Game talkDave Sirlin rips WoW

 Posted by (Visited 16083 times)  Game talk
Feb 222006
 

…and does so whilst invoking my name.

Oh boy.

Lots to dig into in his critique — and I do think that some of his critique is valid and applies to ALL the MMORPGs. His “time > skill” comment echoes complaints that Jonathan Baron has had about “cumulative character” games for a very long time now.

I do think, though, that saying that games can only reward skill is a narrow view of things; after all, Dave would never have gotten as good at Street Fighter if he hadn’t spent a lot of time on it. The real objection seems to be time being more important tham skill.

On the other hand, is there necessarily something wrong with giving people without significant skill (which is most people, the overwhelming majority of people) a place where they can feel valued and valuable?

  70 Responses to “Dave Sirlin rips WoW”

  1. I like Madden, but I realize that I’m not able to compete with the better players. For example, during training camp mode, the maximum you can improve a player is 7 points in any one skill. Generally speaking, I’d be ecstatic with 4. I read some forum where people were saying how easy it is to max out.

    Mount and Blade has good combat, and just about everything that I felt was missing in mmogs (in terms of shield and/or mounted combat). However my strafe-fu is lacking and I’d die a horrible death if it was multiplayer.

    I guess what I’m saying is: if I’m up against the computer, I’d want skill to matter the most, but against humans I’d want knowledge/experience to matter most.

    What I don’t want to play is a game where I’d lose because I didn’t want to camp a spawn for 48+ hrs.

    Not that I think devs should comply with that: I’m just selfish enough to want to compete in any environment. :p In the meantime, I’ve learned to enjoy losing in pvp. ;)

  2. I can’t agree to most of his points. Not even his example of the “star programmer” seems right to me, he must have invested a tremendous amount of time before he became that.

    Every Sports-Team knows that the time invested is the main point to become better. And on top of that, I think that’s something well worth teaching, if you like to say it is tought by MMORPGs.

    MMOs – especially *RPGs, there may be others – need to stay with this. You play a lot more, and much more for the fun with socializing and the immersion of a fantasy world, than with GTA or similar. It simply wouldn’t be fun to concentrate the whole time on your own skills. Street Fighter is another kind of game and needs to be.

    That sounds like the difference of someone who trains swiming for olympics and a family just going to the beach. While both may be fun if you like it, I doubt MMORPGs are the right choice for olympic training. They should be recreational and fun.

    If you like to have a sport, don’t look at extrem museum visiting or hardcore statue modelling – that’s simply not what you might want, and never meant to be.

  3. Short answer is obviously No. Too many real world analogies in this. Games are escapism and entertainment.

  4. I think the article is a bit unfair to Blizzard: their design objective wasn’t “So, what do we want to teach people?” It was to provide entertainment for the most amount of people possible through that particular medium. That kind of goal doesn’t account for “How useful will something be to real life?” Action movies with lots of explosions aren’t trying to teach anything: they just do, because it’s human nature to learn from one’s environment.

    Further, he’s polarizing the argument. Street Fighter doesn’t teach time > skill, not because it’s merely better designed, but also because tracking state like that doesn’t jive with the hardware. It’s not an RPG; you don’t expect to walk through a story, getting better as you go. It doesn’t say that groups and better than solo, even though later versions of the game let you “team up” and makes it clear that attacking with two at once is more effective than anything one avatar could do.

    Street Fighter might also be teaching negative things as well; admittedly, I can’t think of any. Similarly, WoW may be teaching very positive things; are they so insignificant as to fail to offset any of the negativity in his article? I don’t play, so I don’t know.

    Simply put, it’s very difficult to do a fair comparison between two so radically different games. Different for a host of reasons.

    That said, I agree that his critique is quite valid. I’ve encountered most of it while brainstorming about what I should and shouldn’t do. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem easy to design a MMORPG that teaches positive things AND will be played.

  5. While some of what he says seems to ring true, I think he’s looking at it from the wrong perspective. He sees ‘bad’ lessons in things that can be/are good things one should learn. Cooperation, group tactics(group>solo), a sense of community(guilds), etc.

    Simply because they’re not what a soloer(or someone who follows the ‘alone-together’ philosophy) would deem good lessons doesn’t make them automatically bad ones.

    As for his point on Skill vs Time Investment, I’d have to agree that making time investment > skill isn’t a good thing. They should be equal, allowing those with skill to shine while still allowing those who are skill-less the chance to keep up. How that would look in a game, I’ve no clue… :P

  6. I play WoW, and yes, I am disapointed that most MMO’s have moved to the time over skill side. Skill should play a major roll, while time will give you an edge. You still need to be good to win, but when two players of equal skill collide, time spent will determine the victor.

    But that is about all that I agree with him about. To cut down WoW because it teaches poor life lessons is rediculous, and totaly opionated, I could say WoW teaches great life lessons like “The more time you spend at something, the better you become” now that isn’t nessicarily true, but it could hold up an argument just as well as Sirlin’s theory… not that I endorse looking for deeper meaning in many video games… because if people took life lessons from games like GTA, and Red Dead Revolver… We would have a whole ton of teenage cowboy cerial killers on our hands.

  7. Raph, I did invoke your name, and of course I mean no disrespect. I think highly of you.

    Is there something wrong with giving people with “no skill” a place they can feel valued and valuable? On the face of it, nothing wrong there, sounds great. I’m not sure such a thing is mutually exclusive with my complaints, though.

    The problem I’m pointing out is that World of Warcraft seems teach that spending time on something gives you entitlement to things. People who don’t spend time (even when highly skilled) do not “deserve” the same rewards (see the entire pvp rewards system). Those are screwy lessons. A different kind of pvp system in World of Warcraft and different method of handing out epics might have solved all those screwy lessons while keeping the average joe just as happy, if not moreso.

    To the poster above, sure there are also some great lessons one can learn about cooperation and managing a lot of people, but again these things aren’t mutually exclusive. The bad lessons are still there, and they just don’t have to be.

  8. You can look for deeper meaning in anything, regardless of if it was meant to be there or not. That has nothing to do with a game, it has to do with you’re outlook on life.

    I highly agree with you about needing to change the WoW system, because I don’t want to have to give up my life just to be good at the game, but at the same time, we can’t have people just jumping in and kicking butt, while this other person tries their hardest and has no way to compete. I thought about it some more and time and skill need to be balanced, creating equal oportunity for everyone.

