Vague Patch Notes: Having fun in an MMO doesn’t actually mean it’s any good

    
64
luls

It appears that Fallout 76 has become the latest in a long line of games that launched too early with ill-defined goals, trying to be both an MMO and a non-MMO and managing to successfully be no one. This is good because now that Wild West Online is basically over, and we needed a new one of those. And thus we see people showing up as the Fallout 76 defense brigade in comments, quick to point out that no matter what other people are saying they’re having fun and thus all the critical statements about the problems must be wrong.

Keep in mind that I don’t have a horse in this race. This has not affected my desire to play Fallout 76, which was never going to happen; in the abstract I’d like games to be good for people who want them rather than bad, but the opinions of people whose opinions I trust on this top out at “it’s not good, but it has potential.” I’ve got no interest in unpacking whether or not you’re having fun with it.

Because, really, having fun in something isn’t the same as something being good. And to demonstrate this, I’d like to introduce the world to Hand Pool.

Viewers of The Good Place will, by complete coincidence, be familiar with the Jacksonville-style pool rules introduced in a recent episode. Our rules were slightly less nonsensical, but still prompted a wink and a nudge from my wife and I. In short, the rules were that no one used cues, you had to sink all of either solids or stripes, the 8-ball was not to be sunk, and your hands had to remain on the table at all times.

Pictured: Deep hurting

A cursory examination of these rules would probably reveal the problem here, but my wife and I along with our friends nevertheless agreed that this would be a good use of our time. And a strategy very quickly emerged. Rather than sinking any balls, we found the best thing to do was to aim vicious hurtling balls as fast as possible at the other person’s hands, thereby making it inevitable that your opponent would probably pull away from the table (usually with cries of “ow, that hurt!” or something similar).

The game, in short, became an excuse for all of us to hurt one another and left the person with the smallest, fastest hands at a clear advantage. That was me.

I was having fun. No one else was, which was part of why I was having fun.

Of course, it’s also a minor miracle we didn’t break anyone’s fingers in the process, not to mention a testament to how deeply bored we all were with playing pool. We all agreed after a fairly short few matches that this was a bad game.

You’ll note that I was still having fun. That wasn’t the problem, nor was the problem inherently that no one else was having fun. The problem was that these were just bad rules. They set up a degenerate state of play without any actual skill testing or interaction or whatever. My having fun with it didn’t preclude this fact.

One of the most important lessons to learn as a critic is to separate your own fun from what the game is attempting to do and how well it succeeds at its goals. This is not something human beings are naturally inclined to do. Our knee-jerk reaction is to say that a game where you’re having fun is good and a game where you’re not having fun is bad, full stop.

But this misses the point that there are lots of different kinds of fun. Curbstomping old raids in World of Warcraft is fun, watching a boss give his big dramatic speech before going down in two punches. Taking on the highest floors of Heaven-on-High in Final Fantasy XIV is fun, carefully slipping past dangerous patrols, working as a team, and managing to scrape out a win against increasingly complex spawns and enemies. Both fun, both very different sorts of fun, and expecting one but getting the other would probably result in a rather sharp protest about what’s happening.

The whole point of games is to be fun, so it makes a certain amount of sense that the default response to a critical drubbing would be “well, I’m having fun.” Which the speaker may very well be; while I think there’s a certain perverse contrariness to this at times (see my own dogged persistence in finding the fun in FFXIV’s launch version), generally speaking we do know what we like pretty quickly.

Everybody having a very good time

This doesn’t always mean that the game is any good or that we can articulate what’s fun about it or that it’s something to be emulated. Sometimes you’re having fun because you have an advantage in smacking your friends in the hands with pool balls and it seems like a fun way to waste your evening.

