Last week’s comments on the NA Silver League explained the problem of server mismatch rather briefly. Let’s explore that at some length using boxing weight classes as a metaphor. TLDR: the week’s WvW matchup is only competitive if at least two servers are in the same weight class with no one from a higher weight class, so most weeks will not have competitive matchups for most servers. Continue reading
One thing Disney does really well is queuing. The theme parks manage lines well and almost all have a “pre-ride experience,” something to do/see while waiting. For example, if you are waiting for The Little Mermaid ride, the line winds through a structure that looks like a rocky cove, children are encouraged to point out items for digital crabs to take to Scuttle, and later Scuttle is holding court with an extended routine about the items crabs are bringing him. The Haunted Mansion has a graveyard with humorous epitaphs, an area to take pictures with some sculptures, interactive musical and water-shooting mausoleums, cast members in-character as household staff of the doomed, and then several tiers of queues as there is an outside line, a room where riders are collected, a next room where the walls grow (copied from Disneyland, where an elevator was needed for space reasons, I am told), and then a final queue before the actual ride. You are still waiting, but it feels like there is something to do, and when the lines are very short it sometimes feels like you are missing something if you skip that content.
Disney is also starting to use a Fastpass system whereby you can schedule a time to come back and skip towards the front of the line. You are queuing virtually and can do other things, which moderates the lines at the most popular attractions.
Across town, Universal has some pre-ride experiences, but is instead trying to monetize their lines. They have an express pass system, whereby you can pay more to skip to the front of lines at popular attractions. The marketing for this is delicate, as they are explicitly advertising long lines as a reason to give them more money. As an MMO player, you are familiar with “pay us to skip the built-in hassles.” Of course, that same marketing encourages everyone to think of the park as having long lines, annoys the people paying the normal amount because of P2Win, and then they cannot even celebrate the express passes as being popular because skipping to the front just becomes another line if too many people are paying for the privilege.
There is a certain class of fan that treats a day at the park like a game. Most time on rides and least time in line wins. With the addition of FastPass, the strategy has become even more Serious Business.
— TV Tropes on Disney Theme Parks
In one of KTR’s great missed connections, I am at Disney right now. Here, as in your game’s forums, you can take advantage of the people who very seriously study your form of entertainment.
Most of our readers are not serious theorycrafters who believe others are borderline griefers if they are intentionally being less than maximally efficient. Those theorycrafters, however, are really useful to the rest of us because they find the efficiencies, and that knowledge can spread freely. You need not be maximally efficient to learn how you can do what you already do better with almost no effort.
Enter tourings plans. People have already figured out which days at the park are the busiest and what order to ride rides to minimize your time waiting in line. You do not need to take the maximally efficient route to knock an hour or more off your waiting time, which is a good thing both for you and for the people who would be standing behind you in those lines.
Bonus note 1: in the off-season, all lines are shorter, so I have stood in perhaps an hour of lines over two days. Bonus note 2: if you are relatively sedentary, as gamers often are, practice walking and being on your feet for hours. After two not-full days at the parks, we have one member of our party who wants a day off. That leads to bonus note 3: schedule a day off amidst a multi-park trip, preferably Saturday.
Economists classify goods on a public-private spectrum based on the extent to which they are rivalrous and exclusive. Exclusivity is based on how easily one can be prevented from enjoying a good, and rivalry is based on whether my enjoyment of the good prevents you from enjoying it. National defense is a classic public good: any number of citizens can benefit from it at once, and there is no way to keep someone from enjoying the benefits. Food is a classic private good: we cannot both eat the same bite of food, and there are a variety of ways for me to keep you from eating my food.
Different MMOs place their mobs at different points on the public-private spectrum. In the early days, mobs tended to be rivalrous but not exclusive: whoever got the last hit got the prize, no matter who dealt the most damage, tanked, etc. The reigning solution to the problem was tapping so that you could claim property rights on an enemy, but claiming a camp was a matter of social convention rather than game mechanics. If you tapped the mobs out from under someone, they were yours. Instanced enemies are exclusive. Guild Wars 2 took the unusual step of making mobs mostly non-rivalrous: until the enemy runs out of hp, we can all get all the benefit from it. There is still some rivalrousness in the race to tag enemies or get to the event boss before it falls, but everyone in the fight shares in the fight. [Update: commenters have noted that other MMOs have followed suit to varying extents.]
A friend in college had an unusual day in dance class: “run slowly,” his instructor said. He realized that, while he could run, he knew it as a single activity and had great trouble analyzing it to a series of individual steps and motions. He did it unthinkingly. Programmers and industrial/organizational psychologists will be familiar with the epiphany that writing an explicit process or algorithm is really rather difficult.