  9. This all hinges on a philosophical point.

    Namely, games as escapism / entertainment, or as competition?

    Sirlin definitly comes from the latter camp. If you want to get something from the article, it’s pretty important to understand it from that context I think.

  10. I apologize for this, Mr.Koster but I’m not sure how to get into touch with you, I looked for an e-mail adress on this site but couldn’t find one (and I am deeply sorry if you didn’t post one to deter this sort of thing). I am trying to create an MMORGP, I have most of my ideas down, but I’m not sure how to organize them, or if they would be worth anything. I understand that you are a cheif game designer for Sony, and some feedback from you would be phenomenal. I would really apreciate it if you could send me an e-mail, and I will send you what I have so far. I would also like your opinion, Sirlin, and I know this isn’t the place to put this, I’m sorry, I don’t know how else to get in contact with you, Mr.Koster. Even if you could just look over what I have and toss a little advice my way, I would be honored, you too Sirlin, and anyone else that would like to help. My email is seanscappaticci@yahoo.com , and if my post upset you in any way because this is not the place for it, please send me an email just letting me know not to do it again.
    thanks

  11. Well don’t I feel silly :P

  12. People who don’t spend time (even when highly skilled) do not “deserve” the same rewards (see the entire pvp rewards system). Those are screwy lessons.

    Actually, I’d say they’re outdated lessons that are still applicable in some sectors. For instance, it’s commonly acknowledged that, for most people, the more time you spend studying, the better you’ll do on the exam.

    He sees ‘bad’ lessons in things that can be/are good things one should learn. Cooperation, group tactics(group>solo), a sense of community(guilds), etc.

    The Nazis had a wonderful sense of community; they also had a wonderful sense of “If you’re not like us, you should grovel or die. If you grovel, you might still die.” There’s more to life than being constantly reminded that you’re a social creature.

    Is there something wrong with giving people with “no skill” a place they can feel valued and valuable?

    I’d argue there is. It’s essentially a lie. A person is valued if they are perceived as valuable; if you hand someone false value, then you’re just giving them delusions to fall from. That will have to be reconciled eventually.

    That said, does anyone else smell a peculiar similarity between this article and Burke’s essay on SWG many moons past?

  13. Some random thoughts:

    – In most MMORPGs, you can get to level 60 in two ways: by spending thousands of hours (gerontocracy), or by spending thousands of dollars on RMT (capitalism/aristocracy).

    – Players will play games where their strength lies. Some games encourage skills of various sorts (meritocracy), some knowledge (trivia games), and some luck (slot machines). Free time and dollars are merely other “strengths” that players can apply.

    – An interesting aspect about the gerontacracy/aristocracy nature of MMORPGs is that power over other players comes along with “winning”. The more PvP-oriented the world, the more that top-level (geriatric/aristrocratic) players can throw their weight around.

    – Some thoughts on grouping in MMORPGs on http://www.mxac.com.au/drt/ProblemSolving.htm.

  14. I didn’t think you meant any disrespect, Dave! :) My “oh boy” had more to do with wondering what people might say having critiques of WoW associated with my name.

    I don’t think any games are 100% about escapism and entertainment. They may be created solely for that purpose, but they do teach us things whether we want them to or not. I also think it behooves us to think about what a given game teaches, especially when we’re designing it!

    Overall, I tend to agree that MMOs teach a lot of stuff that they probably shouldn’t. I’m unsure whether rewarding commitment is one of them.

  15. When it comes to MMORPGs, I always found this “skill” talk confusing.

    Unless you’re building an entirely twitch based game, there is little skill involved in gaming – you just have to learn and understand the game mechanics. A “good tank” in WoW isn’t someone who has amazing “skill”, it’s someone who knows which buttons to push. That’s not skill, it’s knowledge.

    I’d like to hear a clear definition of what “skill based” gaming is supposed to be wrt MMORPGing and I would like to hear a convincing argument _why_ MMORPGs should be skill-based, especially since First Person Shooters are much better suited for “skill”-based gaming.

    Is there some sort of natural law that mandates that all games should always reward those with great manual dexterity and hand-eye-coordination? Is a skilled player more valuable than a dedicated player?

    Character developement is an important part of most MMORPGs. If you want skill rather than time investment, then you have to devaluate the character developement aspect of the game, i.e. make it less “RPG”.

    I think people complaining about skill not being the deciding factor in MMORPG should stay away from the genre instead of trying to change it. It’s kinda like critizing that Civilization 4 is turn-based instead of real-time – go play Starcraft, kk, thx.

  16. To the poster above:

    I admit that I haven’t played WoW but I’ve played a lot of other MMOs. Maybe a good tank in WoW doesn’t have to have a great deal of skill, but lets say we make a game where some monsters take more than just high levels to overcome. Say there was some complexity that required the tank to think actively in order to beat this mob, that he had to have some ability, maybe some knowledge, to overcome the obstacle. This would mean he had some skill, would it not? It wasn’t because he sat extra hours leveling up, but because he got BETTER at the game.

    This is the distinction that has to be made. Hours spent in WoW typically aren’t used BETTERING yourself as a player. Instead, you are doing mindless tasks that allow you to either level up or gain rank. Thus time (no matter if you spend it clicking on one point on the screen or training and learning new combonations/spell effects/whatever depth there could be in an MMO) has become more valuable than skill (which also can be developed OVER time, theres a difference).

    Sorry if this seems scattered, I wrote it quickly.

  17. […] The problem, of course, is that not everyone is going to be a wizard at playing Chun Li. The barrier of entry to knowing exactly how to blow away people with arcane 8-step combo moves is far higher than a “level 60 Chun Li”… and learning how to do them – how to be a competitive, truly skilled player, I would argue, would take more time than grinding your Chun Li to 60. It would feel fairer to some to be able to leverage their hand-eye coordination or whatever to “pwn” people more effectively – but would people resent being “pwned” any less because someone was able to game the system instead of grinding out levels? This is, of course, an old discussion, and Raph’s hit on it more than once. There’s some other surprising takes in the article as well, that challenge a bit our preconcieved notions of “WoW as the casual MMO”. To wit: Group > Solo. You can forget self-reliance, because you won’t get far in World of Warcraft without a big guild. By design, playing alone (even if you are the best player in the world) will get you worse loot than if you always play in 5-man dungeons. If you always play in 5-man dungeons, you’ll always get worse loot than if you play in 40-man raids. The player base has been hit over the head for so long with this notion of 40-man raids, that players are taking that as given. I see so many people who have been fooled into thinking this is justified, that it actually scares me. They think that you shouldn’t be allowed to get good loot unless you do something with 39 other people, because that’s harder. Coordinating 40 people is hard, but so is winning a Street Fighte tournament, which you have to do by yourself. […]

  18. Unless you’re building an entirely twitch based game, there is little skill involved in gaming – you just have to learn and understand the game mechanics.

