Skills Baby

Suzina over at KTR posts about a couple recent gaming experiences in LOTRO. It’s a good read for several reasons, but mostly because it captures the essence of what is great about MMO’s – success and failure. I shared a snazzy yet true golf analogy in the comments section about “hooks”. MMO’s live on hooks. 

Psychochild made a comment in the thread about the beauty of Suz’s post (we are tight like that where I can nickname her unashamedly.) and that those are experiences you can’t have in single player games – and my first reaction was that he was right, followed up with a “wait, is he?” The answer is yes and no. Suspense suspended after the cut.

Psycho is right that the beauty of community gaming is the shame and glory shared amongst friends and strangers. Where I felt he was wrong (and I use that term loosely – this isn’t a post to show he is wrong, but just the thoughts that compounded from his comment) is that glory and shame isn’t MMO feature specific – although in current MMO context it could be considered so.

I have been playing a bit of MLB 2K9. I am a big PC sports fan, and titles that have come out have completely stunk the past couple of years, with companies focusing on pirate-less consoles and doing weak ports to the PC. The last, best baseball game I played was EA MVP 2005. A title that is still modded and updated since pickens’ are slim for us PC sports gamers. Some are just skipping the PC altogether now. So after reading a few reviews about 2K9 I decided to give it a shot – although I have had my problems with 2k Games titles in the past. Call me waffle boy, but the joy of baseball in the summer is too much to pass up. I’ll touch upon the game itself in a different post -I should probably get back on track. This all relates in my typical roundabout way.

The glory with sports games is making your own player, often in your own likeness, and participating in the game actual while playing the game proper. I made a Pitcher, Chris F, with “decent” stats and a lot of junk pitches. I played  a bunch of games, had a few wins, and a few losses. In a tight series against the evil Red Sox Nation (I play the Blue Jays, of course), it was the 8th inning and I realized not only did I have a no hitter going, but I had a perfect game on the line. I became tense. I started shaking off signs from the catcher, picking pitches I felt most comfortable with. It all fell apart with 2 outs in the bottom of the 9th when Youkalis hit a line drive into left field for a single. I was genuinely excited to have had the opportunity to pitch a game like that. Even playing by myself, with a bunch of bots for teammates.

So what is the difference between that “glory” experience (which quickly turned to “shame” when I didn’t succeed) with the glory and shame of playing in an MMO? No one knew but me – where if it was a baseball MMO others would have seen my mastery of the Eephus. However, I felt just as good about it as I did downing my first t5 boss in WoW back in the day. Is there a difference? Yes there is.

The baseball game, on All Star level, actually took skill to accomplish. Sure, a little luck and some good fielding, but I had to play the game skillfully to get close to my goal. That is where the glory was – not that other people had to see it, but the near-accomplishment itself was very difficult to do.

That is what is lacking in MMO’s – skill. There isn’t a whole lot needed to play (mostly time/grind/rotation investments) and that is why MMO’s need other people to witness events to feel good (or bad) about it. The lack of skill required to MMO compared to other requirements for success in them is the void that is filled by the community when gauging success – where in a good single player experience, the skill required to succeed outweighs the community need for recognized success or failure.

That lack of challenge, of course, is to get high sub numbers to rake in cash – which is probably no suprise to those who bandy about MMO blognation.

Perhaps a challenging MMO that requires learning, patience and skill could be the next niche to fill out there.

10 comments / Add your comment below

  1. MVP 2005 for the Xbox was the last baseball game that I owned. I loved it. I was sad when EA lost the franchise rights to that game. One of my absolute favorite aspects was that you could hop in and out of the action, and either simulate pitch-by-pitch, inning-by-inning, or game by game. It meant you didn’t have to play all 9 innings of a game if you didn’t want to, and still could hop into the action if you saw things heading in a direction you didn’t like. It’s a feature sadly missing from all other sports games that I’ve played.

    Of course, the greatest baseball game ever created: Baseball Stars on the original NES. I loved that game.

  2. Mmm… skills. I’m all for game design that requires thinking, foresight, learning, patience, planning and skill. Of course, I’m not talking about twitch skill, though.

