here Keen — love the thought pattern going on here.

After reading what you had to say and going over the comments, I can’t help but think about the rise of soloing and “convenient content” as one of the reasons we’re lead to this “sprinting in the moment” syndrome.

Before, in our MMO culture, we had downtime and we dealt with it. We use to deal extensively with the LFG downtime because if you weren’t in a group, you weren’t going to go anywhere. We were social because the gameplay inadvertently fostered socialization. If you knew people, you could jump in the game, get yourself into a great group, and then progress slowly up the ladder. We stopped, we chatted, and we enjoyed because the gameplay was a little slower and we had to be more involved with one another.

But we all saw the flaws with the LFG downtime — the downtime. Even though we were being social, we could be socked in the face with a 2, 3, 4, or even 8 hour wait before we could “play the game.”

In comes solo friendly content, which was a great boon to overall gameplay and I’m not saying it wasn’t a great idea. But what it did was undermine some of the social foundations laid in the MMO design, and none of us really realized it initially. By tweaking the rules just a little bit to remove that downtime, we saw the rise of the solo player who just wanted to get everything done on his own. He didn’t need to be social to succeed — he just wanted to get to the top.

Of course, that leads to the rest of us realizing that we didn’t have to be social. Being social was a waste of time as it doesn’t offer any incentive. Doing instances doesn’t have to be social anymore because you can simply pop on your LFG flag and continue killing while you wait for your group. No need to chat it up, because if that group never comes what do you care, you’re still progressing.

Of course, adding in solo content is not the problem, just a contributing factor. Part of this style of gameplay has always been present, it’s just been masked by other aspects of the design.

I agree with you, we need to re-write the design. We need to remove some of that emphasis on top level content and make people realize that the fun of the game can occur no matter what level you are or how skilled you are. Leveling shouldn’t be a grind — it should be a fun adventure that makes you forget your progressing.

Ponder - October 14, 2009

I believe your concern goes back to having levels in a MMO, which in turn goes back to Dungeons and Dragons.

Levelling MMOs seem to work in providing entertainment and a sense of achievement/progression.

However, levelling is not very realistic in a virtual world as it forces you through zones/content and into new social relationships. A more realistic world would be where you have a home (with regular socialising) and a profession (your occuptional interest), and explore a bit. You may even go on the odd crusade quest and return home.

This is a conundrum that the gaming community has not solved yet.

Jeromai - October 14, 2009

Odd, just a couple days ago, I said “Today, I’m going to spend an hour or two gathering (herb name) to sell for kinah.”

There was also, “This weekend, I’m going to check the broker’s prices, buy up all low cost raw materials and play with proc crafting and spreadsheet calculate how much profit I can make off Noble something or others.”

Some time ago, it was “Oh god, my aether extraction sucks. I’ve got to spend some time just flying up and down leveling it if I don’t want to pay through the nose buying from the broker later.”

Obviously, after the hour or two was up, and I was bored out of my mind watching progress bars chase each other, I went off to go questing, in all three lands from PvE to Abyss and even answered a few group calls to instances.

I seriously think this is player mindset rather than game design. I’m playing the same game and the only time I -craved- the next level was hitting lvl 25 and lvl 30, the first so I could get into the Abyss to see what it was all about, and the second to equip the +40 flight time CE wings.

Heck, I wanted to slow down leveling so that I could
a) earn enough kinah
b) craft appropriate gear for my level range
c) progress crafting enough to be able to do that (feeding back into a))
d) gather materials to sell/craft/work on gathering progress bars
e) let the rest of my legion catch up to do group instances together
f) Abyss pvp/rift/gain Abyss points

I also had time to PUG a good number of instances, meeting new folks – some of whom loved the party and friended each other, some of whom were nightmare PUGs and imploded upon themselves, and so on.

Aion keeps you busy, certainly. It’s guilty of putting 20 things on your plate, making you want to stay on to do a) in order to get b) done, in order to get c) completed, etc.

It’s a recipe for addiction and always being online and playing Aion every moment, but does its design really encourage -sprinting-?

I don’t think so. There’s quite some lateral choice of progression. Crafting. Making kinah. Gathering. Grinding xp. Quests (including those you have to backtrack to find, or turn up in the major cities or minor uncharted outposts.) Abyss points. Ganking and defending against gankers. It all ultimately feeds back into the character’s overall improvement.

But I think it’s the player who perceives himself ‘behind’ that feels pressured to do all the above efficiently in order to catch up. Hence the urge to sprint.

I’m smack in the middle of the curve of my server, if not slightly above average, and feeling no pressure to race forward. Feeling pressure to earn enough money for the next few levels, yes. Hit endgame, no. There’s plenty of folks ahead of me and plenty behind me.

I could very well be atypical. But then all the other people who feel the urge to sprint wherever they go – that’s their player mindset, which may already have been shaped by their first MMO.

Jeromai - October 14, 2009

Actually, come to think of it, your last few posts seem to be pushing towards a vision of an oldschool, immersive, socializing type of MMO where one is rewarded for forming relationships.

That’s all very well, but it’s not the focus of the big mainstream MMOs which have gone towards achievement and competitive foci.

What one needs for the social networking game to become rewarding is to kill the Massively part of the equation. Less people to cycle through = more important everyone thinks better of you.

Games that work towards managing this impose long distances and/or inconvenient travel between regions – thinking Eve, ATITD, Fallen Earth, etc. People naturally clump up into little townships and tribes then.

