Tag Archives: Power Gamers

“Dailies have destroyded the game.”

So, I hear there’s a lot of dailies?

I’m not yet 90 myself, I’ve been trying to follow this: An Underachiever’s Guide to 90 by Tome of the Ancient, but I keep failing at the one and only step to success:

Yep, that’s it. Stop it, stop it, stop it with the pet battling already. Simple, easy. There’s my guide.

Maybe it also has to do with the fact that I’m having main-character-doubts, I’m like a split personality victim these days – do I want to play the elemental shaman, the shadow priest or the new’ish hunter? So, yeah, I’ve been dabbling around pet battles (okay, more than dabbling, I’ve been ADDICTED), I’ve also been playing my new gnome monk, and I’ve been leveling the shaman and the hunter. I really need to gain some focus!

When you go to see the Master Pet Tamer Zoltan (the smug blood elf in Felwood), don’t look his kneeling cultists straight in the eye – or maybe don’t look at them at all…

Anyways, back to the dailies! – There’s a lot of them! – Some people are unhappy! – So unhappy that a thread has become a hot topic on the forums, of course sporting an overly dramatic, punctuated and misspelled title, as we WoW players do it best!: “Dailies have destroyded the game.” I love it already!

The argumentation goes back and forth, there’s not exactly consensus, although the OP has been rated highly, but I think the discussion raises a few relevant topics.

  • The line between work and play can be very blurry

Old time classic game theorist Roger Caillois included in his definition of play, that it had to be free and nonobligatory. The less we want to do the dailies, the more they feel like work to us, which makes us question why we even bother in the first place. It’s my impression that in the thread, this has been wrapped up as lazy players vs. Protestant work ethic players. I don’t see it as a matter of being lazy or not, but of play gradually feeling and looking like work to a lot of people.

  • Dailies are in a way revealing the fact that the vast majority of activities in MMO’s are repetitious tasks consisting of simple click commands

Kill X mob Y number of times – Kill X mob to collect Y number of BWAINS! – Collect Y number of poops – Join Z instance and continuously press your AoE button. Of course, then, some clever guy realized that instead of coming up with new X, Y, Z’s they could just have us do the SAME stuff every day.

  • Power gamers/achievers and the pressure of optimization

If you care about progression, doing dailies will be even less voluntary, especially if members of your raid team are all grinding away. I’m not an achiever player-type, and even I feel a stint of that pressure. It’s more comfortable, in many ways, to stick to the large bulk of the wave, as it sweeps over the new content. Soon the learning phase is over and knowledge is expected a priori – that’s mostly what has me feeling stressed.

  • Are there ethical responsibilities in relation to designing games?

If we acknowledge that there is a pressure to optimize and touch that first row ceiling, does the designer have a responsibility to not ask too much of the player? Are players able to keep their heads cool under all the peer pressure? Do we trust players to be autonomous enough to manage and prioritize their own play time and activities under all circumstances?

How we lean on these subjects are influenced by what kind of player we are. I’ll usually fall in favour of an upper limit, like there used to be – 25/day, where as now it’s unlimited. But that’s probably also because I’m not very tolerant of long grinds, extremely low drop rates and camping spawns. I’d prefer they had kept the old 25/day limit in, which instead would have forced players to prioritize what factions they wanted exalted with first.

Player Types, E-sports and Theorycrafting – Some Topics from the Games Conference

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In my last post I wrote about the trip to the DiGRA conference (Digital Games Research Association) in the Netherlands through the use of a gallery. Now I’ll bring up some of the discussions that emerged around the various presentations. If you’re interested in some of the things game academia (the European scene anyways) is talking about currently, you might find this post worthwhile.

One thing that astonished me when I sat down to watch some of the presentations on WoW, was that most of what they said, was common knowledge to me. This is not to say that I’m so clever, but more to say that any WoW player would have been nodding along to what the researchers were saying. It also makes me wonder how much of games research is based on confirming and validating the knowledge that the game community already has.

This presentation was a good example of this:

The WoW based presentation by Kristine Ask was focusing on how different play practices have developed under the same game design. She had taken the terms already found within the community, such as “casual”, “soft-core” and “hardcore” (I’m sure these to a WoW player don’t need explanation).

She used the concept of domestication in the sense that it “highlights the cognitive, symbolic and practical dimensions“. So, how I understand it, it’s about how players handle the game and how they ‘tame’ or appropriate it.

Casual

Softcore

hardcore

Symbolic

Social Interaction Challenging Leisure Competition

Practical

Friends and Alliances Beaurocratic Organized for world firsts

Cognitive

Fellow Players Targeted Experts

This distinction makes me wonder about how game design is already targeting different play styles by making these wild swipes of totalitarian nerfs to the current tier of raiding, so that casuals and softcores can have fun after the hardcore players have already exhausted it for the sake of competition. Maybe WoW’s answer to the different domestications of WoW has been to tailor their content accordingly. The distinction between normal and heroic dungeon/raiding content, then, is less about progession and recycling as it is about letting different play styles with different values access the same content.