    I hope you’re referring specifically to MMORPGs there, because MOST games are, I think, marked by their requirement of some sort of skill. I can’t think of any long-lasting popular game where merely understanding the mechanics makes you a good player. Plenty of folks understand the rules of chess or poker, and plenty fail to be masters of either. Anyone can grasp even the simple timing involved in jumping a barrel in Donkey Kong or catching a swinging vine in Jungle Hunt, but it doesn’t mean they are any good at it.

    In A Theory of Fun I went so far as to say that “Failing to require skill is a cardinal sin in game design.” And in fact, I was thinking of Dave Sirlin when I wrote that line! :)

    That said, I think that particularly at the higher levels, there actually is a fair amount of skill required by classic MMORPG combat. Managing aggro, states, and sequence of attacks requires a high degree of coordination; there’s a reason why people dislike playing with characters who are powerlevelled up or purchased and don’t have the chops to succeed. Speaking of other players as “good” or “bad” at combat is a common occurrence in MMORPGs.

    I do think that the mechanic behind MMORPG combat isn’t all that good a game taken in isolation; I’m not saying I have a better one up my sleeve (gosh, I so don’t), but it’s a game with really few variables and almost no emergent surprising tactics. The majority of its interest only comes about in groups, and it tends to fall flat as a solo activity. It’s fairly trivial to abstract out MMORPG combat and play it as a pen and paper game — try it out, and see whether it stands up. I’ve increasingly come to believe we should apply that test to every embedded game.

  19. Ugh. Sirlin’s point #6 “The Terms of Service” makes me unhappy. I have heard this argument from a few places over the years, and I continue to disagree with it. Maybe I’m really, really biased, because I used to be a game admin, and I’m currently a game programmer. But, here is what I have to say to anyone who agrees with the assertion he’s making:

    YES, if there are broken things in a game, the programmers should fix them — and they will be happy to fix them, when they have the time and resources to do so. However, THIS DOES NOT GIVE YOU THE RIGHT TO EXPLOIT THEM, EVER, and I WILL GNAW YOUR HEAD OFF IF YOU DO.

    Now that said, I certainly don’t like to see admins treat what would seem to be perfectly legitimate tactics as exploitation, and some amount of discretion needs to be used in deciding what is a reasonable tactic before invoking THE GREAT TEETH OF GNAWING. But I absolutely refuse to agree with the assertion that “It’s never, ever the player’s fault.” There are players who do bad things, and know they’re doing bad things. Leaving the front door unlocked doesn’t make a thief any less of a thief.

    Yes, we should have software with no holes. We should also have a world with no war. But sorry, we don’t.

  20. Most of the attacks I’ve seen on Sirlin’s article have ended up sounding like this:

    1) Games don’t have teach us anything, silly.

    2) Games don’t have to reward skills, either. This way we can have fun without worrying about being good at something.

    Both of these are true, of course. Video games are moving into vastly different territories than their physical counterparts, which simply wouldn’t be compelling if they didn’t teach or reward skill. But I am surprised that people are so willing to surrender 1 and 2 in the “defense” of their hobby – and in doing so, reduce their hobby to little more than an artificially rewarding button-pressing contest. Why would we take so much pride in a medium precisely because it doesn’t teach us anything?

  21. My point is that currently, no MMORPG requires a great deal of skill. You need to know how your class works and how the content works. It’s all knowledge and experience and the information is simple enough that every idiot can process it.

    I don’t consider knowledge in MMORPGs skill. The process of acquiring knowledge in a MMORPG is pretty much straight time investment, just like raising your stats. Someone who’s new in a dungeon won’t play a well as someone who has already spent some time there. The reason isn’t that one player is more skilled than the other, it’s because one player has more information than the other. As soon as both players have the same amount information, they play equally well.

    People who advocate “skill”-based MMORPGs should be forced at gun point to provide at least _one_ practical example for a skill-based game system that doesn’t completely devaluate the statistical aspect of the RPG genre.

    There are basically 2 ways to do skill-based gameplay, IMO.

    1. Twitch. Base gameplay around the notion that the person with the faster reflexes and the superior eye-hand-coordination wins.

    2. Stress. Overload the player with information and limit his reaction time. The person who can sort through the information more efficiently wins.

    There are problems with both concepts.

    The main problem with 1. is that it doesn’t work well with the idea of statistics in RPGs. If you’re twitch-based then you want everyone on equal footing. Is basically the wrong mechanics for RPGs.

    Nr. 2 is probably worse. Currently, MMORPGs present information and require the player to react to it. The informations and the systems are simple enough that virtually everyone can easily manage it.

    If you went with 2. you’d have to make things much more complex and add many different sources of information, up to the point at which you’d see a true difference between players. Some can handle it better than others.

    Such a game doesn’t sound particlarly fun though – it sounds exhausting. Plus, there is the problem of how to present the information. More information usually means more UI elements. I want less “playing the UI”, not more.

  22. Hmm, both your examples of skill seem to come down to time pressure; but what about games such as Go, where there is next to no time pressure, and yet skill clearly shows as marked difference in how you do?

    Personally, I don’t give a flip about the “statistical aspect of the RPG genre,” as it’s more a phenomenon of the CRPG than of the RPG in general these days.

    I’ve seen plenty of skill manifest in current MMORPGs, in arenas ranging from arbitrage to entertainment, from PvP combat to crafting.

  23. I hope you’re referring specifically to MMORPGs there, because MOST games are, I think, marked by their requirement of some sort of skill.

    No, I am not referring specifically to MMORPGs, but I think what I said applies to virtually all MMORPGs.

    I can’t think of any long-lasting popular game where merely understanding the mechanics makes you a good player.

