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  1. #1
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    Its an Adventure, not a Drug - Rewards in Gaming

    I spend a great deal of time in the outdoors. Hiking, kayaking, even some geocaching now and then. White water rafting. I enjoy exploring wild places and the unpredictable nature of the adventures often encountered in such places.

    Which is perhaps what makes gaming so difficult for me.

    Exploring wild areas grants all sorts of rewards. Rewarding mountain top vistas. Challenging, exciting rapids. Spotting the occasional shy wild animal. Overcoming obstacles on backwoods trails. Surviving with only the gear on your back for days in the wild. Finding your way with nothing but a compass and a map into and out of the wilds is even its own reward, after a fashion.

    And the best part of all of these rewards: They are all completely - or at least mostly - unpredictable. Sure you might suspect that a beautiful vista awaits at the top of this mountain. But do you know already what, exactly, you will see? How about this rapid? Its challenging, but dos it try and recycle you or just push you under? What technique works best to conquer this particular obstacle. Even wild animals are unpredictable, in that you never know whether its a deer on the trail or an eagle higher up - or even a bear or cougar - you might encounter along your path. Or nothing at all. The most exciting part of the rewards earned for exploring wild places is the unpredictable nature of those rewards.

    Gaming could offer similar rewards. And this goes double for sandbox games and MMO's. Their large worlds, detailed graphics and varied environs offer the perfect opportunity to focus on unpredictable, random, rewards spread across immense worlds, waiting for discovery. Games could offer real adventure, if they tried.

    But they don't.

    Games dole out rewards like new items and abilities on stead, predictable time lines readily visible to the player. Even loot is predictable in terms of both location and usually, with literally Rare exceptions, power level. Loot starts out mundane and becomes gradually more satisfying as the player puts in more time and effort, raising the quality of loot and the resultant euphoria it inspires through gradually increased exposure to this formulaic process. If it sounds like a familiar process, it should be, because games aren't the only thing in our society that utilizes this formula of gradually increasing rewards in exchange for gradually increasing levels of exposure.

    Another way to get the same basic feeling: Drug Abuse.

    Face it: The typical video game system for handing out rewards like loot and new skills basically focuses not on the enjoyment of the player, but on the addiction of the player to the game. Many games - and almost every MMO in existence today - uses a formula not unlike the euphoria and withdraw cycle of drugs in order to captivate millions across the world and convince to player just a little longer, just one more month's subscription price.

    We have a choice in life. We can revel in unpredictable, rewarding events through genuine exploration and adventure. Or we can amuse ourselves with borderline addictive behavior in order to follow a carefully prescribed process of rewarding events laid out by game publishers - and the psychologists they no doubt employ - as a means to emptying our wallets by stimulating our brains in nearly the exact same way drug addiction does.

    I wish more game developers cared about the adventure. I wish they understood what we really want in games. To explore the unknown; to receive rewards we didn't expect, didn't see coming. To not want to be hemmed in by arbitrary numbers and levels until such time as we have played long enough - and often paid money enough - to be allowed to explore anew. But alas, games must make money and to do so they must keep people playing. So we remain enslaved to level grinding and addiction-like simulation in order to enjoy a hobby.

    Its almost shameful, really.

  2. #2
    Lesser Hivemind Node Keep's Avatar
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    There is no genre of games that could be called "explore-'em-ups", where the whole idea is that you're dropped into an alien world and you have to figure out how it works and how you relate to it, where the developer's goal is to find new ways to surprise, excite, delight the players.

    And your post just made me realise how badly I wish there were :'(.
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  3. #3
    Secondary Hivemind Nexus Heliocentric's Avatar
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    Yeah, this is why games with leveling up (generally) are abusing the player.

    They are just a ticker going up until you are allowed the next sample of content, maybe its a gun in COD/Battlefield, maybe its a new area in an MMO, or such. But its a gate because if you could have all of the content, you'd stop playing faster, and you sense of value of the product would drop and the share holders would see a reduced rate of returns on their investment, and then there would be a buyout.

