Why It’s Vital To Be Uncertain In An MMO

Think that a PvP tactic is dishonourable? Or an MMO zone’s not fun?

It probably comes down to one thing.

You’re certain what will happen.

That’s the thesis that Random Average is advancing today in a lengthy but fascinating essay on uncertainty in gaming, and just how big an impact it has on the entire gameplay experience

“Over many (many) years of gaming, I’ve managed to figure out (one situation at a time) when something I was doing was killing fun by making the results (good or bad) a foregone conclusion. (Sometimes this was a question of mechanics; sometimes it was a question of “the inviolate plot.”) It also helped me identify what was going wrong when I wasn’t having fun as a player, both at a table or online.

Slamming my head against the same raid boss over and over, when it’s clear we don’t have the right group or the proper gear to succeed? Not fun.

Fighting that same raid boss when we’re this close to pulling off a win, and every attempt might go for us or the bad guys? Exhilarating.

Farming that boss once we have all the best gear, know the fight backwards and forwards, and all the surprises are gone? Boring.

Wandering around the newbie starter zone with my max-level character, picking flowers to level my Herbalism? Boring.

Sneaking through a zone 10 or 20 levels too high for me, running for my life in an effort to get a specific location or find a special macguffin? Fun!

Getting insta-killed out of nowhere when you unknowingly walk your new character into a high-level PvP zone? Frustrating.

I think we get the point. It’s something to keep in mind when you’re running or playing a game in which you have any kind of input (usually tabletop, but not always). Are you bored? Add challenge to what you’re doing by changing the choices you make. Are you hopelessly frustrated by never-ending failures? Change things up, or take a break, right? ”

Random’s an EVE blogger, and the second half of his post deals with EVE – but in a manner that’s both accessible and interesting to the non-EVE player. He’s discussing the way in which many EVE players stay away from risk at all costs – and suggesting that maybe they’re shooting their own game experience in the foot by doing so.

From the central thesis to its ramifications for all gaming and gamers – highly recommended.

What do you think? Does it all come down to uncertainty?

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Should Auld Aquaintance Be Forgot? Plus Landscape Gardening and other things…

Today we’ve got a great balance of links to round out the day – two controversial standpoints, one example of fantastic craftsmanship, and one call to a cause I think a lot of people will want to rally around…

  • Syl of Raging Monkeys is seeing many MMO communities fall apart as people leave for various other games, and in a stirring editorial, she exhorts us all to not let our friendships go so easily“Today, take heart and reach out to some old online friend or guildmate. Today, choose to be the one who takes initiative, never mind how long it’s been quiet. “
  • Moxie of the Wild Boar Inn has been designing a new deed in Wurm Online – based on the historic Medway Plantation in South Carolina. Impressive landscape gardening lies within“I typically like to start my deed designs from the token in the middle and work to the outside. In Wurm, your deed token looks like a sundial, so when I saw this picture of a sundial in the middle of a formal garden area, I knew I had my perfect starting point. “
  • Beruthiel of Falling Leaves And Wings would like to stop seeing players use lack of gear as an excuse for poor play“For me, I look at having lower gear as a challenge. It’s the true “hard mode”. When you don’t have the same resources as someone else, it forces you to think outside of the box and be more creative.”
  • And in contrast to Anafielle’s impassioned post last week, Lono of Screaming Monkeys explains just why he doesn’t want to see a combat log in SWTOR“If you give me a choice between performance and building community I will always chose the latter because I believe it will give us a better game in the long run. “

Enjoyed these posts? Want to share the call to reach out to old guildies? Share them!

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PvP and Poetry, Time and Skill

We’ve got a great grab-bag of articles to feature today – from Tobold asking if the MMO emperor’s a bit short in the outfit department to Casual Stroll To Mordor proving once again that LoTRO just isn’t quite like any other game.

  • Epic Poetry! Yes, that’s right – A Casual Stroll To Mordor features some spot-on poetry describing the events of the Elf starting area in the style of Professor Tolkien
  • Cynwise has a great guide, with diagrams, to baiting defenders away from objectives for anyone who’s thinking of getting into PvP – _“In PvE, being called a ninja is a bad thing, but in PvP, ninjas are awesome. Ninjas come in and steal objectives out from underneath the enemy’s noses. They snatch reinforcements away from a node and send them tumbling across the map.”
  • The Grumpy Elf starts off a really interesting discussion by asking how long is too long for an MMO fight?“I understand for most people it is different but for me I would rather wipe at the 2 minute mark 100 times than wipe at the 10 minute mark 20 times even if the time investment is the same. “
  • And Tobold asks just why we need to be skill-limited in MMOs – isn’t it kinda ridiculous? – “Imagine your TV had a remote brain-scanner attached, and if you didn’t pay attention to the movie or weren’t intelligent enough to understand it, the movie would stop, and you would be forced to watch it again from the beginning until the system determined you fully understood the story. Does that sound like a machine anyone would buy?”

