Twitch Fun vs Strategy Fun

Most battles in MMOs are not fun.

I ride my goat in Moria. I get hit off of it by a goblin throwing spears. The goblin has absolutely no hope of killing me. By the time it’s dead, I’ll still have 90% of my health. When it’s dead, I will receive no sense of accomplishment. The only thing I feel is annoyance at being knocked off my mount.

It reminds me of those random battles they used to have in single-player RPGs. Remember those? The enemies there usually had no chance of killing you either. You could just choose “attack” from the menue multiple times until the enemy was dead. Some RPGs even gave you the ability to automate your characters so that you wouldn’t have to be bothered with actually playing the boring fights. Others had items that allowed you to avoid random battles, or vehicles that allowed you to skip random battles on the over-map.

The question comes up, why even force the player to have boring fights at all? Thankfully in most MMOs you can expect the grey-con mobs to stop attacking you automatically. But lets be honest, any npc at your level or below is going to die easily unless it has friends. Without a chance for me to fail this battle, I’m bored as hell.

In games like Guitar Hero I can enjoy playing a song I’ve already played to see if I can do it with less mistakes. Or I can play a fighting game to see how many people I can beat in survival mode, or how well I can combo my opponent. But those are twitch based games.

MMOs usually have me hitting the number 1 on my keyboard, waiting, and then pressing the number two. I might tap six or seven keys on my keyboard in the time I would have tapped dozens of buttons in twitch-based game. To top it off, I’ve been using the same four skills in the same order over and over again in nearly every fight for the last hundred hours of gameplay. That’s like playing the same song on easy-mode repeatedly.

Combat in my current MMO is not twitch based enough to challenge my reflexes. Therefore, it’s not twitch-based enough to cause twich-fun.

That isn’t to say that twitch-fun is the only kind of fun. There’s also fun to be had at thinking up strategies and planning ahead. There’s a lot of fun in games like Starcraft or Chess in anticipating what you think is going to happen, making a plan, and executing that plan.

In most battles in MMOs, you’re fighting something that does the same behaviors over and over again with little to no variation. This goblin will throw spears at me, then I’ll tap the same buttons I always do, and it will die. That’s like playing chess against a computer opponent which makes the exact same moves every time. Worse yet, this computer opponent doesn’t change up its moves if you leave yourself exposed, or screw up. It just keeps throwing those same moves at you, blind to the circumstances.

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Suzina is a 27 year old who usally plays the same MMOs as her husband. Games played: UO, EQ2, FFXI, SWG, LOTRO.

10 thoughts on “Twitch Fun vs Strategy Fun”

  1. Yes, /agree, I understand your frustration. I felt the same way about LOTRO and especially EQ2 combat. I’m actually playing LOTRO again nowadays, and I’m hoping that as I advance, the lore helps get me through and I end up enjoying it more this time around.

    The Spellborn combat system is really kinda unique and intrigued me. Have you checked it out? I can see some interesting things could come out of their little spinning hotbar thingee.

    So far, other than the short time I’ve spent in Spellborn, the Vanguard combat system has been the most interesting for me. And I have no idea why. It could be the little critical hits that pop up those chains and finishing attacks is just enough, or maybe I just seem to have a few more interesting skills in VG. Regardless, that’s one of my favorite parts of that game. Too bad SOE keeps piling on and not letting that great game thrive. Their management has really abandoned that game I think and while the devs do all they can, it just shows.

  2. Also, for me, sometimes it helps to think about where the focus of the gameplay is. Is your MMO focus on the larger, macro game of character advancement and achievement, or the micro focus of thrilling and intense, “strategy-fun” combat. I think that upcoming MMO titles are trying to make themselves stand out by changing focus just as you describe. There are a LOT of PvP and FPS-style MMOs coming out.

    Which just plain sucks for me, since I’ve always been a macro-focus, city-building and city management kind of guy :) Maybe one of these upcoming games has enough of a balance though, cause that would be excellent.

  3. Easy enough

    Age of Conan

    Character placement, shielding, movement, debuff timed skills. So many variations in combat it is is mind numbing.
    You can of course play it like standard MMO’s…but why do that, when the system allows for a degree of mob overkill ala Diablo, while fighting for you life.

    Never bored…thats for sure.

  4. I’d say it depends on the MMO. I guess most battles in the MMOs you play are not fun. For me, Guild Wars battles are usually very fun especially if the mob makeup contains the trinity. Plus Guild Wars has tons of skills that interrupt, block the skill from completing, hurt people if they use a skill, etc. Those types of skills are fun. (I have always very much envied LOTRO’s champs 5 sec recharge interrupt.)