Sometimes, yes, a critical consensus can be misunderstanding part of the game or outright wrong. There’s a great video about Bloodborne being a game that teaches players how to play the overarching Souls series, and part of its argument is that while previous entries gave you plenty of shields, Bloodborne never does. It teaches you right away that rather than playing super-defensive and trying to never die, it’s more fun to learn the timing on abilities and have a more aggressive playstyle, and once you do that you can go back to the older games and wind up having more fun by ignoring shields.

Yet you’ll notice that the point there is not “older viewpoints of the Souls games being slow and plodding is wrong because I was having fun.” The point is “older viewpoints tended to use a style of play supported and even encouraged by the game, which makes the games far slower and often results in more deaths.” It’s not a question of having fun but of what was being communicated to the players.

In the specific case of Fallout 76, there are definitely some problem indicators with the game thus far. Of course there’s fun to be had in the game; it’s a playground in which you get to stomp around through a post-apocalyptic wasteland with heavy weaponry. It’d be more surprising if you couldn’t have fun. But there are so many people talking about how the game is a confusing mess without a clear audience that you’d have to start by defining who the audience is actually supposed to be for the game.

That hasn’t been included in the defenses of the game I’ve seen. It’s all come down to “I’m having fun in the game, so the haters are wrong.” And hey, it’s great that you’re having fun! But if all was fine in the game world, it wouldn’t be going on steep discount after having been out for less only a few weeks. I have no doubt people could have fun in No Man’s Sky at launch, but the whole multiplayer not actually being there and the general sense of directionlessness wasn’t fabricated out of nowhere. These were, in fact, real problems with the game at it was originally delivered.

So by all means, have fun with the games you’re having fun with and let people know about it. But don’t let the fact that you’re having fun serve as an override for actual issues within the game, and don’t assume that “I’m having fun” has much to do with the game’s quality. They’re separate clauses.

Sometimes you know exactly what’s going on with the MMO genre, and sometimes all you have are Vague Patch Notes informing you that something, somewhere, has probably been changed. Senior Reporter Eliot Lefebvre enjoys analyzing these sorts of notes and also vague elements of the genre as a whole. The potency of this analysis may be adjusted under certain circumstances.

64
LEAVE A COMMENT

Please Login to comment
  Subscribe  
newest oldest most liked
Subscribe to:
Reader
Nathan Aldana

Thats always the biggest flaw i find in that argument.

“Its fun with friends!”

well, yeah, anything is more fun with my friends around. sitting at my dexk at work cracking terrible jokes to my coworkers is more fun than working all by myself.

That doesnt mean the game or work itself is enjoyable, it means my friends are enjoyable. Having somne pizza and soda and a terrible movie with 3 buddies is more fun than watching a terrible movie solo.

Its not really an argument for FO76’s quality

kevan88
Reader
kevan88

on the other hand, I don’t care if a game is “good”. I read revews and watch gameplays just to understand if those features can appeal me or not. If it’s objectively bad but I expect to have fun, I’ll buy it.
As I wouldn’t buy a painting for my room that is artistically highly rated but makes me sick if i have dinner there.

sorry, fun factor will always be there for a user.

harbinger_kyleran
Reader
harbinger_kyleran

Fun, not fun, good games, bad games, all very subjective terms which can be difficult to quantify and near impossible to gain a general consensus on.

How much money did it generate? Did it turn a profit? Now there are terms which really matter to game companies and it will be interesting to see what the final numbers in FO76 end up being.

IMO a lot of “bad” games make amazing amounts of money, who knows why?

Reader
Kickstarter Donor
NecroFox4

The very premise of this entire opinion piece is inherently flawed.

Games are art. There is NO objective basis for defining what is, or is not, “good” art. It’s purely subjective.

I’m happy for those who, like me, have enjoyed their time in Fallout 76, and feel they did not waste their money. I am saddened for those who dislike the game, as spending money and time on something you do not enjoy is sad. And knowing that there are others out there who do not share in my joy is also sad.

None of this can objectively reflect on the “quality” of a game.

