Posts Tagged ‘Learning Curve’

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Project WoW Noob: Days 3-4 – Contemplating The “MMO” And The “RPG”

December 13, 2010

DAY 3 & 4

Player: @jarira
Character Name: Saalua
Race and Class: Night Elf Hunter

Little elf lost in the big city.

After how smoothly Day 2 went, we decided to see how Jar can hold up in the game on her own. So I was pleasantly surprised to log in one night and see that she’d been online just a few hours before, and had actually gained a level by herself. I quickly shot her a message and asked her how Day 3 on her own worked out. Not so good, apparently. I gathered from her replies that the major highlights of her experience was that she had gotten lost, accidentally ran into a named mob three levels higher than her which killed her pet, and then it took a while for her to figure out how to rez him again.

After questing on my own the other day, I’m not so sure WoW is a game I would play on my own much. Its just so much more fun with someone else, especially when everything is new, and I literally get lost like all the time (as you saw today in the cave lol) I think it’s just my lack of experience with RPG type games, but I am really really bad with maps. I know the arrow is “right there” but I will wander around and have no idea where the hell I am going, and it’s not just in WoW, it’s happened in Zelda and stuff like that which is why I’m easily turned off by RPGs.

Having someone guide me around really helps – and even if they weren’t experienced with the game, running around lost together is much better than wandering around alone. Hence my point about WoW being a social thing – it’s like you’re hanging out with a friend in a virtual world.

Despite the quest markers and the mini-map arrows, getting lost still seems to be the main problem for our newbie. Not that I can blame her; Teldrassil is notoriously difficult to traverse (everywhere you turn is a damn hill or a massive Kalimdorian tree trunk in your way) and so on Day 4 we decided to quest together again.

One of the first quests we tackled was The Relics of Wakening. Does anyone else remember this awful, awful quest? At around level 8, a quest giver sends you into the Ban’ethil Barrow Dens, an underground labyrinth crawling with furbolgs, to pick up four sacred items. Well, this quest was given a major facelift in the Shattering patch. First of all, once you find the entrance, a Sentinel Huntress NPC will magically appear out of nowhere to offer to “guide” you through the den. Talking to her will open up a dialogue box with options to take you directly to the quest items, which makes me wonder why they’re sending me on this quest in the first place, if they know where everything is already. But I was like, whatever, this is nice. Choosing a destination will prompt the Huntress to summon a globe of light, which then leaves a lighted trail showing you exactly where to go.

She’s like an in-game GPS system! Now instead of wandering around the caves aimlessly getting more and more lost, we just follow the GPS lady. I suppose this is the definition of hand-holding, but I can’t say I minded it so much, because let’s be honest, this quest needed it bad. And for an MMO newcomer like Jar, this stuff is like a godsend. Here’s what she had to say:

I would say that RPGs are the genre of gaming that I have the least amount of experience with, because I’ve never really liked them. I know it’s blasphemy but I do not like Final Fantasy, Zelda, etc. I clearly cannot handle the open ended gaming worlds and I really need to be hand held and be told ‘do this, do that’. GTA is a good example of a game that is open enough but not too open for me to enjoy. Although, GTA is somewhat RPG style with the missions, etc. there is a lot more structure to GTA and a definitive end to the game.

The big difference with WoW is that it is online, with other people. So what I’ve always disliked about RPGs, it’s not so bad when there is some sort of social interaction to it, and someone around to help you out (real people, not those guides that show up in the game lol – although I must admit, as lame as they might be, they are really helpful, and a nice touch from a usability point of view). They’ve managed to create a help system by integrating it into the actual gameplay. It’s kind of neat.

Her statements sort of bring up another point — I think her feelings about RPGs and her limited experience with them are obstacles that might make it harder for her to get into a game like WoW. For one thing, MMORPGs can be a lot of work when you’re just starting out. Not everyone will have the patience to weather through the learning curve, and I think people already familiar with RPGs will find the transition much smoother and easier. Jar’s a self-confessed ADD gamer, and what she wants is to get in there and play, right away. Keep it quick, or you’re going to lose her attention. Still, I was glad to see that the process of leveling was at least somewhat rewarding, according to what Jar wrote to me:

When I see the (XP) bar about to cap off, I can’t wait until I level up. I’m by no means a completist gamer, but new quests are still exciting to me…and the prospect of getting cool items is still a novelty (I am going to be the worst hoarder, I am so sure about that already).

