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The System loves you for your money, not your soul.
May 6, 2008 7:40 PM   Subscribe

In this way, Lu Yang became one of the "RMB gamers" she disdains. More than 10,000 RMB was quickly and nearly imperceptibly spent. In the game, the "queen" possessed fearsome power. She carried out vengeance for herself and her friends, she accepted entreaties, and she protected the caravans of the kingdom. At the same time, she went out with the heroes to invade other kingdoms. Her reputation spread far and wide. [...] "Long live the Queen!" People bowed to her in submission. That was the high point for Lu Yang on ZT Online, and for that one fleeting moment, she felt that the time and money she had spent was worth it.
The System is a translated Chinese article examining ZT Online, an MMORPG that has taken fleecing gamers to a new level.
posted by Kattullus (34 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite

 
I don't know very much about Chinese culture, but I wonder if the difference between Chinese and American/Euro MMOG gamers has to do with this:
Though she has invested tens of thousands of yuan in the game, she has suffered defeat after defeat due to the fact that others are more willing to spend, and to spend much more money than she is.
Seems like I get enough of the frustration of people having more money than me here; why would I want to feel the same way in a game? It's easier to write off people who have too much time on their hands than too much money because we tend to believe the former are anti-social shut-ins with no power otherwise. The rich, meanwhile, already have tons of ways to flex their muscles without having to resort to beating us at video games as well.

I wonder if maybe the difference is class warfare hasn't played out to nearly the extent it has elsewhere, or at least not amongst the Chinese who can actually afford to buy a computer or spend lots of time in internet cafes? Though the theory starts to fall apart when you consider other asian nations who don't have the same sociopolitical background as China, I guess (aren't there a lot of Korean MMORPGs that use the microtransaction model as well?)
posted by chrominance at 8:00 PM on May 6, 2008


hardly an objective article but it's a good read. it's a worrying trend in games, if you know anyone who plays world of warcraft you'll often hear them describe their experience in terms of feeding an addiction. I remember going to a psychology lecture discussing gambling and addiction and qualities that tend to make something "addictive", things like a gradual learning curve with a corresponding difficulty curve just high enough to make someone struggle without being too frustrating, reward training (the visual cues on item quality and leveling effects in WoW spring to mind) and so on, then going straight home and playing WoW, noticing the same things and the irony of it then playing anyway because I really really wanted to.

As a gamer, I don't consider programs like WoW "games" anymore. They could be described as a system, but that sounds over the top. They can surely be played "like a game" as in the case of people in the article playing through without spending money at all, but the "game" is not designed for that to be a very rewarding experience - in my experience, the main "reward" in mmorpgs is novelty in terms of new content, areas, or new skills, and also the more trained and abstract reward of items (giving stats) or secondary skills like crafting of weapon skills. Generally rather than a game of skill or luck they are more games of who can invest the most time or money into the system. In some cases it's more like a virtual slot machine with some context to the shiny stuff that comes out occasionally, but far, far lower odds.

I'm sorry to waffle on but this is something that needs to be recognised. Games went straight from ignored to demonised without that step in between where they could be considered as potentially artistic *and* entertaining, as a result no one looks seriously about games of this style. The potential for addiction is high, i've seen MMORPG's ruin relationships, loose jobs and cause people to drop out of college, but yet, it's not something that people take seriously as a problem in the game industry, it's seen as fair game if you train your customers to want to spend increasingly more time and money in your game. It's not on and gives a bad name to the real games, with well developed, creative mechanics and true artistic merit.
posted by Dillonlikescookies at 8:12 PM on May 6, 2008 [1 favorite]


Translated by MetaFilter's own zhwj! The man's a translation machine, boy genius and enormously sexy to boot.
posted by Abiezer at 8:20 PM on May 6, 2008


Heh! Two posts in a row linking to MeFite sites... if I keep this up I'll turn into cortex :)
posted by Kattullus at 8:24 PM on May 6, 2008


I noticed this stuff over a decade ago, Dillonlikescookies, with MajorMUD. It's not something new with the latest generation of 3D role playing games. I've never played WOW myself, but from what you're described, it essentially follows the exact same game model as MajorMud, in terms of rewards, new skills, new areas, getting just enough goodies when you "level up" to make it worth it, but not enough to make you happy.

