My greatest joy in Skyrim comes from the fact that the game doesn’t make me feel as though I’m doing something for the sake of it. Each and every task I perform is its own justification, and many of the trials and tribulations that I endure have been conjured up by my own sense of adventure and exploration. I didn’t need to delve deep into the dwarven ruins I discovered last night, there was no importunate question mark floating above a head, or in a quest log; no expectation haunted my every step, no imperious demand that I perform such and such a feat, in this manner, at this time, in this place, with these tools, and where all other endeavours would be considered void. I felt no quester’s compunction at my failure to follow the stringent MMO method: ticking off lines on a clipboard as each step is performed to exacting specifications in order to observe the inevitable outcome. Nevertheless, I was richly rewarded for my endeavours.
Indeed, the game specifically doesn’t punish the player for avoiding that plodding plotted path, it gives the players a canvas and paint but does not require the use of a brush if you prefer to use your fingers. And although it provides an outline of your character’s existence, it stops well short of putting little numbers across the page to dictate precisely which colour each shape should be. You are free to fill in the bigger picture as the game outlines, but you are equally free to paint over those lines. Therefore, you are able to make a mess of things as much as you are able to make something entirely unique to you. What is important, however, is that the game rewards you however you play. Exploring and experiencing the world, experimenting with it, these things will reward the player’s efforts as much as joining the dotted path of quests.
The upshot of this experience is a phenomenon which many have embraced, while others have railed against it – pointing out the many failings in the game which can also be found in MMOs and elsewhere, and which people are now seemingly happy to ignore, where they complained before.
It is simply the difference between friendship and enmity. In Skyrim I feel as though we are friends, we share similar outlooks and opinions, and we work well together. We don’t often stumble over one another, but when we do we can often resolve the issue amicably. As such, I am aware of Skyrim’s failings but find myself far more willing to forgive them, not least of which because Skyrim has highlighted many of my own failings as a player, and yet continues to reward me regardless. With many MMOs, where I have often found myself railing against them even as I played them, I feel as though we are enemies. The game is out for my money –as much of it as it can gather– and everything I find myself doing in the game is built around the tenet that the more time I have to spend with the game the more money the game earns. As such, I am aware of an MMO’s failings and I find myself less willing to forgive them because I can relate most of them to obstructions, barriers and hardships which are unnecessary outside of the context of this MMO model; more though, even those failings which I could happily otherwise ignore are dispersed by that parsimonious prism of experience, until a single complaint spreads into a spectrum of baser issues.
So Skyrim does indeed cause the player to suffer many of the limits and ludicrosities which have plagued RPGs since gaming began, but it is with these failings accepted that the review scores have been so high. A high score does not reflect a perfect game, it reflects a game which, on balance, has highs which far outweigh the lows. The impression that Skyrim’s positives have left upon me compared to its negatives are as to compare the size of the universe to a grain of sand. Skyrim is not a perfect game, but a game does not have to be perfect and devoid of faults to score highly in the opinion of players and reviewers, what it has to be is a stunning example in its genre.
Skyrim is a stunning example of an RPG, not in the sense of stats and grinding loot for advancement, but in the old sense –one would argue the true sense– of playing a role in a game. It is, ultimately, a game of choice.
Choose grind. Choose a job. Choose a career. Choose dailies. Choose fucking big shoulder pads. Choose stats, pots, mats, and tokens. Choose fed ex, low drop rates and kill ten rats. Choose monthly subscription repayments. Choose a raiding guild. Choose your fleeting guild mates. Choose purple gear and matching weapons. Choose a three piece set bonus in a range of fucking tiers. Choose rep grinds and wondering who the fuck you are on a Sunday morning. Choose sitting on that chair watching mind-numbing spirit-crushing game-play, stuffing fucking junk food into your mouth. Choose rotting away at the end of it all, giving away your stuff to strangers, nothing more than a relic to the selfish, fucked-up brats that have spawned in General Chat to replace you. Choose your future. Choose grind. . . But why would I want to do a thing like that? I chose not to choose grind: I chose something else. And the reasons? There are no reasons. Who needs reasons when you’ve got Skyrim?
“With many MMOs, where I have often found myself railing against them even as I played them, I feel as though we are enemies”
failings schmailings…I don’t understand the people who cannot see how breathtaking an RPG Skyrim is; you must be deaf and blind not to be enamoured with the game. playing Skyrim has been like reading poetry for me these past days, my high fantasy heart is making somersaults. I’ve realized: this is what I’ve been missing for so, so long.
