Friday, May 14, 2010

Darkfall: Long overdue follow-up to reactions

No breaks, working lunches, and a working weekend have all conspired to sideline me from the blog for the last couple of weeks. It’s been like this since April but really built up steam in May. The frustrating thing for me is that I just haven’t had an opportunity to respond to reactions to my Darkfall: Last Impressions post.

Reaction of Darkfall Players
Stabs made an incredibly astute observation. The actual reaction from the players who should be most offended, those still playing Darkfall, were for the most part very sympathetic.

RyanT, who didn’t even agree, even went so far as to repost my entry on the Darkfall forums. The post wasn’t met with scorn and more than half of the follow-up commenters agreed with me.

And that was on ForumFall. A place not exactly well known for its welcoming and endearing nature towards QQ posts.

That’s because at some level they all understood one basic truth: That even many of the current DF players, if forced to start over, wouldn’t spend 4-6 months of intense effort developing a character that didn’t get four-shotted. I think what non-DF players missed is the scale of effort required.

I also wasn’t criticizing the fact that imbalance existed. At one level, I’m OK with the imbalance because I view myself as the type of player that will just “work” past the imbalance. However, ultimately what got to me was the realization that the sheer amount of “work” required is unfathomable.

Again – scale.

This isn’t WoW. If I had spent the amount of effort I had spent in Darkfall on a Level 1 WoW character – I would not only be level 80, but I would have 4 or 5 BIS items (Best In Slot). Heck, I more or less did that same exact thing a year ago January/February with my Mage alt.

Darkfall is a game where everything you do contributes to a skill and stat. The more you play doing ANYTHING, the more your stats increase. Character development never really stops.

Thus, it would be monumentally unfair to the “other guy” if I was allowed to easily catch up. How would you feel if you spent 6 months developing a character only to have me “catch-up” in six weeks and then pass you?

Tobold’s “Serial Ganker quits Darkfall
I found it a bit entertaining that I never wrote the word “quit” anywhere in my original post and it was used in Tobold’s title. True enough, I suppose. But perhaps a good example of my overall issue with how Tobold characterized my post.

I felt the selective quoting had a much more negative overtone about Darkfall than my original post. Again, I wasn’t misquoted or even quoted out-of-context, but certainly anything positive that I had to say about Darkfall was conveniently left out.

Tobold goes on to say these thoughts of mine echo his own thoughts about EVE. The principal problem of PvP in an MMO is character advancement and such advancement puts new players at odds with veteran players. I’ve raised that question myself on occasion. Certainly it’s an issue.

However, it’s not a unique issue.

It exists in Darkfall, it exists in EVE, it exists in WoW, it exists in WAR. It exists in all MMOs. It even exists in MMOs that don’t allow you to attack other players. Tobold would have you believe that this issue doesn’t exist in PvE. But it does. Because we don’t play MMOs in a vacuum. We play with other people.

When you RAID in game like WoW, you compete for your RAID spot. You are one of 10 or 25 people. If there are 11 or 26 people who want to RAID – let the competition begin. Who’s got the best gear? Who does the most DPS? The more veteran or “advanced” player has an advantage.

Even mundane tasks like harvesting, trading, or mining are all competitive activities in which veteran players have an advantage.

Mining Copper on foot? You’ll lose to the guy on the mount.

Mining Fel Ore on a mount? You’ll lose to the guy on the Flying Mount.

Competing on the Auction House? You’ll lose to the guy with more gold who understands the market, has established trading contacts and can afford to weather out a bad market.

Veteran players will always have an advantage. This isn’t new. In fact, the only way to take away that advantage is to either force everyone to be equal or take the “group” out of the equation.

That’s why I can’t really be critical of Darkfall or EVE on this score. It’s indicative of a bigger problem with all MMOs.

How do you on-board NEW players while at the same time not invalidating the work of your more veteran players?

