Thought for the day.

In the land of the grind, the one-trick pony is king.

Applying the generic MMO philosophy to real life would mean that my boss asking me to write some code would inevitably result in me having to kill at least fifteen people or animals before the task was done.

Thankfully there is a distinct lack of wolves and boars hanging aimlessly around the office, but that pair of third floor accountants by the printer look as though they might aggro if I try to collect my hard copy.

I still find it interesting to consider ‘Why primarily combat?’ for a large number of MMOs. You may view that question in different ways depending on your prejudices, but it needn’t automatically be considered a failing of developers; indeed, many MMOs have tried other approaches without staggering success, so perhaps players have been seen to reject these alternatives. Again, though: why primarily combat?

Because combat provides an easy win condition? To satiate a fantasy which we cannot experience in real life? Because it is an easier system to encapsulate in lines of code than the alternatives? Because it’s a system which easily satisfies the input–>reward philosophy of gaming? Because we have yet to be offered alternatives which provide the exhilaration of the fight?

I’m not sure of the answer –or whether there even is an answer– otherwise this would have been the Revelation of the Day.

10 thoughts on “Thought for the day.

  1. Gank

    It must be the ‘thrill’ of the fight. Combat presents risks, and danger which fuels our adrenaline in real so it must be an attempt to capture that. These quests are all the same to me for the most part, and I find being sent to kill 10 rats as boring as picking 10 mushrooms.

    That said if one of the maps in World Of Tanks wasn’t capture the flag and/or kill the 15 enemies, but rather ‘successfully supply 10 points on the map without firing a shot’ I’d likely not have as much fun!

    If you feel you need a fix of ‘kill 10 rats’ in real life we will be firing up the annual Seal hunt here in Canada. You can come kill 10 of those little buggers no problem ;)

  2. Stabs

    Another interesting aspect is in addition to why combat? we can ask why such unrealistic combat? Fights in these games aren’t remotely like real life fights. In fact they’re so abstracted from the real life thing they represent that why can’t MMO combat mechanics be used to play other types of activity? Paint a masterpiece by overcoming it’s Resistance to Being Good (hit points) with your +5 Vorpal Paintbrush of Illumination.

  3. Capn John

    It’s kind of funny that the constant, repetitiveness of the “Kill 10 Rats” style of quests is likely to induce burn out in a game, and yet when I’m entering a new area, or even playing a new MMO I groan when I’m offered a Mail Run quest. LOTRO is notorious for these, especially in the Hobbit starting area, but isn’t that what the Hobbit starting area should be? The Shire is supposed to be a peaceful, tranquil farming community, and yet I’m chomping at the bit to do more than just deliver some mail or pies.

    Perhaps it’s that we feel if we’re not doing something active, such as killing 10 Rats, that we’re actually wasting our in-game time running hither &yon.

    Then again, as much as I shudder at Mail Run quests, I’d still rather sink my teeth into a spoiled berry pie than do an escort quest trying to keep alive an AI-deficient NPC who if she doesn’t aggro every Mob within a hundred yard radius will outright attack them herself.

  4. pjharvey

    Hunter/gatherer, fight-or-flight. It seems to be a part of our genetics, perhaps one that we haven’t relied on much as a whole in the last century or two, but certainly a part of us that we still feel vicariously.

    We can relate to combat much more easily than perhaps modern conventions because it is part of our animalistic side. Maybe in time we’ll thrill to games that let us drive trains, or play fake plastic guitars, or plan city ordinance. We can but dream.

  5. bhagpuss

    I’ve thought about this many times. I used to imagine I’d prefer an MMO with very little combat but I no longer believe that to be true.

    I’m pretty certain, however, that it isn’t combat as such that I require. What I believe I need in order to hold my interest indefinitely is an endless series of Lucky Bags, or pinatas if you prefer. I need an infinite number of smashables that I can break and examine for rewards. Give me that and make the experience of opening each Lucky Bag sufficiently compelling and I am likely to play your MMO for a good while.

    There’s no real need for this to be done by combat. It could be an endless series of vases to smash or boxes to open. It has to be said, though, that it would be a lot harder to make that visually interesting. Orcs and dragons are more fun to look at while you’re breaking them open than pots.

  6. Jim

    I sincerely long for a mmog that lets me wander about…paint landscapes…photograph the wildlife.

    Of course there is war off in the distance. I can choose to enlist if I wish.

    Or I can hunt and fish and write some poems about ponds and such trivial things.

  7. Brian 'Psychochild' Green

    The simple answer is that other games have focused on combat, so it’s easier for future games to do so. The combat idiom of MMOs is well understood and easy enough to replicate in a new game. As Stabs points out, the combat idiom isn’t even particularly true to life, but it’s what people have come to accept.

    The slightly more complex answer is that any other form of gameplay is not familiar. This means it’ll be harder to implement and much harder to get people to understand. As we develop Storybricks, we have to keep asking ourselves if anyone will take the time to learn the more relationship-focused gameplay we envision. It’s a HUGE risk, but we’ve been lucky enough to find some initial investors that are willing to take that risk. Hopefully we find an audience that will be willing to learn and adapt.

  8. Stabs

    @ Bhagpuss the smashables mechanic was quite significant in the Diablo games. There were even pots.

    @ Brian it’s a risk well worth taking. If it works it helps move the genre away from a series of wow-clones to something more like the film industry where there are different types of films to suit very different types of people.

  9. Bronte

    Because it is easy to emulate what we cannot be in real life. because it feels “epic” to paratroop onto the back of a giant evil dragon and fight to rip off its scales. Because months of training has now allowed you to jam his systems, prevent warping, or doing any significant damage of any sort. Because everyone needs to live vicariously through these fantastical worlds where you get to be the one with all the power for a change.

  10. nugget


    Hrm… glitch is something like that. An endless selection of lucky bags and/or pinatas shaped like chickens, piggies, and trees, that you can squeeze, nibble and pet (in that order).

    It’s weird though. I like Glitch a lot, I think it’s wonderfully done and extremely charming… but somehow, without things to kill, I get, well, bored.

    *wanders off frothing at the mouth and looking for something to nibble. hard.*

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