Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The Time-Saver Paradox

I'd like to discuss something ... I'd very much like to hear what others have to say about this. It seems to me that just as our lives get easier by having so many time-saving devices, like faster cars, dish-washers, and faster pcs, we feel like we have less and less time to do things, and we enjoy the simple pleasures of life less than our farmer ancestors who churned their own butter, and made their own bread, and ice cream, though sometimes we still do that.

Anyways, I won't delve into the real world too much, I just wanted to give an example. So in MMO design, this paradox holds true still in many many ways. If you give people something that's easy to do, say for example WAR's battlegrounds, they enjoy it less than say something that's hard to do, like finding the action on your own. Allow me to explain. In this game called WAR you click a queue button. You can do this from anywhere in the world. Blizzard had battlegrounds you could queue from any major city, well, WAR has it even easier. Just queue up for them in your UI. Its almost a separate little game/world you can sign up for. And when your turn comes, you are whisked away to go fight.

Thing is, this kind of thing has a price. It breaks immersion, it breaks the world feel a little more every time someone does it. Immersion aside, even though these things are incredibly fun, they eventually get boring and become grinds, unless there's actually a lot of strategy going, instead of all out assault. But my point is, you don't want your whole subscription experience to devolve into battlegrounds, you just want them for occasional pvp challenge usually.

So what's the solution? Frankly there are lots but I dunno if everyone would agree to any of them so the developers gotta pick. One solution is keep the battlegrounds accessible only as an extra game that you can only access via an external to the game UI. Or another option is to go sit in the actual area of the game where the matches are supposed to be and wait until your turn (and 10 or more other people) comes up. But getting whisked away to go fight in the battleground when you are already fighting in a dungeon, or doing a quest with friends or "gasp" fighting pvp in the persistent world, is just ridiculous. It needs to stop. (IMO, yours may vary)

Convenience cheapens experiences. It make them faster and easier and more accessible too though. So where do you put the slider bar? If you put it towards accessibility tons of people will east your cheap candy and have fun and then get sick. If you put it too far towards immersive experiences you have major difficult times finding exciting action in the world, and usually people just assume there isn't that much going on unless they belong to some organization that has eyes and ears everywhere and knows there's an Undercity raid or whatever. Lord of the Rings (Ettenmoors) and WoW tried to solve this by having an area (Wintergrasp?) where stuff is always (well, almost) going on. You can just head there and brawl and leave when you are done. This involves keeps and some strategy but mostly zerg pvp which is intense.. and becomes quickly a grind where the individual doesn't matter as much as the average capability coefficient of a large group of individuals multiplied by their leader's intelligence and lastly their raw numbers.

Some battlegrounds actually have had solutions to this. Alterac Valley originally worked well but later was broken and became a place where half the population sat afk in the tunnel at the beginning slowly getting rep, and the other half charged straight past the enemy to kill their keep lord, since the rewards for actually fighting the opposing team were insignificant compared with killing the keep Lord, and fighting the enemy just made the whole thing take longer, and win or lose you still get something. Buuuuuut an army versus another army, mixed with npcs and pcs has a certain fun appeal to it, and taking strategic positions is kinda neat. Arathi Basin probably does the best job out of the WoW battleground ideas though of being fun but requiring some intelligence and allowing small groups to make a big difference against the zerg, since the small groups can keep the zerg from winning by re-pinning down resources locations after the zerg leaves. Some combination of the two might be best. I dunno. I personally think pvp development is still in its infancy, and until we get better AI's, pve is too.

What do you folks think? What would make the best all-purpose battleground and what would make the best specialized pvp experience?


Pete said...

Back in Days of Yore when DAoC was the place to be for RvR combat, you used to have to take a teleport to the battlefield. It went off once every 10 minutes or so.

We complained about that, but looking back I see it was a great system, because it created a sense of community... people would form battlegroups or just chat while waiting on the pad.

I agree that with (almost) every new convenience, a bit of 'heart' goes out of MMOs.

And hey, when did you change the banner? It looks *great!*. I must confess I read most of your posts in my RSS reader and only click through when I want to comment.

Anton said...

Thanks, Pete! I put a lot of time into that thing...Not just in the drawing of it, but also a few drafts nailing down the style I wanted, and each and every character or character-classed representation has a whole description and game mechanics at least in some stage of development already.

As I introduce all the characters, you'll start to know how they all work.

Anton said...

I didn't like battlegrounds in WoW...Too hectic. I'd rather have a chance to cooperate and interact with my team, but it always seemed to be a big brawl with a few people here and there who knew what they were doing. I think slowing the battles down by somehow adding pauses where each side was able to stop a moment and plan their next move before continuing might give it more of the fun that was present in 5-man dungeons.

I like open-world PvP...I was on a PvE server, but the few PvP encounters I managed to get into were always interesting, because it gave us the chance to try to figure out a way around the enemy or perhaps confront them.

In the Persistent World Arelith, Neverwinter Nights, there's a DM moderated rule that all pvp must be role-played first, before any combat can take place. I have yet to have a PvP encounter, but knowing I may have some thrilling duel or even a group versus group battle in the future is thrilling.

Tesh said...

I'm not too bothered by whisking from place to place in a fantasy game where death means little and magic is common. The bigger concern is, as you note, when said whisking interrupts other activities. That sounds more like user error (poor planning) to me, though. Still, it would be nice to flag yourself as "in queue, but don't interrupt".