Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Oh yeah... this thing

Wow... colour me forgetful. I think I may have beaten Kelly in the "no posts in forever" competition.

As the media world has already blabbed on and on about... Gary Gygax died last week at the age of 69. For those of you who don't know who he is, look him up. At a glance, it may seem like his contribution was small, but he shaped the lives of millions of people, creating a life-long hobby/obsession for many and creating a foundation for multi-billion-dollar industries.

Not too much is new, I'm afraid. Work is going on strong now that the minority government has evaded all threats of a non-confidence vote (Afghanistan mission, budget, etc.). Everything is great with Angie, which isn't making Pele happy, I don't think.

Something occured to me the other day while playing World of Warcraft. I wonder why no schools have taken up the auction house function in the game to demonstrate real-time economics. I'm sure someone would love to make a bundle from an already-developed application, and I'm sure Blizzard would love the exposure and positive publicity that comes with furthering education. (see my second point below)

The other day I read an article about WoW. It spoke about the negative aspects of game immersion. It naturally got me thinking about the positive elements of it and any MMO (massively multiplayer online [game]):

Team Work: I'd say that's a fairly ubiquitous and oft-desired trait, no? Playing a game whose very existence is founded on the inclusion of thousands of people simultaneously must, at some level, incorporate team work. It's quite possible to play a game like WoW and never really interact with others. However, in so doing, one would miss out on that which makes the medium unique in the same way going to Barbados and playing card games inside an air-conditioned room the whole time would.

Many portions of MMOs are designed for group play, and often require multiple groups to coordinate. In WoW, the largest group possible is 5 people. However, many raids require 5 groups to complete. In DAoC, I once led a raid that involved 170 people, and I'd been on 200 (max battlegroup size) raids. Size wouldn't be an issue if it was a free-for-all-slaughter-everything objective, but completion requires strategy and coordination. Once X had been completed, groups Z and Y had to move to S location and do blah while two other groups went somewhere else to active blah blah. The final objective took 20 minutes just to set up.

Does it always work out well? No. It's like herding labotimized cats most of the time. Do team work projects always work out well in real life? Nope. However, when you finish up (successfully), it's a huge rush. Same thing in-game.

Free-Market Economies: This is what made me think of MMO application in schools. "Whaa...?" you may be thinking. WoW is the best example out there. There is an auction house in every major city, and they're linked together to create a single market. Using these auction houses, players can buy and sell various items. As in the real world, people not doing any research or price-comparing get screwed.

I'll give an actual example from the game: wool and silk. Just like real life, the game professions rely on resources. Tailors (and others) need wool and silk to create products for themselves and to sell on the auction houses to make money to fund more production or to invest in other areas. Wool is a "lesser" grade item than silk - you get it earlier in the game, and it's used to make simpler, lower-tier items.

However... the demand for wool is consistently higher than silk. While a 'stack' of 20 pieces of wool can go for 2 gold, a stack of silk will only go for 70 silver. (100 silver = 1 gold) However, should 20 people go out and find wool and sell it over the course of a few hours, prices will suddenly bottom-out. In putting my product up for bidding or outright buyout, I check what wool prices are (if I have any sense). If 2g 30s (2 gold and 30 silver) is the lowest price, I put my stacks up for 2g 15s. The next guy sees my price is 2g 15s, so he makes his 2g, screwing me. The next guy sets his for 95s... and so on. Suddenly, the market is flooded and prices continue to drop, a great day to be a tailor in need of materials.

Also, finished products go for more than raw materials. I can put up 20 pieces of felhide for 15g, but if I turn that felhide into 5 armor kits, I can sell each kit for 5g. Finished product nets me 25g vs raw materials at 15g.

Opportunity Cost and Niche Abilities: Simply put, doing X means that you can't do Y. Even in fantasy worlds, one can't have everything or be the best at everything. If you want this ability, you have to sacrifice that ability.

Also, the kinds of characters you can play are [usually] carefully constructed. If you're playing a healer, chances are you can't fight well. If you're playing a fighter, chances are you can't heal well. But wait... what if they work together? Well whadaya know... they can accomplish three times as much as they could individually. Obviously, this ties back in to team work.

The best hypothetical example of this is archetypes system in Warhammer Online, as yet unreleased. Each faction has four archetypes: support, tank, melee DPS and ranged DPS. (DPS = damage per second, but has come to mean someone who does a lot of damage) They aren't all the same classes for each faction's archetype, but the roles are clearly established. A ranged DPS character isn't going to run up and swing at baddies, nor is a melee DPS character going to try to heal. The roles, while being flexible, are known well in advance of character creation. Groups in that game will have 6 slots, meaning a full group could have one of each archetype class, plus two spaces for whatever customization desired. You could have a group comprised completely of one archetype, but it will not be versatile or efficient.

Consequences: I suppose an issue a lot of parents have with games is that there are no consequences or, if there are, they aren't enforced or otherwise significant. In MMOs, there can be relatively huge consequences. Want to be a jerk and bad-mouth people in a public chat? You get temporarily banned from the game or, worse, people remember you and your infamous mouth. Suddenly need to get in on a group-necessary task? Too bad the leader of the group is someone who remembers your assinine antics. Bait another player into fighting you so you can have a laugh? Too bad his friends were standing nearby and creamed you afterwards. Nemesis, consequences... both great things.

