The Soapbox: Inconvenience is not immersion in MMOs or anywhere else

    
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Oh, wow, maps. What an amazingly new concept.

Inconvenience is not immersion.

This strikes me as something rather ridiculous to type; to mildly paraphrase Dan Harmon, it seems like should be one of the more automatic things to tell people, like “I am a human being” or “I have skin” or “I breathe oxygen.” And yet I see this coming up, time and again, the idea that accessibility is somehow a boundary to immersion. Or that you need this sort of tedium in order to have genuine roleplaying or some other tribute to broken mishmashes and unnecessary inconvenience.

Except that, as mentioned, inconvenience is not immersion. They mean two different things. If you’re conflating the two, you’re pushing two unrelated concepts together in a way usually seen in clueless movie executives. (“This movie about young adults with a love triangle did well, so every movie with young adults probably needs a love triangle.”) You are, I assume, smarter than that.

Let’s get some definitions out of the way. Immersion is about losing yourself in the game world, about the barrier between the game (or movie, or book, or whatever) disintegrating for a while. You’re completely lost in the world. Inconvenience, on the other hand, is something obnoxious that you have to do that tacks on time without being particularly pleasant.

It’s important to point out that immersion is about losing yourself, not about being in the same state as the people in the game. To use a perfect example, when you’re really immersed in Fire Emblem, you don’t start thinking, “I am a dozen different soldiers, some of whom are riding pegasi.” You just lose the barrier between the world and the game. You are in that moment, directing, feeling the moment, giving yourself that illusion of directing a fierce battle with tactical acumen.

See, it's always dark and you need to have someone carrying a torch instead of fighting, and wait, come back.

In most classic Fire Emblem games, one of the core mechanics of gameplay is that lost units are, well, lost. Someone catches an inopportune arrow in the face and bam, they’re gone for good, no saving throw. More recent titles usually allow you to opt for having your defeated units return after the conclusion of the battle, which has been decried as reducing the immersion of the games, since now you just get your “dead” units back instead of having them be permanently lost.

Except… it really doesn’t. Losing units permanently can create interesting gameplay moments, like deciding whether you want to replay a battle to avoid losing someone important. But that doesn’t affect your immersion. If you decide that you can’t lose someone, you just reset the game and start it over. It doesn’t create immersion; it reduces immersion because you’re more likely to pull yourself out and focus on the mechanics rather than the moment.

Of course, the Fire Emblem series has yet to produce an MMO. (It’d be interesting to see how that would work, but that’s a different article altogether.) But the genre is full of instances wherein people argue that convenience destroys your immersion. Maps. Fast travel. Instanced dungeons. Consensual PvP. Point to any convenience, and you’ll hear someone saying that it destroys any sense of immersion.

But it really doesn’t. Because immersion isn’t inconvenience. Immersion isn’t about whether or not you are actually stuck in a deep, dark dungeon without any way to get out; immersion is about whether or not you feel as if you’re in a deep, dark dungeon.

When I was playing Final Fantasy XI, at one point I was in Ordelle’s Caves as a relatively low-level White Mage with someone high-level helping me grab my race-specific armor. We nabbed it, but my high-level ally had to jet unexpectedly, leaving me stranded by an exit. And, unfortunately, it was the wrong exit; I was trapped. There was no way out for me safely, stuck in a place where I had no map.

This was not an immersive moment. I didn’t feel like a brave adventurer in an unfamiliar place, I felt like I was now utterly screwed by game mechanics and without anyone to help me. It was certainly inconvenient, but it wasn’t immersive.

By contrast, I remember going back on a new character years later with a full group of Trust NPCs (convenience), stomping through Delkfutt’s Tower to get the key I needed for a rank-up mission. In every way, things had been made far more convenient for me.

I feel it's fair to point out that the tower is now a great place for regular leveling.

Realistically, even dying would have only been a minor slap on the wrist rather than sending me back a long way from Jeuno to try again. But it felt immersive; I wasn’t just doing some stupid crap, I was exploring a dangerous tower where a wrong move could mean death, even though in this situation the penalty, likelihood, and consequences for that death were far lesser than they had been in the former situation.

That’s the thing about immersion. It is pretend. Same thing with roleplaying. The whole idea is simulating things without needing them to actually happen, crafting a persona. It’s like acting, something that feels real without necessarily be real. You don’t have to be hopelessly lost as a player to be hopelessly lost as a character. (I had a paladin in World of Warcraft whom I did my best to bring to inappropriate areas out-of-character; in-character, she was perpetually lost.)