    Games used to do that by being hard, yunno, you'd slowly trickle new content by getting better, look at Binding of Issac and tell me that half of its genius isn't in the slow trickle. If it gave you everything from te word go the sense of wonder would dry up fast.

    Really I don't have an answer, people dont want hard games anymore, people don't want to need to learn, or get stuck behind skill gates that are so hard for Q&A teams to test, so we get abusive behaviour reigning supreme.

    Quote Originally Posted by "Wikipedia
    World of Warcraft has 10.2 million subscribers as of December 2011
    Its not a bad game, no doubt, but aside from its sinister manipulation of social application (just like steam TBH, Q: Why cant it just have a games free friends client? A: Because they need to use your friend as collateral) it is a drip feeder of content which "will be better I promise".

    An associate once told me that he's not interested in Guild Wars because it only has 20 levels. Think about that for a minute.

    Quote Originally Posted by Keep View Post
    There is no genre of games that could be called "explore-'em-ups", where the whole idea is that you're dropped into an alien world and you have to figure out how it works and how you relate to it, where the developer's goal is to find new ways to surprise, excite, delight the players.

    And your post just made me realise how badly I wish there were :'(.
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  4. #4
    Secondary Hivemind Nexus Nalano's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Blackcompany View Post
    I wish more game developers cared about the adventure. I wish they understood what we really want in games. To explore the unknown; to receive rewards we didn't expect, didn't see coming. To not want to be hemmed in by arbitrary numbers and levels until such time as we have played long enough - and often paid money enough - to be allowed to explore anew. But alas, games must make money and to do so they must keep people playing. So we remain enslaved to level grinding and addiction-like simulation in order to enjoy a hobby.
    Well, games that get their money off of DLC nickel-and-diming, RMT and subscription packages do. I, personally, think that Skyrim would have been a great deal better if animals didn't just loiter on the road, waiting to be butchered on your way from point A to point B, and that exploring offered something more interesting than another chock-a-block samey dungeon, but I suspect that while we have a lot of developers who are capable of building maps, we don't have terribly many designers who want to invest time in things that aren't prominent: What use, one might say, is a realistic bear simulator if it means that you rarely ever see one?
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  5. #5
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    Quote Originally Posted by Nalano View Post
    Well, games that get their money off of DLC nickel-and-diming, RMT and subscription packages do. I, personally, think that Skyrim would have been a great deal better if animals didn't just loiter on the road, waiting to be butchered on your way from point A to point B, and that exploring offered something more interesting than another chock-a-block samey dungeon, but I suspect that while we have a lot of developers who are capable of building maps, we don't have terribly many designers who want to invest time in things that aren't prominent: What use, one might say, is a realistic bear simulator if it means that you rarely ever see one?
    Fair point. Very well said. I laughed because I made animal AI in Oblivion much more realistic. The end result was, well, No Animals. Because they, you know, fled from human contact like in real life.

    So yeah, I get that.

    I guess my main issue is this: Why can we not have the Sandbox without the leveling? Saints Row did it. GTA did it. Batman AC did it, even.

    Let me play a role by choosing factions to allign with, piss off, and assist or defeat. Through dialogue that will come back to help or haunt me later. Through the actions I choose to take, gear I choose to wear and wield, etc.

    I want to play a role, not a spreadsheet. And I want to do it in a Sandbox. One big, open sandbox. Not a garden walled into sections and guarded by leveled bosses and border patrols.

  6. #6
    Secondary Hivemind Nexus jnx's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Nalano View Post
    What use, one might say, is a realistic bear simulator if it means that you rarely ever see one?
    Which is why we need surrealistic bear simulators. Now.

    @Blackcompany: Ever heard of this game called Minecraft?
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  7. #7
    Lesser Hivemind Node Keep's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Heliocentric View Post
    Ooh I've played this before and thanks for reminding me of it and yes! This is exactly the kind of stuff there should be more of. Not necessarily the sombre mood of isolation, but the explorative attitude you find yourself in when you play it.
    Last edited by Keep; 11-06-2012 at 09:25 PM.
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  8. #8
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    Quote Originally Posted by jnx View Post
    Which is why we need surrealistic bear simulators. Now.

