We all know the stereotype: the lonely angst-filled teen stuck in the basement playing video games, whilst the normal kids are out socialising or, as is the modern way, chatting to about 58 billion people simultaneously on MSN, Facebook and SMS. It's sites like Facebook that de-weirded the Internet: talking with your friends is something a normal healthy kid would do, instead of all those stupid orcs and spaceships. Prepare for some bad news, folks...
I’d like you to join me in a simple thought experiment. Imagine a simple change to WOW: each player is given an additional ability, called, simply, Cheat. It’s not bound to any key by default, but it’s there if you want it. It does one thing – it instantly kills whatever (non-player) mob you are targeting.
Finding a particular encounter too difficult or annoying ? Simply press Cheat and carry on with the rest of the game.
Getting tired and frustrated after banging your head against a particular boss for weeks? Don’t let your raid guild fall apart - just press Cheat and there’s automatically a raid wide vote on whether to kill the boss and move on. A single veto and you carry on as before.
People have been using cheat codes in single player games for ages, to avoid content they dislike. What’s the difference? MMOs aren’t a zero-sum game. By getting the shiny epixx from Mr Bigboss, you aren’t preventing anyone else from getting them.
As a result, this change wouldn’t affect people who enjoy raiding for the challenge it poses: they can get their fun as before, with the personal satisfaction of knowing they did it the hard way.
The only people who might be bothered are those whose real reason for raiding is to collect status symbols to show off to other players. If everybody gets the Mighty Halberd of Foozlecide (with New, Improved, Shadowfire Animation!), how is anyone to know how insecure and attention-seeking l33t the status-raiders are?
One of the perennial problems game designers face is the tension between the requirements of fun PVE and PVP games. PVE thrives on variety (it's rather boring if the only difference between mages and warlocks is the colour of the light that comes from their fingers), whereas PVP thrives on homogeneity (or at least there's less whinging on the forums about how it's not fair that warlocks have fear but mages don't).
As a result, designers find themselves subject to a never-ending series of complaints. Improve things for PVP and the PVEers complain and vice versa.
Of course there is a simple solution to this: take the Darkfall route and simply design your game around one audience and let the others go hang. The trouble with this is that it isn't necessarily compatible with the mass market, as many people enjoy both aspects of the game.
So, what's to be done? Well, one solution is to simply have two versions of the game, each optimised for a different audience. For many games, this is unworkable, as the player base is too small to support it. For WOW, however, it's a different story. Fork it into eWOW and pWOW and Blizzard would have the top two MMOs, potentially with a more loyal player base, as it would be easier to make changes to meet the needs of the two communities. The eWOW rules would apply on what are currently PVE servers and the pWOW ones on PVP servers.
I'm currently experimenting with the new Blogsy blogging app for the iPad. The iPad is crying out for a decent piece of blogging software and the app I've been using until now (Blogpress) can be pretty clunky. In theory, Blogsy is much more capable (it's had good reviews), but right now I'm finding it rather counter-intuitive. I can't work out how to save things and the first draft of this post just vanished into the aether when I lent the machine to someone else.
Links also seem to be beyond me. I know it does them, but how? Maybe I'll get the hang of it in time, but I've had to switch to the regular web-browser based Blogger to finish posting about a new blogging app. Not a good sign...
Update: As you'll see from the first comment below, one of the Blogsy developers has taken the trouble to comment and offer support. That's excellent customer service and suggests a bright future.
Update 2(14/04/11): Blogsy ate another of my posts today, one I'd been working on for days. I honestly can't recommend it in its current state. I do appreciate that the developers are working hard to improve it, but it simply isn't working properly right now.
One of the more fashionable business concepts of the early 21st Century has been the long tail. This has taken off because organisations like Amazon are able to hold a much larger quantity of stock than conventional retailers, so are able to cater for a wide variety of minority tastes that a high-street shop could never hope to match. They can do this because their business model locates the product storage in cheap out-of-town depots, so the cost per item is much lower. In principle, all-digital stores (such as iTunes) should be able to cater for an even wider range of tastes, as the cost of storage and delivery for purely digital goods is even lower.
MMO makers are in a similar position. The cost of creating and storing new content is very low, so games like WOW can afford to include features that appeal to minority tastes, such as role-players or hardcore raiders. If someone sits on a virtual chair or kills an Internet dragon, they don't wear out or need to be re-made. The only thing that limits their re-use is the boredom of the players; a thousand people can sit on that chair simultaneously, but the same player won't want to sit on it a thousand times.