That doesn’t mean it has to not be real, it means that the goal is to give you a fun experience rather than a frustrating one. Games should not be frustrating and annoying to play.

Remembering immersion in older games is easy to conflate with the inconveniences because if you’re remembering the former and you know the latter was there, there’s correlation. But there’s not causation in either direction; a lack of fast travel doesn’t make a game more immersive, just harder to explore. Remember, Ultima Online was replete with fast travel options and maps, and it seems to have done all right for itself over the past two decades – this isn’t even an old-school-vs.-new-school issue.

But even if for whatever reason, you absolutely need your game not to feature a minimap or a functional mapping system (ignoring the fact that, to go back to kicking FFXI, that game had neither and players repeatedly yelled about how it was awful), saying that it needs to have neither is forgetting that the game is releasing in the year 2017 of the common era and will need to deal with other games that are out now. And that’s going to cripple it right out of the gate.

A nod.

There are games I love that are nigh-on unplayable now. I adore Final Fantasy VI, sure, but there are many parts of the game that have not aged well, and that game doesn’t need to compete with anything. If it got a remake that didn’t improve even slightly on the usability issues the original game totally had, it would be a failure, because new players aren’t going to whistle and say, “wow, this is so immersive!” They’re going to see that it’s unpleasantly frustrating to play and then they’re going to go play something else. You don’t have to deal with this “draw a map on graph paper” garbage any more; that game will do it for you automatically.

If you’re having trouble finding immersion in more recent titles, there are lots of potential culprits. You may have less time to play, for example. You might be expecting something that the game isn’t offering you. You might have hardware or response issues that make it harder; it’s hard to feel like a ninja in games that give you ninja-like play options if they also require the reflexes of an actual ninja, for example. That’s going to futz with your immersion. Heck, it’s entirely possible that you’re so focused on looking for the inconveniences or nitpicking the details that you make it impossible to ever lose yourself in the game.

There even is a theoretical point where a game could become too convenient to play, although I have yet to see that happen. (If You Have To Burn The Rope added some form of multiplayer, maybe.) But immersion isn’t the same as inconvenience, and if you’ve made a game devoid of basic convenience features, what you have made is not an incredibly immersive experience but a garden-variety bad game.

Everyone has opinions, and The Soapbox is how we indulge ours. Join the Massively OP writers as we take turns atop our very own soapbox to deliver unfettered editorials a bit outside our normal purviews (and not necessarily shared across the staff). Think we’re spot on — or out of our minds? Let us know in the comments!
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Warking

Here is the problem. The realization that every game does not have to be for every single person. Developers also have to set realistic goals about the type of audience they are seeking. If this is your first mmorpg and you are looking to make bucketloads of money perhaps you should make something more mainstream. If this is your third mmorpg and you already made the other two mainstream then feel free to make something less mainstream. Another thing? Players on both sides of the fence need to realize that every mmorpg as with every game isn’t made for them. Entitlement is on both sides as someone who has been here since 1999 I am tired of themeparks, so instead of playing them I am waiting on newer games that take away the themepark features and I don’t expect people who have children or “little time” to play them. Every. Game. Is. Not. For. You. No matter what it is.

SirUrza
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SirUrza

I remember when SWTOR launched without groupfinder… people said no groupfinder was better… it’s a better way to build the community. Yeap… sitting on fleet spamming LFG DPS Red Reaper worked out really well.

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Suikoden

Like Tiresias, I am also getting on in years and with little kids time is a premium. I can take or leave fast travel; although I think GW2 over does it. I AM a big a fan of Instance Queues however. I do not have time to sit around a hub looking for a group, or searching party finders trying to get accepted to an instance run. Let me queue up and do other stuff until it pops. Totally shocks me how many modern MMOs do not have instance queues these days.

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Tiresias

I’m getting to be pretty old at this point. I have a job, a beautiful wife, and interests outside of video games.

If you don’t respect my time I won’t play your game. That’s all there is to it.

There are many games that offer you the ability to fast travel around while still offering immersion. Destiny is a fantastic example — the moment-to-moment gameplay is so good that it’s easy to get lost in what you are doing. The fast travel even makes sense in many way — I have a spaceship waiting for me in orbit that I can translocate to at-will, so I wouldn’t I be able to use it to quickly move around the planet?

