15 July 2013

Content Entitlement

There is a rather "passionate" debate going on in the official HEX forums right now regarding exclusive items and who should be able to get them, and whether certain choices made in the PvE portion of the game should bar you from accessing certain items as well.  I am not going to "rehash" the entire debate here, nor am I going to comment on it directly.  Instead I use it as a starting point for a discussion of the issue of entitlement in broader terms and how I believe this has affected the development of games within the MMO genre.

Entitled to History

When I began playing MMO's it was pretty much accepted and understood that there were pieces of content that the average player simply would not be able to access.  This is not a normative judgement on whether this was a good thing or not, it is simply a statement of fact.  And most players accepted that fact.  They understood that they would not see every raid, not claim every item, not conquer every monster.  Now I'm not sure which changed first.  Did the games start to change and make it more and more possible to actually do and see and obtain everything?  Or did player's expectation change and they began to object to not being able to do and see and obtain everything?  On that I'm not sure, but regardless of whether the "chicken" or the "egg" came first, the result was the same.  "Accessibility" became the buzzword for MMO development.

The result is that now players are almost offended when they are "told" by a game  that there is something they cannot do.  The new expectation is that nothing will be placed outside your reach, and that depending on the game, it may not even require a significant amount of effort to obtain or access all that you desire.  But are these truly the kinds of games that we want?  Ones in which the effort to obtain rewards is so reduced that everyone can do everything?  Again I am unsure.  On the one hand, we are talking about entertainment.  We are talking about things people do for fun.  Hobbies should not be frustrating experiences where obstacles are constantly placed in our way to achieving our goals...............

........ or should they?  There is another point of view that would suggest that it is precisely the obstacles and impairments that are placed in our path that make the rewards worthwhile.  The source of the entertainment itself is in overcoming the obstacles, breaking down the barriers, and still achieving our goals.  How cool is it to have a Thunderfury, Blessed Blade of the Windseeker when every other player has one too?  How meaningful is it to say you have explored the entire world when every other player can easily do so from the back of their cheap and easy flying mount?  How rewarding is it to craft a Cloak of Transcendent Awesomeness (ok, I made that one up) when the auction house is flooded with a thousand ones just like it?  Both are valid points of view, because in the final analysis, it is impossible to "enforce" a single idea of what is fun, or entertaining, or rewarding.

No Money?  Mo Problems.

So what are game developers to do?  As I have noted many times on this blog, gaming is a business, and like any other business, the bottom line is to make money, and that is what developers are going to do.  They are going to create games and content that they think will make them the most money.  And right now, most developers who "run the numbers" on this question have decided that "accessibility" is the winner.  Make everything easy to get and you please the largest portion of the population.  Yes there will always be a vocal contingent that complains, but pleasing them would hurt the bottom line. 

Case in point:  A major change in crafting to as-yet-unreleased in the U.S. sandbox darling ArcheAge.  To quickly summarize, the game's crafting system was changed drastically from a "hardcore" model involving item deterioration and other factors to a much simpler system.  One of the developers even flat out stated, "Only hardcore crafters liked the old system, so we changed it."  They ran the numbers and the numbers told them that pleasing the minority was hurting their bottom line, so they changed the system.  This is why MMO's today are more apt to look like World of Warcraft than they are say, Star Wars Galaxies.  I hate to sound so jaded, especially now in the "Age of Kickstarter" where folks like Chris Roberts and Richard Garriott are appealing directly to players to try and get games made that are more in line with their creative visions and not profit margins (still not sure how much of the blame Garriott deserves for Tabula Rasa).  But the fact remains that for the vast majority of games and developers, the almighty dollar rules the day, and the decisions they make will always be based on that.

I wanted to end with a quick "Thank You" and shout out to the folks at Utopian Chaos.  They are putting together what they hope to be a "one stop shop" for all things related to digital trading card game news and information and they graciously have invited me to be a small part of that project.  So for now I'll be doing some columns for them and as such I'll probably keep the TCG related stuff to a minimum here on the blog so I can direct my efforts on those topics to those columns.  I hope you'll take a minute to check out their site and all the other stuff they have cooking there.

1 comment:

  1. Hobby vs. Pastime to put it simply.

    Early on an MMO was a hobby and people expected to put in effort to reach what they could - and that would not be everything on offer. Now they are pastimes that appeal to people who would not be there if they had to expend significant effort for limited returns.

    Consider it from the perspective of sports. Some people follow a team and keep-up with what's happening (pastime), other are invested in their sport and expend a great deal of time and money (hobby).

    The difference with MMOs, of course, is that we have no way to convert the pastime to a hobby. Once you add something that requires players to invest effort it will be decried as elitist. In some cases that is correct but it can be done in ways that do not impact anyone who does not put in the effort. I doubt that will ever be done; the economic answer will always be that it is a poor use of resources to cater to a minor sub-set of users.


Please keep comments on topic and considerate. I reserve the right to moderate stupidity.