The other day I was playing Words with Friends (aka Scrabble app) with my SO. She is not much of a gamer – although she did play WoW back in vanilla – but she enjoys board games, and word games the most. I play along with the word games mainly because it’s something we can do together, but… I don’t really enjoy it. Word games are not my forte, and it does not help that she is way better at words than I am. I have actually legit won on occasion, primarily on the back of a few critical plays when the tiles line up just right. For the most part though, she kicks my ass on the daily.
For those who don’t know, there are an abundance of Words with Friends “cheat” apps out there. What those will do is analyze your seven tiles and the board, and then list out the best possible scoring combinations via brute-force analysis. I have never played with any such apps, but I find the idea amusing simply because that is exactly what I try to do a lot in-game.
See, Words with Friends will only allow valid plays. So, if you don’t know whether something is a word, you can drop tiles and get instant feedback. I have gotten a lot of points before basically dropping random tiles in key locations and making a word I had never heard of.
The difference between my method and using an app to do it for me is… something.
I suppose it becomes less of a contest between two players’ knowledge when automation is involved, cheapening the experience. On the other hand, my SO plays word games a lot – she runs several concurrent games at a time, in fact – so she has memorized all the different Q words that don’t need a U, and so on, which is a pretty big advantage. And like I mentioned, I can do everything the cheat apps would do, if I was patient enough to do it myself. So, at some point, her overwhelming knowledge versus my very basic brute-force tactics becomes analogous to one or both of us facing two different kinds of bots.
That thought led me to another: what if we both used cheat apps? At that point, the game would probably come down to the random nature of tile distribution, and perhaps a few scenarios in which we had to choose between two same-point plays. Regardless, it doesn’t sound particularly fun, right? If we have automated things that far, we may as well automate the selection of the answer, and just have two bots play against each other forever.
So… from whence did the fun originate?
I think it is safe to say that certainty reduces fun in games. While I do not necessarily mean that randomness needs to exist in order for fun to occur, I do mean that the outcome needs to be unknown, or at least in contention. If one person has the cheating app and the other does not, it’s not likely to be a fun game. Even if no cheating was involved, one player having an overwhelming advantage – either knowledge or skill – and the outcome is probably the same.
But what does that really say about our games, and the way we play them? The better we are at a game, the less fun we likely will have. Having a little advantage is nice, and the process by which we get better (experimenting, practice, etc) is a lot of fun too. At a certain level though, it tapers off. What’s fun after that? Direct competition? Maybe. Part of that fun is likely tied into the whole “unknown level of skill from opponent” thing though. Because if we knew he/she was using a cheat program, that fun would evaporate pretty quickly.
Now, there is a sort of exception here: it can be fun to totally dominate your opponent(s). Be it ganking in MMOs, or aimbots in FPS games, the reason a person would do such a thing is precisely to “collect tears” by specifically ruining other peoples’ experience. At that point though, the medium is kinda immaterial; the bully is just using whatever is convenient and less personally risky.
In any case, I went ahead and shared my thoughts above with my SO and her response was interesting. For her, the “game” within Words with Friends is actually just challenging herself in finding the highest-scoring move each turn – she does not necessarily care about the ultimate outcome of the game. Which, to me, sounds like she should be playing against bots, but nevermind. And I actually understand that sentiment: whenever I was playing BGs in WoW, my goal is not necessarily to win at all costs (e.g. sitting on a flag 100% of the time), but to amuse myself on a micro level, even if I was grinding Honor.
Still, I suspect my SO will eventually tire of the wordplay over time, once her skills plateau. Or… maybe she won’t. After all, I somehow find it infinitely interesting to collect resources in Survival games despite having achieved maximum efficiency usually by clicking the button once. Which leads me back to my original question: from whence fun?
As I settle into the routine of daily play, I just wanted to take a moment and express how amazing the mounts are in GW2.
