Novelty

I don’t usually claim to be particularly fickle, but I’ve become more and more aware in the last couple of years that novelty really is a great part of the attraction in MMOs. It applies to most games, of course, but since we don’t tend to play single-player games for months or years, it’s less important there. By the time the novelty wears off in a single-player game you’re probably done with the game anyway.

Maybe it’s part of the reason so many of us are getting more jaded. It’s not just the novelty of a given new title that matters, but the experience of MMOs globally. Most MMO gamers I know agree that few experiences compare to that very first MMO you played, or played “seriously” — in my case Asheron’s Call, but it can be EverQuest, WoW, whatever. All subsequent games we play will never be as unknown, exciting and terrifyingly fun as that very first one.

Ultimately, most MMOs — at least the ones I’m familiar with — come down to a few core gaming principles. It’s that old kill-loot-level thing; and while the actual kill process may be slightly different from one game to another, it really tends to boil down to learning what keys to hit and in what order. For some people, that learning process is interesting and engaging in itself; for me, the novelty tends to wear off after a few weeks.

I’m not a raider, so learning what combinations of keys to hit in conjunction with X other players isn’t of any great interest to me. Once I know the basic ways to kill something — and those ways don’t really change for 90% of the content you’ll face — there’s not much more to be learned and thus not much more enjoyment to be had out of the now-flat learning curve.

I’m also not a PvP player, and I’m starting to wonder if maybe I should be. In the last few years I’ve noticed that for many people the lasting attraction of an MMO is the ability to play against other people, who at least aren’t as predictable as AI-controlled mobs and static spawns. But even so, doesn’t the sequence of actions taken in order to defeat even a live opponent tend to become the same? From the outside that seems to be the case: I’ve seen a lot of forum posts where people complain that PvP is a variant of rock-paper-scissors: Class A can beat Class B who can defeat Class C who can kick Class A’s ass. Once you know how to defeat a given class (or build in a classless game like Fallen Earth), most of the time you’re going to use the same tried-and-tested combination of moves to defeat it.

In most games I tend to end up crafting a lot, and that has a reasonably lasting entertainment value for me since it’s not so much the process I enjoy as what you can make and how you get the materials. As most of you know, I’m a confirmed harvesting junkie — which is true of me in Fallen Earth too, by the way. But again… even with crafting, stuff is fun to make the first time and becomes less so as you become more familiar with whatever it is you’re making.

So what do you do when the novelty wears off? Find something else to do in said game? Move on? Accept the lack of novelty and find other avenues of entertainment in the same game? Novelty isn’t, after all, the only criterion for enjoyment of a given game, but it certainly seems to be quite a large part of it. The act of learning is — at least for me, and for quite a lot of other gamers I know — enjoyable in and of itself, so when you first start playing a game you know you’re going to have fun because everything is new. Once things start to become familiar, you have to start working a little harder for your fun.

Familiarity, as they say, breeds contempt. I guess that’s just as true in MMOs as it is in relationships.

Write to Dear Ysh if you’d like some MMO advice. For RL relationships though, you’re on your own.

8 responses to “Novelty

  1. Heh, I hear ya. Right now I’m mostly playing Fallen Earth as an economic game: I log in once a day or so, set up a crafting queue, hit the auctions, and log back out. I haven’t actually played for the sake of playing in maybe a week or so. I still like and enjoy the game, it just isn’t as novel anymore since I completed Sector 1 and did my initial rep grind in Sector 2.

    PvP is definitely a good source of novelty, as players are generally much more flexible than AI and tend to keep you on your toes. In one sense, yes, the actions available might be limited, but tactics are considerably different when fighting other players than when fighting AIs. Most of the time it’s not really as simple as rock-paper-scissors, because of the enormous probability that some or all of the players involved will make suboptimal or unusual choices. This might be because they’re frazzled and rushed, or because they want to surprise you, or because they know something you don’t.

