Massively Overthinking: Would you do hard MMO content without rewards?


Are you here for the challenge or here for the shinies? That’s the core question the MOP team and audience is tackling this week in Massively Overthinking. I’ve been overthinking this question for years; many endgame fans will tell you they’re there for the challenge right up until you propose that their rewards won’t be exclusive, which always suggests to me that maybe facing down a challenge is less important than the bragging rights.

But then I also know people who set hard challenges for themselves in MMOs, challenges that nobody will ever know about and certainly don’t come with any rewards other than the personal satisfaction of having done it. “The deeds will not be less valiant because they are unpraised” and all that.

Would you – and do you – do hard or challenging MMO content without any sort of extrinsic rewards?

Andrew Ross (@dengarsw): I’m one of those “personal challenge” people. I get people to RP on non-RP servers, organize world events that don’t always give awards just to see how big they can be, use extreme builds that synergize well with friends to see how well we can do… that kind of stuff.

But if you mean something like “Clear God level Raid in under 5 minutes!” the answer is no. No, no, a thousand times, no. I don’t play MMOs for that sort of thing. My friend and I duoed hard-mode Rajang during the Street Fighter collab even though the rewards were the same as the normal one just for personal bragging rights. We didn’t record it or anything, but we also didn’t need to find a group of moderately tempered players who also had the skill to pull that off. I’m not interested in recruiting for that; she’s not interested in leading that.

For me, an MMO is a virtual world, a simulation, and a lot of the artificial battles and difficulties make MMOs more game than simulation. That may be what helped make the genre more mainstream, but as so many games are online now, I really don’t need that kind of “challenge” in my MMO, and the fact that rewards are given for it furthers the idea that it’s content built to put people on treadmills and maximize efficiency.

Ben Griggs (@braxwolf): I’ve thought a lot about why I play games. I don’t feel the need to be the best, and I don’t really care much about in-game achievements or shinies (though I do tend to collect these kinds of things). What I really want out of a game is a sense of progression, improvement, and learning. So yes, I would do hard content without traditional rewards as long as these elements were present.

Brianna Royce (@nbrianna, blog): I don’t want to get cute about my own question, but my answer is “sometimes.” I tend to look at every sliver of content in terms of time rather than difficulty, specifically time vs. reward, but the reward doesn’t necessarily need to be extrinsic. The reward can be getting to hang out with people I like, or the self-satisfaction of building something no one else has done. The rewards that I find most compelling tend to be intrinsic; I’m here to fulfill some vision for my character or playtime rather than for bragging rights, or I’m aiming for a personal goal (like start from scratch on a new server or set up a library full of hard-to-mark runes).

But of course, easy for me to say when I’ve been playing MMOs for a thousand years, right? Been there, done that, got the t-shirt so long ago I use it as a dust rag now. I was killing gankers and raiding Hate while you were still in diapers or whatever, who cares honestly. Bragging rights meant more to me as a teenager in my first MMOs for sure, and the hardest content in MMOs isn’t in the MMOs anyway. (It’s guilds.)

Carlo Lacsina (@UltraMudkipEX, YouTube, Twitch): I think I’d prefer to see my name on a leaderboard more than a reward. I’ve been struggling to find a group of like-minded individuals willing to do old content for more intrinsic reasons, but no luck. Granted, I haven’t really been searching either. But when the Criterion dungeons came out for FFXIV, I found myself struggling with whether or not I was enjoying the challenge for the sake of challenge because I was halfway hoping that it wouldn’t just be about beating the dungeon and getting a reward. I was hoping it would track of how long it took and a chance to post up the clear on something in game.

At the same time, there are so many choices out there when it comes to games these days that MMOs aren’t my place to look for a challenge. If I want a challenge, I’ll play other games like Dark Souls or Devil Daggers. Right now, I’m not sure what I’m doing with MMOs! Maybe I’m in some kind of gaming-analogue Stockholm syndrome where I just feel the constant need to log into a virtual space for my own personal relaxation/escapism. I don’t know! But clearly I’ve gone away from the topic. To fully answer the question, in MMOs, I just like “being there.”

