Not-playing games

15706149_mOne thing that’s always sort of amused me about MMOs is the proliferation of tools that enable you to *avoid* playing them, or at least certain parts of them. Nosy Gamer posted today about how EVE differs from other MMOs when it comes to the prevalence of macros and add-ons. EVE is different. Coworkers who’ve played other online games have often been into developing tools to automate their gameplay.

I’m interested in out-of-game tools for EVE, but more as a data-mining and analysis thing, not for automation. For single player games, modding is about as far as I’ll go. I messed around with that for Neverwinter Nights and Oblivion. If it adds to my experience — helping me understand the mechanics and game world better, or even adding whole new areas — sure, I’m totally for it.

But when a game is set up in such a way that I’m tempted to hire a robot to play some or most of it for me, that’s the point where I’m thinking it hasn’t been designed very well — not in this day and age when we’re no longer paying an hourly rate. Back in the days of CompuServe and GEnie, you paid per hour, so I can understand a design strategy to keep you logged in for a long time. That’s revenue. Maybe some of this keep-’em-logged-in mentality on the part of game designers is a partial relic from that?

I’ve mentioned before that I’ve been diving back into my game design textbooks lately. I’ll probably post a reading list here at some point, once I’ve narrowed it down to those I’d personally recommend. While I’ve been reading, questions about what keep a person playing have been at the top of my mind. And by that I mean playing playing, not not-playing, if that makes any sense.

FWIW, EVE has some of the not-playing thing going on, even for those of us who aren’t ISBoxers or botters (nobody I know is), in that you still advance in the game as long as you stay subbed and keep your queues going. There may be other games that work this way, but I’m not aware of them. This is a bit of genius on CCP’s part, really. People will give you money to keep their character advancing, and they eat barely any bandwidth or CPU. Brilliant!

One background task in my head, which started even before I designed my so-called Regency Catfight game for a university project a few years ago, is figuring out how one could make a game in which repetitious play doesn’t really get you anywhere. A game that has meaningful, cool stuff to do when you choose to play it, but that doesn’t require you to sit there for hours on end.

It kind of brings to mind Elmore Leonard’s advice to writers:

“My most important piece of advice to all you would-be writers: When you write, try to leave out all the parts readers skip.”

What if we left out the parts of games that our players want to skip and will actually write code to avoid having to sit through? I know grinds are implemented for a reason, but at the same time, my brain keeps coming back to the “What if?” of doing things differently.

I dunno. It’s probably an impossible goal, but it’s something I think about from time to time.


Not-playing games — 6 Comments

  1. A game that’s at all immersive is going to have to make some room for the not-fun aspects of existence. If routine tasks cannot provide amusement or excitement, they should at least be relaxing; failing that, they should be automated. City and castle sims let the player just allocate and monitor, with occasional catastrophes and wars to get the heart rate up.

    EVE’s PI is pretty much a solo thing, and to this outsider’s eye seems a bit labor-intensive. Mining is, too, but chewing rocks can easily become a group activity.

  2. This is a good place to plug my piece on EVE’s design. It is important that grinding be less fun than whatever it is people are actually playing for. However, I see no reason why grinding cannot be fun.

    That said, it would be an interesting experiment if CCP allowed EVE players to run grinding activities automatically. I.e., CCP might build a automining module into the client. You’d tell it a station, give it a ship to mine with, then it would automatically go out in that system and mine ore or ice (checkbox), bringing it back to dump in station, with optional dockup-if-non-blue-in-local (checkbox), or dockup-if-red-in-local (checkbox). What would happen here? Players who could would login every post-downtime and use the autominer all day, and ore prices would crash. People who have the ability to stay logged in all the time (like me), would benefit, although mining income would plunge to ISK-pennies on the current ISK-dollar. People without that ability who currently mine would be hosed. The economy would adjust to having very cheap minerals; prices of things containing minerals would decline. The New Order would have a good time purging systems of bot-aspirants. AFK-bot-scaring (using ganker characters) would become a thing.

    Autopilot is a partial implementation of such an idea. It does allow you to get around when AFK, and since you can earn ISK for moving stuff, earn when AFK. However, by its nature it is limited in scope; you arrive where you were going and then it stops.

  3. Hey, Von! Glad you came by!

    Neat post about design. I think you nailed it on the crafting and economy, in particular. I’ve done crafting in other games, and it didn’t feel as…hmm…meaningful? As productive as in EVE? I’m not sure quite now to describe it.

    I also think you’re on to something with the emotional attachment. Loss means something, and I’d extend that to the loss of relationships, too. That’s why awoxing is often such a huge blow to people, because this is a person you’ve taken in as a friend, who may know a fair amount about you IRL and who’s spent hours with you online…and they were lying the whole time, only there to steal your stuff and make you miserable.

    I love the idea of making grinding more fun. Would we still call it grinding then? 🙂 I’m still puzzling over how that kind of repetitious could be made more interesting, and I freely admit it may be an impossible task.

    Your blog always gives me something to think about, by the way, and I wish I’d had some of your advice back in 2011 when I was exploring WHs more frequently.

    • Good point about awoxing. I’ve not experienced it yet, but that’s basically because I am an introvert and I don’t play with more than a handful of people. I do think that the personal side of awoxing would feel pretty awful in any game that allowed it. Of course, with actual permanent loss it’s that much worse.

      I don’t think grinding necessarily has to be awful. We just call it something else when it ceases to be dull. Some activities are grindier than others. I have a couple tags on my blog for it: PVE, grinding, farming. Obviously they have nuances, but a lot of what I see them speaking to is the level of fun in the activity. Grinding is probably the grindiest, then farming, then the relatively fun PVE. (Though by now, even group PVE in C4s is pretty grindy to me.) So yes, there are gradations. My take on it is that mining is the worst, except when it is AFK, and then it is quite tolerable. 🙂 Ice mining in highsec pays pretty well and can be done semi-AFK, so, it’s one of the ways I make ISK.

  4. CCP has long claimed that (almost) everything bought and sold in EVE is player-manufactured. I don’t doubt them, but it would be very easy for them to automate NPCs who build and purchase things, obviating some need for destruction (which to a small degree is already perpetrated by NPCs).

    Something in me rebels against the thought of such direct dev manipulation of the economy, but I’m not sure why. I also think I want a game in which NPCs mimic player toons as far as possible, so why not let some of those non-capsuleers get their build on?

  5. Yeah, Duncan and I tend to play with a fairly small group of people, and we don’t really do open recruitment anymore. Our old corp did a limited form of that. For me, it’s just too stressful. IRL, I’m a friendly person, even with strangers, but not as much online.

    The most money I’ve made has been with wormhole loot. Mining and L4s did okay, but the highest ISK per hour came from Sleeper stuff.

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