It also makes the game pretty niche but you can’t win ’em all, alas.

Stoico - October 14, 2009

My “player mindset” is forged in Wow. As that was the first real MMO I played. I know play Aion, to my big enjoyment. And strangely enough, I feel completly different.

I dont feel any urge for anything in Aion, I just enjoy the game as it opens up infront of me and soak it all in. Its the first time I have just been roaming a place both some of the mine areas and the Krall area in Veteron, just killing mobs and enjoying the ride. With no real goal in my mind. That would have been un-thinkable for me in wow, as that would be a waste of time.

I like Aion, it has it has its equals with WoW, but it surely also have it differences. Which I think it going in the right direction away from wow and “sprinting” towards endgame.

But with that sayd, I would like it to stretch even more. More areas where you have to be a group to go and even more stretch and content on the way to the top. (endgame)

silvertemplar - October 14, 2009

Hey, great topic. I’ve been wondering the exact same thing as of late. I’ve been through 5 MMOs in 3 months and this “rush” to get to the non-existent “end game” is quite confusing considering the “end game” usually does not even exist.

I’ve played Champions Online this last month and now switched over to the indie title Fallen Earth. You know what hit my square in the face? Fallen Earth i felt totally “relaxed” just standing in town checking out the area. So what is the difference between the two? Fallen Earth got serious crafting and serious gathering…it’s not there to “skill up” it’s there because it’s the only way to actually get a better weapon or better armor. Crafting is SLOW, harvesting requires you to EXPLORE [with the obvious end result of not actually finding anything]. Leveling and Stats actually gets placed on the “back burner” while you’re doing these activities.

Champs and AoC and WoW for that matter, these “activities” are all just there for the mythical “end game” …you don’t actually use it NOW, you level it so you can use it MAYBE and IF you ever hit “end game” .

It’s like we’re all getting gimped the entire game and being told “all will be better at the end”.

What’s that saying? It should not be about the destination, but the JOURNEY.

Devs are making the JOURNEY a hurdle to overcome. You feel compelled to “get it over with” …yet there is not actually a destination worth aiming for in almost all the new MMOs!

Stengah - October 14, 2009

@Jeromai

The point here is that while you can take time out to gather resources and craft the game is indirectly punishing you for it because you earn no xp for those activities. You can spend time doing them, sure, but your character is essentially in a state of arrested development if you’re not questing and grinding.

This was brought home to me quite clearly yesterday when I played Fallen Earth for the first time. In FE you can gain Action Points with which to stat up your character just by wandering around salvaging stuff and crafting.

In fact in FE I imagine it would be possible to level up solely as a crafter, as there are quest hubs designed for those players who prefer to make things rather than go around killing mobs.

In WoW and Aion it’s perfectly normal to run to a quest hub, pick up all the quests without even looking at the quest dialogue and then rush off with your shopping list of bugs/wolves/buffalo to kill. Rinse and repeat. But is this really all MMOs can be?

Curious George - October 14, 2009

This is what I’ve come to find myself and why in my ideal game there would be no levels and no means of fast progression. I think of Eve as an example of a game done nearly correctly. I never felt rushed with Eve because you can’t do anything about it. Sure there might be some pressure to earn isk but you can do that a number of ways by playing the game. If it weren’t for the PvP I would still be playing Eve today.

kaybek - October 14, 2009

I actually feel that Aion does a really good job of forcing you to slow down a bit and focus on various aspects of the game. Gathering materials and crafting is a big deal in Aion and if you want level appropriate gear, you have to slow down and put some good time in towards these more “casual” aspects. Another aspect that slows down the game is the “forced grouping” needed in Aion. You want to make friends and get regular groups and this is a very welcome change from the WoW mentality.

Wickidd - October 14, 2009

@Jeromai

I have been playing Aion with the same mindset that you have. I am in no hurry to get to the endgame, and I am enjoying the ride. The zones are beautiful.

@ Strengah

Players do gain xp by gathering and crafting in Aion. I have gained around 5 levels, of my 23, from crafting and gathering alone.

Loktofeit - October 14, 2009

I really like a lot of the replies I’ve read on this. The level-based endgame design creates the almost necessity to keep up with the rest of your guild, however in Aion I don’t feel that need to rush that I felt in other level-based MMOs. I think I’ve pretty much been farming and wandering around Miraju for three days now and having a lot of fun with it. There’s a group quest area right next to the zone and it’s great to scoot past there every half hour or so as there’s usually a player or pair of players hanging out there wondering how they are going to take on those elites – the current (not saying this will last for any specific length of time) influx of players makes it so that there are regularly people to meet, group with and take on more challenging content with.

The current legion I am in, Pious Sodality, is focused on group events and doing things together, so I think that also weighs in there. They are focused more on making sure all legion members are having fun than on reaching max level. If you’re in a legion that is rushing to the cap you’re naturally going to feel rushed if you don’t keep up.

Nobs - October 14, 2009

Compared to most MMO’s Aion is alot slower. I can’t help but wonder if it’s the game’s fault or your fault Keen for this.

I normally rush rush rush to level up. I have less play time than my friends so I have to spend every minute in the most efficient leveling way possible to even stay close.

In Aion I don’t feel that pull. It took me two and a half weeks to get level 20 and I didn’t consider myself rushed. Now that I am 20 I haven’t even gone exping in a few days. I have been working on crafting, because I find it fun; and yes leveling up my gathering.