Chris Neal (@wolfyseyes, blog): I’m not out here trying to prove anything to anyone, least of all myself, so definitely put me in Team Shinies.

That said, it is not entirely unheard of for me to want to push myself, but that only comes after I have gotten extremely comfortable with a game, a class, and the right group of people. Also after a great deal of hemming and hawing and battling back the brain gremlins. In that instance, I feel happy to just get the one clear and then live the rest of my MMOing life. But it does not happen often.

Eliot Lefebvre (@Eliot_Lefebvre, blog): I don’t really dip into content I don’t already find fun for extrinsic rewards. Why would I do it without them?

Like, seriously, I’m nearly 40. I do not need to prove to people that I’m the best at something. I strive to do my absolute best (and routinely hit that metric) because it is inherently good to play well. I get people asking me over and over why I don’t do Savage content in Final Fantasy XIV, and the answer is that I don’t find it fun, so I don’t bother. It doesn’t matter if I could do it; I already know that. It was never about that.

This is like the people who constantly brag that they only play any video game on the hardest difficulty setting. Like… good for you? I just play these games to have fun; sorry about whatever your deal is. Mastery is its own reward and is separate from the content you take on with it.

Sam Kash (@thesamkash): I’m certainly here for the shinies now. I see that beautiful carrot dangling just out of reach, and I’ve got to have it.

Of course, when a game does PvP right, I’ll play that for hours on end without any tangible shinies. In those cases, the fights themselves and that excitement of having a close fight are reward enough. However, without some rewards like titles or currency, eventually even the PvP begins to stale.

Challenging content in general I love, but I’ve mostly been finding it in single-player games. Lately most PvP in the MMOs I’ve played has devolved into a game of who has more friends. I don’t find that particularly challenging (or maybe it’s far too challenging), so I have been opting out. Instead, I’ve been seeking out arena modes for my PvP challenges – something it seems fewer MMOs have been investing in, instead leaving that for their own game genre.

This topic, though, seems to be considering more challenging content like raids, which I’m totally a hard pass on, though it also makes me think of some hard and unrewarding tasks like collecting all the dyes in a game or unlocking a whole wardrobe. Sure, there is some reward in that you now have everything accessible. But there usually not a special title or anything for players who go out of their way to do those challenges. To me, that’s another hard pass.

So give me something shiny to chase down. I’ll collect all the rabbits on this continent of it means I get a lucky rabbits foot with +3% luck. But would I do it just cause it’s hard and time consuming? No.

Tyler Edwards (blog): I think the grim reality is that most of us wouldn’t do much of anything in an MMO without rewards. We’ve all become too accustomed to that dopamine drip feed to want to live without it.

At least when repeating content, anyway. I think a lot of things can be worth doing once, but it’s a much harder sell to ask people to repeat content if they’re not getting some shiny for it. Occasionally there has been content in MMOs I’ve run more than once just for the experience despite the fact they had little or no relevant rewards — Elemental Bonds in WoW and Tyler Freeborn in TSW come to mind — but a lot of the time, even if I enjoy content, I probably wouldn’t do it more than once without a carrot to chase. I had a lot of fun grinding nightmare missions in Transylvania back in the day, but would I have done it if murdering those Ghouls hadn’t filled out my ability wheel? Probably not.

My point being I don’t think difficulty is a significant factor in whether something is worth doing without rewards. It’s just about how intrinsically enjoyable the content is, and difficulty is just one of many factors that go into that.

Every week, join the Massively OP staff for Massively Overthinking column, a multi-writer roundtable in which we discuss the MMO industry topics du jour – and then invite you to join the fray in the comments. Overthinking it is literally the whole point. Your turn!
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