Vague Patch Notes: Checking your bias when it comes to MMOs

    
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Balance.

What are your biases when it comes to MMOs? It’s all right, you can be honest about them here. Maybe you’re biased against games that have mandatory open PvP and refuse to play them. Or you could be biased toward accessibility and inclusion options, either in the way that the game handles its user interface for players or how its story is constructed. You might even be biased toward business models that allow you to get more of the game for a flat fee in contrast to something with more microtransactions.

“Bias” is one of those words that’s gotten thrown around enough that it now has a negative connotation it only sort of deserves. I mean, a bias is strictly meant to be a bad thing, showing that you are inclined toward one thing over another in a manner that is unfair. But trying to pretend that we’re not biased about certain things is kind of an exercise in futility, especially when you confront the fact that we all have an assortment of biases to deal with.

Here’s the thing: In order to talk about MMOs intelligently, you need to start by recognizing where your bias lies and how that’s altering your perception of the games you deal with. Failing to do so is how we get lost in the weeds super quickly.

A good example of this? WoW Classic. How many people brought forth the idea that the classic game was going to be harder than the retail version? The answer is “a lot,” and it resulted in some wild cognitive dissonance when it became clear that the classic version was in many places actively easier. Indeed, I wrote more than one column about how people were remembering the game as being harder than it actually was, usually in no small part because it wasn’t actually regarded as difficult when it was a new game.

So where did this assumption come from? Well, a lot of places, but the very broad reading of the situation comes back to bias. The people who were looking for this were, in part, biased toward games that have a heavy timesink cost and a social friction dependency, and that was what they were looking for. But we don’t really think of those things as being traits of specifically good games, so instead you wind up with a lot of mental and conceptual baggage getting drilled into distilled formats.

That’s not to say that WoW Classic is a bad game, either! It’s just a game, and if you have the right kind of schedule, friend group, expectations, and so forth, it’s going to be just the sort of game you want to play. But recognizing your biases about what makes a good game is useful here to understand both whether or not it fills those criteria and what those criteria even are.

Management.

One of the things that comes up a lot in discussions of journalism in particular is the idea of unbiased reporting, and it when it comes to factual recountings, that’s pretty darn important. But even then, you run into places where trying to be “unbiased” is itself kind of biased.

Case in point? Dreamworld. That particular project has taken a lot of drubbing from us in our various postings about the game because it’s not a game but a project promising far more than any game has delivered for far less and without experience. If you donated money to that project, I’m sorry to be the one to break it to you, but that money is gone and you’re almost certainly never going to get anything out of it.

But is that biased? When everything about the project screams “non-productive scam,” is it biased to point that out when we write about it? Or is it in fact biased to not point that out, to withhold information based on the assumption that the ideal of reporting requires us to treat the information we’re given as value-neutral?

There isn’t a hard-and-fast answer. It’s clear which one we ultimately decided on, of course, but both of those elements have some bias to them. Either we’re biased against a certain project, or we’re biased so far to neutrality that we’re not covering an almost definite scam accurately. And just as before, we have to be aware of those biases before we can address them.

To put it another way, biases are a bad thing, but they’re a bad thing in the same way that personal vices are. Everyone has them. The idea of being free of biases is a nice idea in much the same way that it’s nice to imagine always making the right choices. It’s not really going to happen, and striving for it is not a realistic goal.

Questioning.

What you can do, however, is interrogate your biases.

I know, for example, that I have a strong bias toward content that’s available for players to queue up and go. Why? Well, because my first MMO was Final Fantasy XI, a game that was heavily based around slowly manually assembling parties and generally sitting in a hub area doing nothing until that happened. As a result, I got really tired of hurrying up and waiting in the hopes of a new group… and because of my schedule at the time, trying to put together and maintain a consistent group to play with wasn’t ultimately doable.

This has left me with certain biases that persist to this day, despite the fact that I am now far more capable of assembling a consistent group and thus no longer have the material reasons for these biases. I still think that for the majority of players, this sort of content is easier and more accessible, but I’ve had to do a lot of research and look for people with different viewpoints to ensure that I’m not just talking out of my rear when saying that.

