Finding the Fun

As has probably not escaped the notice of the longtime reader, I am a fickle but monomaniacal gamer. I tend to focus on a single game that I will play heavily (by the standards of my schedule) for somewhere between 3-6 weeks, then drift away and into some other game, sometimes after a week or so of wandering about in non-MMOs (Team Fortress 2, Europa Universalis III and Audiosurf tend to be my non-MMOs of choice. Empire: Total War may get added to this list early next year.)

This practice has an upside and a downside. As a plus, I get to try my hand at a lot of different things, and have, at this point, at least tried almost everything on the western market except some of the Asian imports and Pirates of the Burning Sea. Some of these – WoW, Vanguard, EQ2 and EVE – I’ve stuck with for varying lengths of time, but never more than two months at a stretch. This gives me a nice broad base of knowledge and the ability to point out, for example, that Warhammer’s ‘Living Guilds’ are at most an enhancement of the guild advancement feature long-established in EQ2.

On the downside, it means that I never really get all that far along in any one game, and in the model of MMO favored in the west, this means never experiencing a major section of the game, that which happens at the level cap. I’ll return to games and push some more, and moving in jerks and leaps as I do, this means that in a couple of years I’ll probably have endgame characters in a number of traditional titles. But in the meantime, it’s more than a little frustrating to see and hear other people talking about all the fun that I myself am not able to participate in.

The interesting thing here is that the two games that I’m playing right now are ones that depart from that traditional model to varying extents. WAR looks on the surface to closely copy established elements, and indeed there’s leveling and a cap in the game, which will change somewhat when you hit it. But the older examples of that model, EQ, EQ2, and Vanguard, and most especially World of Warcraft, change significantly when you hit the cap – WoW (the example which, sad to say, I’m most familiar with the endgame dynamic of) is practically a whole second game that you generally only get scattered tastes of before that point.

As of right now, from where I’m sitting, it appears that the WAR experience changes much less at the level cap. You’ll still run scenarios and World RvR, but these will not be that radically different from anything you’ve done before, even if the scope is larger when it comes to things like fortress captures and city sieges. It’s different, but not that much different.

This changes the dynamic of leveling somewhat, in that there’s not a whole wing of the gameplay not available to me for not being at the level cap already. It also seems to me that for this reason, WAR will have a much easier time attracting new players, at least in the near future, than WoW does, and that WAR may have a greater appeal to people who want to play casually – something WoW had traditionally been able to boast.

But this is a piece about my personal gaming habits, not about WAR vs WoW. And I’m getting a feeling that WAR is helping me break a bad habit inculcated over years of tabletop play and reinforced in MMOs by the practices and design philosophies of games in the traditional model, in which leveling becomes the point because the game is always cooler farther along.

In this sense, while leveling in WAR is a nice accomplishment and all, it’s not as though leveling in and of itself (beyond a certain easily-achieved point that one might call the ‘fun threshold’) really adds all that much to the gameplay, so it seems to me to be a lower priority than it was in, say, WoW or EQ2. I’m able to sit back and focus on enjoying the game rather than fretting about progression and keeping up. If leveling slows down in Tier 3 as much as I think it will, I should be able to park there for a good long time enjoying a modest diet of scenarios, PQs and world RvR (the areas in which I’m having the most fun,) without having to worry about guildies or the general population overtaking me and leaving me in barren zones with nothing to do and nobody to do it with.

EVE comes into this equation as a game that does much the same thing to a greater extent. Yeah, there’s people I’ll never catch up to in skill points, but the game is still growing at a steady pace, promises to continue to do so (although I expect a significant surge when Ambulation goes live,) so there is no shortage of fellow noobs to play with – and the design of the game causes non-noobs to congregate in much the same areas as the rookies. And given a relatively short time focusing on a given element of EVE, you can be pretty good at it because of the diminishing-returns balance of the skill system. PvP, mission-running, mining, or whatever. I may never fly a Titan, but I could easily be part of a fleet that takes one down, and really, isn’t that even cooler?

This isn’t to be confused with a lack of grinding – all subscription MMOs include grinding in some form or another. But because the basis of EVE is economic and because doing something doesn’t in itself you make better at it, it’s possible to outsource the grind part of the game out to people who find fun in those parts of the game. This is most easily accomplished in a corp, of course, which can (in the best case) subsidize the activities you enjoy pursuing with the labor of others, but you can do it yourself, too.

The point is that I enjoy leveling because I enjoy accomplishment, and have too long conflated the two. I’m finding a decreased enthusiasm for games in which I must progress in order to get to the fun. WAR does this by getting to the fun right away, and for that reason it’s a game worth continuing to play. EVE does it… well, that’s the challenge in EVE for me, really – to find the fun. I know it’s there somewhere, and the simple fact is that EVE suits my temperament, interests and aesthetic sense better than any other MMO. I’m willing to give it as long as it takes. Until I get bored.

