Thursday, October 22, 2009

Dungeon Backflagging and Involuntary Role-playing

If you look at the changes Blizzard has planned for patch 3.3 - gear will be reset for the second time in six months, and reputations will be heirloomed - it appears that they have decided that it is no longer realistic to expect characters to complete all the prior group content after they hit level 80.

You can't get out of gearing up entirely - there's a new random cross-server LFG system to help with it - but they clearly don't think that the backflagging efforts that Jaye is working on in EQ2 are realistic expectations for WoW players. For that matter, EQ2 itself has gone through and heirloomed many of its previously bind-on-pickup loot drops to help players gear their new alts without repeating old content on them.

Involuntary Role Playing
Whether it's sitting AFK watching your character travel, looking for groups, farming for cash to pay routine upkeep expenses, or grinding out levels and gear to catch up with your friends, there often seems to be something the player does not want to do standing in between them and the activity they actually want to be doing.

These activities are, in some ways, role playing; it actually does take your character time to get places, it actually does cost money to repair your gear, and a player who cannot defeat the Lich King's weakest lieutenants won't be very much good against the King himself. That is, however, little consolation when you sit down in front of your computer with maybe half an hour to spare before you really have to get to bed, and you find that precious time eaten up by the minutia of living in a virtual world.

Keen and Pete both lament the loss of role playing from the more recent entries in the genre. They're not wrong, but the answer is not as simple as telling players to go farm more. I'm starting a new job on Monday. The pay is good and the work is interesting, but the hours will almost certainly be longer. Spending more time simply is not an option for me.

Perhaps Keen is right, and the answer is simply that companies should aim lower, in the hopes of attracting a smaller niche crowd where everyone will be on the same page on these sorts of questions. There is limited evidence that the niche crowd is willing to settle for niche-level production values (see all the grousing about Darkfall's graphics, bugs, balance issues, and instability at that game's launch), but it does seem to be working out somewhat for Fallen Earth.

Then again, it does seem like everyone - solo, raid, crafter and PVP - has something to gain from sharing a single virtual roof, assuming that each aspect of the game is actually well designed, and not merely tacked on as a token hope to draw more subscribers. It would be sad to lose the diversity of our online communities, simply because we cannot agree on how hard the logistics should be.

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