Archive for April 20, 2012
Earlier I wrote a rather lengthy and apparently well received bit about how some/many/all MMO operators aren’t in-tune with the emotional investments that their players have with their experiences. In the process of writing that tl;dr, though, I started to think about the problem that may be the root cause of a potential disconnect.
We (as consumers) are all giddy about the features of a game, the bullet points, and the promises of specifics that we are told/that we hope will differentiate New Game from Old Game. These changes are rarely earth-shattering. They’re usually one-off additions, or tweaks to the way Old Game implemented ”Feature X” so that the developer diary videos can claim that they’re being “innovative” with their re-skinning of familiar mechanics. Even when the features don’t deviate wildly from the norm, we like to hear about how familiar systems will be handled: how will LFG work? Will we have guild banks at launch? How about crafting? Skill trees? Pets? We’re just as guilty of approaching these games in terms of mechanics as the developers are of talking to us about the game as if it were some kind of construct that was nothing more than the sum of it’s parts.
So I guess it’s really not a surprise that a lot of these games are built on mechanics, and without a soul. Not a metaphysical soul, of course…that would be creepy. But it seems that so many games aren’t being pitched to us from the standpoint of why we should play them, just that we’ll be excited to play them because of the exciting motions of the buttons and levers.
I think I’m starting to understand where the “art game” differentiates from the “mainstream game” in this regard. I’m not saying that the next MMO that’ll get my money will be pitched as some kind of meditation on human tragedy as it stood between the years of 1850 and 1895 or anything, but I’d like to see a big budget game downplay the levers and buttons and elevate the real investment we have in these games, in time and emotion, by supporting what we put into it at it’s development core.
Easier said than done, naturally. The only emotion that games are good at on a regular basis is fear, and even then it’s the “popcorn fear” of things jumping out of the dark when we least expect them. When a game proposes that it’ll “make you feel stuff”, I think the majority of us shut down and ignore it because we don’t play games to be told how to feel; I think we do want games that allow us to feel, or games that recognize that we’re capable of generating our own emotional response – and can be counted on to do so. Focus on mechanics as the reason to play New Game A over New Game B or Old Game C is cold, calculating PR. We do love it, to be certain, but maybe if games were pitched as spaces for emotional resonance and less about how many stats you’d have or how many raids you’d have, we wouldn’t feel so bored with New Game X.
Here’s an interesting development: Raptr, the gamer’s IM and statistics collector for the games you play, wants you to have stuff for doing stuff that you’re already doing.
Apparently, if you meet certain criteria, you can “unlock” rewards. I earned a 35% discount on select Logitech peripherals myself, and I am also eligible for 60% off Logitech Modern Warfare 3 branded items because I’m ranked “Dedicated” in select Call of Duty games for Xbox, PS3, or PC. I have no idea how; I haven’t played a CoD game since the first. To earn these rewards, you need to jump through some hoops by achieving certain ranks in certain games or certain segments of games with Raptr’s new “e-peen” system (my term, not theirs, FYI).
I don’t visit the Raptr site very often. I have a carefully cultivated cadre of compatriots upon whom I rely for my gaming news and opinions, and I find that often times stepping outside that circle and into the noise of the Greater Internet usually leads to eye-rolling, frustration, and then anger. I also find Raptr’s stats a bit too dense to parse at times (I wanted to see the top 10 most popular Xbox games, for example, and couldn’t find them in an easy-to-read format). I also kind of thumbed my nose at Raptr’s ranking system which puts you into buckets based on the amount of time you spend playing a specific title, and which lets you know who you’re ranked higher than amongst the people on your friends list. I guess that’s fine for people who like to busybody themselves in their hobby, but that’s not the point here.
With these rewards, I think Raptr has made me care about where I sit, at least in terms of how much time I put into a game. I’m not going to dedicate my limited time to playing games I don’t like just in order to get a specific rank in order to earn a specific reward, but if I’m close to being eligible for something I might be interested in at the time, I might put more effort into it, assuming I was going to do it anyway. But even that half-hearted claim is an endorsement of what Raptr is doing with this rewards thing. I was using Raptr anyway, and this kind of just tethers me to their system with a bit of a stronger thread.