Why MMOs Shouldn’t Tell Stories

Ah, the story of our favourite MMO. That’s why we play, right? To learn what happens to our favourite heroes, villains, and…

Wait, what? No?

MMOs appear to have disappeared down a “story” rabbit-hole as of 2013. From the increasing linearity of much of WoW to Guild Wars 2’s “All Trahearne, all the time” plotline, game developers appear to be convinced that what we want is to play alongside a classic fantasy epic.

As you may have guessed by now, I’m not really of that opinion. And neither, it turns out, is Syl, who writes a fantastic piece at her new site, MMO Gypsy, pointing out just why the “big plot” push of the last few years just doesn’t seem satisfying to many people:

“I honestly think the constant demand for increased “story telling” in MMORPGs is mislead. The so-called fourth pillar of game design is overrated for this genre in particular, for should not the player drive the narrative rather than being driven by it? And it would be a good thing to remember how great stories are really created and why more and more story-driven quests and events in MMOs are in fact counter-productive to the immersive experience. Worlds are immersive when they engage us and make us partake – not listen to.

Great writing is the art of not saying things. It’s the skill of knowing which things to write and which to leave out. The greatest of authors understand that it won’t do to spell out all the details, secrets and twists about a story; this is not how interesting characters or plot are created. I believe typically most writers spend the first half of their journey learning to flesh out, formulate and construct interesting, complex plot-lines. After that, they spend the other half of the time removing information and un-saying too many words. I can confirm this for my own writing journey, that it’s a struggle of learning what not to say, rather than what to say and mustering that “courage for silence” which tangentially, is also a central theme in the education of teachers (which happens to be my professional background). Didactics 101 will teach you that for greatest learning effect, impact and longevity, your audience needs to make as many steps of the journey on their own as possible. They must try unearth and unravel the story (or learning subject) by themselves. The teacher should only ever be the prompter, the one asking questions and if required the fallback plan.”

Read the rest of Why Storytelling In MMORPGs Is Overrated

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Definitely about Guild Wars 2

The Pot is being stirred by Johnnie while Hugh takes a short break.

There doesn’t seem to be any really dominating GUILD over-arching GUILD WARS theme in the blogosphere right now OHMYGOD GUILD WARS. I’ve picked out a few IT’S NEARLY HERE IT’S NEARLY HERE disparate posts for you, nevertheless.

So, being slightly less facetious for a second, let’s take a look at some of our favorite bloggers’ takes on Arena.net’s new flagship game.

Chris at Game By Night is excited, despite having missed a lot of the hype so far:

“I missed out on the rising tide of excitement and was left with only myself to hype with. For what I gain in mystery, I lack in the infectious giddiness that’s come to typify launches up to this point. I am excited, there is no doubt about that, but I also recognize that Guild Wars is just a game like any other; it will be fun, I’ll make and play with friends, and I’ll feel satisfaction having spent my time there. Strangely, even knowing so little, it’s like going into Christmas morning already knowing what presents await you under the tree.”

Syl at Raging Monkeys is trying to manage expectations:

“How long will it all last us? I don’t know and frankly don’t care. GW2 doesn’t have to fascinate me for 5 years straight, I am no longer that gamer. Neither did I ever consider this the big, all-changing MMO revolution but as The Cynical Brit rightfully points out towards the end of his final beta conclusion, “a next evolutionary step”. A very important step at that – one that may impact on much to come. I care for this genre, I care for GW2 to be a solid success which I’m confident it will be.”

At ScaryWorlds, Scary gives a full Guild Wars 2 review (based on the beta), arriving at a very positive conclusion:

“I’ve spent months and months playing Guild Wars 2 and it’s fair to say I am ready to review it properly. I understand it was in beta, but I’m not reviewing the condition of the game, I’m reviewing the overall feel of it. Even with an unfinished product and it changing builds rapidly every week, I’ve nailed down every aspect of the game perfectly to get a perfect score that quantifies GW2 at launch and beyond.”

So there we go. It’s time. The most significant MMO launch for many moons is finally upon. Let’s hope it lives up to all our expectations. We’ll see you, blurry-eyed and sleep-deprived and grinning like maniacs, in a few days’ time.

Let us know your early experiences of Guild Wars 2 in the comments!

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Definitely not about Guild Wars 2, honest

Hugh is taking a few day’s break, so instead of the Potmeister you know and love, the Pot is being curated by Johnnie, who you vaguely recognise and just about tolerate.

