What makes things fun in one game but not another?

UO mining
Mining in UO and doing ‘work’ is actually fun. Why?

Here’s a question for all of you to answer, and I’m genuinely interested in what you think.  Why is that I hate running the same dungeons over in WoW, or grinding the same mobs over and over, but I can mine for 6 hours a day in UO and love it?  Why do I get absolutely bored of questing to level up, but I can go chop trees for a few hours or craft some items and not get bored at all in UO?  Replace UO with EQ; I can sit with a group in the same room in a public dungeon, not leave that room for 10 hours, get no loot, and still enjoy myself.   What’s so different about the games?

One conclusion I came to is that the tasks are more like working towards something difficult to obtain, with a higher reward in the end.  Maybe that’s why I’ll go through them more willingly, but it doesn’t explain why I actually enjoy what sounds like (on paper) a menial task.

Another is a subconscious drive to achieve something, but that’s present even in a game like GW2; unless my subconscious also realizes the reward in a game like WoW or GW2 means less to me than it does in UO.

Perhaps it’s the lack of a pattern in a game like UO or EQ.  A quest is scripted just like a dungeon, whereas an open-world dungeon or working on gathering resources in UO isn’t.  It’s more about going out and living your character’s life, which in and of itself is more dynamic than going about your day in a prescribed way because that’s how the game wants you to play: Linear.

So think about it and let me know what you come up with.

  • You haven’t played UO (this time around?) for long enough yet. See how you feel in three months.

    More generally though, a boring/menial task can turn into an exciting “investment” once you make the mental leap into believing you will play the game long-term. I just came back into WoW recently, for example, and have been getting a bunch of factions up to Revered. Why? To make the reputation grind easier on my alts. That’s long-term planning (of dubious value, but nevermind). If I were concerned about my moment-to-moment fun ONLY, I would have stopped doing dailies weeks ago. Who even knows if I will level those alts?

    Back in middle school, I had a history teacher that handed out the full week’s worth of worksheet homework on Monday, to be done each day until Friday. Instead of doing that, I would spend several hours finishing them all on Monday evening. Even back then, it felt “right” to me to toil extra hard now so that my future-self can play videogames all night the rest of the week. Twenty years later, I find myself doing the same sort of thing.

  • Depends.

    WOW punishes you for not grinding by exclusion from elements of the game. I resent this a lot.

    Other games, you are not excluded, but the thing you are working on is still worthwhile. Eg when I played NWN you could do any area on our server in +5 gear. Getting to +6 took incredible grind but having +3 armor and +1 attack and damage gave you nice bragging rights. A lot of the items we ground up simply replaced buffs people then didn’t have to cast.

  • For me I noticed it is more about my mindset and the goal of what I am doing. When I am going gathering to craft something, I have a very specific goal and I can spend a few hours doing it to receive the end result I want.

    A good example would be when your leveling, or crafting some special weapon / item in WoW or Rift, or GW2.

    I can happily grind for a few hours in anticipation of getting that new bit of shiny.

    But when that grinding becomes a repetitive daily thing. Like grinding cash or potion mats for consumables, I get tired of it and find it less rewarding.

    The same goes for dungeons, and I particularly hate RNG loot systems. You often end up grinding a dungeon getting nothing in return if your not blessed with luck.

    But with UO I think the big thing about the crafting and gathering systems is that you can do more than make 1 time items, or thousands of +1 swords to sell on an AH.

    The material you gather can be used to build something physical in the world that you interact with more often, and rather than selling items on the AH, your selling them to other players from that building you built.

    There is a level of immersion just not existent in the majority of MMO’s, and that’s what I have always felt to be the core of a sandbox experience.

  • A couple of things come to mind:

    Simple, repetitive tasks are relaxing. Try twiddling your thumbs, see how good it feels. Simple, repetitive tasks that also offer a practical, desirable outcome are satisfying as well as relaxing. Many real-life activities done for pleasure fall into this category – knitting, whittling, gardening. Activities that replicate this in MMOs, like mining, harvesting or farming (mobs or crops) have similar soothing and satisfying results.

    Being in control of your own destiny feels good. When you chop trees for 6 hours or grind mobs in a single location for loot, xp or faction you are aware at all times that you are there entirely because YOU chose that particular activity at this particular time and that you can stop whenever you want. Doing these things for yourself feels very different to doing them for someone else – that’s work, or duty. The fact that, at a higher level, you would still be in control of the choice were you to have taken a quest from an NPC fails to mitigate the feeling that you are “working” when you do in-game tasks that have been assigned to you rather than those you made up for yourself.

    Other than that I would go with your final suggestion, that these kinds of activities feel more “natural”. That’s certainly true for me.

    What I would dispute, though, is that this is game-specific. I play all MMOs pretty much this way and it works for me in every MMO. I learned this way of playing when I discovered MMOs through EQ and I play every MMO as though it *were* EQ. It’s an approach that absolutely works in GW2 and in The Secret World, to name two recent MMOs where I have used it extensively. Stuff the tasks devs set – just do your own thing and enjoy yourself.

  • Novelty is the best aphrodisiac…er…if you know what I mean. In several months time you will find mindless, repetitive tasks that you have done repeatedly in UO just as boring.

    In small doses, and when they are new, things like that can occupy you for shockingly long amounts of time, but it won’t last. More importantly, novelty exists in genre, not just game, meaning that while MMOs a decade ago could stay novel for years, experience in the wider genre is going to mean that novelty wears off quicker and quicker over time.

  • I always loved mining in UO for some reason, and as I play it again, apparently I still love it. Been doing pretty much nothing but mining since I made my character, and I enjoy it.

