Virtual materialism

We’ve all heard grumbling here and there about the latest WoW patch’s new high-end loot. The new loot can be obtained much more easily than before the patch, when you had to complete high-end raids to get gear of this caliber. The grumbling generally revolves around the idea that it’s unfair and demoralizing to raiders who obtained similar gear when it was more difficult to do so.

My feeling on this is, so what? The change is not massive, and there are good reasons for it — it will help more people see high-end content before the expansion comes out. But more importantly, there’s more to WoW than gear. What about the experience of learning to work as a team? What about the satisfaction of overcoming a really tough boss fight? What about the aesthetic beauty of seeing a new dungeon? What about meeting new people and making new friends as you play together?

Being overly-focused on gear is simply materialism brought to the virtual world. It’s not a very fulfilling path. I’m not saying gear is bad, or material goods are bad, just that treating them with the proper priority is an important part of having a fulfilling life in a virtual world as well as the physical one.

14 thoughts on “Virtual materialism”

  1. I don’t play wow (especially not the high-end parts), but it still seems kinda unfair for me – wow punishes and rewards players with gear, so it’s pretty understandable why someone should object to the game lowering it’s standards AFTER he has been kicked in the nuts repeatedly for a long time. There is nothing nice or enjoyable in teamplay when you are failing again and again. And again.

    And I’m not talking about one or two attempts here.

  2. “But more importantly, there’s more to WoW than gear.”

    Sadly that statement is incorrect. The reasons you list below are all ‘one time’ stuff, while the grind for character improvement (aka gear) continues through multiple runs. If you remove the gear carrot from WoW, people would not stick around for long after hitting 70, a process that has been made laughable quick now.

  3. Ikew hit the nail on the head.

    It’s easy to say, “Don’t be so gear-focused,” but that’s exactly what the design in World of Warcraft has trained us to be. By providing fixed, material rewards for virtually every activity in the game and then promoting the gear chase as an activity in and of itself, they’ve trained a whole massive crop of MMOGers to care about their new shinies and not much else.

  4. You’ll pardon me, but anything to discourage high end raiders is fine by me. I think anything over a 10-man is way, way overtuned to begin with, and I’d rather they didn’t commit more resources to making more 25 man raids.

    But then again, I’d prefer it if gear mattered maybe a quarter as much in WoW as it does now.

  5. Not really on subject, but relating to gear. I find it funny how so many people bicker about the “welfare epics” that PvP gives out, when a.) it might get you through Kara, but it’s not exactly PvE gear and b.) PvP shouldn’t be about gear in the first place. Even though it really doesn’t eliminate gear superiority in PvP, I think it at least evens the ground moreso than back in the day of Grand Marshals owning up WSG.

    People like to feel superior. I think this can link up with the PvE aspect of gear. They feel like they’ve worked for their gear, why should someone else get something easily, especially those idiot players that probably would never get very far in raids anyways?

    I guess some might argue that this is making incompetence harder to spot. I mean, idiots can have gear in WoW now. How are you gonna spot the turd? It also might be teaching uninformed players that gear in the necessity to progress in raids, when it’s only half the issue.

    What point am I trying to get at? I have no clue, but I’ll post this anyways…

  6. I think that the hardcore raiders that are unhappy about this change need to take a long, hard look at the sort of game they are wiling to play and the kinds of rewards they expect to get from that game. It’s not that the new epics are too easy to get, but that raiders have been willing to accept a badly flawed raid game for years. The essential nature of trash->boss->loot hasn’t changed since EverQuest. Blizzard is very intelligently taking a (IMHO, long overdue) look at how they hand out gear and structure the rewards of WoW’s endgame, and that’s all to the good.

  7. @Ikew: I understand where the feelings of unfairness come from, but it’s already known there’s going to be a gear reset when the next expansion comes out, just as there was with Burning Crusade. Do you take issue with that?… this patch is effectively making that transition a little more gradual instead of coming all at once. No gear is ever permanently elite, since the barrier to entry has always lowered over time. Given that, it’s odd to me (though not particularly surprising) that some people are reacting so strongly.

    @Cameron: It’s true Blizzard encourages the gear chase, but I see that as a symptom of player attitudes as much as it is a cause. There’s nothing forcing players to play the game a certain way, as evidenced by the wide variety of playing styles and all the people who opt to spend their time in, say, Second Life. Yet many people choose to hop on the gear treadmill, and Blizzard happily complies.

    An incentive system that rewards you with fancy gear is only effective to the extent that you actually value fancy gear. I’m suggesting that the community should, on the whole, value it less than they do.