While I am enjoying the game so far, I can see how my patience might start to wear thin – I think at this point it could go either way (whether I stay with the game or not) but for now, I give my 3.5 days of WoW experience a thumbs up.

While we’re on the topic of RPGs, I also want to make a comment about lore. Pete of Dragonchasers made a statement that the game lore and narrative will mean nothing to someone brand new to WoW, and I made it a point to ask Jar specifically what she thought about that, since I was curious too. Well, he was absolutely right, at least when it comes to her. As a newcomer to WoW, Jar’s initial interest in the lore was non-existent, and it was far from being her first priority when it comes to getting into the game. I am sure as well that her lack of interest in RPGs to begin with also contributed to her ambivalence:

I pretty much don’t know anything about the lore in WoW, what I know is what I have observed in the game, which isn’t much. I have no idea what I’m doing within the game means in a larger context. Right now, to me it’s just a world with different races, that run around doing quests to get money or items.

Of course it would be nice to put everything into context and to know the story behind the game, but I prefer having the story integrated into my gameplay as opposed to massive amounts of exposition. Obviously, lore adds a huge amount of depth to a game, and it enables that emotional connection that I mentioned, but for me it’s like a vicious cycle – I want the strong story line to grasp on to in the game but I don’t really want to be bored by the details of it all cause I just want to play. I am just a huge child! Find a way to tell me without boring me!

I think that’s definitely what Blizzard is trying to work on, because integrating story into the gameplay is sort of what I’m seeing in the revamped Azerothian zones. But I still don’t think that’s going to be a big draw to a new player, at least until he or she starts making an emotional connection to the game.

And I have to say, the starting areas for the pre-Cataclysm races still leave a lot to be desired. At the end of that day, I had a revelation myself — I hate the Night Elf starting area.

Even with the changes, it’s just too bland, too tedious. I kinda got the feeling Jar felt the same way. Plus, based on some of her comments, I think what she really likes about an MMO is the “Massively Multiplayer” aspect, the part where you get to be with other people and be social, and I think Teldrassil is a tad remote for that. It was time for a change of scenery.

Well, I figured if she wants to see people, I can show her people. And since she sounded so enthusiastic about taking a boat the other day, I decided to take her across the ocean to the human lands.

Ahh, I can still remember my first ever venture into Stormwind. Just the grandness of it all, crossing the bridge over the Valley of Heroes, seeing towering statues on both sides and the shining white walls of the city just ahead. And the music! And the people! Definitely one of those MMO moments I’ll carry with me forever. I was hoping Jar could get that same sense of awe that I felt, and from the number of “OMG”s I got from her as we traveled from the harbor to the Trade District, I’m guessing she did:

I can’t believe that there are banks and auction halls and everything! And the amount of people in Stormwind is crazy! When I couldnt find your character in the crowd it was hilarious, it was like we were literally lost in a crowd!

I think she was glad we didn’t start out in the human lands, because it was so much more fun for her to see the hustle and bustle of Stormwind after being in the relative quiet of the Night Elf area. Since that was the eve of the Cataclysm launch and I had to haul ass to the midnight release, I left her after that hoping she would do some exploring on her own. Exploration is one of the three pillars of MMO gaming after all, and even though I didn’t think she was into that, I figured if being in Stormwind doesn’t make you want to explore, I don’t know what will. Sure enough, I got an email from her the next day:

In the night elf area I never felt compelled to discover the area cause there was really nothing to discover, but Stormwind is a whole different story. I actually didn’t mind exploring a bit before I looked for any quests – and trust me, that is a lot coming from a lazy ADD gamer.

It was funny to see little children running around and stuff and the different merchants there are. I ‘talked’ to one of the guards just to see what kind of places I could go to, and yeah, there were a lot. I found the profession guy that I was looking for. I picked up a few quests and had the intention of starting them, and after crossing a few bridges it seemed like it was kind of far (or I got lost, who knows really lol).

So, at this point, I’m not sure if WoW is going to be a game for her, but at least Stormwind was a big hit, and I had a feeling it would be.

