The iceberg

What if everything we believed till today was false?

Any good solo class attracts tons of players in any game.

There are a few interesting discussions on the forums and even on TerraNova questioning the role of other players in a mmorpg.

The theme is rather complex and wide and I don’t want to try to analyze it now. But I believe there are some “emergent” traits in the discussion that I tried to bring up as well along these last weeks in EVERYTHING I wrote. From the navel-gazing theories during the Christmas (after Raph’s posts) to the concrete proposals that I added as the natural consequence of those reasonings. I believe it’s also something that every player can feel directly when playing a game.

I always considered one article Lum wrote (or the more recent version) as one basic principle and core value of this genre (and reused it many times) and here I’m not negating it, but I still consider these “doubts” as something that has some value. If understood correctly. In fact my worry about the discussion on TerraNova and on the other forums (where the discussion is continuously chunked and derailed, making it hard to delve) is that those “symtoms” aren’t interpreted correctly. Because that’s the whole point.

Personally I went through a transition and many of my ideas changed in the last year, in a concrete way. But at the same time the basic principles I had are still there, they are only seen in perspective.

This is why I don’t feel surprised if TerraNova reveals that the majority of the players spend the majority of their time playing alone or that “The average guild member collaborates (in quests, etc.) with only 11% of his/her guildmates for more than 10 minutes over the same month”, nor I believe that WoW is showing “exceptional” (meaning “unusual” here) trends. This is instead something I recognize and I believe is widespread, probably even beyond the conclusions on that site. In fact I believe that those conclusions are completely wrong.

Different games show different trends? Are you sure? Take a game like Eve-Online. It’s the exact opposite of WoW and its social fabric and corporations/guilds structure is what makes it truly unique. We could safely postulate that this game would show completely different trends overall, especially about the behavious in the guilds. But are we absolutely sure, again? I’m not. I believe that, from the perspective of this discussion and the conclusions and traits I consider relevant, they would be identic. In fact I believe that both would mirror a graph I already used. Yes, the association between hardcore/casuals and collaborative/solo is deliberate.

The “emergent” level of these games mirrors exactly the model of the “iceberg”. The part visible above the water is only a minimal part of the whole. There’s a HUGE, yet hidden, mass that we systematically forget and remove of any relevancy. We make assumptions on a superficial level that surely makes sense and is valid (like Lum’s article) but it isn’t so absolute and univocal as we assume.

In “game design” this blindness would be a Total Disaster (actually this is false (*), but I don’t want to make things too complicated). If we must strive to design “better” games, also in the commercial sense, we cannot just aim at the visible part of the iceberg. This is foul, inadmissible. It’s “Brad McQuaid”.

All these consideration, if we have some “intellectual honesty”, seem to contradict the theory that the value of these games is in the “community”. The community seems instead a backdrop at best. Just the fluff at the end of the journey to try to retain the subscriptions even when the game is clearly “over”. That “endgame” that, incidentally, most players (me included) seem to criticize.

So how we put all these pieces together? Is there a connection? Yes, I believe there is, I also believe that all these “revelations” aren’t contradictory with the basic principles they seem to negate (Lum again). That’s the interpretation that I find lacking on TerraNova or on the forums where this discussion is partially tackled. I believe that all these pieces go together and I don’t think the overall scheme is extremely complicated.

The answer is simple: we are at the beginning. They keywords are those that I keep reusing. Accessibility and permeable barriers. The new mass-market or new mmorpg players are starting a journey. Till today the accessibility barriers were immense and this type of audience was simply precluded. A mmorpg was “catass by definition”. We didn’t have “casual players” or, in this context, “audacious explorers”, because the design didn’t have any place for them. All these things are changing now and this genre is slowly learning from its mistakes. It is opening up in new directions, in particular thanks to WoW and all the work it did toward the accessibility.

So I don’t find surprising that the large majority of the players are still “learning the ropes”. Nor I’m surprised if even WoW still exhibits PLENTY of accessibility barriers despite all the work it did in that direction. Again, we are only at the beginning. We have only seen some timid attempts (and, still, they paid back hugely already).

I believe, coherently with all I wrote in the past, that the hidden part of the iceberg is what matters. But not in the sense that we have to consider it, yet trying to dissimulate this interest. I believe instead that we should work to make that side EMERGE. So not trying to simply “second” it. But understanding its needs and behaviours. Giving it legitimacy and revolutioning the design if the conclusions are asking that.

This is why in my practical ideas I recently focused on the “permeable barriers” (between the servers, the classes, the alignment and the play-styles) and why I used my tripartite design scheme as a “gateway”, where the players are encouraged to discover all the parts that the game has to offer in a natural, progressive way (I also wrote about this more specifically here). Without impositions or mandatory requirements. Without the design strongarming a specialization. And even without the players PRETENDING from the game what they learnt to expect from every other mmorpg they played.

Again all these ideas are only a few possible solutions that I imagined and that I consider valuable. There are surely more and better ones. What is important is about acknowledging all these core points and arrive at the correct conclusions. Those conclusions that I criticize, since I seem to have a point of view that doesn’t seem welcomed.

(*) False why: because, at a basic level, a designer doesn’t need to be omniscient to create a good game.

Leave a Reply