Blizzard takes the approach that with every expansion, you effectively get a gear reset. They also don’t have any qualms about lowering the effort required to get gear or increase your relative power. It takes a third of the time to level 1-60 that it once did. Gear that was BIS when I quit WoW a year ago is trivial now. In short, they actively undermine the efforts of their most dedicated players in order to create this balance.

If there is something different about Darkfall and EVE it’s that neither game takes this approach of invalidating the effort of their most dedicated players. I’m sure some would argue that they should. I don’t know. As a new player to Darkfall, such a thing would have greatly increased my experience. But at what cost to the veteran players?

Even in Blizzard’s case though, the solution isn’t exactly ideal (as evidenced by Tobold’s recent complaint about the grind in Outland). You still have 70 levels to slug through of content 4-6 years old before you can get to the most active group content as a new player. Most of which you will do as a “solo” player.

The “Hero” Reaction
I think what irritated me most about Tobold’s post is the direction it took in his comments and Gevlon’s separate follow-up post on his blog. Over the years, Tobold has been pretty outspoken about EVE in that “there are more of the downtrodden masses than there are emperors.” A criticism that I don’t share. He wrote:
I get extremely suspicious nowadays whenever I hear of a game which allows you to achieve great things, lead an empire, and rule over the masses. [..] If I want to lead empires, I play single-player games.
In fairness, I don’t think Tobold was aiming that comment at me. However, it quickly became obvious in the comments that at least some of his readers were attributing the idea that *I* wanted to lead empires and that’s why I quit Darkfall. Gevlon took it one step further and said that I quit because I didn’t want to be a cog and that I wasn’t a team player.

The common theme is this silly idea about people wanting to be a “Hero”. I’ve never really liked that argument not because it’s untrue but because no one likes feeling unimportant.

You are the center of your Universe. You will always care most about what happens to YOU and what YOU do. Even if you are part of a team, YOUR role and YOUR actions as they contribute to the team are the most important part in YOUR little universe.

I played team sports in High School, so I understand perfectly well what it means to be on a team. Individual success is meaningless if the team doesn’t win.

But if the team DOES win, does that make individual success still meaningless? No.

Your individual performance still matters to YOU. If you know that YOU are not contributing to help the team win, you don’t feel as if YOU earned it – even if the team does win.

So it should never come as any surprise to anyone that the most important part of any MMO is YOU.


Klepsacovic said...

I'm reminded of some advice I was given my a guest speaker in college: "Listen to people, they are all the heroes of their life stories."

Anonymous said...

I'm thinking you are a little off in terms of the core problem in an MMO when it comes to noobs vs vets. I don't think that the issue is that vets are better than noobs (because even if all the stats were identical, a vet would still be better due to personal experience), but that in many MMOs, the noob has little to no way of doing something about it.

Funny enough, I think EVE handles this best, despite the fact that it has a skill system that literally makes it impossible for a noob to ever catch up (in terms of SP) to a vet. It handles it because not only can you be 'best in slot' at one activity fairly quickly, but because being the best and being 'good enough' is not that far apart. Combine this with how group-oriented the major activities are, and a single players individual contribution is a drop in the bucket of a large Corp/Alliance. All of a sudden, you mining at 5% less efficiency than some vet is a non-issue.

5% difference in a 1v1 PvP fight however is often too much for player-skill alone to overcome, and that imo is the root issue in too many games, DF included. It's tough to play DF as a newish character and really enjoy even group PvP, because eventually a fight does come down (if even briefly) to a 1v1.

Good post overall though, well thought out.

defconquell said...

Gonna second Syn on this one. I've been playing EVE a year now, and I like how I can participate in various activities by spending a month focusing on specific skill areas.

The EVE game mechanics are deep enough to deliver a wide range of experiences, and the tactics of small fleet warfare give some nice bonuses to players who can work together to leverage ecm, cap neuts, tracking jammers, command links, etc.

The reason we play MMOs are to work together and use tactics, like a group of dudes out playing paintball. A solo player out rambo'ing it up is bound to get fragged.

EVE is certainly not for everyone, the UI is terrible and the learning curve is insane, but it seems to just get more and more fun if you are playing with a group of friends.