I’m also waiting to finish all my Krall quests before I move to the next area.

As long as there is a power difference from someone who has played 2 months compared to someone who just started people will always “rush” to catch up.

I will agree with the friends comment Keen. In EQ it was just as important to network among the “elite” of your server as it was to be max level and have the best gear.

Salbos - October 14, 2009

More Fallen Earth readers than I thought. They really did slow the game down and not in a bad way. Levels are slow, leveling is slow, but it never feels that way. You sometimes want it to go even slower so you have a chance to do/see everything. My level kept telling me to go to the next sector but the number of things I still had to do/see were telling me differently. Quite a few of Keen’s last few posts have screamed Fallen Earth.

The downside is that the ‘sit around and chat’ aspect, while every thing is there for it, has not developed. Especially with crafting being real time I would expect more social things going on than there are currently. This could be the devs fault since their chat channels are kinda screwy. That and grouping is not encouraged as much as it could be. Than again the majority of players are still in the first sector so faction-grouping-battling hasn’t had time to develop yet.

Being one server also easily plays into the “Knowing people was just as important to me” aspect. Clans and personas are really starting to develop nicely.

With 45 being current level cap and 150 already talked about, I’d say they are definitely planning to “elongate the content”.

Sente - October 14, 2009

I don’t think that it is the game design itself that drives people to rush through a game, at least not intentionally. WoW may be an exception here.

Peer pressure and the type of goals players condition themselves with are more likely culprits IMHO. Game designs that encourages development of diffeent activities in sync or that players should be in sync with each other can certainly help in driving that behaviour. But ultimately I still think it is a matter of mindset of the players.

I cannot think of any MMO that I felt that the game itself forced me to rush through things. It has always been about other players or myself only in the few cases I have actually done some “rushes”.

Lastcall - October 14, 2009

I normally compare it to my first MMO UO. So I always think the problem is the level system. Not only are you pulled to the end game which only begins once you reach max level, but every level brings with it new, previously impossible to experience content.

There is a linear path along which you progress. From being unable to interact with the creatures, gathering nodes to a point where the return for your time is completely trumped by a new more enticing zone.

Rather than exploring and choosing your adventures in a more organic fashion you’re locked into a module by module path where if you don’t finish everything that is level appropriate at the same time you will have to catch up. Also if your friends start to drift apart in level it is harder to enjoy the same content. And of course a well made game will always entice with a carrot placed just around that next bend.

There needs to be reward for time invested but rather than improving combat effectiveness and monetary reward exponentially it should be flatter. If this is done it also makes it easier to blend high and low level content more seamlessly. People can explore more freely and having more choice in where they spend their time community is more likely to pop up then a situation where all the level XX people with YY quality gear meet to raid or whatever.

Bhagpuss - October 14, 2009

I have the opposite approach. I never sprint, I stroll.

I completely agree, though, that modern MMO design intends us to sprint. I just ignore it, but I would prefer the pacing to be different, nontheless.

It’s ironic, too, that almost every MMO provides a huge amount of content below the level cap that players could explore for weeks or even months, but then funnels everyone into the same optimum levelling channel where they skip 75% of it.

A new approach would indeed be welcome.

Bronte - October 14, 2009

The more I think about this, the more I agree with what Keen says.

Most players, in my experience, are in a rush to get to the highest possible level. Some games even encourage that through competition, for instance the Realm First 80, Realm first Deathknight achievements in WoW.

We are in such a rush to get to the destination, we completely neglect the fact that most of the fun was supposed to be in the journey. Imagine if you took your time. Read each quest. Instead of alt-tabbing to your favorite wikia or website on the MMO, actually took the time to find the solution in-game.

And what happens when you get to the penultimate level anyway? First you have to wait for all of your friends to catch up. Then you raid the living hell out of anything end-game, and soon enough, you are so far ahead of the curve, you find yourself constantly waiting for new content… which you will again devour without paying any heed to the process as quickly as your impatient self can.

That’s just dumb. Slow. Down.

Kiss Me First « No Prisoners, No Mercy - October 14, 2009

[…] reason behind it and Keen from Keen and Graevs has one hell of a good article about it. (Available here   Basically, without a connection between the two facets of NCSoft’s new game “Aion […]

Letrange - October 14, 2009

I think it’s because there are NO games where the balance between soloing and grouping is ‘right’. I’m going to ignore PvP centric games in the following statements since they operate using a different paradigm anyways. Let’s compare two diametrically opposed games. FFXI and WoW:

I’ve played both and here is my subjective observation:

WoW except in raiding penalizes group play as you end up at the end of a session looking at your progress and going “I would have been better off solo”.

FFXI has almost no progression outside the group. Even the “solo” classes progress at half speed of the rest of the classes when soloing.

In wow the feeling was that grouping would slow down your progression. So you concentrated mostly on stuff you could do solo and burned thru it as quickly as possible to get to the end game where there would be group stuff that you really needed to be in a group to do (end game instances and raiding). Then you would rebuild your character from it’s solo specs to something that worked well in a group and learn how to do it.