The question remains, is it even possible to cater to both hardcores, softcores and casuals equally? As it is right now, it seems the casuals and softcores are getting the large end of the deal at the price of the hardcores’ interests.

My teachers treat WoW as a little yesterday in terms of what games they deem interesting subjects for research, there’s a lot of research done on WoW already, but I was still pleased to see and hear WoW mentioned several times, even in relation to e-sports.

This panel on practicing masculinities largely dealt with masculinity as the title also reveals, but mainly through e-sports including WoW arena.

The researchers talked about WoW Arena as an e-sport being very peripheral and not considered “sporty” enough. Especially constant patching and class imbalances are problems with regards to WoW Arena’s position within e-sports. Thus, WoW Arena players were actively engaged in creating a sense of their own place, an alternative to the “sportified model” of how the Major League Gaming (MLG) frames e-sports.

Notice how the MLG logo reflects the sporty aspect of e-sports by appropriating the MLB logo.

The presenters also spoke about two main discourses within e-sports emphasizing different attributes and values in play: “the geek” and “the jock”

Geek

Jock

e-sports

”real sports”

MMO, RTS

FPS

Computers

Consoles

Technology

Having a fast computer

Embodiment

Fast reaction skills

The geek talks about his gameplay as feeding on highly refined skills, intensive knowledge, mastery and commitment. The geek can take the opportunity to opt out of physical sports, but retain the competition through playing computer games and still perform masculinity this way.

So while the geek thinks about skill as being clever, the jock is a “cyber-athlete” who tends to de-emphasize the technology and puts the body forward as the main tool. For instance they would say that Halo had more in common with fx paintball.

Since the panel was about how masculinity was practiced in these gaming communities, they also spoke about what was usually considered acceptable female participation, that is “Halo hoes”, booth babes and cheerleaders.

These two presentations on identity were also really interesting, and both used WoW (one more than the other) as material for analysis. Surprisingly the discussion quickly turned and started being about gender-bending (playing a character of the opposite sex), a term Nick Taylor (one of the researchers presenting) critizised, saying “sex-swapping” was more suitable. I actually agree even though I’ve called it gender-bending myself, I just mainly adopted the phrasing from the sources I used at the time.

Gender is more about our constructed roles, behaviours, activities, and attributes, while sex is biological. So when you play a character of the opposite sex, you may not act feminine just because the character is female.

A claim was therefore made that sex-swapping for males playing a female character was not transgressive. It’s interesting cause I wonder how far the gaming community has moved on this topic. Sometimes I still see the question arise “why do some guys play a female toon?” as if it’s still this strange phenomenon. However, it’s such a common practice now and male players are already the majority, so this choice of play is not really a big deal, everyone assumes everyone is (a white heterosexual) male in fx WoW anyways. I’ve been called a “he” many times, often I’ve wondered if there even was a point in correcting it. What Nick Taylor did deem transgressive was instead females engaging in sex-swapping – playing male characters.

Nick Taylor also expressed critique about the interpretation of sex-swappers when they say they just want to “look at a sexy behind”. This phrasing is not hard to find on the internet, you’ll find it on the WoW forums in a second. I also suspect that it stems from male players wanting to distance themselves from any string of something not fiercely heteronormative, “it’s not like they’re GAY, GOSH! No no, that’s impossible when they play this female toon because her ass is sexy”. So the “nice butt” argument, I suspect, is more about impression management than these guys actually drooling over their female avatars.

During the discussions the problem of the “raging homophobia” to use one researcher’s own words, was also brought up.


These presentations about theorycrafting had many examples from the WoW theorycrafters and dealt with Elitist Jerks amongst others.

The presentations focused on knowledge production and how the players worked to gain control instead of being controlled by the game. A question was posed by a member of the audience about any counter actions to theorycrafting and I instantly thought of the Ironman Challenge.

In short, the Ironman Challenge is a style of leveling that puts severe restraints on the character. An Iron(wo)man character cannot wear items of green quality and up, nor can they take on a spec, to see the full list of rules, check The Land of Odd and Psynister’s Notebook, who are both authors of this idea. The first character we know of, that has completed this challenge, reaching lvl 85, is the warlock Ironsally, whose journey you can read about on the blog Tome of the Ancient.

I can only speak for myself when I say that leveling my own Ironman Character Elford the (former) Executive, is without a doubt a withdrawal from the extensive theorycrafting that I feel is dominating WoW, even outside of the raiding scene. I’m not a theorycrafter myself and often find the constant demand to stay updated and ALWAYS play with the most optimized setup exhausting.

By playing an ironman character, I feel like I am safely opting out of this race and can play as I want. All the stuff around a character, gemming, spec, enchants, heirlooms etc, is now a blank. There is only the way I play, how I push this character with all it’s restrictions as far as I can, and I find this liberating. This character is flawed, it sucks I know this, but that’s the point. So for me, playing Elford is very much a counter response to the surveillance players exercise on each other.

There were many other presentations but I chose to highlight these as their work drew on WoW as a case study. These were also the ones that really inspired me and had me think about myself as a WoW-player and the community.