    All RTS games, all turn-based strategy games, virtually all RPGs, all “SIM”-style games (Sims, Sim City etc.), all “tycoon”-type management games.

    Basically every game in which stats are the deciding factor.

    Also, to some degree, every game in which you can “learn the AI” and exploit it. That’s what sports games are all about, e.g.

    In RTS games you usually win by knowing the upgrade path that provides the best time/unit strength ratio. I’ve seen Starcraft pro-gamers play. They play algorithmically, not reactively, up to the very last minute when the (usually short) fighting starts. And at that point it’s already more or less predetermined who wins.

    Turn-based strategy? It’s all about knowing the game mechanics. Ever wonder how people beat the highest dificulty in Civilization II or Alpha Centauri? It’s because they learned the game mechanics and new how to min/max.

    And CRPGs? Same thing.

  24. The Nazis had a wonderful sense of community; they also had a wonderful sense of “If you’re not like us, you should grovel or die. If you grovel, you might still die.” There’s more to life than being constantly reminded that you’re a social creature.

    Buh?

    Nazis?

    Bit of a stretch, no?

  25. I’ve seen plenty of skill manifest in current MMORPGs, in arenas ranging from arbitrage to entertainment, from PvP combat to crafting.

    Oh, definitely. There’s a heck of a lot of skill involved in PvP — particularly in tactics, leadership, and teamwork. But, skill comes into play in a lot of other places you might not expect. Even something like sneaking around under stealth without being caught requires some amount of skill. How often do WoW players accuse one another of not knowing how to play their classes? (A lot!) Heck, every time I log in after a long hiatus, I feel like I’m all thumbs.

  26. Bit of a stretch, no?

    When you take into account what you were responding to, referring the National Socialist party is quite valid, especially since one of their core values was maintenance of the community. “Fundamental to the Nazi goal was the unification of all German-speaking peoples.” — http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nazism

    One of the key lessons taught by Ron Jones of Third Wave fame was Strength Through Community. (link here) Community is a powerful concept, but it’s not the be-all and end-all. Community brings with it territorialism and nationalism; A Group is Its Own Worst Enemy. Lots to read. =)

    Knowledge and skill

    Skill has to do with the ability to make a decision; knowledge provides the groundwork from which you can make that decision.

    A skilled chess player may know what the possibilities are (chess is a game of perfect information, so you could theoretically know all possibilities), but he further knows which piece to move where. You could argue that this is knowledge, but then you can’t call that player skilled anymore. Skill has no meaning, in that context; it’s simply muscle memory, at which point you could say keeping your balance while you walk casually is skill.

  27. I agree with “entertainment vs competition” comment completely.

    And furthermore, “interactive fiction” is entertainment by design – there’s nothing competitive about storytelling and indeed, within a fairly tight but mutable limit, time investment in this entertainment for is king.

    But PVP? That’s competition, pure and simple. In PVP, time > skill must always fail because it rewards (and forgive me if i sound like a broken record here) the stupid, the bored and the obsessed.

    It depends on the bias of the game. WOW is PVE-based and that makes it interactive fiction – time wins.

    Counterstrike is the reverse. Skill wins.

    By the way, CRPGs are roleplaying like vodka is a smart-drink. We really need to stop abusing that term.

  28. I used to think that time was the source of reward systems in mmorpg’s, I have by becoming a father started to believe otherwise.
    – Its priority that matters in several gameplay aspects of mmorpg’s.

    To become the best within a competative environment of an mmorpg you have to prioritizethe game the highest, and have the ability to prioritize it higher than your opposition. This is true on several levels of your existance as player. Alot of “Uberly geared Main Tanks” suck at tanking, because their brain isnt prioritizing the gameplay to a satisfactory level. (His guild wont be able to measure why he sux, and will reward him for invested time.)

    I believe that on the highest level of the MMORPG gamer hierarchy the gameply is all about

    2. Stress. Overload the player with information and limit his reaction time. The person who can sort through the information more efficiently wins.

    As players compete for top dog on their server thé ability to direct your resources the most effectively is what makes you stand out. Which resources you prefer gives flavour and popularity but dosnt really affect the result by a great lot.

    Having children removes the ability to prioritize gameplay to a competative, or even sufficient, level to become “someone valuable” in WoW, you can maintain a position as VIP in the community based on merit tho. (I still have about as much time for gaming as I used to, but my daughter will always have higher priority than the game so I wont appear to be a valuable player within the WoW design.)

    I would have to add that WoW also teaches alot of people that trickery and charatanism are good to be skilled at. Convince other people that you are reliable enough to manage their resources, then once you got enough you can cut the ties and get away with a profit. :-)

  29. His first point : ”1. Investing a lot of time in something is worth more than actual skill.” is the summary of the world we live in. Why would anyone expect a game to be different?

    I have 174 IQ, I can solve problems faster than 99% people in the world and predict them, I can increase profit of almost all companies regardless of their sector by just using maths and statistics, but in a job interview, some dumb person with more experience will be preferred.

    His whole post is wrong anyway. Blizzard is not there to teach kids things. Blizzard is there to earn those kids’ money. Blizzard can change the system tomorrow and make everyone start the game at lvl 60 with all epic equipment. Subscriptions will go down, and average subscription time of a player will probably go down to 1/3-1/4 of the original.

    He is comparing apples to oranges.

  30. […] Comments […]

  31. Dave,

    1. Fairness can’t be maintained due to the actual inequalities that exist between people. In real-life, the unfairness begins at birth starting with who your parents are and the environment they can provide. At least in an MMO, the designers can start you out on the same level.

    To the extent that it is futile to reach, I don’t think it should be a design goal.

    2. Why is skill any more ‘fair’ than time? Or real life money in so far as it can be leveraged into the game? Why is skill more ‘fair’ of a measure than the other two?

    Finally, how would you implement fairness when a person has smarts (IQ of 143), money (I fear to calculate exactly how much I’ve spent, but it’s in excess of $2000), and time (at 141 game days /played in 2005, I was in WoW more than I slept).

    3. I’d actually assert that WoW does value skill more than it seems to and it’s just that content generation is keep ahead of either.

    If we were to restart the game, mindflay everyone’s familiarity with it (shadow priests ftw) and have all the existing content available from the get go that is available now, you’d see the skilled skilled groups of players exhaust the content far, far faster than the people who are just throwing time at the problem.

