Sorry, essay rant incoming. Hold onto your seats. Also, sorry that posts have been rather negative lately.
This post started out as another “Yes I quit ArcheAge too” rant, but not only did it quickly break out of that enclosure, it was then further influenced by J3w3l’s and Aywren’s writings on AA (and PvP worlds in general) as well. I could have talked about how I quit because of the crappy Glyph launcher; the fact that 70% of the time, every time I exited the client my computer froze, forcing me to manually reboot; the fact that any PvP was effectively out of my league because of my latency and even PvE was difficult at times; that I had no reasonable chance to get a farm or farmhouse plot of land because of hacks and/or real estate speculators forcing prices through the roof; or even that I was disgusted by the weird Labour Point (LP) gating that, combined with a F2P model, promoted behaviour that in all honesty gaming should not promote. But no, I want to talk about some other, wider, subtler, structural issues instead.
Actually, I will go back to that last bit, about undesirable behaviour. One of the small things that contributed to getting me over that tipping point, the point where I became convinced that to continue playing AA would be detrimental to my enjoyment of not only it, but my gaming time in general, was a guild member complaining in guild chat about people griefing them. Upon further conversation, it turned out that the “griefing” consisted of players driving vehicles (probably farm carts) around the training dummies in the nearby town. Why was this such a terrible crime? Well, for those who don’t play, training dummies are (as far as I know) the only legitimate way to avoid being afk’d out of the game. Phase one: go to a training dummy and autoattack. Phase two: … Phase three: gain “free” LP. This was the only way that F2P players could maintain a steady stream of LP that would make the game moderately playable (if you want to participate in crafting or resource farming at all). It also optimised the LP generation of Patrons, since you get more LP per 5 minutes when online. By driving their vehicles around the dummies – that were, at any given time, packed full of afk characters swinging away dutifully while their players slept/worked/studied – these “griefers” were pushing afk’ers out of range of the dummies, thus making them time out. My guildmate was one of those afk’ers, I discovered very soon after. They’d presumably come back to find themself logged out, and logged in to see these vehicle-drivers clearing out people from the other dummies. So they wanted to report them for “griefing”.
This disturbs me for several reasons. Part of it is this culture of optimisation that MMOs in particular have developed. Part of it is the way that LP, which I think is a really interesting and potentially useful way of regulating the game economy, has been implemented not as a fine chisel to shape and highlight the best parts of the game, but as a massive hammer to blindly hamper everyone from doing anything in order to accommodate a F2P business model. That promotes the undesirable behaviour (training dummy afk’ing) that I mentioned above. But by far the most disturbing to me is the attitude of those taking part in the undesirable behaviour. They feel it is their right to be allowed to do that, because – in the words of my guildmate – “it isn’t illegal”. They actively take offence at the notion that other players (active players!) can come and “interfere” with their afk state. Somehow, stopping people from effectively cheating the system is griefing? The mindsets of entitlement and optimisation that lead to that conclusion is far, far too prevalent in MMOs for my liking, especially when those mindsets overlap.
Not-Play to Play
The scenario above, of AFK’ing for LP is one example of this. Other examples I have encountered include the auto-concede bots in Hearthstone, where the goal is to let the bot run long enough for it to encounter other bots, roughly half of which will concede first, giving you enough wins to make the daily gold cap. Or the practice of AFK’ing in instanced battlegrounds, so as to eventually get the pvp currency to buy the top-tier gear. Sometimes it is more deliberate sabotage, as in Alterac Valley for Horde – despite the fact that Horde only has about a 2% success rate with the counter-zerg strategy, and a 70+% success rate with a defensive strategy (in my experience), most players attempt the counter-zerg. This results in most of the team uselessly milling around the Alliance base while the other team effortlessly wins. But it is a quick loss, which means more honour points per hour, and that’s the reason they are there. Not to actually play the game. Not to PvP. To optimise their points per hour.
The use of farming bots in general is another example, I guess, assuming that the farming is for personal reasons and not gold-selling purposes.
This phenomenon is one that is peculiar to PvP, and mostly open-world PvP at that. I’m not really sure why it bothers me that those modes or games largely devolve to a “s/he who zergs best, wins” conflict, but it does. It kind of makes sense in certain militaristic settings, such as EVE, where force projection is important, but even in that game there is plenty of opportunity for smaller, elite groups to have a disproportionately large effect on the battlefield. However, in many games – j3w3l confirms that it’s not just me who thinks this – that is simply not the case. Numbers rule.
