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Playing More and Playing Better

September 11, 2012

Dear Reader,

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)


8 Comments leave one →
  1. September 11, 2012 8:15 am

    Thank you for clarifying. 🙂 Everything you said makes a lot more sense now.

  2. Kishmet permalink
    September 11, 2012 8:40 am

    I still think if the playing better part comes in form of you can fulfill any role at any tme (ok not mid-combat but you know what I mean), that it cheapens what I liked about MMOs: The fact that you had to make choices and those choices had consequences. If I made a Rogue I could shine as a DPS but I had no heals or fancy charge like other classes. That made classes unique, which in my case led to respecting players who played other classes.
    This might come across as a bit confusion so I’ll try to explain.
    I for instance very early in my TBC days envied Warrirors for their cool charge and nice lookng two handed weapons. I wanted to have “Charge” as well but I was a Rogue so tough luck. Same with buffs and heals, I really envied classes that had buffs and heals like the Paladin or Priest etc. (and I dont mean envy as in “OMG QQ I have to have that as well).
    And this envy led for me to appreciate the different abilities every class brought to the party and it also made me feel more valued as a group member since I also brought unique skills to the group.
    Now if everyone gets all the same skills and can switch between them I am afraid that kind of respect for the different classes will vanish. I already see this through the self-heal Rogues have or the stealth that Hunters got, which more often that not results in Rogues just neglecting to appreciate heals (I mean why should they they have their own heal that they can keep up 24/7 without much trouble) or Hunters simply not appreciatng a difficult CC (when that actually happens once in a blue moon).
    I guess all Im tryng to say is I miss the real consequence it used to be to choose a class. Now it does not feel like it really matters after all I can do anythiing. And imo it shows in how players treat eachother as well and hurts the social side of the game that I loved so much.
    As a last thought though don’t ger me wrong when I say I want consequence so I can feel like a special snowflake and all that, I want consequense so everyone has the chance to feel like a special snowflake, including me.

  3. September 11, 2012 9:13 am

    I’m not sure I agree on GW2 not encouraging playing more. I’ve only hit the 20s on my main, lot of time experimenting with different classes, but it looks like the upgrade paths are:

    1) Craft or buy crafted gear, which requires gold or materiel grinding.
    2) Karma purchases, which requires grinding DE.
    3) Instance gear. I’m least sure here but I think you need to run story mode first then each of the variants to get all the gear. I’m also not sure if this is just cosmetic or if it is effective.

    I think your definition of play is close to mine, using your character in PvE or PvP content to best advantage to achieve your goals. Unfortunately, that requires us to define those goals and I don’t see a way to do that without the imposition of a single play-style as the assumed norm. One other thing that probably poisons this discussion is the general ease of most MMO open-world content. The days of having to be careful in EPL or Winterspring are long gone.

    “Playing better” becomes slightly nebulous in an MMO and the more options you have the more nebulous it becomes. I can tell you what it means in Go or Borderlands but once you add different modes of play the concept of better breaks apart. What one player considers ‘playing better’ may be ‘playing more’ to someone who dislikes the selected activity and considers it just another grind. Ultimately you may be correct that it depends on if the game is open-ended (an MMO) or has a victory condition (everything else).

    Let’s consider the nature of a game with a victory condition and replay potential. I don’t think that anyone would disagree that Go has a clear beginning and a clear end. It therefore should be a ‘play better’ game. But to ‘play better’ you need to play. If you are motivated to improve you are probably also playing more because you enjoy the experience. But you are also playing parts of the game rather than full games – studying ko fights or joseki. Neither is very interesting to a casual player but for people who enjoy the game it is fascinating.

    Bringing this back to an MMO, it seems to be reversed. Some people find dailies to be the worst thing ever created, other people enjoy them as a way to use their characters and earn some modest improvements. I have no doubt that the first group will tell you that this is ‘playing more’ while the later will maintain it is ‘playing better’. The interesting thing is that the player perspectives are reversed from Go – the people running small parts of the game are considered the casual gamers while the people who only see a point to running full-on content (raids) are serious.

    • September 11, 2012 9:27 am

      Actually, to be fair on the last paragraph the MMO-equivalent is theory crafting or reading the results of theory craft rather than dailies or the like. Equally externalized from the game itself. Very interesting that the MMO has this additional layer to the game that traditional games to not.

    • Ettesiun permalink
      September 11, 2012 10:24 am

      My main point of disagreement is at the begining of your comment : “using your character in PvE or PvP content to best advantage to achieve your goals”
      I totally understand this – and sometime it is my goal – but this is not the only way to play. You can also play without any goal other than enjoying what you do.
      In fact, I think we have those two reason why we play : to achieve some goals (see the story, be more powerfull, be the first to finish a raid, etc…) and because we enjoys the activites.

      This is my understanding of the Better VS More : when you play to achieve a goal you want to play More : achieving more goals, being More Powerfull, seeing More story etc… When you play for the fun you play for Better : you want Better gameplay, Better character (more fun to play, not more powefull).

      For me GW2 makes me, for now, play more for the fun of it than to achieve goal.

      The price model of GW2 encourages the Better over the More : ArenaNet want people to say “this is a great game” in order to maximise the number of people that buy the game VS people that play longer – they may give money in Gem Shop but this is less likely and not directly linked to longer of play.

    • September 11, 2012 11:25 am

      But that’s the thing – for you in GW2 ‘play better’ is run a character and experience the story and the world. That is using your character in PvE to your best advantage to achieve your goals. The word ‘goal’ is frequently considered competitive but that is not always the case.

      Considering your definition of more vs. better you are applying a value judgement that people who want to improve their character or complete an activity (see the world, complete all the hearts, etc.) are ‘playing more’ but that people who are just doing what they want are ‘playing better’. Why do you assume that the first group are not enjoying themselves? I’ll grant you the Eve Bittervets and the WoW Raid-burnout crew, but most of us do play games for relaxation and enjoyment.

      I still don’t see how you can separate the two concepts for most people. If we enjoy the game we will play more, but we will also look to play better as we develop our characters and interact with the world. For the game company it really doesn’t matter. Either view can be used to generate a cash flow.

    • September 15, 2012 11:02 am

      I don’t know that we’re in disagreement. I think that GW2 encourages both, rather than encouraging one at the expense of the other. I also agree that the whole discussion is rather nebulous simply because “more” may be “better” to some people, so they’re really only definitions that I can safely use amongst my group of friends who have similar tastes and play styles. Still, I don’t agree that it fully breaks apart in MMOs, either; I think it needs to be redefined by the individual who’s using it to scale games, narrowed based on their tastes, but I think it still holds up just fine (as it has for me and my cadre for many years).

      Thanks for the comment!

  4. September 11, 2012 10:43 am

    This post has made me think a lot about the playing more vs playing better. The whole not paying to play thing also makes me ponder about the goals that the game makers want us to achieve in the game – is it to draw you in or is it to make money? I know money is the bottom dollar, but somehow the whole GW2 way of playing seems more… enriching rather addictive. I dunno, maybe I’m just tired, and have to sleep on this thought a little more.

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