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.