Inconvenience that keeps me from playing a game only makes me want to not play that game anymore. This isn’t the same as scarcity or time investment to earn rewards, power, or wealth in game — if I literally just have to spend time getting to places I’ve already been multiple times or waiting for a specific open world enemy to spawn for a quest or any of the other traditional time wasters, I won’t be playing that game for long.

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Video Game Professor

Someone had mentioned that flying makes sense because we live in the world of daily quests.

While it’s true, it also is, as the article described, simply bad game design. If you add a thing to make the last thing you added suck less, you’re addressing a symptom, not a disease.

You need content to justify sub prices? Daily quests are easy. Some people really like them. I was praising world quests at Legion launch, because it felt like variety. But it wasn’t too long before I ran all of them so often that it still because stale. Not long after, I cancelled. I figured I’d wait until a patch, when they introduce a million catch up mechanics, and play then, meanwhile enjoy other titles.

Best way to balance my time and gaming enjoyment while “advancing” in wow is, ironically, not playing.

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Carebear

Inconvenience is subjective though. Some feel having arrows as hunters inconvenience. Some think feeding their battle ally pet inconvenience. Some feel that having to buff your raid inconvenience..

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Durenas

They are inconveniences. But, can you honestly say that buffing an entire raid of 40 people, one at a time, every 5 minutes is convenient? It was a huge hassle for me back in classic WoW. And yet, some people desperately want that back in the Vanilla WoW forums, because immersion.

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Carebear

we had greater blessings who were 10 min :P Buffing a 40 man raid was harsh indeed, but the point is that there were buffs that were powerful, and in outside world, buffing a player who pass by you, you were changing his whole game for the next 5 min (or 30 min in case of Priest, Mage). More often than not, it was the reason to start conversation and maybe end up questing together etc.

I take this mechanic over no buffs at all, or buffs that either you have them or not it doesnt matter. As for hunter, it made much sense to have arrows, to craft your own bullets.. to have cheap ammo and good crafted ammo, quiver, etc. That was immersion.. I stopped playing hunter when they removed all these.

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Alien Legion

For what this reader’s two cents are worth … I am not sure there has been a “The Soapbox” I agree more with than this one.

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Khrome

There’s two things which can kill immersion:

1) Fast travel. This one is simple enough. Fast travel done wrong is a sure-fire way to tell your players that they shouldn’t bother with your game world. You’re telling them that you don’t care about the world you’ve created, so you’ve added a mechanic to skip it.

This is what makes World of Warcraft such a contentious game in this regard. Flying mounts were an achievement in TBC, they felt meaningful, but they didn’t come until *after* you, as a player, have gone through most of the world on foot already. It also had some areas which needed a flying mount to access in the first place.

Access to them became a lot easier in WotLK and a non-issue in Cataclysm. WoD and beyond tried to curtail this, but did it by *only* restricting flying mount access without really changing their world design in the progress. It took the worst of both worlds and somehow came out as a lesser product.

Everquest 2 has a similar problem. Flying mounts marginalize a lot of existing content because you can skip it from very early on.

The problem is that almost everything you do on foot suddenly carries a certain connotation, a feeling of ‘why am i doing this’. It detracts from the player experience greatly.

Most importantly, it vastly decreases the size of your game world. Rather than an epic world of adventure you reduce your game to a minimap to be skipped at your leisure. The connections between areas become pointless, the perspectives you can get from certain vantage points are lost completely. It removes any mystique and intrigue your world may have. This happened to our real world as well, as travel has become – compared to 200 years ago – incredibly convenient and quick. There’s nothing left to find, nothing left to explore, nothing left to wonder about. Every place starts bleeding together. There’s a McDonals in every town and if there isn’t the next town is just a few minutes away. All Bethesda games after Oblivion also suffered from this greatly as well for example.

And this is simply very sad, because video games are a way to escape those parts of reality.

2) Dungeon finders.

These are the instrument of hell. They completely marginalize all players, they make all direct contact between players pointless.

People don’t need to talk to each other anymore. They click a button and get matched. After you’re done, you part ways and don’t care anyone in your party every existed.

Even worse, it’s too easy to abuse, and fosters a misplaced sense of elitism. Got 4 italian players in your party and the 5th is a brit? Kick the shithead and wait for someone else to fill his place. Are you and some others completely convinced someone isnt pulling their weight? Fuck newbies, you only want veterans so you can speedrun this shit, so you kick them and have the spot filled automatically.

