The whole “player versus character” discussion

Lots of interesting discussion  on both Tobold’s blog and Syncaine’s blog about character ability versus player skill, which appears to rather be the topic of the moment.

I’m actually going to link to Syncaine’s follow-up post intially, which is an excellent discussion of the recruitment strategies of average WoW guilds, top WoW guilds, and guilds in other game styles like EVE and, yes, Darkfall.

Mental exercise time: if you are a guild leader, what criteria do you use when recruiting?

If you are an ‘average’ raid leader in WoW, you look at level/gear/achievements, exclude the psychos (unless it’s a healer, then you just pray the psycho can be contained long enough to progress), and you are good. Come raid time you hope the new recruit knows enough not to cause a wipe, but beyond that no real test of ‘skill’ is needed or considered.

He’s making the argument that Blizzard seem to be trying to get back to a more player-centric model in Cataclysm, which I would tend to agree with – but the entire discussion, particularly that of recruitment strategies, is an interesting read. (It’s certainly true that in previous guilds Rebecca and I have prioritised player personalities and skills over character gearing, and that’s worked very well for us).

Meanwhile, Tobold is addressing the question of what, exactly, we’re talking about when we talk about skill, revisiting a common thread in his journal of gear and “passive” skill (tactics guides, etc).

But once we admit that there should be *something* to do for the player in a MMORPG, we need to decide what exactly. What other kind of video game should a MMORPG be like? One school of thought bases that decision on the history of role-playing games, which evolved out of war games: Thus it would make sense if a MMORPG would play somewhat like a strategy game, and success would be based on your strategic or tactical decisions. But that sure isn’t the only option: MMORPGs like Puzzle Pirates show that a MMORPG can be based on puzzle mini-games, where it is your puzzle game skill that determines success. You could theoretically design a game in which your success is based on your skill in solving differential equations, but presumably there is no market for that.

He’s got a very interesting model of the design of WoW, one where, quite deliberately, as your character gains “skill”, the player requires less skill in various forms (reaction times, strategic knowledge). It’s a read I’d not seen before and one I found distinctly thought-provoking. Some of the comments are also very interesting (look for some martial arts nitpicking from yours truly), although others are, ah, of varying quality.

It’s nice to have a meaty topic to dig into in these quiet times, and I’m looking forward to seeing more discussion on the subject!

What are your thoughts on the player skill versus character skill issue?

Quotes taken from and

You can find Syncaine’s blog at and Tobold’s at