    Notably, I’ve spent more time with MechCommander 2, FFTA2 and Tactics Ogre lately. More time total with all three than I’ve *ever* spent with all MMOs combined. If there were an MMO with that sort of tactical and intellectual depth, I’d be far more interested in it than the modern DIKU strain. (Though interestingly, TO and FFTA2 use DIKU-flavored progression… so much of the difference comes down to methodology and actual combat mechanics.)

  3. The glory I’m referring to in my comment is the glory given by other people. The glory of the admiration of others is different from the glorious feeling of overcoming a challenge. I’m not saying that your game wasn’t exciting or meaningful, but it’s not the same feeling that Suzina wrote about.

    Likewise, I don’t think what you felt on that last pitch was really shame; were you really ashamed of yourself for not pitching a perfect game? More likely you experienced disappointment. Shame also comes from other people, and even if you are ashamed of yourself, that feeling comes from what you think others may feel if they found out what you have done.

    As for skill in games: it exists. The problem is that requiring skill in a game tends to exclude people. Even if you include non-twitch like Tesh mentions above, there are people who just won’t be able to cut it. Even though WoW raiding doesn’t require a lot beyond hitting the right sequence of buttons and having the right gear, the encounters were “move out of the glowy stuff” is a required skill still trips up a surprising number of people.

    Further, in games that require skill, people who come later have to pick up those skills and master them in a world where other people are already masters of the skill. Meridian 59 requires a large amount of skill in PvP combat, but you’ll probably get eaten alive by the people who have been playing the game for years. As Jonathon Baron, the author of the Glory & Shame article I linked in my comment, said: Imagine if you had to learn to play football by joining a professional team facing another professional team in a stadium full of fans. That’s what a typical MMO player has to do, and it can feel pretty intimidating.

    Some more thoughts.

  4. Hi Psycho – thanks for the extra thoughts. Provoking =)

    Your first paragraph was the roundabout point I was trying to make – that the glory/shame from OTHERS is where the ‘good’ feelings come from in an MMO. Without those two emotions the games would feel pretty empty. While still different from the challenge I overcame – what happens to MMO’s if those emotions go away? (will those emotions ever go away?) – I think they do – I could care less these days how others look at me in WoW – where it used to be important (See my post: Image Motivation if you have nothing better to do). I suppose at that stage that is when people leave.

    ‘Shame’ was a strong word for myself ‘failing’ the opportunity for accomplishment – disappointment is probably better – shame in MMO stems from self disappointment, so I am either stretching it too far a second time or bringing the two together =)

    I love your final analogy via Jon Baron – and while I agree some semblance of skill still exists it isn’t nearly what was needed (both 1, and 2 expansions ago) and the ‘dumbed’ down play style sans challenge is making it awful boring for a lot of people – but still a fair challenge level for others. I am one of those in the camp that feels completely unchallenged on my self-MMO play. I do admit trying to organize 25 people and have them perform simple repeated duties hours on end is more of the challenge. So, the new MMO scape is just a training ground for Organizers over Skill Players?

  5. “So, the new MMO scape is just a training ground for Organizers over Skill Players?”

    Skill excludes players who can’t make the cut. Organizing includes players in order to fill out a team. If your game’s big claim to fame (or aspiration to fame) is being the biggest game EVAR!, which do you think is going to be the focus? Yeah, it’s going to be the one that is as inclusive as possible.

    Answer that question for you? 😉

  6. And here I thought I was trying to answer that question for you, B =) We are on the same page.

    For the record, and perhaps this is for another post altogether, I’d pay more for my monthly sub if there was true value (not perceived) be it a more challenging experience, or whatnot.

  7. There’s a reason why I haven’t “sold out” and went and gotten a “real job” as an MMO developer with a steady income. It’s because I hope that there is some opportunity for something different on the horizon. I don’t think it’s going to come from a large studio, though.

    So, I starve (relatively speaking) for my art.

  8. Now I have to go play M59 =) I try to put my money where my mouth is, and support smaller studios and gaming personalities who are trying to make a difference in this developer-stale mindset. =)

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