Thursday, December 10, 2009

Serious Games Live in the Metagame

(A brief disclaimer regarding terminology: I do not use the words "metagame" and "serious game" in the ways that they are always used. "Metagame" apparently has a multitude of different meanings in different parlances. Please use the definition I've provided for discussion of this post. "Serious games" has a different accepted meaning than that to which I refer--I knew it when I wrote the article, but "serious" was the most appropriate word I could muster. So please use my definitions for these words in this article until I come up with better words for this stuff. Thanks. (And thanks to Psychochild for pointing it out.))


The metagame is the evolution of gameplay strategies outside of the game itself, including  the gathering of game knowledge from external sources and players studying others’ strategies.The progress of the metagame represents the players exploring the multitude of strategic opportunities a deep game (“hardcore” deep, not “casual” deep) presents. Only deep games have rewarding metagames.

The metagame strips away all but the ludic elements of the game. All fluff, be it story or even the transitions between levels in platformers, is skipped over because it does not contribute to the strategy-space of the game. As soon as a part of the game’s story is tied to a game mechanic, awareness of the metagame will erode the narrative elements until the player is left with only a conception of the mechanic as a piece of the game rules.

Company of Heroes (prior to the release of the first expansion, Opposing Fronts) was a great “RTS” game. It had a relatively rich metagame that shifted over time based on swapping replays of interesting matches and talking on forums about strategy. Many different strategies had their time in the spotlight. For a while the game was a contest of who could get to the end-game heavy tanks, the Pershing for Allies and the King Tiger for the Germans,  and harness their power the fastest. Some serious patching completely changed the fabric of the game, leading to infantry-heavy strats dominating. The brief era of pioneer-spam saw many frustrated players until it was patched. The strategy-space was fairly well-explored by the time Opposing Fronts released, but people were still playing the game plenty and finding new and creative ways to win—even after many months no one had reduced the game to a simple spam strat for any meaningful amount of time. The metagame was vibrant and, though not as deep as a elder statesman like Starcraft, provided me with many hours of entertainment in itself.[In retrospect, this is not a good example because I make it seem as if the metagame should rely on changes to the game rules--a game with a deep metagame does not need such changes to remain interesting. In a way, patching changes the game enough to force the player to recalculate their view of the metagame. This doesn't really correlate to adding depth, just moves the players to a different part of the proverbial strategy pool. -Ev]

There is Fun in Games Sans Metagames

But not every game has a healthy metagame—or any metagame at all. For some games, metagaming ruins the gameplay. A player may enjoy playing through a game in a natural, unaided fashion for onedownsized_0616091452 and only one time. Brenda Braithwaite’s Train is an example of this: once the player understand the game, the meaning of the game is significantly altered and the game is compromised as a game, though perhaps not as a piece of art. Entering such a game with a very attainable degree of metagame knowledge renders the game uninteresting. Learning about the game outside of the game itself breaks the natural process of exploration that some games rely upon. These games cannot be good games of strategy. Strategic thinking is not a primary goal of such a game, or, if the game does aim to have serious depth, the game mechanics are not well-designed. [Knowledge of the "twist" in Train does change the gameplay--I was way too aggressive by stating that the game is compromised by multiple playthroughs. The real point here is that some games don't focus on strategy and don't need depth to be fun or affecting. -Ev]

I am not decrying games that do not have meaningful metagames. Such games have other roles to play in the pantheon of entertainment. They are entertaining in a decidedly limited (though that limit may not necessarily be low) fashion, like a good action movie might be. This doesn’t mean that they are inferior or to be frowned upon. They can lead to as much, if not more, entertainment than a serious game in the hands of certain players. They’re games that most players can sit down and enjoy, they simply are not games to be taken seriously by the player as a game. They played “casually”. Players do not study such games and they are given no real reason to study. A player will proceed through the game in 10, 20, maybe as many as 40 hours—perhaps even playing through a few times—and then disregard the game because the game is “finished”. Most games are like this, and the vast majority of people who play games spend the vast majority of their time playing such “casual” games.

(I put “casual” in quotes for a good reason. I do not mean to relabel or reinterpret the idea of casual gaming, but in comparison with the kind of gaming that goes on in metagame-intensive games, players approach less deep games in a decidedly casual way.)

“Hardcore” is not Serious

touhou10fs4Themepark MMOs almost universally are not serious games. A game is not a serious game simply because it requires a significant time investment to reach some goal. Themepark MMOs are very long multiplayer games—they are “casual” games that have more content than most others and an environment of social competition that urges players to continue playing through grinds and boredom.

