Overthinking

We have several commenters on the last post citing the problem as “overthinking”: optimization is sort of prisoners’ dilemma, in which optimization (defection) takes the fun out of the game, but if you don’t optimize (cooperate), you’ll be excluded from some significant portion of the game/community. By this logic, everyone would be happier playing with each other and not worrying about optimization, but once someone brings a gun to the knife fight, you have to too. There is a tension here.

On the one hand, I am very much on the record as being against games that use big numbers on monsters instead of an interesting challenge. You only need optimized characters if the encounter is tuned to need optimized characters, and this optimization usually involves lots of grinding and hey this kind of thing is why I am on MMO hiatus. One part of the tension is whether the game itself actually calls for optimization, or at least accessing some significant portion of the content does, at which point non-optimizers are self-excluding by that decision. They are not playing the same game as everyone else, and if they complain about not being invited to groups that would wipe because they are there, well, it’s a DPS check boss, bring the DPS or stay home.

On the other hand, I am very much with the view of playing with friends for fun. That’s kind of why we’re here, or should be, because “achievement” in the MMO sense is mostly a false sense of achievement. At that point, though, what game you’re playing is mostly irrelevant as long as it does not get in the way of fun, which most MMOs do with level differences and several other things, so you would be much happier playing something else with your friends. If the fun is playing with your friends, and you are bringing the friends, the game itself is not carrying much of the weight here. It’s just an excuse to be in a chat room together.

On the gripping hand, there is non-optimization and then there is just being lousy. You don’t need hardcore theorycraft to see that some people are just really bad at really easy games, going beyond “I don’t care about optimization” to “I don’t care.” The tank who won’t use a shield, the guy who is using gear from 20 levels ago, the folks who like to see big numbers and why are you whining about group mechanics: there are degrees of sub-optimal, and once you’re on that slope, internet arguments will typically deliver you into the hands of people who show up to raid without any potions. As a reasonable human, you can probably strike a balance, but get 5 or more random humans on the internet, and how likely are you to strike a reasonable mean between “you must have this gearscore to come” and “complaining about the naked tank is just rude.” (I’ve played with people who never trained the best abilities for their classes because it went against their “character concepts,” which is fine if you warn people at the start that you are intentionally sub-optimal.) You and your friends may have a reasonable mean within your group, but then we are back to your bringing your own friends and so why would it matter what anyone else thinks if you are not going to be grouping with them?

: Zubon

Ethic, I can still get annoyed remembering the */Radiation Controller who joined us on the Sewer Trial and mocked the notion that she should have taken any of the Radiation toggles. I was checking builds and ready to boot people for a month after that.

12 thoughts on “Overthinking”

  1. “You only need optimized characters if the encounter is tuned to need optimized characters”

    True, but of course a game doesn’t have to NEED optimized characters to develop a society that DEMANDS optimized characters. Even if optimization only means the difference between succeeding easily and succeeding QUICKLY and easily, chances are, people will demand optimized characters.

    1. I’ll agree with this right here. WoW, even with the higher difficulty of Cata heroics and and such, don’t require you to be optimized to complete them. The problem is the playerbase that demands it.

      Not a Cata example, but during WOTLK I was in a raid guild progressing through ICC. Without optimized gear and specs, we would have bombed not long after the airship battle. But thanks to the above, and those lovely buffs, we got all the way to the Lich King. Never beat him, but got there. Mind you, all my raid members were great people, but we as a group (myself included) were not performing at a level that would have let us get that far on our own merit. That’s where optimization came in to cover our mistakes.

  2. I blame the tank-healer-dps triad for all these problems. It leads to too much reliance on a “weakest link” model of difficulty, where one bad player can easily negate four good players and cause failure. This, predictably, leads to drama, and checking specs, and caring about how good other people are when you should be having fun.

    Co-op 1st/3rd person shooters are almost always classless, and in classless co-op the group is the sum of its parts. The worst player in the group isn’t a big help, but they are actually helping rather than hindering their group.

    Basically, if your group is four 6’s and one 1, and you’re in a triad game, your group is hosed. If you’re in a classless game, that same group is entirely adequate — it’s just as good as a group of five 5’s.