    @Blackcompany: Ever heard of this game called Minecraft?
    If Minecraft had anything resembling graphics that did not - literally - hurt my eyes trying to focus on them I would love it. I am chomping at the bit for Starforge, though I think someone said something about skill unlocks later, which would once more turn the sandbox into a walled garden divided into leveled areas. So I hope not.

    But thanks for the reminder. I wish I could play it but I keep trying to focus on and smooth the graphics out with my eyes. and failing. miserably.

  9. #9
    Secondary Hivemind Nexus jnx's Avatar
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    Have you tried 64x64 texture packs? They increase quality pretty much. Think the vanilla ones are 16x16.
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  10. #10
    Secondary Hivemind Nexus Nalano's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Blackcompany View Post
    I guess my main issue is this: Why can we not have the Sandbox without the leveling? Saints Row did it. GTA did it. Batman AC did it, even.
    Oh sure, leveling sucks. It's just another grind, especially when paired with gear accumulation, which means you start out underpowered compared to the content and end up overpowered compared to the content. Both trivialize the content.

    Either way, it sounds as if what we need in the future is a life simulator, not a hero simulator. :P
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  11. #11
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    Quote Originally Posted by Blackcompany View Post

    ...Its almost shameful, really.
    That reminded me of something that happened a couple of summers ago. I was walking by a walmart and there were some middle aged walmart employees sitting at picnic table smoking. I heard one woman say that her husband was going to kill her because she had put $700 on her credit card this month because of facebook games. Around here, Wally employees make around $10/hour, so she would have had to have worked 2weeks to pay for that.

    I don't know the science behind how these games hook people, but it wouldn't surprise me if it worked the same way as video lottery terminals or slot machines...shameful indeed.

  12. #12
    Secondary Hivemind Nexus Nalano's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Namdrol View Post
    That reminded me of something that happened a couple of summers ago. I was walking by a walmart and there were some middle aged walmart employees sitting at picnic table smoking. I heard one woman say that her husband was going to kill her because she had put $700 on her credit card this month because of facebook games. Around here, Wally employees make around $10/hour, so she would have had to have worked 2weeks to pay for that.

    I don't know the science behind how these games hook people, but it wouldn't surprise me if it worked the same way as video lottery terminals or slot machines...shameful indeed.
    Zynga is a blight, yes, but thankfully most companies aren't as brazenly eeeeeeeeevil.
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  13. #13
    Secondary Hivemind Nexus gwathdring's Avatar
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    I think Arkham City has "leveling." You get to the right point in the mission, you get extra gear and extra power. But I also think it worked really well. So personally I distinguish between leveling for it's own sake and leveling as a way of increasing the complexity, difficulty, and flavor of the content over time. Which is great, because otherwise you either end up overwhelmed at the start and/or underwhelmed at the end.

    Dragon Age has leveling for its own sake. The leveling is utterly independent of the content and largely independent of the flavor. How did you suddenly learn to throw fireballs in the middle of the fight? Sure there are magic systems and lore systems where that sort of thing would make sense, but it isn't that carefully entwined with the narrative experience in this case. You get a traditional, DnD style level-up system that (while decent as gaming versions of such things go) doesn't have enough communication with the game proper. Add to that all the little things that give you XP and loot like rummaging through barrels, picking locks, and killing everything that can be killed (all of this without an eyelash batted by anyone nearby--owners of said barrels and locks included) ... and you have a recipe for pointless Skinner-boxing. Player's make less interesting decisions and less fun decisions--like opening every box in the game to check for loot. Which, if it weren't a built-in expectation of the player built into the game, could be a really interesting and fun decision for some players.

    So I'd agree with you that these sorts of things take away from the feeling of exploration. They remove the sense that the player is making choices and discovering consequences. And even in games that are supposed to be linear, they remove the sense that the character is making choices and discovering consequences because so much is happening at the meta-game level that the character loses agency as well. But I'd also add that some forms of "leveling" can work hand-in-hand with exploration and creative gameplay. The systems just need to be designed more carefully.