I was a sysop on a BBS that had a large MajorMUD community. And the thing is - and I don't know how true this is of WOW - you didn't even have to play it. You could just script it. Write a program to wander around the dungeons killing things for you and collecting the gold, or get one of a number of commercially available MajorMUD automation programs. People used to just dial up, set their script going, check their computers every through hours to make sure they hadn't died, then wait a week or so until they had enough experience to go level up. I find it hard to understand where the fun, or the game is in that.

Anyway, we charged BBS members extra if they wanted to script 24 hours a day. Made a tidy profit from them.
posted by Jimbob at 8:25 PM on May 6, 2008


WoW is actually involved in a lawsuit over just that-- someone made a program called WoWGlider that basically plays for you. Since WoW requires a high input of drudgery for every fun thing, this actually makes a lot of sense.

I got into WoW with my friends, quit a month later because they had all outleveled me and I refused to put in more than eight hours a week. A year or two later my friends both extracted themselves from grinding habits and now are much happier.

We also play Team Fortress together, which is much less addictive, although I still lose a lot.
posted by ®@ at 8:34 PM on May 6, 2008


The article's kinda weird. It seems almost like it's written by two people. On one hand, it tries to keep the game itself at arm's length (putting "Queen" in quotes condescendingly, for example), but it also seems to go into somewhat tedious detail about the game's mechanics, as if the article's written for players of the game. In short, I can't tell whether the article is written for insiders or outsiders; perhaps it's just a product of translation, but it reads like fan fiction mixed with journalism.

The idea itself is interesting in that it illustrates a fascinating point about MMOs, something that I don't think the subject of the article picked up on soon enough: when it comes to games, the journey is the destination.
"What's the point?" she asked her doubters. "The system provokes wars and we pour in our money. Whoever allocates more money is the winner." She felt that there were no winners: "Everyone's been played by the system!"
Who says games can't teach valuable lessons about the world? To be serious, though, I found it very interesting how the game company seemed to conspire against the players to turn the game into even more of a money sink. Ironically, this seems to have gone too far in one direction for the game company as they were sued late last year by their shareholders for reducing gold farming.
"Why should a doctor want to kill a teacher? Why does someone who is a cop in real life want to harm others in a game?" Lu Yang pondered these strange questions. "Why is there such enmity between strangers?"
Pacifist sentiments come off as inappropriate in this context; games are all about conflict, whether it's the conflict between a mage and a warrior or between a knight and a rook. Peace in real life makes sense because real life is all there is. Peace in a game is foolish because it removes the impetus to play. Games are made for pleasure, and real life is...well, no one's quite figured out what life is for, but we've all pretty much come to the consensus that killing each other isn't going to bring us any closer to finding out. Speaking from personal experience, I've found that violence itself is actually quite fun, and environments that isolate the violent, conflict-creating element from its moral and ethical consequences (such as in games) are generally pretty pleasurable.

Of course, there is an argument to be made for treating other players in a game with the same level of respect you might in real life. I think that games should be played (and designed) with hedonism in mind; in other words, to maximize pleasure. It is very difficult to balance that sentiment when real life is mixed into that equation, though, as social networks made in games often extend back into real life, sometimes with negatives consequences. Take, for example, the incident in EVE Online three years ago, when some players infiltrated another player-owned corporation and stole over $16,000 in assets. Surely the victims in this case felt some sense of betrayal that extended beyond their alter egos in-game; should the culprits have felt a corresponding pang of guilt for double-crossing their purported friends?

As gaming (and, really, the internet in general) becomes more prominent in the public consciousness and more mainstream, I think people will really have to evaluate what an emotional investment in activities online really should amount to, beyond the dismissive "internet is serious business lols" that ignores the drastic change the internet has made in how people communicate and interact with one another.
posted by anifinder at 8:45 PM on May 6, 2008 [1 favorite]


Huh, crazy.

