Don’t tell me to smell the roses

Probably one of the most used and abused phrases of 2007, that one.

At its best it’s honest advice, and the words chosen by the voice of experience. At its worst, a political statement and dishonest noise. There’s a little world behind this seemingly harmless phrase, and quite a colorful one too. Is this just the latest weapon of choice in the old and tiresome ‘Casual vs. Hardcore’ debate(*)? Or is there something more behind it and its shining rise to forum stardom?

You will read on. You know you want to.

(*) To call the ‘Casual vs. Hardcore’ debacle a ‘debate’ is like saying the guys in charge of the fryer at Micky Dee’s are ‘Chefs’, but you know where I’m coming from.

The phrase “Stop and smell the roses”, as applied to our contemporary contexts of gaming, is generally and correctly assumed to have originated in response to the all too common and marked powergaming tendencies, which are easy to observe pretty much everywhere.

Although it’s hardly a new entry in the human lexicon, its usage and introduction into gaming is, all things considered, a relatively new phenomenon. The major catalyst for the sudden and seemingly recent popularity of the phrase can be traced to the modern rise of casual gaming, as related to the path which MMO evolution (not the book) took through the years – it’s not surprising for this phrase to have much more presence and traction now than in the times of EQ or UO, for example. The genre has evolved, expanded and transformed itself to grab that delicious bucket of casual gamers that is said to be out there.

The difference between the casual and hardcore gamer is well understood by all, even if it’s sometimes hard to define, so I won’t waste time explaining it here. But we can explain the nature of the phrase and, ultimately, how meaningless it is outside the limited context of forum exchanges. The path is simple, and it might help to visualize it like this:

– Power gamers, due to their very nature, consume content much faster than average, or casual players.
– Many power gamers thus end bored, without anything to do, and decide to ‘take it to the boards’ and be heard, in the vain hope of effecting change.
– Casual gamers feel the need to reply, and quite frankly to state the obvious, and say that power gamers wouldn’t be bored if they didn’t devour content as fast as they do.

That’s the first tactical mistake of casual players, because telling that to a power gamer is essentially the same as telling a monkey not to climb trees if he’s gonna complain when he falls down. Not what the monkey wants to hear and, practically speaking, not something the monkey can do anything with. Climbing trees is in the monkey’s nature. Falling down is an all too common consequence of that, as complaining about it is, in turn. But monkeys don’t climb trees just to see if they won’t fall down. That’s not why they climb trees. So, point #1:

Suggesting changes of nature is one of the fastest ways known to man to derail discussions and not make friends.

Moving on.

– Power gamers, if they feel so inclined, would reply that they’re merely asking for more things to do, since (surprise, surprise) they find the content short. They’re not asking for other avenues of play to be reduced, and some few times they haven’t even asked to be prioritized over others. They’re simply asking for more of what they like.
– The dimmest casual gamers in the group would reply something along the lines of “Go back to (game casuals hate)” or “(Developer) shouldn’t cater to you”. The brightest, almost inevitably, would say “There is content which I’m sure you haven’t tried. If you’re bored, maybe you should give it a go in the meantime.”
– “Like what?”
, Power gamers would reply.
– At this point, the casual gamers normally will recite a long litany of existing content that it’s either fluff, or is generally of interest to casuals only, like seasonal events, long tracks of activity to gain some cosmetic benefit or other, exploring the landscape, and so on.

Second tactical mistake, because -willingly or not- they’re not offering solutions or alternatives, just proselytizing. In simpler terms, if someone asks for (A), don’t offer (B). The fact that you personally like (B) has no incidence whatsoever on other people liking it, or (B) being remotely close to what people were asking for. Specially considering how, in the context of this discussion, (A) and (B) are really apples and oranges. If I’m asking for another raid because I’m done with the ones we have, don’t come up suggesting I should spend three days doing all the irrelevant quests at the Annual Toad Lickin’ & Pig Taggin’ Festival down by the tree. So, point #2:

Not all content is created equally, and different content will inevitably have different value to different people. Failure to recognize this turns discussions political faster than you can say “DKP”.

And so things turn political and ideological, many times with the participants not even meaning to. To wit:

– Power gamers will, logically, state that is not content they’re interested in. Many will also inevitably fail to control themselves and issue several colorful statements of value regarding casual content.
-So casuals would reply, finally, that maybe power gamers should “Stop and smell the roses”, because there’s a lot of content they have missed and because (insert personal experience which at this point is irrelevant to the discussion at hand).

