Monday, March 5, 2012

Insert X skill to continue

Over at Rohan's blog there is a discussion between him and Spinks about whether the different skills of a raider are correlated or not. Is somebody who is good at maximizing DPS output also likely to be good at moving out of the fire etc.? The purpose of discussions like these is the old question on how to measure skill or performance in a MMORPG endgame. But I think that discussion completely misses the real point!

Imagine measuring skill would be possible on an absolute scale. Even after having overcome several impossible problems to arrive at this point, we are still left with two far more fundamental problems:

1) If your skill is not X or better, you cannot access content Y.
2) If your friend's skill is not X or better, you cannot visit content Y with him.

Thousands of developer posts, patches, and discussions on blogs and forums can be summarized as such: Modifying the value of X in the above 2 fundamental problems. Only that of course modifying X doesn't really change anything. The choice of X is completely arbitrary. Make it higher, and less people can access content, but they will feel better about themselves for being so exclusive. Make it lower, and the exclusiveness disappears, but you get more people able to access the content. In reality there is no good value for X, every possible solution excludes some people from playing, prevents some from playing with their friends, and isn't exclusive enough for some others.

This has gone on for so many years that people don't even realize any more that this is far from the only possible way to handle an endgame or even a competitive challenge. If you play darts in a pub, you are unlikely to be kicked out just because you aren't very good at it. You just have to live with a lower score on the board. Why shouldn't that be possible in a MMORPG raid? You and your friends go through a raid with no chance to "fail", and at the end you'll get a score how well you did. If you want to be "server best", you can still find a guild of like-minded people an go for the highscore. If you just want to goof with friends, you can do that, without your rather nice but a bit slow buddy Earl being excluded.

That gets even more self-evident if you think of a MMORPG as a form of entertainment instead of a competitive sport. Imagine your TV had a remote brain-scanner attached, and if you didn't pay attention to the movie or weren't intelligent enough to understand it, the movie would stop, and you would be forced to watch it again from the beginning until the system determined you fully understood the story. Does that sound like a machine anyone would buy? And still some people are surprised that those not having X amount of skill rather stop playing a game and move on to another.

Nothing has done more harm to the community of massively multiplayer online role-playing games than the idea that grouping with the "bad people" will ruin your fun, with "bad" being defined on such an arbitrary skill measure. Even the "insert coin to continue" idea ultimately makes more sense than "insert X skill to continue".

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