I attended another LOTRO raid last Sunday, my first since this one about a month and a half ago. It was fun and mostly smooth, except for one annoying bug that basically crashed my and another player’s client and wouldn’t let us re-log in for 10 minutes. I think I’d like to get back into raiding a little more frequently, maybe a couple times a month, and maybe get my rune-keeper up to raid readiness, but it’s not the raiding itself that’s holding me back — it’s all the extra fiddly bits that go with it.
Back in the day, there was the Star Wars Customizable Card Game, a less-than-elegant design that spawned numerous jokes regarding its complexity, including a 100-something-page rules manual that listed all the special rules, exceptions, and minutia that you needed to know, especially if you planned to play competitively. Back then, expansions came out about every four months (in theory, though not always in practice), and the directive from above was that each expansion needed a new set of rules, some additional “hook,” like vehicle rules, lightsaber dueling, Jedi training, etc., to make gamers want to try something new. Eventually, all the added rules became so overburdening that the game collapsed under its own mass, a kind of black hole of gaming, though a few dedicated diehards still tough it out today.
More isn’t always better, not with trading-card games and not with MMOs. We all grouse a bit when our favorite MMO doesn’t add some new rules twist with a new expansion — this was mentioned when Rise of Isengard shipped for LOTRO — but MMO companies need to be aware that every new thing they add to the game, while exciting for existing players, can be off-putting to new players. Certainly, MMOs have a lower barrier to entry than trading-card games, which might require investments in the hundreds or thousands of dollars for new players to become competitive, but the time-and-grind barrier may be just as significant.
Going back to LOTRO, I understand having to level and get decent gear in advance of raiding. That’s the case in pretty much every MMO. And I can grasp needing reputation, potions, and a few other things — but eventually, all the prep you need, all the rules and special cases, get to be more of a barrier to progress than an incentive to keep going. My main, a captain, is fine, and the rune-keeper is mostly in good shape, but I don’t want to think about everything I’ll need to do to get my other characters up to snuff. I’ll have to…
- …find legendary weapons and class items, get them up to max level, and make sure they have all the proper runes, including the special, crafted runes.
- …get proper stuff in my six armour slots, my cloak, and my seven jewelry slots, including a special token for my lore-master pet or book for my hunter.
- …grind up my virtues to something resembling competence — easily my least favorite and the most grind-y aspect of progressing, but something that all kinships require for raiding. (But hey, if I don’t like it, Turbine’s glad to sell me ways to make it better in the store!)
- …make sure I have enough consumables — food and potions and the special, class-specific crafted things that most classes use.
- …then, after all of this generally repetitive and non-fun stuff, I can play the really fun parts of the game. Yay?
Maybe we need fewer options in our games, instead of more. Most games have about 15-20 “slots” for weapons, armor, accessories, and more… do we really need that many to make our characters distinctive? Would my warrior look just like yours if he only had 8-10 hooks to hang stuff on and modify his stats instead of 20 or more? And that’s not taking into account all the levels of crafting material, loot tokens, consumables…
Take Skyrim as a counter-example. You’ve got four armor slots, a ring, a necklace, two for weapons/spells — a total of eight modifiers to your stats (seven if you’re wielding a two-handed weapon), in addition to modifiers from your race and whatever standing stone you’re under the effects of. Yet nobody would claim that there’s no room for individuality in Skyrim.
I think the general trend in video games toward more casual games might make its way to the MMO space eventually, though there will be the usual outcry from “hardcore” gamers who label any game with fewer than one bazillion skills and options as for “casuals” and “noobs.” You already hear it from people mocking Guild Wars 2 for only having 10 skills on its bar. And the temptation for developers when making expansions will always be to try and push the bounds of creativity by adding new rules sets and new options. Sometimes that can be good, but sometimes it’s just pointless fluff that doesn’t add much to the game besides additional, unneeded, complexity. That’s both a barrier to new players and, beyond the initial rush of seeing something brand new, a disincentive for older players to try and keep up. I want my games to be about fun, not about bookkeeping.