Equal Treatment

We’ve reached a point in our family life where we’re beginning to discipline our younger son (we have two boys – one 5 years old and one nearly 2). It’s not at the same level as our older, but we have begun to set limits and actively say, “No.” to certain things while also explaining why. This is an important distinction for us as parents because where before it was a matter of safety for the yes/no threshold, our younger son is starting to really get “into things” where my wife and I feel the need to draw a few lines and enforce acceptable/not acceptable. Setting expectations vs. corralling them and all that. Once kids get an attention span longer than a few seconds, it doesn’t suffice to turn them away or distract them; they’ll just go back at it unless its made clear.

This is just a really long lead-in to a question that came up between my wife and I last night, which I naturally and immediately turned into a thought about MMOs. The question was, “Shouldn’t we be disciplining [the younger] the same as we did [the older]?”. But what did we discipline our first child over? Because in a lot of ways we just can’t remember (memory loss due to long-term sleep deprivation).We remember that at the same age, we were already disciplining our older son through timeouts and similar consequences. But over what issues?

There is an aspect of first-child-second-child at play here; in all honesty we probably were much more strict with our older son because it was our first time, and we didn’t want to “screw him up” by letting him run wild. Hence the personality differences that seem to be common between older and younger siblings. And even at this age, there is a personality difference, and that influences discipline. Our older son was just more curious and strong-willed, so we had to say “No” a lot more.

We want our kids to be brought in a home that promotes fairness and equality. But do developers need to guarantee the same treatment for their players?

Stick with me as a think through it; obviously, the game needs to promote “fair play” in that exploits and cheating between groups of players (or players and the environment) is minimized. But what I’m thinking about is the concept that themepark MMOs need to provide access to the exact same content to all players. Unless it’s a microtransaction model, players pay their entry fee and can ride all the rides (given enough time and/or effort). The experience is the same every time you visit; you might skip a ride or two every once in a while, or ride them in different order, and the park occasionally opens a new ride, or closes down an unpopular one. But the experience is essentially the same for everyone.

Isn’t having access to the same quantity of content enough? Sure, there might be rides that everyone rides (e.g. the Epic storyline in LotRO), but does the progression through content have to be identical no matter what race/class/faction/etc. is chosen?

And I’m not thinking of something like the “storyline for each class” that The Old Republic, either. Despite the wealth of content that represents, the experience would be the same every time one played an Imperial Agent, or a Smuggler, or a Trooper. What I’m talking about is the opportunity for real choice, and real cnosequences in a player’s experience. At least, as far as the story any given player will receive; once again, I think developer’s confuse the concept of player choice with global impact. We (players) don’t need our choices to be reflected in the world for everyone to see. It would be enough to have our choices reflected in the world we see.

I know this represents a lot of extra work for a developer. But I’m not convinced the 1500-or-more-hours-of-content design philosophy is really necessary anymore. If a developer were to come right out and say, “Look, you could pour 20+ hours a week into the game. But your going to burn through it in a handful of months. We’re designing for the player who can commit 4 to 5 hours per week, and we want those players to be successful and viable.” That would be a game for Real People, with Real Families and Real Jobs in the Real World.

Then a developer could design the content with choice and consequence in mind. The experience changes for every character created, and you can deliver an experience that offers a few hundred hours from start to endgame. Sure, you’d have players with tons of alts, but developers already have that in spades. And for those of you thinking, “A few hundred hours of content isn’t conducive to retaining player subscriptions for the long term”, I’d say that’s a good point – given the current design philosophy. But at 4 to 5 hours per week, you’re looking at one to two years of playing to work through a few hundred hours of content. And I’d be willing to subscribe to a game that lets me experience all of its content without feeling like I have a second job just so I can participate in the endgame.

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