On “Bad” Games, Pricing Models, and the Feeling of Fun
I was reading Beau Hindman’s latest Free for All column earlier and a thought occurred to me that I wanted to put in writing. In Hindman’s post, he was, in part, discussing how the free-to-play movement can be seen as the latest experiential phenomenon to take hold to the world of MMO gaming.
While free-to-play games have had a long-standing history in the realm of MMO titles available to the world, there’s been this stigma that a free-to-play MMO is is some sort of lesser being in the realm of gaming, that it is relegated to the realm of “inferior” products. We know now, through experiencing various MMO pricing models and hybrids of such models of payment, that high-quality and “less-than-high-quality” MMOs can be found in all points of the pricing spectrum.
Now, you may have noticed that I’ve placed quotation marks on some of the negative modifiers in the previous paragraph, and there’s a good reason for that. It all goes back to my personal belief that I, as an individual, have my own preferences and mindsets in life and I cannot truly say that one thing is absolutely abhorrent for everyone. Even the basic ideas of death and poverty or the basic emotions of joy and sadness are so wildly divergent in what they mean to people (such as in terms of what constitutes certain ideas, or what triggers an emotion).
As such, a corollary to my personal belief would be that the “bad” game does not exist. There are simply games that fewer people enjoy and games that a larger group of people enjoy. The sweeping generalizations that Syp recently talked about regarding gaming have to be taken out if we are to better understand why people can feel similar emotions when faced with completely different and possibly opposing stimuli.
For instance, let us take stock of Square Enix’s Final Fantasy XIV and Trion Worlds’ Rift.
When I first installed Final Fantasy XIV on my computer, I played for four or five hours and pretty much left the game entirely because it did not capture my attention. Information on the game and its various activities was scarce, and if you were the type of gamer who honed his skills on World of Warcraft, the lack of question marks to indicate quest givers would drive you insane.
On the other hand, when I first heard of Rift and played the beta, I was also not thoroughly impressed, until launch grew closer and I realized it was essentially a highly polished and technically proficient game with an intriguing storyline. If you check my Rift articles here on Games and Geekery, you’ll notice I meander between thinking the game is “meh” and thinking the game is awesome for having tanks that can self-heal.
If you fast forward to last week though, you’ll notice I barely posted anything. The simple response to this is that Rift could not hold my attention and I was madly searching for a game to occupy my free time. On Saturday evening, I decided to play Final Fantasy XIV again on a whim. I created a new character, rolled on a new server, and looked for the old guild I was chatting with online about the game. I played FFXIV for, as it happens, 14 hours straight that day (a feat that only happened once previously when I went raiding in vanilla WoW).
This week, I was reading through other blogs, and Elementalistly’s entry on how he feels about Rift kind of got to me. It wasn’t that I was offended by his post. Quite the opposite really.
You see, I was beginning to feel the exact same thing he felt when it came to Rift, only I was experiencing what he was feeling with Final Fantasy XIV, the game Elementalistly and I once both found to be less than stellar.
When I compare the two games on a purely technical level, I find Rift to be a clear leader in terms of customer-centric accessibility and polish. Final Fantasy XIV is not perfect, and still remains free-to-play so long as Square Enix deems the game to be in a state that is below their standard of what a good game should be.
Despite this, however, I know that there are people like myself who currently feel about Final Fantasy XIV the same way that Elementalistly feels about Rift. We’re all having fun in the games our preferences and predilections lead us to, and it shouldn’t matter how much you play, how much you pay, or how off-beat your tastes are.
The important thing is that you are happy with what you’re doing, whether it’s when you’re playing an MMORPG, when you’re writing that fantasy novel masterpiece about the adventurous marmot with nunchaku, or when you’re enjoying Direct TV Specials in the comfort of your home.