Hand-Holding in MMO’s: Do We Want It?

After not having internet access for the past three days because our provider has some serious issues, it’s finally back up and running (for now.)  Having said that, I didn’t get the chance to write up a post that I had been brewing over for a couple days; In fact, I’d left a draft open with the title to this post so that I wouldn’t forget about it.  After doing some surfing around the blogosphere to catch up on a weekend’s worth of posts, I saw that Tobold had already touched on the topic briefly.  Now that he’s gotten the ball rolling, I’ll delve a little deeper.

We all have different needs, and MMO’s are no different.  Some of us prefer lots of guidance with someone or something constantly leading the way, providing clues and answers to all of our questions.  Others prefer to have a general path to follow before being sent on their way to discover things for themselves.  Still others would rather be dropped in the middle of nowhere with absolutely no sense of direction to go where they please and do what they please.  These are all valid points of view, and all provide different levels of satisfaction and comfort.  Knowing this means understanding that it can pose a difficult problem to solve for MMO developers, though.  Players from all sorts of backgrounds with all sorts of preferences and expectations are bound to try certain games, and the developers want to keep all of them happy and entertained, but how can they cater to such a wide assortment of potential customers, and yet keep them all satisfied… or can they? This is a question that has never been more prevalent than now, with an ever-increasing number of MMO’s headed our way.  I’ll take a look at three games that help show the two extremes as well as the mid-point.

EvE Online:
On one end of the spectrum there is EvE Online, which is known well for its “throw you to the dogs” approach.  They have made changes recently to try to break or at least shift this stereotype to help bring in more casual players, but it’s still by far the toughest MMO to break into.  Some people thrive in these situations, and they wouldn’t want it any other way.  Others simply can’t do it.  They get too overwhelmed and confused, and quit.  To be perfectly honest, this is the way I felt when I tried EvE about a year ago. I understand that this is the way many players prefer for things to work, and greatly enjoy it, however that’s not the way I prefer things to be, so I didn’t pursue this game.  Can a game with this style work?  Of course, or EvE wouldn’t be the success that it is.  Does that mean that it would hurt to make their game a bit more casual-friendly?  I’ll get to this later.

EverQuest2:
This is a good middle-of-the-road MMO in terms of guidance from the game itself.  You are provided with a somewhat brief tutorial for many aspects of the game, but the average gamer (or non-gamer) whose first MMO is EverQuest 2 is likely going to struggle quite a bit trying to learn everything as they go. Even MMO veterans have had problems understanding everything within this game as they get started with it.  SOE has made progress in leaps and bounds towards improving this, but has it been enough?  Without the assistance of other players or websites to help guide the way, players can easily be turned off before they have even had the chance to truly judge the game.  With that in mind, there are players who get much more satisfaction out of figuring out the nuances of the game on their own than if they had been provided everything they needed.  There are a great deal of these people, and they deserve to have a playstyle that fits them, but can you make a game successfully that caters solely to this audience?  Well, yes, but it’s not going to be as successful as if you catered to others as well.

World of Warcraft:
World of Warcraft is known for being the most casual-friendly MMO around (which seems evident based on its subscription numbers alone.)  it does an excellent job of leading players along while not making them feel dumb in the process.  They let players know what they are supposed to do without suffocating them or making them feel like a puppet.   If you’re on your third or fourth character and don’t care to read all the tips they provide or complete the starter areas, you can skip ahead if you like and jump into the heart of the game right way.  Even yet, there are still plenty of times when, as Tobold pointed out, players will find themselves using third-party resources to determine what to do or where to go next.  Does Blizzard provide players with enough information to get along, or do they need to include more at the risk of bombarding players with a great deal of unnecessary information?  It’s definitely a tough balance to find.

WoW certainly appears to be the game that got the most things right.  They provide the players with enough guidance (leading you around with quests, providing information through NPC’s, etc.) that players generally understand what they should be doing, but it doesn’t seem to be forced.  The guidance is there for the taking, but no one is making you use it.

No game has found the perfect solution, which is of course to cater equally to all sets of players.  Can this really be done, though?  Can you really make a game that provides for the most hard-core players who’ve spent ten years playing MMO’s who just want to dive right in, yet also provides everything necessary for an MMO virgin?  More importantly, can it be done without sacrificing the integrity and the vision of the game?  With an MMO like EvE, if the player base feels like they’ve been betrayed and their game has gone to the casual carebears, then they could lose a good chunk of their valued customers in the process. If they can maintain the feel it currently posesses while providing more casual players with a way in, however, they could dramatically increase their subscriptions.  It’s all a matter of what the players want and what the developers are trying to (and are able to) deliver.

I suppose a big portion of this question falls to the use of third party websites.  Pretty much anything can be found out on these sites, and can make gaming a great deal easier.  Does this mean that developers have the right to depend on these sites for players to find all of their information they need, or is it their responsibility to put this information into the game to reduce the number of times players need to use them?  How do you know what the right amount of information is enough and how much is too much?  I think it depends on the game that’s being built and what the players expect along with that.  It’s certainly not a “one size fits all” situation, which means that finding the right balance is always going to be difficult.

So where do you fit?  How much guidance do you prefer to have along with your MMO’s?  Are you an explorer who wants to run around freely and still progress, or do you prefer a very linear path that gets you  (literally or figuratively) from point a to point b?  Do you prefer to get all answers on “thottbot,” or would you like to have them right in the game?  Let me know 🙂

~Kanthalos

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3 comments so far

  1. thallian on

    I think there should be proportionally bigger rewards the more you have to figure out on your own and the more random a quest is. The hand holders should soon figure out that yes, they can level by hand holding but there is a better funner way (excuse the made up word)

  2. kanthalos on

    The only problem with this is that even if you have to “figure it out on your own,” there will always be websites to go figure out everything you need to know to complete it. The only way that this could really work is if the quests/content were/was truly dynamic and would change everytime. Even with three or four different scenarios, it wouldn’t be tough to figure it out. Also, the more dynamic they make it, the more time and resources it takes, which means less time spent on other things. Furthermore, making a quest more “random” could also mean worse directions, which could serve to frustrate the player rather than add more meaning to what they are doing.

    I like the idea that players should be rewarded proportionally based on how much effort they put into it, though. I’m just not sure how it would really work.

  3. Thallian on

    Well one thing I think they should do more of is require brain work from players, such as puzzles and such, even ones where you compete against a computer or another person. that would be neat as an alternative to endless killing. But not replacing it of course. And as far as implementation they could easily make things spawn in random locations (not set but in a set area. The larger the area the greater the difficulty of hide and seek. Treasure chests in dungeons could be like this also and have ACTUAL loot worth getting (I’m looking at you with a cold cold stare WoW) Bosses to not need to be the only source of good drops. secret walls, trap floors, deadly traps, could all come into play and make it a really neat place.. especially if they were never in the same place. Walls that slowly close in to kill you unless get a move on.. I have lots of easily implemented ideas. Heck that has been done in lots of single player games.


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