Vague Patch Notes: Don’t alter MMO systems for people who never liked them to begin with


Here’s a concept that just would not leave my mind thanks to World of Warcraft, but it’s not a bad thing. But in order to talk about that, first I have to talk about horror movies.

Some of my friends do not like horror movies. Sometimes, this is more about mistaken assumptions, like thinking that “horror movie” means “film in which teenagers get stabbed by a dude for an hour until the last remaining cast kills that dude.” But many times, it’s simply a matter of someone who doesn’t particularly care for horror movies. And that’s perfectly valid.

The problem, however, comes when these same friends advertise a particular horror film to me as “a horror movie that even I can enjoy!” This usually means that it’s not actually a horror film in the first place, because… well, that’s kind of the point. And that’s a perfect place to jump into the way that MMOs can have a bad habit of trying to market things as features for people who generally don’t like a given feature.

Case in point: PvP. A lot of games – particularly ones that have mandatory open PvP – often try very hard to convince people who don’t like PvP that they should totally try this game, that the PvP really isn’t as cutthroat as you might think, that there are really ways to not worry about it…

None of these messages work, of course, because most of the people who are being sold these messages have already heard them before. But a game actually changing its open PvP model to accommodate the people who really don’t like open PvP is, by definition, changing away from the model that its actual playerbase wants to see. There is no “open PvP for people who don’t like open PvP” because it’s a contradiction in terms.

There are lots of people who dislike open PvP for a lot of different reasons, of course, but the whole selling point of open PvP is that it’s open. You cannot opt out. While the people who wish to opt out may have different reasons for doing so, the endpoint of that is still being able to opt out. And once you can opt out of PvP, you no longer have open PvP, no matter how many reasons you might give people to opt in. This is also a viable PvP system, but it’s not open PvP – it’s something else.

And you know what? It’s good that there are games out there with open PvP that try to be exactly that and nothing else. And it’s also good not everyone likes that.

Ohhh snap.

No single game is to everyone’s taste. Some games do one or two things well and more or less nothing else, and sometimes even the things it does well are debatable. (Star Wars: The Old Republic feels like it kind of stalled out on everything other than its initial class story.) Other games do lots of things very well, making a game with something for many player types to enjoy. (Final Fantasy XIV has excellent dungeons, story, crafting, housing, minigames, and so forth.) Every game has some things it does worse and some things it does better, and that’s fine.

But there’s a trap that designers and players can both fall into when there’s an urge to make the parts of the game someone doesn’t like into something for the people who very definitely don’t like it. Not just to tempt people who might like it but people who are telling you confidently that they don’t. And that is almost always a bad look.

Consider crafting in FFXIV. Crafting in the game is involved, and it’s in the midst of a series of overhauls to make it easier to level one crafting job instead of forcing you to level all of them, giving you ways to level up that are less expensive, and making it clearer how you’re meant to craft. All of these are good things. What the overhauls are not meant to do are make crafting an activity that is mandatory, or an activity for people who don’t like crafting. Instead, it’s targeted toward people who like crafting but are unclear on how to progress or simply need a helping step along the path.

The thing is, crafting is an activity people already like in the game. Crafting has dedicated fans, happy to craft away and discover new recipes. It doesn’t need to find an audience. It’s an activity that could use an expansion of that audience, but the people who just really dislike crafting are just… really going to dislike crafting, and that’s fine.

The reason this is in my head about WoW is the latest expansion changing the game’s follower missions again. Supposedly, the goal here is to make them more interactive and more interesting, and the whole thing made me sigh a little, not because it sounds awful but because the fact of the matter was that I never had a problem with them to begin with. The iteration in Legion was a bit simple, but you know what? It was fine. It was absolutely fine and worked for what it wanted to be.

Whatever changes are made to it are not going to make it fine to the people who don’t like it and can never be talked around into liking it.

As intended.

For some people, having low-impact set-and-go gameplay in WoW is something they don’t want to engage with, and that’s fine. Some of them would prefer it wasn’t in the game at all, just like some people would prefer that lots of parts of the game weren’t in there. That’s also fine, even if it’s wrong; it’s fine for this to exist, fine for it to be a thing, and fine for players to have a reason to engage but not necessarily have to if they don’t care.

But what you’re not going to do is convince the people who wish it wasn’t in the game at all that it’s super neat and fun and they should try it out now. The only way to do that is change the very fundamental nature of what these missions are to not be low-impact fire-and-forget bits of management you do early in your play session. It would destroy what people who do like them like about them.

Don’t get me wrong, the changes being shown off at this point don’t look bad or anything. They’re frankly neutral. It’s just something where the redesign seems like extra effort to no real end, because there was already a very functional version of this system in place and it doesn’t need changing. You can literally just roll that out again. No one would complain about it. Heck, it’d save development time.

From a player side, the best we can do to influence this is learn whether we’re asking for something to not be itself or to broaden its appeal. It’s perfectly valid to say that you’d prefer mission table gameplay if, say, it weren’t gated behind the randomness of Battle for Azeroth; that’s asking for a refinement and not a wholesale replacement. It’s fine for some systems to not be for you, even if they have rewards or benefits you otherwise want.

And from a developer standpoint… well, it’s all right for not every player to like every system. The goal shouldn’t be that 100% of the playerbase has 100% engagement with everything; rather, it should be that the majority of players are engaged with whatever takes the majority of development resources.

Trying to make a horror movie for people who don’t like horror movies is trying to not make a horror movie. And not everything needs to be a horror movie, but making a horror movie that some people won’t enjoy based on genre is a valid exercise.

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.
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