I have some tremendously exciting, Pot-exclusive, breaking news for you all today. Apparantly, there’s this new MMO called Guild Wars 2 and it’s going to launch in a matter of days! Why we’ve not heard anything about this until now is beyond me, but I’m breaking the silence and bringing it to your attention now. MMO Melting Pot: First for news!

Yes, the GW2 anticipation has been dialed up to 11, with many bloggers barely able to contain their excitement (the Pot staff not least amongst them, we must confess). Unsurprisingly, GW2 has been the topic of conversation across the blogosphere recently, but I thought I’d buck the trend slightly by drawing your attention to a couple of non-Guild Wars topics.

First of all, Beruthiel at Falling Leaves And Wings writes a funny and telling piece about how hard it is to move on to a new game before finishing a game in progress. This will ring true for a lot of us, I think. A lot of gamers have a completionist/perfectionist streak, and this is one of the times when it can be a hinderance rather than a help.

” “Well, if you aren’t having fun with that game anymore, you’ve finished it to the extent you wanted, you played through the fun, and you can move on. There’s no rule that says you have to complete it”.

But, but…I’m not DONE. I have a couple of more levels in the upside down world, and I haven’t BEATEN it yet. How can I be FINISHED?! What about Luigi? What about Peach? WHAT ABOUT TOAD?!?! How can I simply leave them to their peril and not complete the game?”

Secondly, if you haven’t been following the shared topic of ‘collectivism versus individualism’ that’s made its way around the blogosphere recently, I’d strongly suggest you take the time. The topic was originally proposed by Stubborn at Sheep The Diamond, who provides a good list of the different bloggers who have so far responded. We already featured Apple Cider‘s article, but this shared topic has prompted many other great posts as well.

Spinks discusses the topic from a sociologist’s point of view:

“I have always enjoyed the frontiersman, independent playing style in a virtual world. But actual interdependence with real people also makes for a very exciting gaming experience. Your social skills will matter. And having other people being dependent on something that you can do does a lot to make a player feel ‘needed’. A lot of players enjoy this; for example I know I get a kick from being one of the few players in the guild who has some desirable craftskill recipe”

Over at Raging Monkeys, meanwhile, Syl gives a detailed post examining the extent to which cooperation is incentivised by the game itself:

“Back in vanilla WoW, we didn’t just group up because of some notion of social altruism, curiosity or friendliness; at first, we grouped up because we needed each other in rather existential ways. We grouped up in order to survive or to progress faster, to access better loot or more content. There’s a common purpose of many individuals come together and each of them wants something – and that isn’t even a bad thing. What it certainly is not though, is some chapter in a romantic novel on social bonding and making friends for life. In fact, the classic MMO standard is the most incentivized realization of cooperation I can think of”

I really love shared blogger topics like this, and seeing the community engage in discussion that spans several blogs and covers several different viewpoints. Kudos to Stubborn for starting this latest round!

Have you heard anything about this exciting new Guild Wars 2 thing? Let us know in the comments!

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Violent games, lazy raiders and unicorns

“For tonight’s performance of MMO Melting Pot, the role of Hugh Hancock will be played by Johnnie Ingram.” That’s right, folks: you’ve bought tickets for the mid-week matinee, you get the understudy. Hugh is taking a few day’s break, so Johnnie’s stirring the Pot till he returns.

A choice handful of interesting posts to bring to your attention today, in no particular order.

  • First of all, if you haven’t done so already you should really read Adam Holisky’s excellent collumn on WoW Insider. As gamers, we already know that playing video games (violent or otherwise) does not make one any more violent in real life, but Adam’s post is a great refutation of the lazy journalistic sensationalism that we’ve all seen. It’s backed by solid facts, and is a worthwhile read even if – perhaps especially if – you’re sick of reading the same innaccurate stories again and again.

The primary way in which we consume such truths is through the news. And there’s a lot wrong with our modern news system. The vast majority of successful outlets are built more on getting readers’ attention than finding truths in a story. This easily leads hyperbolic headlines (like this article’s headline) and to a simulation of reality, even when talking about a virtual reality.

  • Over at Levelcapped, Chris has decided that Guild Wars 2 is his unicorn. Despite his best efforts, he’s become a self-confessed GW2 fanboy. This post resonated with me, because I’m rapidly approaching the same state. I’m becoming a tiny bit more excited about GW2 every day.

The thing for me about Guild Wars 2 is that is just felt natural in the BWE. I wanted to be there, and also to range far from the hub. I didn’t want to go out to seek fortune, but instead I just wanted to seek for seeking’s sake. What was out there? What’s going on that I don’t know about, and how can I get involved? I didn’t need any NPC to send me into the wilderness because I was already bolting off in that direction for my own selfish reasons.

