Does Winning Matter?

Warning: this is a long post. If you want the TL;DR version, skipped to the bolded text at the end.

So this isn’t one of my originally scheduled posts, but I have been pondering this for awhile, and something came up today that kind of tied it all together.

A player in the “ask a developer” thread for World of Tanks, asked it was really necessary in keeping count of statistics, to track player’s winrates. SerB, aka the head honcho/big cheese of WoT, had a response for him in his typical trolling fashion (h/t FTR):

A: “I will meditate on that… no, I don’t even know what to say, I have no words. Young man, understand that winrate is just the amount of your victories, divided by the amount of your battles in general and multiplied by 100. To remove this indicator is possible only if we reset the battle count to zero (and in your case, use the free time to train your mental abilities).”

This is not a shocking answer, given that SerB and WG staff in general have always been clear that they feel that overall win rate is the only real indicator of a player’s skill. The argument is that though you may encounter a bad team (ie, be surrounded by assholes), if you are good, your contributions will occasionally tip the scales in your team’s favor, and that over the course of thousands of battles, this means a better winrate.

Of course, there are problems with this, but still, its generally accepted to be one of the big indicators of skill. As I posted a few days ago, my winrate in Warplanes hovers around 63-64%, which is considered great, but not elite (its easier to “carry” a bad team in warplanes, and grouped players can have significant impact on an outcome). In tanks, my win rate is closing in on 53%, which is above good but not great.

But the funny thing is, in the PvP games I do play, win rate is really only a big deal in the WG titles. In Battlefield, its more about your Kill/Death ratio. While Win/Loss is tracked, its not talked about a lot. Meanwhile, whether through the fact that they are a floundering title that appears to have no idea what they are doing, or because they are just on some anti-stat crusade, Mechwarrior Online doesn’t bother charting any of your stats. (The really skill-intensive clans have to play some matches with applicants and observe them in combat – which probably isn’t a bad thing). EVE Online seems to be about how many kill mails you get on, though there is some secondary thought to how many ships/pods you lose (and how you lose them).

So I wonder about getting hung up on win rate. I certainly do. I have been very careful about how and when I play and who I play with and what planes I play with. I want to maintain that win rate (and in the case of tanks, grow it). I get grumpy if I log off at night and I’ve lost more than I’ve won.

As with all things in life, I think balance is the key. So I’ve been spending some nights away from my PvP endeavors, enjoying some other ventures. TERA is still fun, and I’ve been working through a couple of nostalgia titles in my Steam library. There has to be a place in there some where that winning feels good but losing doesn’t feel bad. Where you can play a game for the fun of the game and not be constantly setting goals and achievements for yourself.

And here comes the TL;DR of it all: I really don’t think I’ve found that in an online game yet. Everything is about leveling up, or winning, or gathering, or achieving. In other words – its all about progress. And in some ways, I kinda find that sad.

The closest I can come to finding this has, I think, been in Star Trek Online. I got on last week to play the Season 8 Featured Episode, originally for the cool ship that came with it. But I got sucked in by the storytelling and really had a good time. I could only do that though, because I was at level cap. In fact, I made a point of capping both my KDF and STF characters and only now am I going back and doing the storyline missions. I’m not worried about if my gear is good enough, or if I have the right ship, and the difficulty that scales to your level is just enough to make it interesting.

What if there were an MMO that was not about progress or gear. Just about making the character you wanted and taking them on adventures. Maybe one day, we can hope, winning won’t matter in some games, some of the time. That would be enough for me. Because the rest of the time, in planes and tanks and on battlefields…you’re going down.

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4 thoughts on “Does Winning Matter?

  1. I seem to be something very rare today, an OLD gamer. And I won so many games in my 20s, that I stopped caring if I won or lost, as long as I had fun doing it. Since then, my play style has been…lets say a bit strange and random. If you don’t care about winning or losing much, it frees you to try crazy stuff now and then, like a mad, bonkers, insane rush up the center in World of Tanks. Yes, it often ends predictably. But almost as often, it’s a curveball that the other side is not prepared for, and in all the confusion my team picks them apart. To me, that is fun. I would do the same kind of thing at times in other games, mostly D&D, but really, any game that lets you do something unexpected.

    I even got myself banned from a group of chess players, because my randomness ruined all their carefully thought out moves.

    And thats sad. Its sad, because they, and most gamers today, are so into winning at any cost, and such, that they are more WORKING the game, than PLAYING it.

    I keep hoping that someone will come out with a game that is not all about winning, or getting ever more powerful. But so far, D&D is the closest to that, that I have found. Yet even there its too often about finding just the right weapon or spell or whatever, and not about just having fun with the adventure.

    1. I don’t think you are all that rare. Most of the guys I fly with in WoWp are in the 30-50 range. The oldest guy I’ve ever played with was in his 80’s.

      I’m with you on the game design though. That is one of my great hopes for the future of MMO’s – that we can spend development man hours on content rather than on balancing advancement.

      1. So far, the closest I have seen to that, is in a game called Dwarf Fortress. In adventure mode in that game, you can advance your skills and abilities, but the hit points you start with are all you will ever have, and no matter how good your armor is, it is never perfect. The result in game play, is that no matter how good you get, some lowest level monster can still one-shot kill you, if it gets lucky. And that means you can never take any encounter, no matter how trivial it might seem, for granted. Makes playing a lot more interesting.

      2. Interesting, I will look it up. Thought I never played it, my understanding was that the Matrix Online was similar back when it was going – that you distributed points from a pool when you jacked in. Originally, when Jon Van Caneghem was working on Rift, I believe that was part of the idea there as well. I would love to see it tried again.

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