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Pre-Launch – Do You Really Care About Lore?

Let's talk about pre-launch hype info for a MMORPG, RPG, or really any type of game. When a game is still some ways from launching, developers tend to start getting into the news cycles by releasing tidbits about lore.

Whether it's a backstory about one of the races, a profile on how a certain enemy came to be, the history of a dungeon, or even a novel about the game world as a whole, there always seems to be some emphasis on lore.

Personally, I really don't respond to it. Do you?

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I'm more of a mechanics guy myself. I want to know about the features in an upcoming game. What does the leveling gameplay look like? How will my character progress? Tell me about the social mechanics, or the developers' vision for how some feature -- big or small -- lends itself to creating fun.

Lore is important. Don't get me wrong. Boring or even downright bad stories and lore can make a game immediately feel cheap, so there has to be a minimum viable offering there. But I wouldn't rank lore anywhere near mechanics in terms of important factors that weigh on my decision to play or keep playing a game.​

A clear example of a game with very little apparent or spoon fed lore is EverQuest. While lore is VERY present, it can be 100% ignored and not hinder my gameplay at all.

I think the main reason developers don't talk about more 'meat' early on is fear. They fear the backlash and immediate judgement calls. If someone doesn't like exp loss and you come out with a feature about how your game has exp loss, you've lost that person. If you simply talk about how cold and dangerous the world is because of the mean monsters, but mention nothing about an exp penalty, then you might even get that person to follow the game long enough to like some other feature enough to convince them to purchase.

There's also the desire for relevance and attention -- starting those news cycles builds anticipation... just not for me.

I'm trying to remember if developers ever emphasized substance and mechanics sooner. If there was a time when that happened, I'd call for a return to a discussion on the meat and potatoes of a game sooner than we get it today. I'd certainly have A LOT more to talk about and theorycraft over.

  • Bhagpuss says:

    I tend to agree. I would certainly never decide to buy/play an MMO purely based on the Lore. On the other hand, i might decide NOT to.

    I would also like to know more about the mechanics but I think the reason we hear about Lore first is a) because it’s the first part to get done and b) it won’t change before launch. Systems change all the time in beta.

    • Keen says:

      Yeah, done first, usually something handed off for the next phase of development to follow, typically unchanging, and it’s safe.

  • Sky says:

    Depends, honestly, on how large the world is and how invested I am. World of Warcraft, for example, I am very much into the lore. I love reading the wikipedia, seeing people’s reactions and opinions, and reading the novels they release.

    Now, I am playing Skyforge a little bit and could care less for the lore. Be it because its all new to me and a bit hard to grasp, or that I find the lore in-game to be rather half-assed (as if the dev’s didn’t seem to care either).

    So, in the end I do believe I care about the lore. The lore just has to be expansive enough, have enough outlets, and truly be cared about by the people writing it.

    • Keen says:

      Warcraft is a good example of a franchise where the lore and story are easily 75% or more responsible for me being sucked into an expansion. I think part of that has to do with nostalgia from the RTS days.

      Great lore can make a good game better, but can never make a bad game good.

  • Proximo says:

    I’m much like Sky on this one.
    Lore was THE reason I got so invested in Warhammer online before its launch, and it is also the reason why I’m now interested in going back to wow fort the next expansion.
    But with for instance Crowfall and Camelot Unchained I’m interested in the games but haven’t really looked into the lore much at all.
    Lore really has kept me playing both wow and war much longer than I’d otherwise would have I think, so if Crowfall turns out to be a good game I will most likely indulge in the lore when I start playing.

    • Keen says:

      Yeah, I agree. My same comment above to Sky applies. I think good lore is a cherry on top of a great game, but otherwise services no benefit if the game isn’t any good.

  • Tristan says:

    Have never given a whit about lore in any game I’ve ever played as far as I can remember.

    • Keen says:

      I’m definitely influenced by lore and story, but can definitely fall back on actual gameplay for most of my enjoyment. There are, occasionally, games where I’m the opposite. Most of the Assassin’s Creed games, for example, and even the Uncharted series, were all story-driven plays for me.

  • Aywren says:

    Lore is very important to me. I play MMOs to be a part of a world (fantasy or otherwise). If the writing, story and lore are poorly written and just skimmed over, or just don’t make any sense, it will drive me away from a game. The first thing I notice is the writing quality for the first quests, cutscenes, etc.

    That being said, mechanics are important to me as well. I don’t care how good the story or lore is, but you won’t lure me to play a completely free-for-all open world PVP game. If mechanics or game progress is so flawed that it’s just not fun, or it blocks my ability to see the story, I’ll be giving that a quick pass.

    • Keen says:

      You got me thinking about how story/lore in quest design gets tied up into gameplay mechanics. For example, there were many great story-arc quests in WoW where I enjoyed the story being told in that zone, but absolutely hated how mundane they delivered that story by having me run up to grab !’s in a camp over and over. The only thing stopping me from quitting immediately would be the desire to see how that story ends.

      Sadly, going through those motions inevitably burns me out and causes me to quit, despite the story/lore/setting.

      I go back to games like EQ or UO and thing to myself how I never once thought about a story. I -ME myself- was the story. My life I was living as a character in the world, my actions I took, the adventures I went on — those were my story. I think a lack of story made those games better.

      There’s also another segment of games that fall in between. There’s a game like Star Wars Galaxies which was a sandbox. They rarely forced story upon you, but you were playing a game with immense story woven into the setting. Very few people played that game who hadn’t watched some of the movies. In most cases, lore was why people played, yet (other than the setting) a very passive part of the game.

      I went on some tangents there, but your comment made me think!

  • Jenks says:

    I like lore in the sense of world building but not in the sense of story telling.

    EQ is a good example. Dark Souls is the pinnacle for me. Create a world and let me explore it, it’s so extremely satisfying.

    WoW starting with WotLK has gotten progressively worse into straight story telling, it’s like watching a mexican soap opera with even worse acting, I can’t take it seriously (I still play it but I’m totally checked out of the “lore” at this point).

  • Andrew says:

    I like lore, though it’s not obligatory. Games like WoW, WAR or SWTOR were steeped in preexisting stuff. Ditto LOTRO. Going around that corner and seeing Tom Bombadil’s tree house was awesome.

    Others, for instance, Black Desert Online, have an incredible amount of detail put into the idea that there’s more to the world than what’s on the surface. They don’t necessarily do it in the same grandstanding way of the theme parks, but if you dig, you’ll find it.

    My favourite game for lore was really unexpected. Wildstar’s story, both in the macro of the game and the micro of the various zones, was fantastically good. I remember feeling real pathos as I went through the later parts of the weird Amazon/God race’s history.

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