I’ll say this out right: I’m not a power gamer. Not by a long shot. I do have a lot of differences in ideology and opinion regarding that avenue of play. If you had to put me in a group, I’d say that just by circumstances alone I would belong with the casuals. But even so, I find it terribly hard not to sympathize, even if just a little bit, with the power gamers in situations like these. Using ‘smell the roses’ as ideological ammo is just as bad as using ‘carebear’ with the same purpose, however that absolves neither party. So, with that in mind, it’s hard not to relate to the power gamers (on this one, at least) because if first I’m told I should change the way I like to play, and then all I hear as ‘solutions’ or ‘options’ are things that everyone knows full well are considered worthless to one of the viewpoints involved, it becomes pretty clear that the discussion is not about solving anything, but rather seeing one ideological viewpoint demonstrated superior.

Casual as I am, there is a lot of content I personally consider worthless. Things that not only fail to attract me, but also fail to generate any sort of measurable ‘fun’ when I happen to perform them. For example, the aforementioned ‘seasonal content’. For whatever it’s worth, I consider it as content but only intellectually. As in, I know it’s there and some people like it. But most seasonal contents you couldn’t pay me to participate in. It’s just not my thing. It’s pointless to even suggest it to me. So, point #3:

Just because some content exists, doesn’t mean it should be played. To assume all content has the same value to all players is, first, to miss the whole point of ‘avenues of play’ by a country mile. And second, to suggest that people should play content they don’t like just because it’s there and you happen to like it, is nothing but a thinly-veiled attempt to make your own avenue of play morally superior.

“Stop and smell the roses”, by itself, is fine. But when you use it, and you know that when you use it you’re essentially telling people they should play content they don’t like, or adopt a way of playing that feels neither natural, nor fun to them, well. Maybe it’s you the one that should rethink your position, because if the argument you have boils down to only that… it’s not surprising the debate goes on and on and on. You’re not offering a solution. It’s not even an option. You might think you are, but in reality it doesn’t translate to the other side as such. You’re only offering un-fun, just as if the tables would be reversed and power gamers would tell to non-raiders, “Well, look at all the raids you can take part in”. How would you like them apples? What would you tell someone that only offers un-fun, in your appreciation?

“Smelling the roses” only works where there are roses to smell. If people don’t see them as such, or are allergic to them, there won’t be much smellin’ going on. And this is not their fault, no matter who’s being asked to do the smelling – casuals or power gamers. Maybe we need to stop suggesting people should stop and smell the roses, and make sure the garden has as many flowers as possible. Roses are not automatically wonderful, just as the absence of roses isn’t either.

Next time you’re about to say “Stop and smell the roses”, or “Pick up the pace and shape up”, maybe you should consider what you’re really saying, not just how it sounds in your head.

That’s all, folks.

14 thoughts on “Don’t tell me to smell the roses”

  1. I’m going to have to side with the casuals on this one. Experience has shown us that casuals make up the vast majority of players, particularly if they’re even vaguely catered to. Hardcore players, at least the worst of them, are like content consuming machines: they consume content and emit high pitched whining. I understand that they are, often, better game players than casuals, or at least more dedicated in terms of time spent, focus on a single character, etc. However, they are also partially responsible for a large portion of the really poor decisions that developers have made in the past. And that’s not to absolve the developers of those mistakes, but if you perceive that you’ve got the majority of your players saying, “More raids! More high level content!” it’s hard to ignore them.

    I’m not saying, “Stop and smell the roses” is the right thing to say to hardcore people. What I am saying is that, maybe, if they’re bored, they should go do something else. And that’s not intended as a dig or a slight against them; it’s just that the truly hardcore are, in fact, a minority of the game, and they are, generally, leading the charge toward the margins. If there’s balance issues, they start with the hardcore, almost without fail. If there’s problems with exploits, the same. And on and on, with need for more high level content, more “challenging” content, better loot, all pretty much falling at their feet, with devs sympathetic to hardcore complainers enabling them.

    If WoW cut off developing their high end content right now and developed nothing new on that portion of the game for a year, if they made a new expansion and just made it a new 1-60 game, two things would happen: some of the harcore players would leave, perhaps 5% of the player base, and a lot of the folks that were sick of the high-end-keep-up game would return, probably about 10%. Of course, those are just guesses, but I’d be surprised if they were very far off.

    It’s great to want to develop content for everyone, but that’s not possible. There just isn’t enough time and money to cater to both the casual and the hardcore players, particularly that balaincing new hardcore stuff takes way more time than balancing new casual stuff. While telling hardcore players to stop and smell the roses isn’t particularly constructive, neither is what the hardcore players are yelling for.

  2. I’m also not a power gamer, and quite frankly never understood the power gamer mentality. At least, not once it’s repeated. If someone power game their first MMO and realize “hmm… that went awful fast, now I’m bored, not enough content” but continue to repeat the same behavior game after game afer game… sorry but that person is a dumbass and I have zero sympathy. I believe the “Fool me once…” adage should apply to power gamers here.