“Hardcore” games are not necessarily serious games. Games that punish excessively and reward sparingly—games that make mundane goals ridiculously difficult to achieve (I’m thinking primarily of bullet-hell games and games like Flail), are not necessarily serious games, either. Difficulty does not dictate if a game is serious.

A game’s strategic depth—having more to learn about strategy within the game—as signaled through its metagame indicates if it is a serious game.

Serious MMOs

MMOs bother me because they delay a player’s participation in any kind of meaningful metagame for a month or two while their character levels. I don’t want to arbitrarily wait a month before being able to experience the fullness of the game. Even when I do get there, the metagame is often a flat expanse of memorizing raid strats and FOTM builds. PvP is the only facet of MMOs that usually offers much strategy worth considering, but this strategy is often overwhelmed by gear differentials, and gear differential breaks down into time spent, not techniques learned and mastered. MMOs are a composition of many different games—but most of these games are “casual” or casual.

I’m primarily interested in bringing a serious game mentality to MMO design. In this way MMOs can become almost endless in playability as a game as well as a social experience. Not only would a serious MMO offer plenty of content to players at different skill levels, it would offer years of material to learn and recontextualize content.

Around serious games societies bloom.  A substantial game provides a common ground for diverse players with unique goals to come together for a common cause. This will build communities that are tighter and stronger than themepark MMO communities. A serious MMO does not need to have 100,000 subscribers to stay around, because a group of 10,000 dedicated players could sustain the game. There would not be much tourism and turn-over from such a game, because it presents a deep and unique opportunity that is differentiated from other games in the genre. Serious games cannot be a rehashed with success, because the mechanics must be well thought-out and maintained to promote a strong metagame.

It’s not easy to design serious games, but I think that serious MMOs can make money. They will definitely be better for players—more fun for longer—than the current trend.


Copperbird said...

"MMOs bother me because they delay a player’s participation in any kind of meaningful metagame for a month or two while their character levels."

I don't think that's true. The social game and who you know in game is a very important (perhaps the only important) part of the MMO metagame and a character can start getting involved in guilds and server communities very early on.

evizaer said...

By metagame I mean learning about game mechanics and evolving strategies. There are strategies for leveling, but the process is so easy that it doesn't matter if you actually have a strategy. This renders the leveling metagame trivial.

Dblade said...

I don't know if that's the case. I think of online chess. It is a very serious game with a metagame spanning 1000s of years. However if you go and play it, you quickly find that most people game the mechanics to achieve the desired result-wins. They play one minute blitz chess, load a bot, and win as the other runs out of time.

If you focus on a deep understanding and appreciation of mechanics as the main goal, I think you run a very large risk of attracting people who also enjoy subverting mechanics, and also attract very achievement-minded people. That kind of goal-oriented thinking on a small scale could easily stagnate or choke a game, which is why no developer I think is all that comfortable with 10k subs.

A trivial metagame may not provide a deep experience, but I think most would argue the point of MMOs is the social interaction over the actual gameplay. You can play chess offline-the draw is playing it against real people, even when offline computers can simulate them easily.

evizaer said...

A serious MMO would be designed in such a way that exploitation would be a bit less easy than it usually is. Most games are designed poorly and have easily exploitable mechanics that can be found without even so much as playing the game (I saw coming the massive bloodwalling and exploitation in DFO before it was released). A serious MMO would be a more difficult task to design, though it may actually be easier to program. Maybe I'll talk about this in a later post.

In your chess example, the mechanics of a layer above the game are exploited (i.e. an external system to the actual game), not the game itself. That's the fault of hastily designed interfaces and rules for that external system.

Brian 'Psychochild' Green said...

Our old foe terminology comes out to play.

"Serious Games" has an established meaning; they're games intended for training, informing, or another purpose beyond entertainment.

I'm also not sure if "metagame" is the term you want. Metagaming refers to manipulating aspects of of the game that aren't part of the explicit rules. Tells in poker are probably one of the better known examples of metagaming. Or, ante cards in Magic: the Gathering were a metagame element designed to make people not want to put too many rares in their playing deck. (Of course there was the meta-game agreement by most players not to play with ante cards....) From your previous article, the politics that seep into a multiplayer game are also a metagaming aspect.

Your example of Train is interesting, where the information revealed is actually supposed to be part of the game and the experience. It gives context to what is otherwise seemingly just a diversion. The reports we've read about the game, however, are metagame and thus ruin that aspect of the game that should have been revealed at the end. (I'm assuming you, like me, have only read reports and not actually played the game.)