    1. Nailed it. The inherent flaw lies within the “trinity” class design structure imo.

      This was a well written and interesting follow up article. I enjoyed it and the previous one quite a bit, as well as the comments that followed.

      I have to say though, I am firmly on-side with Bhagpuss on this topic in general… play the game the way that gives you entertainment and worry less about what other folks may or may not be doing.

    2. Agreed. Much of the stress of optimization and being nosy about how another chooses to play stems from challenges that negatively affect the group due to the actions of one person. If a more skilled or better optimized player can fill in the gaps, it is easier to accept non optimized players who may only be able to negatively affect themselves, and/or provide a small but still valuable contribution to the group.

      One thing I haven’t seen many MMOs successfully do yet is successfully matchmake players with similar attitudes / playstyles / abilities together. It may be a bit of a pipe dream, since there so many varying degrees of different, so we might be better off with a game that doesn’t punitively punish your character for what someone else chooses to do.

    3. Absolutely. The trinity design relies on all parts of the trinity being equal.

      If your tank is no good (or in today’s gaming world, completely decked out), you fail. If your healer is no good, you fail, etc. One weak link and there goes your fun.

      My favorite game is still UO because it wasn’t all about this leveling and gear crap.

  3. Well put, Zubon. :) I have written about the exact same thing not too long ago, in my post on “Good is good enough. Or: a case for pioneering” (in case you’re interested in having a look). the whole optimization pressure in WoW raidguilds has imo spoiled a lot of fun for a great many players and for absolutely no reason. I really dislike how the ethics of working life (competition and over-achiever mindset) are brought into MMOs by s-o-m-e people…..trust somebody to always optimize the fun out of the game.

    And I wouldn’t even mind it, if as you said too this would not affect others who do not care for it (or need it). but it always does. I did pretty well on steering clear of this myself in WoW, but a lot depends on the guild (and you keep getting it in PuGs).

  4. When one spec line or one talent tree is obviously mathematically superior to another you are playing a flawed game. Illusionary choice is no choice at all. Don’t blame players for falling into traps set by the designers of the world they walk through. Designers will work to create a seeming of choice when there is in point of fact none. A lazy alternative to true choice.

    To be more specific (and I hope more clear), options chosen for “RP” reasons should be pretty close to the mathematically best options, or they should not be in the game to begin with. Only in a poorly designed game will players be forced to choose between what they would like to be and what is effective.

  5. Tricky line isn’t it, between non-optimised and lousy; I try and avoid build-mocking as it’s generally mean-spirited, petty and all too often based on a skim-read forum post saying ‘class X must always take ability Y!’ rather than actual knowledge of a class… but then you get into a mid/late game Task Force with a Stone/ tanker with one primary power, and three complete travel power pools…

  6. There’s a vast difference between thinking and overthinking. Only a saint or a masochist would want to play with people who neither know nor care about the basics of their class or the requirements of the encounter. The latter have always existed and the barbarian who insists on tanking in nothing but his kilt “because I like how it looks” was always going to find it hard to get groups once the laughter stopped.

    In my opinion what a group needs above anything are people who are able to think about what the task at hand is while they are undertaking it. They know the role of the class they are playing and they know what’s in that classes bag of tools.

    Once the players have demonstrated that basic grasp of the structure of the game they’ve chosen to play, good game design should allow the group to decide which of those tools they use against each encounter. Thinking about what to do as you progress through a dungeon is most of the fun, or it is for me. I want to be prepared but I don’t want to have to study for a test.

    This is pushing against an open door, though. The trend in MMO design, thankfully, does seem to be moving that way.

  7. Optimisation isn’t always better if you look at individual characters; I have played in teams with some characters being quite optimized, but the team performance sucked – simply because these optimized player’s egos were perhaps a bit too big and they were really lousy as team players. A less optimal player but that could work and adapt to a team they played in would have been much better.

    Sometimes there is a Crazy Eddie in the team; they could potentially be on to something, but unless they can communicate that with the rest of the team it will fall likely fall into the “lousy” category no matter what.

  8. I think its best to expect great performance, abide the normal, and punish the stupid. A great player with an average character can still be worth it, but till somebody finds a mechanic different from the trinity we’ll see that dependency in mmos. Going with it for the sake of entertainment is all we have left. I’d rather that when compared to stressing over the details.

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