    For example, imagine a basic first-person PvP shooter. You might have a gun and the ability to run around, jump, and duck, and that’s it… so you might expect PvP to involve finding some cover and trying to snipe your enemies. But the game will potentially remain interesting because other players might do wacky things like charge you and try to club you with their rifle butt., or suicide in order to take out several members of your team, or try to set your fortifications on fire, or… well, you get the point. Players are unpredictable, as a general rule, and this keeps them interesting as foes. If a game has good basic gameplay, PvP can be a lot of fun sometimes.

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  2. I flail about looking for something new which often injects hundreds of dollars into the gaming industry then ultimately return to what I was playing before because I realize I might as well play what I’ve been playing for a long time since it’s all the same anyway.

    🙂

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  3. I’m there right now, too.

    Until FFXIV comes out in September, I’m really lacking the motivation to play anything.

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  4. Don’t forget how players also have the tendency to ‘optimize’ the fun out of their own gaming.

    A good Guild Wars example would be the ‘speed clear’ teams for Fissure of Woe, Deep, Domain of Anguish, et al – all the ‘elite’ ‘endgame’ areas.

    I’m all for speed clear build groups.. if everyone in the group finds the speedclearing fun.

    If not, then they just optimized themselves out of fun. 😉

    (Me, I like balanced groups, but that’s just a nugget, and I *do* believe that as long as both parties have fun in the process, speedclear is neither better nor worse than balanced.)

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  5. I think Nugget has a great point. Each player tend to optimize themselves out of a lot of the game from the start. In most games, it’s choosing a class or profession that fits your play style. Unless you’re an altaholic like Ysh…you’re cutting off a lot of content yourself. But we blame the developers. MMOs are so big nowadays, it’s impossible to play everything. If you look at a game from a dev’s point of view, their game is huge. And they right. But when you become a player and start pigeon-holing yourself, the game becomes very small. And if the incentives and shinies aren’t motivational, you lose interest. Again, instead of asking ourselves “Why”, we blame the devs.

    Don’t get me wrong. There are truly terrible MMOs out there (Hello Mortal Online!!!). My point always is, there is plenty of blame to go around when an MMO loses its luster.

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  6. I recently cancelled all my MMO subs as I realize that I spend 90% or more of my time playing them solo.

    Like you said my first MMO experience is not likely to be matched (EverQuest). Everything was new and different and I had no preconceived notions about how the game had to be played or why I needed to be able to do X DPS. I didn’t care about max level and a lot of the fun of the game was exploring this massive and dangerous world.

    These days I always feel compelled to rush to max level as if the game will suddenly get much better at that point. I’m not sure why I feel that way because really the leveling up is the part I enjoy the most. End-game generally becomes fairly repetitive.

    When I look back on my MMO history the only games I’ve stuck with for great lengths of time and enjoyed the most were the games I was playing with friends. Unless I have a group of friends to consistently play with I find my interest rarely lasts beyond a month or two.

    I enjoyed your post, thank you.

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    • Hehe, thanks for the comment and welcome to the blog! 😀

      And yeah — although I spend most of my time soloing, an MMO is not an MMO without other people. (This is where I and the group-only playstyle people differ most: I find company even on guild and friend chat channels. I don’t require people to be “physically” present with me in-game to feel like I’m not alone.)

      Interestingly, it’s something we seem to realise and require more and more as we get older: it’s not what you’re playing, it’s who you’re playing it with.

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  7. I’m a unabashed game hopper. It’s part occupational hazard, part economics. I study games that I might make the ones I work on better, so it behooves me to partake of a wide cross section of games. Economically, I have little time to play on my own “for fun” like I used to, and I just can’t spend that small slice of precious time on a single game. There are too many good ones out there.

    Perhaps that’s me chasing novelty, or maybe I’m some sort of weird game aesthete… but whatever the case, as a gamer and as a game worker bee, dedicating myself to a single game to the exclusion of all others is just as unhealthy as only ever reading one novel or taking one college course over and over.

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