The impression that I get from articles like this (and I know it's only a tiny sliver of the full depth of the story) is that China is getting some radically mutant cancerous strain of both the future and capitalism as we in the west know it. Interesting times.
posted by Divine_Wino at 8:52 PM on May 6, 2008 [2 favorites]


This is why I walked away from EVE Online, after a little more than six months building up a small asteroid mining company. I spent that time working the belts, acquiring capital, gaining and servicing contracts with larger shipbuilding firms and recruiting pilots. Then, one day, I realized how much time and effort it was taking, and what I could have done with that time and I just went, "Holy shit. This is a day job. I have a pretend day job that pays me in play money." And I deleted everything and haven't looked back.
posted by Naberius at 8:55 PM on May 6, 2008 [9 favorites]


"European and American games do not encourage unlimited superiority of power; they put more of an emphasis on balance and cooperative support." The former WOW manager said, "Perhaps this is because of the influence of traditional culture and the current environment; truth be told, Chinese gamers are better suited to jungle-style gaming."

This strikes me as a peculiar reversal of stereotypical expectations of behavior. I'm sure there's a lot more to the story. Certainly in WoW the 'culture' is different between PvP and PvE servers; PvP players are, in my experience, far, far nastier to one another in every way, than PvE players: in zone chat, "ninja-looting", pickup group formation, in-guild and cross-guild politics, on realm forum boards, etc. Whether this is due to the PvP environment attracting nastier personalities, or the PvP environment making average personalities nastier, I don't know.

Certainly the expectation, on the US-PvE server on which I play, even among pickup groups, is that all players do their best to cooperatively support the group goal. I'd hesitate to draw analogies to real life behavior there, though; much of real-life competitive behavior is strongly dependent on an element of cooperation between participants. If we think of a "highly competitive entity" we might think of a corporation, a sporting team, or a military, all of which are extremely internally cooperative.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 8:55 PM on May 6, 2008


I went to Santa Monica to cover the FFXI fan event for a magazine - stood outside in the smoking section with the other black-lunged pariahs, I eavesdropped on a conversation between about a dozen gamers. One guy, who was also working at the event as a security guard, confessed, with a palpable air of contrition, that he 'only' managed to get in 'about 25 hours a week' since his kid had been born. I thought his toe-digging stance was a put on, until the rest of the group started talking in terms of regular 40 hour weeks.

MMORPGs bring an extra dimension in terms of subscription charges and an ability to buy gold and equipment with real world money, but game addiction is as old as the hills. Well, assuming hills about a quarter of a century old. Tetris has enough of a payoff/frustration dynamic to engage an addictive personality.

And just because someone isn't paying an online subscription fee, it doesn't mean that the financial, social and personal results can't be just as devastating. The main difference is, there isn't even a network of online pseudo-friends to interact with. This coming from a guy whose Pokémon game clock tops 400 hours for a few months of play. Having said that, I caught a Moltres and an Articuno this evening, so it's not all bad. (although if I were ever to 'catch em all', rather than an ecstatic state of nirvana-like completeness, I'm sure I'd feel utterly, utterly bereft)
posted by RokkitNite at 9:01 PM on May 6, 2008


I am equally guilty of coding my own programs to play MUDs for me. Better than actually playing them, I say! But anyway:

The dangling carrot is a universal phenomenon, hardly exclusive to games. Your boss/parents/pastor/partner employ it equally. "A fool and his money," etctera. If people want to spend their hard earned cash on epic loot, that's fine with me. Better to consume virtual resources than real ones.
posted by mek at 9:36 PM on May 6, 2008 [1 favorite]


anifinder As gaming (and, really, the internet in general) becomes more prominent in the public consciousness and more mainstream, I think people will really have to evaluate what an emotional investment in activities online really should amount to, beyond the dismissive "internet is serious business lols" that ignores the drastic change the internet has made in how people communicate and interact with one another.