  14. #14
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    Quote Originally Posted by Blackcompany View Post
    I guess my main issue is this: Why can we not have the Sandbox without the leveling? Saints Row did it. GTA did it. Batman AC did it, even.
    I'm confused. You're asking why in video games we can't have a sandbox without the levelling, and then list a bunch of video games where you can. It seems that you can already have a sandbox without the levelling, if that's what you want.
    Irrelevant on further examination of the rest of the thread.

  15. #15
    Secondary Hivemind Nexus Nalano's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by gwathdring View Post
    the character loses agency
    I like the idea of having to go to this mountain hermitage and carry water and wash floors for these acerbic monks in order to learn fireballs, because it means I have agency: I can not do it and simply not learn fireballs, or I can put off doing it until I deem it necessary to learn fireballs or I can bee-line straight to it because I love setting shit on fire. As it stands, most games are indeed "Bing! You've not died in sixteen hours, here's some fireballs."

    One of the things I found interesting in the GW2 beta was that the gamut of special abilities (the shit that takes up 6 through 0 on your ability bar) were bought by special tokens, and these special tokens were granted by going to certain parts of the world and completing a challenge there. It rewarded exploring, and if you had a certain build in mind, you could focus on that and achieve it much quicker than otherwise.

    Still not a true mountain hermitage scenario, but closer than otherwise!
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  16. #16
    Secondary Hivemind Nexus gwathdring's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Nalano View Post
    I like the idea of having to go to this mountain hermitage and carry water and wash floors for these acerbic monks in order to learn fireballs, because it means I have agency: I can not do it and simply not learn fireballs, or I can put off doing it until I deem it necessary to learn fireballs or I can bee-line straight to it because I love setting shit on fire. As it stands, most games are indeed "Bing! You've not died in sixteen hours, here's some fireballs."

    One of the things I found interesting in the GW2 beta was that the gamut of special abilities (the shit that takes up 6 through 0 on your ability bar) were bought by special tokens, and these special tokens were granted by going to certain parts of the world and completing a challenge there. It rewarded exploring, and if you had a certain build in mind, you could focus on that and achieve it much quicker than otherwise.

    Still not a true mountain hermitage scenario, but closer than otherwise!
    That is an interesting system. GW2 is making me more and more intrigued.

    I hope you're not being sarcastic about the mountain hermitage. I love that sort of thing, especially in big games like The Elder Scrolls. They sort of have that going on with the Dragon shouts in Skyrim.

    You know, I was overgeneralizing a lot. Even super-abstracted leveling systems can be rewarding and interesting when they ask you to do something other than kill all the things, open all the drawers. It's fine when you're rewarded for those things, too, but it's nice to be rewarded for exploring a wide range of the game's systems.

    But that reminds me, I left out one of the better examples of content-based leveling. Alpha Protocol had perks. Perks were awesome. You got them for doing ... well, pretty much anything. Shot the guy? You get a perk for being a cold bastard. Made friends with him? You get a perk for being a cuddly bastard. They were usually relatively sensible insofar as what bonuses they gave you too.

  17. #17
    Secondary Hivemind Nexus Nalano's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by gwathdring View Post
    I hope you're not being sarcastic about the mountain hermitage.
    Oh, not at all! I like a direct relation between how I'm getting better and what I'm doing to get better. I don't like levels to be involved - they fuck up the flow (I'm looking at you, Fallout 3/Oblivion) - I don't like "practice this useless ability until you're not useless in it" and I don't like leveled enemies. I don't like "ding, now pick from this list of upgrades that have nothing to do what what you've been doing all this time," like in every D&D-style game ever because it promotes heavy meta-gaming.

