Tuesday, October 09, 2018

Genres and Types of Skill

Gevlon posted this idea about a month ago in the middle of a post on Wildstar. It's somewhat provocative (in a gaming sense) and I have not seen it before:
Each genre of gaming focuses on one kind of “skill”. Those who like to hone this skill, find it fun to do so will be attracted to the genre. They are attracted exactly because they want to hone that skill. Everything that distract them from it (besides random, progression-irrelevant flavor stuff) hurt their fun. 
For example FPS fans value the skill of quickly moving the mouse to the head pixels of the enemy. It’s a senso-motoric skill. The FPS games are purposefully bend everything for this one skill. The characters can turn back at infinite speed which is completely impossible for soldiers that the games formally simulate. Because the game is not simulating soldiers, the combat setting is just a lore-background, you are not roleplaying a soldier trying to stop terrorist, you are playing a “move cross to pixel faster” game, and if character turn speed was limited, it would put an artificial ceiling to your “skill”. The maps are fixed and few, because the players don’t want to be distracted by having to find their way or map the place when they focus on moving that cross. Any FPS which isn’t about moving the cross for the win will either fail – or like PUBG – the community ignores the other parts and just plays for headshots anyway. 
The “skill” in MMORPGs is long-term planning and disciplined execution. Players collect items, reputation points, currencies, quest counters for progression that takes place over thousands of hours. While many games have thousands of hours of play by enthusiasts, those hours take place in thousands of independent short matches. In MMOs, it takes place in the same “round”, today session starts with all the advantages you collected in the previous days. You have more “stuff” than a newbie and players support that. Otherwise, they wouldn’t play. 
The core MMO player values discipline (think of raiders with schedules and leaders), planning, “effort” and dependability. This is the setting they want to play in. Everything else distracts them. Putting action combat in an MMO is like putting year-long character progression into an FPS. Imagine that [Counterstrike] would announce that you’ll have a persistent character that will get traits over time and a 2000-hours character will have 10x HP, 5x damage, 2x speed than a new player. The game would die in an hour, because players would be outraged that the combat isn’t won by the “skilled” (the one who moves crosshair to head faster), but the “lowly nolifer” who “grinded” out the upgrades. 
An MMORPG must be very light on twitch-skill and heavy on planning, disciplined and organized play to succeed.
I've been contemplating this for a while. It's certainly true that the most successful games in the MMO space aren't mechanically difficult.

And if you consider MMO FPS games like The Division, the most common complaint is that enemies are "bullet sponges". This can be seen as the game violating the core skill of FPS games.

Of course, if a game strays far enough from the core skill, and yet is successful, we often consider a new genre entirely. For example, "sneaking" games like Thief versus traditional FPS games. Or a strategy game like Rainbow Six, where the majority of the game might be the planning stage.  Most of the time, though, these games aren't super successful compared to the baseline traditional game.

Another situation might be the difference between League of Legends and Heroes of the Storm. LoL has "last-hitting", HotS does not. Is the micro-management of your hero to that degree a "core skill" for that genre? If so, maybe that explains why HotS never managed the success of LoL, in a rare miss for Blizzard.

I think Gevlon's formulation is a very interesting idea, and worth examining in more detail.


  1. That might also explain why some action oriented combat MMOs --TERA, GW2, and ESO-- are more niche titles rather than the big kahuna of the MMO genre. You take action combat and put it in a grind-esque type of game, and it's not as great a fit as it might seem at first glance. There's a difference between the WoW (and its cousins, LOTRO and SWTOR) and the "don't stand in the bad" versus the "you have to constantly be on the move" found in the action combat MMOs. I've found that I constantly slip into a more stationary form of attacks when I play action oriented MMOs, even after having played them for a while, that speak to my time playing WoW as a Pally or a Mage. (That likely is part of the reason I wasn't the best WoW Rogue out there, because Rogue attacks require you to be on the move a lot.)

    1. I agree to a large extent. It's also why I don't PvP a lot, as you're usually constantly moving.

      Though, from my recollections, TERA is suprisingly low intensity for an action MMO. You didn't really have to constantly move. I did play a Lancer, however, so maybe I just blocked instead instead of moving.

    2. Yeah, I played a Mage equivalent and an Archer, and you kind of have to move or you're going to get smacked around a lot.

  2. Where I don't agree is with raiding itself. Raiding is one of these mini games that don't belong in an MMO. Raiding should be its own raiding genre.

    Killing the same respawned bosses week after week by flawlessly performing an artificial dance with 19 other player is neither Massively Multiplayer nor an RPG. All it is is Online.

    1. But raiding, perhaps more than any other part of the game, stresses the "planning, disciplined and organized play" part of MMOs.

      But perhaps you're right that "excessive dance" is not a good fit. In fact, I think that--since the dance complaints of a couple expansions ago--Blizzard has put more emphasis on gearing up and using higher item level to overpower fights. This applies to Normal and Heroic, but less to Mythic.

      Consider that warforged and titanforged gear allows a raider, over the long term, to boost her item level past what's expected, and can help overpower content, and make the "dance" part less important.