In FFXI due to the forced grouping mechanims there were two effects: Although some classes had it a little harder than others, groups were not all that hard to find as people complain about. Second people were motivated to actually learn the mechanics and group mechanics while they leveled. The end result of this is that once you were out of the dunes, few groups did not work. The end result of this is that people transisioned to the end game much more smoothly than in WoW. The use of the link shell to socialize while waiting for groups was also a good way to talk about strategies and tactics and get better so you did not let your next group down.

What there needs to be is a system/game/mmo where there is the right balance between solo and group content where good groups are better than soloing for everyone in the group but not necessarily by orders of magnitude like in FFXI.

This will provide the incentive to self improvement that is needed for grouping to work while still allowing soloers to do their thing at about the same pace.

Letrange - October 14, 2009

Addendum to previous post.

Also questing in both games where massively different. There were much fewer quests in FFXI than in WoW and you did not progress your character using them. One did quests for the item rewards or for the story, but not for progression. One killed mobs for progression. Quests were not in the game to provide progression. I think this is one the biggest differences between the two games. Of the two styles I personally prefered the FFXI take on that aspect. (no kill 10 rats type of quests).

Howdy Doody - October 14, 2009

Great topic and great comments.

I also wish games would add more completely random reasons to explore. Like Darkfall’s random treasure chests, or ANYTHING that makes me say, “Ya know why don’t I just keep walking this way and do some exploring/treasure hunting!”.

But the key is, you need to make it so you just can’t go look it up on the net or have some mod that shows ya where to go!

It needs to be Random!!!!

I think adding stuff to make you explore will overall slow down the leveling progression naturally, while still making it fun!

coppertopper - October 14, 2009

You definately have a point here, but its worse with games like WoW and Lotro that have expanded their content many times over the years. Its that you expect as a player starting out in these games that the content you are in is ‘old’ whereas the new stuff is probably a totally improved player experience. WoW especially touts ‘endgame’ as the real game, with all the speedy levelling they offer to get you out of the lower levels. Yet the play is the fun with WoW, and there is nothing new at max level. If devs did a better job of including end-game like content at all levels, there would be no rush. WAR did this very well with letting you PvP from level 1. Aion is doing a pretty good job, although it doesn’t truly get horizontal until level 25.

Longasc - October 14, 2009

Yup, you are onto something. The rush to the endgame actually destroys the better part of most MMOs. Instand and immediate gratification can only lead to disappointment if the endgame is all about delayed gratifiction.

evizaer - October 14, 2009

I don’t think that sprinting is the appropriate metaphor for MMORPG play at all. It’s more like a marathon. You have to spend months on a character to get him to the point where he has completed any of the various tracks involved in playing an MMO. Even if you are very good at maximizing rewards and playing efficiently, you’re still capped by your character’s ability, travel times, etc. in how fast you proceed.

Perhaps you meant to say that it’s a race. It certainly has been built to be a race–in as many ways as possible. The problem is that we don’t necessarily want to race all the time.

Blacknimbus - October 14, 2009

I’ll have to agree with the previous posters about Fallen Earth…I don’t feel the need to rush to gain levels at all. That’s probably because it’s new, classless and there’s a lot of stuff that goes on between levels.

Gluebag - October 14, 2009

To echo what someone said above, I think this is definitely related to a changing playerbase; mainly it reflects the transition to a market where everyone has played an MMO before.

I think first time MMO players are still playing these games the way Keen has fond memories of playing. Unless they have friends really haranguing them to catch up, I don’t think they are motivated to keep up at all costs; they’re more likely to just be doing whatever interests them and doing it at their own pace.

My impression is that a taste of the endgame for most people definitely affects the way they play their next game/character. As someone else mentioned, at that point, the only real way to change the pacing of the game is a drastic overhaul of some baseline elements, like leveling.

Personally, I’d love to see a game successfully pull off a drastic change like that. In the end, though, I think people will always naturally tend towards the most efficient path, so each new innovation will probably just be a stopgap. I’d love to be proven wrong about that, but I don’t think it will prevent me from having fun with MMOs in the future if I’m not wrong.

Dblade - October 14, 2009

Do you want to get stuff done, or hang out? It doesn’t matter how slow the content, if you just hang out talking to people you will fall behind. It also doesn’t matter how slow the content, it still is going to need organization to get there, because MMO content is unguided. No one forces you to go and level, you can just spend days exploring the world.

Recent games have more complex content, and aged games can have a staggering amount for the newbie, but I think it’s a constant no matter what type of game you play. Even Fallen Earth will soon get enough content where you risk falling behind the mass of people if you don’t make an effort to keep up. It’s just the way the MMO genre is, you have to be a self-starter.

People hung out in FFXI, I did so myself a lot. I never did finish a lot of missions, sometimes I just liked to grind exp, or explore, or watch the /shout chat in whitegate. People also sped through the content in Mabinogi, a game where you could beat all the main questlines in a month if you liked, and you often had periods of time with nothing much to do.

Korlyth - October 14, 2009

It is funny that you would make this post about “sprinting” as I noticed something interesting in Aion the other day. I play on your server Lumiel and I walked into an area of Pandemonium the other day to find a roleplaying group there. They had a gathering, and I noticed they all turn running off so that their characters walk around. It looks more natural of course that the character would walk instead of constantly running through the city from place to place. But we all are trained that getting somewhere faster is so much better, via run speed potions or mounts or instant teleport. The roleplayers know that you need to slow down and have these social gatherings. It really was a neat thing to see as I usually don’t play on roleplaying servers.