Anyway... I feel like this isn't a great "back into blogging" post, but whatevah. Since returning from China, I find I have little to talk about. I like consistency and routine. That hardly makes for entertaining blogging.


PG said...

What are the chances that I would check your blog the day after you post?

Glad things are going OK. I must admit you haven't sold me on the overall positive value of MMOs. By all means, the skills built are valuable, but there are two major drawbacks I see:

1) The time consumed compared to the skills developed

2) The social distance reinforced by the game. For one, unless you use a VoIP app, people use chat to communicate, which (+) removes awkardness for those shy in holding verbal conversations face to face but (-) do not necessarily help them build social skills for real world face-to-face discussions. Furthermore, if as the handle +BlackKnight you commit too many faux-pas, you have the option of startinga fresh and coming in as +GreenKnight and starting afresh. You rarely get that opportunity in real life.

But the overall drawback of MMORPGs is that, like gambling, they can be so addictive. So it's not that MMORPGs are bad - it's that,like gambling, they're a hobby that can become very dangerous. Yes, many people become addicted to doing a certain thing -Heck, I have met compulsive trainers and runners, obsessed Martial Artists (they would call themselves passioned), etc. But I would say MMORPGs and gambling are more insidious and less beneficial.

Case in point: There is a co-worker who has been showing up tired and calling in sick on a regular basis. He is a MMORPG addict (40+ hours a week qualifies in my mind). Other than rating him sub-par for his performance, there isn't much that can be done by his supervisor. Some informal counseling, but the guy sees nothing wrong with his lifestyle, so ot's fairly pointless. The symptoms are there, and it's clear that his hobby is affecting his work.

Still, as long as one takes a balanced approach to MMORPGs, I have to admit they are fun, stimulating, immersive and do have redeeming values.


Wayward Mind said...

I won't disagree with you.

... okay, I will. :D

>>>The time consumed compared to the skills developed<<<

This entirely depends on the person. I would actually argue that, because the system requires a new learning curve, people move more quickly into learning both the system for the medium as well as the tools/traits/skills that allows one to do well within it.

>>>The social distance reinforced by the game.<<<

Not at all. While it may be different in the military, every place I've worked uses email to communicate, even if the interlocutor is only a short jaunt down the hall. In a MMO, you have to multi-task and multi-think: You're typing in real-time (important to note), and most likely doing something else simultaneously (fighting, crafting, moving, etc.). VoIP comms are extremely common in most MMO games - people use Skype, TeamSpeak or Ventrillo. In fact, WoW has its own voice chat built into the game itself. Whenever I play, I use Skype to chat with the guys playing WoW that I know from DAoC and local friends playing.

>>>Furthermore, if as the handle +BlackKnight you commit too many faux-pas, you have the option of startinga fresh and coming in as +GreenKnight and starting fresh.<<<

This is quite true, however, it's not so simple. A lvl 70 character is not going to simply "start fresh" and spend another 600 hours advancing to his former character's status. So, yes, this occurs, but far more rarely than you would think. The only times I've seen this is with gold farmers. They create lvl 1 characters, set up a macro to spam a given phrase or advertisement, and are gone within 2 minutes, before they can be reported and banned.

>>>But the overall drawback of MMORPGs is that, like gambling, they can be so addictive.<<<

You mean like... gaming? ;) I'm not being facetious but merely pointing out that any activity can be taken to an extreme (as you also noted). That said, there is an added dimension in MMOs: progression and achievement. People don't become addicted to the game. They become addicted to positive development and sense of accomplishment. Imagine going into work every day and, every time you completed a report and gave a briefing, you were rewarded with a cash bonus or given vacation day vouchers. Wouldn't you work harder and stay longer?

Your co-worker's situation is not an isolated case, unfortunately. There are hordes of people who begin to lessen commitments to other areas of their work to have more time to game. This, however, is more an issue of that person's character than it is of what they're investing their time in. You can't blame a nice car for someone's lust for speeding and reckless driving.

PG said...

Oh, e-mail is pervasive everywhere. Even the military. To the point where people prefer to use the e-mail than the phone, and put one layer of distance between them and the other person (me, I like to have a written record of what people tell me... paranoia...)

I know what you mean about personalities. The same can be said about most vices. I guess MMORPGs are too good at what they do - hence their addictiveness.

I don't think MMORPGs are bad in themselves - but I think that many people fail to realize their risks (it's just a game) compared to other risky behaviours that have more obvious consequences (gambling, alcohol, drugs, casual sex). You can gamble, drink, do drugs (legal or not) and have sex without becoming addicted. But some people do. Maybe we need banners (as with TV, tobacco and alcohol) to remind folks that there is also a real world out there.

And we haven't really touched on one postive thing - MMORPGs are another way of creating a social network and making new friends. I even know these guy, who met friends from DAoC in real life for the first time in Toronto...