The Cart and the Horse

Why would someone start playing a game that was only fun with the friends you made after playing the game?

One of the criticisms of my Darkfall series of posts was that I never even tried to join a clan. This is true, and I said up-front that I was not going to try; it is why I labeled the series “Unfair Impressions” in the first place. Part of the reason I made such a decision was that I am not particularly feeling sociable at the moment. Another part is that, ironically, it didn’t seem fair to whomever’s social fabric I would be using like a dish rag; I don’t fully subscribe to Gevlon’s worldview, but getting a social benefit without returning the favor does feel like leeching to me.

The biggest reason though, is that I fundamentally believe that games (even MMOs) should be fun in of themselves first.

Think about your first MMO experience. Did you start playing alone? I walked into Azeroth with nothing, and left six years later with a half-dozen friends from across the country who still ask me to join them at the next New England meet-up. That is the sort of MMO and “virtual world” dream scenario, right? But just like any relationship, it did not develop overnight. It took time. Time spent playing the game without said friends. And at any time, that window of opportunity to convert me to long-term guild player could have closed if I didn’t feel engaged or entertained enough compared to my gaming alternatives.

I am not against a game requiring investment to play, or even a game in which the most enriching experiences are to be found in grouping. I am against a game requiring a priori buy-in to justify itself. It is not reasonable, to me, to suggest clan play makes the sort of new player experience I wrote about irrelevant. Maybe Darkfall doesn’t care about catering to new players or “hand-holding,” and that’s fine. But I feel that it is a tiny bit ridiculous to then claim the game is good (or another game is bad) when you have already committed to that position before even downloading the client.

Any game is better with friends. Requiring friends in order to have fun playing a game at all is not a strength, it’s a weakness. A deficiency. There will be thousands of players playing your game for the first time, alone. Does the game then facilitate friendships? Good. Does the game present a whole bunch of impenetrable nonsense? Bad. All your 30-minute boat rides and clever grouping schemes won’t work if the players never even make it out of what passes for a tutorial.

The longer I play something like Planetside 2, the greater the opportunity for me to get hooked into somebody’s social fabric, even if I’m kicking and screaming against it the whole way. In fact, joining an Outfit would be a sort of natural evolution to someone’s daily gameplay. But that evolution is only possible because the underlying game is fun to play, e.g. I’m playing it a lot right now, solo. With Darkfall, the consensus seems to be that the opposite is true: you have fun playing a lot only after being integrated into a social fabric woven before you actually start playing.

To me, that just sounds like putting the cart before the horse.

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Posted on May 8, 2013, in Commentary, Philosophy and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. The same is true for Eve: one has to already want to play Eve in order to stay around after the first week. One has to research what to do, how to do it, and with whom to do it. It is a massive project without even being in the game client.

    I have friends who would enjoy Eve immensely (lots of grindy downtime, space fantasy), but they “don’t want to learn a new game”. They don’t have the desire to buy-in to it.

    I solely played Eve for about a year, and I don’t think you are off-base at all when you say Syncaine and others are playing a different game.

    I also don’t think Darkfall scaring away all the impulse gamers that are curious about a new PvP MMO is good for its longevity. The greatest assets in Eve are active players. To win a war, you reduce morale and keep the other side logged off. Resources are meaningless to large entities. I cannot fathom why a Clan leader would want to turn away grunts to defend the hamlet or raid/besiege the enemy next door.

  2. I was a little baffled when Syncaine said you were “doing it wrong”. If running around the starter area doing starter-area-stuff, getting acquainted with the game systems, and trying to do simple crafting are doing it wrong, it’s hard to see how anyone does it right. Perhaps the only way is to come in with a pre-established group, a situation most people will not be in. Or were you supposed to join a clan as a quasi-press-celebrity and get a whirlwind tour of the best Darkfall has to offer?

    Most newbies are going to go at it much the same way you did, with much of the same prior experience, and they will discover what you did, that it feels clunky, outdated, and generally gratuitously punishing. No matter how the die-hards spin it, if you can’t get someone hooked at the beginning, you won’t have them in your “core” later, regardless of how well they would mesh with the game.