See, it’s been quite a while since I last wrote, but it does help to illustrate at least one element on the importance of The Ding – timeliness. If the ding takes too long, it is worthless or at the very best vague and confusing. Previously I tried to explain where the phrase came from, but this time I’d like to try explaining why it is important, and why we as gamers need the ding to keep us playing.
Go back to interviews with Everquest’s Brad McQuaid any time from 1999 to 2002 and read his responses to questions asking why the game is so wildly popular. It’s obvious from the varying responses that he did not know how he captured the lightning in a bottle, but as a former heavy playtime gamer several games over, I can tell you what I felt it was – Everquest mastered the timing of the ding. While a bit blunt, we, the players, were in a well-constructed maze, and the game was built with expertise, intentional or accidental, to give that cheese just before you gave up and walked away. World of Warcraft, five years later, would take it to the next level, making the mazes shorter, the shocks less severe, the cheese easier to get to, and by doing this of course make it easier to get into the game and then get hooked.
Gamers as a group are people in search of that reward, that ding, that cheese at the end of the maze. It is why so many of us jump into newly released games with all the enthusiasm of a child into a ball pit – we know that we’re going to see lots of dings coming our way, and the old game isn’t paying off like it used to. Many of us will even continue to play the old game at the same time, which doubles our chances to get a ding. Even if we don’t, we all will, at least mentally, compare the payout rate to our previous game. We can’t help it; we’re only human.
Take for example the latest kid on the big MMORPG block: Rift. Rift has achievements for everything you can think of, which are more ding payouts for the player. You get achievements for doing a single quest, many quest chains, quests in an area, killing specific and groups of monsters, even picking shiny things off the ground. And not only are you rewarded with a ding for yourself, the game tells everyone around you and everyone you know that you hit a new milestone, no matter how small. However, once you get to the “end game”, a place Rift’s primary player base (former/disenchanted WoW players) comes from, you begin to come upon a dearth of these rewards. Many folks I’ve played with have left the game, some of them, like me, have even rerolled several characters trying to find a new source of dings, trying to keep the fun alive.
As much as I hate to admit it, EQ’s AA system was a stroke of genius at the time. Basically it gave those people with maxed characters small, incremental boosts for doing what they were already doing. In other words, the EQ developers managed to make us willingly walk back into a maze we already beat and do it again, repeatedly, for small, frequently semi-useless, dings. Some of these would be useful boosts that helped me raid or solo better so I could get dings, or gear, there, thus becoming its own raison d’être, like the snake eating its own tail.
So what does this all mean? Are gamers simply addicts looking for a quick hit for their addiction? Yes, but not in a bad way, and many gamers shy away or actively avoid the easier dings. In defiance of logic, most MMO gamers will avoid games that reward too often. To these gamers, if you do not work at least to a certain level of effort, it does not feel worth it. They want to feel that they have invested time, and with that investment been rewarded. The risk/effort vs. reward ratio is something they are unconsciously working through when they play. It’s interesting to watch, even when the player and the observer are the same person. We want to ding, but we want a good ding, one we can brag about and share with others. If you take a somewhat cynical look at the games that sell well in the past 10-15 years, you can see that they all give those dings in a very similar progression. After all, we all just want to save the world.
One ding at a time.