Why we DING! – Part 2: Explaining the need

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.

12 thoughts on “Why we DING! – Part 2: Explaining the need

  1. epic.Ben

    I couldn’t agree more, and think that recent MMOs like Rift (which you mentioned) are like fast-food MMOs. Instant gratification, requiring no work, incredibly accessible, and immediately addictive. Then they fatten you, make you feel sick, and you’re left craving foods (games) with real nutrition (substance). You realize that, in contrast to what your fat, mammalian instincts are telling you (MORE DINGS (FAT), MORE SHINIES (FRIES), MORE MORE MORE) – what you really want is less. You want a more wholesome, fulfilling experience that games like EQ gave you. Just FINDING quest-givers in EQ required checking out of game websites, etc. Actually completing quest objectives was often a herculean expert that required real group cooperation. Today we’re trained to click on a dozen quest givers in a few minutes, disregard the quest text, hit “M”, look for yellow circles, run there, spam 1-2-3, return for your DING, and repeat.

    What did you miss in that process? Thought, effort, and real reward. I actually just mused about this on my blog the other day (shameless plug: http://toodamnepic.com/mmos-make-me-pessimistic/). Am I just nostalgic? Maybe. Certainly, some parts of EQ were outright punitive … but they served a process. Death penalty? You’d sacrifice a nut to avoid dying, and in some ways – the game was more fulfilling as a result. Today? You can /face roll in Rift’s dungeons dying over and over, and the result? IMO, it’s a cheaper experience. I think that’s one reason new MMOs are failing left and right (and Rift will be one of them, soon).

    Sitting on your ass every day (RIFT) makes you fat. Training for a marathon (EQ) certainly feels like punishment, but when you’re done with it, for some reason it feels better?

    Just my $.02. I think our craving for dings is analgous with our cravings for fast-food – they’re not going to stop, and we’re less off for it :)

    1. Oz Post author

      Because of my dedication to questing in EQ, I was often looked at strangely, but I had banks full of odd quest items and did many quests that were rarely, if ever, done otherwise. Each time you figured out the right set of text to make the NPC talk, you had your own private awesome moment. Did you know if you say a specific phrase to any EQ1 spectre it will “remember” being alive and talk to you about it? Probably not more than a handful do.

      Working for that win makes it infinately more satisfying and also makes you want another one. You get so many achievements in Rift, to use them as a simple example, that I know several people who have a congratulatory phrase hot keyed so they can just mash it when the spam fills the screen.

  2. Longasc

    MMOs nowadays have too many dings and they ding too fast. I ding this is a bad ding. It is also very primitive progression quest if it’s all about more ding. Ding out.

  3. mbp

    I find myself in a curious position in World of Tanks where I find myself deliberately putting off levelling. Although WoT is not really an mmorpg progressing through the tiers of tanks is akin to levelling and requires you to grind XP. However progressing to a higher level will also put me into harder battles with bigger tanks so having gotten used to being top of the pile in my well kitted out low level tank doing low level battles I will go back to the bottom rung again. Eventually I will get bored I suppose and move up for some fresh scenery.

    I can’t tell whether this is poor design or brilliant design on Wargaming’s part. By making the game fun even at low levels they have removed some of the incentive to level and therefore have reduced the incentive to spend lots of cash in the shop. On the other hand it keeps players like me very happy to the point that I intend to invest some cash anyway even if I don’t need to.

  4. Arieltalia

    I think *some* people need the ding. I came from UO, where there was no ding.

    I feel the ding distracts from the immersion and I wish it would take a long walk off a short pier. When I went back to LotRO a short time ago I was disappointed at the new ding animation.

    Why make it a big deal? Basically we are being trained to be Skinner’s rats and Pavlov’s dogs all in one. And that is why the MMO industry truly sucks right now.

    /endgrump

  5. Dolkar

    Just a different point of view:
    I’m a hard PVPer. The only motivation and satisfaction I get from MMO games is to beat most of the other players, be the first in arena, whatever. For me, leveling is just a must and achievements are nothing if other 1000 people have it too. I don’t need a game with “dings”, I want just the PVP. Thats why I moved from WoW to many of the MMOFPS games.
    The thing that makes me keep playing is variation. I want to try every possible class, every possible build. When a game has only few of these, or if it takes too much effort to level up another class, I leave it quickly. Thats why I was playing on those WoW insta-60,70,80 pure PVP servers. In every game, my goal is to master the build that fits me the most. I don’t want to kill everyone with an overpowered build, but i want to be a deadly encounter with an underpowered class.

