Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Get your Story out of my MMO

With all the WoW and SWTOR news, something just hit me. I knew this was true, but it didn't really set in until now. It's been seven years since WoW released, and SWTOR is about to launch as the same exact game!

The same black and white, two-faction faux war with safe and "contested" zones; the same action combat with the same pace, hotbars, and skills; the same solo quest grind with the occasional dungeon run; the same poo-pooed crafting system that has little consequence to players; the same "hyrbid" classes which really aren't hybrids at all, but rather 3 min-maxed role specializations that are the Holy Trinity through and through.

And then, as if lack of innovation isn't enough, Bioware is going to completely eradicate players stories. The "fourth pillar" already existed in MMORPGs: there wouldn't be countless blogs devoted to retelling events that players experienced if "story" didn't exist (and unsurprisingly, Eve has the most numerous and varied story blogs I've ever read).

Let's assume Bioware is the leader in crafting video game stories. They create the most compelling canned stories anyone has ever written for a video game. They are still Bioware's stories! They are not player stories. Stories are born from extraordinary events. What would a SWTOR story blog look like? "Last night I had this really humorous and emotional dialog scene with these NPCs. I chose this light side option that resulted in an awesome cutscene!" The comments will read: "me too". What is worth telling if everyone experiences the same thing?

By the way, developer story has been done numerous times before; Bioware isn't doing anything new. Speaking from experience, FFXI had fun in-game cutscenes with your character in them and told some really amazing stories. But contrary to SWTOR, FFXI also put players in challenging situations and let extraordinary events transpire that morphed into player tales.

Developer stories, like graphics, are a selling point, but not important once the playbrain takes over. Games are systems. Choices are identified, outcomes are weighed, predictions are made, and then the brain gets a little shot of endorphins if it guessed correctly. MMORPGs are immensely layered and complex systems with an added layer of socialization. The interaction with other, irrational human beings spices the systems to the point of addiction. Humans crave knowledge and social interaction. Developer stories are an initial motivator, a driving force, an excuse to start down the path of playing a game, but they are not an ends of a game.

That's a lot of tall talk, but look at the numbers: "Only 10% of avid gamers completed the final mission, according to Raptr, which tracks more than 23 million gaming sessions." As expected, once the game system is mastered, the vast majority of players don't care about the "story" and see little reason to continue playing.

If SWTOR has the same systems we've all mastered seven years ago, and everyone is trapped in instances not experiencing extraordinary events around which to socialize, what is the point of playing? This seems like a way to charge $15 per month for KOTOR 3.


Nils said...

Most people look forward to KOTOR 3 and WoW did many very controversial decisions over the years. There is certainly space for a second (or 3rd) polished WoW with more focus on developer stories.

On the other hand, I absolutely agree you: My dream MMO is Eve on the ground, polished by Blizzard.

motstandet said...

Oh I'm sure SWTOR will be successful, capturing new-comers to MMO, KOTOR converts who will be enthralled by "playing alone together", and those who just can't get away from the Online Single Player Achievement Orgy.

That won't stop me from lambasting it though :P Or worse: ignoring it.

Elementalistly said...

I have been saying the same thing on a regular basis...but, really get lambasted for having this opinion.

The story should be the initial start, but a directed, forced story, where I am choosing from the direction the developer chooses, does not scream MMO to me.

Longasc said...

Elementalistly linked me this article and while I agree... you could show this to hundreds of bloggers and players and they will still happily blogged about their "unique canned singleplayer experience".

Too many people apparently still like it that way. A pity for me.

As long as Blizzard and WoW are seen as gold standards MMO related discussions are frustrating and futile because in the end, nothing changed.

See SWTOR. That's basically a slap in the face of blogging done about WoW and what's wrong with it, what could be improved or changed. It's the same plus the supposedly new thing, the story in Bioware style.

Tesh said...

Not much to add here except "yup". If devs want to tell stories, make single player games or movies.

Anonymous said...

Really, the only sensible point I could make about a game that has a semi-interactive game feature, like offering different dialogue options, is that this feature is basicly just a feature in the game as an obvious instance of game design choice.

With the notion above, other concerns will raise questions like: Is this fantasy? Is this roleplaying? Is this fun?

If the consequence of having dialogue options goes to show that the dialogue system itself is self reflexive, having been made for its own sake, then I think it is fair to say that something is wrong with such a game design choice.

One obvious motivation for having such a dialogue system, is one that is self fulfilling. A story is being eventually being told, and that is it, and perhaps all the devs ever wanted from it. In such a case, I would have to accuse the game designers for having implemented an elaborate but pointless time sink. If they really wanted to tell stories, there would be other ways, so what good would dialogue options do?

There are imo two requirements for a good game. (Pacing + Making sense)

Simply having a dialogue system telling "a story" is imo nothing like roleplaying (options probably does not make much sense, as a roleplaying experience)(and watching a movie is not roleplaying), and can hardly be called fantasy or a fantasy experience, unless the gaming experience perhaps is very compelling in its immersiveness, by suspending ones disbelief.