I actually bought candy from a candy vendor cause I thought it was so funny. I was like OOH CANDY!!!

Oh yeah. I totally did that too.

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Project WoW Noob: Day 2 – Questing…FINALLY!

December 6, 2010

DAY 2

Player: @jarira
Character Name: Saalua
Race and Class: Night Elf Hunter

Well, Day 2 started off on a rather inauspicious note:

@jarira: “I’m ready to play now!”
Me: “Sure, go head. I’ll be right there.” *logs in, types /invite Saalua*

Two minutes pass…

WoW: Saalua has declined your group invitation!
Me:
*retypes /invite Saalua*

Another two minutes pass…

WoW: Saalua has declined your group invitation!
Me: WTF? *Sends direct message to Jarira* “What’s wrong, are you not past the loading screen yet?”
@jarira:
OMG some random bitch keeps trying to invite me to their party!
Me:
“Wha-? That’s ME, you fool!”

Clearly, a quick lesson on how to use the social window and to add friends was in order. She’ll have no excuse to forget my name ever again.

Amazingly, we managed to get through the rest of our play session with no major problems. We only had some slight issues with combat, when she kept trying to use her dagger on her enemies — *cue the exasperated groans that only a melee hunter can incite* — but come on now, she’s completely new to this so let’s give her a break. First of all, let’s put ourselves in a new player’s shoes. Jar couldn’t have known right off the bat that her bow would do considerably more damage. In fact, I think most would think, Why else would I be given a knife, if not to stab stuff with it too?

Anyway, when we finally got to questing, Jar was able to pick it up really quickly thanks to the markers and the arrows on the mini map.

Also, never underestimate the value of the quest text. More than a few people I know do not ever bother reading those; if an NPC offered a quest to sell crack to children in the next town and convince the mayor’s daughter to be a prostitute they would never realize it. Even I’ll admit that some of us who have been playing MMOs for years can probably afford to quickly skim some of the dialogue when it’s clear it will be a rather straight forward quest. For the newcomer, however, it is imperative to REALLY read the quest and understand the details fully.

Being in a group with Jar, I realized belatedly that my presence might have made her feel rushed. Some of these post-patch quests were brand new to me too, but they came much more intuitively to me than to her.

Here are some of the newbie’s thoughts on her second day of WoW:

The 2nd time around was way more enjoyable than the first. Once you get the hang of things it’s really fun to collect shit and level up, and get items etc etc but I can see how it would get repetitive after a certain amount of time – so I am intrigued to try the next level of gameplay once I get there.

Yes, I should mention that once we started getting the hang of things, Jar really got going — to the point she was finishing quests before I did! So while the game arguably still falls short of teaching a complete newbie ALL the basics even after the changes, they may have gotten the questing part of it done right. From her statements above, I gather Jar is already eager to see content beyond the starter/tutorial zone. It’s not a cry of “Gawd, I’m so booooored!” by any means, but another part of me wonders if Pete might be on to something after all.

Another insight from our newbie:

I can really see how the game can be addictive – especially from a social aspect.

Interesting. It’s no secret that one of the MMO genre’s biggest appeals is the social factor and community. But for that to be the “addictive” part? Personally, I always thought that it is the combination of in-game progression, competition, and a carrot-on-a-stick loot system that makes WoW and other MMOs like it so addictive, because they appeal to our natural inclinations to give ourselves goals and to achieve them. On the other hand, I guess I can’t say I’m all that surprised, since I myself have been known to log in to a game for no reason other than to see what my friends are up to, or to chat in Vent. I’m also wary of sweeping assumptions, but I do happen to agree with the generalization that most women love the social aspect a game offers.

Speaking of Vent, I also want to add that one of my guildies jumped into our channel to cheer Jar on once she found out what we were doing. I really do have some awesome guildies.

Some closing thoughts from Jar:

Before we played last night I went to get dinner with some friends who are gamers (console mainly, only one of them plays WoW, the RP-PvP dude) and we were discussing WoW and the dark path that it can take people down.

My friend claims that it’s not that time consuming, but he forgot that when he started to play again, he had just been laid off and leveled up to 80 in a short amount of time cause he was at home all day and had no money. He works full time now and only plays casually but I don’t see it as a casual game right off the bat.