To be clear, I have only unlocked the Raptor mount at this time. My understanding is that the other mounts behave quite differently, and all have different abilities that they bring to the table. For example, the raptor can leap long distances, whereas some other mounts float above water, others leap vertically up, and there is even one that can fly/swoop around.
Looking just at the Raptor though, GW2 demonstrates a refreshing sense of design that works especially well in its gamespace. The Raptor has momentum and a turning radius. At first, this makes it seem unwieldy and difficult to maneuver. But then I started to ponder why it “feels” like anything at all. The answer is because in other MMOs like WoW, mounts are just reskinned players models. If you have ever flown around in WoW when the mount model fails to render, you can see your character in a swimming animation in open air. That is basically what mounts, flying or otherwise, are in WoW. They aren’t anything.
The Raptor’s primary movement ability is the Leap, and here again the subtle genius of GW2’s design shines through. The length of the leap is a function of how long you press Spacebar, and the amount of times you can leap is tied to the “Endurance Bar” aka the Dodge bar. In text form, those are merely details. Running along the strikingly three-dimension space GW2 constructs, the mere act of riding the Raptor is great fun. Intermittent leaps, large leaps, traversing canyons simply to see if you can… all of them provide stimulation in a way simply going from Point A to Point B never do. Presumably there are entire maps in Path of Fire constructed to take advantage of these movement capabilities, but the default maps are just as fun.
And did I mention that mounting up is instant? For those that experienced it, the Halloween holiday in WoW (and Druids, I suppose) are the closest we have gotten to instant mounting, and the devs seem ever resistant to changing that, as if the 1.5 second delay is some integral part of the questing experience. Well… given the radical difference in feel between zero and any other number, perhaps they are right. But instant is fun. Now that the last vestiges of non-consensual PvP are gone, perhaps the WoW devs can take a page out of GW2’s playbook on the matter.
In any case, the mount system in GW2 is the best I have played in any MMO. I think Aion might have came close, if you consider wings to be “mounts,” but this definitely takes the cake.
In a recent debate with Gevlon, he replied with the following:
You still don’t realize how obsoleting content is against the defining feature of the MMO genre: persistent world, defined as “previous gaming sessions significantly affect the current”. It’s a genre. It’s not for everyone. But if you throw it away, you are competing with MOBAs and I think LoL is a better MOBAs than WOW.
Now, the topic was at hand was a criticism of catch-up mechanisms. I, of course, disagree that there is anything wrong with the “End Game Content” model, but that is neither here nor there.
What I want to ponder on though, aside from the question of whether WoW has a persistent world, is whether a persistent world is actually a feature of MMOs, should be a feature, or ever really works as a feature. As I see it, there are three elements of persistence: Space, Consequences, and Advantage.
In strict, technical terms I do believe that a “persistent” world is a defining feature of MMOs. Specifically, that the world exists. The alternative to a persistent world is a lobby-based world featured in a lot of otherwise throwaway action RPGs – the world exists as little arenas, created on demand, which disappear when you exit the stage. In WoW, Goldshire exists independently of whether or not you are to witness the shenanigans which transpire in the Inn. In fact, that shenanigans can transpire at all is because the world is persistent, e.g. meeting other people in virtual space.
At the same time… phasing and shard technology exists. Can we really say that Goldshire is a part of a persistent world if there exists Goldshire 1, Goldshire 2, etc? I am even conceding that Goldshire on Server 1 counts despite there being another Goldshire on Server 2. But these days, the Cross-Realm technology is almost a strict “Channel” system which (albeit seamlessly) drops you in a shared instance of the world, rather than “the” world. Does it really matter that there exists a Goldshire Prime somewhere that doesn’t turn off when you leave, considering you’ve never been there? So, arguably, we’re kinda already in a lobby-based experience, and it’s only shared insofar as other people get dropped in our lobby.
I’m not so much trying to argue against the notion that WoW’s world is persistent, but rather that the distinction is kind of moot these days. I do find that Azeroth is more overtly contiguous than many other MMOs, like FFXIV and GW2, which feature hard breaks at their borders. Cramming thousands of people into a singular space doesn’t exactly improve the gameplay experience, so I’m not sure what benefit that is supposed to provide in the first place. As long as people can naturally congregate and interact at will, I believe that’s enough to count as persistence.
