Lifetap Volume 1, Issue 33 – The MMO Tourist
The Poky Little Puppy, tourists, shopping for pants, and MMO Gamers. What do these things have in common? Unravel the deep mysteries of spooky mystery today in this special weekend edition of Lifetap, along with special musical guest Radiohead and much more!
"They ask me where the hell I’m going, at a 1000
feet XP per second"
- Thom Yorke, Radiohead
A lot of people move through massively multilayer games like tourists. They scamper from place to place without ever slowing down to enjoy the moment, let alone leave any form of positive impact on their surroundings. The perpetual cycle becomes: arrival, consumption, departure, in the least amount of time possible.
Many of these same people claim to want virtual worlds that don’t feel so static. That MMO game worlds need to evolve and reflect permanent change back on gamers based on their actions. Yet I rarely witness the consumption model synching up to any kind of desire to revisit areas of the world. ArenaNet made a bold attempt to rectify the situation with the ability to revisit low level areas and have your character level scale down appropriately. However, the rewards for doing so are few and far between.
So we want game worlds to evolve, don’t want to feel like content is being recycled, and continuously seek out bigger and better rewards to help improve our characters.
You want a new pair of pants, so head to the local shops and see what they have to offer. You might find something serviceable for the interim, but know that there are much better pants to be had, so your search continues elsewhere. Unless you have good reason to believe the local shops have stocked new and better pants, why would you go back?
In a roundabout way, this is one of the things Dave Georgeson from SOE is talking about when he claims that content-based MMOs are simply too expensive to make. You’re basically spending tons of money to build these local shops knowing full well that they will be abandoned because they don’t, and never will stock the kind of pants players are ultimately after.
The Consumption and Itemization Model Disconnect
MMOs are still being built as giant virtual carrots on sticks. I don’t fault players who chase the carrot and ignore their expertly crafted surroundings along the way. Why should they care about how perfectly the animators have nailed the emotive gestures and facial expressions of an NPC when all they’re good for is serving as a compass that points you in the direction you need to go to continue chasing the carrot?
Combat pacing has increased dramatically over the years and ultimately only helps encourage the blinding rates of content consumption we commonly see in the critical mass. When the average time to kill is under 5 seconds in most games for overland PvE content, it’s no wonder people don’t mind being funneled towards dungeons and endgame content. This is a cycle that’s only reinforced by those places being where that pair of pants you’ve been after can be found.
Follow the White Rabbit
“And when they got to the top of the hill, they counted themselves: one, two, three, four. One little puppy wasn’t there.”
- From "The Poky Little Puppy"
Back when I was in grade school, one of my teachers said the oddest thing to describe me as a student to my parents during one of those awkward parent / teacher open house evenings hosted by my school. “Slow as molasses in January” is what she said, and those words have stuck with me ever since. It wasn’t intended as a jab at my intelligence or ability to learn; quite the opposite in fact, as I was among the best students in my class.
Instead, it described an inherently slow and methodical way of going about most activities. Public schools in the US really aren’t all that different than video games in some ways if you consider that you’re primarily rewarded based on your leaderboard ranking (Grade Point Average). But to me, learning is more than a theoretical number based on performance.
We face some of these same issues in modern MMOs. Hurry up and complete your quest objectives so that you can move onto the next. Down the bosses faster so that you can rank higher on the leaderboards for the week. Lag behind or hold up your group for any reason and there are tools in place to have you forcefully removed from the equation.
With the release of each new MMO or major expansion, I marvel at the incessant need for the average player to consume content at a perpetually faster rate. It’s like being Alice watching the White Rabbit freaking out about constantly being late, chasing him around for a while, and never quite understanding why on Earth he’s in such a hurry to begin with. This has absolutely been my experience in Warlords of Draenor so far.
Warlords is structured in such a way as to create these intense moments, but once they’re gone, they’re gone forever. The world has changed through phasing technology, and you will only ever experience it again in its original state while wearing a different virtual skin suit. Why rush through it like your ass is on fire and the quest reward is the only bucket of water available in a 100 mile radius?
Whenever I make the mental decision to invest time in a virtual world, I do so as a temporary resident. I’m not interested in being a tourist taking snapshots of hot spots before scurrying off to the next landmark on my list. Based on how these games are being built though, I don’t fault the critical mass for the consumption rates we see these days. At the same time, I suspect that most MMO gamers have become spoiled and anything short of instant gratification in a new MMO or major update moving forward is only going to serve a very niche market.
Special Musical Guest: Radiohead
Thus concludes today’s fable with no moral disguised as a recurring MMO column. For those of you who have stuck around until the end, I’m pleased to present today’s special musical guest, Radiohead.
While there are much deeper meanings behind the closing track to OK Computer, ever since first logging into Warlords this week I’ve had "The Tourist" in constant rotation on my mental soundtrack. The following clip is from a live performance of the song; one of my favorites from that era for the band. Enjoy!