Author Topic: Are MMORPG's games?  (Read 12649 times)

Bear

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Are MMORPG's games?
« on: July 05, 2014, 11:56:56 PM »

I sat down to write an article about the advancement of player power in games. 

And about halfway through, I used a recent example from a comment on this very board from a player who hated grinding for experience but did it anyway because it was "the optimal strategy" for winning a game - the point being that the game designer failed him (or her) because the way to have fun playing is not also the way to win. 

But then I realized something.  The genre where level-grinding has become most widespread and cancerous - MMORPG's (as far as I know) has no win or loss conditions.  There absolutely is no "Game over, you won," nor even a "Game over, you lost" - there is no winning or losing no matter what you do, in fact.  Nor is there even a score you can compare with other characters, unless you count experience or in-game money - which is exactly the kind of level-grinding that I had been prepared to say shouldn't be allowed to distract players from having fun or winning.

So are they even games?  Are they even a proper subject for an article about game design?  I know what a win in chess or checkers or even solitaire looks like, and I can talk about those games in terms of how a mechanic interacts with their endgame conditions - but not an MMO.


Kevin Granade

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Re: Are MMORPG's games?
« Reply #1 on: July 06, 2014, 12:24:56 AM »
a form of play or sport, especially a competitive one played according to rules and decided by skill, strength, or luck.
a physical or mental activity or contest that has rules and that people do for pleasure
an amusement or pastime: children's games.
a competitive activity involving skill, chance, or endurance on the part of two or more persons who play according to a set of rules, usually for their own amusement or for that of spectators.
A game is structured playing, usually undertaken for enjoyment and sometimes used as an educational tool.

At the most, I'd say the "win condition" or "competitive" aspect is merely common among games, and not remotely definitional.

To boil it down to the core, I like wikipedia's definition without the riders, "A game is structured playing,"

There might be a subset of "games with win conditions" you want to talk about, but for games in general, it's optional.

Quendus

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Re: Are MMORPG's games?
« Reply #2 on: July 06, 2014, 12:53:27 AM »
Were the Dadaists artists?

More directly, there are (I assume, I don't play MMOs) win/loss conditions for the subgames - you can "die" on a quest and have to try it again. Some MMOs allow player-versus-player combat, which can be won or lost and functions as a comparison between characters.

Darren Grey

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Re: Are MMORPG's games?
« Reply #3 on: July 10, 2014, 09:59:01 PM »
From a design perspective there is clearly a lot to be gained from talking about MMOs, in both the positives and the negatives.

Bear

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Re: Are MMORPG's games?
« Reply #4 on: July 10, 2014, 11:43:57 PM »
I can't relate tactics or strategy to any value because there is no win/loss condition.

There's nothing for "game balance" to mean. 

I think I need to look at them as examples of human behavior and an example of things people enjoy doing - but they aren't 'games' in the classical sense; they're something more like 'pastimes' or 'hobbies'.  People only mistook them for games because they arose from the same companies and in the same context that had actually been producing games up to that point.

Kevin Granade

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Re: Are MMORPG's games?
« Reply #5 on: July 11, 2014, 05:27:03 AM »
I can't relate tactics or strategy to any value because there is no win/loss condition.

There's nothing for "game balance" to mean.
Just because there are no win/loss conditions doesn't mean there are no goals, which MMOs have aplenty.  Game balance in a winless/lossless scenario concerns difficulty of achieving various goals.  There are various tactics and strategies for maximizing outcomes of various pursuits within the context of the game.  Lack of an "official" way to win or lose doesn't mean there are no measures of success or failure.  You might as well complain that posting on an internet forum has no win or loss condition.
Or to take another tack, playing an MMO has precisely the same win/lose conditions as playing Tennis.  You can win or lose individual games, but there is no win or lose condition for Tennis as a whole.  In the same way you can lose a "match" in an MMO by being 'killed' and set back by some amount, or by simply not achieving some goal, but there is no end condition for the entire game.
I think I need to look at them as examples of human behavior and an example of things people enjoy doing - but they aren't 'games' in the classical sense; they're something more like 'pastimes' or 'hobbies'.  People only mistook them for games because they arose from the same companies and in the same context that had actually been producing games up to that point.
They're precisely games in the classical sense, which I pointed out already.  You're talking about something else.  I think you need to find the correct term for what you mean.

mushroom patch

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Re: Are MMORPG's games?
« Reply #6 on: July 11, 2014, 01:20:03 PM »
I think it helps to think of MMORPGs in relation to the usual casual style of paper and pencil roleplaying games -- somewhat open ended, even aimless, yet in any particular instance of play, there's usually some well defined goal. Obviously, these aren't games in the sense of game theory, but a lot of things called games in common usage aren't.

On the other hand, paper and pencil roleplaying can often be broken down into constituent pieces that clearly are games in the formal sense (e.g. party vs. orcs -- this is a dice game with pretty well-defined rules and win/loss conditions). MMORPGs are much the same, providing a narrative and substrate for various pieces that are themselves more straightforwardly "games" in the narrower sense (more straightforwardly than even in D&D).