Way back in 2011, I pointed out the following:
One of the hallmarks of the MMO genre is a notion of a persistent world, but that persistence is always in tension with the fact that other players exist. Players say they want a world where consequences matter, that if a town gets burned down it stays burned down. But do they really want a world in which the choice of saving the town is never given to them because some noob 4 years ago logged off in the middle of the quest to put the fire out and the town burned down?
Persistence, on a more metaphorical level, means lasting consequences and mutual exclusivity. The town cannot be both burned down to you and not burned down to me, and still be considered persistent. However, what is the desirability or utility of that persistence in the first place?
On the one hand, it can be used to good effect in games like EVE. If some Corp muscles into your star system, blows up your space station and then places their own… well, you’re out. That star system is now theirs, until the same thing happens to them at some point in the future. There are tangible consequences to game world actions, which persist beyond you switching accounts or logging off. There being finite space to fight over also underpins the gameplay loop of full-loot PvP – you care about moon goo because your ship blowing up tangibly reduces your wealth, so you need to control wealth-generating resources.
On the other hand, look at the player housing situation in FFXIV. The housing plots are finite and exclusive – if someone bought the plot you want, well, tough shit. The developers’ goals appear to be for these “neighborhoods” to feel real, and anchored into the game world. You aren’t just buying a house, but this particular house, situated in this particular location, exclusively.
And that’s dumb. Unimaginably dumb.
In FFXIV, it’s dumb because it serves no gameplay purpose. Getting a housing plot is a matter of having the money and clicking faster. After that, you simply continue paying the upkeep fee and that’s it. There are no gameplay elements to the neighborhood around you, and no homeless player is going to walk around gawking at your decorations. There is no reason to be there, specifically there, even for the homeowner themselves. Absolutely nothing changes if housing were instanced.
So, the only time persistent consequences makes sense is in player-directed ways, underpinning core game mechanics. And, as the term implies, the only way for persistence to make sense is for it to be consistent. Nothing else about the FFXIV world is exclusive or provides lasting consequences. So why have it?
The final element of persistence is really an off-shoot of the previous one: persistent advantage. I’m not going to spend a lot of time on it because, conceptually, it does nothing good for any game. I mean, I guess it could be argued that in EVE it’s nice to be able to log into the game years later and fly around a reasonable ship. But I would argue that that is not so much because one’s advantage has been maintained than there being a low barrier to (re)entry. Sort of like, I dunno, logging into WoW and breezing your way back up to the current level cap and snagging some easy gear from a vendor.
The truest form of persistent advantage is essentially the attunement. And it’s terrible for all the same reasons it was in 2012 and earlier. It gates content arbitrarily, based not on skill or merit, but seniority. It squeezes out the middle class gamer, who either gets into a guild that carries them through the attunement, or they forgo whatever is gated behind it. In this case – and in all cases, really – the “challenge” is one of logistics. It’s difficult enough corralling 10/20/40 people into one place at the same time, much less adding pointless bureaucracy on top of it.
So, taken together, the desirability of persistence is vastly overstated, honestly. Persistence is a tool to achieve a specific effect, not some ideal or higher calling. WoW and all the rest are still MMOs by any reasonable definition of the term, in spite of allowing you to actually quest and explore locations without having it all be destroyed by a failed Deathwing raid years ago.
I’m running out of space on my gaming SSD, which is 500 GB.
The primary offender is Ark, which at this moment is sitting at 104 GB. I have The Center and Ragnarok “expansions” installed too, but I mostly recall that the original install was north of 60 GB by itself. There is actually another expansion that is coming out soon, that I confess to be mildly interested in. Not sure that I would pay full price for it, whatever that ends up being, but I find it unlikely I would reinstall the whole game all over again in the future, just to play the expansion.