  8. James:

    “It’s true Blizzard encourages the gear chase, but I see that as a symptom of player attitudes as much as it is a cause.”

    I’m gonna have to disagree on this one a little, James. It’s easy from Theoryville that players should value all areas of the game equally, because all these parts are what makes “the game”(tm). But on this one I’m not as willing to chalk up the gear addiction to players, or at least not as much as you do. If there is one thing all players generally do is to follow their own path(s) of less resistance to the enjoyment of the game. Any player. Any game. This is not bad, it’s naturaly. You, me, everyone does it and it’s codified in how we play the game.

    November 23rd 2004, WoW goes live. On that day there was no player attitudes about anything at all. It was a blank slate. It was the day in which the players began to consume and accept the ways of play the game was serving to them, and it was from that day on that the game has been mainly rewarding them with gear. The players simply adapted to that, because as a gear-centric game /that/ is what facilitates the path(s) of least resistance.

    There was no player attitudes to gear on launch day. But the game’s attitudes to gear were already there. On this one I don’t think it was the players. It was the game from the get go.

    “An incentive system that rewards you with fancy gear is only effective to the extent that you actually value fancy gear. I’m suggesting that the community should, on the whole, value it less than they do.”

    Again, I don’t disagree with this in principle, but when the rubber meets the road – and with notable exceptions – the players can only play the game as it’s delivered to them. If players value fancy gear this is a symptom that, quite possibly due to the way the game has been made, fancy gear /does/ have value to them.

    We’re quickly entering pseudo-economics here and it’s a terrain that I hate. But maybe we should think that this ‘gear value’ is not irrelevant, nor imaginary, nor an illusion of gear-addicted players, but rather a direct consequence of a gear-centric game. In which gear is the chosen element to facilitate players to get into their paths of least resistance to enjoyment. Maybe this isn’t an artificial market. Maybe the gear has value because the players really value it.

  9. ^^ The above post is what happens when you type with a 2-year old on your lap. Please disregard the typos, I can’t seem to edit it at the moment.

  10. “November 23rd 2004, WoW goes live. On that day there was no player attitudes about anything at all. It was a blank slate.”

    Not at all — there was already a large MMO community from UO, EQ, and Lineage. I think a gear focus was already established there (though correct me if I’m wrong).

    I think one of the reasons the designs of our dominant MMO’s are so similar (including being gear-focused) is because consumers have repeatedly demonstrated that they like this model enough to make it profitable for developers to use it.

    I’m not trying to say that the developers are powerless here, either. I’m just saying that both developers and consumers contribute to this cycle.

    “If players value fancy gear this is a symptom that, quite possibly due to the way the game has been made, fancy gear /does/ have value to them.”

    I think we are in agreement here. I’m not making a black-and-white statement that gear doesn’t/shouldn’t matter at all. I’m just saying that it seems to matter too much to some people. You know the wife from American Beauty — for her, it was all about having the perfect house, the perfect lawn, the perfect car, the perfect image as symbols of accomplishment and worth. I’m just saying that when someone translates that perspective to their Tier 6 armor set, they’re not doing themselves any favors.

  11. “Not at all — there was already a large MMO community from UO, EQ, and Lineage. I think a gear focus was already established there (though correct me if I’m wrong).”

    No, no, you’re not wrong. Certainly the concept of a gear-centric game predates WoW. But what I’m saying that nobody -other than beta testers- knew 100% what to expect from WoW at launch date. That day it was blank slate. Could’ve been any type of game (within reason and parameters). But the gear addiction from players was not present that day. It’s something the game proposes, not the players.

    “I’m not trying to say that the developers are powerless here, either. I’m just saying that both developers and consumers contribute to this cycle.”

    Yes, agreed. But I guess I’m saying “Well, why /shouldn’t/ the customers contribute to it?”. After all, if you’re playing a gear-centric game, well, get gear. It’s fine to focus on gear on a gear-centric game. You’re using the best avenue the game offers to maximize your enjoyment (and ‘enjoyment’ is a huge can of worms that’s not worth to open. You know what I’m trying to say, no need to bring up Bartle :) )

    To me – and I don’t expect anyone to agree really – saying that WoW players shouldn’t care so much about gear is borderline, so borderline, to saying Unreal Tournament players shouldn’t care so much about kills. I know it’s an extreme example but it illustrates the point.

    We should be asking ourselves why we see so many gear-centric games in the first place, instead of asking ourselves why players in gear-centric games value gear so much. I think it’s perfectly natural, expected and even healthy that players like and want gear in gear games.

    “I’m just saying that it seems to matter too much to some people. You know the wife from American Beauty — for her, it was all about having the perfect house, the perfect lawn, the perfect car, the perfect image as symbols of accomplishment and worth.”

