Wrong Choices

Ghostcrawler tweeted the sort of thing I’m sure sends “real” MMO players into howling fits:

“No,actually,there is not a wrong choice.Wether we(players) buy new items OR upgrade old ones should be our decision,not DEV’s.”
Giving players the ability to make choices with wrong answers doesn’t make players happy overall. (Source)

Choices having bad consequences is the best (only?) way to make a decision matter, as the argument goes. However, this quote got me thinking: do such players actually enjoy being able to make the wrong choice, or is it simply that the bad choice existing (which they did not pick) validates their good decision? Or put another way, who really likes making bad decisions?

I understand that the demonstration of skill necessitates there being wrong choices. Demonstrating skill, or improvement thereof, is fun. At the same time, the Mass Effect series (for example) was fun to play even though there weren’t any “wrong choices” (provided you weren’t specifically looking for X result).

There is only ever one correct answer to the questions of “which does the most DPS” or “what is the most efficient use of resources.” Ergo, is there actually any real decision to be made when one is correct and the other(s) not? I suppose the fun is supposed to be the result of figuring out which one is which, but that sort of clashes with the mockery and disdain frequently attributed to those who don’t look up the correct decision from the Wiki/EJ. Compare that to the question of “which transmog set is the best?”

I do not believe that there has to be a wrong choice in order for choices to be meaningful generally. We make identity choices every day – what type of person do I want to be, what do I believe in? – and I do not think that anyone would suggest that those choices are either irrelevant or have wrong answers (well… no one with any sort of self-reflection). And while I am willing to concede gameplay being under the (broad) umbrella of choice, e.g. one makes a wrong choice by pressing 11342 instead of 11324, I consider there to be a distinction between executing a rotation under pressure versus avoiding falling into a designer trap. One has its place as a legitimate test of skill, and the other is simply you winning via a few mouse clicks several months ago.

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Posted on February 7, 2013, in Philosophy, WoW and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 15 Comments.

  1. I’ve really enjoyed MoP’s switch to talent choices over talent trees and I struggle to understand the love some people express for the old system. As I levelled my Warlock recently I didn’t even bother with EJ (until 90 and wanting to make sure my rotation was sensible) and instead simply went through each tier saying “This talent will really suit my leveling/questing playstyle, but I can see how this one will be awesome in other situations!” It was fun trying out different options without feeling like I was gimping myself somehow.

    Because I’m cynical about human nature I think some people want there to be a wrong choice so they can prove how much “smarter” or “better at Googling” they are than anyone that chose incorrectly. Slightly less cynically, some people are just really competitive and perhaps they want additional avenues for demonstrating (perceived) superior expertise.

  2. “Giving players the ability to make choices with wrong answers doesn’t make players happy overall.”

    I think it’s a fine line.

    This quotes assumes the developers always know what the right answer will be for players.

    When you take away “sub-optimal” choices, you also eliminate some opportunities for emergent gameplay (ie, players coming up with things the developers never expected or cared about).

    That makes games that are much more “on rails.”

    Not necessarily a bad thing, since it can give the devs more control over balance, pacing, etc. Lots of games limit players’ choices to a handful of mainly superficial options and are still fun.

    But especially in the MMO space, I think trying to minimize choices so players can’t accidently make poor decisions also means players have less chance to play the game their own way.

    But I also understand Ghostcrawler is looking at the mass audience, and less concerned about catering to the smaller audience who might want a more “sandboxy” flexible game.

    • I always made it a point to take Pursuit of Justice as a Prot paladin in TBC/Wrath, even though that choice reduced my threat by 1-3% or whatever. Moving faster was more important to me than 100% optimization, so I do agree with you that something is lost when I can no longer make such determinations. Many other talents in the tree were superflous though, insofar as they were required for you to be functional, even though you had the option of not taking them; that sort of “choice” never made sense to me, aside from differenciating between those that read EJ and those that don’t.

      I don’t if there can be a middle ground between the two.

