Another Chapter in the Endless Story of Gamification

Keen notes that many MMOs these days focus on “unconventional gameplay”, and he names TSW’s investigation missions and GW2’s jumping puzzles as examples. In the comments, some people say that MMOs are returning to how they used to be and how they should be, while others point out the inevitable “but X did that, too”, which, in this case however, is an important note: it tells us that probably these things were never fully gone from games.

And indeed they weren’t. Jumping puzzles have always been in MMOs, they were never gone. I’m sure almost everybody at some point wondered whether they can climb a particular mountain, or house, and tried for a couple of minutes, and either succeeded, or gave up. More dedicated souls might have stretched the trying to hours. I know that back when Vanguard was releases, one of my favorite pastimes was climbing up mountains or towers, and just gazing at the amazing landscape. (Granted, that had as much to do with Vanguard’s at-the-time amazing graphics as it had with the game being released with buggy combat and insufficient content in the classic sense).

In that way, GW2’s jumping puzzles are simply another step on the way to more gamification. Of course, the term might not fit perfectly, because you could argue that jumping onto hills, trees, or houses is already a game, so it’s hard to define how to gamify it. But what GW2 does is apply gamification techniques, notably achievements, to broaden the appeal of one game aspect. It used to be that hunting vistas was an explorer’s game. Now, it will be also a thing for achievers to tick off their list. Google a list of where to go, how to jump, collect map, ignore view, go to next puzzle.

OK, that sounded a bit mean. I’m not opposed to this. I’m just torn. I said before that I think there is good and bad gamification. This one might be good, because it broadens the appeal of a part of the game. It might also be bad, because the original intent (get up the mountain, enjoy the view) is lost, and because  more obsessive achievers might feel they have to complete an arduous task they don’t enjoy just to tick more items off their list.

TSW’s investigation missions are different, but similar. In contrast to jumping puzzles, they were probably almost completely gone from MMOs for some time. That doesn’t mean they never existed before. Anybody remember Mankrik’s wife? That was one of the more simple investigation quests you could think of, and its infamy shows two things: MMO players, or at least WoW players, weren’t big fans of that kind of game (cue “Where’s Mankrik’s wife?” Barrens chat), and in effect, it was s solitary experience, a kind of test balloon, only rarely used as a bit of spice in some other missions. The Onyxia attunement springs to mind, and it was… a divisive quest chain. Let’s keep it at that.

Mankrik’s quest was removed in Cataclysm without replacement or followup. I guess the developers didn’t see a place for it in a world of streamlined leveling and quest locations on maps.

To go one step further back in time, Everquest’s quests didn’t have exclamation mark indicators. They often enough didn’t send to you a specific location, instead requiring you to roam the world to find the next place to go to. In MUDs, a typical quest might start from an item you found, and a cryptic information that “you should find someone who knows more about this”. If you were lucky, you might be told that finding the blacksmith who forged it might be a good idea, which reduced the number of possible targets from “all people in the world” to “all blacksmiths in the world”. Or, even more obscure: no notification at all, but when you talked to people while in possession of an item, you might get additional conversation options. Keep in mind that back then, not only did there exist no wowhead, no thottbot, no allakhazam. It was actively frowned upon to “spoil” these kinds of stories and quests for others.

The temptation to spoil or be spoiled when it comes to riddles is larger these days than it used to be. While investigation missions in TSW are not repeatable (as opposed to almost all other missions, after shorter or longer cooldown timers), they give, as a compensation I assume, a large amount of XP. I heard (delightfully rarely, but once or twice) the notion that “they are a great source of XP, especially because they are fast to do with a walkthrough”. Gamification and obsessive achiever mindset, indeed. I think these people miss the point. Yes, these missions give a lot of XP, but not more than a couple of the repeatable, more conventional missions. In return, you lose out on one of the strongest points of the game. Bad tradeoff, if you ask me.

So, the whole thing is a double-edged sword in my eyes: it’s good if games return to a broader appeal and range of activities. On the other hand, I’m not sure why game companies think they need to attach additional rewards to them. Do they think players might otherwise skip them because they aren’t “worth it”? Are they too scared that players might rather stay in their box than move out of it?

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