Very much so. I think to some extent emotional investment is a function of time x care. We admire more an artwork created over months of hard effort, which shows in its construction, than we do a quick sketch, even if the quick sketch is more useful to our immediate purpose. We mourn lost friends and relatives in terms of time; years spent with them, are now ended. Even bad things are rated in terms of the length of time they lasted, and their severity.

If you drew a picture over the course of several weeks, and you carried it around in your sketchbook, but were not quite finished it and someone snatched it from you and threw it into the street, in the rain, and it washed into the gutter and was destroyed, you've lost time. If the same sort of person, with the same lack of empathy, hacks your WoW account and strips your character of gear, you've lost time. If the emotional impact is the same, the time involved is the same, there is little rational reason to draw a distinction between the effort of "only a game" and the effort of "only a picture".

I suppose, if you were particularly good at art, your picture might have had financial value beyond the sentimental value of showing it to friends and being proud of it, and there's no clear analogy there (except perhaps game development experience, or writing of strategy guides) to gaming. But I think in either case to describe the loss merely in financial terms, degrades it. There's immediacy, and future plans, as well: I wouldn't greatly care if a picture I drew years ago was destroyed, but the one I'm working on right now matters a lot to me. Same with a game character.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 9:39 PM on May 6, 2008 [4 favorites]


in terms of rewards, new skills, new areas, getting just enough goodies when you "level up" to make it worth it, but not enough to make you happy

I think that both "worth it" and "not happy" are conditions of the player and not the game. You get pretty much what is designed into the game - i.e. what everyone else gets. Similarly, I could argue that having enough of a payoff/frustration dynamic to engage an addictive personality is the defining requirement of a hobby, be it computer games, golf or wood working.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 9:49 PM on May 6, 2008


This reminds me of the recent Jared Diamond article about stateless Papua-New Guinea.

God, what a time to be a political scientist or economist—people will pay you to play your experiments!

One last thought: I wonder if the purported censoring of this article is due to the pretty obvious allegories between the game and the Chinese state.
posted by klangklangston at 10:33 PM on May 6, 2008


Ouch, this hits a little close to home. I play The Kingdom of Loathing as my major MMO of the moment, and the economy in KoL is the closest I can think of to the one in the article. Granted, they're not really the same at all, but money undeniably has a more direct place in KoL than it does in most online games. (I'll keep my explanation simple for the non-gamers in the audience, but when I talk about money I'm mentally converting from millions of Meat, and when I say equipment I really mean equipment, familiars and Mr. Skills.)

There are a lot of different ways to play KoL; you can simply be social and not worry about the game mechanics, or you can play casually and just enjoy the content, but the major metric for both prestige and advancement is the number of ascensions one undertakes as well as their difficulty (in plain English, how many times you've beaten the game). Inherently, it doesn't cost anything to play KoL, and you can complete the game using just the resources that are available to anyone, but most players eventually want the edge that the rarer items provide. (Incidentally there is an ascension mode where you can temporarily start from scratch as if you were playing a brand new account. This is considered the hardest mode in the game.) Every ascension will take at least a minimum number of days to complete and the better the items you have, the fewer days you can do it in. The more ascensions you have, the more competitively you can play the game and the shorter each subsequent one becomes.

The catch comes from the fact that the beyond a certain level all of the best equipment has a real world value, usually of at least $10. It's possible to farm for the currency to purchase something like that, but time spent farming takes directly away from time spent advancing, so for most people that isn't a viable strategy. (Plus it takes high level equipment in the first place to farm effectively) The quickest and most reliable way to make money in the game is to donate for an item and then resell it for currency. A new item is released in the donation shop each month for that month only, so a new player could get by with paying only $160 a year for all of that year's limited items (a bargain for an MMO!) and gradually become proficient in the game that way. However, in order to get older equipment, one needs to spend significantly more because those items are now scarce and therefore much more valuable. At this point the cost becomes whatever you're willing to pay since you could waste a thousand dollars and still not have every item in the game. Some of those items are useful, some are merely rare, and many are a mix of the two. (One very popular item, the Tome of Snowcone Summoning is worth about $180 right now after recently shooting up sharply from the $80 range.)

