Last night I discovered that Tevis Thompson recently published another one of his rockstar insightful wall-of-text essays on the shattered soul of videogaming and I don’t even know where to start – I need to write about this but I also need more time! I find myself overwhelmed by resonance every time I read his analyzis and ye gods, there’s so much to address…so for now, I’d rather just leave you with this link over the weekend. Really, just read it – do it now! (maybe come back here after.)
For this fine blaugust 21st, I do hereby declare that of the four essential MMO playstyles, explorers are by far the hardest to satisfy and therefore a real headache for developers. We’re really quite an annoying bunch that way and since I self-identify as explorer (and all the incomplete gamer surveys I’ve ever taken would agree there), I shall explain why I think so. In a way, am letting developers off with this but not really. Also for the record, I do not actually believe any player to be defined by merely one interest or playstyle – I find Bartle and other gamer categorizations as insufficient as the next person. For the sake of simplicity and my fun with this argument however, let’s roll with clear-cut, straightforward gamer attitudes. Okay? Good!
It’s always struck me how both socializers and killers/pvpers have the strong social component in common. They come across as very opposed preferences but both playstyles are fundamentally driven and enabled by other people, as in PCs rather than NPCs. If we were gonna oversimply definitions to the point of being a little insulting (I’m doing it!), you could say that what socializers really require in MMOs is a colorful, interactive stage they can hang out on with other equally chatty people. As for killers, they require prey – they need a platform that allows them the freedom to organize themselves in groups and then go after everyone that’s worse than they are, challenging each others various skills. Again, these are gross oversimplifications but the takeaway is that the entire MMO world and setting is secondary to the primary, social experience (which is not to say that these playstyles know zero single-player appeal, they do – and there’s other genres than MMOs that may appeal to them).
Then there’s achievers and well, they’ve already won as far as MMOs are concerned, haven’t they? The great majority of MMORPGs since WoW which have followed the linear themepark approach, have been created with achieverdom in mind, stuff packaged into small itsy bits with clearly cut out paths and little popups of “hooray” and content patches and expansions of blarrggghhh…..(oh sorry, I got lost there for a minute). Anyway, achievers may thrive through experiences with or without other people – what I do understand about their basic mindset is that they enjoy work that’s been cut out for them, checking goals off a list, feeling gratified by achieving predetermined wins, a sense of tangible progression and completion. Therefore, achievers require steady content from the developer monster and that’s basically the world we all live in today – THANKS A LOT YO!
Okay okay, explorers! I started off by saying we’re the annoying bunch (*cough*) and we are, in the sense that our itch is very hard to scratch intentionally. Explorers need space and the freedom to roam, interesting things and randomness and umm…..intrinsic drive created through game design that must not be noticed. Simple, right? We want to be wowed at the exact moment of our choosing or well, at least never of the game’s choosing, and without any notion of the invisible puppetmaster present. The game world just needs to “be”, needs to simulate something real and after that we’re mostly interested in ambling off the beaten path and potentially finding stuff nobody else would nor intended for us to find. NEGATIVE SPACES, come on MMOs!
Freedom in games is a finely crafted illusion. Infinite depth and space can only be achieved by carefully orchestrated mystery. And randomness is mostly unthinkable.
And this is why having explorers for an audience is sort of a nightmare for any slightly ambitious world designer. Really, I feel for you – so much love and respect for those who get it right in MMOs, even just for a little while! I guess that’s also why randomly or procedurally generated maps were all the rage for some time, only the problem with that is….it’s not quite that simple. A haphazardly generated world feels redundant fast and oddly meaningless. There’s only so many times you like to take a trip into the blue in Minecraft until everything starts blending and feels the same. So yes, random but not totally random…..what can I say, we’re complicated!
P.S. Happy Friday everybody – explorerdom foreva!