    Sure, WoW blatantly encourages power gaming. They’ve made no secret of that, especially post-TBC. When I played, I took my time and learned what I could of the world and my class, etc. with the first character. After that – zoom to level cap and start raiding. Even then, I didn’t consider myself a “power gamer” nor do I strictly consider myself a “casual gamer” though I enjoy both raiding and holiday events. Maybe I’m just a “normal gamer” after all?

  3. I used to be a hardcore power gamer but have given it up over time due to real life commitments. As a now mostly casual gamer (with hardcore tendencies) I really feel what the article is saying. There are valid, opinionated choices for both sides. Using your perfectly valid opinions and telling someone else to adopt them is not helpful in the least. Developers have to make hard choices, do I either construct this new raid instance? Or do I make 5 new quest lines? Either way, you have to eventually “cater” to one or the other in TRADITIONAL MMO style play. I emphasize traditional because there are a growing number of non-traditional games on the market, such as EVE Online.

    EVE grants the ability for casual gamers to feel that their small amounts of time are worth something, like contributing toward building a station for their corp, while also allowing hardcore gamers endless content to fight for. I find a close resemblance between the people participating in 0.0 space and the hardcore gamer and those who like mining and the occasional fight to be more closely related to the casual gamer. With a near limitless skill advancement system, it leaves content open for all players and a feeling of advancement no matter what style you play.

    Others, offer FPS play like Planetside, which any type of player can participate and receive the same benefits in. Overall, there is still quite a bit to be revealed I believe, and advancing technologies will allow the market to be kept fresh with new ideas, but only as long as developers are willing to part with traditional style play. Hopefully, we’ll see the end of the EQ and WoW phase in the next few years and this topic won’t be relevant anymore :)

  4. They’re not asking for other avenues of play to be reduced, and some few times they haven’t even asked to be prioritized over others. They’re simply asking for more of what they like.

    Completely fair, but given finite resources, the casual players know that a developer on new hardcore content is a developer who is not working on casual content. Hardcore players devour content, so it would take a majority of the development staff working continuously to satisfy this minority population. And “satisfy” seems unlikely.

    This will not be a problem if the hardcore population generates enough revenue to cover sufficient development for a hardcore population. Is this likely?

    Let’s phrase that differently: casual players subsidize hardcore players. If everyone chewed through content that fast, there would not be enough revenue to support development at the necessary pace to retain players. If someone can hit the level cap in two months, that would mean developing the entire game again every two months to keep up with the rate of content consumption. I don’t see that as a sustainable development pace.

  5. Passing thought: wouldn’t EverQuest be the perfect hardcore game? Beyond the fact that it defined the hardcore MMO mentality, it has about a decade worth of content. It would take months to burn through that at even the most ridiculous pace.

    If no game has enough content for you, start a new level 1 in UO, EQ, or AC. Go nuts.

  6. Five solutions:

    1. Only play games released by mondo-companies (or for the truly hardcore, the mondo-yet-to-come-company) with a gazillion people on their payroll who can crank out content faster than the “South Park Guy” can eat his way through it. As a result, limit the number of games you can play to one, or maybe a handful. Better hope you like it!

    2. Divert existing devs to work on new content while largely ignoring other development fields. Things like balancing, bug fixing, graphics improvements, new play modes, interface enhancements, network protocol streamlining – the things we like to call “polish”. As a result, alienate your casual player base and eliminate game longevity.

    3. Play games with enough timesinks and automated systems for generating content that you couldn’t get through it all in your lifetime. As a result, settle for pretty boring, repetitive gameplay.

    4. Focus on games with very small development buy-in, allowing content to be produced faster than you can chew through it. Text-based MUDs and graphically simple games like Ultima Online is the ticket! As a result, you’ll have to settle for technologically primitive gameplay (though the actual gameplay may be really complex and intriguing).

    5. Play games where the _players generate the darn content_ already! As Cybercat mentioned, EVE Online has near-infinite gameplay. CCP can “generate content” just by making _one new ship_ and seeding the original blueprint into the game – then sit back and watch as the entire universe kicks into action with factions competing to produce the ship fast enough, set up supply lines, fight over systems where the necessary ore is abundant, run agent missions to acquire special components, and so on. Meanwhile, they can work on stuff like integrated voice chat, enhancements to the galaxy map, space exploration features, DX10 support, server hardware and software upgrades, major (free) expansion packs, and so on.

    The whole “smell the roses” vs “gimme more hardcore” debate just seems like missing the point to me. Like a political debate over whether to discount electricity for residential or industrial customers, when the state 100 miles over has a fusion plant.

  7. I disagree that “stopping to smell the roses” is or should be purely associated with casual play. I would associate it more with atypical goals. Ever think there might be a hardcore gamer out there who’s goal is to stop and smell every single rose in the game? Does “hardcore” have to be only defined by “winning” or “getting ahead” in the standard ways (ie gear)?