Enjoy what you enjoy, and waste no time on what you do not.

xpsync
Reader
xpsync

Problem is most whom hate it, haven’t even played it. It’s the fact that they feel wronged that it’s online / pvp and as if this is Fallout 5. Entitled babies whom didn’t get thier way and no patience to wait for Fallout 5. That’s what’s sad

Reader
Dušan Frolkovič

Target audience is Pve-Focused survival game that i can play with friends.
Secondarily with exploration focus.

And despite how many bugs it has, it is still the 3rd best game i have played this year. So i guess that says something about the rest that came out ;)
(Or did not, in case of MMOs)

Reader
Bruno Brito

So i guess that says something about the rest that came out ;)

it says more about you, honestly.

Reader
Dušan Frolkovič

And why is me enjoying different games to others such an offense?
Cause the number of people feeling the need to tell me that my preferences are “wrong” is astonishing (not meaning you)

quark1020
Reader
quark1020

Meh, opinions are just that. If you’re enjoying the game, then that’s all that really matters.

The only thing *I* will say is this: If Bethesda keeps releasing games in this state, then the only ones that will be playing it will be you and the few others that enjoy it, and that’s not gonna make them enough money to keep them happy.

Reader
Dušan Frolkovič

hmm, maybe it is because everyone is looking at it as another fallout.
As i am always on the lookout for PvE Survival games.
And if you look at F76 through that lens, it has veeery little competition. Only 2 other 3D games and 2 more 2D really.

harbinger_kyleran
Reader
harbinger_kyleran

That he has good taste, while most gamers don’t?

Reader
Nathan Aldana

ah yes, ye olde “I like a thing therefore I must be some sort of elite tastemaker who is smarter than everyone else” delusion.

Reader
Nathan Aldana

It says you either didnt play much or have very weird standards,

Reader
_Windsong_

1. F76 is no MMO so dont Judge it as One
2. Fun is a very personal emotion, so it is useless to argue about that.

I totally agree to criticize large AAA Game Developers, but please stay factual

Mewmew
Reader
Mewmew

Fallout 76 is enjoyable over the short term, if you can live with the bugs, but it’s a mess.

It’s got a weird temporary server world thing. Your base is only in the world while you’re there, and worlds are briefly there and gone quite constantly. Your base building is also incredibly limited for a game that’s supposed to be one of these survival games you can build in. You hit the cap after a pretty small amount of building.

Your storage is severely limited as well, even for things that stack and wouldn’t be hard for the world to keep track of (they are using that as the excuse for why you don’t have more). For the building materials they’d just have to know you have 1,000 instead of 500. That’s not a lot of data and wouldn’t affect server performance. They could take the weight out of those once stored at your base pretty easily. But then again, you don’t really have any need to store up too much once you figure out how limited your base building really is.

You can take over these workshops, but they’re only yours for as long as you stay online that very login. For it to be worth it you really should be playing long amounts of time at once. Hope you don’t get disconnected, because your stuff and ownership permissions all will as well and you won’t come back to the same server no matter how fast you manage to get back on.

There are no unmutated humans anywhere. They decided that the only people would be players, everything else is robots and such. They are really sparse as well.

Is this a great base to a game if it was in extremely early alpha testing? Sure! But not for a game being sold as final. Bug wise, content wise, polish wise, common sense wise, it just wasn’t ready for release. Someone wanted to push it out for November. They should have shot for November of next year. Seriously. It needed another year of work and feedback *at least*.

Alex Js.
Reader
Kickstarter Donor
Alex Js.

They should have shot for November of next year.

Yeap, and they could have also appeased the people who don’t mind paying $60 for beta-testing objectively unfinished product by still offering it right now, just with an honest “early access” title and huge warning that this is a “work in progress” and by also offering a full refund to people who are unable to play it due to valid game-stopping technical issues.