  • Meanwhile, Matt is taking no prisoners at World Of Matticus, urging raiders who are not pulling their weight to just quit. It’s not quite as harsh as the title might suggest – Matt’s recommending a break from raiding for those who are disenchanted, rather than a zero-tolerance policy on sub-par raiders.

Quit the game for a day. Quit the game for a week. Or quit the rest of the expansion. I don’t care how long it is, but just stop. … You are doing zero favours for your WoW family. They need you to be there and at your best. If you’re not at your best, then don’t even go in at all. You are making things worse.

What interesting posts have caught your eye? Let us know in the comments.

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Exciting new games, but which one to choose?

Hugh‘s away for a few day’s break, so the supply teacher is taking the class again – over to Johnnie.

Even though I love gaming, and MMOs in particular, I’m pathetically traditional in many ways. WoW is my game of choice, and has been for several years. I’ve dipped my toe into other gaming waters occasionally, but I’ve been pretty happy with Azeroth. Recently, though, I’ve found myself logging on less and less, and eyeing up other, sexier games with a lustful glare. That’s why it’s so nice that other bloggers are writing about their experiences in non-Azerothian locations: I can see what I’m missing.

  • Zubon at Kill Ten Rats has a great general post about how many games force you to be a bystander rather than a participant. This has become an increasingly big problem for me in WoW (perhaps exemplarized by the “PCs do all the work and Tirion goddam Fordring takes all the credit” storyline at the end of Wrath). Call me crazy, but I want to be the one who kills the bad guy. I don’t want to be the sidekick who stands at the back, cheering on the NPC hero as he gets to kill the bad guy. As Zubon says

“I’ll take fighting at the side of the Fellowship and being second banana there, and I’ll take being the hero of the B-plot while the Fellowship saves the world. I’ll not take being second banana in the B-plot.”

It’s a really great post, and eloquently sums up many of the frustrations I’ve had with recent gaming storylines.

“Maybe it was Tera’s action combat, or perhaps a general ennui with the genre as a whole, but I couldn’t find any spark of enthusiasm for Rift whatsoever. … The game was still as pretty as ever, but again, the incredible fidelity of a game such as Tera, whether you can stomach its design decisions or not, leaves other MMOs looking like so much aged tarnished brass.”

  • Guild Wars 2 is the game that I’m really excited about. If I’m honest, I wasn’t really too enthused at first, but after researching the game for a few of the Melting Pot’s info posts I’m totally sold. It’s been great to read accounts of the various beta weekends. Both Ravious and Hunter’s Insight have reviews of the latest changes. GW2 is looking excitingly pretty and pretty exciting!

  • GW players, incidentally, might be interested to hear that qq & pewpew are giving away 300k of in-game gold. All you have to do is reblog the competition stating what you’d do with the cash.

All of this is completely immaterial, though. I know exactly what game I’m going to be playing next. Mechwarrior Online didn’t appeal to me at all … until I saw Razer’s concept for a dedicated hardware controller. Woah, boy. It will be mine. Oh, yes. It will be mine.

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SWTOR Raiding Primer, Cows, and Badass Shorties

And in the final post of this week’s weekend roundup, the selection is… eclectic. We’ve got everything from inappropriate cow players in Eric’s in-development MMO to Syl waxing lyrical about badass short races – let’s get going.

  • Eric at Elder Game has been debugging the “Cow Curse” in his new MMO, which turns out to be far more complex and, well, dirty, than expected“First, I’m not sure I want newbie players to be accosted by other players roleplaying talking cows, saying “here, drink my milk, newb”. It’s a little unsettling to think about drinking milk that came out of another player. And the notion of higher-quality milk takes us further down that rabbit hole.”
  • Rowan at I Have Touched The Sky is still uncertain about what SWTOR’s game time giveaway says about their values“Sctrz had schoolwork far more important than any videogame, while I have had some time both at home and while away on business to play plenty of SWTOR. She eneded up playing quite a bit over the course of the week, and I never really got back on Serise to level her any further. Right now, Sctrz’ Legacy is almost 4, I believe. She just isn’t that valuable to EA BioWare.”
  • Syl at Raging Monkeys writes a fascinating essay on the past, present and future of the portrayal of short races in MMORPGs “Why should short races not be inherently evil? Badass, scary and intimidating? Aggressive and combative even? Well, a first and second look at Guild Wars’ Asura has me filled with hope in this department.”
  • And Lono at Screaming Monkeys writes a useful explanation of what SWTOR raiding is like compared to WoW“The big difference between the two games boss fights is that Swtor loves to mix up the roles and tasks during the same fight. Dps might have to tank, healers might have to operate mechanism while a tank might have to run to press on switches.”