FFXIV is still installed, of course. That’s around 21.4 GB right now, as I do not have either of the expansions. Deleting it would effectively end the FFXIV experiment for good. Which gets more tempting by the day, honestly, as I have discovered that questing is no longer sufficient to reach necessary level milestones. Old news, I’m sure, but it’s still a little surprising that in such a story-centric MMO, one must explicitly farm dungeons, Leves, or FATES in order to progress. Side quests do not even remotely help anymore.
GW2 is sitting at around 35 GB. Just as before, I do not own either of the new expansions. However, I have been rather consistently logging on each day for the daily chest, for about the last three months. Each month means 10 Tomes of Knowledge, which is 10 free levels you can distribute around. I could probably power-level crafting professions to bypass any grind I wanted to, but I enjoy the ease and utility of the Tomes. I plan on coming back to GW2 for a bit once the expansion prices come back down.
WoW (43.7 GB) remains installed, of course. I don’t remember if I ever uninstalled the game; it’s possible it has persisted in some contiguous form since TBC, albeit copied a few times. In any case, that portion of my hard drive is reserved, even if it’s been almost a year since I’ve logged in.
Overwatch (13.8 GB) is a bit more dicey. The Halloween skins caused me to log in for the first time in years, but the game does not scratch any itches for me anymore. It’s a small-team arcade hero shooter… and that’s it. This one can probably go.
I bring all this up because there are games on my time horizon in which storage space will be relevant. The biggest one is Destiny 2, which requires 68 GB. Expansions to any of the MMOs will be 10-15 GB. If Nier: Automata ever goes back on sale, that will be 30-40 GB. I have a few Steam RPGs purchased but never played that clock in the ~30 GBs range as well. Deleting anything I am not actively playing is an option for a reasonable human being, but my gaming whims tend to brook no argument – I either play what I want to play right then, or the alternatives seem a waste of time.
Ark is the most reasonable sacrifice here, as over 100 GB for one game is truly absurd. But will I ever download it again? Hmm.
This past week I ended up running the dreaded early dungeon gauntlet in FF14 again – you know, the three early dungeon Square Enix requires everyone to do in order to move the Main Story Quest forward. Things more or less went as well as last time.
The first dungeon run went comically bad. As soon as we zoned in, the healer just ran through half the dungeon and aggroed all of the mobs. This, of course, resulted in a wipe. The healer never rezzed themselves though, which is pretty indicative that his/her behavior was intentional trolling. Unfortunately, you cannot Vote Kick someone within X minutes of zoning into the dungeon, so we all had to wait.
Then it turned out that the healer and the other DPS voted to kick the tank, which happened to be frequent In An Age commenter, MaximGtB (who offered to help me through these early dungeons). It took me a while to figure out what even happened though, because FF14 does not allow you to Whisper or receive a Whisper while in a dungeon. And I did not know if there was an easy way to teleport out of a dungeon you were in.
So, yeah, comically bad.
After that, MaximGtB shepherded me through the three dungeons without major incident. In two of the dungeons, we had a Thaumaturge or Black Mage or whatever that insisted on using a knockback in their spell rotation, much to my Pugilist’s (and the tank’s) annoyance. It was also kind of annoying fighting 3-4 mobs at a time with zero AoE abilities. I suppose that might be a feature rather than a bug at this stage, as it would be easy for new players to spam that sort of thing and get aggro.
My overall impression about FF14’s dungeons have not really changed. There is zero reason for these early dungeons to be mandatory and/or exist. They are apropo of nothing. I don’t remember if Wailing Caverns had any lead-in, but other early WoW dungeons like Deadmines were the culmination of zone-wide storylines. That the devs required these three irrelevant dungeons for the MSQ simply boggles my mind. Mandatory is one thing, zero story is another.
In any event, further progress on my character will have to wait, as Square Enix is “moving data centers” and that apparently requires two full days of downtime. Which is almost enough time to be tempted to pop another WoW Token.
