In the digital world where Massively Multiplayer Online games (MMOs) rule a large section of the world and everything may seem peachy, but in fact everything is not all right. One of the major issues with MMOs is that the game is changing the reward curve. By this I mean that rather then giving the players just rewards to further their game experience the game developers dumb down the difficulty to get rewards and hence dumb down the game and its content.
This issue will come up when ever the game developers try and add new things into the game. When they add new content, new worlds, new races, new dungeons, etc. they add better and better items. This itself is not an issue at all and it almost always starts off great. New items and content are not intrinsically detrimental to the game play, instead the problem that arises is the game developers choose to make items that used to require lots of hard work and time, easier and easier to get. So in the end new players are able to get items that used to take hours and hours of work to get in less then half the time and effort. Not only that, but because of how items are in MMOs, since they are, or were, hard to get items, they are usually extremely good, and it soon puts the new players nearly on par with players who have the best gear. This has happened in numerous games, but has more prominently happened recently in World of Warcraft (WoW).
One of the first things that WoW did in its expansion, The Burning Crusade (TBC), was add in something called Arenas. Arenas were a new system for player versus player (PvP) and a way to get new PvP items. What you did was you had to join a team and with that team you went up against other teams of the same number of people as yours. Originally this was a great idea; you could fight against others with friends of yours and see how well you did against others. The items you got from it were originally specifically for PvP and were used for that. But as time went on the Arena gear became better and better, in order to keep up with the advancing player versus environment (PvE) gear. So soon enough the PvP gear was being used in PvE and ended up surpassing the lower end PvE gear. Basically, to put it simply the creators were making PvP gear that was easy to obtain, and that had the same stats as gear that came from high end instances (PvE). So anyone who was new to the high end content could have PvP gear that was just as good as anyone who spent hours in instances or raids. By making these PvP items so easy to get, they have unbalanced another aspect of the game, crafting.
In Hearts, Clubs, Diamonds, Spades: Player Suit MuDs we are presented with the idea that different players are drawn to MuDs or MMOs for different reasons. One of these ideas is that people will join a game so that they can achieve stuff, and one of these things that achievers can aim for is crafting. What the PvP items have done is that they have unbalanced the need for crafters, making it so that they are unbalancing the game play for people who don’t live only for PvE and PvP. As the reading says, “It’s a question of balance: if something is added to a MuD to tilt the graph one way, other mechanisms will need to be in place to counterbalance it…” (Bartle, 783). Clearly WoW does not have this in place. It is destroying the Achievers way of playing the game and replacing it almost entirely with the Killers method.
This is also not only an issue for the overall balance of the game, but it is also very important to think about if you are the developer of a game. By making high end items easier and easier to get you are cutting down on the content that players are able to experience. If you are cutting the content for people to experience you are cutting the amount of game that players are experiencing which hurts you as a developer. Wasted content is player time spend other where, making it so they never get to see places that would regularly require lots of time spent in. If developers make it so that players cannot skip over places, which means that they will be playing the game more so that they can catch up to the high end people. Not only that, but players enjoy a challenge, and by giving players high end stuff you are making it so they get bored of the game faster. As James Paul Gee points out in his book What Video Games Have to Teach Us: About Learning and Literacy “The learner gets ample opportunity to operate within, but at the outer edge of, his or her resources, so that at those points things are felt as challenging but not “undoable.” (Gee, 71). By giving the player more chances to challenge themselves the game is rewarding them to a much greater level then just by giving the player the really good items.
With as large of a market base as MMOs have it would be wise if they try, and target all the players instead of just a few types of players. By doing this the games will be more challenging, involving and overall something that players will be happy with and keep coming back for more. Also by creating a game that is balanced it will make every one a lot more happy and will also create a game that people will feel rewarded playing, not just with what they get, but with that they do.
Bartle, Richard. “Hearts, Clubs, Diamonds, Spades: Players Who Suit MUDs.” The Game Design Read: A Rules of Play Anthology. Katie Salen and Eric Zimmerman, eds. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 2006.
Gee, James Paul. “Learning and Identity.” What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy. New York, N.Y.: PALGRAVE MACMILLAN, 2003.