What do you think? How long’s too long? Should content be gated by skill?

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What do you do when you’ve become a WoW master?

One of the more interesting elements of the lengthy discussion about burnout and mastery the other week was the introduction into MMO thinking of Malcolm Gladwell’s “10,000 hours” rule. In summary, Gladwell said – with a fair amount of evidence to back it up – that genius isn’t a special, unique gift, but the practical upshot of having spent 10,000 hours practising a single skill.

A number of people looked at their /played, did the math, and concluded that a LOT of MMO players are well beyond that level, and hence are now genuine WoW masters.

And Cassandri’s thinking about that statement today . Where do you go once you’re an MMO master? Do you lose that mastery? Where do you go to find a challenge?

“ It seems to me that for some players, they can reach the level of a virtuoso and maintain that level of mastery for years. And perhaps they are writing from that view point: having reached that level of mastery they have not wavered or had a set back that makes them doubt their own skill. And they cannot even imagine that, once attained, they might one day lose that proficiency.

However, I am most certainly at a different place. I am past my peak. I can say, for certainty, that I reached my peak as a raider at some time between Trial of the Crusader and Icecrown Citadel. And if I have any doubts, well I have game play footage of my raiding from most of those tier and earlier ones too. And I can see far less errors in my decision making when I watch footage recorded at my peak vs my ascent or decent from that place.”

It’s an interesting question, and I’d like to hear perspectives from other fields, particularly sports. Whilst I’m a keen martial artist, for example, I’m not competition-level or anything like it. Do people at that level cycle expertise? I’ve been taught by a couple of people who are definitely at that level, and all I can really say is that they’re a hell of a lot better than me!

What do you think? Do you know how mastery works in other fields?

Blog Source: Hots and Dots – great article.

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Are you comfortable with your class?

Ever have one of those players in your raid who seemed to be able to do the impossible? The rogue who seems to be about four people’s worth of CC, two people’s worth of DPS and a bear druid’s worth of survival, for example? Chances are you’ve met someone who’s really, really comfortable with their class.

Kurn’s coining that term today – and I think it’s going to stick – as she talks about getting to the Zanshin point with her own class, and just how much she gains from being at the point where abilities are just instinctive

“I think it was only after the whole raid was over for the night that I realized that there was no way in hell I would have been able to manage all that crap (seriously, FOURTEEN broodlings hit me!) AND keep Maj and Hitoku alive if I weren’t extremely comfortable with how my class works.

It’s almost instinctual after a certain point. Granted, my instincts aren’t always spot-on or great or whatever, as you can tell since I do let Judgements of the Pure drop off and don’t use my Guardian and the like on the kill (which I’ll blame on the fact that my computer was about to throw up on me) but they really served me well over the whole raid night. At various points during the entire night, I popped cooldowns appropriately, even using Lay on Hands on Hitoku at one point. I figured out where my Beacon of Light was best put to use (sadly, on Majik) and basically, that was all the real thinking I had to do about how to heal my group.”

This is an interesting, engaging post with a really good point to it that I recognise myself both from WoW and from other learned skills.

There’s a four-stage model of learning that is very close to what Kurn’s talking about here: we progress from “Unconcious Incompetence”, where we don’t even know what we don’t know, through “Concious Incompetence” (“Wow, I suck, better learn fast!”), and then to Concious Competence. A lot of people then get stuck there – you know what you’re doing, but you still have to think about it. It’s easy to assume that’s all the learning that we need, but there’s a further stage, and it’s the most powerful of all: “Unconcious Competence”. Get there, and you’re performing at a high level without even considering what you’re doing – which allows you to broaden out your awareness and perform at a level that you otherwise couldn’t reach, because you’d be too busy worrying about your core skills.

Kurn’s calling everyone to become more comfortable with your class – all of it, not just the core rotation or core spells – and if you’re really wanting to master a skill, game-related or not, that’s a darn good point, delivered with an engaging story, to take on board.