Which I still might be! Because again, bias!

Being biased toward something or against something doesn’t mean that you’re inherently wrong about it, but it does mean that you need to be ready to investigate why you believe what you believe and why your biases exist. Sometimes this is more difficult; sometimes it’s pretty easy. There are other biases I have that I can’t explain as easily as the one I just listed. There are particularities in my preferences that make me more or less inclined to like something where it’s hard to understand why.

And you know, figuring out why that’s the case is a good thing. It makes me think longer about what is holding my interest and why. It gives me reason and cause to take things from a perspective outside of my own, to face the possibility that the truths I consider to be self-evident may not be and might, in fact, require closer examination and maybe even a complete re-evaluation in the light of a bigger world.

Just like considering yourself an average player, considering yourself unbiased doesn’t make you so. It more likely means you’ve just never asked yourself the question about how you deviate, either in opportunities or viewpoints. And if you want to be able to talk about a subject intelligently, understanding your bias is a good place to start.

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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Neurotic

I’m sort of biased against cluttered UIs, because they make me worry that I’m getting old and stupid and less able to take in lots of information at once. If I clutter the UI myself with lots of addons or whatever, that’s okay because I made it that way, so I understand it. But like, when I tried Black Desert Online for the first time last month, I couldn’t cope with the UI at all. To me, it looked like someone projecting a planetarium show onto the screen. :D So yeah, I bailed on that one and now I feel bad about bailing on it, about not being able to comprehend the UI, and worried that I’m missing out on a good game. In this way, I ignored my bias because BDO is said to be a great game and I wanted to try it, but ended up reinforcing my bias. :D

MilitiaMasterV
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MilitiaMasterV

I’d give an honest assessment of my own, but you don’t want to read that very very very long winded text wall. I already do too much typing on this website, and I could write books worth.

I will point out my aversion to PvP resides in my own problem with impulse control issues/rage issues in the past due to childhood abuse (I’m diagnosed PTSD from it.) where when I get angry enough due to something, I sometimes ‘disassociate’ and ‘lose control’ of my anger and physically lash out…breaking things (Or hitting people), and it’s like I’m watching myself do it, but not able to stop it. It’s high end mental stuff that most people who are more ‘normal’ don’t have to deal with/avoid. Even after years of therapy, I had to learn ‘triggers’ and avoid them on purpose so I didn’t have another episode. I try and remain ‘zen’/’calm’ as much as I can, to avoid it happening again. A game that ‘triggers’ you, by causing for example the loss of all of your stuff, or your character’s ‘death’ biases one towards being angry enough to want to throw stuff, so I just avoid it for a reason. I love how people on these forums are always like ‘Just give it a try, you’ll love it!’, and I’m always like…’I have, and people literally got hurt because of it in real life.’ maybe they don’t understand that, because they’ve not lived that…but it’s certainly a reason for a bias against PvP.

(I’d name/shame some people who need called out for it, but it’s not worth the drama.)

I have plenty more biases other than that, but that’s one you personally addressed in your article, so I’m giving my ‘why’ here.

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Tee Parsley

Bias is just another word for knowing your preferences. Not every game has to be to your taste. That’s fine. But games with forced PVP can pretty much kiss my ass goodbye. And the other gamers at the house here. (‘Cept maybe Crowfall)

Has to be good writing, good lore, background presentation. Or why bother. Less worried about graphics, as long as it’s not too janky.

Knowing this, I waste less money on games whose parameters I’m not going to like anyway.

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Roger Edwards

Bias is just another word for knowing your preferences.

Thank you. It is important to put the term “bias” into context in this debate.

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kjempff

Understanding your bias is good. Pretty pointless by itself but..
By understanding your own bias, you might understand that others bias are different, and maybe even why they have certain views. But then again, it is also dangerous to assume things about others (haven’t we all tried discussing with someone who think they understand your reasons but utterly failed), so maybe it is better to keep the assumptions low.

