Blog Archives

Time Management

So… I may have more or less played WoW constantly this past weekend week.

While I’m sure that I will, like everyone else, grow bored with the feature eventually, I want it on the record (a year late) that what Blizzard did with the Garrison is just shy of amazing. For players like me, anyway.

See, I had every intention of abandoning my Paladin and making my (sigh) level 89 Rogue my new main. Before doing so though, I wanted to get my Garrison decently situated with a few level 2 buildings and Followers manning the profession stations. Which means I needed to do a few Outpost quest chains. And hey, may as well do the other Outpost quest chains so that I can save 750g-1000g on the blueprints. Oh look, I can get some more Followers pretty easily by just going here and doing one or two more quests.

Azuriel is now 25% into level 99.

Granted, all my characters are now in full heirloom gear that scales to level 100, minus the weapon because fuck that 5000g price tag. I even have the Dread Pirate Ring from back in the day, so the full percentage is +50% XP. In fact, I pretty much out-level a zone the minute I finish the Outpost quests. I could probably be a bit more concerned about that than I am, considering that as a non-raider, non-dungeon runner, questing is likely to be the only real content for me (outside BGs). But in a sense, Dragon Age: Inquisition broke the final thread tying filler quests with zero plot development and whatever fucks I had left to give. It’s not that I find killing X mobs tedious, I find killing X mobs for no reason tedious. I need some kind of narrative here.

Killing X mobs for a Follower, on the other hand…

My current plan of action is to go ahead and hit 100 on Azuriel, then get level 2 plans for my DK and Warrior (both of whom are 92) so that I get Inscription, Blacksmithing, and Enchanting professions going. As for my new Rogue “main” I’ll get around to her eventually. And by “eventually,” I mean those 5-10 minutes in-between Follower missions being completed across 3+ characters.

The irony is not lost on me that nearly four years ago I quit WoW the first time because of games like Tiny Tower, and now I’m back because it more closely resembles all those time management games. Time truly is a flat circle.

Wirehead

I have obviously been posting a lot about Guild Wars 2, mainly because that is what I have been doing for the last few weeks. There are some additional such posts in the pipeline. But behind all this seeming enthusiasm lies the similar feeling of… offness that Spinks talked about.

While playing, I feel an irrational need to hit every resource node I come across. It feels good. Which is… good. Fine. But when I think about the game as a whole, I see no future in it for me. So many people online and in-game mention that the lack of endgame progression is not an issue because you are not paying a subscription. “Just stop playing.”

…but this is an MMO.

An MMO, to me, makes no sense to play sporadically. If you are not committed to the idea of playing often (or everyday), what are you doing? Why am I hitting resource nodes and selling things and hoarding gems if I will be uninstalling in a few months? Doing something only tangentially fun for weeks (e.g. dailies) makes sense to me if your final reward is something you can reasonably use for X amount of time. If you immediately stop after achieving the goal, my time retroactively feels wasted.

Nevermind how the “community” aspect is supposed to develop without player continuity.

Think about Tiny Tower, or 10000000, or any number of “time-management” iOS games. I bought 10000000 off of a Penny Arcade recommendation, and it is basically Bejeweled with RPG elements. I got really into it, maximizing resource gains, plotting out upgrades, “grinding,” and so on. Then I won. And felt empty.

I get post-game depression fairly often, a vague feeling of loss. Even if I had fun along the way, the post-game mood usually makes me question why I bothered in the first place. What mitigates such feelings is usually the sense that I still accumulated something, be it twitch-skills from FPS games (pro skills from Counter-Strike carry over into Battlefield 3, etc) or the experience of a story in the case of many RPGs or proper books. I played Xenogears over a decade ago for 80 hours one time, and I still think about it occasionally.

I will not think about Tiny Tower or 10000000 a decade from now. Nor, potentially, Guild Wars 2. Those games were/have been/are fun to play, respectively. But I am not looking for opportunities to kill time with amusing diversions. I do not have enough time, in fact. What I am looking for are opportunities to “invest” my time, or at least a simulation thereof, while having fun too.

Scott Adams once quipped that the last invention humanity will ever make is a Holodeck. As soon as that was built and marketed, humanity would collectively starve to death inside a Holodeck two weeks later. The future is actually much simpler than Holodecks or realistic VR headsets and such – the future is a wire in your brain that stimulates your nucleus accumbens directly. Watching college sports or playing MMOs or contemplating the vastness of the universe are all primitive methods of manually fondling your glands. The dark secret of The Matrix is that the overlay was completely unnecessary – a little bit of electricity in the right spot removes the inefficient middleman of reality.

The above may seem a non sequitur, but here is the connection: I feel Guild Wars 2 is simply a wire in my head. It generates good feelings, but doesn’t mean anything. It is a personal problem, of course. But all problems are ultimately personal problems. And I grow increasingly weary of doing fun things while simultaneously waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Playing Guild Wars 2 feels like going to Disneyland ahead of the apocalypse.