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And in MMO News You Probably Hadn’t Heard – megaphones have been taken out of Guild Wars 2.

Previously, a megaphone item would allow players to communicate with everyone on their server – much like WoW’s global chat channels of old. And much like the aforementioned global chat channels, it would appear that, in any MMO in which they appear, they lend themselves to misuse.

So, dumping them’s pretty unequivocally a good idea, then? Well, not so fast. Hunter’s Insight has been considering the issue, having experienced megaphones in Runes of Magic, and has concluded that there may actually have been good reasons to keep them in the game

“The megaphone is a painful and irritating device but my god the fun you can have marveling at the drama of others. Thinking back to some of the things said and behaviour displayed, I laugh.

It gave me good stories to tell, camaraderie with my friends, a laugh now and then, and frankly yes I got to know the people on my server through it. For all the good and bad that resulted in.”

This is a pretty short think piece of a post, and it certainly got me thinking. Is it possible that some of the elements of the game that are most frequently decried, like WoW’s trade chat, actually serve to cement the community together?

We most commonly talk about in-game inconvenience as something that appears simple to get rid of but actually has far-reaching consequences – the LFD tool versus community-led grouping, for example. But maybe there’s a case for items and channels that allow expression, even if it isn’t good expression, too?

What do you think?

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Monday Controversy Update: GW2 Micro-Transactions, WoW Beta Access, and Gaming as a Girl

There were a lot of big, important and controversy-breeding subjects in the blogosphere last week, and the debate’s still raging on many of them. Let’s catch up!

Mists of Pandaria Beta Access

This one doesn’t look like it’s going to die down any time soon. Many people are claiming – and citing proof from videos and statements from Blizzard – that Blizz said the Annual Pass included access to the Mists of Pandaria beta as soon as it went live. Blizzard has yet to release a timeframe for when Annual Pass users will get their access. These two things are not playing well together.

Initial responses on the blogosphere were mostly supportive of Blizzard, but we’re seeing a more mixed reaction from the blogosphere over the weekend:

  • Lorehound presents both print and video backing for the “access when beta is live” quote from Blizzard, with some commentary“Perhaps Blizzard did not expect the Annual Pass to be as big of a success as it was and realized they could not possibly give beta access to that large amount of players, but that’s really no excuse.”
  • Anafielle of Sacred Duty didn’t get her Beta Pass, but she’s not angry – just a little disappointed“Let’s all agree to stop complaining that Blizz was legally obligated to give us access on Day 1. I know how you feel. I’m jealous too. I’m raging too. But I’m not trying to convince the world that I was promised something that common sense would dictate would never in a million years happen.”
  • Rush at Scribblings on the Asylum Wall is indeed very angry that he paid for something he didn’t get – indeed, he’s stopping just short of calling the Annual Pass a scam“The Annual Pass scheme was designed to do one thing: distract and appease Blizzard customers for a few months with content that was ready for public consumption to drown out the chorus of “You suck and you’re slow and I’m cancelling.” It was designed to head off the freefall of subscriber numbers, which was actually starting to become a subject of conversation in the mass media and in brokerage houses that trade in Acti/Blizz stock.”*

Guild Wars 2 Microtransactions

The beta item list for Guild Wars 2’s microtransaction system leaked last week, and some of the items on it have been causing controversy and concern:

  • Keen and Graev say that the entire microtransaction deal could be a deal-breaker for GW2“If this type of cash shop makes it into the game, I’m glad it came out early because my interest in the game may diminish if I sense any change in the game’s design direction as a result.”
  • Tobold takes on the XP-boosting items in the leak, saying there’s no such thing as a perfect levelling speed“the items to speed the games up are NOT designed for the people who already play the game for an average or high number of hours per week. They are designed for the time-constrained who only get a few hours of play in every week, but still want to keep up with the Joneses, or their friends.”
  • And Syl of Raging Monkeys feels that GW2’s focus on player cooperation means that the cash shop is nothing to worry about“Seems to me the entire concept behind GW2 makes pay-to-win a very unlikely scenario.”

Being a gamer girl

Last week saw a number of fascinating blog posts on the difficulties of being a gamer girl – or lack therof. The debate has continued over the weekend.