  6. Lobstilops

    I don’t necessarily think the ding is really important, I think the time up to a ding has to be enjoyable. If not they we lose all the joy for a ding and it is just becoming a chore.

  7. Curuniel

    Lobstilops, I agree, but there are a lot of players out there who seem to treat their grinding as a chore but still feel compelled to do it!

  8. MMO Tomb

    I agree that the secret behind EverQuest is that your “achievement” meant something. Being level 50 (or 60 in Kunark) meant something. Now every achievement comes too fast and too often that doesn’t feel you’ve achieved anything actually. Finding a penny in your pocket is not as exciting as finding a rare currency in your pocket. Because you can have a lot of pennies too easily and too often which prevents them from being exciting or valuable.

    Gear get swapped easily and too frequently. Levels are achieved too quickly. Then they added the “Achievement” blasphemy which is basically meaningless and stupid. You do some random errands that are irrelevant to the Lore/Theme of the world or your character’s goal. Yet, I blame some people of thinking this is a good feature.

    I concluded my prolonged pondering on the MMORPG delima. A puzzle I’ve been solving for 10 years now. My conclusion was that there should be at least two genres for MMORPGs. One which is all over the market and another which died just before WoW’s release.

  9. Jeremy S.

    It’s a much lower priority on my play than others, from impessions I get.

    It needs to be well balanced, but it can be light as a feather as long as it’s balanced well. It doesn’t need to be as heavy as other features. At least not that kind of balance.

    I like character growth, and dinging is a measure of that. That’s fine. But it certainly isn’t a gambling addiction for me. I’ve played Runes of Magic as my MMO of choice for 2+ years and I’ve still never got to sit at level-cap. The closest I’ve come is right now at 4 levels shy, but the new level cap is coming in two days which will add 5 to that.

    That’s not from a lack of playtime either(although I do have less time these days). I probably could’ve been and maintained level-cap a few months after I first started playing.

    In WoW? Nope. I concentrate on nothing but leveling for too long of play sessions and I start to morph into that junky in front of 3 slot machines pumping quarters in each one, in succession, without ever even looking at the machines.

    Leveling is a small fun puzzle-piece(or I think it should be) along with everything else.

    Grind, as in killing things over and over? Of all the things I’d like to see changed in MMOs, grind is one of the least things that bother me. I’m guessing grind is suffering in direct correlation with the Ding. The achievements, accomplishments, treasure… Everything that you win has increased in rate, so the killing in the persistent world is feeling very sluggish in comparison.

    I actually don’t mind the mechanics of it. I think the way you kill and hunt and go about fighting mobs works very well in MMOs. Perhaps, from game to game, things like mob pathing and so on could be tweaked, but the grind is fine in my book.

  10. Herc Rodan

    Good post Oz.

    I unfortunately don’t have EQ experience to fall back to,
    But from some of the other games I have played (Aion, Perfect World) I think one critical element is the leveling curve. In those games the higher levels were exponentially further apart, so the grind element was frustrating at higher levels, when the next ding was so far away.

    When I’m going on a longer run, helps to have a consistent pace, a set mile mark to compare times and keep the next goal just over the horizon instead a perceived insurmountable distance away.

    Why not have dings paced linearly instead of exponentially. Adjust timing so that level 1-5 is not far off than the pacing of level 45-50, or 99-104. Maybe the impact of the level can have diminishing return, curving off in increases to stats, but still having some effect and providing a paced ding. With a logarithmic curve to the stat increase you could still retain the ding, the sense of achievement when you look at a guild roster and see a visible progress to
    your work, and maybe have no end cap level. Level 50 would be a lot more powerful than 20, close but not as powerful as 80. The difference from 80 to 100 would be minimal, but still a difference.

    For me, my enjoyment is more from the sense of helping someone, so I’m pleased that Rift allows higher level players assist lower ones, and not greatly impact the lower levels experience for quest completion. A ding by proxy if you will, and a sense of the hero element in jumping in and helping another soul in distress, seeing them ding as a result of your efforts.

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