And we also discussed the responsibility it comes with because a big part of the game is the social aspect, so it’s not like you’re gaming for one anymore, you have sort of a commitment and responsibility to your guild which is what makes us all very hesitant to go down that WoW path.

Another intriguing statement. I originally started this “project” for fun, but it has given me more food for thought than I expected. I’m curious as to what others have to say about this.

Me, I said, “It really depends.” I don’t know this friend of hers, but I do know some people might find themselves in a hardcore guild that demands you commit to five raid nights a week or else you’re out. Others prefer a more laid back environment and a guild that’s more casual and flexible. Some guild leaders run their guilds like a boot camp. Others cater to a large range of playstyles and allow their members to be as active or non-active as they please.

In the end, however, no one should be able to force you or tell you how to play. No one.

But this also made me realize something. Game mechanics you can review, quests you can research, and class abilities you can master…but perhaps the most difficult thing about getting into an MMO is something you can’t really learn — finding a place for yourself in the game’s community. It can take a while to find the perfect guild to fit your playstyle and schedule, and above all else, your personality. It is especially hard if you don’t know anyone else who plays, and let’s face it, the less said about WoW’s dismal community the better.

I feel fortunate that the guild I’m in is friends-and-family oriented, has a leadership that is so understanding of its members’ real life obligations, and that everyone has a good sense of humor, is mature, friendly and supportive. I hope Jar will feel at home, because once you find your niche in the world and a great bunch of people to play with, it’s the most rewarding experience you can imagine. And for a new player, that can make all the difference.

Note: Go here for Project WoW Noob: Day 1.

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Beating the Learning Curve

January 21, 2010

Arg, come on and hurry up so I can play...

For me, nothing beats the feeling I get right before I try out a new game. I’m in high spirits from the time I pay for it at the store to the moment I’m sitting in front of my TV or computer, waiting for it to load or install. I’m excited about things like the challenges I’ll encounter, the worlds I’ll get to explore, or the enemies I get to waste. But whatever. Before I can do anything of the sort, I have to learn the game.

This for me has got to be the worst part of playing any new game. And I’m not talking about things like finding out what races you can play or what zones you can visit, etc. That’s learning about a game, which usually involves exploration and discovery, and is actually the fun part! Contrast that with learning how to play a game, by which I mean getting right down and dirty to dissecting the mechanics–anything from working out which buttons to press to figuring out how much crit you get from each point of agility. I know I could very well be in the minority here, but while people who like this kind of thing can argue that it’s just another form of exploration and discovery, I just know it’s not the same thing.

To me, this is the stuff you have to get past in order to reach the meat of the game. Simply put, I start enjoying myself once I know what the hell I’m doing.

A newcomer to the genre won't understand why this is legendary.

Take any product with lots of features. In general, you don’t get the most out of it until you actually learn what all those features are. This is why your $2,000 cappuccino machine complete with a professional frother comes with an instruction booklet. It’s there to give you all the information you need to enjoy your purchase. Your average MMO is the same way; you get the most out of your game once you learn it inside and out. The thing is, for a first-time MMO player, that’s going to be a staggering amount of information. And unfortunately, most of it is not going to be in the manual.

The idea for this post came after talking to a friend of mine who says he will never ever play an MMO. To be sure, they aren’t for everyone, and I think the huge learning curve is part of it. Even the most experienced of MMO gamers have to go through a learning process with each new game (and sometimes with each new expansion or patch) and this is why I will force myself to suffer through even the most tedious of tutorials. And yes, I will read every word no matter how obvious the instructions. I just don’t want to be scratching my head later on because I got cocky.

Still, it’s a little easier for people like me, or for anyone who has had at least one MMOG under their belt. But consider what it might be like for your MMO newcomer. Even the things that we think are intuitive might not be that intuitive after all to the noobiest of noobs. For example, for someone who has never even played an RPG, the idea of stats would be a difficult concept to grasp. I had a friend in this boat, whom I caught with Intellect swords on his World of Warcraft lowbie warrior. When I asked about it, he told me. “I wanted a smart character.” While this is funny, I didn’t laugh because he was new, and also because it was then that it hit me. Stats are weird. Intelligence? Strength? Luck? Wisdom? Perception? These are all great qualities I would put on my own resume, so why shouldn’t the newcomer feel the need to take them all?