…think I’ll start Mass Effect: Andromeda instead.
Gaming has gotten pretty complicated for me these days.
The annoying part of this situation is that the complication is all by design. Clash Royale recently celebrated its 1-year anniversary, for example, which means I have been playing this mobile game off-and-on for about a year. Just the other day they teased a “one time sale” that included 100,000g and a Magical Chest for roughly $25. At the stage of development I’m at in the game, that amount of gold would effectively allow me to upgrade two units. Two. For $25.
And I was seriously considering it.
The only real thing that stopped me was that the deal wasn’t as good as the prior deals I did take advantage of. The $25 thing was only a “x4 value” whereas I dropped $25 on a different package several months ago that was a x10 value. At the time, it offered a rather significant boost of power, and allowed me to finally snag an Ice Wizard, which I have used in every deck to this day. Conversely, it is not entirely clear that upgrading two units for 100,000g would see similar returns.
In addition to Clash, I am playing three separate gacha-esque games with similar payment models. Four, technically, if you include Fire Emblem: Heroes in there. I haven’t spent near as much in those as I have in Clash, but I do boot them up every single day for the feeling of incremental progression. And all of them are offering “amazing” deals for $10, $25, even $99.
Then look what happened with WoW. There is currently a “sale” on character services, which means it “only” costs $18.75 for server transfers. Since I had over $180 in Blizzard Bux from cashing in WoW Tokens, I decided to use some of those funds to move the survivors of Auchindoun-US over to Sargeras-US. Moved about four toons thus far, and thinking of a fifth. That’s $75 already. Not $75 from my bank account per se, but I could have nearly bought StarCraft 2: Legacy of the Void and 50 packs of Hearthstone’s latest expansion with that same amount of funds.
All of this is why I take a somewhat adversarial stance with game designers. If these were all B2P games, we would not be having this discussion; instead I would be lamenting about how there aren’t enough hours in the day to play all these great games. Instead I’m talking about services within a game, or progression boosters, any of which are more expensive than actual, other games. I just bought Mass Effect: Andromeda from GMG for $41 and some change. That’s roughly two character transfers in WoW, or a few unit upgrades in Clash Royal.
Now, there’s the argument that there aren’t that many games you could even play for a whole year and not tire of. Doesn’t Clash Royal deserve my money for how much amusement it has generated? Isn’t plopping down some cash on these games technically cheaper than paying full price for new releases every few weeks/months anyway?
I think those are the wrong questions, and intentionally engineered to take advantage of cognitive dissonance. Because we aren’t asking those questions up front – we are asking them after having “invested” dozens (or hundreds) of hours into the game. If you told me at the beginning that it took 50,000g to upgrade units in Clash Royal, I would have balked. But having stewed in a pot of nearly boiling water for a year, it all seems reasonable. “Of course it makes sense that I used to get upgrades every three days, and now only get one a month.” Not really, no.
(Especially not when they end up nerfing units a month later. No refunds here.)
The value of money is mostly relative. Going from making $20k to $30k is life-changing, whereas going from $100k to $110k is likely not. However, money is also fungible. Dropping $10 or $25 here and there might make sense in the context of whatever game you are currently playing long-term, but those same dollars could buy anything else.
It is important, IMO, to consider the full picture of what your gaming dollars may or may not be purchasing. A server transfer in an MMO that will save your waning interest may seem a bargain. Hell, it might actually be a bargain in the final analysis. Just be cognizant that the decision should not be “do I spend money or not,” but rather “do I give up X or not.” I decided that two unit upgrades in Clash Royal isn’t worth half a Mass Effect. Framing it this way helps me resist all the fallacies (Sunk Cost, Gambler’s, etc) working on the decision to make it seem reasonable (when it is not), and gives me an answer I can live with.
Maybe your gaming budget is such that you don’t mind dropping hundreds of dollars a month into whatever. In which case, feel free to Paypal some my way, chief. Otherwise, we all have to look out for each other a bit, because the game designers and the in-house psychoanalysts on their payroll certainly are not.
