When it comes to gaming, everyone defines “fun” differently. As a friend of mine once said, “Winning is fun.” However, any but the most myopic player will realize that winning against easy PvE content — or, in a PvP context (including traditional games like Monopoly or chess), consistently beating players who aren’t on your skill level — gets boring after a while.
MMO companies continually have to toe that line between making content too easy, and thus boring, while also trying not to make it too difficult to beat. Adding to the complexity is the fact that different players and play groups all have different levels of skill, so what’s easy for one party might be too difficult for another, and vice versa.
The first MMO I ever hit the level cap in was LOTRO, and when I got there, I was astounded at the difference in play and how much more skill was required to clear top-level content. Though I complained (a lot!) at first, I eventually got my bearings about me, got some gear, learned some new tricks, and became, I’d like to think, an above-average raider.
The “big raid” back in those days, was the Rift of Nurz Ghashu, and my kinship ran it twice weekly. Me, I participated about once every other week. That was all I wanted. I’d avoided MMOs for a long time because I didn’t want to become one of those “EverCrack Whores” who played nonstop, raiding for hours on end for some piece of gear that gives an extra 0.01% DPS or something. To me, the amount of fun gained for the effort would be so minimal as to not even bother.
Over the past two-plus years, my LOTRO kinship — which had consistently cleared the game’s top-level content for the first 30 months of the game’s lifetime — struggled mightily in beating the game’s top raids from 2010 on. While I attribute some of this to poorly conceived mechanics, the blame doesn’t lie fully at Turbine’s feet. Initially, the design of the top raid in Siege of Mirkwood might have been to blame, as it led to a lot of burnout and to us losing many of our top players, and the problems just snowballed from there. By the time we finally called it quits about five months ago, I, on my captain, was taking the off-tank duties in raids and our main tank was really our fifth or sixth choice of guardians and clearly not up to the task.
Because of our lack of warm bodies, I was raiding at least every week, sometimes twice a week, banging my head up against the wall for little to no gain. More than anything, I did it out of loyalty to my kinship. We had very few captains, and once our tanks all but dried up, I felt even more needed. But I just wasn’t having fun — and I’d suspect I wasn’t the only one. Once our kinship merged with another, better-populated kinship that was having a much easier time getting through content, I still didn’t show up very often. The rewards were increased, but I still just didn’t feel like showing up and putting forth the not-inconsiderable effort.
Over the years, I’ve come to look at leveling content, and even many instances as “easy mode” of an MMORPG, with raids constituting the “real challenge.” I think another thing that drove me to raiding was a macho mentality that if I wasn’t doing that, then I was playing the MMO equivalent of Candy Land, content with the “kid’s stuff” and afraid to move up to the “adult content.” (No, not that kind of adult content.) If I couldn’t beat the big raid, if I couldn’t face down the biggest challenges the game had to offer, then what was the point of playing?
Oh yeah. Fun.
Again, everyone’s got their own definition of “fun.” In my early days of LOTRO, just exploring and leveling through the lands of Middle-earth was fun. Now, I can’t stand traditional leveling, in LOTRO and in other MMOs. Certainly, having so many of them follow the same general style is a reason for that, but I’ve often wondered if it’s because I realize leveling is just “busywork” until you get to the “real game,” where the actual challenges — and, theoretically, the fun — resides.
Guild Wars 2 seems to have a more enjoyable leveling experience, but my time in the game is still very limited. I enjoyed my first month or two of leveling in SWTOR and Rift, as well, before settling into the number-increasing grind of it all and begging for the sweet release of dinging max level — which, by now, I wasn’t even sure would help.
I’ve decided that it’s just impossible for me to decide what works in a game, for me at least, in terms of the leveling experience, instances, raids, easy/hard mode, PvP, etc. There was a time when I avoided PvP like the plague; LOTRO‘s PvP has always been mediocre, and I was fine with that with I started playing. When I did hit max level in SWTOR and Rift, though, I found myself queueing up for PvP more than anything and even creating characters dedicated to leveling through PvP. On the other side, so far in GW2, I’ve found myself favoring PvE over PvP. And I have little idea what I’ll find at “endgame.”
One thing I’m pretty sure about, though, is that I’ll want it to be fun. I don’t know yet how I’ll define that, whether it’s by challenging group content, open-world exploration and questing, or even PvP. I’ve given up trying to go into a game thinking, “Well, if it doesn’t have X or Y, I’m going to quit faster than a centaur runs.” Rather, I’m just going to jump in and, if I don’t have fun — whether I get bored by easy content or frustrated by the hard stuff — then that’s that. Maybe I won’t beat the top content and have the coolest gear or whatever, but hopefully I’ll still be having fun. It’s a novel approach, I know, but it just might work.