In the example of Company of Heroes, I'd consider those more like "dominant strategies" than metagaming. The dominant strategy changed as the game was patched. Now, strategies can contain some elements of metagaming, such as learning new strategies through discussions outside the game, or in the form of "I (have been told that I) should do X because I think my opponent will do Y."

At the core, I think you're mostly repeating your previous post where you're saying that depth allows strategy. Metagaming really doesn't seem to be an element here, unless there's something I'm missing....

All that said, I think you have struck upon an interesting concept with "serious MMOs". (Given the conflict with "serious games", it's probably a bad term.) I can see where you're coming from here, where an MMO in this classification would require some strategic input form the player. Something more than just memorizing a pattern or a reaction test that a lot of raids have become, for example. I think looking at that in more depth might provide some more interesting food for thought.

My (long) thoughts.

motstandet said...

I was going to clarify "serious gaming" and "metagaming" established definitions, but Brian already did :)

evizaer said...

Actually, "metagame" has a different meaning than the one you point out, Brian, in strategy game circles and among tabletop roleplayers. It has the definition I'm using in those contexts.

Metagame here means "the evolution of strategies between individual matches (or instances of a game) among a community of any size."

I was not sure about using "serious" here, either, because I thought it had the established meaning you mentioned. I'll add a disclaimer at the top of the post about terminology. Thanks for pointing this out.

lexsol said...

I disagree with your belief that it's bad to delay the endgame. The leveling process is a key part of the game, in my opinion. Both are key. But don't dismiss the leveling portion. There just needs to be more activities besides questing taking place in the leveling process. If you had no character progression in an MMO, it would be a strange game indeed. In fact, mmoRPG tends to imply character progression.

Besides, you also complain about gear being king, with regards to PVP (though it also applies to PVE). If you take away the character progression, gear will be all there is to progress on. If you're talking simply personal skill, then again you're talking about a different game. An MMO platformer. An MMOFPS. An MMORTS. OR an MMO action/adventure game.

So the questions I have, I suppose, is what exactly do you want in an MMO? Instant endgame(no longer endgame, just 'game') and no gear gathering? That, to me, is taking away what makes an MMORPG an MMORPG. Other than actually role-playing, that is - something I'm in favor of, but never see enough of.

Have you ever even been involved in a DnD game? What do you think that game is about? Getting loot from wizards. Role playing your character (unless you're in a decent group, it ends up being just role playing yourself). Getting enough xp to level up. There's just more immersion during the leveling process. Then, before the 'expansion' (epic level handbook) you got to max level, and just ran around getting loot and completely quests against higher level bad-guys. (Or anything else in fact, since the game wasn't set in stone, on files and servers).

That's what an RPG is. You're asking for it not to be an RPG. Which is strange....why do you play mmorpgs if you don't like rpgs? O_o

Unknown said...

Firstly, great article. I'd like to have my say.

A serious metagame within a MMORPG could work IMO. I used to play card games, Pokemon Cards to be specific. Yes, there was ALWAYS FOTM decks that came out. But there were so many cards that soon enough that FOTM deck was taken over and there was this continue cycle. There was never one deck to rule them all, actually some of the most random decks would end up having major advantages when used against FOTM decks.

This type of behaviour of course happens in MMORPGs, see WoW where an arena team (in a tournament) can randomly (random to the other players, would have still taken hours to practice with said class just like it would take time with a deck before using it) switch classes and come out on top because their strat (both because they have NO idea what strat they are using and because that combo may beat theirs and have an advantage).

NOW how to apply this fully to MMORPGs (beyond arena tournaments)? Well one would need to go back to the original purpose of MMORPGs. Like card games, MMORPGs would need to forever cycle... cycle through classes. So you base the game on server progression and what groups of players choose to do, they kill good king X and Y selection of classes pops up. Not WHOLE classes, whole classes already exist but instead give new 'branch' options. Best examples would be maybe Aion where you choose a certain type of mage, but here one can change much much more actively (maybe not completely without drawbacks). Or of course like a Shadow Priest.

This way MMORPGs are still defined as MMORPGs since server/story progression still actively happens, yet are in this continual state of cycle. Of course there will be many offshoots of classes available, while many main/archetypal classes will have more and better offshoots at certain points (which is always an issue in any game) pretty much all classes will be valid in some ways.

Either way, I'm dreaming again!


