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Tuesday, April 17, 2012

[MMOs Generally] The terms I am tired of seeing

Rather sparse posting lately I know, I've hit that busy time of year when final tests and papers are due...leaving me little time to write. Doesn't help that I've picked up SWTOR and am thoroughly enjoying my bounty hunter.

No matter the topic, journalism and discourse are ripe with overused terms. The main problem is that so many of these are more intended to provoke a reaction from the reader that is anything except "form a logical opinion and decide for yourself." They frame the issue in a specific, one-sided way that colors any discourse negatively. Personally when I see many of these words, rather than read what the writer has said, I have to fight the urge to just ignore them completely. Alas, the ones becoming all too common in Gaming. I note that many of these are silencing techniques, but I think that makes it all that much more important that we phase them out and promote actual discourse (deities forbid!).

The first culprit, most often sighted on forums just before after a major patch/expansion. The word is used to describe content, player abilities or any feature you can think of...and can be safely translated to "this doesn't appeal to me," except is trying to make others feel as though disliking it is the only choice. Of all the offenders on the list this is perhaps the most tame, but makes the list due to overuse. Taking the upcoming Mists of Pandaria expansion; point to any feature and I will find you someone calling it "lackluster". Perhaps it is because the word gives them a feeling of being more erudite than their average poster, or that using a phrase besides "this sucks" will lend more credibility to their argument. The problem is that just like "this sucks" the term does not really describe the most important factor: why?

Lets form an example: "I find the Death knight final tier of talents to be lackluster." Well we clearly understand that the writer finds them uninteresting, but as a reader or developer you've really learned nothing aside from a person's opinion. Lets try again! (I don't endorse the following argument, I use it only as an example) "I find the Death Knight final tier of talents to be uninteresting; each fits one spec too well and as a result feels as though it has much choice. Gorefiend's grasp may be a fun ability, but set next to two easy AoE abilities it does not feel as effective."

"Slap in the face"

I consider this the "big brother/sister" of Lackluster when the post writer's attitude has gone from disappointed to full blown mad. Usually this term is found in the context of a major change in which one part of a game's community might benefit over another. For example (fictional) "LFR is a slap in the face to the raiding community." Unlike Lackluster however, there is no passive aggressive undertone or subtle line-drawing...this one outright states that one side is in the wrong. A change is not just altering the game but it is outright offending players.

The part of this I find most ironic is that generally I think the changes made are meant to be positive, but because they might not reward everyone equally or might favor one aspect of the community ("Legacy system is a slap in the face of non-altaholics!") over others, that the company has somehow gone out of its way to spite some of its players. Furthermore this term is used to describe most ANY change made to the game, and implicitly carries with it the idea that the game-makers don't care about someone. In a single phrase they have been cast as the offender, and the "innocent" players as the marginalized victims.

Casual v. Hardcore

I lump these two together because more often than not they are used to draw an arbitrary line in a game's community and seek to satisfy a human need to categorize and generalize groups. The problem is no one exactly agrees on what makes a person casual or hardcore. Some define them as the "level" at which a person plays; that is to say the person's rank amongst other players is 'hardcore' if they are somewhere in the upper tiers, while a 'casual' is everyone else. Others define it as the quantity of time a person puts into the game; someone who spends X hours is casual, while anything greater than X is hardcore. Even further, some define it based on how deeply a person gets into a game, a player who only logs in and learns by playing is casual, while the Elitist-Jerks browsing, WoWhead reader is hardcore. And therein lies the very issue with the terms; they can describe any one of numerous differences in play.

While I hate anecdotal evidence I find it is all too fitting in this particular case, for there is a player in my WoW guild who few would call "good"...he does his job, but he is consistently in the bottom half of DPS. However, when it comes to crafting there are few other experts. If you need materials he knows how to get them, he uses mods to improve his farming/crafting and he seems to genuinely enjoy it. To some he is hardcore, to others he is a casual. On the other hand, we have a of our best, and he has played in top 1k guilds before and done very well. He logs in for >6 hours a week and 5 of those are raids...the other hour is basically getting consumables and raid mats. Given the tier he plays he is hardcore, given the amount he is casual. No player deftly fits into one of these categories unless they fit everyone's idea of them, which is a very narrow subset of the population.

My other objection to the terms is that they naturally alienate and demonize those they discuss. Hardcore carries with it the implication that the person is elitist and lacks a "life", while casual carries with it an almost oafish nonchalance and low status because they aren't "dedicated".