Legion has been an interesting expansion for me for many reasons, but one of the more subtle, yet intriguing ones has been my shifting attitude towards cooldowns.
Prior to this expansion, I hated cooldowns. In the context of tanking or even just raiding generally, they were okay, but mainly because there was a clear time to use them. About to take a huge hit? Use the tank cooldown. Did someone pop Heroism? Use all the DPS cooldowns.
Outside of raids… when were you supposed to use, say, Avenging Wrath? On the first mob you see? Only when you’ve grouped up several mobs? Only for elites or rare mobs? It shouldn’t actually matter, as WoW’s open world questing is pretty trivial, but it only took getting burned once or twice over the years before I got gun-shy. Plus, on a PvP server, you might actually need those cooldowns to escape a gank. The end result of was years of not using many (if any) cooldowns on any toons.
…except one, actually. I had zero issues popping cooldowns on my rogue, from character creation on. I don’t know if it was because the rogue has so many cooldowns anyway, or if stealth fundamentally changes the cadence of encounters, or what.
Legion, despite gutting streamlining class fantasies, feels like it has more cooldowns. The most important is the Flightmaster’s Whistle, which has a 5 minute cooldown. I have trouble actually pressing 2 minute cooldowns, much less 5 minute ones, so I was quite annoyed at first. But now? Completely fine, obviously. The Skyhorn Kite got a cooldown nerf to 15 minutes – with a 3 minute shared cooldown with Goblin Gliders – but I use them any time it might shave off more than about 10 seconds of running around.
I am, at this point, pretty much completely cured of my cooldown anxiety.
The intriguing question is “why?” While the more straight-forward answer might be simply because I started to have to use them more, I think it might be more because the expected encounter/play-session length has shortened or at least fragmented. The interplay between World Quests and the Flightmaster Whistle ensures that which ones I complete are the ones that can be done in about 5 minutes; I actually skip the ones that can be completed in less than 5 minutes, as I’d be twiddling my thumbs waiting for the cooldown anyway. Given that I’m already spending 5 minutes (or more, depending on the time it takes for the Flight Path to complete) inbetween action, all of my cooldowns will be available at each stop. So… why not use them?
The good news is that I have noticed this “lesson” bleeding over into other games. I loaded up GW2 yesterday (a topic for another post), and while short cooldowns are rather integral to basic DPS already, I noticed myself pressing the longer 1.5 minute ones even when fighting basic enemies. And why not, right? It might only save you ~10 seconds or so questing, but not only does that time add up, it’s the equivalent of adding ~10 seconds to mob grinding each time the cooldown would have refreshed without you using it. So yeah, brain, there is an opportunity cost to pressing the button when you might have needed it later, but there is an equal opportunity cost for not pressing it.
As an aside, my WoW subscription has technically expired despite having 10 WoW Tokens (the maximum) – I figure there isn’t much of a point of playing more until patch 7.1.5. Yeah, I would be missing on selling Felwort and some lucrative WQs, but would I make ~58k gold in 30 days? Probably not. I might go ahead and spend one if I get in a mood, but we’ll see if GW2 and other games assuage the withdraw.
It finally happened last night:
My views on legendaries in general hasn’t changed since a month and a half ago. Indeed, in a very ironic sense, finally receiving a legendary at the long end of a hidden pity timer might be the motivation I needed to finally stop doing Emissary Quests, and most World Quests altogether. Lord knows how I would feel if another one drops after I kinda gave up farming Order Resources and thus never unlocked the “You can equip 2 legendaries” bonus. Even if I started right now, the research timer alone is 14 days.
So, yeah. Go me. The legendary’s effect is to reduce the cooldown timer of my 3 minute DPS cooldown that I never use outside bosses anyway. I don’t anticipate that changing anytime soon.
In the meantime, I’ll continue unlocking Draenor flying, farming Ulduar transmog, and perhaps get around to using my level 100 boost on something.