grinding

Elite Dangerous: A Burro muses on employment in 3300 (aka “Will Merc For Food!”)

It struck me today that most employment opportunities in Elite Dangerous currently boil down to being a mercenary and this, to me at least, is a shame because it of limits the potential of the ‘open’ part of the open world of ED.

Now by mercenary I don’t just mean a hired gun, although if you look at almost any bulletin boards you’ll find no end of kill missions ranging from the more-or-less morally agreeable “Kill pirate scum to increase system security & prosperity” type all the way to the border-line-psycho “kill civilian ships to see the system descend into civil war” type. No, what I also mean is that unless you are the type of Cmdr who is happy to lock their beliefs to one system faction and work to benefit them at the expense of their rivals then you will no doubt find yourself whoring yourself out to multiple factions of opposing views and stances. In effect, whether you are fighting, trading, exploring or even mining, unless you are bound to one faction you are a merc pure and simple and that seems like a shame to me because binding to one faction limits just what you can currently do in the game and the effect that work can have on the universe.

Now maybe the upcoming “Power Play” update will fix these issues but as FD aren’t giving anything away about it no one knows, but what I’d like to see added at some point are the following:

  • A deeper way of working with and for a faction and for that work to actually have an impact in the system and therefore the universe. At the moment I don’t get a feel that what I’m doing is having any benefit at all and so is there any need to concern myself with doing it at all?
  • Companies and Corporations players can set up and bring other players into work with and for – I have my own RP version in Antfarm Consolidated but it’s just more RP vapour right now. Still, I would love it to be actually in the game and working to influence factions in a system (or systems!).
  • Navy jobs to be more than just merc jobs – the navy would want to recruit the best of the best and not have these chosen few working for the enemy as we all can do now with little to no upset. To be honest I couldn’t care less about a military career in the game but damn the RP that would come from those that do would be amazing!
  • Missions to be more… more… well, just more of everything really. Currently they are dull, repetitive, dead-end grinding and I want them to be interesting, expansive and dynamically altering to actually make them seem like they are branching and evolving. I don’t think words can express how much I hate the current missions structures in ED but some of those words would be swear words that rhymed with duck.
  • Wars to be more war-like with actual changes to a system rather than just a few scattered combat zones and check points because right now a system in conflict is system with a split personality disorder.
  • Expansion to be dynamic and… expansive. I want to move with companies and factions as they expand rather than just be stuck in my chosen system supporting my chosen faction by means of taking their dull as ditch water missions forever.

Most of all, and what underpins these rough, quick ideas, is that I don’t want to be a mercenary. I don’t want to spend the rest of my time in ED just selling my cargo hold or my guns to whoever can pay the most. No, I want my participation to be driven by more than money in my account – I want it to be driven by me and my choices. I want Power Play to give me the opportunity to shape the universe instead of the universe just shaping me.

UPDATE (09/04/15): Not long after I posted this the FD main Dev posted this about missions in the Power Play update: https://forums.frontier.co.uk/showthread.php?t=135952

The mill of God grinds slow but grinds exceedingly small…

This time last year I was deeply in love with a type of game that was new to me – the MMORPG. Sure I’d played in Second Life for over four years by that point so I had experienced the MMO part, and I had grown up playing paper & pencil role playing games such as MERP & Traveller so I had some knowledge of the RPG part, but to find myself playing a computer game that combined both was a revelation!

LOTRO, for that was the game, quickly proved to be a wonderful time-sink as I had a new world to explore that was free of the irritations that had built up for me in Linden Lab’s creation (lag, crazy management decisions, fugly landscapes, dumb but powerful players) and which offered me a play experience tailored to reaching an impressive goal. Unfortunately, within a few short months I began to realise that the green grass on the other side of hill might just be concealing a lot of thorny brambles.

Now, not having grown up playing MMOs I came to LOTRO as complete & unspoilt virgin. Yes I understood about existing in a 3D virtual persistent world, but I knew nothing about MMO combat or questing or levelling & skill progression. Like a man possessed with the desire to acquire new, exciting knowledge I threw myself into learning everything I could about just how MMOs work and this proved to be such a mammoth task that in my study of the details I simply overlooked the obvious, hulking elephant sat squarely in the room.

MMOs steal your time.

I don’t mean you become addicted and want to play every waking moment. No, every game or hobby does that at some point and it’s a normal reaction when doing something you enjoy to want to do lots more of it. At one time I would have given in and played as much as possible but now I’m married with kids that simply isn’t an option and I have to ration my on-line time and live vicariously through other people’s blogs, videos and podcasts. But this isn’t what I’m getting at when I say MMOs steal your time.

