Playing More and Playing Better
I recently mentioned that I felt Guild Wars 2 was emphasizing playing better as opposed to playing more. Shintar questioned me regarding this, saying,
“I think it’s a bit odd to claim that it’s not in GW2′s interest to make you play more. Don’t you have to pay for extra character slots etc.?”
and following up with
” I reckon they are no less interested in getting your money than any other MMO developer…”
Let me start by saying that I fully agree, and, also, kudos for using “reckon.” Let’s start with a little background explaining where these terms came from.
When I originally began thinking of companies as emphasizing playing more or playing better, it was long before I had ever purchased an MMO or paid a monthly subscription to a game. I began this definition back when Neverwinter Nights had come out. I had played many games before that which allowed for a fair share of customization, which to the developers and their marketing agencies meant replayability, games like Syndicate, Might and Magic, and Legacy: Realm of Terror. None of them had ever engaged me enough, though, to play through a second time. I believe now it’s because, as Raph Koster wrote, they used narrative as a reward, which means that once you’ve played through it once, there’s no incentive to play through it again.
When NWN and its persistent servers came out, though, you could continue past the narrative, enjoying the persistent worlds with new mechanics, environments, and enemies. I thought of this “playing more” as a benefit, then, a positive addition to a game, so I invested for years in games that I felt you could “play more” for added benefit.
Then MMOs appeared on my radar. In them, you were certainly encouraged to play more – much more – having enough character slots to choke a horse. Since “playing more” wasn’t an issue any more, it basically fell away as a consideration for me. It wasn’t until I started playing multiple MMOs and experienced different leveling, character development, and business models that I started to think of “playing better.” WoW encouraged some amount of playing better; you could keep improving your character almost ad nauseum, but at the cost of constantly repeated content, which seemed like “playing more.” You could continue this to tedium, until you hit the content valley between the last patch and the next expansion. At the end of BC, I for the first time hit this valley. My old guild had fallen apart, most of my friends had stopped playing, and I was bored, so I went elsewhere – to DDO.
In comparison, DDO then encouraged playing more over playing better. Even back in its subscription days, you had to grind dungeons multiple times. I was all right with DDO; I enjoyed it, but I preferred WoW. WoW had more content to play through, less tedium, more playing better and less just playing more. Here, I had finally cemented the two ideas in my mind. They’re not mutually exclusive, and neither is all good or all bad, but, to define them, a game that emphasizes playing more requires a lot of repetition to utilize your time, whereas a game that focuses on playing better has less repetition, but also might end more quickly.
Virtually all MMOs incorporate both, but as the Free to Play model has gained a wider acceptance, playing more seems to have become synonymous to some developers as making more money. Take Allods, the most familiar of the F2P MMOs that I experienced when I was testing them. It was a perfectly fine game, except the leveling slowed to a grinding halt because they wanted to force you to buy experience boosting consumables so you could play less. I wasn’t happy with that business model at all and considered it a hidden cost, abandoning the game shortly after learning of this leveling gimmick.
Even the overt and honest subscription model bases its money generation off of playing more. They’re direct about it – you know what you’re playing monthly – but they also make more money the longer you keep the subscription up, meaning that having a lot of character slots and needing a lot of grinding is a money making strategy for the company.
Roles are also an issue in playing more versus playing better. To truly fully experience any content tier in WoW, one would have to tank, heal, and dps it. That would require at least 3 specs, which, yes, could be on a single character, but it’s more likely that a player would have two or three toons with which they’d have to fully gear and then successfully raid. That requires a lot of time; even if you played a druid or paladin, it would require an enormous investment in grinding heroics.
The Secret World, on the other hand, allows you to take all roles on one character, switching them out as you see fit. The gearing, I assume, still requires some repetition, but less than WoW. The Secret World, then, emphasizes playing a single character better rather than multiple characters more.
So when I said that Guild Wars 2 encouraged playing better over playing more, I wasn’t suggesting they didn’t have their own business model, but meant more that their costs didn’t seem hidden within the leveling system. They allow you to play your character in basically whatever role you want, playing ranged or melee, with a variety of abilities that are quickly switchable between combats, across virtually any zone you at or below your level. They don’t have a hidden cost beyond the 60 dollars, which I find up front and honest (as opposed to some F2P models). Guild Wars 2, though can offer you to play both more and better in a relatively honest manner, since the “more” doesn’t equate to a longer subscription as it does with most other MMOs.
I hope this has somewhat clarified my position on playing more and playing better. They’re not necessarily opposites, although many gaming companies make them so, and neither is inherently good or bad. Still, if I had to choose, at this point in my life I’d prefer to play better, which I think both TSW and GW2 have allowed. MoP may, too, but I haven’t logged in since I patched, so I can’t be sure. Thoughts on that?
Stubborn (and clear)