This is a tricky one because at times it is true and at others it is not. Generally the term is now thrown around when people bemoan not getting what they expected from a game/DLC; usually in regards to sparse or low quality content. I find this funny because it tends to get thrown around by the sellers/paid-journalists as a way of trying to invalidate the complaints of the fans. The irony of this is that a cornerstone of a free market is the right of consumes to voice their opinions; like it or not, but personal "opinion" or "fancy" is one of the gears that keeps the market turning (otherwise why bother having color or creativity? Sell unpainted houses in space efficient shapes and watch an entire industry collapse...this lesson in economics brought to you by: Common Sense!). Sure, there are gamers out there that are entitled and believe they deserve everything...but the vast majority are consumers who paid for something and expect fair value for their money.

Without going into full literary critique of the Mass Effect 3 ending, I feel safe in assuming that if THAT many people are upset about it, then there is probably some legitimacy to their complaint. However you should read the complaints and requests for fixing DLC not as "demands" but as "ways to get back our confidence"...your customers are handing you the key to their affection and it's up to the company to determine whether or not it is a key worth pursuing. Throwing out "entitled gamers" instead just creates enmity and pollutes the dialogue.

You also see the term thrown around casual in discussion of rewards in games, often on the lines of "hardcore v. casual". Players complain that there is not content tailored to their desires and the opposite side suddenly calls them entitled. Once more, it is a silencing technique, a method of trying to shut off discourse without giving a rational argument in the alternative.

WoW Killer

Thankfully this term seems to be dying but it still pops up every time a new MMO goes into closed beta or is announced. I think this does a disservice to the game it is referring to more than it damages WoW. The thing is, labeling a game as a WoW Killer is setting an unrealistically high bar for any developer to meet. I like to think of MMO's as snowballs rolling down a hill...often they start small, they focus on their strengths, but as they roll they grow. Comparing a snowball that has just started rolling to the one that's been going for half a decade is unfair to the new game. People really need to stop doing this; let the game release and shine on its own, don't place the added burden of being WoW (and thus having to succeed in all the ways WoW does and MORE).

This term I mainly see thrown out by those that are "quitting WoW" or something akin, the players who are dissatisfied with Blizzard and want to add some punch to their argument ("WoW is going to be dead when X releases anyways, jump ship now!"). These people often have taken ONE good aspect from the new game (PvP system, dungeons, raiding, whatever) and have assumed that ALL other players in the game mainly care about THAT system. If you stop and think about it, the term makes almost no could any game realistically expect to tear away a few million subscribers...despite all the investment many of those subscribers have made, despite the guilds they have formed, the relationships they have forged, playstyles that have been catered to. This flat out doesn't happen unless the new product is distinctly superior, and copying with a slight improvement is not going to cut it (I'm looking at you Google+).

Welfare Epics

Another silencing technique, "Welfare Epics" now refer to any higher quality loot that is obtained through means that one party feels is too "Easy". Whether it is hardcore raiders berating other players for buying items with valor points, new instances providing more competitive doesn't matter what the true purpose of the items yet, or the health of the other players higher quality loot without requiring them to do the same (but not necessarily less, farming valor/justice is time consuming!) work is thusly handing out "Welfare". I find that this is mainly because people have become convinced that "Welfare" is a bad has a negative "feel" to it certainly, but really what Welfare epics are doing is raising the lowest level.

In the end this is GOOD for the community because it keeps people playing; some people have nostalgia-colored glasses about the long gearing up process from Vanilla WoW and TBC, but often forget that losing geared players was the death knell for raiding guilds. It could happen without much reason or warning, it lead to poaching and thousands of broken friendships. People have this illusion that those "Geared" players were somehow better, when it was just as likely as the guy who was not as geared out might be better, but hadn't yet had an opportunity to show it.

Like it or not, Welfare epics have been GOOD for WoW and most other games, and because they only raise the lowest level to keep the community competitive. The highest tiers usually don't have need to complain...using modern item levels, a guy in 410 is not losing any value because some "Scrub" (may stick this word on the next list) has 397 gear (which is often less effectively itemized as the items found in raids that drop equivalent level gear). The complainers are the people "just" below that, who are stuck mainly in 397 and want to still stick out. Psychological analysis and discussion of how fantastic the last iteration (dragon soul patch) of valor items has been (really...I don't think they should be changing it), it is just another tactic to shut down discussion.

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