Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Rewards vs Experience

The quiet closure of the recent Rift River of Souls event (here are some goodies, please stop yelling at us!) got me to thinking.  By any measure the goody bag Trion handed to every single character that existed at the time of the event was quite generous, containing a 20 slot bag, 250 shards, a quest item for a blue quality level-appropriate weapon, and a couple of achievement tokens.  I can think of plenty of companies that would have told the playerbase to suck it (and indeed some of them actually have) and move on.  So Trion should be lauded for actually trying to placate their players, and by doing so in a way that had a clear benefit for characters receiving the gift bag.

Nevertheless . . . I wasn't very happy with how it all turned out.  I had to think about it for a while, but eventually I figured out the source of my unhappiness (and it also explains why I lost interest in World of Warcraft).  Earlier in my MMO gaming experience I was very interested in and excited by the rewards I could earn for a character by doing certain (often repetitive) in-game tasks.  I did heroics for ages in The Burning Crusade expansion, and even a little bit of raiding and arenas.  Did I do the arenas because they were fun?  No, I did them for the rewards.  After earning epic flight form on my Druid (another reward) I was burned out and quit the game.  I came back for Wrath of the Lich King but was quickly disgusted that everything I earned in the previous expansion (even my epic flight!) was rendered worthless upon stepping into Northrend, and quit at level 72.  I came back again about a year later and quickly leveled two characters to 80 and started the heroic grind.  I eventually had my Paladin and Druid decked out in heroic dungeon token epics and (with nothing really left to do) took a break while waiting for Cataclysm.  Cataclysm arrived, did another gear reset, and after a couple of days on the leveling/gear treadmill I decided I really was done and quit again.  I haven't been back since.  I know I will someday, but not any time soon.

Why?  Because I'm no longer interested in the pixel rewards my characters can earn.  WoW has conditioned me to accept that they're transient and entirely pointless.  The only thing of value to be gained from MMOs is the experience of playing the game itself.  So in Rift I find myself doing dungeons once and not going back, not because I didn't like them, but because I'm not interested in grinding for loot, I just want to experience the content.  I jump around from quests to PvP to rifts to dungeons and back again.  It's not efficient, I won't get the best rewards.  I don't care though, I'm just having FUN playing a game.  Go figure.  That doesn't mean I'm immune to the lure of item rewards, I still fall for them now and then and waste time obsessing over trying to get this or that new piece of gear.  A decade of MMO gaming has ground the need to do that in too deeply to be rid of it fully, but for the most part I'm doing things because I want to, irrespective of any item reward at the end.

How is this relevant?  Trion's compensation to players who missed the bungled world event was an item reward.  Now I have the item reward without the experience that lead to it, and it's the experience that I actually wanted, not the reward.  I wanted to participate in the event and see how things turned out, not get "phat lewt".  If they re-ran phase 2 and 3 of the event with no chance at any rewards whatsoever I'd still participate.  I would also happily run raids and difficult dungeons with no chance of loot just for the chance to see them.  Would I run them over and over?  Of course not, I just want to see the content and once is enough unless I really liked it.  I've reached the point in MMO gaming where I need to take a step back and just enjoy the game and call it quits when I've seen all the content I can hope to see.  Getting on the reward treadmill is just going to leave me burned out and uninterested in the game, and eventually the genre as a whole.  So Trion's compensation didn't really give me anything I wanted, though I'm still glad they made the effort to do something.


  1. MMOs rely on the repetition of limited content for their longevity and replayability. The only part of said repetitive tasks that can vary is the players: both yourself and those around you.

    If there was no reason or reward would anyone set out to perform said tasks? It's like being promised a cookie if you straighten up your room. Real life is already full of dull repetitive tasks. Games should be an escape from that and not a fanciful interpretation of my daily rut.

    What happened with the live event is, to me, along the lines of "we locked you out of your room but the maid stopped by so... have a cookie anyway".

    Huh, aren't I ranty lately. :)

  2. I think you're spot on in that WoW has conditioned players to understand that rewards are transient. In Vanilla, when we thought it all really mattered, everything felt more meaningful. These days, I think you'd have to be a sap to raid 4+ nights a week for rewards that'll be available more easily next patch anyway.

  3. Congrats, by moving past the extrinsic pixel reward prompting a certain behavior, and being actively conscious of the intrinsic enjoyment motivation of an MMO experience, I think you've progressed past a good majority of MMO players. :)

    A ton of them would take the shiny without wanting to 'work' (read, have an experience or lasting memory) for it. Hence, the proliferation of cheats, walkthroughs and gold-selling via RMT.

    I am curious however as to how much of this realisation originates from WoW's design decision to invalidate the pixel loot per expansion. "WoW has conditioned me to accept that they're transient and entirely pointless," you mention.

    If the reward still retained a certain meaning or value, would it still seem as pointless?

    For example, a 20-slot grave goods bag in Rift still has a lot of value in holding more things and making the rest of the play experience more convenient. It may eventually be superseded by larger bag sizes, but not for a while yet.

    Ultimately, all game/virtual loot is transient, of course. When you quit the game, you can't take it with you, only the memories of playing the game. Something I too realized eventually on leaving my first virtual world game...

    If we wanted to be really philosophical, we could say the same of real life rewards. But somehow, a lot of people chase 'em all the same. :)

  4. Here through a couple of different sources. :)

    I agree with your write-up somewhat, though when I think about the even more virtual reward of achievements in games, I have a tendency to disagree with the assertion that achievements in games have no merit in real life.

    Of course, that's off tangent. :) Just wanted to tell you that I love this post, and that I'll be adding you to my feed reader and blogroll shortly. :)

  5. I can't help but agree and I think this is why MMO's are starting to have a very short shelf life for me. I enjoy the levelling, I like going to a dungeon once to see it, but I've no interest in wiping for weeks on a raid boss for a purplez of some form or other.

    If I get 2-3 months out of a new MMO then I've done well. Staying for years now (like EQ1 / vanilla WoW) is very unlikely.

    As an aside, this looks like its shaping up to be an interesting blog, so I'll add you to my reader.

  6. Why do folks assume that raiders just do it for the loot? I do it for the satisfaction of clearing the content.

  7. @Jeromai, Well it's not just WoW of course, it's the overall result of playing these games for the past 12 years. WoW really drove the point home though, as it seems like the most egregious example of "spend years earning this stuff and then we'll make it irrelevant with a single big patch".

    @WalkslikeFox, I'm pretty happy if I get a few months out of an MMO these days. There have been quite a few over the past few years that didn't last past the first month, so longer than that is a good thing. On the other hand, I don't really want to "dedicate" myself to playing an MMO for years like I did with EQ, DAoC, CoH, and WoW. There's just too much gaming out there to experience without wasting time being repetitive.

    @dfv, I think there are Raiders and then there are raiders. Some people really do it for the satisfaction, and some people really do it for the loot. I wasn't referring to raiding specifically though, as most of my experience hunting loot was grinding dungeons.

  8. I have tried other stand alone games on ps3 etc..but they just feel lonely after the social interaction of wow. Thats why I keep playing.

  9. I wonder if even real life "rewards" are just as transient. That lovely new car you bought is replaced with another new car several years later. Lots of people are grinding boring jobs to get the latest new car, only to keep grinding to replace it with the even newer thing.