Would you say you’ve gotten to the point where you’re “comfortable” with your current main MMO class?

Quote taken directly from Kurn’s post .

Find Kurn’s Corner at http://kurn.apotheosis-now.com/ .

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Wipe on, wipe off – how pro guilds get world firsts

There’s a saying in the kickboxing world, originating from Chinese martial arts, I think. “I do not fear the ten thousand kicks you have practised once. I fear the one kick you have practised ten thousand times.”

Excellence in any field demands a LOT of practise – like, insane amounts. Malcolm Gladwell quotes the number as being 10,000 hours – or about 10 years of full working weeks – to achieve “genius” level. Most pro musicians are probably practising 4 hours or more a day, every day. Professional writers refer to the “million words of crap” that you have to write.

And pro guilds, as Jinxed Thoughts’ fascinating blog post explores today, are no different. Paragon just downed Heroic Ragneros – and in spite of them being some of the most skilled players in the world, it took them over 500 attempts:

…That still leaves 250 wipes with no other explanation than good old human error. That still leaves 10 wipes per person in the raid who just went “woops, I killed you all due to my failing”. My guild has a three strike rule, meaning that if you fail to the same obvious mistake three times in a row, you’re out. Admittedly we don’t follow this rule very much, but it’s there. And even if you fail to ten different things, most people would get cranky when you fail at the fourth. Somehow it seems like Paragon players wouldn’t be allowed into our raids (although of course we fail way more often than that each fight, but we still have that rule).

Now, I know Paragon players are better than probably everyone in my guild, definitely myself included, but you know what they’ve really got that we lack? Patience.

This is a really interesting exploration of a part of WoW excellence that is rarely talked about – the ability to stay together, calm, focussed and not get disheartened even when someone’s just stood in the magic black nastiness for the 35th time. It’s hard to do. As Zinn says, most guilds start bitching about Wipe #50 – one tenth of the wipes Paragon went through. And he goes on to explore the other patience needed – the patience to watch a sixth video even if you think you got everything from that last 5, the patience to sit and practise movement routines in Durotar when you’re not even in the fight, the patience to do all the grinds to get all the buffs that might give you a better chance in a raid.

I remember when Herding Cats finally downed the Lich King, it was after 6 weeks of twice-a-week wiping – probably 130 or so wipes in total. About a third of the wipes in, we had to adjust the way we were thinking to consider all the wipes as positive things, learning experiences. I remember repeating the “ten thousand kicks” mantra then. Eventually we did it, and it’s one of the proudest moments in my gaming career – because we managed to overcome not just the Level ?? Lich King, but also the Level ??!!!!!!! Frustration and Boredom.

What do you think? Should an imba guild never wipe? Or is wiping part and parcel of playing?

_Quote taken directly from Zinn’s article.

Find Jinxed Thoughts’ homepage at http://jinxedthought.blogspot.com/_

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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 http://syncaine.wordpress.com/2010/10/04/the-value-of-the-player-behind-the-character/ and http://tobolds.blogspot.com/2010/10/character-skill-vs-player-skill.html

You can find Syncaine’s blog at http://syncaine.wordpress.com/ and Tobold’s at http://tobolds.blogspot.com

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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 http://syncaine.wordpress.com/2010/10/04/the-value-of-the-player-behind-the-character/ and http://tobolds.blogspot.com/2010/10/character-skill-vs-player-skill.html

You can find Syncaine’s blog at http://syncaine.wordpress.com/ and Tobold’s at http://tobolds.blogspot.com

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Dreambound: Iffy Meters Don't = Skill

Skill. Having The Knack. 1337ness. … Maybe not that last one, but whatever you call it the concept of skill is meat and potatoes to World of Warcraft and gaming in general. How well you do in a game depends on how good you are at it but as Kae at Dreambound points out today it’s hard to put your finger on just what skill is.

Kae’s keen to point out that skill is not gearscore or recount/insert iffy meter of your choice here. Huzzah, old news, we can all go faceroll an instance now? Not yet.

The way Kae reasons out the difference between skill and these tools is refreshing. For one thing she points out that the data that makes the tools tick can make them clunky without us realising. Her example of the warrior and the spellpower shirt is universally possible. Heck, the level 70 rogue I saw recently in spellpower heirlooms stands tall and proud as proof that Kae’s quite right that tools can give us the wrong picture.

