I’ll admit that I was mildly irked at the recent news about WoW patch 3.0. It just felt like nothing more than an attempt to distract WoW players while they wait for Wrath. Tobold thinks of it as a defensive move against WAR. I don’t know if I buy into that 100%, but the fact that many of these features aren’t even fully cooked in the beta certainly support that idea.
Then I read Blizzard is planning on introducing Achievements as part of the 3.0 patch. And I got PISSED OFF. Seriously pissed off. I’m talking “thinking about unsubscribing” pissed off.
My issue is that this whole carrot-on-a-stick incentive program is being introduced with NO OTHER NEW CONTENT. Oh sure, there will be new talents and a new profession – but no new raiding content. No new instances. No new zones. No new monsters. No new quests. No new anything to explore.
In Brent’s now e-famous jumping shark post, he started his discussion with a very valid observation:
“We all have made some serious investments in the MMORPG genre. Those investments are not simply monetary. Many MMO players have devoted their lives, or at least their valuable free time, to these games.”
His article diverges from this topic, but this insight is interesting because it touches upon the ethical nature of MMO design. Jonathan Blow eloquently explained the issue in 2007:
“That kind of reward system is very easily turned into a Pavlovian or Skinnerian scheme[.] It's considered best practice: schedule rewards for your player so that they don't get bored and give up on your game. That's actually exploitation.
[Players will naturally avoid boring tasks but developers] override that by plugging into their pleasure centers and giving them scheduled rewards[.] We convince them to pay us money and waste their lives in front of our game in this exploitative fashion.” (credits to Scott for link)
Enter Achievements and Feats of Strength. J. Allen Brack from Blizzard was very revealing in this interview in which he describes how the Achievement system will motivate players:
“There will also be a list of things that players will never have considered doing, more of a to-do list; like you log in to the game and go, ‘I don't know what I want to do today, I'm going to pick a random Achievement and go get it’. [We] don't have hidden Achievements, with the exception of very rare Achievements called Feats of Strength that are worth no points.”
Think about that for a moment: A list of things that players will never have considered doing; a to-do list for points. I don’t make this stuff up, folks. This is a very clear admission that Blizzard wants to exploit players with a task list filled with largely meaningless or impossible tasks.
Of course, we knew all this already. This really isn’t a new topic. MMOs have always been of a questionable ethical nature that encourages compulsive behavior. It’s why they are highly addictive and given labels like EverCrack and World of WarCrack.
I long ago made my own peace with this dilemma and the whole concept of Achievements wouldn’t have even been a blip on my radar screen if not for one very important thing: It’s coming in Patch 3.0.
Bundle up the Achievement system within Wrath and it’s just one new gadget amongst a bunch of gadgets. Introduce it at the tail-end of a loooong period of time with little new stuff to explore and well, it damn well borders on evil.
You see, the Achievement system isn’t new content – it’s a task list with some reward system attached. It’s an incentive to run around doing the same crap you have already done for the 1000th time in order to get an Achievement.
I’m sorry but that just pisses me off. Introducing new content which basically amounts to a task list for me to do all the content that I have already done is so blatantly unethical and wrong that I find myself tempted to quit altogether.
Our free time is precious and as Brent pointed out, it gets more precious as we get older. I already know I spend too much of this time participating in boring tasks for my ultimately meaningless carrot. I’ve come to terms with that because, well – I like my carrot. I’ll continue to play MMOs because I like carrots.
But this Achievement thing in 3.0 – well, that just feels like Blizzard is spitting in my mouth. They are basically saying, “we have nothing new to offer you for now, but in the meantime here is a reward system for doing all the stuff that you have likely already done and for some other things you never even considered doing”.
Warhammer comparison: This isn’t intended to be a WoW vs. WAR entry, but I do feel it’s worth making the comparison to WAR because the Tome of Knowledge is often compared to the new Achievement system.
The first point is that achievements in WAR appeared to be hidden. It didn’t feel like it was a task list because I didn’t even know I had the task. Instead, it just felt like I was rewarded for playing.
Secondly, as I wrote in my previous article, WAR seems purposefully designed to provide rewards for anything you choose to do, so you simply gravitate towards the things you find the most fun rather than the most rewarding.
And lastly, it’s part of the design from the start – it’s not retroactive and it’s not being released with no other content. I would have little to no issue with the Achievement system in WoW if it simply came bundled with Wrath.