The game also has a casino where you can place bets with other players on a digital coin toss. The maximum amount the game lets you wager is equivalent to $200, and there is usually someone willing to take a bet of that size. The most I know of personally is someone who is down $500 that way, but people are more likely to talk about winnings than losses. The highest winning streaks from this have topped $2,000. I sometimes wonder if KoL might have the largest number of people trusting in Martingale betting systems outside of 18th century France. In short, there is a significant amount of virtual money trading hands that has real world value if you can sell it on eBay before they close the auction.

Money can't buy direct advancement in KoL, only time spent playing the game can do that, but it's still a tricky relationship. There is a big emphasis by the developers on earning your rewards, for instance it takes 200 days to get one of the best skills in the game, no matter who you are. I've been playing for a year and a half now and I'm not a notable player. I don't have the best equipment, and it would take another six months for me to be anywhere near competitive if I wanted to be. Even so, I've wasted more money on a game with stick figure graphics than I ever did for the real MMOs I've tried. The only consolation is that I've made a few good investments and I could liquidate my inventory, sell my character, and not quite break even. I'm having fun still and certainly not complaining about it, but when you lay it all out like this the numbers can be quite staggering, and that's not even looking at time investments, emotional investments, friendships, guilds or feuds.

It's a tricky question, of how to treat advancement in an MMO, since most gamers I know are tired of grinding non-stop. Free Korean MMOs are notorious for being grind-fests with cash shops that let you advance at a quicker rate, and the alternative is to pay a subscription fee for a lighter grind and more accessible content. EVE uses time spent subscribed as one of the metrics for succes, but that puts new players at a serious disadvantage, and as others have pointed out it's a pretty time intensive game anyway. Interestingly, many of the unofficial player run servers for MMOs have tweaked experience rates that let you progress several times faster than usual. Really though, one of the most interesting things about these MMOs is what the players create within them as a response to the game, like the peace protests in the posted article or the massive coordinated roving zombie hoards in Urban Dead that went around smashing all the Malls one by one. Bringing it back to KoL, a user recently met with dire tragedy and the community responded by holding a series of auctions of in-game items to raise $23,000 towards her recovery. The word fascinating doesn't even begin to cover these kinds of behaviors.
posted by CheshireCat at 11:30 PM on May 6, 2008 [4 favorites]


Pudding farming in Nethack: still free!
posted by Zed_Lopez at 12:02 AM on May 7, 2008 [7 favorites]


Zed_Lopez: don't forget credit cloning.
posted by honest knave at 1:03 AM on May 7, 2008


I played War Rock for a while, a free MMOFPS. You had to spend game credits (which people usually bought with real $) to upgrade your weapons. However, there was a lot of satisfaction involved in kicking someone's butt with the stock weapons when they had the premium weapons. I think for me the money sink games break down when the player who doesn't spend money is at such a steep disadvantage that they cannot possibly win.
posted by BrotherCaine at 1:39 AM on May 7, 2008


The article's kinda weird. It seems almost like it's written by two people. On one hand, it tries to keep the game itself at arm's length (putting "Queen" in quotes condescendingly, for example), but it also seems to go into somewhat tedious detail about the game's mechanics, as if the article's written for players of the game. In short, I can't tell whether the article is written for insiders or outsiders; perhaps it's just a product of translation, but it reads like fan fiction mixed with journalism.

anifinder: The original article comes off that way, too, partly because of the newspaper's house style, which seems to encourage a combination of breathless narrative and dry facts in many of its feature stories, but also because the average newspaper reader has never played video games before and needs everything explained to them in order to understand the point the reporter is trying to make about The System. Observations similar to yours were voiced by some veteran gamers when the article came out last year, but in general the feeling was that it was better than the scare-journalism (of the Jack Thompson sort] that usually shows up.