This does a couple of things that I believe affect the game negatively. First, it makes those PvP experiences more about who can bring more bodies than about individual skills. Often you know who is going to win before the first shots are fired. Often it isn’t even a contest, just an avalanche. Because of this, I don’t see the gameplay value: unless you’re some kind of leader or commander, you’re basically just spamming one or two abilities until one side crumbles.
Second, it promotes bandwagon behaviour, where players all try to join one of the biggest groups. This gives those groups even more resources, and thus influence, which attracts more of the playerbase because if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. I really don’t believe that these MMOs were intended to be dominated by huge power blocs in the way that they are, and I think it detracts from the experience since if you are not interested in joining one of those power blocs, you are effectively left out of a large chunk of the game. Plus, there is the sense that you need the protection afforded by them, otherwise you are seen as a punching bag without much hope of exacting revenge.
This manifests most clearly in the various LFG instances, whether they be raids, dungeons, scenarios, whatever. This overlap of entitlement and optimisation is, in my opinion, directly responsible for the frequency of LFG kicking and dropping. On one hand, you have the people who refuse to endure grouping with someone who is not at the top of their game, in the optimal gear, with the whole instance memorised already. Are you new to the instance? Don’t overgear it to the point of triviality? You’ll slow the run down, gotta kick you, sorry(notsorry).
On the other hand, you have the people who drop from the group at the first misstep. One of the reasons Wildstar’s raid attunement requirements were reduced was that they found people would drop from dungeons as soon as they saw they’d not make the gold star run (due to being behind on time, or a death, or something). That meant a LOT of people were dropping from instances, and it apparently got to the point where groups would have to disband because there would be a procession of people joining the run, seeing that they wouldn’t get the gold star, and dropping immediately. Most of those groups were just wanting to complete the dungeon, they didn’t care about the stars – it was LFG, after all! The other main reason people drop from LFG groups is because of loot. They didn’t get the item they wanted, and the rest of the instance didn’t offer anything they needed, so they dropped instead of hanging around to finish the instance. Optimisation, yo. Or even worse, they dropped in a rage because someone else got “their” drop and wouldn’t give it to them!
MMOs are supposed to be a social form of entertainment. Even though that really just means interacting with, and being around, a few dozen people at most, the point of the genre is to play with other people, as well as against them (sometimes). Yet we regularly hear of, or even see, cases of people being treated as tools, to be included or excluded because of their skills rather than their personality. Why? Because the group (or at least the leaders) would rather reliably succeed – actually, let’s be brutally honest here, they believe that they have a greater chance of success – with someone they barely like, than possibly fail with someone they do like and enjoy playing with. Wait, it gets even better…it’s not even that they might fail. They know that they would fail to start with. But the reason for the exclusion is that it might take longer to succeed. It’s not optimal to bring along that less-skilled, less-geared, less-experienced person, no matter how much you like them. Unless it’s for a zerg, of course.
The most recent example I saw of this mindset was in this post of Navimie’s, talking about her guild’s plans for raiding in Warlords. The part I am referencing here is the “Are we still doing Flex/Normal on the weekends?” section. In it, she talks about waiting to do the weekly social raids until the regular raid group has settled into their roles. The reason for this, as I understand it, is because the regular raiders need to be able to carry the social raiders, otherwise there will be not much progress made. And without decent progress, some of the regular raiders who are helping out will feel like they wasted their time, and will stop coming along to those events. Never mind that it is a social raid, and that the primary objective is supposed to be to have fun with your guildmates.
So the social raids are being delayed so as to optimise success – defined here as downing bosses. They don’t want to risk failure. It’s a mindset I just cannot wrap my head around.
Going back to PvP, risk aversion pops up in such games as Darkfall, a full-loot PvP game where apparently players keep their best gear in the bank, so they won’t ever lose them. I know, words fail me there too. In GW2’s WvWvW leagues, there were points where certain server communities were organising to take a dive, to purposefully lose in order to either not be promoted to a higher league or to ensure that they would be demoted. Apparently it is a common mindset that dominating one group is more fun than learning to compete with another group. Imagine if the English Premier League had a fight at the bottom of the ladder where 4 or 5 teams were all trying to lose in order to be relegated. It would be a scandal. I know that there is significant financial incentive to remain in the higher league, but is that really the only reason? If you look at the WvWvW leagues then it would seem so.
Nature or Nurture?
I know that a lot of these mindsets are either encouraged or enabled by the game design decisions made by MMO developers. But I can’t help thinking that the natural urge to seek fun has been pushed too far, to the point where fun has become conflated with reward (hence entitlement) and efficiency (hence optimisation). I don’t think games developers are to blame for that. I think it is a community problem. People choose to behave in those ways, they choose to value reward and efficiency over everything else. I wonder how many more people will burn out on it before things change.