    Regardless, players say they want the challenge. They say they want tricksier enemies, and then you know what? They go to places where the enemies are easier to beat. The Turbine dev that creates monsters had a huge amount of posts and statistics on this very subject right around MoM’s release. I think it’s a fatal flaw of Diku-MMOs personally.

    This goes hand in hand with players saying they want “surprises.” Mobs, dungeons, challenges, etc. with variable content are usually less-played than the ones with concrete, unchanging strats.

  5. I guess it’s the same as in other things: Players want to be surprised and challenged, but not too much. Which is understandable up to a point; this is not a simulation of anything, we play these things to have fun and it’s not fun to be constantly and utterly defeated at every turn.

    It’s like when players complain about level gaps and say they just want to play with their friends, something which is correct and noble, but not the end of it. In reality they want to play with their friends at the speed of the fastest leveler in the group, which is not the same thing. If they simply wanted to play with their friends, they would have zero problems in rerolling and starting from scratch every time it’s necessary, but nobody does that for obvious reasons.

    So it’s not the challenge. It’s the challenge with a reasonably assured chance of success which once again is not the same thing. What’s the point of raising the challenge level all across the board if eventually that turns people off the game? I’m not justifying that, just saying it. The same people that complain about not being challenged and 90% of fights being easy as pie would turn around and say now it’s too hard, that every mob takes 5 minutes of solid outsmarting and overpowering and they don’t dig having to use so many skills to beat just one mob.

    There are ways around this, some more effective than others, but they’re usually not applied due to a variety of reasons/excuses.

  6. The challenge is ok, but having to repeat it hundreds of times or more to get to level 50 is not so much. Especially if you add some sizable death penalties.

    Plus, twitch gameplay also adds problems with skill. If you make each fight a street fighter 2 level of skill, you’ll soon see that quite a few people suck at street fighter 2. it may be due to latency, or they may just have slow reactions.

    I don’t think its a bad idea though, and it looks like the trend to MMOFPS might address your issues. But the current style of MMO is ill-suited to it.

  7. In traditional pen’n’paper rpgs, “trash mobs” are there for the attrition, i.e. the better you handle those pesky goblins, the more resources you have in the boss battle to kill the ogre and its henchies.

    This doesn’t really work in modern mmorpgs, as the group can just rebuff and heal after every fight, so it doesn’t really matter whether you just barely managed to clear all trash or if you wiped the floor with them, you have the same resources in your use when the next big boss fight comes.

    SWG (before soe turned it into a bigger suck than a sarlacc pit) tried to use the attrition in a form of combat fatigue and it kinda worked and I’d like to see someone trying the same kind of thing again.

    And I guess that you can heal/buff yourself just in some certain spots in the DDO, I’m not sure, I haven’t really played that game, but it would be nice to know whether a system like that could work as well.

  8. You’re forgetting the most powerful type of “fun” of them all… achieving stuff. It doesn’t matter how boring the combat is, it’s all about chasing the carrot on the stick.

    Another “fun” aspect is triumphing in the face of difficulty… MMO’s mess that one up because the difficulty is not something that you could have DONE anything about, i.e. a mob with arbitrarily higher DPS and HP who uses the exact same tactics.

    Other senses of fun include what I call “wonder” fun (enjoying the experience of the game mechanics / world because they make you go “ooooh”), and social fun… MMO’s seem to actually do a good job of these.

    Also, Digby is right, modern MMO’s miss that attrition component of the strategy that was present in ye olde RPG’s… conserving your limited potions/spells/wand charges to survive through the fodder while still having enough punch left to take down the boss.

    Julian, I don’t buy your argument that making things more challenging would turn people off the games, obviously a happy middle ground exists somewhere. Also, difficulty levels: we’ve only had them in games since, oh, forever… time for MMO developers to start including them, methinks!

    (NB: requires gameplay being fun in the aforementioned ways, and not so much in the carrot on a stick way)

  9. Melf: I think upping the difficulty in the middle of a game’s lifespan (a’la NGE, but regarding difficulty) would drive people away from any game. You’re messing with their cheese too much.

    Making games more difficult from the get go is something else, but we know how that one tends to go. I’m not talking about the quality of the games (I’ve played a fair lot of ‘hard’ games through the years and enjoyed them if they were good), but as far as sales/subscription numbers, ‘soft’ games will beat ‘hard’ games 8 or 9 times out of 10. We might not care about it, but the ones funding those games sure are.

  10. First of all, this post and its comments are just great.

    For me i believe twitch-based games have one significant problem, and thats the accessibility to a wide range of people. For those haven’t got good aiming skills or reflexes they will always go down with no chance of survival against someone who has those skills. In an non-twitch-based game, those caps are narrowed down by cooldowns, dice-dolls, etc which allow players to be matched based on their characters-abilities rather than personal skills.

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