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Castagere Shaikura

I try to keep things in check. I may complain about some things in MMO’s but I only do it here. I play ESO now and it does have a couple of things I don’t like but they are not game-breaking to me.

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NeoWolf

Personally I do not see biases as a bad thing. Afterall we have biases for a reason, they are our unwritten rules of tolerance we prefer not to cross. Just because we have them doesn’t make them bad, they exist for a reason afterall.

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Roger Edwards

Do MMOs or indeed any kind of game really need this level of intense naval gazing? By all means reflect upon your biases when voting or making any major life altering decision for you or others. But do we really need such analysis when deciding whether or not to roll a bear chested Dwarf Guardian called Colin? I suspect not.

Everything in life doesn’t have to be a fucking ideological battle and something to agonise over. You’re a long time dead. Decide what you like doing and do it. From time to time, step out of your comfort zone. But beyond that why ruin your leisure activities with superfluous moral and ethical gymnastics?

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Brazen Bondar

pretty sure naval gazing is literally part of Eliot’s job description.

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Bereman99

But do we really need such analysis when deciding whether or not to roll a bear chested Dwarf Guardian called Colin?

Not at all the kinds of decisions or considerations when looking at MMOs that this article is talking about.

Obviously when deciding whether or not to play the troll under the bridge class, you’re not going to be looking at your biases all that closely, if at all, and your biases may not be related to that choice. But if said class is in a game that features certain types of PvP, or microtransactions, or depictions of groups in certain ways? You probably want to understand your own biases when considering that game and when talking about it with others, if you’re choosing to engage in those discussions.

Also, this isn’t intense navel gazing, which is excessive (and often self indulgent) focusing on a singular issue at the expense of a wider view. Discussing biases when it comes to online gaming and MMOs IS one of the wider topics you can have discussions about it.

Discussions about understanding bias when it comes to talking with others about gaming should be both natural and encouraged, not scorned, as understanding your own bias is (or should be) a foundation for further discourse.

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Roger Edwards

Bravo. Your answer totally proved my point :)

MilitiaMasterV
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MilitiaMasterV

play the troll under the bridge class

You get a like just for pointing out the truth behind this poster.

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Neurotic

That got an appreciative chuckle here too.

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Rick Mills

Truthfully I’m happy to see a columnist who is honest about being biased. Not something you see a lot.

MilitiaMasterV
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MilitiaMasterV

I also enjoy a deep thoughts read, where they are willing to analyze what brought them to this point also.

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Patric Spooner

Most of my biases are against games that over promise in early development. Anytime I hear a creator start explaining why the game needs more years in development to add features that were not part of the core gameplay promised in the kick starter I want nothing else to do with it. My hype levels chill to sub zero levels. Whenever this happens you can be assured that the game will remain in development at least half a decade longer than originally promised and the novel features it would’ve had are either outdated or buried under layers of competing systems that are never organized into a cohesive loop.

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Dug From The Earth

While you can discuss good and bad elements of a game without bias, that will only appeal to someone who isnt looking for something to relate to. For example, If I hate PvP, I WANT to hear what someone else says about something who also hates PvP because Im looking out for my own interests. In situations like this, I absolutely want bias to be part of the review or discussion.

That said…

Im biased against the “mmorpg in a box” mmorpg.

This would include a large amount of non-western mmorpgs, especially the free 2 play ones. Oh look, another anime mmo, with flashy combat animations, identical copy/pasted gameplay, and horrendous monetization. These essentially are no better than the flashy game booths at carnivals and amusement parks, designed to catch your eye, draw you in, and then rip you off. You end up with a cheap giant stuffed animal that itself is a sweatshop made knockoff, that costs less than the amount you paid to win it.

These companies have the “mmorpg in a box” down so well that many resell their “boxed” solution to other companies to use. It also allows them to shut one game down when the sales start to drop, and start up an entirely “new” game quickly, starting the process over again (including fooling people into dumping cash into them).

The phrase “Dont judge a book by its cover” needs to be amended to “Dont judge a game by its visuals” more so now, than ever, because that is more or less the driving force behind what makes the “in a box” system even work.