(There are some complex arguments that are difficult to get into a single-line summary here. Apologies if I miss subtleties!)

  • Effraeti believes that discrimination is more a matter of humanity simply fearing that which is different“I have seen more dedicated women prove stereotypes wrong. Women are astronauts and scientists and wrestlers and any number of other things that they just did NOT do before that first woman stepped up and said, “Why not?””
  • Mataoka of Sugar And Blood says that she doesn’t want any limitations for her daughters or her sons“I do not see this in only the narrow lens of being a ‘girl gamer.’ There are plenty of stereotypes for both men and women, the “basement living virgin” man, or the “troll asshole.” Unfair labels don’t wash.”
  • The Ancient from Tome Of The Ancient says she’s suffered plenty of horrible behaviour – from all kinds of people“I’ve suffered through my share of sexist behavior but I never thought of it as being “male” behavior, I thought of it as coming from an ignorant human being that happened to be male.”

What do you think? Did Blizzard falsely advertise? With GW2’s item shop be its downfall? And are we all equally victims of ignorant people?

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Things That Aren’t Pandas

Believe it or not, there are some things happening today that don’t have anything to do with black-and-white bears with low libidos, too…

  • Khizzara of Blog of the Treant – who is presumably pretty happy about the new Druid glyphs – has written up a long, detailed review of her favourite and least favourite Cataclysm raid bosses. An interesting read. “When the person calling things out is saying, “Kill drakes, new adds up, onslaught, SAPPER!” in one breathless rush, then perhaps there are too many things going on at one time.”
  • There are a lot of blow-by-blow descriptions of Guild Wars 2 out there right now – but I found Gazimoff’s description of how very, very unique spellcasting is in Guild Wars 2 particularly interesting – “Switching from playing a spellcaster in other MMOs to playing one in Guild Wars 2 is a little like changing out a greying Gandalf for something from a martial arts movie.”
  • Children of Wrath is featuring a detailed and controversial critique of the way Blizzard have handled neutral factions in WoW so far“Nearly every neutral faction has more or less acted in a vacuum. Despite a host of previously introduced factions being updated and brought into the current timeline, every neutral entity acts as if they existed within a bubble, completely oblivious to anything that happens outside of their demesnes. “
  • Anafielle of Sacred Duty posts an eye-opening explanation of why she has quit SWTOR for good – centering around the surprisingly critical role of the combat log in MMO endgame“I had no idea how much of my fun raiding was caught up in this stream of information that I completely took for granted… until I had to play without one. It sucks.”
  • And Gordon at We Fly Spitfires has a fresh and original take on the old question of why many people feel embarassed about admitting we play MMOs“Being the first out of 10 million people to achieve something is nothing to sneeze at”

Enjoyed these links? Let your friends, aquaintances and fellow guild members know about them!

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EVE University, STO Storylines, GW2 Elite Skills, and more

It’s another WoW-light day here at the Melting Pot, in the lull before the storm of Mists of Pandaria information next week. In fact, we’ve only got one WoW-related link at all, and even that’s not solely about WoW.

But all of this means one thing – there’s a lot of interesting stuff going on beyond Warcraft in the MMOSphere right now:

  • Flosch at Random Waypoint has applied to join EVE University, and he explains the application process, which frankly sounds like more work than many real-life equivalents“The things you have to fill out and provide before you even get to the interview stage beats every raiding guild questionnaire I’ve ever seen. I guess it has something to do with really X-raying people in the game whose populace consists mostly of scammers, griefers, and lying, backstabbing bastards.”
  • Syncaine writes a discussion of the way Dungeon Finder-like tools destroy social ties that I couldn’t agree with more“Spamming a group channel was slower, at times annoyingly so. But the value of that channel has nothing to do with speed. Its real value is that you see who you are inviting/joining, and this creates familiarity (that guy is a great tank, invite him. That guy is a loot ninja, pass). “
  • Syp at Bio Break recounts his experience with the recent 2800 storyline in Star Trek Online – which sounds really quite awesome“Apparently the fate of future Featured Series development is up in the air at this point, and that’s a shame because the team did such a great job with this that I was literally looking forward to the next installment each and every week this ran.”
  • And Ravious at Kill Ten Rats has been thinking hard about the Elite Skill offered by the Guild Wars 2 Collector’s Edition, and why he’s really not enchanted by it“The elite skill cannot be more powerful than other elite skills as planet-ending rage would ensue.”

** Enjoyed these posts? Let your friends know about them too!**

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