Responding to Incentives

kiantremayne comments:

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; you can get more out of a complementary group of specialized characters than of similar generalists. But this training in how to win at online gaming gets translated into areas where crippling specialization is not as winning a strategy. The most common variations I see are glass cannons and The One True Combo.

Glass cannons are popular because everyone likes more offense. It is what gets you big numbers over your head, kills, the top of the DPS meter, whatever. If you were brought up in WoW, you learned to measure your e-peen by how much damage you could put out, and you learned that a good tank could unfailingly hold aggro. The vast majority of MMO encounters, group or solo, reward DPS characters for building DPS and provide no reward for increasing survivability. Then this guy plays League of Legends and explains that he is the best ADC around as long as you can keep the other team from attacking him for long enough for him to kill them all. Well, yes, everyone is good under those circumstances, but the opposing team has two assassins, and the 3-second single-target taunt has a 12-second cooldown.

“The One True Combo” is the mindset of one trick ponies that really do have a good trick but expect it to work in all situations. “When your only tool is a hammer…” Their MMOs taught them to memorize and practice an optimized ability rotation, and they never learned situational awareness of when it is not optimal. Their MMOs taught them that the raid guide or plug-in would tell them when to change tactics. “If you give a man a fish…” The combination of abilities usually is really good, and it gets lots of kills, but there are times when it is suicide. The same sequence of button presses that dominated last game is failing this game; your teammates must suck, because you are not doing anything different. These are the people who complain that their counter is overpowered. Well, yes, your four-ability combo is awesome as long as no one on the opposing team CCs you, but they have four different stun abilities and two roots.

Somewhere I can hear the wolves laughing about Carebears.

: Zubon

9 thoughts on “Responding to Incentives”

  1. “Somewhere I can hear the wolves laughing about Carebears.”

    Carebear stare summed up well in the entire post. MMO mechanics are great at providing the illusion that the average player is ‘good’. PvP breaks that illusion.

    1. In fairness, there are quite a few self-appointed “wolves” who fail badly in this regard as well. Having said that, my experience is that a lot of the most vocal PvP crowd are Pomeranians tghat think they’re wolves – the real wolves tend to yap less and bite more :)

  2. I think specialization is a natural development of grouping. If everybody does one thing exceedingly well, a well-rounded group can do more than the sum of its parts. If everybody does everything half-assed, there is no mechanical benefit to grouping, because there are no synergies. On the other hand, Generalism is great for soloing, in fact, specialization can be very bad for soloing unless you tune the content to the lowest common denominator of class capabilities.

    Talking about lobby-multiplayer games like LoL… well, playing PvP with two or four random strangers is about as synergistic as playing on your own, so you might as well not specialize. You are right, you need a different way of approaching this kind of play, because it doesn’t cater to synergistic group play. Or at least it doesn’t sound like it does from your description. I’d personally never touch the LoL installer with an 11-foot pole, I’ve seen more than enough of that cesspit from the safety of my browser. ;)

  3. Cue comparison with Everquest. For years, many years, we had great big fights with things that didn’t have scripts to learn and counter. Their defence was simply being much, MUCH tougher than us. Moreover, they had many friends that might arrive at any time, uninvited, unannounced, unexpected, unnoticed.

    Instead of learning dance steps we learned to improvise. Having a job to do, and there were many jobs, did nothing whatever to exclude you from responsibility for any other job that might suddenly need doing. If you had any capacity for it, and most of us did for abilities were widely and generously distributed, albeit with idiosyncratic variety of tone, style and efficacy, you took up the challenge and did your best.

    No two trips through the same dungeon were ever the same. No-one expected or wished they would be. Not anyone I grouped with regularly, anyway. The introduction of set-piece boss fights, the scripting that came with it and most especially the trickle-down of that curse from high-end raiding to the simplest solo quests is the single most ruinous process ever to happen to MMOs, at least in my book.

    Just put a lot of very tough monsters in a confined space, give player characters a wide range of abilities that overlap across classes and leave us to get on with it.

  4. I think there’s a bit of chicken vs. egg here. I remember playing a Feral Druid in Vanilla (yeah, yeah) and my group appreciated that I had some flexibility in how we could approach a situation since I could fill different roles as a supporter to the main. But, then when I tried my hand a vanilla raiding players expected a Druid to be Resto spec to give Innervates to the “real” healers.

    Expecting players to play a cookie cutter build and style made organizing raid easier for people just dipping a toe into raiding. You knew about what a player could do, without any worrying about if the druid was suddenly going to go all bear form on you and secondary taking when you really needed him moonfire spamming some add.

    So, I suspect that expecting players to be single-focus specialists was more Blizzard adapting to early player demands rather than vice versa.

    1. Indeed – I played my shaman as an actual hybrid in vanilla and early BC WoW, and at the time it was actually a benefit to have me switch from healing to melee and back as needed within a fight, although I had some pretty pointed discussions with players of the hyper-specialised persuasion. Once the game started focusing more on numbers checks (e.g. once the enrage timer became a standard feature on every boss) then specialisation and obeying the One True Strategy clearly edged out the “improvise, adapt and overcome” flexible ethos. I don’t doubt that that move was Blizzard giving their most hardcore players more of what they wanted rather than a conscious decision to degenerate their gameplay.

  5. Actually, I can think of a couple of WoW counterexamples. The first one I remember is Shade of Aran from Karazhan. In the early days, before everyone had top-tier raid gear (hey, that rhymes!) I recall several rogues and shadow priests having to swap gear out to have over 8,000hp (which stopped them getting instagibbed during one phase).

    The second would be Hydross the Unstable from Serpentshrine Cavern, which required everyone to have some degree of resistances on their equipment, meaning that they had to sacrifice some of their usual specialization in order to survive.

    Ok, so they’re not so much about adaptability; more about extra preparation. But does it count?

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