Kae’s discussion of what skill actually is gets down to the nitty-gritty. Her list of skills we might improve is thoughtful [pullquote]aspects of skill are much harder to quantify: what about those times a tank … carries a cleave or whirlwind right over their squishy feelow raiders?[/pullquote]rather than simply “can find backside with two hands and light from nearest patch of fire.” I’d add we don’t get better in all those skills at once – someone might get better at being aware of what’s going on in their surroundings but be slow with buffing. I’d rather remind someone to buff knowing it’ll sink in someday but they’ll almost always get out of the fire than ressurect the person who mashes the buff button then sets up camp in the cozy fire before I’ve zoned in.

Kae’s examination of why we use tools to measure skill is spot on: there isn’t a better method. Sure, raid leaders use gearscore for PUG recruitment so they have a scapegoat pre-dressed and ready for flamegrilling if the raid gets eaten by the big bad. But as Kae says time and again, tools like gearscore just don’t cut the mustard (what do you serve with goat, anyway?) What’s to stop player ‘Lala’ linking his 7k gearscore DPS equipment when you both know you’re recruiting him as a tank, and Lala’s keeping quiet that his tank gear rocks a whole 1.5k score?

Kae misses a crucial point in her discussion on why measuring actual skill is impossible. Each player’s gameplay focus is different. It’s impossible to measure skill for everyone’s style. AFter all, a solo’ing player’s ability to select spells for their own survival isn’t the same type of skill as a raider’s survival in a team, and neither is a raider’s skill in a casual group going to be measured the same way as someone in a group going after hardmodes the moment they’re released.

Either way, Kae’s musings are a solid poke at the terms we take for granted in games, particularly in WoW. What do you think – are skill and tools magically related and one = the other, or are they used as crutches for each other?

_

Quote taken directly from linked post. You can find Dreambound’s homepage here._

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Dreambound: Iffy Meters Don’t = Skill

Skill. Having The Knack. 1337ness. … Maybe not that last one, but whatever you call it the concept of skill is meat and potatoes to World of Warcraft and gaming in general. How well you do in a game depends on how good you are at it but as Kae at Dreambound points out today it’s hard to put your finger on just what skill is.

Kae’s keen to point out that skill is not gearscore or recount/insert iffy meter of your choice here. Huzzah, old news, we can all go faceroll an instance now? Not yet.

The way Kae reasons out the difference between skill and these tools is refreshing. For one thing she points out that the data that makes the tools tick can make them clunky without us realising. Her example of the warrior and the spellpower shirt is universally possible. Heck, the level 70 rogue I saw recently in spellpower heirlooms stands tall and proud as proof that Kae’s quite right that tools can give us the wrong picture.

Kae’s discussion of what skill actually is gets down to the nitty-gritty. Her list of skills we might improve is thoughtful [pullquote]aspects of skill are much harder to quantify: what about those times a tank … carries a cleave or whirlwind right over their squishy feelow raiders?[/pullquote]rather than simply “can find backside with two hands and light from nearest patch of fire.” I’d add we don’t get better in all those skills at once – someone might get better at being aware of what’s going on in their surroundings but be slow with buffing. I’d rather remind someone to buff knowing it’ll sink in someday but they’ll almost always get out of the fire than ressurect the person who mashes the buff button then sets up camp in the cozy fire before I’ve zoned in.

Kae’s examination of why we use tools to measure skill is spot on: there isn’t a better method. Sure, raid leaders use gearscore for PUG recruitment so they have a scapegoat pre-dressed and ready for flamegrilling if the raid gets eaten by the big bad. But as Kae says time and again, tools like gearscore just don’t cut the mustard (what do you serve with goat, anyway?) What’s to stop player ‘Lala’ linking his 7k gearscore DPS equipment when you both know you’re recruiting him as a tank, and Lala’s keeping quiet that his tank gear rocks a whole 1.5k score?

Kae misses a crucial point in her discussion on why measuring actual skill is impossible. Each player’s gameplay focus is different. It’s impossible to measure skill for everyone’s style. AFter all, a solo’ing player’s ability to select spells for their own survival isn’t the same type of skill as a raider’s survival in a team, and neither is a raider’s skill in a casual group going to be measured the same way as someone in a group going after hardmodes the moment they’re released.

Either way, Kae’s musings are a solid poke at the terms we take for granted in games, particularly in WoW. What do you think – are skill and tools magically related and one = the other, or are they used as crutches for each other?

_

Quote taken directly from linked post. You can find Dreambound’s homepage here._

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