Tobold has a fatally flawed and useless definition of content. I usually don't carry over comments from his blog to this one [removed an unnecessarily strong phrase, my apologies -Ev], but he’s brought up a topic that I would like to address.
A Poor Definition of Content
Tobold begins by stating his definition of content in a sound-bite form:
I would say that any MMORPG has two fundamental parts: A repetitive part, for which the base rules are always the same, for example combat. And the non-repetitive part which creates the conditions for all those combats, which I call "content".
There are wrong assumptions here.
Tobold assumes that all repetitive action in MMOs is combat, which is patently untrue. Crafting may be even more repetitive and deserves a mention. Aside from this semantic contention, t (Oops, I misread "example".)The “base rules” for combat are not always the same. The easiest example are the vehicular combats in WoW: they certainly do not use the same rules as normal combat. Also, playing as a different class engages you with different rules in combat. Tobold could be talking very abstractly here, but I doubt he is—he has never talked so abstractly before. The “base rules” for combat should also include the various special abilities for whatever foe you’re fighting, so those base rules do change between combats with different kinds of monsters (I’ll go into this further and make stronger assertions related to game rules in a future post).
Tobold fails to consider player action-related rules as an element of content. Certainly what a player can do in the world, as dictated wholly by the rules that govern his character’s action, should dictate some part of a measure of content. We can judge the content of games based on game rules alone if we want: which game has more content, the one where you have 2 attacks or the one where you can build houses and dig holes as well as engage in diverse combat?
Tobold’s assumptions are off and incomplete, but perhaps his definition is still salvageable. He claims that the context for repetitive action is the content in an MMO.
Content can be quests, landscapes, dungeons, scripted events like boss fights, monster models, loot tables, lore, and many other things.
This seems reasonable, actually. But then he demonstrates a lack of understanding by attaching no content value to the times where these aspects of content are not hand-made.
What I don't count as content is the number of square miles of procedurally generated landscapes, or the near-infinite number of randomly generated dungeons in games like Diablo or City of Heroes.
What about procedurally generated quests that generate new dungeons that otherwise would not be present? Much content in roguelikes would be disregarded by Tobold, even though it’s entirely illogical to do so. Certainly generating what he’d otherwise call “content” with a machine instead of by hand should count somewhat towards the total content value of a game!
Compare a game with 5 hand-made single-floor dungeons that are always the same to a game with 5 hand-made dungeons that each have 4 more randomly-generated floors. Clearly a game with 25 dungeon floors, even if they have the same art assets and monsters, has more content than a game with only 5.
He then goes on to demonstrate superficial thinking by comparing two games that have just about nothing in common, European football and WoW. This example illustrates the weakness of his definition and its uselessness to describe something worth describing.
A Useless Definition of Content
What do we care about in games?
Do we care about how many gigabytes of textures and sound files are included on the DVD? There is no correlation between the aggregate filesizes of a game’s graphical assets and how much fun it is. And when we’re talking about games, we discuss them based on fun. (Except for the few people who discuss them as art, but they would also agree that sheer size does not dictate artistic merit.)
If we only take quantity of assets as a sign of amount of content, we’re saying nothing useful about the game from a critical perspective.
When players talk about content, they usually are discussing, perhaps indirectly, the amount of time it will take to complete the game. Clearly it doesn’t matter if quests and dungeons are hand-made or procedurally-generated, they add to the time it takes to finish a game in the same fashion—even if you’re only looking to beat a final boss of some type and not looking to collect every collectable and achieve every achievement.
Tobold’s Definition of Content Should be Disregarded
Both as a practical exercise and a critical exercise, Tobold’s definition of content is wildly flawed. His assumptions are incomplete and incorrect, his conclusions are not consistent with his other conclusions and assumptions, and the definition he seems to arrive at does not give us anything useful as game critics or gamers.
We cannot accept a definition so flawed on its own merits and counter to the common understanding of the word defined.