Skyrim has it – the soul of the adventurer. I can happily see past some UI qualms etc. for that (which the community will write mods for soon, no doubt). Skyrim is a story, a world – it’s not about beating XY, getting the best lootz or counting your achievements. it’s about being there, breathing the snow. pity if you’ve forgotten how it smells.
it’s about being there, breathing the snow. pity if you’ve forgotten how it smells.
I guess, for some, they’d still see the snow and want to shovel it.
Each to their own, but I prefer making snow angels. Glad I’m not alone in this.
“Each to their own”
exactly – that’s why there are plenty of other games and genres for other people. I’d say Skyrim offers a ton of gameplay freedom already, but if you can’t get your achievement fix there, plenty of choices somewhere else. maybe less is more to you and you need limitations and fixed values to appreciate a game and find fun.
open world has its big risks of course, but so far Skyrim has achieved an unprecedented balance of freedom vs. meaning for me personally. I feel neither forced to do anything nor do I feel meaningless or lost.
I feel neither forced to do anything nor do I feel meaningless or lost.
Skyrim does indeed seem to strike a healthy balance between the two.
The quests in the game serve as a nice focus for story when one isn’t inspired to expand one’s own story. I think this is the trouble I have with games such as EVE: they are entirely what you make of them, which works for many, but I’m one of those players who likes to have at least some structure.
Again it comes down to having the outline of a picture which can then be painted in the style of one’s choosing; neither a blank canvas or painting-by-numbers works terribly well for me.
Nice use of the end speech there. Many lol’s :)
Whenever I consider ‘choice’ it’s one of the first things that pops into my head; I can only suppose that I was highly impressionable at the time it was released. Fun quote though, even if a little f-bomb heavy.
Well said. I agree with every word. I’ve long missed and forgotten the joy of playing a role (the old noble sense of roleplaying) and Skyrim bends over inconvenient truths like game balance or realism/sense-making to help facilitate that.
One thing that did strike me was why we don’t feel the urge and urgency to rush through the lists of quests that are accumulated.
Is it because of the experience and leveling system? We’re not accumulating a numerical xp “score” that can be incremented and compared against others? We know we will continue to progress whatever we choose to do and action we choose to take? (assuming the action triggers one of the skills) Is it because we know we’re not locked away in terms of losing the option forevermore by outleveling it? Or is it that we don’t have others to compare or play the “better than the Jones” game of measurement with?
How you describe playing Skyrim is pretty much how I play MMOs anyway and always have done.
Just because there are things that can be done doesn’t mean you have to do them. Just because there are things you aren’t expected to do doesn’t mean you can’t do them. Play your game, don’t let the game play you.
MMOs aren’t really games anyway. They’re playgrounds. What games you play in them are for you to decide. You don’t need the permission of developers to go your own way. Just imagination.
MMOs lacking a sense of adventure? Where have I read that before?
Okay, congratulatory back-patting aside (ow!), I’ll agree with bhagpuss here and amplify his point: if you believe that MMOs are the enemy (or at least antagonistic), then you should probably realize this is an attitude you’ve brought to the table. Most MMO developers I’ve met just want to make a cool game; the current mechanics are what players have responded most favorably to.
Except me. I really do hate you all. ;)
That’s making it a bit too easy for developers in my opinion; just because something makes lots of money (let’s face it), means you must do it?
I beg to differ – it is exactly why devs should know what’s good for their players, because players do not have the overall, longterm picture. they do not always know what’s good for them or what makes good adventure. players are not devs, right? or have devs become nothing but service men?
if you’re passionate and capable, you can show people what they should like. you can show them what’s great about it – or is Skyrim not a success already in terms of sales? could there not be an MMO that draws people in while retaining such sense of freedom, scale and meaning? I do not recall anyone who has even gone there so far. Blizzard made a start and then lost it. we have yet to see who takes MMOs to a next level and creates a natural and graphical world of such quality as in Skyrim (no doubt part of its wider appeal).
imo “that’s what they asked for” is an excuse to keep going with a game that has lost its touch or produce soulless games that focus on fast reward and player gratification because you have learned this is one way to make money. it is a sad thing to say; it proves that you know something’s wrong, but choose not to act. it’s a sign of resignation – but new inputs must come from the top too.
I’m not a developer though and maybe they are as much prisoners of the grey suits as anyone.
@Jeromai: “One thing that did strike me was why we don’t feel the urge and urgency to rush through the lists of quests that are accumulated.”
I must admit that every so often I get the urge to ‘clear some quests’. The nice thing is that as soon as I start to tire of doing so, I can wander off and explore, allowing the experience instead to build in a more organic fashion. Again, the balance of choice, as Syl mentions above, seems to have been struck so finely, that each player can find their own happy resonance within the game.
