The Perspective Dichotomy

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Oooh, another fancy post name. Yes, I like fancy post names, and using my college accrued vocabulary. Anyhow, it's not mind-bending in any way, rather a look at the different perspectives between developers and players over game design, notably emergent behavior. This post is powered by Orion's latest blog entry on his MyLOTRO page. The post in and of itself is an excellent read and I found myself fairly captivated by the perspective offered.

Certainly we need to keep in mind his blog post is his own opinion and doesn't reflect Turbine's official... whatever. Still, a well-rounded developer in LOTRO will have influence over design directions (as admitted to in the post) and it's his opinion that directs his influence.

I want to do a comparison of his perspective on MMO design versus the perspective and perception of the players. There has been much talk about design philosophy, design direction, shifting priorities, ect in LOTRO by the various bloggers. Mainly this has been fueled by frustration over some of the end-game content. I think we as players would do well to read into Orion's post with an open mind. I don't think many of us understand the direction designers come from when approaching conentent. I think we take a more casual and biased approach to design. That is, each of us has our own opinion over what is good design, oftentimes not even awknowledging it in those words. Our opinion is framed more by what is fun for us, and it varies widely. The common thread, of course, is that whatever we find fun is the best design, regardless of other's opinions. Developers have to take a less self-centered approach. They know there will be a vast array of opinion on what is fun, so in order to remain sane and not jump on the endless treadmill of player satisfaction, they spell out design into a formal process, a set of guidelines to follow, principles to adhere to.

Where this fits into LOTRO is when Orion talks about the emergent behavior seen in the Moria instances, notably the Grand Staircase. That was his baby, so to speak. Emergent behavior is in a nutshell unanticipated player behavior - emerging on the scene with the content's launch into live. This type of behavior can be seen as strategic, innovatative, and creative, but on occasion, also exploitive. The latter, of course, is a no-no - you'll get banned if caught making use of exploits. So where is the line? One man's exploit is another man's creativity. This is where the different perspectives really shines. Orion arugues that in an MMO, most emergent behavior is exploitive because it takes advantage of a bug or error in the code. For example, being able to take a fall and still live, or using scenery to give oneself immunity from being hit but still able to hit back. And ultimately the developer has to be the one to say what is an exploit and what isn't, because they're the only ones able to access the code and give a difinitive data-supported definition.

We as players don't see this background data, or the original design intent, or any number of things that go into the operation of content. We're front end consumers, and yet we still want to be armchair designers. I'm guilty of that as well. I'm not saying our opinion doesn't count. It certainly has weight as we can choose to spend our dollars anywhere we please, but we as mature and intelligent people should consider that which we do not know or understand. Orion's post is an excellent opportunity to not only understand where a devloper is coming from on their design perspective, but also gives us the tools to frame our concerns. We can awknowledge a lack of data but at the same time speak to the matter with understanding.

I now have to ask myself, using an example from before, does the use of Enrage in the turtle raid contradict or negate the design philosophy of fun the developer had envisioned and put into that content. What was the purpose? What were the goals? What I saw as positive emergent behavior very well could be exploitive. Actually, in this case I don't think it took advantage of a coding error, but rather did violate the design principles behind the content. Same with the root immunity given to certain bosses in the Moria instances.

The one place where I feel Turbine dropped the ball, and this is based off of what I read in Orion's post, is not fixing the exploits quicker. He insists that emergent behavior requires, by it's vary nature, a swift address. The Moria instances went until Book 7 where they were truely fixed (for the most part). This created a set of false expectations and perceptions in the playerbase. Not only were we very tempted to use the exploits, we were learning the wrong behavior for those instances. We were enabled by the developers in our "bad" behavior.

I hope to speak to future concerns with more clarity and understanding now that I've gained a little insight into the mind of a developer. I again encourage all of you to read this article not only for the specifics about emergent behavior, but also for the different perspective. Two side of the same coin, if you will. One player, one developer, both wanting the best for the game.

2 Responses to "The Perspective Dichotomy"

Thallian Says:

I really liked Orion's post also. I too feel they should fix things sooner but I'm not in charge and neither is he so, heh, gotta lay crdeit where credit is due and blame where blame is due.

Yeebo Says:

I thought that was a great read.

The issue that I am having with the hard mode 6 mans is that we aren't really given guidance on how they are meant to be played. Maybe if at the splash screen while an instance loads it gave you a hint about how you can get a "special reward." As it stands you pretty much have to learn strategies from other players.

The first players to try instances end up with some pretty hefty repair bills from completely undirected trial and error. And it's next to impossible to guess in some cases what is an intended strategy versus an exploit.