Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Games Shouldn't Be About Spending Time. It Should Be Fun.

I can't emphasize this enough.

I just got finished with some Steam library catch up during my winter break from school, and had some experiences that helped me figure out why I haven't been enjoying games as much anymore, and why I haven't been able to find the same satisfaction from spending time in games.

Over the last couple of fall and winter months, I thought I'd enjoy playing World of Warcraft again.  I came to a realization after my time with Wildstar.  

I enjoy playing the PvE content in games.  Coordinating a group of players to accomplish hard tasks within a game environment is my cup of tea.  World of Warcraft will always be a superior PvE experience as long as they keep updating the game and adding expansions.  There's no possible way a competitor can catch up or keep up to the behemoth.  Maybe a game could focus on player vs. player and get a good audience of players, but in terms of pure PvE content... games just can't compete.  So with our time in Wildstar coming to an end... (and the fact that they laid off most of their development team and the game is probably officially dead now) our guild, Voodoo, decided to move on to World of Warcraft.  We wanted the best raiding experience and we wanted to keep playing together.

Recently we had some guild drama that resulted in some of our raiders "usurping my throne" and my title of Guild Master because I wasn't leading us in the right direction/guild vibe/ambiance/whatever.  The reality was this: we were doing really well.  It was like running a new business in an industry where your competition has been established for years.  There were going to be growing pains and hurdles in order for us to compete that other guilds simply didn't have.  The main one was primarily that other established raiding guilds had all their players loaded with gold from playing continuously since the previous expansion, that they were able to get a significant gear lead with in-game currency over the players that were coming back to the new expansion.  Even with the disadvantage, we managed to stay within the top 30 US guild rankings until we fell apart.

I took our guild falling apart as an opportunity to catch up on finishing some games I had missed out on while I had spent my free time raiding.  I beat Far Cry 4, Dragon Age: Inquisition, Assassin's Creed: Unity.  I found excellent games like Endless Legend.  I was able to even re-visit old titles that had been updated like Starbound, Rust, and DayZ.  But there was still something off from all of these.  Something still didn't feel right while playing.  I didn't get that wow factor anymore.

I talked to some of my gaming friends.  I talked to my therapist.  I talked to some of my real life friends that I hadn't spoken to enough while focused on raiding.  I kept asking, "what did I do wrong?"  I went through our guild falling apart play-by-play over and over again in my head to try to figure out what happened.  Why wasn't I able to click with the members that were unsatisfied?  Then it hit me.

WoW has changed completely over the years.  I know this is the most obvious statement of 2015, but let me explain.  When I had been playing it and REALLY enjoying it, the focus was completely different from a gameplay perspective.

WoW is currently completely focused on knowing your optimal damage rotation, when to use certain items/abilities at certain times in order to do more damage, and heavily rewards being able to spend copious amounts of time in search of the best randomly generated numbers and pieces of gear.  WoW rewards this playstyle by designing boss encounters that have "enrage timers" that players have to kill the boss within the timer so that the boss doesn't "enrage" and kill the whole raid in seconds.  Getting the optimal group composition, loot, and dps rotation is the optimal way to beat these newer bosses.  All of this takes time.  You need to take time to learn/get used to your rotation.  You need to take time to farm out the best gear and enchant that said gear with expensive enchants/gems.  You need to take time to learn the boss encounters so that you know the optimal time to be using certain abilities in certain places to kill the boss faster and make the timer.  Every game mechanic in PvE raiding in World of Warcraft is based on spending time.

Here's where I didn't click with the "new generation of WoW gamers."  The Team EZ Boys Meme-lord Parsemaster gamers.  I enjoyed WoW when it was more focused on handling boss mechanics.  When bosses were designed with mechanics and abilities that rewarded skill over time spent.  Skilled gamers are able to pick up on the game's mechanics and beat it in a quicker time than gamers that take much longer to learn how a boss works.  Great MMO's are usually designed in a way that the skilled people are able to conquer the bosses first, then the "not-so-great" players can spend time getting better gear and slowly the bosses become easier because their players stats are better and give them enough of an advantage that they can afford to make a mistake here and there.

Wildstar had great raid progression design.  As did vanilla World of Warcraft and some of the earlier expansions.  A really skilled raid could focus on staying alive and handling the mechanics, and as long as you stayed alive, the boss would die.  There WOULD be some bosses that occasionally were DPS checks and had enrage timers that you would have to beat, but those were only occasional.  In original vanilla Naxxramas, Patchwerk was that boss, and has become notoriously referred to as a good DPS check in recent years of WoW gamers.  It was a boss that just sat there, beating the tanks, testing healers, and DPS had to kill it before he enraged, or everyone would die.  There weren't mechanics to avoid, it was just, "sit here and figure out how to mash your keys in the best way so we can kill this in time."  That is EVERY boss in World of Warcraft now.  

Instead of rewarding the players that are smart, and can adapt to new and exciting situations within games... they are instead punished by not being able to spend as much time as their competition.

This isn't just even World of Warcraft!  Look at every new release of your favorite shooter... or even League of Legends/Dota... Any game where there is inherent value in being "good" at the game.  If you're not able to spend a TON of time playing, there's no way you can keep up with the people that can.

This is why I enjoy playing games at launches.  I can't play a game later into it's life... It's gross by then.  At launch, everyone is on an even playing field, and I tend to be one of the gamers that can "figure it out" quicker than most.  I can keep up with any other gamer and I can feel like I'm on the same level.  I see the familiar mechanics that are present that I have experience with, and I use them to my advantage in exploring this new virtual world that I have access to.  Maybe I'm not a "skilled" gamer... maybe I'm a WISE gamer.

Even look at games like Dragon Age.  Gamers were NOT enjoying the blatant "time-waster" tasks in the Hinterlands and even stopped playing the game over it.  Bioware responded by telling gamers to continue the story and leave the Hinterlands behind.

To sum it all up... games are really focused on rewarding your time spent playing their game.  It can be for many reasons.  Sometimes it's to keep people playing to make more money.  Sometimes it's so that the gamer can feel like it was a good investment because they spent a lot of time for the money that they spent.  Sometimes they design time-wasters within a game for good reasons to help the gamer feel more involved/immersed in their world.  

That's great, but how do we make it FUN again.  How do we make a game that rewards the player for being intuitive and smart and it doesn't take buckets of time?

There have been only two games in the past several years that have given me this kind of feeling.  Wildstar and DayZ.

Wildstar is not worth it anymore because it's a dead game and it had a lot of bumps in the road, but it was that FEELING again.

DayZ is still around, but the newer version needs to get caught up to the same feature amount of the Arma 2 Mod version.  Even then, it was never designed to give the unique experience that it did.  This came from the inventive ways that players used the game to make unique moments in my gaming history that will never be replaced.  The situations that came out of participating in the game's world were the real allure here.  I don't think the design was entirely intentional and the developers had no idea what players would do within this virtual world.  It surprised everyone.

I'm hopeful for the future of games and gamers, but I just think games need to re-evaluate this direction that we're going and this position that we're in.

I understand that it's not as simple as "change one thing and it will all be better" but I know there have to be ways that we can improve this gaming experience and lifestyle as a whole.

TL;DR  Businesses make games take more time to make more money.  Gamers feel better about playing games for longer periods of time because it feels like they got more bang for their buck.  Games reward time spent doing tedious tasks instead of actual intelligence.  Doesn't it seem like doing just tedious tasks in games feel like a waste of time?  Is this what "fun" is?

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