the daily grind

No, it’s not a slow news day; it’s just The Daily Grind, a long-running morning feature in which the Massively Overpowered writers pose gaming-related questions to the MMORPG community. [Follow this feature’s RSS feed]

The Daily Grind: How much MMO game info should be hidden from the players?

A blog post on The Psychology of Video Games blog a few weeks ago seems relevant to our interests: It explores the “pleasure paradox,” which basically suggests that humans crave certainty, but once we get it, we’re bored. Experiments showed that subjects “said they would prefer to be less uncertain, but the results show that their happiness would have been diminished” if they actually were. We like a good mystery!

Consequently, author Jamie Madigan argues, games should take advantage of this human quirk – say, by rewarding us based on some hidden modifier but not telling us what we did to earn it.

In a weird way, that’s something ancient MMORPGs did by accident: Information was so obfuscated that playing was as much trial and error as anything, and game mechanics were an unintentional mystery. And something like, oh, websites publishing every single mage spell combo in Asheron’s Call? It killed the magic. So does every elitist in your group spamming DPS meters in chat in the modern era.

How much MMO game info should be hidden from the players? And is the “pleasure paradox” the reason?

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The Daily Grind: Which MMO does dinosaurs the best?

Dinosaurs are one of those wells that seem to show up in a lot of MMOs. World of Warcraft? Yes, there are whole zones dedicated to dino-antics. Neverwinter? Plenty of dinosaurs in the latest stories. Final Fantasy XIV? Lots of dinos in places where you wouldn’t expect them. Star Trek Online? Yes, we got dinosaurs on spaceships in that game. It’s dinosaurs everywhere, and for some reason none of them have feathers.

That’s a bit of a sore point because dinosaurs had feathers, but then, most dinosaurs also didn’t fight people in spaceships. That we know of.

Asking which game should add dinosaurs becomes a rather silly question, then, because there are a minority of ones that don’t, and the ones that do not could probably benefit from them but are unlikely to add them. (That being said, if Ever, Jane adds dinosaurs, it’d be cool.) But which of the many MMOs with dinosaurs handles them best? Which one has the best variety of terrible lizards to interact with and the most satisfying cast of dinos?

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The Daily Grind: What was the most disappointing MMO expansion of all time?

Best and worst, top and bottom: It’s fun to discuss video game in absolute extremes (at times). And I’ll bet that a lot of us only really remember the most excellent MMORPG expansions and the most disappointing ones.

So let’s grouse today and dredge up past heartaches. What was, to you, the most disappointing MMO expansion of all time? A few come to mind for me. Star Trek Online: Delta Rising was a narrative and structural mess that bogged down and made me desert it. I know that I was really let down with how RIFT: Storm Legion developed, faltering hard after a strong start. But probably for me, Lord of the Rings Online: Mordor took the cake. The publicity for it was atrocious, the actual expansion about as far from “fun” as I’ve ever experienced in an MMO, and the difficulty of moving and progressing was aggravating.

But that’s me. How about you? Which MMO expansion do you want to rag on today?

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The Daily Grind: What keeps you logging into MMORPGs over a long period of time?

Earlier this month, Pantheon’s community team tweeted out a question that keeps coming back to me: “What motivates you to play an MMORPG for long periods of time, as in months, sometimes, years?” My first reaction was a pretty common one I bed and was true for me for a long time: friends and guildies! I certainly played some games far longer than I would have otherwise because I wanted to hang out with friends (EverQuest in particular is coming to mind).

But in recent years, when I already “see” my friends and guildies every day in external chats, I’d found games need some other draw too. Housing is probably the biggest one. I don’t usually get sucked in for dailies or anything like that, but give me a house that I love and want to keep up – that I’ll not only log in for but pay for, as my continuing Ultima Online fees prove.

What keeps you logging into MMORPGs over a long period of time?

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Massively Overthinking: What we really mean when we talk about ‘difficulty’ in MMORPGs

Massively OP reader Steve wants us to revisit the Daily Grind on making death more meaningful without making it more annoying. His letter was long, so let me paraphrase a bit:

“It feels to me like underlying point was, ‘MMOs are too easy, so how do we make them harder?’ The question of video game difficulty is something that is seldom ever tackled head-on, as it tends to draw out a somewhat vocal minority. There are so many worthy topics about how people define difficulty, twitch skills vs. depth, easy vs. hard, difficulty vs. accessibility, easy vs. engaging, shallowness vs. depth, and so on. These are things I’d love to really see discussed more online, and very few sites will actually touch it. But I think that MOP’s community is overall mature enough to actually have some discussions about this without it devolving into a fist fight.”

I’m sure you’ll prove him right! Right, guys? Guys? So let’s talk about MMO difficulty in this week’s Massively Overthinking. What do we really mean when we talk about “difficulty” in MMORPGs? Are games easier than they used to be, and if so, is there something studios should do to change that?
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The Daily Grind: What could MMO taverns do to get you to stick around?

I have vague memories of ArenaNet talking about Guild Wars 2 taverns prior to its launch and how these spaces would be more than window dressing. Maybe that was a dream or something, but I’ve always respected the effort to make one of the most iconic of RPG locations — the tavern meeting place — more useful and engaging. Warhammer Online, too, was touting tavern brawls that would take place as public events.