In related news, ZT Online recently broke 2.1 million concurrent users.
posted by zhwj at 3:37 AM on May 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


God, what a time to be a political scientist or economist—people will pay you to play your experiments!

This is almost literally true in the case of A Tale in the Desert, the lead programmer of which has presented papers at gaming conferences about events that have occurred in the game. Teppy's game experiments were one reason why I left—around the time he was screwing around with variants of a werewolf-style game was also around the time when people were clamouring for some, ANY movement in the game's main plot surrounding the devastation of the Valley of the Kings. It felt like Teppy was performing these social-gaming experiments at the cost of the actual gaming experience most of us had signed up for.

Though to be fair, the major reason why I left ATITD was not Teppy's werewolf experience, but the feeling that I was working rather than playing in order to advance. Something endemic to nearly all MMOGs, I guess.
posted by chrominance at 4:07 AM on May 7, 2008


I don't consider programs like WoW "games" anymore.

They're games like a slot machine is a game except you lose real money and win fake money/objects.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 5:06 AM on May 7, 2008


Better to consume virtual resources than real ones.

This, I think, is an interesting point.
posted by aramaic at 6:27 AM on May 7, 2008


Naberius: Eve still has the most interesting model of any MMO I've played or heard of. A friend of mine described it best when he said--to paraphrase--it was like an exploded RTS in slow motion. You've got your resource harvesters (peons; that was you and me), your producers pumping out units for the front line (barracks et al; the corps producing ships and mods in highsec), and then the fighting units doing battle (knights, etc.; corps like BoB and GoonSwarm out in lowsec). I eventually found actually playing it to be pretty tedious, but I still find it fascinating.

They're games like a slot machine is a game except you lose real money and win fake money/objects.

Heh, at least you get something from them, then.
posted by adamdschneider at 7:28 AM on May 7, 2008


Then, one day, I realized how much time and effort it was taking, and what I could have done with that time and I just went, "Holy shit. This is a day job. I have a pretend day job that pays me in play money." And I deleted everything and haven't looked back.
posted by Naberius at 11:55 PM on May 6


As I was reading your story, I recalled an ultra crappy lemonade stand game we used to play on my friends Apple IIc. For what ever reason, we were obsessed with this game, until we realized we could spend just as much time running a real lemonade stand but actually make real money. So we tried it.

We didn't make very much money actually, but we learned an incredible amount about business and selling, much more than from the game itself.
posted by Pastabagel at 7:31 AM on May 7, 2008


This is a day job. I have a pretend day job that pays me in play money.

But I guess the upside is, it's relatively consequenceless. I mean, in most real jobs, letting a bunch of your coworkers get killed by a rampaging golem would be a sackable offence.
posted by RokkitNite at 8:38 AM on May 7, 2008


I played WoW for a while a year or two ago. It was fun, and I really dug the idea of the huge, immersive world, up until I got to around level 30 or so. Then it was to the point where it started to require lots of time and repetition to advance, and I lost interest. Plus, it seemed like there were far more maxed-out level 60 characters than anything else, and it was hard to find pickup groups to do the lower-level instances and such. I never got how people could get totally addicted to it, it gets completely repetitive and boring around that level 30 point. Once in a while I think about giving it another shot, but I never do.

Now, if an MMORPG in the Grand Theft Auto universe were to come out, then I would become a craven MMORPG addict.
posted by DecemberBoy at 10:35 AM on May 7, 2008


I played WoW in one of the "uber" guilds with the raiding and the constant leveling and the equipment of doom and whatnot. After my son was born, there was just no way to keep doing it. I stayed on, so I could keep chatting with friends, and see the new content for the first couple of add-on content packs, but once I couldn't really "play" with the people I knew because they were all power leveling and doing raids that I didn't have the equipment to do, I just sort of gave it up. I mean, why pay that much money to run around solo all the time?