No, what I mean is that in the main the MMO business model makes money either through charging players regular subscriptions or leading them to make repeated purchases from an online micro-transaction store. The games themselves have evolved to feed the business model and a toxic relationship has grown up between them and you, the player. The games either deliberately space out content so you stay in game longer needlessly wasting hours of your time just so you pay another subscription fee, or they cynically build in mechanisms whereby you have to pay hard cash to overcome some inconvenience in the game.

Now I only have LOTRO to fall back on when I want to give examples but from what I hear many other games pull similar stunts to both greater & lesser degrees. To help me explain, let me give you some examples from 10 month playing Turbine’s LOTRO.

When Ranhold hit the right level, I wanted to start the process of getting his three legendary skills from his class trainer. All classes have the same route, you hit 35 (I think) and you can buy three books from your trainer that are ancient texts on your class. Unfortunately, because of their great age, several pages from each are missing and you are tasked with finding them. Once you do you can unlock one of three skills (one per book and presumably learnt from reading the great wisdom contained in each mouldy tome). Now, putting aside many logic issues (such as why rare books are for sale from trainers all over Middle Earth to all the practitioners of your class, and just how come these pages have fallen into the hands of any old bi-pedal creature in certain areas and of a certain level) the thing that really ripped my knitting about this task was how obvious it became that this was a just a mechanic to slow me down. It took me weeks of playing every evening and slaughtering hundreds upon hundreds of bad guys to find these pages and this was simply to keep me in the game long enough to charge me more subscriptions fees. Each book *could* have been gathered in a series of instanced quests that would have felt more logical and been far more fun than mindlessly hanging about waiting for the same orcs you had just killed for the twentieth time to respawn in exactly the same spots so you could kill them all again for the twenty first time and hope against hope the Gods of Random Number Generation would smile on you this time! But you see, the trouble with a quest line is it can be done in an evening and that isn’t good for poor old Turbine who want the poor sods playing their games to spew up more & more moolah. They can’t reach through the screen and pick your pocket so instead they manipulate their game so they can steal your time and charge you for it.

This wasn’t the only example, oh no. Reputation grinds always acted as a break on the story by stopping me in my tracks just so I could collect a bazillion twigs for no good or logical reason. Or what about kicking the crap out of several hundred (bad) dwarves in one mine just so I could get a goat from some (this time good) dwarves in another mine that would allow me to get around yet another mine full of dwarves (of which orientation I was past caring). And let’s not forget the three tasks assigned to you at around level 50? The ones that see you travelling all over the sodding place just to collect rare-ish drops from slugs and orcs and turtles and wargs and Uncle Bloody Tom Cobley for all I know? Why? For what reason?

To waste your time. To make you pay more.

And then there are the cash shop sinks. Every expansion Turbine seem to add a new grindy mechanic that includes an item you can get in game if you spend hundreds of hours killing hundreds of orcs just so you can then upgrade your Legendary Item in a system so designed to strip the fun out of feeling heroic you can only imagine it was designed by people who use Microsoft Excel to read War & Peace. Brian over at CMP said in one of his recent podcasts that he had resigned himself to the fact that every time Turbine put out a new expansion or update there is a very strong chance they will also add a new mechanic that will drive people to the store. This, to me at least, is simply not acceptable and not something I can accept.

But, I hear some of you say, I’m a Jonny Come Lately to these games so who am I to say that grinding is pointless or that adding cash item mechanics are bad form? True enough. I don’t speak for all MMO gamers, just me and I’ve spoken to lots of folks who love, or at least don’t mind, gathering reputation items and measure their success in gathering rancid pages from rotting orc corpses as quickly as possible. It’s just that it is not for me. I don’t like a company rationing my enjoyment of a game I’ve paid for. No, what I want is to buy a game and then play it how the hell I want to. I don’t want to have to spend hours and hours repeating menial, boring tasks. I may still choose to do that, but *I* want that choice and that is something I don’t think Turbine every truly offered me.

I also don’t like to feel as though I’m a wallet with legs to be opened and emptied when they feel like it. I want to feel like a valued customer and again I don’t think that Turbine have ever really demonstrated that I’m anything but a sucker to them.

Now please don’t feel I’m hitting just on Turbine here. Obviously I am but only because they are the only ones I have any experience with and I’m sure many game companies and their games are the same. I don’t play LOTRO any more and I’m damn sure I won’t play any game if I read even one review that mentions how grindy it is. Like refusing to continue reading bad book, life is too short to piss away playing games that just aren’t fun.