I believe the only way to do anything is “all in”. When I started getting into anime in the 80s, I took Japanese lessons to better understand. When I watched the street racing anime Initial D recently, I learned for the first time how cars were tuned for specific road conditions (and watched a lot of Top Gear with a new appreciation).
I’m now working my way through Hikaru no Go, a cartoon about a middle school-er who is taught the game of Go by the ghost of a medieval Go master (go with it, it’s a kid’s cartoon) and rises to become a pro. So I am learning Go, and after a couple of weeks, am proud to report that a fifth grader placing stones randomly would only beat me 80% of the time. After years of study and constant play, I could perhaps come to challenge a Japanese middle schooler.
I don’t know where I got the impression that Go was a game of harmonious play striving for perfection of form and pattern and beauty and stuff. Hikaru Shindo, protagonist of Hikaru no Go, had this stunning insight that the stones on a Go board were like constellations of stars in a divine arrangement… just before he was absolutely, completely trounced. Go is war. You capture territory. You take prisoners. And if you have an argument about the final score, God hope neither of you brought a weapon.
There are video games that take this level of study and play; Starcraft, clearly, is one such. FPS shooters, as a genre, typically take intense training to master. Anyone playing one of these games has to expect to lose, and lose a lot.
Back in 1999, you had almost no choice in MMOs. In UO, new players were just fodder for gangs of griefers who would hunt you down and kill you no matter where you went. In EverQuest, level 2 moss snakes would kick your newbie level 1 character to death. Best run if you saw a rat. Now it’s common to solo to max level without facing a challenge even once. This is an argument MMO gamers have again and again.
Sure, PvP MMOs like Darkfall and EVE Online provide challenge the same way other challenging games do, by pitting you against actual people. But is there no room for a challenging PvE-based MMO? At all?
I think I got a good handful of achievements in Rift just for getting through the tutorial. Like “Hey there, Tipa, GOOD JOB!!!! Woohoo! Yay you! YOU GO! You’re very special! You can move FORWARD!”
Here’s the game I want to play. Seriously, build this and I will play it.
You start off at level 0 with 100 gold. You can spend 1 gold for 1 point of xp. Gold can be put in the bank and safely accrue interest, so if you just put your stash in the bank and wait, you’ll gain levels. Naturally, you can borrow gold from the bank, for which you will pay interest. Every so often (maybe daily) you get another piece of gold. There is no other way of getting experience. You can lose xp and levels. You can trade gold with other players for things you need. In all other ways, it is a standard fantasy MMO.
It’s a MMO on the gold standard, right? “Randworld“.
Games like Halo and Call of Duty and Starcraft are incredibly, enduringly popular, and they don’t put much stock in being forgiving, and accessible, and all-inclusive. These games will punish you until you rise up, accept the challenge, and bring your “A” game.
Even PvE MMOs need to do this. You’re not gonna have eleventy gazillion players ANYWAY, so why not accept your niche status and create a game that will challenge people to be better, more engaged, more alive? After all, the only achievements that matter in a game, are the achievements other players give you.