I’m finding the same feeling to be true in Aion that I need to be constantly moving forward, and even gathering seems to take too long. Something about the way the zones are designed in Aion make it so you are focused on getting your quests done and turning in. Exploration isn’t possible because of all the impassable hills, and since there is little space between one quest hub and the next, there is no time to really look around anyway.

Socialist Blacksmith - October 14, 2009

Some of my fondest memories of World of Warcraft were during The Burning Crusade. I missed out on the early raiding days, so my raiding cherry popped on Karazhan, Gruul, SSC/TK, Black Temple. But even then, while pushing content to progress, I found that I got more pleasure and enjoyment out of doing meaningless things. Things like doing the Onyxia quest chain (before the took it out), or collecting cool looking weapons from old instances or world bosses, or collecting mounts.

Once Wrath came and I ground my way up to 80, I realized there was nothing in terms of horizontal progression to do anymore except raise my professions to 450.

Replica - October 14, 2009

I think it has more to do with soloablity then you touch on here. The reason that people rush rush rush, is because they can rush on past. They don’t need to be social, they don’t need friends, they just roll on by. It’s the same faceless impatience that causes “road rage”. If you don’t actually have to stop and interact with other people, then everyone and everything that isn’t your goal is an obstacle. When you are forced to interact with other people to achieve your goals you get to know them and suddenly they stop being obstacles and become “community”. In community there is time to pause and discuss and help others with their goals. Soloing is not Multi-Player.

Wolfshead - October 14, 2009

Good article! I agree 100%.

Part of the problem that the beginning phase of MMOs have morphed from group experiences to primarily solo experiences. The first 60-80 levels are now seen as tutorial levels meant to be enjoyed as fast as possible so the player can enter the “endgame” phase.

Couple this with the current “reward, reward, reward” mantra of video game design and you have players that see leveling as their main activity. As you said, players no longer see talking to other players in an inn, crafting or gathering as being productive uses of their time. This is also because MMOs have become hyper-achievement treadmills.

There’s an old saying:

“Focus on the journey, not the destination. Joy is found not in finishing an activity but in doing it.”

Every level should be fun and rewarding. Every level should be an end unto itself not merely a means to the false end of reaching the level cap.

Will MMO companies listen? The current ones probably won’t as they have much of the community addicted to easy rewards and undeserved accomplishments.

Beau - October 14, 2009

“…or because I want to get to the PvP or end-game content.”

Of course, blame the game. As always. Weren’t you one of the many that ran raids like mad for a few years? Or one of the many that worries about the end game?

Quit telling players what they need to do, as far as slowing down. Start with yourself?

Beau

Jeromai - October 15, 2009

@Strengah

As Wickidd corrected, you do earn xp for gathering and crafting in Aion. Not a lot, but enough to have some significant impact. Those who don’t craft and gather and instead rush about questing as they did in WoW seem to complain of having to grind mobs more or not having enough quests.

On the bright side, the fact there are alternate paths to gaining xp (mob killing, questing, group grinding, group instances, mixed in with some crafting and gathering) seem to support the presence of a certain amount of lateral progression in Aion.

The exponential curve of required xp per level notwithstanding. It’s like Aion is more for completionists, and less for sprinters.

In contrast, a game like LOTRO meant you HAD to quest. All the decent xp came from fetch and carry and errand running for NPCs. Mob grinding was pretty much a waste of time. I think one gets all the xp from DDO on completion too, if I’m not mistaken.

Other games like WoW and City of Heroes balance out the individual mob killed and final quest/mission completion xp more fairly, giving more choice of options to the odd people (like me) who actually like to street hunt or kill monsters without feeling obliged to go from point A to point B to bring an NPC something.

@Korlyth
“I noticed something interesting in Aion the other day…a roleplaying group…all turn[ed] running off so that their characters walk around.”

Wouldn’t we say that the game design of Aion supports this strolling by including an option to toggle walk/run?

To everyone in general:

I’d be curious about relative levels. Lvl 1-10 in Aion is -very- streamlined. It’s linear and railroaded. It feels like WoW. The map has one path, with a few short dead-end branches. I would absolutely agree that there is a massive push to sprint past this. My alts started to grind mobs to get through to Ascension because one path was boring.

It opens out a lot more as one goes up. And I think the game does it sneakily and gradually. By imposing moneysinks, by a certain amount of group-required experiences, by maps that branch off linearity and into circular options.

But because it’s so sneaky and gradual, if the player mindset is focused on efficiency, he’s going to whoosh past all that and go for the most obvious quests/mobs in front of him, and still get his levels attained.

The bots are hitting level 35+. They haven’t quested, PvPed, crafted, or done group instances. The game design allows that.

There are roleplayers on Aion, and I’ve seen some great spots in Pandemonium that look purpose-made for them. Tavern spaces and so on. Mostly devoid of players. Some game dev level-designed the map to include the space.

The players just aren’t there. Is it game design, or player mindset to blame here?

I went flying off the port in Trader’s Post to go visit an empty ship just cos I could. I ended off the map and back again to walk into Morheim from the back side of the walk-in entrance. (Yeah, you can walk in to Morheim, raise your hands who knew about it.)

I hear the Elyos have an underwater hidden city map glitch.

I fell into a damnable underwater pit glitch trying to go backwards from the ‘secret’ path to the Black Claw chief when most people just glide down and rush forwards.