7 responses to “Finding the Fun

  1. Funny thing about EVE – it’s fun, but it’s difficult to explain “Why”.

    Agree wholeheartedly with your sentiment regarding “being left behind” when it comes to WoW. Azeroth quickly got emptied once they released BC, and I suspect the same will happen with Outlands once they release WotLK. Only people you’re gonna see in those areas are players hurrying up the levels to get to the Next Big Thing so that they can Really Start Playing.

    I never felt, or knew about the claim, that WoW was for the casual player. Guess that depends on how you play it.

  2. I think it’s become, increasingly and increasingly obviously, much less suited to casual play. I think the perception comes originally from the large audience and the assumption that for the crowd to be so big, it must be attractive to casual players.

    None of this is to say ‘WoW cannot possibly be fun’ for anybody in particular, of course. Approached correctly and with the right bunch of people around you, it’s easy to have lots of fun there. It’s just obviously more fun at the level cap that I never got to, and at this point (as I wrote a week or two ago,) I can’t see myself going back to it, because WAR is more fun, from (almost) the very start of play.

    I’m thinking of uninstalling WoW – the only thing that keeps me from doing so is the TITANIC hassle of reinstalling and patching it if I should someday change my mind. (Again, the polar opposite is EVE – over the weekend I downloaded it, installed it and was playing in under an hour.) I really should pull the trigger on that tonight.

  3. Oh, I’ve had lots of fun in WoW. Undoubtedly I will have fun there again, sometime, if and when I decide to give it another go.

    The end-game content tho, I respectfully disagree with you there. After my Shaman hit 70 it was all about playing a few Arena matches per week in order to get them points for bigger better equipment, and grinding PVP battlegrounds (that’s what they were called, right?) for honor points for bigger better equipment. And if you were lucky and had the time and energy you could go raiding, for bigger better equipment. I tend to get locked into a “must win the game”-mentality when playing WoW. And the only way to win that game is not to play at all (clumsy movie reference, so sue me).

    But again, I feel you. I still have WoW installed on my computer, despite the fact that I could use the HD space, and despite the fact that I haven’t played WoW since May. The download, the install, the search for the necessary AddOns. Gah. It brings tears to my eyes.

  4. I’m similar, I am an avid gamer and yet I have never seen the end game of any MMO. I think this is partially because I genuinely enjoy the newbie experience and so I love to hop around to different games to make a new character.

  5. So far, I have “ended” one game…

    Guild Wars.

    Why?

    You don’t think about it. You are involved in the story and the adventure, not what I can get at that level or what opens up for me.

    Yet, this is the Single Player Mentality. This causes a whole new issue…the ending.
    Guild Wars plays like a SP game as you eventually get to an “ending”. Yes, you can do more things…yet, it has finality.

    So, for the games you quote, it should not be an issue, as there really is no “end”, just the experience.

    This goes to Tobold’s post on his Sunday open thread this past week…quite a few of us discussing “endings”.
    Should MMO’s have them, and then offer new content as “Chapters” or “Campaigns”?
    Maybe if the MMO at least had some sort of “Epilogue”…but, think of things like a “Cliff Hanger”…

    Food for thought. Maybe it would help people feel not so “left out” that they never maxed levels.

  6. The phenonmenon is probably as simple as Guild Wars not having a monthly fee. Players who feel like they’ve ‘completed’ the game are likely less apt to continue p(l)aying. Games on the subscription model (i. e. most western MMOs) don’t want the ‘ending’ for this reason, and don’t want to engage in the treadmill of an ever-advancing story for fear of it spiraling out of control, i. e. continually raising the stakes and the corresponding mudflation.

    Still, it’d be interesting to see an MMO with a focused, ongoing story, with a main plot and side plots that continually advance over many years rather in the fashion of a comic book. That kind of arrangement might put off new players, but it’d be facinating to see nonetheless.

    Really what we’re talking about here, though, is MMO developers largely (and by ‘largely’ I mean ‘other than CCP’) beging unwilling to stretch the established model very far, which is a whole topic in itself.

  7. Im very similar,i thinmk ive played nearly every mmorpg out there well most of the sub ones..was in the eve beta and never really got into it and have never played it again lol..war will bore me due to getting beaten all the time by destro..vanguard have a lvl 48 ranger who dates from release day but so cant get back into that..wow bored at lvl 43..the list goes on and on..am thinking may be time to dust off my 39 minstrel in lotro as i have the lifetime sub thing..