  • UO: High hopes to stand out one day, by mining and crafting.
    WoW: Your a number and the auction house makes your wares also a number.

    UO: Freedom you can grind if you want to. You can explore if you want to. Make fiends if you want to. Or whatever you want I once ran around a crowded village in my underwear handing flyers to by standers informing them of the naked marathon and if they wanted to sponsor me with alcohol. (dont ask when I get tired I do silly things)
    WoW: You need to quest. You need to raid. You need to buy a flying mount to access content. The feeling of need is no fun. Choice is.

    UO: A friendly community that helps others, even strangers.
    WoW: A “ME me ME!!!” mentality forged by game mechanics.

    UO: world
    WoW: playground.

  • I think its more about time. How long did you play WoW? 5 years on and off? You say you find those quests boring now, but lets wait 5 years and see how you like chopping down wood then.

  • The thing is that the UO game will eventually evolve. Once more houses go up there will be less of a need for constant wood chopping. As time progresses Keen will most certainly have neighbors near him that are not part of KGC and his relations with them, good or bad, will be another part of the game. They’ll be keeping vendors stocked and competing with other vendors. They’ll be fighting. They’ll be writing in-game books.

  • One is your choice, the other is not.

    YOu can grind for hours because you CHOSE that grind to achieve a larger goal.

    The kill x whatevers or chop x whatevers quests or achievements mean your goal is pre-set and you feel like it’s a necessary thing to do regardless if you want to do it or not, which automatically makes a task less entertaining and more of a “grind”.

  • There may be many factors but two that stand out. The first is the linear gameplay – like you mentioned. The second one (and this ties into the linear gameplay aspect) is a mix of the following which are all related (maybe these are different ways to say the same thing):

    – an expectation that everyone can accomplish the exact same thing as you can and the game is designed around that concept. It usually isn’t challenging to reach max level the game is designed around the player achieving this goal in a reasonable manner

    – once you have completed something, there is no real pride in your work because most people will have achieved the same

    – lack of challenge

    – a feeling that you are just jumping through hoops

    – a lack of risk v. reward

    I think, for me, these are overall some of the isuses that make themeparks stale pretty quickly. I remember having fun in themeparks at times when I found something “unusual” like AOE hunting where I suddenly felt like…oh this experience gain is awesome…and it was fun to set it all up and included a certain challenge. None of these are really reasons why I stopped playing each themepark like game – the reasons for that were just lack of a long term goal that I enjoyed.

    Another difference: Everything in themeparks is about leveling your character or making your character stronger. In UO it seems my atittude changes and it is about setting yourself up in the world. It is fun to build a good set up…

  • I think it mostly comes down to the social aspect.
    you mention sitting in a group in one spot in EQ, the key word there for me is group
    and with UO you have a lot of people hanging around atm, so again for me its a social aspect, you don’t really get that in modern mmo’s

  • Remember The Twilight Zone episode, where the guy dies and thinks he went to heaven because he gets anything he wants? Then at the end, he’s bored out of his mind, and he realizes he’s in hell.

    Modern MMOs are that hell.

  • For me it comes down to Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic rewards.

    If I have to learn something for school, I inherently don’t want to do it. But when I want to learn something, I can spend hours upon hours learning every detail of it online. If the reward for mining is extrinsic and given to me by an overlaying system, then it appeals to my sense of achievement. But when mining is its own reward (think, “why climb mountains… because they’re there”), then I have more fun.

  • I played some yesterday. I think what makes it so attractive is the skill system and the challenge that the world is dangerous. With work you can make yourself into a successful and powerful player, you can have your own house, etc.

    Unfortunately communities in games like this always seem to suffer over time. I see that PK penalties are already being adjusted and I wonder how long before these adjustments lead people to quit claiming they ruined the game?

    I’d like to see how they can avoid population stagnation that most of these games experience. If it ever becomes too hard or annoying for a new player to join (to many pkillers, not enough space for housing, anti-social community) the game is doomed.

    I’d like to go back to my first paragraph, though. There is something different about a game like this that makes me want to continue playing.

  • Also It’s nice to start a new character and not have to begin or stay in a starting leveling area for 3 hours then moving on to the same or somehwta different monsters of a certain level for another 3 hours, you start a character pick where you want to begin and run to wherever you want to begin grinding on the skills you find enjoyable to play and work on until its a grand master skill and you become the best you can and you know you will enjoy the outcome of it! 😀 and the community is amazing and new always finding someone new or something different and knowledge!

  • “Remember The Twilight Zone episode, where the guy dies and thinks he went to heaven because he gets anything he wants? Then at the end, he’s bored out of his mind, and he realizes he’s in hell.

    Modern MMOs are that hell.”

    This right here. When games (especially MMOs) give away valuable things too easily it destroys both immmersion and the whole point of trying to earn your way as a newcomer to a strange new world. GW2 is already doing this – trying to buy customer loyalty by giving them free epics (legendary pre-cursors as rewards from festival chest), and LOTRO gives elite items for free just for registering for their lottery outside of the game itself! I imagine this is why people look back longingly at games like EQ and even vanilla WoW now (lol!). Hopefully things are swinging back to what made those originial MMOs work in the long run.

  • @Zyler, Danath: Agreed. Choice is a key factor, possibly the most important factor. It’s always better to do things you choose to do, rather than things that are chosen for you.

    @Argorius: Yes, well put.

    @Evalissa: The social aspect is SO important. It can be the most boring task in the world, but doing it with friends makes it bearable and often fun.

    @Jenks & coppertopper: So true! There is little to no personal investment in things that are handed to you for free. And if everything is handed to you for free, why bother actually doing anything.