    4. Finally, there are ways they could make the game fair but because of practical reasons they don’t. The example that comes most readily to mind is PvP. Imho, it is the only true test of skill in the game as it’s an actively opposed contest whereas PvE content sits their statically asking to be defeated. If WoW wanted to make it purely skill based, they could simply put a time limit on the amount of PvP you can do and strip you naked before throwing you into the battlefield. Time and gear taken out of the equation, the only differentiation is skill.

    But PvP leverages the player base to create content for each other so far from limiting it, they want to encourage it so people will notice the nine month development times involved with raid instances. As for stripping players naked, the player base would be incensed – myself leading the pitchfork bearing mobs – because if the game isn’t going to recogize our past accomplishments, players will begin to question the value of paying $15 to achieve new ones.

    ———————-

    If you’re bored with the game as it is, find a new one to play within its context. Here’s only my most recent example. I’ve had the sign-ups open
    for only twelve hours, so it’s too early to see if it will fly, but sure was a fun mental exercise to come up with.

    I especially like the comment about

  32. Kranky – you seem to be making a correlation between “skill” and “hand-eye co-ordination”. Surely being able to learn game mechanics is a skill and being able to apply that knowledge in competition is a skill. That’s why there are pro-Starcraft gamers. That’s why there are Starcraft competitions. If it was a case of not requiring skill then where would the competition be?

    Likewise with a game like chess? Are chess players unskilled because they don’t require hand-eye co-ordination to play? Or are they very skilled in tactics and understanding the game mechanics? Poker players? Not much hand-eye co-ordination there in my experience either. Are they unskilled?

    Knowledge and skill don’t appear to me to be indistinct. Playing an MMORPG may be a case of pushing buttons but a lot of the skill is in knowing when to push them. It’s a little like playing rugby or football. It takes physical skill to throw or kick a ball in the right direction but it takes a lot of knowledge and mental skill to be able to do it at the right time.

  33. Let me just throw this up in the air: Most of the fundemental problems that WOW and similar games exhibt are due to the fact they give the pretense of being competitive without actually being competitive (or more to the point, without being designed in terms of competition).

    Anyway, science fiction has a neat set of terms they use to differentiate how closely the fiction holds up the laws of science. In Hard SF the writer must pay the utmost attention to making sure that his story makes sense, scientifically speaking. Soft SF on the other hand is more about the fiction, and tends to handwave the science.

    I like to think of games as hard and soft in terms of competition. And WoW’s TOS is definitly a nice bit of handwaving. Soft games are not any less valid, but if SF fans can be rather anal about the plausibility of their fiction, well players… I think we already know. But the problem with games is that the audience has a much more direct ability (ie: in how they play) to critique a work’s hardness compared to SF fans.

    oh, and out of nowhere I’m going to unceremoniously throw this in too: http://instruct.westvalley.edu/lafave/hb.html

    I always found this “skill” talk confusing.

    Skill is just a broad term we use to describe the ability of a person to win. “Twitching” is a just a subset of skill, ie: it is technical skill, or technique. Knowledge in and of itself is not skillful, but it can be used to help a person to win, which means it can matter to skill.

    What’s winning in a MMORPG? Well, that kind of depends… so let’s get more to the point and say Skill is the ability of person to do what they want. Skill is the ability of a person to manifest their will.

    Obivously there is a bit of “Buddhist Backwash” here, in the sense that a skillful person tends to want to do things which they are able to do. Skill-less people tend to want to go to the moon, yet can hardly walk straight.

  34. Oropher:

    With that attitude, i’m not surprised. Maybe you need to smarten up enough to hide that opinion.

  35. In RTS games you usually win by knowing the upgrade path that provides the best time/unit strength ratio. I’ve seen Starcraft pro-gamers play. They play algorithmically, not reactively, up to the very last minute when the (usually short) fighting starts.

    If it’s just about picking the best upgrade path, then why does one side win, and the other lose? Shouldn’t they both be able to know the best path and just take that? :)

    And at that point it’s already more or less predetermined who wins.

    I would typically take it one step further and say that it’s already more or less predetermined who wins BEFORE THE GAME IS EVEN PLAYED!

    A pet peeve of mine is the illiteracy that many people have towards strategy, and games in general. It’s not just about reaction. It’s not just about learning the counters to everything and topping the other guy’s move. What happen’s when they counter your counter with their own counter? Do you just counter their counter-counter? Ah! what a vicious cycle!

    If one believe that’s the best way to do things, then one must also believe that a magician actually allows a person to pick any card. :)

    Strategy, Skill, these things are all about control. It’s about control of oneself, but it’s also about the realization that you are not an isolated entity. The realization that you are part of a larger system, and that you can control it just like your brain can control your body. The realization that you, the system, and your opponent are all one; and if you understand them, and are in harmony with them, you can control them. Skill is the ability to come into deeper harmony with your opponent then the opponent themselves.

    Skill is telling your opponent to pick rock (cause they already prefer the ‘manly’ choice), and then picking paper. :)

    If you just handwave all this, and leave it up to some random twitchiness, or reaction, or whatever, then you’re going to just get the loss that you deserve.

  36. Ultimately its about defining what skill really is. There are a lot of ways it could be viewed and as long as there are nothing will require ‘skill’ to someone who’s definition is different.

    He appears to define skill based on twitch ability, reflexes, hand eye coordination, and quick thinking. Something that does not meet that definition thus would not require skill. Games like Go, chess, chinese checkers, even cards do not fit. To others his vaulted street fighter requires no skill because it does not contain elements of long term planning, resource allocation, multi unit coordination, terrain evaluation or multiple threat analysis.

    Instead of the term skill, the phrase ‘desired abilities’ probably should have been used. WoW does not stress the desired abilities he feels a game should have. Due to the lack of them it thus is ‘teaching’ principles he disagrees with.

  37. #27. That’s an interesting perspective.

    I’m somewhat surprised at people missing the point of the ‘Soap-box’ article. Like comment #28 for instance. Sirlin was saying,

    a. Games either directly or indirectly teach us something about ourselves, people, computers, art, life, ponies, or anything.

    b. Here’s what WoW seems to be teaching us.

    c. Is that a good thing or bad thing?