      • I always liked that option and justified it easily by reasoning the quicker I got to where I need to be, the more threat I do. The same argument was made for rogues with options to spec quicker movement. The downside was it wasn’t so useful on tank and spanks. But it’s the kind of choice I like to make with a character. One that an argument can be made for either way, or simply is better in some situations than others. In short, the ability to think outside the box.

        As for GC’s opinion…I think it’s both true and a very flawed way of thinking. Nobody likes the consequences of poor choices, so of course people in general don’t like it. But without that possibility the environment becomes rather stale. There’s always a safety on and if you make the “wrong” choice you’ll be redirected to the “right” choice…but “right” according to whom? Wow is still full of wrong choices. “Do I stand in the fire? Or….” At some point you have to say, “Here’s the world. Go figure it out!” But that is a much more sandboxy way of thinking.

        I had the opportunity to tank Nightbane during TBC with a Pally Tank. At the time that was considering the “wrong” decision. We had no fear ward either, but you could use BoP, and your bubble to deal with the fear and a macro to remove them before Nightbane turned and cleaved half the party. You could even throw a pvp trinket on to dispel the fear if you got caught. it was tricky, but amazingly satisfying to be the first Pally on my own backwater server of Farstriders to pull it off. It’s hard to argue any chance of that sort of creativity has been utterly stifled to save us all from the “wrong answers.” I wouldn’t be surprised if that sort of thing would be called an exploit these days.

  3. The old talent system had some benefits, one of which was that it was a constant benefit of leveling up. Now, you go 15 levels between talents and sometimes don’t even notice when you get one. It also had the benefit of spreading the power growth out over all those levels, whereas now you get a big burst of power at level 10 and maybe some later depending on spec.

    The problems with it were expensive respecs, and opaque mechanics where you weren’t even sure which talent would do what you wanted to do.

    I don’t know about the wrong choices reasoning though…it seems right to me that any meaningful choice is going to have a wrong option when applied to some specific context. Taking one talent is right for leveling but wrong for maximizing dps. Some of the new talent tiers essentially just assume that you are picking for dps and giving you three different ways of doing it. This makes the wrong and right choices situational, but doesn’t remove them. It isn’t on the same level of “wrong” though, as compared to totally borking a talent spec.

    • “One has its place as a legitimate test of skill, and the other is simply you winning via a few mouse clicks several months ago.”

      Heh. Not to flog a dead horse, but this is quite germane to the ‘tactics vs strategy as true expression of skill’ thing.

      Anyway, Matt’s got the right of it, exactly. In an ideal world, the correct choice should depend on context and practitioner. Faced with the challenge of fire appearing underfoot while casting, one person might do better with a talent that allows them to move, then cast an instant (because it will not throw them off their rotation, but they find moving and casting awkward) and another might prefer a talent that lets them cast a couple of spells on the move (because they’re happier with the additional demand on dexterity than on presence of mind). The choice of a main’s actual character class is another ‘fun’ choice.

      One of the reasons I often enjoy PvP more than PvE is that the absolute correctness of choices is more difficult to quantify, and the mathematically weaker choices often have the advantage of being uncommon and not as easily countered on the fly. Is the fellow with the highest damage on the killboard the VIP of a battleground, or the one who did none, but kept the bulk the enemy team snared the entire damned time?

      I’ve also seen enough examples of maverick players taking a ‘terrible’ set of choices and doing amazing (or just plain fun) things with it through inventive use, a tremendous amount of practice with that particular setup, and leveraging the advantage of surprise. I want wrong choices to be kept available as grist for the mill of emergent behaviour.

    • I’ll be leveling a monk up eventually, and it will be the first time I leveled a toon up under the new system. I do agree in principal that I’d prefer each level to be meaningful, although I never really felt that getting another 1% crit or whatever was particularly compelling back in TBC/Wrath. Even back then, it was always waiting with bated breath over reaching those 0/1 talents that gave you extra buttons to press.