From what I can tell, I will have to believe that SWTOR will be childs play, not at all a fun MMO game.

Incidentally I was overly hopeful and purchased Skyrim and I will sadly have to conclude that Skyrim is not a fantasy game, because the game mechanics are so simple and crude that I will easily have to disqualify this game for possibly being a fantasy game. This game seem to be a giant time sink, relying on lots of "content" (encounters) rather than "form" (player options).

Really the only memorable thing so far with Skyrim that seem like fun, was watching someone on youtube visting a house, where a demon in a basement spoke to you. The voiced dialoge made good sense there, and seemed appropriate to the situation relying on a minimalistic narrative to help out, because a gloomy voice spoke out, but no figure appeared making the situation creepy and exciting.

To sum up, I will argue that if a game is unable to suspend your disbelief with its game mechanics, then there is hardly any fantasy to it and without sensible player options, there is no roleplaying to it.

Anonymous said...

Btw, I want to add that I have been commenting on SWTOR in this article at Massively the other day: http://massively.joystiq.com/2011/11/23/the-daily-grind-have-the-post-nda-testimonials-changed-your-min/

My comments there are easy to spot (Critical Mass), they are the ones that have been voted down and greyed out :D

evizaer said...


"Skyrim is not a fantasy game."

If you choose to define terms in such a way that only you know their meaning and no one but you can use them meaningfully, then you go around boldly proclaiming that game A clearly can't be described by that term, you're going to get downvoted to hell because you deserve it. You're just muddling the conversation by redefining stuff we already know both the operational and dictionary meanings of.

"To sum up, I will argue that if a game is unable to suspend your disbelief with its game mechanics, then there is hardly any fantasy to it and without sensible player options, there is no roleplaying to it."

The suspension of disbelief and the common gaming definition of fantasy are orthogonal to one another. Fantasy is almost always a genre descriptor in gaming talk--you confuse things by tearing that term out of its usual context and redefining it. A game can independently fail or succeed to lead to suspension of disbelief, totally separate from its genre.

You do nothing more than confuse people and look pretentious by redefining "Fantasy."

Similarly with "roleplaying." Because a game doesn't fit your personal, extremely strict definition of "roleplaying" doesn't really mean much. You should just say that you'd like games where player choice significantly impacts the game world and then stop talking, because in modern CRPGs, this almost never is the case. Pointing it out to people and saying "THIS IS NOT A REAL RPG" serves no constructive purpose in the discussion.

Anonymous said...

The graying out and being voted down on Massively was never a problem as such, I only mentioned it for fun wanting to make fun of the ardent fans of SWTOR.

Firstly, I believe that in a discussion about game mechanics, we can agree on that whatever we would like to think of as being a "fantasy game" is a subset of fantasy. To having to tailor to other peoples vain notion of the name "fantasy game" seem inappropriate.

At the very least everyone ought to know that thinking of a game as a "fantasy game" merely because of its peculiar subject matter (elves, magic, IP etc), obviously makes it very much like any other game without any link to fantasy as such.

If only as a conceptual metafor, in the same way one would want to call a car a vehicle, one ought to think of a fantasy game as relying on fantasy to work. In the case of anything Star Wars, disregarding the six movies and all the novels based on Star Wars (that I have read anyway), it seem pertinent to possibly characterize the remainding as kitch or rather as camp. Though of as having no artistic merit, being tasteless so to speak.

As for what you wrote about suspention of belief in you reply to me, I will just say that I think of you as insulting other peoples intelligence by claiming that I "do nothing more than confuse people". If I had been opinionated about "fantasy games" without explaining myself, then I could understand how it would be thought of being inappropriate, but I have not.

As for the claim of being pretentious, there is surely nothing pretentious about what I wrote, I make myself clear. This particular argument about what is to be understood as "fantasy game", goes to show how meaningless it is for regarding "fantasy game" to be simply genre specific, when taking into account the superficial game mechanics that neither can be said to have much substance or significance.

Arguing that suspension of belief being common to all games surely has a different meaning to it, than the fact of the matter in which fantasy as such relies on a suspention of belief for in order to work. The fact that other things (games) "work" by them relying on a suspention of belief is an entirely different matter alltogether.

How silly it would be, to tell gamedesigners that games ought not convey fantasy (not A fantasy), but merely have arcadish elements mashed together with fancy graphics.

One thing that could be understood arcadish with regard to a PC game, would be a hitpoint bar for example. Other things would be repeatable graphics and audio, like having one graphical effect for an event in the game.

If I were to make a simple claim, it would be that so called "fantasy games" hardly can be said to convey fantasy and because of this some games ought not to be thought of as a fantasy game at all.

Here is another claim; people ought to stop believing that the name, the term or the words "fantasy game" is unequivocally related to genre specific subject matters.

motstandet said...