Gear: Should open up for possibilities rather then make someone OP or not. Character progression CAN and SHOULD exist in MMORPGs but NOT like it does in RPGs where you have obvious upgrades and pwn stuff (e.g. like how WoW is now). e.g. you get one new sword, doesn't have better stats but it does something else that is different (rather then better) and hence gives you more options.

Leveling: MMORPG is a different genre. Totally different. Leveling is good, and fun, but overall a part from starter areas that are there to each you the game (hopefully with others to help since it is a MMORPG) I really don't see the real need for leveling. But that's just me.

Other then you're mmoRPG story, what is really the point of leveling in a MMOrpg?

evizaer said...


MMORPGs are not RPGs. They are a different beast because they have one radical difference from standard RPGs. MMOs involve the interaction of multiple players over extended periods of time. This changes the game more than themepark MMOs admit in their designs. If actually harnessed, the multiplayer aspects of MMOs would cause the design to go in a significantly different direction.

I've been talking about limiting vertical progression a bit on this blog. You should read The Ten Points. Much of the posts I make here are justifying the points I lay out in that post. I encourage you to look through the archives for posts about vertical progression, simulationism, and MMORPG design topics in general.

As an aside: Allowing yourself to be caught up in genre distinction is a serious issue. Genre distinctions have nothing to do with the quality of a game in any sense. Genres are simply bullet-points to be put on the side of a box. They are vague and marginally useful for people who don't know much about games. Arguing about them gets us nowhere in a design discussion.

Nollind Whachell said...

Just found your blog. I've read this article in detail, as well as scanned over some of your other recent posts and even one of your older ones as well. Here's a quote from your older post on Minimalist MMO Design.

"The fundmental principle of minimalist game design: sets of simple rules interacting can create complex but parsable situations that are fun and rewarding to untangle, understand, and later manipulate."

I'd recommend you start researching articles on the Web that relate to complex systems and ecosystems (which is a complex system itself). Here's some recommended reading material.

"Permaculture, Principles & Pathways Beyond Sustainability" by David Holmgren - While most permaculture books focus on how to build a sustainable garden and co-exist with nature, this book is excellent for people wanting to learn about the dynamics of complex system because it focuses more on the principles which in turn can be used for any complex system. For example, some of the first articles I read about permaculture sounded like I was reading about the Web because the Web itself is an ecosystem. Most important of all, you'll discover that diversity and interdependencies are the backbone of any complex system.

"Finding Our Way, Leadership For an Uncertain Time" by Margaret J Wheatley - This book will help simplify the complexities of human interaction, especially within larger groups, organizations, and communities. A critical book to read, particularly since MMOs at their core are all about social interaction, particularly within larger groups.

"Community Building on the Web" by Amy Jo Kim - In reading this book, you'll understand that vibrant communities don't get built overnight but instead evolve simply and slowly over time to become complex systems in themselves. In effect, the best communities utilize the power of the individuals within them, so that as they get larger, they become easier to manage. Thus they start out small and simple, yet as they grow that simplicity is still maintained because of the complex interdepencies between everyone. Yet from a single individual's perspective, their interaction within this greater complex system is still simple because of their selective local perspective within the larger global group.

Nollind Whachell said...

Some additional comments relating to this post in particular.

Theme Park Design vs Sandbox Design - Usually from the game articles I've read on the web, your "serious game" is what I would call a Sandbox game. In effect, there is no linear story within the game like a theme park game would have (i.e. WoW) because the interaction between the people is where the real stories come from (and are often told for years afterwards by people to their friends because of the unique epic experiences within these games). Theme park MMOs usually require a huge investment in people and manpower to create and maintain the story and content for the game (often creating "canned" epic experience that are not unique at all). Sandbox MMOs in comparison require a huge investment in brainpower to figure out the foundation of the complex system properly. Once that's figured out, often achievable by a small focused team, the players of the game itself create the content and story.

Character "Skill/Ability" Progression - Bart Stewart has already commented on this a lot on Gamasutra. Character skill/ability progression in MMORPG games today is a perception created by the industry itself, as some earlier RPGs didn't have it as a requirement. For example, Traveller's gameplay, a sci-fi roleplaying game that I played back in the late 70's, states that "Traveller characters are defined less by the need to increase native skill and ability and more by achieving positional advancement in the form of wealth, gadgets, titles and political power." In effect, the enjoyment of the game, didn't come from leveling up your skills but from the new experiences you encountered and the conflicts you had to overcome. For example, an MMO idea that I'm playing around with would utilize this same approach in that your ABILITIES are defined at the beginning of the game. As you play the game though and interact with others, the effectiveness of your ABILITIES will vary depending upon your RESOURCES and STATUS within the game (and of course your own knowledge in how to utilize them effectively). What I like about this approach best of all though is that it totally changes the norms of gameplay, so that you can have a classless MMO were permadeath is not only possible but can actually be a meaningful part of the game (again something which Bart Stewart talks about as well).