      But, yeah, it’s kinda disheartening when you look at your character sheet and notice you won’t be getting any new talents or even abilities for the next X levels.

  4. I agree with GC though that the valor upgrades were kind of annoying, in that you never knew what to do. I did spend valor to upgrade my weapon, but other than that I only upgraded when I was at the VP cap and needed to spend some. Valor in general is kind of annoying this way…you buy a pair of gloves and then the next day you get a glove drop.

    • I’m in that boat presently. My weakest pieces right now are shoulders and trinkets, but should I buy them this week, or wait until after I raid in case they drop? But if they don’t drop, why would I buy the Valor versions when I won’t be raiding again until the next week? I have been delaying the decision by upgrading my 483 weapon (so I don’t lose Valor to the cap), but I’m otherwise stuck in this endless loop of indecision.

      I can tell you one thing: this particular choice absolutely isn’t making me happier.

  5. I suspect it comes down to an individual’s view on character customisation, on how much a game should approximate an RPG style character development system, where gaining power and making choices every level is part of what makes you grow attached to your character(s).

    I come from that background and find the simplification of character generation in games a bad thing, I fully understand that many find such arcane systems with stats and talent points unnecessary. But to me this is about the slow erosion of that RPG heritage. Rift has a great character development system in the soul trees, better than WoWs ever was given the variety it brings. So far at least Trion have resisted simplification to appeal to those who are not interested in such details. You click an interesting sounding path for your character and the system auto levels the talents for you. DDO also introduced a similar mechanic to make that very complex character system easier to approach. Why couldn’t Blizzard with all their money and developer resources have considered something similar?

  6. “I do not believe that there has to be a wrong choice in order for choices to be meaningful generally.”

    No, but there have to be meaningful choices, which in the context of this discussion means a choice has to have an impact on your game. The mistake I think you’re making (and to be fair, this is part of the culture of WoW too) is that there is such a thing as a binary “right” and “wrong” choice for character development. Math is not people!

    In fact, I’d argue that a very simple, binary system is more easily able to be sorted into “right” and “wrong”, whereas a myriad of options welcomes shades of grey. Giving the player the option to make the wrong choice isn’t necessary, but giving them the option to make less mathematically optimal choices is, because that’s the fun stuff.

    Not to repeat Telwyn’s point, but look at RIFT. There are a TON of choices for each character build, and while the top-end raid guilds do often release what they consider to be their optimal choice, we’re all encouraged to find variations that suit our play style and content.

    Also there sure are “wrong” choices in Mass Effect! You can easily lose the affection of companions by deciding the wrong thing, without intending to. (Samara, why can’t we be friends? :( )

  7. It is funny that you don’t get people talking about Mass Effect character builds or rotations in the same way that you get WoW builds. There probably is an optimal way to play Mass Effect, but very few people are interested in playing single player games optimally. Apart from speed runners, possibly.

    Perhaps players get hung up on optimisation because they don’t like the thought of other people wasting their time. If a group wipes or is slow it is a lot easier to point to the guy with the low iLevel or ‘incorrect’ talents and use that as an excuse for not progressing (‘That extra 1% on one ability would have totally made a difference on that last trash pack’). It is certainly easier than explaining the strategy and trying again.

    • “It is funny that you don’t get people talking about Mass Effect character builds or rotations in the same way that you get WoW builds.”

      Oh, but they do! Just check ME3 multiplayer forums.

      • That’s interesting because they’re talking about builds in multiplayer, which was my point. You don’t get build discussions in single player games.

  8. It is not really possible to make a wrong decision, just an uninformed one. If you knew one ability was inferior, you would never pick it.

    And I do think that learning what is “right” is fun!
    When you smash your head against a pack of mobs while leveling (for me it was the rock guys that split up in hellfire peninsula), and then learn how to overcome this wall by learning what mistakes you made, now that’s an awesome experience!

    And receiving an equippable totem as reward so I could throw out the four bag-clutter ones was the icing on the cake!