Reader
Matt Comstock

I see a lot of people take issue with comments that FO76 is better or more fun with friends. Which seems like an odd critique for an MMO, which by design is built to be played with friends. Obviously, FO76 as an MMO (I would call it a limited MMO as game worlds support only 24 people) is a departure from the previous single player titles.

As a newcomer to the FO universe, I think the ability to play with friends is one of the good aspects here. Yes, it can seem lonely while not grouped, but I still enjoy my solo dumpster diving for junk to repair/improve my gear. But, being able to group with my friends to hunt super-mutants, scorchbeasts, deathclaws, etc, and to participate in Enclave events and seek to launch some nukes is, IMO, a lot of fun (technical issues aside).

I’ve slogged through the technical issues, including untimely disconnects, being stuck in my power armor, the clunky UI, the abysmally low stash weight limit, and friend list/group glitches. However, in spite of all that, which makes the game bad and unplayable to some, I have found and enjoyed what I perceive as good about the game — the sense of exploration, the visceral post-apocalyptic atmosphere, non-linear questing, flexibility in customizing my S.P.E.C.I.A.L. attributes and perk cards, finding and upgrading my power armor, group content, and more.

FO76 has a combination of good and bad elements. Focus too much on the bad, and you will miss out on the good parts. One poster called people defending FO76 as thin-skinned. I would submit that the opposite is true– people who enjoy FO76 and perceive it as a good game have skin thick enough to weather the bad elements to find the good, rather than simply throwing their hands up and shouting to the world how horrible it is.

As far as I can tell, FO76 is its own beast — its not a true MMO, survival game, nor single player follow up. It certainly needs improvements, which Bethesda indicates are forthcoming, and asserting otherwise is certainly disingenuous. In defending FO76, I recognize the bad elements, but for me the good outshines.

Reader
GiantsBane

Also, I’d note that many of the people complaining had different expectations for the game than the people who are enjoying it. Problem is of course, that gamers tend to be a very toxic, obnoxiously loud lot about things they dislike, and are quick to point out others as wrong for disagreeing with them.

Also, goddamn, false equivalencies errywhere in these comments.

Reader
kalech

To be honest, it seems to go both ways. I’ve seen people get aggressive both defending the game and complaining about it.

Just because you dislike a game doesn’t mean you have to give people crap for loving it. But likewise, just because you love a game doesn’t mean you should jump on every person who find faults with the game. Gamers in general need to learn how to agree to disagree.

Reader
Kickstarter Donor
Blazing Coconut

I think the point of the article was that you. An enjoy a bad game. I think objectively, due to its problems, FO76 is likely a bad game. That does not mean you can not enjoy it.

Diplomacy is a bad board game, yet people still play it and enjoy it very much and have been doing so since 1959. Its flaws, knock out mechanisms, king making, unbalanced starts, etc. make it a bad board game, but still an enjoyable one.

Glad you like it, hope you get your money’s worth!

xpsync
Reader
xpsync

Nice read Thanks!

Reader
cale gerlach

TLDR: Russian roulette can be fun to play, that doesn’t mean that it is a good game.

Reader
Korithian

Very well said.

One of the biggest problems with the SWTOR forum was the white knights (who often think they aren’t white knighting or heaven forbid think of themselves as grey knights whatever that means) attacking any post high-lighting issues with well I’m having fun! As if that was the answer to every issue.

No content, doesn’t matter I’m having fun.

Buggy unbalanced game place, doesn’t matter I’m having fun.

Dead servers and game heading to maintenance mode, doesn’t matter I’m having fun.

Unless these people who believe the entire worth of a game is decided on if they personally are having fun are personally funding all the new development (or some form of deity whose will is absolute), its not enough. It sure isn’t the answer to critical well constructed posts pointing out valid issues of saying well cause I’m having fun these issues don’t exist.

Sure having fun keeps you playing, but that doesn’t mean that the issues don’t exist. And it sure as hell isn’t ever an answer to a critical review of the game unless somehow your feeling of fun is more important than facts.