    A’s pretty much a given. So, do you agree or disagree with B? Let’s say agree. In that case, how do you feel about C? Since you’re SuperSmart(tm) and sometimes lose out to n00bs, it sounds like your statement sorta affirms the author’s.

    I think a lot of players are put off by being told their MMO doesn’t revolve around traditionally developed skill. Not accepting that seems to block them from the higher-level discussions of MMO gameplay, nature, and lessons that designers like Sirlin and Raph attempt every so often. /shrug

  38. Re: #20

    Here’s the thing, though. Is it necessarily inevitable that any game will have a condition that one player can interfere with another, outside the stated mechanics of the game, in such a way that the other player has no hope of stopping him?

    I mean, true, on one level if you’ve got a live Streetfighter tournament it’s in the unstated “terms of service” that you don’t dislocate the other guy’s shoulder and then stomp him when he’s only got one working hand.

    But on another level, dislocating the other guy’s shoulder is outside the magic circle. If a game exists where, no matter what a player who gets a house does, a thief can use in-game movement commands and exploit geometry holes to get inside and steal everything, can the developers just say “no passing through geometry” and have done with it? Thieves are going to continue to do that until the devs fix the holes, and the players who they make miserable will quit the game – which is right, because if you offer secure player housing that really isn’t the market is going to rightly bite you in the ass.

    Outside-the-magic-circle factors for MMOGs would include things like figuring out your opponent’s IP and DDOSing him during a duel.

    –GF

  39. #32

    He appears to define skill based on twitch ability, reflexes, hand eye coordination, and quick thinking. Something that does not meet that definition thus would not require skill.

    He’s not that specific. IIRC he’s defined skill as, “the one uneven thing players [are allowed] to bring to the game” (loosely quoted). Reflexes (if applicable), quick thinking, ability to read your opponent and get into their head, are all valid.

    This is why most MMO’s are terrible measures of competitive skill, since they’re inherently and highly uneven playing fields.

    I hear you on the desired abilities – common sense, communication, socialization, game knowledge, ability to follow or lead effectively – are all good traits to have. They can’t really be counted as a basis for competitive skill in a game with such a large segregation of power among Veteran and non-veteran players however.

  40. Games as teachers.

    GTA teaches us shooting cops is good. I’ll bet most of you will disagree with that statement arguing that players can easily discriminate between the game and reality.

    Now you want to argue that lessons about a game mechanics are somehow life lessons? Sure there is some cross over but the links are very weak.

  41. GTA teaches us shooting cops is good. I’ll bet most of you will disagree with that statement arguing that players can easily discriminate between the game and reality.

    I’m going to explicitly say that 1) I don’t disagree with that statement and 2) I think you should re-read Raph’s book. Or maybe his Ethics of Online World Design.

    Drawing the conclusions you suggest is like saying math class in grade school is a place where you roleplay a cashier and customer.

    Reading this entire thread, maybe some of you can appreciate why I spend so much time deciding on the definition of a word. It’d be useful of Dave Sirlin dropped in again and tells us what he means. =)

  42. The problem is that with MMOGs, the only real way to limit “rewards” is to make the player spend countless hours playing. Since most MMOGs have simple combat systems designed to reduce the effects of lag, you end up with the target and auto-attack till dead type of combat, sure maybe you throw in some special skill here and there, but it becomes so scripted quickly.

    Now why is it that you cant attempt to reward a player for using their mind? Well, with the internet, once someone figures something out, everyone will know it shortly after. With single player games, the same thing is there but people seem less likely to look for it. Or maybe people in MMOGs are more interested in being better than others and only care about the destination and not the journey ?

    I guess I am getting far off topic .. But basicly lets look at WHY things are designed the way they are. It is not the fault of the developers/designers that many gamers tend to be stat/item freaks willing to do just about anything to get them.

  43. Drawing the conclusions you suggest is like saying math class in grade school is a place where you roleplay a cashier and customer.

    Poor analogy due to the difference in design specification.

    The math class was designed to instruct in both principles and applications of math.

    WoW was designed to earn revenue for Blizzard by entertaining customers enough to gain their purchase.

    In the first case learning is the core of the functionality and in the second it is completely peripheral.

    Perhaps when the industry is making enough money that it gives designers license to make their ‘Art Game’ things will be different. Right now, we are still in the ‘B’ horror film stage.

  44. In the first case learning is the core of the functionality and in the second it is completely peripheral.

    Bad form. Sorry. Forums instead of comments?

    In the first case learning is the core of the functionality and assumed to have real life usefullness. In the second it is the process through which the goal is attained and no assumption of usefullness is made.

  45. I’m not sure I agree that time > skill is a bad thing as a general design principle. In WoWs case, they have over used this principle to the point where its abuse feels bad but that doesn’t necessarily make the principle itself bad.

    I’ve never really seen the community in any of the MMOs as polarized as it is in WoW. The Raider vs. Casual battle is huge and is tearing at the inner structure of the community in the game. Is this because Blizzard is 5 million subscribers successful? Not sure. Is this because their design is flawed? Not sure. It’s probably a bit of both. In anycase the time > skill abuses have caused this great polarization. Its compounded by the end game design which favors item-based leveling and PvP both of which are not accessible to the casual player to any meaningful degree.

    The thing that bothers me about what WoW is failing to “teach” is that reward is a function of time, effort and difficulty. I’ve been using this trio of terms to describe why 5 man content in WoW could award “raid level” loot without requiring the effort involved in organizing a 40 man group. Slaying a dragon is very difficult solo, requires little effort and some amount of time. Slaying that same dragon with an army behind your back is significantly easier, though you trade difficulty for required effort and more time. Using those three measuring sticks they could have developed content for solo, small group and large group play that rewarded people consistently. In a 5 man dungeon no one can go afk without killing the group’s effectiveness. In a 40 man group people often go afk for extended periods of time without real impact to the group’s effectiveness. There’s a bunch of examples that time, effort and difficulty can be applied to and realizing this is realizing where Blizzard failed when designing their game mechanics.

    Kressilac

    — Begin Soapbox —
    More often than not, I get the feeling that the WoW designers did not pay attention to anything that came before them. Did they not hear about AC’s player blocked events when they designed Anh’Quiraj’s portal system? Is there any wonder that on a small server where one guild was capable of opening the gates, that the leaders would use this ability to force fealty payments to their guild? Holding the key ransom was one of the best examples of the perceived total lack of historical perspective, Blizzard employees have show in the design of their game.
    — End Soapbox –

  46. Michael,

    Thanks for the links, good reading material :)

  47. Bah. I considered the article just a as a personal gripe more than something that can be considered objective.

    I’ve quoted you (Raph) many times when criticizing WoW with my “what the hell are we teaching”.