As a final note, while the panel on Minecraft was going on, one of the kids was asked if you could win in Minecraft, and the answer was that maybe you could, if you mined the entire world. Kids can be so funny, I’ve got a long way to go to win Minecraft then!

Clumsy Questing – Solo Play pt. 2

Playing alone was something all the players I interviewed were familiar with, but the way solo play was utilized and with what purpose was not the same across the line. Some players stated early in the interview that if no one was online, this includes other media than WoW (such as external voice communication e.g. Ventrilo and Mumble), they logged off again. It is here important to make a distinction between playing alone without engaging in remote socializing (guild chat, voice chat, whispers etc.) and actively being part of a conversation while not having your characters grouped in the game. When looking at how often players join groups and how much time they spend in them, these two cases will look identical but not reflect the same in terms of sociability.

In this part we shall look at questing in particular, an activity the players I spoke to often chose to do alone, though frequently while chatting with others at the same time. I’m sure the following will sound very familiar to a lot of WoW-players.

Completing quests, which is usually done with the purpose of leveling, is often chosen with the aim in mind to pass through this part of the game as fast as possible. I’m sure a lot of us have been there, we’ve seen the content already, some don’t care and we just want the raw xp. At this point leveling is just a matter of executing one quest after another.

In the study I also mentioned in part 1 “Alone Together?” Exploring the Social Dynamics of Massively Multiplayer Online Games (2006), Ducheneaut et al. showed that leveling with someone makes the process slower, something I’m sure is common knowledge now at this stage in WoW’s history. But even though it may be more fun for some players to level with someone, this is eventually sacrificed in the name of efficiency, as one of the players I spoke to testified:

Eitrik: Ah, I’d love to [quest with others] but that is exp cut in half so it takes long.

Some types of players, described as “power gamers” by T.L. Tailor in Play Between Worlds: Exploring Online Game Culture (2006), put strong emphasis on the quantitative orientation of the game and are “particularly attuned to making the best of their time in the game and so undertake actions to produce efficient reward paths.” (I believe the popular titles nowadays for these players are “hardcore players”, “theorycrafters” and “minmaxers”). While power gamers may suffer under the stigma of being an isolated player who’s only interested in advancing, they are often actively engaged with their social network, guilds, boards and forums and may be amongst the most social according to T.L. Taylor’s research, which was based on Everquest players.

I’m curious about this negative stereotyping of power gamers as asocial loners that was around in Everquest anno 2006. Does it still exist amongst today’s WoW players? Or is this something we’ve moved beyond after realizing that power gamers and hardcore raiders indeed are heavily networked? I’d love to hear your views in the comments!

Regardless, my interviews support T.L. Taylor’s social description of power gamers, as the loss in efficiency was considered a serious detriment, but otherwise this player would happily play with others.

Ironyca: What if the xp wasn’t cut in half?

Eitrik: then I’d tell my friends to all start some alts and play together!

Playing with others while questing seemingly comes at a cost besides the sheer loss in experience. Despite the fact leveling is an activity that can cater for group play, especially a duo much better than f. ex farming, coordination can be a hassle and waiting or making others wait was even described as stressful:

Ironyca: How come you prefer leveling alone mostly?

Skyfire: so I can explore for myself, read quest text if I would want etc

Skyfire: so others don’t stress me or I don’t stress others while questing

Besides speed, autonomy is also a common factor that players enjoy about solo play. A few players noted that leveling alone is especially relaxing, the choice to read the quest texts, the option to choose one’s own path and the occasional exploration derail are all qualities players appreciate about solo play.

In relation to leveling with someone, the game has an in built mechanic that allows players to accumulate an amount of “rested experience”, letting them gain the double amount of experience in relation to how long they logged off or otherwise spent time in a capital city. Besides just being an incentive to take breaks, it’s also meant to give a leeway of catching up if one player is not online equally as much as the quest-partner. Even with this feature in place, it does not alleviate the burden of questing with others. My findings support what Ducheneaut et al. (2006) presumed based on their study:

WoW’s “rest” feature attempts to mitigate this but loses effectiveness as the leveling gap between players increases. Therefore, and by their fundamental design, MMORPGs might not support casual-social-play very well, and this could be another reason why we see so much “solo play” in WoW. (p. 9)

Furthermore quests are nested in such a way, that questing within a particular zone is often a matter of completing one quest to unlock the next, something the designers has since chosen to expand upon when Azeroth got a make-over. It’s of course a feature that enhances the storytelling aspects, but evidently also complicates playing with others, unless the implied players follow the same quest line at the same pace. Gaining a boost in experience does not make up for the disconnection between the respective players with regards to this linear structure. Basically this made duo or trio questing even more difficult, especially when phasing splits up the group.

As it is right now, I suspect solo questing to be even more common now than it was in vanilla. I also believe that the leveling/questing experience offer a good example of when solo play is not necessarily considered the ideal circumstances for some players, but turn out that way due to game design. So when it looks on paper as though players are making “anti-social” choices, we have to consider the possible elements in the system that could be pushing otherwise social players in that direction and this seems to be a factor here – questing becomes clumsy when done with others.