Someone wanted to show me the edge of the world near the Lava Caves of Taran, but I sucked too badly at gliding to the correct spot.

I walked off into a river of lava while not paying attention, somehow survived with a health potion and managed to wade -through lava- down a lava waterfall to the Sky Temple of Arkanis where I could actually fly out of the lava and go “wow, I lived.” (Shortly after, I aggroed a mob with the ability to bind my wings and send me on a one-way meeting with the ground, but we’re not talking about that anymore here. *hem*)

As a pretty staunch Explorer, all of those memories are going to be a lot more treasured than the next level I picked up.

Game design helps mindset, yes, but let’s not leave the responsibility squarely in the game devs hands’ if we’re not helping.

silvertemplar - October 15, 2009

@Beau

I think you missed the point. The argument was that that MMO is designed to put you in a state of wanting to rush to the end game. Yes, we can all purposely slow down, but the game is not designed and rewarding if you do. As people say “you fall behind” .

The question is why is there even such a thing as “falling behind” in MMOs? Why can’t you have a relevant and rewarding game at any phase in the game? Why do you need to be level 80 to do anything meaningful ? Again, game design is making us FEEL the reward is at the level/skill cap, everything you do in the meantime is just part of the “carrot on the stick” .

Themepark design [the way you get pushed through the one area to the next] also amplifies this push. There were a time where a single area was useful to lvl 1 and lvl 50 alike…….

jericho - October 15, 2009

This is exactly what I have been thinking since Aion was released. However, I do believe that Aion does do a few things right. Unlike WoW and even Warhammer and AoC, the experience of leveling is actually an experience. While the world is miniscule compared to the other games, the leveling curve is much more steep forcing players to enjoy where they are.

Its true that some people will always rush to the level cap, but Aion does very little to reward these players. The PvP aspect of the game can be fully realized around 30 with an introduction at 25. The endgame itself is practically nonexistent which is a problem, but it gives more weight to how you get there.

I would suggest that the real issue with “racing to the end” is because of gear. The rewards they offer at end game for menial tasks are too good. Where a game like FFXI may have good endgame gear, its equipment base still dips down 20 levels to see very viable endgame items that you can strive for. Making the trek to level cap much more slow and fun, rather than a race.

Woop - October 15, 2009

In my opinion Aion has been the best MMO release by far for some time. I’m really enjoying it (lvl 27 asmodian ranger on Gorgos). I’ve never felt like I’m rushing. The game is not quite so good for ‘exploring’ (my natural playstyle) as some, but I actually think it is paced relatively well.

They seem to be putting new things infront of you at a sensible pace. Whether it’s ascending, sigma stone, the abyss… there are a number of key things revealed at differnt points, and for me at least, they’ve all come quite naturally at a place in the story where I enjoyed them.

The gathering and crafting is however well wide of the mark in my opinion. Very quickly you realize: GATHER EVERYTHING! Whether you use it or not, you get quests for gathering constantly, so having the skills to get stuff is going to keep you going on quest completion and exp. Where it goes really really wrong is using the materials. I think the crafting is ludicrously slow, but… maybe that’s where it is right! Perhaps an example of the lack of speed to something. I know levelling a crafting skill is a slow (I might add, tedious) business in Aion.

Overall though, I’m all for games being slower rather than quicker. I like to think I know every (or most) inch of an area, what is there, what drops, what the story is .etc. before I move on to another area. I feel a game has really got it wrong if I race through areas with content left untouched.

chaosmos - October 15, 2009

I’ve also been thinking about “the sprint” lately since I’ve been playing Fallen Earth REALLY SLOW. 3 weeks and I’m only level 7! One thing that slows me down is the constant detours to scavenge the random nodes that pop up on my mini-map. In FE you really never know what goodies you are going to find in a scavenging node – it’s like a slot machine minigame which makes resource gathering MUCH more addictive than the usual MMO, where you might occasionally get a “bonus” from a node but it’s much more set in stone what you’re going to harvest. I can’t finish my quests efficiently, but I sure have a buttload of scrap plastic in my backpack!

Beau - October 15, 2009

“… think you missed the point. The argument was that that MMO is designed to put you in a state of wanting to rush to the end game. Yes, we can all purposely slow down, but the game is not designed and rewarding if you do. As people say “you fall behind” .”

Everything you said proved my point.

a) It’s DESIGNED to put you in a state of wanting to rush.

b) Why do we have “falling behind”?

This is another case of the OP blaming the game for HIM feeling “rushed.” Strange how players can feel that way in ANY game, and yet in those same games players can feel that the pacing is as slow or fast as they want it to be.

We all know what players like him want, they want to be told what to do. That’s fine, and I can understand his frustration. But let’s not act like all players somehow fall victim to this tunneling effect.

I do not feel “rushed” if I don’t want to…know why? Because I don’t GIVE any power to the phrase “falling behind”, as if I care what my “achievements” in an MMO are, especially to other players.

Just play the game, stop blaming it for MAKING you or FORCING you to do things. I have seen players like him use that term over and over: “I was FORCED to grind, I was FORCED to raid for 5 hours a night for 5 days a week.”

Give me a break. It’s a game, take it at the pace you want to and quit worrying about what other players think. Blaming the game is exactly what gets good games into bad places, and blaming player boredom on the game is silly when the player, the one that placed some kind of unimaginable expectations on the game and that ACTUALLY believes that there are some kind of rules as to HOW to play, gets too tired of the game too quick.