Nollind Whachell said...

All said and done, the thing that most MMO developers don't fully understand is that 1) their game is primarily based upon social interaction and 2) they don't fully understand the paradox of community which is often critical for effective social interaction on a large scale. Margaret J. Wheatley in her book "Finding Our Way" relays this paradox of community.

"Life takes form as individuals that immediately reach out to create systems of relationships. These individuals and systems arise from two seemingly conflicting forces: the absolute need for individual freedom, and the unequivocal need for relationships."

Here's where MMO developers often screw up. The more they make their MMO game so that an individual can be self-sufficient, usually the less enjoyable the gameplay will be because it reduces the need for interaction and the building of relationships (even on a basic level). Yet it is easy to understand why they make this mistake because people playing these games don't want to feel like they are forced to do something they don't want to do. Again this need and desire for individual freedom is paramount, yet at the same time there is this need to reach out and connect with others, especially on something meaningful.

For example, let's say that my passion in a fantasy MMO game is to mine ore and be a blacksmith who crafts weapons and swords for others. That's it. That's all I ever wanted to do. No adventuring out in the wilds, fighting monsters, and all the risky life or death stuff. Now to someone else, this may seem ludicrous but to me, it could be all I ever wanted to do in an MMO. Yet the problem with most MMO's today is that they don't allow for this level of diversity and choice (individual freedom). If they did and designed it in the right way, then it would 1) dramatically increase the enjoyment of an individual's freedom and 2) increases the interaction and interdependencies of everyone within the game (as they pursue their individual freedoms).

Interestingly enough, I'd also like to use an RTS game as an example of what I'm talking about here. Imagine I'm a peon in an MMO game that utilizes gameplay dynamics very similar to the Warcraft II RTS game. In this game, there is an interdependency between the peon and the soldier units. In effect, no single unit can effectively win the game for you (i.e. no uber god-like unit), it requires a collaboration of diverse units with each of their own unique skills and abilities to do so. So for me as a peon to do my job of mining ore and building better gear, I need soldiers to do their job and defend the area around our settlement, so I can go out and collect those ore resources. The end result is that the entire community benefits from each individuals COLLECTIVE contributions, no matter how small or insignificant they may seem to others. For example, a soldier could care less about mining ore but if he see the correlation and dependency upon it which allows him to have better weapons and gear to follow his passion then the initial insignificance disappears.

Again all said and done, it's about creating more diverse opportunies for focused gameplay in one specific area (so a person can follow their individual freedoms), yet at the same time creating interdependencies between these different areas which in turn promotes interaction and collaboration on a much deeper and meaningful level.

evizaer said...


Thank you for the suggested reading. I'm buried in some other stuff (Wittgenstein's Tratatus Logico-Philosophicus and Miesner's Mao's China and After as well as Games and Decisions by Luce and Raiffa) but I'll put your suggestions on my reading list.

Regarding your comments, we seem to align very closely on our design interests in MMOs. I push for minimal character advancement in favor of allowing the player to change the world and effect larger stories relevant to the game directly. This sounds very much like what you mentioning regarding Traveller.

The ideas I bat around here are most often exploratory. I haven't spent a lot of time researching each article, though I do try to do some basic research through web searches. The emphasis here is coming up with ideas and hammering on them a bit so that later I can formalize them further and do more research on areas of particular interest.

Unknown said...

Nollind, thanks for those titles, might have a look into them at some point.

evizaer, couldn't agree more. More depth needs to go into the actual system mechanics, how the world interacts, etc more so then anything. Even though I think there should be still be enough effective self-character customisation, it shouldn't be anywhere near complex as it is today (in most mainstream MMOs). Instead people should be playing more simple characters (including a smaller table/list of abilities, more simple character customisation and RPing) in a complex world. It needs to be how the group/community interacts with the world and what comes of it. I mean, you have DEMON'S SOULS a single player RPG coming up with more and better multiplayer concepts then pretty much ALL MMORPGs now days!!