We’re so conditioned to run in and out of such places that unless we are roleplaying for some reason, chances are we never stay for more than a few seconds. And that’s kind of a shame, because I like the idea of players spending some time in bars unwinding. I heard a myth of a dead MMO that used to put such an emphasis on this, but it was probably all bunk.

What could MMO taverns do to get you to stick around? Would you hang out for minigames, gambling, special events, or special buffs?

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The Daily Grind: Which MMO has the dumbest armor?

Back in February, PC Gamer put out a piece on the absolute dumbest character armor in gaming history. There’s more than one MMORPG in the list, including World of Warcraft (Arthas’ Lich King armor) and Lineage 2 (Dark Elf string armor). Bizarrely, City of Heroes made the roster too for that one dude from The Lost faction with a TV helmet. The best part is the commentary from an actual real-life armorer (they’re basically all the equivalent of “you’ll shoot your eye out, kid”).

I thought it would be fun to dig further into MMOs for even more dumb armor. Me, I’ll vote for anything where the shoulders would poke me in the eye, anything I would legit wear clubbing, and anything that proves definitively that the designer has no idea how actual boobs work.

Which MMO has the dumbest armor? Post pics if you have them!

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The Daily Grind: What’s the biggest scandal the MMORPG genre has ever seen?

Over the weekend in the Guild Wars 2 spyware article comments, a commenter remarked that Blizzard’s Warden spyware was “the biggest scandal in MMOs” over the last 10 years. I was pretty surprised to see that claim; I was aware of Warden, but it probably wouldn’t even make my top 10 list of scandals across the industry. The first one that pops to mind is Blizzard’s RealID, probably followed by Monoclegate, the Funcom insider trading case, the EVE jumpgate scandal, the Sigil Games parking lot firing fiasco, and the NCsoft/Bluehole lawsuit.

I’m positive I’m forgetting some juicy ones. What’s the biggest scandal – scandal, mind you, not just drama – the MMORPG genre has ever seen? Lay ’em on me!

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The Daily Grind: How diligent are you about making money in an MMO?

No one believes me when I say that I’m bad about making money in my main games. It’s true, though; compared to the people who put a whole lot of effort into doing so, my moneymaking skills are sub-par. Yes, I own a mansion in Final Fantasy XIV, but that’s a result of frugality and building up resources over time. Yes, I’ve got an extensive heirloom collection in World of Warcraft, but I’m not playing the markets (or at least, not playing them well).

Of course, I also might be comparing myself to the wrong people, considering I know other people who would fall over themselves for the moneymaking engines I already have running. So what about you, dear readers? How diligent are you about making money in an MMO? Do you enjoy playing the economic games and live for the big windfalls, or do you mostly treat money as something to slowly accumulate rather than a thing to chase after?

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The Daily Grind: Who is the best MMO villain?

Setting up and establishing a memorable villain is tricky business, especially in online games where players barrel through them like dominoes. We’ve fought so many bad guys and gals over the years that the rogue’s gallery would stretch to the horizon.

Yet some of these dastardly bosses rise above the rest in their machinations. Maybe it’s a truly captivating backstory, wickedly funny one-liners, or shocking actions that cement them in our minds as villains for the ages.

Looking back at all of the villains you’ve faced in MMOs in your career, who would you say is the best, the baddest, and the most memorable of them all?

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The Daily Grind: Do you have a ‘guilty pleasure’ MMO?

As comments and tweets and nastygrams in my inbox have repeatedly demonstrated over the years, it doesn’t matter whether you’ve put in years of play in brutal gankboxes and done more than your fair share of time in endgame raiding and PvP: An hour in a guilty pleasure MMO renders you irreversibly contaminated in the eyes of a certain segment of the gaming population. You’re a filthy casual (or worse!). I don’t actually buy that idea for a second, but I can’t help but find it colors my ability to enjoy and willingness to gush over cutesy games, silly MMOs, and retro titles.

Case in point? Trove. I’m consistently surprised by the depth I’ve found in Trove (in fact, the overall gameplay loop reminds me more of City of Heroes than Minecraft or Cube World), but the fact that people see neon voxel graphics and smirk it away as a kiddie game both irritates and squelches me. And yet it’s the MMORPG that’s got me logging in every day the last month or so, something I haven’t felt like doing anywhere else for quite a while.

Do you have a “guilty pleasure” MMO? Do you keep a secret any of the MMOs you play? Don’t worry; we won’t tell!

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The Daily Grind: How long is too long for early access?

Let’s be real here, there’s no question in anyone’s mind that DayZ has been in early access far longer than it should be. By the same token, I don’t think anyone would begrudge Radical Heights for still being in early access. But somewhere between those two extremes lie a large number of games, some of whom have been in ostensible early access for months, some of which have been there for years, and so forth.

In many ways, early access is like the new version of the game in perpetual open beta; there were many free-to-play games that never technically launched, just stayed in open beta forever until they finally shut down. And yet those games were selling things normally, making the distinction between launch and open beta into a very blurry and nebulous thing. Early access is already blurry, since it asks for money for a game that is decidedly early in its development cycle.

So what do you think, dear readers? How long is too long for early access? Is there a clear limit beyond which games should just bite the bullet and launch, or is it entirely down to the specific game?

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