Archive for the ‘Player Experience (not XP)’ Category

Unique Uniqueness is still Uniquely Unique

September 27, 2009

Barring the fact that “uniqueness” might not be a real word (it is), I’d like to briefly (for me) discuss what seems to me to be an unstoppable trend in today’s static MMO.

Ever in life are we striving to define ourselves as unique individuals. Some of us do that through things like stacking a single adjective in three different forms on top of itself in a blog title, while others do more practical things like following their dreams on a romantic vacation to Italy. The sense of identity is as important to each and every one of us as the blood flowing through our veins, if it wasn’t there then we wouldn’t be either. I think it’s important to consider how our identity transfers over into MMOs.

I bring this up because Roleplaying, at its core, is the assumption of a new identity for the sake of pleasure, and I don’t think that the static nature of MMOs today really allow for a sufficient enough expression of identity for the everyday gamer. Player housing is a step in the right direction, but everything is still stamped with the “Developer Stamp of Approval” and can only serve to represent an individual’s preference in the way they acquire and organize someone elses brainchildren.

This also overlaps into other areas such like player titles and rare gear. Every time I acquire a new piece of gear, especially one that has a rare chance to drop, I feel great. Every time I get a new title that I can show off by doing something difficult and/or obscure

The one thing that MMOs are doing right with respect to expressions of individuality is player naming and face/body customization (although this could use a lot of work to be really good, the technical whippidydoo would more than likely be expensive and time consuming). Surnames are even better because they let you develop your character on a deeper intellectual level. Now there are always problems with any system if you look at it in a context that it wasn’t intended to be viewed with, and nowhere do we see this more clearly than in characters named things like “Ibubblehearth” the paladin and “healzforfree” the cleric. The game is taken out of the context of a roleplaying game and put into the context of an MMO. I kind of made a mental leap there, but I think it’s fair to argue that MMOs aren’t necessarily designed solely as traditional RPGs so this naming “problem” isn’t really a problem at all, but rather a consequence of the social response to the genre not identifying itself strictly as a traditional RPG.

But so here I am with my legendary “First Blade of the Seventh Sun” and people now see my name as “Vulcar, Master of Elements” and I feel pretty cool. I walk into the bank at my local Wal-Mart city and I see another “First Blade” and two other mages with “Master of Elements” after their name. Any feelings of uniqueness are now shattered.

I can think of two equally legitimate ways to think about this situation:

1. Because everything in the world is static anything I can possibly acquire will inevitably be acquired by many other people. What my character looks like and is called is nothing more than a record of how good (and lucky in a lot of cases) I am at getting stuff. I’m not feeling the individuality vibe here, thinking like that makes me feel like one of a thousand mice all looking for cheese at the end of a maze, and I’m not even havin fun- I’m just hungry.

2. Individuality is expressed by which titles you choose to display and what gear you attempt to acquire. This mostly works for titles, except for the fact that some titles are invariably waycooler than others (I mean, “Wing Cutter” or “Warg-Foe”? Do you really have to ask?). But as I said, it mostlyworks for titles as long as there are plenty of them to pick from like in LOTRO. In every game there is a min/maxing feel to gear acquisition and if someone wanted to spend the time then they could rank every single piece of gear in the game for each and every one of your slots and you would always know what pieces were upgrades and what pieces were downgrades. There would be no excuse for equipping your cool looking robe if you had one that was twice as good, and once everyone that could use that twice as good robe had it you would all look the same. LOTRO also has a clothing dye and cosmetic outfit system so that you can appear to be infinitely cooler than you actually look in your poorly matching, although quite epic, gear.

I have to admit that the second option seems pretty good with those ideas implemented in LOTRO, but I didn’t write all of this just to agree with myself that there’s something out there that’s pretty darn near perfect so here it comes. What LOTRO does just isn’t good enough if you really want to give people a sense of individual uniqueness. What titles you can gain in the game make you more a part of “the group of people that did that dangerous and/or obscure thing” than “the individual that did such and such thing.” Is that bad? Not exactly, I’m sure it helps the sense of community in LOTRO sometimes because people can bond over the experience of acquiring that title, but it can’t always be about the whole. Sometimes you just have to be yourself. Even with the clothing dyes/cosmetic outfits every piece of gear has been designed by your developers, and while they may have some cool stuff you may have an idea of something that you think might look even cooler, but you’ll never see it because the developers never thought of it.

The primary argument in all of this is that for true individuality to be expressed in an MMO setting players need to be able to create content, and the world cannot remain static. Who really cares if you killed the “Grand Ogre Magi Krogg” if they could just go kill him (or a renamed but identical version of him) right now. Who really cares if you pried the fabled “Sword of a Thousand Kingdoms” from the hands of the great “War-Tyrant Balzor” if they could just go farm him for a few weeks to get the drop themselves? Your house may look nice, but I’ve seen that orc’s head in too many houses for me to think it’s cool anymore. It’s great that you’re known as the “Scourge of the Seas” but I saw twenty people yesterday known as the same thing!

Now letting players go off the deep end and have unrestrained power to customize would be ludicrous. Even in LOTRO you’d have too many “Llegolas Uvmrikwoods” popping up everywhere and things like “Ihaveabow letmeshowyou” would even crop up. Customized titles could be even worse, but things like designing chairs/tables and even the pattern for your wallpaper would help housing out a lot. Custom armor would help you to create the character you want other people to see you as- and, combat system allowing (maybe the biggest “if” ever), even let you create a piece of gear with stats that reflect how you want to play your character (there’s not much choice in how you play a class in most games, does anyone disagree?).

This is by no means a demand for more customization options in MMOs, but rather an exploration of how more customization options could potentially benefit the player’s experience. I just see that in their current format MMOs have an unavoidable lack of individual expression, but perhaps that is a good thing considering how much time people pour into these games already. 😛