    But my main critics would be about promoting personal greed above anything else, the “lesson” that the reward is more important than the journey and the absurd celebration of capitalism and colonialism.

    That all come directly from the “drugged society”.

    Then I would bring the sexual comparison, but I think it would be inappropriate. ;p

    Comparing WoW to pornography wouldn’t be also too far away (the open exhibition of the mechanics).

  48. There is s a serious logic flaw I see in his assertation that time>skill, and that is that it doesn’t account for use of that time.

    I can spend 50 hrs/week playing WoW or any other MMOG, but if that time isn’t used to upgrade skills, equipment or technique, I may find myself losing in combat to another player who plays solo only, but focuses on upgrading his character and abilities.

    Efficiency is the name of the game with most MMO players and to a lesser extent with raiding style guilds and groups.

    Perhaps more importantly is the risk v. reward discussion that almost always comes from such situation, wherein most games reward multiplayer style risk more than solo-player style risk. And then of course this breaks down into man-hours of the whole (gestalt theory anyone) versus individual time spent.

    As to the critique of the ToS, I think that most corporations in this day and age, must deal with the litigious nature of American society, and the fact that most people will claim that if it’s not written in black and white, it’s not a real rule or guideline that they must follow. Common sense and fair play, while laudable and worthwhile, are not reinforced in society in general, and so most contracts (incl. TOS’s) are written to cover the bad situations and counteract the natural selfishness of people in general. Or to put it bluntly, they’re a necessary evil.

    Sorry, I only have 1 3/8 cents to contribute here at this point, I’ll see if I can dig up the other 5/8ths later.

  49. There is s a serious logic flaw I see in his assertation that time>skill, and that is that it doesn’t account for use of that time.

    Actually, the problem is this:

    Say you’re a total n00b. You play WoW. Get to level 60. Become a badass. Quit or lose account due to unrelated factors (like a tornado blew your house, and the rest of the city, away; bad example, but the point is it’s unrelated). Come back. Create a character. You’re at level 1.

    Contrast Street Fighter.

    Total newb again. You play SF. Get so that you’re a star player on tournament circuits. Become totally estranged for a time, such that you can’t play. Come back. And you aren’t forced to pretend to be a newb again.

    Some people have native talent; others have to use repetition to learn; others have other learning styles; and still (hypothetical) others will never get it. There is no real reward for the first category, presently; instead, it’s simply assumed that everyone is of the second type.

    To be level 1 is to be defined as an unskilled newbie. Your skill is restricted by how much time you’ve spent on the character. It is impossible to have a level 60 instantaneously. And that’s not necessarily reflective of the truth.

    Whether this is a good or bad design is an opinion. As far as I can tell, the above is fact.

    Thanks for the links, good reading material

    Always. =)

  50. […] I largely agree with his rant, though Raph Koster did make a valid point about the time spent playing and skill — a player doesn’t become skilled unless s/he has made a time investment. However, the same point is valid when applied to the honour system. One counter-point is that MMOGs are meant to be played with people, and thus he shouldn’t complain about having to co-operate, however he does address this by saying that wanting to “be alone together” (referencing a recent Terra Nova post) is a valid way to play an MMOG. Anyway, Sirlin’s article does deserve a read through. Some of the points in the Gamasutra article have been touched upon in his blog, which is decent read as well. […]

  51. Dave Sirlin stepped in it

    Since I’m neither an executive at a large corporation with nothing better to do than post in my blog (http://www.raphkoster.com/2006/02/22/dave-sirlin-rips-wow/), nor have I just left my job and have nothing better to do than post in my blog (http://

  52. The whole time > skill element is a fairly integral part of most RPGs. We’ve got D&D to thank for that: levels, experience, challenge levels, treasure tables.

    The lesson that people can do better by working together isn’t a bad one to teach. Personally I think WoW doesn’t teach it that well – their grouping and guild structures don’t bring anything innovative to the market and I find them cumbersome to use. But the value of a team is not to be underestimated.

    Michael’s point about restarting the game is a good one – and for me a big part of why I wouldn’t play WoW again. A lot of the WoW feeling (and a summation from a friend who was in the beta) is that the game ‘begins’ at level 40, and prior to that you’re just learning. Having to ‘learn’ again doesn’t sound that entertaining.

    That said, I can’t justifiably throw anything except personal opinions at WoW. It’s a successful game, and one that a lot of people obviously enjoy. Good or bad, it is fulfilling it’s primary objective: to entertain.

  53. Sirlin has some good points in his essay, though his criticisms (time > skill, power of more people > power of less people) are really new to Warcraft.

    Sadly, his writing on gamasutra is so wrapped in hyperbole that it makes it harder to take this as anything other than another disaffected WoW/MMO player. He, like many of us with jobs, doesn’t have the time to play the game at hardcore time scale, or have the uberguild to get him the uberloot.

  54. “time > skill” IS integral to MMORPGs, but it is by tradition, not by necessity. My friend loves to regale me with the same tale of how his Star Trek MUSH was skill; there were no foolish things like levels and such: you knew what you knew, you were trained to be a competent player, and you did your thing.

    The question of feasibility is a valid one. His MUSH was no MMO; not by a long shot. But there is another VW that may be worth pointing at.

    Second Life doesn’t have levels. Granted, it’s also not PvE, and there’s no mythos of heroes with swords aspiring into the sunlight. So the comparison is probably pretty shabby. But it’d be pretty foolish to force a new account in Second Life to go through sandbox after sandbox, picking up new shapes and textures, teaching them what they might already know.

    Perhaps such a thing should be optional. But in the grand design of a standard Diku-descendant… this is nigh impossible, that I can see. Raph had an article or two on levels I enjoyed reading; are they pertinent, does anyone think?

