From the current Sony Station Blog post, which features their gamer of the month post right now. This month they chose to highlight a player from SWG, an interesting choice given all the push behind EQ2 this month. Check out this question and answer, the last of the page:
Describe your best experience from playing your favorite SOE Game?
Being a newbie in Star Wars Galaxies. There’s no experience more awe-inspiring than just starting out, knowing nothing and nobody, and being totally lost in the vast Star Wars universe.
You and me both buddy. Too bad developers don’t want you to have that experience any more. They want you to step into a guided tour of a small part of their world, with enough snacks and drinks along the way to keep you satisfied. The foolishness of this is that it just delays the inevitable. The real hope that developers have is that if they put you on rails long enough, some kind hearted subscriber will come take you under their wing and guide you through the next part, or that you will have invested enough of your time and money that you will suffer high levels of cognitive dissonance and feelings of regret if you back out. In every case, there is still that point at which the guided tour ends, and the big bad world becomes open to you. And if you are not prepared to handle it at level 1, what will change in your personality that will make it acceptable or fun at level 10? No wait, level 20 these days, isn’t it?
Well, I’m with Tekbarr. Lemme get lost in your world. If its a halfway decent system, I’ll stick around just to see the world that you have build for me. The places you have added thinking I might like to explore them, to visit them, to *gasp* screenshot them.
And the missing link here has been acknowledged before in brief, but I bring it up again just to try to hammer the truth of it home one more time: there is a negative correlation between how helpful and friendly a community you have and how much hand-holding your game does.
I get that in the grand scheme of things, this changes nothing. Developers have decided that community does not sell games or expand the market in any way. And maybe they are right. But the other end of the equation does expand the market: hold a players hand long enough, and enough outside events will happen to encourage and/or pressure the player to buy into your game, or at least to grit and grim their way through that time of nausea and frustration at being alone in a giant virtual world.
And hey, if that doesn’t work, you can always give them some cookies of their own to incentivize them to stick around, right? Give them some Achievements to make them feel good. Give them ways to be a Killer and feel powerful moments of WIN. Throw in some basic social mechanisms like Emotes, Auction Houses, and Group Finders – along with partitioned starting areas to encourage talk and cooperation among new players.
That’s not a bad list. In fact, games often include more and more of the above everytime they release an expansion. But do they release new areas to Explore? Sometimes. But only for those who have Achieved or Killed enough to advance them through those gates. And if you don’t like those things, that’s okay too, because now the carrot has become the stick, and the same effect is achieved.
Why this long rant? I don’t know. Just reading the players quote above triggered something deep inside me. Its been a long time since I got lost in a game world somewhere, and I’m just itching to do that again. And finding it harder and harder each year to make that happen for myself. And I know nothing will change that, and many of you will see this as a whining session. So be it.
For me though, there is a difference between whining – and lamenting. And right now, I’m just doing the latter.