@bhagpus: You can’t level in most MMOs without questing, you can in Skyrim; you can’t complete many quests without having first found the quest giver, you can in Skyrim. Zones are level restricted in most MMOs, most zones are not level restricted in Skyrim. You can’t use the best equipment in most MMOs until you reach a certain level, there is no level restriction on equipment in Skyrim.
I really don’t find the experience in any way similar, but perhaps I’ve been playing the wrong MMOs…
@Brian ‘Psychochild’ Green: “MMOs lacking a sense of adventure? Where have I read that before?”
“if you believe that MMOs are the enemy (or at least antagonistic) then you should probably realize this is an attitude you’ve brought to the table.”
I disagree entirely. And I present the many posts on this blog as evidence of the fact that there are many design decisions in MMOs which are blatantly unnecessary and cynical time sinks. Mobstacle placement in many MMOs being one prime example which springs immediately to mind.
I concede that most developers never set out to make anything other than a fun game, but I would suggest that their desires long ago lost out to the inherent oppressive requirements demanded of game design by a subscription model system.
And I present the many posts on this blog as evidence of the fact that there are many design decisions in MMOs which are blatantly unnecessary and cynical time sinks.
What’s the motivation for this design? I think you’re ascribing malice where laziness suffices. A lot of the worst offenders are designs from the times when games charged by the minute or the hour, and thus wanted to stretch out time. That became the basis for a lot of designs where the lazy designer just doesn’t consider why it’s that way, just that it’s how all the other games have done it. Worse still, this is what people demand from the games!
Take your example of mobstacles. How does that increase profits? Last time I checked, frustration and failure don’t encourage people to keep playing and therefore paying for a game. The people who cry out to return to the days of EQ1’s brutal gameplay seem to be lone voices in the wilderness, not the mainstream. I suspect that mobstacles, in the original context you coined that clever turn of phrase, were a way to make Moria seem more menacing. To show why the Dwarves marched repeatedly into the halls and met with repeated failure. I suspect the design intent was to be true to the source material, not a Snidely Whiplash plot to squeeze another $10-$15 out of people for a few more months.
Or take your quote to someone else in your comment, “You can’t level in most MMOs without questing, you can in Skyrim…” Again, advancement without questing was the standard before WoW came along. People got sick of “the grind” of having to go out and find monsters to kill. People had optimized the life out of exploring dungeons with friends and wanted something else. WoW’s focus on questing was welcomed and games that tried to launch without masses of quests were shunned by the playerbase. Thus we get a heavy reliance on quests in MMOs.
So, call MMOs slow to change, catering to the wrong group, unable to meet the strengths of a single-player game; there are a lot of accusations that would stick. But, don’t call them malicious because you border on insults, sir!!
Sorry, I missed Syl’s post where she wrote:
could there not be an MMO that draws people in while retaining such sense of freedom, scale and meaning?
Yeah, it was called UO. Even the original EQ had a lot of these elements if you preferred that flavor. And there are some people that would love to recapture the feeling those old games.
imo “that’s what they asked for” is an excuse to keep going with a game that has lost its touch or produce soulless games that focus on fast reward and player gratification because you have learned this is one way to make money.
I don’t think you appreciate the scale of what happened in MMOs. We had many different games that had different focuses. We had occasional leaders of the pack who pulled ahead, but we talked about the “big three” games at the time.
Then WoW happened and attracted 20x the number of players. Even if we agree that half of WoW’s users were from China, WoW still accumulated an order of magnitude more users than the previous game had.
So imagine someone with bright ideas who wants to explore new possibilities. Wants to recapture some of what UO or EQ1 or AC1 or DAoC had. You go into the person writing the checks and say, “Yeah, there’s this huge success out there, but I want to go explore an idea that had 5-10% of the total lifetime userbase.” You get laughed at; if they’re polite, not to your face. But, you get laughed at.
I remember talking to a colleague when WoW came out and worrying about their early success. He laughed and said I was worrying too much. “A rising tide lifts all boats,” he said to me. It doesn’t exactly fill me with glee to have been quite so right.
Anyway, I don’t really have a horse in this race. Both you and Melmoth have seen Storybricks. You both know I’m doing something rather different in the MMO space. But, let’s not pretend that MMO devs are the enemy here in their blind rush for money and that the audience is entirely innocent of the accusations stated here.
Let me leave you a quote I read once that fits this perfectly: “Every time you spend money, you’re casting a vote for the kind of world you want.” -Anna Lappe
“Every time you spend money, you’re casting a vote for the kind of world you want.”