It does not just kill communication, it kills the very incentive to communicate in the first place. It, basically, removes the community aspect of a game, and one could argue it removes the multiplayer aspect. If the other players don’t talk, aren’t machines of game mechanical perfection and are just there to help *you* through a dungeon, why not just remove the entire multiplayer aspect and add bots instead, or make dungeons completely solo-able?

The communication which *does* remain is almost always toxic as hell, because the only reason you would want to talk to someone when there’s a dungeon finder is to tell them they’re being shit at the game.

So yeah, there are convenience features which are counterproductive to what a game, or at least an MMO, is trying to achieve.

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Dystopiq

Standing around spamming chat to find a group isn’t fun. It isn’t socialization. It was never fun. Group finders were added for a reason.

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Chosenxeno .

I remember life before Dungeon Finders. Sorry. Not going back. I’d rather be progressing instead of wasting time spamming a channel. I won’t even spit on a MMORPG that doesn’t have a dungeon finder. Guilds solve your socialization issues. I dunno why people don’t get that. If you want to get all “chatty patty” run with your guildmates. That’s why they are there.

Some of your other whines are things that will get you kick if you don’t announce them beforehand and you perform poorly. You should be telling people if you are doing your first run. I play Healers. It’s super important for me to do that since my role is so vital. I always type: “First Run” and follow up with: “Anything I need to know here?” In the rare instances where I have found myself struggling I remove myself from the group in the hope tht they will get someone more capable. Not being honest about yourself will get you kicked. You know your damage, tanking or healing isn’t cutting it. Yet you’d rather the group spend all day in their so you don’t end up with a bruised ego. I’m not going to let you stop my progression because you aren’t up to snuff. If 4 ppl have voted to remove you there’s a reason. Stop crying elitism all the damn time!

I’m not saying there aren’t people who abuse the system but those people are not the majority. They are not even close. I have never VTK’d anyone who didn’t deserve it. My time is valuable. I won’t have you wasting it because you don’t want to admit your faults. If you want to be coddled run in a Guild Group.

“Nobody talks anymore”. Yea they do. They just mostly talk in their Guild Chat during Dungeon runs these days when they get comfortable with the instances.

As far as fast travel some of your points are decent. I like how FF:XIV handled flying mounts. The thing is, we live in the age of dailies. I don’t want to travel an hour by foot to kill the same 10 rats everyday. Should people be flying at level 10? No. But when I hit the cap I expect to be able to Fly and Tele as I please.

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Chosenxeno .

Just read that Nostalgia Freak MMORPG Albion(Full Loot PVP) has suffered another population drop. What you people don’t seem to get is to some of us our time investment is important. I will not have you killing me and looting my time investment off my corpse. Full Loot PVP is DEAD! Please stop. Forced Grouping outside of Lairs, Dungeons, Raids is DEAD! Please stop it. XP LOSS IS THE MOST ILLOGICAL AND IDIOT SYSTEM I HAVE EVER SEEN IN A VIDEO GAME AND SHOULD STAY DEAD! I “unlearn” from failing? REALLY? Failure has and always will be the gateway to learning and improving. The fact that some games run counter to this logic is ludicrous.

(Please Note: As ridiculous as XP loss is when you understand that it actually penalizes what is in fact, a EXPERIENCE GAIN obtained through a recent failure, the Nostalgia Freaks don’t consider it immersion breaking lol)

P.S. Turns out that the people playing Albion(based on the Developers metrics) were mostly Life Skilling. Gee, I can’t imagine why the PVP fell by the wayside(really I can lol).

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Chosenxeno .

I’m going to guess Saga of Lucimia caused this article lol. People need to stop being such nostalgia freaks and live in Reality. You are literally killing games. As I said before:

“The next great MMORPG will NOT be a MMORPG that ignores what Modern MMORPGs have done well”.

drivendawn
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drivendawn

People need to stop trying to dictate what other people like and live in the reality that they don’t have to play these games. Don’t worry there will be new mmorpg’s with all the new conveniences YOU say have made new games great for you to play.

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Warking

How about letting Saga of Lucima just cater to the audience it wants to go after and you playing FFXIV with all its lovely conveniences instead? Why does every game have to absolutely be for every person’s enjoyment bar none? The makers of Saga know they are making a niche game. They said it day one. They clearly say their game is not for everyone. “When people tell you who they are – believe them”