If you were just button-mashing as a kitty, you were doing it wrong.

Now, to the above example, I could have easily told the guy “L2 read tooltips”. But, please. We all know reading is optional in MMOs. All joking aside though, most people don’t like to play games that make them feel like they’re studying. And to someone who thinks reading tooltips is a pain in the ass…well, just wait ’til he gets to the higher levels. I’m going to keep using World of Warcraft as an example because most people are surprised when they hear about the complexities of theory crafting. “Why, that sounds like math!” they say. Uh, yeah, that’s exactly what it is. Pages and pages of mathematical equations exist out there whose sole purpose is to show you why that weapon is your best-in-slot or why you should or shouldn’t be using a particular rotation. That’s why it always makes me laugh when I see comments like “WoW is so easy my 7-year-old daughter can play it!” or “Oh, WoW is just all about button mashing.” Well, I can tell you that none of those people ever raided as a DPS feral druid (Note: experience is based on pre-Patch 3.2 observations). This was a class whose ridiculously complicated “rotation” inspired hilarious works such as this. One can argue that WoW has been dumbed down in many ways, but it’s still not as “mindless” as some claim it to be, not if you wanted to raid or PvP effectively (or in other words, not be bad) and if that’s what it takes to get the most out of my game, I will suck it up and learn, math be damned! The irony here, of course, is that the burnout from theory crafting is part of why I’m taking my indefinite break from the game.

Still, even before you get to this point, the MMO-newcomer has major obstacles to overcome. First, one must learn their way around the user interface. And I’ll tell you, the UIs on some of the MMOs I’ve played look more like mission control for a shuttle launch. Can you say, the hotkey is your friend? Second, there is the language. Like all cultures, members the MMO community use a collection of jargon and slang to communicate with each other. And yes, that includes a healthy dose of acronyms. DPS? PUG? WTS? BoP? LFG? How about WTF? Because that’s what the new MMO player is probably thinking when he reads something like “LF3M Kara, need MT and CC then G2G, PST!”

Frustration leads to the dark side!

There’s a lot more I can name that would make the MMO-noob’s head explode, but I think I’ve made my point. A learning curve is something we all have to beat in order to get the most out of our games, and the MMO can pose quite the challenge to someone who has never played one. For some, learning can be fun but it can also be a barrier. A person who doesn’t get it is not going to enjoy themselves, and they’re also going to struggle. Struggling leads to frustration, and a frustrated person doesn’t usually keep doing the thing that’s making them frustrated in the first place. So it doesn’t matter how awesome a game is, if it’s too complicated from the get go, the new MMO player won’t stick around long enough to find out.

For example, my best friend in real life who has never played an MMO couldn’t get into World of Warcraft after playing the 10-day trial. This initially surprised me, considering how much we have in common and the fact we share many interests because of it. But then I thought about it. I may have gotten hooked so quickly because I was fortunate enough to be part of a great guild soon after I started playing. Not only did that social aspect provide me with a fun environment in which to play, the wonderful people in it also helped me understand a lot of the game mechanics in a relatively short period of time. On the other hand, I doubt my friend even had the opportunity to join a guild in her 10 days of playing. God forbid, she might even have encountered the ugly side of the community during her adventures through the low levels. After all, nothing turns a person off faster than being subjected to Barrens chat.

It’s just a shame, as I was probably out of the country at the time my best friend was trying out the game because she never told me about it until after the fact. It makes me wonder if it had anything to do with the learning curve. Could she have gotten into WoW if I had been playing with her and had been there to give her tips? For developers, helping new players beat the learning curve becomes a question of how user-friendly (not the same as “easy”) you can make your game for newcomers to the genre, especially the beginning areas. However, I do believe it is the community that can make most of the difference. So what to do if you’re one of those who are looking to dive into the wonderful world of MMOs but don’t want to be overwhelmed by the deluge of information? Hook up with a friend who already plays! And if that’s not possible, find a supportive guild of like-minded people, stat! Much of what there is to know can only come from more experienced players.