Posted by: seanmalstrom | July 30, 2014

Email: Blizzard’s Hamster Wheels

Master Malstrom,
This is just a short response to your comments on Blizzard’s hamster wheels. Since Blizzard and Nintendo and heaven knows what other game companies probably take the time off to read your blog, I thought I’d give them a piece of my mind.
You said that Blizzard 2.0, or modern Blizzard, didn’t trust its gamers to play for “fun” but rather for “progression”. Why is this? Don’t they trust us enough to actually see if their games are enjoyable or not so instead they force us to slog through hours and hours of tedious grinding just to get past their gated systems?
I’ve got news for them. We don’t enjoy certain games because they hook us into playing for long periods. We voluntarily play for long periods because the games we loved were enjoyable. We weren’t forced to spend time, we LOST TRACK of it. If a game wasn’t enjoyable, so much for that. I’m not going to waste time on it when I have better things to do.
Does Miyamoto honestly think that the joy of Mario is in spending hours and hours practicing collecting coins or stars or what have you? No. That’s just icing on the cake. We enjoy Mario because it took us on a grand adventure that made us lose track of the hours we spent. Sadly I couldn’t say that for his modern 3D Mario garbage, but that’s another story.
Does Blizzard seriously think that the joy of a videogame is in spending days and weeks and months preparing for some endgame E-Sports scenario? I don’t think so: the entire E-Sports scene erupted in South Korea not because Starcraft forced people to play hours and hours to get so inhumanly good. People played SC for hours because the game was fun to begin with. We didn’t need to wrestle with that APM nonsense to get good at the game. Same deal with classic Doom and the older FPS titles.
To all other video game companies out there: do you seriously think meta achievements make a game enjoyable? Think about that for a moment. Do I really need to be told, via Achievement trackers, that such and such a thing is possible within a particular game so as to get me to go back and spend heaven knows how long just to complete it and get a virtual gold medal I can brag to all my social media friends about?
Did Castlevania Symphony of the Night resort to telling players that it was possible to get 200.6% completion rate on the map and fill out the Bestiary using Achievements? Did it even remotely let players know you can glitch the game, enter glitchy portions of the castle and get more than 400% on the map? “Hey, we want to let you know that if you manage to open the hidden passage in the Clock Room, you’ll get an Achievement!” Yeah right.
Did Ikaruga even need to tell me via Achievements, back when it wasn’t yet on Steam, that it was possible to clear the entire game without firing a single shot?
Did Final Fantasy 1 need to inform me via a Tracker that if I finish the game with four White Mages then I can post it on Facebook?
Do we really need games to stroke our E-youknowwhats to make them seem enjoyable? No. We played them because they WERE enjoyable, e-peens be damned.
This embarassing “industry” has gotten everything confused. “Man oh man, if players don’t keep coming back to our games then we’re done for. Let’s give them a bunch of meta achievements to ‘build a community’ around the game and keep them interested.” Hm, I think I just described modern World of Warcraft…


You’re right on with World of Warcraft. The only E-Peen in Vanilla WoW was with Raid Gear. It took a long time for people to get such Raid Gear. I didn’t really raid much in Vanilla WoW. I enjoyed just bouncing around the world. My favorite was doing PvP and trying to take over certain towns. This was all before Battlegrounds. Aside from the raiding guilds, there wasn’t any E-peen that I can remember out there (and the game was significantly tougher in various dungeons and environment).

What drove me away from WoW was the constant E-Peen. It was the people who had to buy all the pets and mounts because they are clearly better than those who don’t buy all the pets and mounts. It goes on and on. It became clear to me that many people were playing WoW because something was terribly amiss in their life. They needed progression in a video game to make up for lack of progression in their real life. And none of this included raiding.

I really enjoyed Starcraft 2’s single player. In fact, I might go through Heart of the Swarm again. I also greatly enjoy Starcraft 2’s multiplayer until I get bumped up to Diamond or Master League and then I have to do 100% crazy APM or get dropped out. There is no variety. I either get dropped out of the league (not fun) or I have to keep playing crazy (not fun). The end result is me not having fun. The ladder system made me stop playing Starcraft 2’s multiplayer. Maybe I should try the non-ladder games of Heart of the Swarm more. To be honest, most of my fun in RTS multiplayer came with 4 vs 4 games of craziness. Does it require some skill to do well? Maybe. I just enjoyed seeing massive battles take place. I enjoyed seeing if I could be the ‘top player’ in my team. Warcraft 2 was fun. Starcraft was fun. Even Warcraft 3 despite its earlier gameplay issues was fun.

It is all this ‘outside-the-game’ game that is killing the game. Browder said in the latest dev chat that “HOTS was always planned to have progression.” My idea of progression are the icons in Warcraft 3 that you got as you won more and more games. I thought that was cool. They would reset after a ladder reboot. And if you didn’t like how you were playing, you could just start another account. Warcraft 3 had three accounts you could make. I liked that. I do not like this ‘one permanent account’. How am I to try out another race without screwing me up?

The original Battle Net had some problems especially with the bots. However, there was much freedom in how to play. It’s hard to put my finger on it, but the tone of the game seems very different in something like Starcraft 2 or Diablo 3. The progression is displayed, openly, on everyone’s accounts (which we cannot hide or reset). The progression makes other gamers rate us and value us. “Oh, you are in Bronze League. You are not a worthwhile gamer.” WTF is with that? Maybe that person has kids to take care of and can’t play the game all the time. There were always ladder in the past games, but they weren’t the main focus of the game.

Again, I really do enjoy the single player Starcraft 2 and even Diablo 3 (first time you play though it) because there is nothing progression about it. Nothing about it has people rate you as a gamer.

We’re not playing as gamers anymore. This progression out-of-game crap has created a pecking order of aristocracy that is zapping the fun out of the game.

Here is what is so mystifying about Blizzard lately. Blizzard is still making high quality art/sound/ and even gameplay. I’ve been replaying the older Blizzard games and, while they were good, the new stuff is so much better. I cannot fault the graphics or sound or even gameplay of Diablo 3 or Starcraft 2. I play these games and have much fun. What drives me away is the out-of-game progression model. I may want to play Starcraft 2 some of the time, but fuck it I don’t need the ‘aristocracy ranking’ of the ladder system (e.g. E-Peen). “Does that mean you are teh bad, Malstrom?” No, it just means I know it is a video game, and it annoys me that people keep treating it like the goddamn Super Bowl.

When I play Bomberman, I don’t need a progression model. The game is just fun to play.

Judging from Call of Duty, many gamers today don’t play games for fun or gameplay. They play to ‘fill up bars’. Perhaps this is the market Blizzard is responding to. Blizzard has been heavily influenced by Xbox Live and, we can assume, games like Call of Duty. All these ‘fill up bars’ isn’t helping Blizzard’s sales and really wrecking Blizzard’s reputation.

Can we have a Blizzard game where we don’t “fill up bars”? When people imagine Warcraft 4, no one is imagining an ‘out-of-game progression system’ where they fill up bars. “You have played 99 games. Look at how many experience bars you have leveled up for ‘Orcs’.” WTF is with this? It is not fun and extremely annoying. This endless progression makes me feel I can never win so I stop playing.



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