I think of this every time I see a routine where someone has clearly learned the individual motions and trained him/herself to perform them forward and backwards or in unexpected combinations. Contrarily reference celebrity judges on TV talent shows, some of whom are exceedingly talented performers with almost no ability to articulate why or how, as opposed to say Ben Folds and his self-consciously technical analysis on The Sing Off.
Which brings me to the question of when games train you to do something and then punish you for doing it. Do we like that? On the one hand, it creates interesting content with unusual mechanics like killing by healing or requiring you not to DPS too quickly. On the other hand, it seems perverse and just plain mean to reward something throughout the game then punish you for following that training. On the gripping hand, that seems like taking the “game as learning” experience to its highest level, where you not only know the techniques but know when not to use them and when and why to swap parts in and out.
I want to go with that as the final answer, but not everyone wants to get that deeply into their gaming, and it is still the case that you can almost always look up when you need to change tactics rather than learning something. That does not make the advanced learning a bad idea for the intended audience, but it may make it mostly pointless given the actual audience. If I could get a fourth hand, I might note that many games already design a lot of content for the top 5%, and the rest of the playerbase can participate in the intended spirit if it feels up to it.
There are two standard “complete” points for a single-player game: beat the final boss and 100% completion. Steam achievements and similar systems usually mark both of those endpoints. There is one achievement for each, along with at least a half-dozen achievements for each aspect of the game you might take to 100%. These collective 100% achievements are what we call meta-achievements: the achievement for gaining achievements, in this case all the other ones. MMOs are fond of having many achievements that build to meta-achievements for each dungeon, special event, etc.
Guild Wars 2 has moved to setting meta-achievements below 100% without a 100% completion achievement. As mentioned, I think that is a great idea, particularly when the achievements are scattered across different types of content. You encourage diverse play without making someone feel “forced” to do everything to get the shiny prize. This is especially true for events and new content, because sometimes the new content does not work as intended or is radically polarizing, and you should not encourage people to play your most painful content. Team Fortress 2 learned this lesson with its class updates, originally going with “complete all the achievements to get the meta-achievements” and tying new equipment to those meta-achievements, which led to radically aberrant gameplay; class meta-achievements are now done with about half the achievements.
I think I still want 100% completion for single-player games. Those are for completionists, not everyone, although I want no one-way doors on that path. For my MMOs, I like having a bar below “do everything” because I hate that night where you make 20 attempts in a row because the event is going away tomorrow (or worse: time-limited, attempt-limited, non-tradable, random drop collection achievements).
The Queen’s Jubilee does this somewhat differently, and I will address it in a separate post.
Rumors of my demise are somewhat exaggerated. If my fellow ratters and our dear readership don’t mind too much, I’d like to do just a bit of shameless product placement here. If anyone is interested in doing some fiction reading, please check out my new book – “The Children Of Mars“.
It’s not very toxic, so I hope you fancy giving it a shot and doubly hoping you end up liking it. Gaming and general slaying of rats may now resume in an orderly fashion.
I approve of the way the Guild Wars 2 Living Story achievements incentivize experiencing content. While a few of the mini-game achievements reward aberrant behavior, on the whole the achievements do a good job of directing people towards content, rewarding multiple styles of play, using new content to feature old content rather than making it superfluous, rewarding both exploration and completionism, and not encouraging unhealthy completionism.
The recent talk of the internet is a series of reminders that humans are still social primates, a species known for pack behavior and escalating aggression against outsiders. The internet gives you a broader range of outsiders to reach and the digital equivalents of poo and punches to throw.
If you follow the links in some recent collections of stories about incidents, you will find an indie developer driven from the market, death threats for changing reload times in FPSes or advocating cosmetic changes to currency, and add rape threats if the target in question is female. Okay, that last one is slightly unfair: add immediate rape threats if the target in question is female, add rape threats against the men too if it goes on long enough. (“Long enough” can have very short values online.) Continue reading
There’s a problem with MMOs not valuing adaptability in general – WoW’s raids tend to be designed around characters that are optimised to do one thing well, and the whole ethos of the game and its competitors/imitators has been to push players towards making characters that are one trick ponies that perform that one trick very well. These players feel somewhat cheated if the game then throws them a curveball and that trick that has served them so well up until now doesn’t work. You would need a game where every fight is different right from level 1 to train players into expecting to have to vary their tactics. WoW doesn’t EVER do that – high level dungeons and raids tend to have a gimmick or a dance, but nothing that fundamentally requires players to vary how they play.
This is a good insight. You are trained to play a genre in a specific way. If the vast majority of North American MMO players have been trained to have deeply specialized characters, they will assume that this is just how you play MMOs and wonder what is wrong with you. And you know, I could be in the wrong here, and I certainly would be if I went into a WoW raid and expected each character to be well-rounded; Continue reading