    If you're gonna have a sandbox, make it a sandbox. Skyrim, if I may criticize this game even more, is a sandbox without sand in it. It's mostly just a series of fetch quests you have to do in a linear fashion. Each "faction" is just a series of fetch quests you do in order until you "own" said faction. The interesting bits - seeking out dragons and learning new overpowered voices - were completely undermined because (a) the dragons respawn based on your level and the main quest progression, not what you've actually accomplished through your travels, (b) there's no real use for the vast majority of voices in your travels, and (c) there's absolutely no indication nor hint of what is where. Occasionally if you pump the five monks they'll point you to a dragon lair, but they won't tell you what's there despite being goddamn experts in the shit.
    Last edited by Nalano; 11-06-2012 at 11:28 PM.
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  18. #18
    Secondary Hivemind Nexus Fumarole's Avatar
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    Stalker anyone?
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  19. #19
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    Quote Originally Posted by Blackcompany View Post
    We have a choice in life. We can revel in unpredictable, rewarding events through genuine exploration and adventure. Or we can amuse ourselves with borderline addictive behavior in order to follow a carefully prescribed process of rewarding events laid out by game publishers - and the psychologists they no doubt employ - as a means to emptying our wallets by stimulating our brains in nearly the exact same way drug addiction does.
    It's not a bad analogy, because drugs can be awesome fun if you use them sensibly and stop taking them once they stop doing anything for you. Sometimes they're more enjoyable than climbing a mountain. There's something to be said, similarly, for games that control the experience to that level. Yes, random things can be great, but they can have the wrong affect. You pick up a amazing sword that's 10x better than anything else you've ever seen. Brilliant, right? Except not, as now you've just broken the game's combat system. I guess this sort of thing works really well on short games designed to be replayed - someone already mentioned Issac, Weird Worlds 2 is a great example of this too I think.

    Quote Originally Posted by Keep View Post
    There is no genre of games that could be called "explore-'em-ups", where the whole idea is that you're dropped into an alien world and you have to figure out how it works and how you relate to it, where the developer's goal is to find new ways to surprise, excite, delight the players.

    And your post just made me realise how badly I wish there were :'(.
    It's much maligned and it has its problems, but have you played Riven, the sequel to Myst? It's exactly that. You're given two overriding goals, and there is only one way to get there, but it requires exploring and building an understanding of the culture of the people who live there (and their numbering system) - you can't happen across the solution, and it's not all individual distinct puzzles (like Myst and Myst 3/4). It's one world over five islands, and you have to figure out how they all relate and connect.

    Shame the interface sucks so bad and it never got a proper 3D update like Myst as it's the far better game. More recently, Fez does something similar once you get past the initial, early playthrough.

  20. #20
    Secondary Hivemind Nexus gwathdring's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Nalano View Post
    Oh, not at all! I like a direct relation between how I'm getting better and what I'm doing to get better. I don't like levels to be involved - they fuck up the flow (I'm looking at you, Fallout 3/Oblivion) - I don't like "practice this useless ability until you're not useless in it" and I don't like leveled enemies. I don't like "ding, now pick from this list of upgrades that have nothing to do what what you've been doing all this time," like in every D&D-style game ever because it promotes heavy meta-gaming.

    If you're gonna have a sandbox, make it a sandbox. Skyrim, if I may criticize this game even more, is a sandbox without sand in it. It's mostly just a series of fetch quests you have to do in a linear fashion. Each "faction" is just a series of fetch quests you do in order until you "own" said faction. The interesting bits - seeking out dragons and learning new overpowered voices - were completely undermined because (a) the dragons respawn based on your level and the main quest progression, not what you've actually accomplished through your travels, (b) there's no real use for the vast majority of voices in your travels, and (c) there's absolutely no indication nor hint of what is where. Occasionally if you pump the five monks they'll point you to a dragon lair, but they won't tell you what's there despite being goddamn experts in the shit.
    Indeed. It feels fantastic to come back from a long journey in the dank caverns of the earth and beat the crap out of the local bandits. It feels like shit to be killed by highwaymen after you've taken down a dragon or demon or whatever. The worst part is when you can't DO anything as a low level character. Who wants to slog through several hours with nothing but Power Attack and some idle clicking? Especially in turn-based games where you're less a part of the action ... it's really important to have something to do other than shout "That one! Get him! Oh, look out he's got the chair!"

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