Procrastination Amplification: Punditry on MMOs and games in general.

Getting Back Into Games

Yesterday I moved my Lord of the Rings Online account from the old (and now defunct) Codemasters servers over to those owned by Turbine. I haven’t played LotRO in ages (where “ages” amounts to about a year), but the whole fuss about the character moves made me update my game client and log in once more. Then I logged out again. I had no idea anymore how my characters were supposed to be played, what I should be doing next, or what all that stuff in my inventory was. Getting back into LotRO would be a huge amount of work, and it isn’t the only game that seems to work this way.

After I stopped playing Starcraft II for a couple of months, it was really hard to get back into. I had the urge to play some Starcraft II from time to time, but I was always put off by the fact that I was in diamond league in the game’s ranking system and that I surely am not good enough for that anymore after the break. Sure I could have logged on and simply lost matches until I got relegated to a league that’s more fitting for my current level of proficiency. That’s not really my idea of fun though.

While those two scenarios are quite different, both have in common that I had lost some of my knowledge and abilities concerning the game and that those were more or less required to start playing again. Neither is a hard and fast barrier to entry, but both were inconvenient enough to put me off.

League of Legends, on the other hand, I can come back to at any time and just play without issues. I often have multiple months between any games played in League of Legends, but when I do play I can simply log in, patch, and have fun. There is quite a bit of complexity in the game, but the essential parts of game play are rather simple. My multiple rows of action bars of not-so-memorable skills in LotRO are scary, the four abilities I can use in League of Legends not so much. Likewise, I can easily play not-so-competitive matches in LoL and it will be OK for me to not be at my old level of skill. I’ll still have enjoyable games and will be able to pick up what I forgot over time. Starcraft isn’t that forgiving.

Another game that I found really hard to pick up again was Baldur’s Gate 2 back in the day. I got the game, played it for a bit but then got sidetracked and played other things for a while. When I came back to the game I had to realize that I remembered enough about the game that playing from the start once more would be boring, but too little to easily get back into my old save games. So I didn’t play at all.

The case of Baldur’s Gate is somewhat forgivable because that is how stories work, and Baldur’s Gate was all about the story. If I put a book aside for half a year it is really hard to get back into it as well. Games that aren’t about story (all that much) could do a far better job though than they do today.

Your game’s complexity needs to be layered in such a way that one can ignore the more complex layers at any point of time and do OK. Additional complexity should absolutely be there, but it should not be required to get back into playing the game, nor should it be pushed in your face so much that you feel you have to learn it all to play the game again. I’m sure I could simply ignore three out of four action bars in LotRO and still go out and quest successfully, but the game makes me feel right away that that is not what I should be doing.

Also, a competitive multiplayer game should allow for a way for returning players to softly get back into playing. If that means allowing smurf accounts again in SC2, so be it.

Oh, and telling me on login that the zone my character was in was no longer available for me to play in unless I bought it from the store but not offering an alternative didn’t help me feel welcome back in LotRO either. Sigh.


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