A good quote. it’s why I support indie games too, or watch indie films. or why I buy local and don’t eat meat. is it going to change much? who knows.
still, bottom-top is one effect. the market is influenced by the customer yes, but just as much we can see brands and companies influence the market from the top (for ex. via media & marketing), telling you what to like, what to buy and why something is ‘super cool’. the silliest stuff can be marketed if it’s done right and if there’s a niche for it.
so, is it just investors laughing at good developer ideas, or is nobody attempting it seriously? I don’t know, I can’t judge that. but I am opposed to believing that it is impossible. why does SE keep an ancient MMO rolling that has barely 2% of WoW’s player base? why do numerous online game developers do just fine with much smaller games? you don’t need to be as big as Blizzard?
I think we both know the answer to this question though :) it’s not a pretty one. I’ve started asking it rather bluntly in my current article and comments there. I’d love to have a person answer it sometime with more industry intel than myself.
@Brian ‘Psychochild’ Green: “Take your example of mobstacles. How does that increase profits?”
In the way they’re placed in Moria –a straight line down a corridor, evenly spaced such that the player will finish one fight and then engage in the next– I see them as time sinks, not even as lazy decoration, but a cynical obstruction on the well-trod path in order to slow the player. In the time that Moria was released, when LotRO was still a subscription only game, delaying a player equated to money; the longer it takes a player to complete content in a subscription MMO, the longer they pay, the more money the company makes from that player. Now the extra delay created by mobstacles is small, but it adds up over time and over the number of mechanics, like mobstacles, which are placed in the game.
Please don’t take ‘enemy’ in the context of my considering developers to be evil, that is far from the truth of it. I use it to describe the fact that developers are set against the players, something which has been inevitable in a genre where players are attempting to complete content, and developers (be it at the behest of shareholders, publishers or otherwise) are attempting to prevent players from consuming that content too quickly. Or so it seems to me as a player who has to overcome obstacles in an MMO which appear very much to be obstacles for obstacles’ sake.
What would be nice would be to have far more developers like yourself, who interact with the community on a more than promotional basis, and would explain the reasoning behind such decisions. But I can understand that many developers would be reluctant to do so, that it would feel like an exercise in have to justify themselves.
Alas, without such feedback and discourse, it makes it difficult for a player like myself to understand what may have been a sensible and reasoned decision, but which *appears* very much otherwise.
Let me leave you a quote I read once that fits this perfectly: “Every time you spend money, you’re casting a vote for the kind of world you want.” -Anna Lappe
It’s a fine quote, and I can only hope that it will make a difference, and that it won’t simply lead to the end of MMOs. For what it’s worth, I’m no longer subscribed to any MMOs, have not spent any money in MMOs recently, and have no intention of doing so for the foreseeable future.
just as much we can see brands and companies influence the market from the top (for ex. via media & marketing), telling you what to like, what to buy and why something is ‘super cool’.
Except game companies tend to have really terrible marketing. Take a look at the very next post on this very blog to see what one group (made up of a few former Blizzard devs even) think makes for good marketing. When it comes to MMOs, the audience isn’t the innocent victim here.
…the fact that developers are set against the players…
This is like saying the GM of a tabletop RPG is “against the players”. Yeah, some really terrible GMs might feel that way, but they usually don’t have players that stick around. The job of the MMO developer and the tabletop GM is to create gameplay for the players, often through the introduction of obstacles to the player’s plan.
I’ll say again that this sense of antagonism is something that you’re ascribing to the relationship between you and the dev. If game developers wanted to be power-tripping assholes who were only interested in money, we could have become bank programmers instead. ;P
@Brian ‘Psychochild’ Green: “This is like saying the GM of a tabletop RPG is “against the players”.”
Not really, there’s no incentive for a GM to put arbitrary roadblocks in the way of player progress, unless they’re a power-tripping asshole.
I still think you’re mistaking my feelings: I don’t view game developers as power-tripping assholes in this, if anything I view them as having their hand forced by the nature of the subscription model; that at some point in most subscription MMO development someone has had to consider “how do we slow the players down?”, be it through mobstacles, stretching the XP curve or otherwise. Up until now they have needed to do this in order to keep players paying, because creating enough pure content would be impossible, and this inevitably sets them against the players.
With the free-to-play model, the question becomes “how can we encourage players to pay?”, which comes with a whole new set of issues.
I’m also not saying that game developers shouldn’t use methods to slow players, extend their time, or encourage them to pay, not at all, what I’m saying is that some of the methods used have been too blatant and, to my mind, lazy. Which is a large part of what fuels the content for my writing on this here blog.