Bear

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Re: Are MMORPG's games?
« Reply #7 on: July 11, 2014, 05:56:25 PM »
I'm not buying the argument about being like tennis.  Tennis is a game;  there are clear rules about what winning and losing mean, and players start each game on even terms.  The fact that you play  tennis more than once in your life doesn't mean it isn't a game.  Playing tennis is a hobby, but a particular game of tennis is a game. 

MMO's are a lot like tabletop paper and pencil roleplaying games -- somewhat open ended, even aimless.  And obviously not a game in the sense of game theory.  I have been in tournaments of tabletop RPG's where teams of players are given identical sets of characters and run in separate sessions in the same prepared scenario, and afterwards scored on 'victory points' for mission goals achieved.  That made them into a game in the classic sense, but it is not the way tabletop RPG's are normally played.  And as far as I know no MMO has ever supported a tournament mode that qualified as a game in the classic sense. 

Anyway, this comes up in the context of roguelike games because we're starting off characters on a more-or-less equal basis (modulo starting equipment and stats) and at some point the game is OVER.  When the game is over we have a 'score' on which games are compared, so we can look at the scoreboard and say, at least roughly, that we were playing better in this game than in that one, or that Alice definitely beat Bob, or that Carol has six of the top ten scores on this server, or whatever.  Game strategies and game balance can then be related to its impact on scores, where we define winning and losing in terms of score. 

But when we look at the mainstream gamers' experience of a computer-mediated roleplaying game, we're talking about MMO's.  And MMO's simply do not have the features of games that allow meaningful measurement of performance and evaluation of strategy in terms of score.  So there's a sort of incomprehension based on inexperience which we as game designers need to overcome, about games being over and about there being a basis for competition on the grounds of score. 

Kevin Granade

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Re: Are MMORPG's games?
« Reply #8 on: July 12, 2014, 01:35:33 AM »
What's this 'classic sense' you're talking about, can you point to me to a definition that matches what you're talking about?  No definition of 'game' I've run across states that games must have win/lose conditions.

Bear

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Re: Are MMORPG's games?
« Reply #9 on: July 12, 2014, 03:04:45 AM »
Okay, how about ...

"A game is a system in which players engage in an artificial conflict, defined by rules, that results in a quantifiable outcome." -- Salen, Katie; Zimmerman, Eric (2003). Rules of Play: Game Design Fundamentals. MIT Press. p. 80. ISBN 0-262-24045-9.

I don't think you can have a quantifiable outcome without a game-over condition and some way to compare performance. 

Omnivore

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Re: Are MMORPG's games?
« Reply #10 on: July 12, 2014, 03:07:29 AM »
I would classify most popular MMO's as simulations rather than games.

Kevin Granade

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Re: Are MMORPG's games?
« Reply #11 on: July 12, 2014, 05:05:02 AM »
I see, it seems there's a tradition in this area of simply redefining the word game instead of coining a new word, I really hate it when people do that.
http://www.thegamesjournal.com/articles/WhatIsaGame.shtml

You're asking whether something fits in your category, and then using a jargon definition of the category from a particular area of study.  When you do that you need to be careful with your terminology, like the above article.  Your 'classic sense' doesn't help, as the definition you're using is revisionist, and only deepened my confusion since the classic sense of the word IS that there is no win condition required.

Now that I can see what you're doing, I'll adopt your revisionist definition for the sake of discussion, and use "pastime" to refer to the original definition of game.
I'm not buying the argument about being like tennis.  Tennis is a game;  there are clear rules about what winning and losing mean, and players start each game on even terms.  The fact that you play  tennis more than once in your life doesn't mean it isn't a game.  Playing tennis is a hobby, but a particular game of tennis is a game.
That's exactly my point, a MMO as a whole is not a game by your definition, a MMO is a pastime, in which there are a multitude of games embedded.  Those embedded games do in fact have win and loss conditions.  You win at fighting a monster, or a dungeon level, or a boss raid, or some PvP activity.  In the same way, the activity of "playing sports" is not itself a game, but is composed of a series of games.
If you want to analyze MMOs from a game theoretic point of view, you can isolate some interesting subset of those games and analyze them, potentially relating them back to the enclosing context by noting that for various games within the pastime, there are tradeoffs to be made.  For example, in games with both robust single-player and PvP systems, they rarely share optimal builds for both modes, though they often offer means for temporally biasing your character toward one mode or the other.
Anyway, this comes up in the context of roguelike games because we're starting off characters on a more-or-less equal basis (modulo starting equipment and stats) and at some point the game is OVER.  When the game is over we have a 'score' on which games are compared, so we can look at the scoreboard and say, at least roughly, that we were playing better in this game than in that one, or that Alice definitely beat Bob, or that Carol has six of the top ten scores on this server, or whatever.  Game strategies and game balance can then be related to its impact on scores, where we define winning and losing in terms of score.
I think you're oversimplifying here, when a roguelike does have a win condition, it does fit your definition of a game, and you can certainly score builds and player performance on the basis of progress toward one of the official win conditions.  However, the freedom aspect of the game somewhat interferes with this, because players aren't necessarily working toward meeting that win condition like they nominally are with a more typical game.  Roguelike players frequently give themselves handicaps or arbitrary goals even when the game does provide an official win condition.  If you do state that you're only considering plays where "winning" the game is the goal, you've established a new game that is a subset of the original.  Therefore you're only analyzing one aspect of the game rather than the whole.
But when we look at the mainstream gamers' experience of a computer-mediated roleplaying game, we're talking about MMO's.  And MMO's simply do not have the features of games that allow meaningful measurement of performance and evaluation of strategy in terms of score.
As above, you're not looking hard enough, it's there.
So there's a sort of incomprehension based on inexperience which we as game designers need to overcome, about games being over and about there being a basis for competition on the grounds of score. 
Can you unpack this a bit?  What exactly is it that players don't comprehend, what reason do game designers have for overcoming this lack of comprehension and what reason do players have for listening?