“So stop playing.” I’m sorry, I cannot hear you over the humming of this wire in my head.

900,001; Or How Tiny Tower Killed WoW

The frustrating thing about canceling your subscription is that you never end up doing it for the reasons you want to have done it for. All of us have those little wedge issues that crop up in the process of an evolving game design that we disagree with on fundamental levels. Cash shop antics with the Sparkle Pony/Disco Lion. Heroics being too easy or too hard. Justice point gear and the availability thereof. Premium subscriptions. Racials, class balance, paladins getting nerfed into the ground every patch/not getting nerfed enough.

I had a whole post titled “The Unapologetic Grind” ready to go, talking about how the malaise that seems to be spreading in the “community” has more to do with the transition of the badge system into an “empty bar filling” system that both encourages you to grind way past your normal limits (just… one… more… bar…) and injects feelings of inadequacy when you inevitably fail to fill them. Indeed, the first day that my guild failed to hit our maximum XP cap was the day I could point to as the beginning of the end.

But… when you get right down to it, the answer is always simple.

I first came across Tiny Tower a few weeks ago after hearing Scott Johnson and friends talk about it on The Instance and The Morning Stream, two rather hilarious podcasts I have listened to for months. If you have never heard of Tiny Tower, it is a “F2P” Apple app that is objectively a pointless waste of time. There is nothing skillful or strategic about any of the gameplay, and obviously there is no plot to speak of. It exists on my iPod only because it stimulates my nucleus accumbens in a completely vapid way: it tricks my physiological drive to multi-task into believing that the accumilated time spent playing has any meaning. And yet I have not deleted the app. It is still on there.

The philosophical question of whether anything we do has value or meaning aside, WoW engages in this same remote, psychological pleasure-center stimulation. And why wouldn’t it? It is an MMO with a monthly subscription. The difference between creating enough content to occupy people for a month versus creating content it takes a person a month to complete is the difference between bankruptcy and a sweet raise. Think about those Tol Barad trinkets you spent 30+ days “earning.” That they required 125 marks and Exalted reputation was entirely arbitrary. It was not about creating content, it was about creating a time wall that needed to be dismantled brick by brick by repetitive activity which creates an illusiary value to the end-product. Something you have worked towards accumilates value that simply getting it right away would lack.

In WoW’s defense, there is actually an end product there: a trinket that you might be using the rest of this expansion’s lifespan. Games like Tiny Tower have latched onto the notion that you do not even need the end-goal, do not need a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Worse than that though, these designers have realized that the individual actions do not have to be entertaining either. These are sandbox games without the sand; play replaced by going through the motions of play, yet triggering the same biochemicals as if you were having actual fun. And having thus deluded you into believing your participation has value, they tweak the “gameplay” to make even this seem reasonable*:

Seriously. I am waiting for a Steam deal on Limbo because $9.99 is a tad higher than I would prefer, and yet I was musing on how much could be accomplished with 1,000 Tower Bux… at the low, low price of $29.99. Philip Morris has nothing on these “F2P” assholes.

As my friends started logging into WoW less and less, the weakening social ties to the game gave me room to stand from my chair and really examine what I was doing. The taste of daily quests soured in my mouth. The AH was still fun… but it was the deals and strategy and the profit, not the tedium of listing, undercutting, emptying the mailbox. Sure, I could (further) automate those actions, but that is like automating chewing to speed tasteless digestion – it misses the point. The one activity I enjoyed for the sake of enjoyment was PvP. But when I became Honor capped on my warlock, BGs ceased to be amusing nearly instantly. “If I’m going lose 5 games for every 1 win during Twin Peaks holiday, I may as well do it on a toon that has use for Honor.” In other words, character advancement and fun had been so inexoriably linked in my mind that I questioned whether they could even exist independantly. Tiny Tower demonstrated that I would do something unfun for even the vaguest of rewards, and that was when I realized I was not actually having fun in those BGs. Or rather, it was no longer immediately clear that I was.

A lot of these sort of posts smack of “I quit WoW and so should you, for these reasons,” but that honestly is not my intention. I think there are some definite missteps that the designers made in Cataclysm, and I would be happy to debate those at length any day of the week regardless of whether subs are lost or gained. The fact of the matter though, is that if I was still having an engaging social experience in WoW I would probably still be paying $15/month. Without friends, WoW falls to the merits of its single-player experience. When that single-player experience is no longer fun, it falls finally onto its time soaking skills. And in the arena of time soaking, WoW cannot hold a candle to “games” like Tiny goddamn Tower.

God save us all.

*Obviously anyone who has played this “game” will go on about how they haven’t paid for anything. I haven’t paid for anything either. But any time you looked at that Bux screen and did not laugh at the designers’ overreach is a time you ceased to “beat the system” and became one with it. Nevermind all the stupid iTunes band previews or Youtube videos you watched because they gave you “free” Bux to do it.