Beau

Balthazar - October 15, 2009

@ Beau

You can’t prove something just by saying it’s proven.

Your logic is interesting, but flawed in my opinion. And I think you are still missing the point.

Following your logic I could tell someone who says they hate first person shooters they just aren’t playing it right. They say, “They FORCE me to shoot and kill people! I just want to run around, smell the flowers and explore.”

It seems like you might reply, “Hey it’s a GAME, no one is FORCING your or MAKING you do anything. Just play it however you want. Don’t GIVE that frag count any power. Go check out the back 40 or stand and stare at the architecture. You can still do that and dodge bullets.”

It seems that you are arguing that game design is pointless, and that players can somehow make a game be something that it is not simply because it is a game and the player has the power to play it however they want. That misses the point entirely.

What I think Keen is trying to say is that MMO game design has rewarded certain behaviors recently and that he’d rather see a much wider spectrum of behaviors rewarded. So that folks who want to take the “path less traveled” have some meaningful incentive to do so other than the pleasure the raw act of doing so gives them.

Mike - October 15, 2009

I’ve been playing a lot of KOTOR recently, and something occurred to me.

In most non-MMO RPGs you are rewarded for exploring every last nook and cranny of the world. You never know in which chest, footlocker, or jar you will find that really cool item. If you’re replaying an RPG, you still bother to visit every last room of basically every “dungeon” for this very reason. I can’t possibly imagine how many Final Fantasy jars I’ve shattered over the years…

When I play MMOs, however, they generally don’t have this feel. Most of the time, the chances of finding a decent or useful item in any given room or area are virtually zero. And, moreover the games aren’t hard enough to require you to have good gear in order to progress to the higher areas anyway. So why would I bother going out of my way to hunt down that chest–in which a really cool belt might lurk, but most likely contains a completely worthless potion–when I can just grind two levels and do some meaningless quest that is guaranteed to give me an even cooler belt.

And over time developers have noticed this behavior, so they’ve stopped putting random jars, containers, and chests around the world, for the most part. In most games these days, the best rewards–the ones people really want and will work for– are given for fixed behavior: do a quest, or fill an influence bar and your reward is guaranteed. So why bother exploring the world, stopping to smell the flowers on the way, when there is likely to benefit from it–because the cool reward comes by getting to the next level ASAP and then killing 20 wolves 100 times?

Xenovore - October 15, 2009

Quote: “…MMO game design has rewarded certain behaviors recently … he’d rather see a much wider spectrum of behaviors rewarded.” Well said! The analogy of fast food has been applied here before, but let me use it again.

Modern MMORPGs are like McDonald’s: Burger, fries, and a large Coke, and that’s pretty much it. But some of us want more than that: lasagna, sirloin steak, lobster, fettucini al fredo, enchiladas, etc. In other words, a meal with flavorS, that you can sit down to and enjoy, not inhale and run.

A few additional points I’d like to make…

The primary issue I see with 95% of the modern MMORPGs: static content. To truly create an interesting world, things need to be able to change, and more to the point, players need to be able to affect that change.

Another issue: Instancing, phasing, and any other mechanic that minimalizes the group dynamic. It makes no sense to cater to the individual player in a MMOG. They can go play Oblivion, Fallout 3, Neverwinter Nights, etc.

A third issue: The continued use of level based systems. It’s inherent to such a system that there is only one way to go — up. Also, level based systems create the artificiality of leveled zones, with the side effect of game content marginalization, i.e. low level zones typically become ghost towns as the players’ levels increase. Another effect is that low level players cannot play effectively with or against high level players or mobs.

I think a purely skill based system is far more robust and flexible — players are able to progress in multiple directions (at once, even) and, in my experience (e.g. UO), there is a more immediate sense of progress. Additionally, players with different skills can generally still play together.

Jeromai - October 15, 2009

Balthazar said:
“What I think Keen is trying to say is that MMO game design has rewarded certain behaviors recently and that he’d rather see a much wider spectrum of behaviors rewarded. So that folks who want to take the “path less traveled” have some meaningful incentive to do so other than the pleasure the raw act of doing so gives them.”

I’d be curious to find out what folks think are meaningful incentives and rewards for these alternate paths.

Too often, if you attach too much cool shit (xp, gear, etc. that are often tailored to making achievers care about the behavior) to a wide spectrum of behaviors, the optimum path for achievers becomes, “Gotta do them all. As fast and efficiently as possible.”

Anyone else who strolls along just choosing to do a few of the behaviors becomes ‘gimp’ in their eyes.

Should we be tailoring the rewards for the different types of people who enjoy a certain kind of behavior?

Beau - October 15, 2009

“You can’t prove something just by saying it’s proven.”

I didn’t just say “my point is proven because I said it is.” Read what I wrote, which was “..your statements did nothing but prove my point.”

My point was that the player, not the game, is at fault here. We all know what kind of player the OP is. There is nothing wrong with that. But we all know he is pretty much the opposite of a “slow down, enjoy the ride” type of player. Again, nothing wrong with that but let’s stop BS’ing here.

Look, HE said it right there in the very post: “..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.” So, HE is consumed by the end-game and PVP (as per usual, unless I am mistaken from reading the few blog posts I have read of his) yet he claims that it has “nothing to do with me personally.”

So, let me get this straight..this guy is consumed with the high end, and yet he blames THE GAMES DESIGN for making his brainwaves lean in that direction?