    Oh, most definitely. Not just with gear, that is extensive to any other element of any other game that’s large/long enough. Some players center /themselves/ around the game and while I don’t personally think that’s very healthy, there’s not much else one can do about it from the outside.

    If the issue is players using game elements to distinguish themselves from other players, and even putting other players down because of having/not having these elements, well that’s a human trait that’s not going away anytime soon. If it’s not gears, it’s gold, or levels, or achievements, or titles or played time or (x) where (x) equals the number of game elements your players can easily measure.

    As long as your game allows players to distinguish themselves from other players, in any shape or form, you will have players doing exactly that, for good or bad. This is unavoidable as long as we’re designing games for humans to play. This isn’t an online-exclusive phenomenon either. Not by a long shot. Batting averages? Career touchdowns? ELO ratings? Grand Slam wins?

    The kicker is that you pretty much need to have those things. I’d submit that a game which does not let its players differentiate themselves from other players, in any shape or form, is essentially just asking for it. It’d be a fun design exercise though. ;)

  12. “To me – and I don’t expect anyone to agree really – saying that WoW players shouldn’t care so much about gear is borderline, so borderline, to saying Unreal Tournament players shouldn’t care so much about kills. I know it’s an extreme example but it illustrates the point.”

    Ya, I hear what you’re saying. And I agree with it to an extent, but I do agree that particular analogy is extreme.

    Being focused on gear — that’s cool! Having it be your main goal when you log in every day? Sure! Getting really excited when you get a great drop? Right there with ya. Feeling kinda special when 99.9% of the players you see don’t have the shiny new Tier 6 weapon you got? Who wouldn’t!

    But cursing on vent about losing a roll you wanted? Or (the example in the original post) getting bent out of shape because your shiny Tier 6 weapon is becoming less elite and rare than it used to be? People are entitled to feel whatever they want, but if they’re so attached to their gear that they’re getting really upset about these things, I think they’re doing themselves a disservice. That’s all I’m saying.

    Part of the context to remember here is that Blizzard is doing a complete gear reset every expansion. It’s not as if the 2.4 badge loot is a massive policy change form “no gear inflation” to “gear inflation.” I think high-end raiders are well aware of this.

    I think my original post was pretty vague. :-/

  13. Nah, that’s fine. I agree. Some people do get bent out of shape for the smallest of things sometimes. Makes one wonder why they can’t simply “Oh well” and move on.

    Now, as the devil’s advocate and just to represent the side of these people a little bit, I think /the way/ in which gear is made centric in WoW does have a lot to do with the problem of why they can’t simply say “Oh well”.

    It’s one thing to lose a roll, and another quite different is to go clear an instance for the umpteenth time, finally having what you were looking for drop… and /then/ losing a roll. I don’t say they should be cursing, but I can empathize with why they do it.

    I think (I hope) we are seeing the last days of random loot tables at the end of instances/dungeons worth doing and instead have the system replaced with one of tokens that do drop no matter what, and a number of these tokens are exchanged at the appropiate NPC for whatever gear you want (WoW has been moving into this since Zul’Gurub pretty much, although it hasn’t eliminated the random item drop completely).

    It is the same as with the other example you point out of bitching about gear resets. No one in their right minds would bitch about an upcoming gear reset if they know that at the other side of the reset there will be better items. But the bitching comes from an examination of all the work/time/energy/luck it took to acquire the items that will soon be rendered unusable. So it’s not about the gear, it’s about all the hoops we had to go through to get it.

    And yes, yes, designers do have a vested interest in having their players play the game for as long as possible, particularly in a subscription game, but there’s also such a thing as being a jackass. Yes, you /are/ pissing your players off when you put in too much randomness in drops, too much work to do and time to spend to get rank rewards… and then turn around and reset it all.

    That’s what ticks people off. If the game was more forgiving in attaining its gear, you wouldn’t see so many players taking their complaints to the extremes they do… but then again, how much easier is ‘easier’, and how would this vibe with the idea of ‘being hardcore’ that many players seem to have. For some reason many players seem to think that unless you don’t put up with layer upon layer of lengthy and cumbersome complication, you are not ‘hardcore’. Your not one of the faithful.

    And that ain’t going anytime soon either, unfortunately.

  14. I do wonder what other approaches Blizzard could take besides occasional gear resets, though. I am not keen on it either, but I think I understand why they do it — if they didn’t, tuning expansion content for hardcore raiders would widen the casual/hardcore gap, and tuning expansion content for casuals would result in uber-geared players flying through the expansion content in no time. Both of those sound even yuckier than a gear reset.

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