  55. I couldn’t resist this topic. Too juicy.

    Mr. Sirlin Sheeps You

  56. […] Elite Member Registered: 2/11/05 Posts: 129 LOL, i just made a post in the Vanguard forum that covers almost all the references you’ve just made: Lol that article you linked to is a joke. I mean, the guy compares street fighter to an MMO… sounds like he just needs to find a nice FPS and forget MMOs. Its funny how he quotes Raph on a few things. This is what Raph posted on his site:Dave Sirlin rips WoWFebruary 22nd, 2006 and does so whilst invoking my name.Oh boy.you can find his full comments here: Dave sirlin rips WoWPersonally, while i hold alot of respect for Raph for what he has accomplished, I highly disagree with a lot of his views. LOL also check what Lum has to say about the article: http://www.brokentoys.org/2006/02/23…-wrong-things/ great read and i fully agree with him Also check this guys site (Dave Sirlin’s) to see exactly what type of (competitive gaming) view he holds…http://www.sirlin.net/ He even has a book titled “playing to win” lol well it seems to me he is just frustrated that he blows at MMOs. They are not a pick up and pwn type of twitch game, which is what i beleive he is really whining about in his article. One thing he does say though that may be of intrest is this: I think Blizzard locked and later deleted all the threads on the worldofwarcraft.com forums that had to do with my article. I see censorhip is their solution (not censorship of me, but of all the players who wanted to talk about the topics I raised). Is it their right to delete these threads? Of course it is. It seems like a pretty juvenile thing to do though. Either the ideas have merit and should be discussed or they don’t and should be attacked by the other players. Either way, censorship is a pretty unenlightened way of solving a problem. that is about the one thing he says that i agree with.~Dunadurium […]

  57. […] Re: Vanguard reanimating the dead past?? Lol that article you linked to is a joke. I mean, the guy compares street fighter to an MMO… sounds like he just needs to find a nice FPS and forget MMOs. Its funny how he quotes Raph on a few things. This is what Raph posted on his site: Dave Sirlin rips WoW February 22nd, 2006 …and does so whilst invoking my name. Oh boy. you can find his full comments here: Dave sirlin rips WoW Personally, while i hold alot of respect for Raph for what he has accomplished, I highly disagree with a lot of his views. LOL also check what Lum has to say about the article: http://www.brokentoys.org/2006/02/23…-wrong-things/ great read and i fully agree with him Also check this guys site (Dave Sirlin’s) to see exactly what type of (competitive gaming) view he holds…http://www.sirlin.net/ He even has a book titled "playing to win" lol well it seems to me he is just frustrated that he blows at MMOs. They are not a pick up and pwn type of twitch game, which is what i beleive he is really whining about in his article. One thing he does say though that may be of intrest is this: I think Blizzard locked and later deleted all the threads on the worldofwarcraft.com forums that had to do with my article. I see censorhip is their solution (not censorship of me, but of all the players who wanted to talk about the topics I raised). Is it their right to delete these threads? Of course it is. It seems like a pretty juvenile thing to do though. Either the ideas have merit and should be discussed or they don’t and should be attacked by the other players. Either way, censorship is a pretty unenlightened way of solving a problem. that is about the one thing he says that i agree with. BTW this is my first post in quite a while, but i’m lurking on here almost every day. I post a bit on MMORPG.com though and try to convert as many people as possible to Vanguard ~Dunadurium Last edited by Dunadurium : 02-24-06 at 06:53 PM. […]

  58. […] Referential Integrity David Sirlin stepped in itLearning the right things frompeople who are afraid welearned the wrong things whenthey learned other wrongthings.Dusktreaders World of Warcraft Teaches theWrong ThingsLearning From World ofWarcraftDave Sirlin rips WoW […]

  59. Many of the posters here are missing the point. It seems to me that the article was about rewarding people, not for excelling, but for simply existing. Its like welfare for an MMOG where you get paid simply because you exist. In addition forced grouping inevitably leads to people grouping not for social reasons, but simply because the game rewards you if you do. SWG had (and may still have) that exact problem.

    To me, one of the most important differences between an MMOG and a single player game is that MMOG’s are more like giant chat rooms with some fancy widgets and goo-gaws

  60. […] Gamasutra is posting the letters they got in response to Dave Sirlin’s Soapbox on WoW. […]

  61. […] Since I’m neither an executive at a large corporation with nothing better to do than post in my blog, nor have I just left my job and have nothing better to do than post in my blog, (just kidding, guys ;) so I’m a bit late to the party. What party? The party bashing on David Sirlin’s recent article on Gamasutra. […]

  62. […] posts at Broken Toys, Raph Koster’s blog, Acid For Blood) Regurgitated by Tom @ 1:45 pm | Permalink | Filedunder: […]

  63. It’s not the time vs skill problem for me personally. As a player I don’t like to have to get along with 40 people just to get good stuff and it takes such a long time to organize. It’s just not as fun as me “soloing.”

    BTW are you familiar with this quirky little game “Runescape?” It is non traditional in it’s business model but the gameplay has sadly become more and more ossified and similar to every other MMORPG.

  64. […] Raph responded to Sirlin’s soapbox with a few short comments of his own. In further reply to Raph, however, Sirlin made these comments which, I think, more concisely and better explain one of the ideas he was getting at: […]

  65. I’m not going to bother reading everyone elses responses, so if what I say is redundant, too bad.

    This moron obviously hasn’t played much PvP. PvP takes SKILL. You can’t just run in there, knowing nothing about how to play your class, and expect to get honor. Sure, you get bonus honor for finishing the battelground, but beyond that you get diddly squat. If you don’t know how to properly play your character class and the roll you fill, you’ll spend more time being dead than anything else.

    Oh, and if you ask me? TIME = SKILL

    Lets ask this guy how much time he spent on Street Fighter. Was he an awesome player right off the bat? No. He spent time on it. He grew in skill. Just like if you spend time on World of Warcraft, your character grows in skill.

    The rest has already been said… Meh. People can complain about ANYTHING.

  66. […] alone. Lots of interesting comments about this in a previous Clickable Culture article and over at Raph’s blog. 1 commentsadd a trackback share via 0 Trackbacks referencing Patronizing the Player […]

  67. […] of Warcraft Teaches the Wrong Things David Sirlin stepped in it Dave Sirlin rips WoW Learning the right things from people who are afraid we learned the wrong things when they learned […]

  68. […] than fixing the game so that players don't exploit loopholes.I largely agree with his rant, though Raph Koster did make a valid point about the time spent playing and skill — a player doesn't become skilled […]

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.