Thursday 1 September 2011

The one true skill

Image credit: Magefeathers on Deviant Art
Many of you out in MMO-land won't have heard of this, but WOW isn't the only game that's been undergoing something of a Cataclysm recently. The chess world has been in uproar over the changes made to that game to update it for the modern era. In case you haven't caught them, here are the key points of FIDE's announcement:
  1. There is a big problem in the chess world with people copying tactics (and in some cases entire openings) from commercially-sold guides (often written by famous players who are cashing in on their status) rather than working things out for themselves.
  2. These so-called "chess books" have become so widespread, that they've become an accepted part of the game. Even top players shamelessly copy openings devised by others, such as Alekhine or Ruy Lopez.
  3. Even worse, many players now take advantage of breaks in play to analyse their games using chess bots. Some of these are so powerful that they have beaten world champions.
  4. To counteract these problems and "bring back the skill", FIDE have decided to make radical changes to the game. The out-moded concepts of preparation and learning have been replaced by the one true form of skill: reaction speed. All chess clocks will be replaced by a device with a light on it, which will illuminate at random intervals of less than ten seconds. When the light comes on to indicate the player's turn, he or she will be required to move within 0.5 seconds or forfeit the game.
  5. Balance problems (where some pieces are clearly more powerful than others) have been resolved by making all pieces and pawns move in the same way - to any unoccupied adjacent square. A FIDE spokesman explained that the loss of "piece identity"  is the only way to ensure true balance. The cosmetic appearance of the pieces will be retained.
Of course, all of the above is a pack of lies and would pretty obviously ruin chess as a game. The whole point of chess is to be slow-moving and thoughtful, where background reading and preparation pay and twitch skills are irrelevant.

Yet when similar changes happen with WOW, few people object.  What was once a fairly slow-moving, thoughtful game, where a lot of the skill lay in optimising your character for encounters, has been homogenised and reduced to a giant twitch-fest because (horror) some people were reading boss-strategies and optimised specs online.

For example, rotations have been "improved" by making them "more reactive" to stop people practicing and perfecting a fixed rotation. Learning to play has been replaced by "how quickly can you press the button when the light comes on?"

Now it's the tanks' turn. Building threat (a generally slow process that can be planned in advance) is out, reactive mitigation is in. Unfortunately, that's another, more extreme, Pavlovian twitch challenge: "light on, press button quickly or die".

One of the reasons I started playing WOW was the emphasis on thought and planning rather than twitch. Perhaps it’s this creeping “Simonification” of the game that’s losing customers. It’s not making it easier or harder, per se, just differently hard. Whereas before the thoughtful, slow people won, now it’s the fast but dumb.

There's nothing fundamentally wrong with twitch games; what is a problem is changing the target demographic of your game long after it was established. It's not so much that people are leaving WOW, it's that WOW is leaving them.

No comments:

Post a Comment