It's farfetched to claim that players don't "comprehend" games with win/loss conditions.  Examples of such games abound, and it's unlikely in the extreme that players are unfamiliar with them.  Card games, most sports games, any number of informal competitions.  I'd guess that the issue you're getting at is permadeath rather than win/loss conditions.

mushroom patch

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Re: Are MMORPG's games?
« Reply #12 on: July 12, 2014, 12:36:04 PM »
I'm confused. It seemed obvious enough to me that the OP was asking a question about a narrower sense of the word "game" than the broadest and/or most common definition. I think it's reasonable to assume a reader is familiar with basic notions in game theory or at least willing to grant that they're sufficiently widely known that one could reasonably expect to have a discussion based on them in a forum for a general programming audience. I don't get the umbrage.

I would also dispute that it's a "revisionist" definition. The basic definitions in game theory predate modern video games and even role playing games. The kinds of things called games in common usage now that stray significantly from the game theoretic notion mostly didn't exist back then. (Not that this is an important point because it's still completely legitimate to coin a term of art based on an existing word that refers to something more specific than or entirely different from what common usage does.)

Bear

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Re: Are MMORPG's games?
« Reply #13 on: July 12, 2014, 04:38:34 PM »
I see, it seems there's a tradition in this area of simply redefining the word game instead of coining a new word, I really hate it when people do that.

For what it's worth, yes, I am aware that people are using the word "game" for a lot of things that are not formally games.  I am aware that they always have.  People call snakes & ladders a game even though they have no input into its outcome.  People can call surfing a game if they want to even though there are no win conditions.  But if I had been asking whether a loose slangy usage of 'game' without a formal definition fits something that people routinely call a game, that would have been pointlessly questioning a tautology. 

That's exactly my point, a MMO as a whole is not a game by your definition, a MMO is a pastime, in which there are a multitude of games embedded.  Those embedded games do in fact have win and loss conditions.  You win at fighting a monster, or a dungeon level, or a boss raid, or some PvP activity.  In the same way, the activity of "playing sports" is not itself a game, but is composed of a series of games.

I guess I'm not counting those 'minigames' because their results cannot be meaningfully compared in terms of player skill.  The players are not starting these competitions from any uniform beginning state, so the ability to accomplish these subgoals is not a meaningful basis of competition or measurement of player performance.  Going into the 'morrowville instance' and rescuing the puppy doesn't present anything like the same challenge for a beginning character and a 500th-level character who has most of the Legendary equipment.  While things aren't usually that extreme unless griefers are involved, it's still unfair to compare the performance of a player with a first-level character against the performance of a player of a third-level character.

So there's a sort of incomprehension based on inexperience which we as game designers need to overcome, about games being over and about there being a basis for competition on the grounds of score. 
Can you unpack this a bit?  What exactly is it that players don't comprehend, what reason do game designers have for overcoming this lack of comprehension and what reason do players have for listening?

It's farfetched to claim that players don't "comprehend" games with win/loss conditions.  Examples of such games abound, and it's unlikely in the extreme that players are unfamiliar with them.  Card games, most sports games, any number of informal competitions.  I'd guess that the issue you're getting at is permadeath rather than win/loss conditions.

Permadeath is not separable from win/loss conditions.  Permadeath is alien to players from MMO's, and meaningless in MMO's specifically because there are no win/loss conditions. 

Players with no other experience of computer roleplaying games have never experienced permanent character death.  They have also never experienced a reason why permanent character death could be meaningful.  When we try to explain that permanent character death has value, we have to start with this other idea that measuring one's performance has value. 

In fact it is only players who allow their performance to be measured so that they can evaluate their strategies over time (ie, players who allow their characters to die) that ever actually win these games. 


AgingMinotaur

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Re: Are MMORPG's games?
« Reply #14 on: July 14, 2014, 09:35:44 AM »
I sat down to write an article about the advancement of player power in games.
Just a side note: I tried to post a comment to your blog (mostly to cheer you on, but also some re: spoilers), but didn't succeed, since I couldn't be bothered to get me some Wordpress credentials. It would be nice to be able to comment with something like a Gmail account, or anonymously (with you accepting/rejecting anonymous comments).

As always,
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