  8. Julian I think you hit it right on the money. Using the term ‘casuals’ and ‘hardcore’ in examples in your post however, have somehow made a few of you commentators miss your point I think :), thinking that you’re supporting one or the other.

    I hate WoW’s development cycle right now. I think exactly like how Zubon said it – that casual players are subsidizing hardcore players when they choose that kind of content development choices. TBC as far as we know it, would have three content patches before the next expansion : Black Temple, Zul’Aman, and the Sunwell – two out of three of these will never be seen by the vast majority of WoW players.

    I’ve never told anyone to go and smell the roses though. I just focus my anger at my lack of interesting gameplay choices on the developers. When I voice these opinions however, I very often get told to go and smell the roses in so many words, and often by – you guessed it – raiders.

    Anywho, I think it’s pointless to classify players. Considering that I have 2 level 70s, and 7 other 60s (one of each class), I doubt I can be considered a casual player in terms of time spent playing. Not to mention that I’ve both raided and participated in the old crazy rank-based PvP Honor grind in WoW. What am I then?

    My exact complaint isn’t also so much the number of gameplay options available to me. The fact that I’ve played the leveling game 9 times shows that I do not lack ways to make gameplay interesting for myself. It is that Blizzard is saving the best of their content for a tiny subset of their players.

    Raiding should be about access to gear, which only raiders need. Not access to all the parts of the storyline that truly matters. I have reached level 70 and completed nearly all soloable and small-group quests in TBC. Yet I have no idea that Kael’thas not only betrayed the Blood Elves, but also Illidan and is consorting with the Burning Legion directly. Yeah, I got the hints. Only ‘the hints’.

    I will not get to stand on the Frozen Throne, and take screenshots on the coolest place (literally) in all of Azeroth because I refuse to wipe for half a year on all the rubbish that comes before it with 24 other people so that I can step foot on the stupid throne.

    Not having access to so much of the most important content – just sucks. I don’t care about the gear, but I do care about experiencing the story. Games and especially virtual worlds are about telling interesting, interactive stories to me.

    Blizzard promises to fix this some of the lack of interactivity in Wrath of the Lich King. I guess I’ll give them one more chance.

    In the meantime – I’ll focus on the flowers that currently still smell nice in my part of the untended, slowly rotting field, while I watch the gardener focus most his work and effort on the far, far side that most people cannot even see.

  9. P/S To be fair, Blizzard is improving even before Wrath. They’re realizing that a huge proportion of their players want to stick at the 10-man, and aren’t interested to ‘progress’ to 25-man. They’re also introducing more daily quests that is the joy and love of the casual player.

    PP/S Any chance of you turning on full text in your RSS feeds? I promise to still come here and comment when you write something brilliant like this. (sugar coating intentional) I notice you don’t run ads, so shouldn’t impact finances. :P

  10. @Wilz: We do have full text on the feeds, but since we often use the “more” tag in wordress to keep our front page clean – some feed readers take that and cut off the full article. I use the Google Reader and it shows full text for all posts here. Just FYI.

  11. “5. Play games where the _players generate the darn content_ already! ”

    This is something that needs to be done better by all games really, and not in the way you described, at least how i feel about it. It’s one thing to do it like EvE does, where economy and other players “make the fun”, and another to basically allow “modules” to be made by players. Can you imagine how much content would be in a game like WoW if there were a way for the players to add to it? Of course there would need to be oversight, so exploits and such don’t make it in, but even so.

  12. “Of course there would need to be oversight, so exploits and such don’t make it in, but even so.”

    On this, yes, definitely. You need a group, or at the very least 1 (or more) person that can sit between game and user content and sift things. The common counter to this is that it costs money to maintain something like this, and with the margins we have nowadays, and have you seen the price of eggs, etc. So we don’t do it.

    But there is a silver lining to all this, and it’s in the way the industry expands, whether we like it or not or whether we agree with where it’s expanding to or not: I’m old enough to remember (as many here) back in the day when “Customer Support” for a game was basically one oft forgotten 888 number and that was it. Try launching a decent title today or tomorrow without a dedicated CS/TS group and tell me how it goes, and how long it lasts.

    It’s not that dedicated CS/TS suddenly became free. It’s that the industry realized how you can lose (X) dollars by having such a group, or lose (X) plus 100 potential million dollars by not having it. It’s the same with this. Right now we don’t have user content reviewers because (a), only a microscopical minority of the games out there support user content and (b), it costs money. Once (a) starts growing, the proposition for (b) will change, and maybe in 10-15 years from now we’ll be talking about the User Content Groups in dev houses like we now talk about CS and TS. Who knows.

    Despite my pathological allergy to (most) user content, that’s where we’re going.

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