I used LotRo to wean myself off the whole MMORPG habit. It was so gentle and slow and non competitive, compared to being in a raiding guild on WoW that it was easy to just play to watch the pretty pictures, and subsequently get kinda bored and wander off. (The hobbits were so cute though!) I still have an account on the LotRo test server, so I still go get my PVP kicks in every once in a while, but eventually they're going to figure out I still have a free media-pass account and probably turn it off, even though I'm one of the few people who actually tests content and reports bugs.
posted by dejah420 at 11:07 AM on May 7, 2008


Anyone want to buy my Progress Quest character? I've put a lot of CPU's into it.
posted by bertrandom at 2:08 PM on May 7, 2008


MMORPGs are barely RPGs. Roles are not being played; buttons are being clicked and virtual money is being acquired. There's some pretty scenery, but it's basically pointless. People ignore what story there is. It's decoration, like the story in the Diablo series - probably the first successful game that trained people to ignore the pretty things and just click. The story was actually was very interesting, but very few people noticed or remembered it. Pretty much every MMORPG is Diablo with different clothes.

EVE Online is different: it is pretty much exactly like trading on a stock market, except you have to wait 20 minutes between trades while you watch a ship zoom through space.

I guess these are 'games' in the sense that slot machines are games. I would love, absolutely love, to find an MMO that involves skill and strategy. But uh, yeah... it hasn't happened yet.
posted by blacklite at 3:56 PM on May 7, 2008


blacklite, this isn't necessarily true. There are some pretty diehard RP folks who create their own stories within the framework. City of Heroes still has some very active RP guilds.
posted by waraw at 4:28 PM on May 7, 2008


Well okay, you're right. And I've heard City of Heroes is a great example of that, though I've never played. There are also a handful of RP-encouraged WoW servers. But the percentage of people RPing (in these beautiful worlds that were at one point, I think, designed for RP) is tiny, tiny, tiny.

People will always carve out their little RP niches, but the games themselves, in both terms of mechanics and how they end up being played by the vast majority, have been disappointing grind-fests from day one.

The thing is, interestingly, I don't think that early designers envisioned shitty grind-fests (at least I hope not), but the competitive, investment-based play seems to encourage people to make it into one. It will be a good day when someone figures out how to separate character development and skill from "how much time/money can you spend here?"
posted by blacklite at 5:05 PM on May 7, 2008


There are two reasons why a standard MMO is not a RPG: (1) There is usually an optimal way to do things, in an MMO. (Or a small selection of optimal ways.) Any roleplayed reason to deviate from the optimal approach, by definition, nerfs you. (2) The world is suspended in time. No matter how many times you kill a given creature or perform any given quest, the quest remains for others to perform.

IMO, MMOs are best approached as first-person tactical games, with some small element of the same pseudo-roleplaying that gets into Counterstrike etc.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 7:27 PM on May 7, 2008


Well okay, you're right. And I've heard City of Heroes is a great example of that, though I've never played. There are also a handful of RP-encouraged WoW servers. But the percentage of people RPing (in these beautiful worlds that were at one point, I think, designed for RP) is tiny, tiny, tiny.

People will always carve out their little RP niches, but the games themselves, in both terms of mechanics and how they end up being played by the vast majority, have been disappointing grind-fests from day one.



Two things. First, if people are roleplaying in the game, then "the game itself" is being used for RP. If the game weren't there, most of those people wouldn't be roleplaying. Second, make sure to consider what the vast majority of the non-RPers (let's call them grinders, it sounds deliciously naughty) would be doing if the game weren't there. Probably the answer is that they would be watching TV, reading blogs, etc. Your disappointment with MMORPGs is understandable from the perspective of someone who was really into, say, Baldur's Gate or any pen+paper roleplaying system. Unfortunately, though, if MMOs strictly recreated that sort of atmosphere, they wouldn't be successful because they wouldn't appeal to the majority.

I like to think of it as Blizzard fooling a bunch of suckers into paying for server maintenance so my friends and I can roleplay.
posted by voltairemodern at 10:08 PM on May 7, 2008


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