Crunch and Fluff

Brian “Psychochild” Green asks the question “Why all this number focus?” in MMO’s today. To clarify, he’s talking about number focus on the part of the game designers.

I played a lot of D&D in college, along with other RPGs like Paranoia, White Wolf’s Vampire and Werewolf, etc. I met my GF of 16 years playing D&D. Our group played together for nearly 4 years, and some of us played virtual tabletop RPGs and MMOs together later. Now, we weren’t originally the most story-focused group. We often played Vampire: the Masquerade in the “fanged superheroes” mode rather than purely as the goth “oh my tortured soul” way. Personally, I liked Werewolf: the Apocalypse better for this style of play, but we did some good role-playing as well.

Playing DDO for a bit has put this into stark contrast. Despite being a fairly power-gaming heavy group, I don’t think I focused on stats nearly as much as I have in DDO. For example, in DDO, you have items that give bonuses to your individual stats. I might find some Ogre Power gloves that give +1 to +6 Strength. These items are pretty common in the game and increase in power with levels. In my pen and paper games playing 3rd edition for several months, we saw 0. That’s right, none. Even back in university playing power-gaming-focused 2nd edition we had less than a half dozen items that increased stats after years of regular play and multiple parties.

Lest you think this is essential to the genre, I offer a counterexample: Legend of Zelda. Link has no stats at all. There is no “build”.

As a player, I often think that high stats are the refuge of the unimaginative. The obvious thing to do for a fighter is push your AC and hit points to the maximum. The obvious thing for a dps focused role is to maximize damage output – for a melee type that means STR and weapons.

But why game designers? I’m not sure. Maybe they think that the endless quest for improving gear is what motivates player to keep playing. And for a long time, it did. I think there are other things that will motivate people though. Things like autonomy, mastery and purpose.

But designers face the same dilemna as players. If a player strays from the defined path, they risk failure. And they will fail on their own. If you can’t tank the raid boss when you have the best hp’s and AC on the server, then it wasn’t your fault. But if you don’t have the best numbers then it was your fault.

For a designer the success criteria is different. If a designer got rid of the gear/numbers grind, then when players stop playing after a month, they will be second guessed. And the bigger the budget of a game, the bigger the repercussions if a game flops.

Psychochild’s commenter Stabs has a really interesting comment:

I feel diku MMO is a soap bubble about to burst into dozens of different types of games. The only thing holding it together is the feeling you have to add every feature to attract every type of player (eg WAR crowbaring in a rudimentary and ridiculous form of crafting, mocked in the latest Kiasacast, when they suddenly worried about not appealing to the crafting sub-market). There are many game elements that just don’t work together any more – open world gameplay conflicts with instancing, battlegrounds kill rvr (the losing side just queues for honour on a plate rather continue with asymmetrical conflict).

It’s a good time for games.

[The link to a definition of "diku" is mine, -toldain]