Either way, keep up the good work, I'll def be reading more of your stuff. The concepts for these games are limitless at this point (sadly money-filled developers aren't taking that to heart, at this point they are just copy/pasting from other genres... I know I go through many ideas of how players can interact), though I know nothing about the actual coding.

evizaer said...


Character customization is actually fairly simple in themepark MMOs. It's mostly replacing a clearly inferior item with a superior one. If there was less vertical advancement, character customization (on average) would be more of a strategic choice and less obvious and trivial. You would still have the same number of gear builds, if not more, than you'd have in a themepark game at max level--and that's all that really would matter in the kind of sandbox game I advocate.

CyberNigma said...

I'd like to point out, referring to the DnD comparison, that in a typical DnD game (tabletop), all of the players are essentially equal (in terms of level and gear). They also are playing a cooperative game and not necessarily competing against each other as is the case in many MMORPGs. In an MMORPG, one character can be completely outleveled and outgeared by another character, essentially making him worthless in comparison.

MMORPGs aren't tabletop RPGs and vice versa. A good DM will mitigate any gear or level differences that might actually exist in a tabletop group through gameplay. MMORPGs only bring those differences to light - namely in grouping or PvP.

CyberNigma said...

I would like to add that Guild Wars did a really good job at dealing with progression and skill as well as the metagame. Unfortunately, in its version of PvE and PvP revolved around builds in the metagame (much like M:TG). In PvE the builds could really be ignored and you could play how you wanted so long as you grouped with friends. In PvP, however, the game really revolved around builds. In PvP the skill-based part of the game came to the forefront, leaving some people at a plateau they just couldn't climb above compared to the more skilled players.

Unknown said...

@ evizaer
I meant all sides of character customisation, including gear (as you stated) and everything that has to do with gear (e.g. gemming as most current mainstream MMOs have, and enchanting), the whole lists of talents, levels, other status changing effects (not included in the other points) and the list goes on (e.g. inscriptions and other professions). To me, this list is FAR to large for a 'strategical' game. Don't get me wrong, you need a good amount of strategy and flavor, but many of the things on the list are overall useless more then anything.

And yes, I completely agree with your strategical character customisation (actually I talked about it earlier). Changes in characters should change something but not make it better or worse in the long run (even though depending on the context it may be better in a given situation, which is its point).

'As many gear builds', I think there should be many styles of gear, but as many as current MMOs? Think of how many useless items/builds/whatever there are in current games, I personally think stuff shouldn't be useless. If you're talking about high-end builds in those MMOs that are actually USEFUL, then yes I agree there should be AS many (options)... actually MORE useful builds/gear/items/etc (pretty much anything to do with character customisation list I have above) in these 'theoried future MMOs' then there current is in MMOs since 98% of the stuff in MMOs is generally useless with a tiny percent offering different options (even though there will most likely ALWAYS be the 'best' item/s and builds are a certain point in current games).

Anyway, hopefully I explained myself well enough this time (quite understandable that I get in over my head about trying to explain these types of things).

nivra said...

The metagame is the evolution of gameplay strategies outside of the game itself, including the gathering of game knowledge from external sources and players studying others’ strategies.The progress of the metagame represents the players exploring the multitude of strategic opportunities a deep game (“hardcore” deep, not “casual” deep) presents.

Doesn't Warcraft theorycrafting pretty much fit this definition to a tee? Almost everything that goes on in Elitist Jerks forums is meta-gaming. They are concerned with modeling, simulations, macros, add-ons, compositions, etc. Much of this has very little to do directly with gameplay but exists on a much more abstract level.

I know for myself, that I used to take just as much enjoyment out of working out analytical math problems with regards to incoming tank damage than actually tanking itself.

If this kind of theorycraft is not metagaming, than I'm misunderstanding your definition. If it is, then doesn't WoW already have a fairly serious metagame?

evizaer said...

Notice that "shallow" isn't "no depth". The metagame in WoW doesn't have any effect on the majority of players because casuals don't care about the metagame. There are probably a few thousand people who care and participate in the metagame of WoW, and the rest of the players enjoy their time well-enough and pay Blizzard $15 a month for it. Any game can have theorycrafting, regardless of how shallow the metagame is. People theorycraft for checkers, even though it is a solved game. Does that mean checkers has a meaningful metagame that's an important part of the play experience? Not at all.

I made a mistake in the article by indicating that the metagame should somehow be tied to a game's patch cycle. The metagame does shift because of patches, but that is not the kind of shifting that I want to emphasize as the goal. Look at chess and go as primary examples. Those games have had stable rulesets for hundreds of years and are still seeing significant strategic development.