All I can say is that posts like this are the number one exact thing that is wrong with MMORPG’s today. It’s not lack of innovation (mmo’s are more innovative than ever) and it’s not lack of variety (if you think games are not varied now-a-days then you need to step outside of your usual 4 MMO’s you play) it’s simply players like him that claim they want one thing (to be FORCED to slow down?) while doing another (I MUST get to the “end-game” and to the PVP.)

This has nothing to do with Aion. Aion is just another game on the long list of MMO’s that will be coming out for the next few years that players like him can play, become bored of or can’t move fast enough in, and then can talk about how the games are at fault.

Like I said, give me a break. Just own what you are: a player that wants to “succeed” at high-end things. Go for it. As long as you’re having fun, go for it.

Beau

Keen
Keen - October 15, 2009

Beau you’re becoming a troll. Others have already said anything I could have said in a reply to you. You simply do not get it, which is fine because it means we disagree, and it’s not worth arguing (since debating is clearly not possible).

You’re a 9 on the troll-o-meeter and I need you at about a 4. Ty!

Melf_Himself - October 15, 2009

I really think you’ve got this whole idea backwards.

We are not forced into being rushed. MMO’s do the opposite. They force us to proceed incredibly slowly (to milk subscription dollars). They give us piddly amounts of content relative to time spent in most any other kind of game. I honestly laughed out loud when you say that MMO content is “hyper-condensed”. I have experienced about 10 mins of total play time in Aion over the last 3 weeks where I thought “wow, I’m really experiencing some serious content right here!”. There have been several hours worth of “Ooh, pretty…” time, and the rest has been a massive grind.

The only reason that I do rush when playing an MMO is because I hate the things they make me do so much. I hate doing the same thing over and over again, but I do it to try to get to something else that I think I will like.

If I could instead do PvP from level 1 and be competitive (yes, it is possible, see EVE or Guild Wars) I wouldn’t bother grinding.

Keen
Keen - October 15, 2009

For some games you’re absolutely correct that we’re forced to proceed incredibly slow. However, for the direction that MMO’s are headed today — the place we’re headed for in the near future — I’m seeing and experiencing a massive shift to finite “hyper-condensed” content. They’re still making you do the repetitive stuff and they’re still milking sub dollars, but they’re doing it so that you can get in and get out.

Jordan - October 16, 2009

Beau has been preaching his mmorpg philosophy of “the player can make the game whatever they want it to be” for years now. This may even be true for some people…namely those people who are non-competitive and don’t compare themselves and their progress to anyone else in the game. His mistake is thinking it is true for everyone, when in the mmorpg it is true for an extremely small portion of the player base. It’s a common internet mistake: “everyone thinks like i do, or if not then they should”. We all do it to varying degrees, but Beau takes it to extremes then just keeps on going.

I’ll give him +internets for persistence however.

Morreion - October 16, 2009

Excellent article, Keen!

Social mechanisms and play spaces are an afterthought if anything these days in MMOs. Aion has a very poor friends list mechanism, and unfortunately there are no SWG-style cantinas anywhere to be seen. Players focus with tunnel vision on progressing, because that’s all there is to do. Other players become impediments instead of allies in a mostly-solo-quest system as opposed to an open hunting system.

Loktofeit - October 17, 2009

Morreion posts never disappoint. 🙂

There doesn’t seem to be enough emphasis on tools to encourage or facilitate social interaction in most of the current MMOs.

2010 is the year for social interaction to regain focus in MMOs. I make proclamations like that as frequent as NEVER but I am completely confident that is right on the money.

Does WOW have in-game guild calendars yet? I figured they’d be the first to offer that. I think Fallen Earth had some decent tools but I haven’t fired that up in a while so I don’t really remember. Turbine’s MyLOTRO, SOE’s VGPlayers and EQ2Players and Universal Chat, CCP’s upcoming New Eden… these are the start of something bigger. Once these ‘Web 2.0’ and ‘SNS’ pages get adopted as in-game features, or at least integrated with the game worlds they are supposed to be part of, we’ll see a lot more interaction.

In 2010, I really think developers will start releasing MMOs and expansions that focus on allowing the 21st Century human being to interact the way he is accustomed to interacting. Players of MMOs are on their iPhones and Blackberries, with a bluetooth in their ear and instantaneous information in the form of facebook updated and tweets popping up on their screens. Comparatively, MMO communication and social interaction tools are one step above petroglyphs. Unable to send a tell when someone is offline? Can’t mail something unless you are near a mailbox, and can’t receive it unless you traipse to a mailbox? Honestly, is that any more advanced than having to find a big enough blank cave wall to draw your message on and have the other person come to that cave in order to read what you wrote?

2010. Srsly.

Bigtprime - June 10, 2011

I have an idea.

I was thinking about how the mmo’s world tend to shrink only to the high level zone, while lessers zones becomes useless. When High level, the world tend to be tiny.

Today, I find the levelling part of mmo’s the most boring moment because you are hurried to level up. It implies you have not all your skills, you do not take your time to read the story, and you lose track of your friends, being too fast or to slow to level up.

There’s is only one way to get out of this, stop the levelling ! your characters has no level and no xp to farm. Instead, your character must quest to look for skills (like in GW, but no shop to buy them), and to get stuff stuff and maybe, to build something ?!

Comments are closed