Two Parts Casual, One Part Hardcore, and a Little Bit O’ Love

I was reading a post at Under the Banner today (a great blog – this author hasn’t written much lately but her post explains why) and got to thinking about the true definition of LotRO. It’s Lord of the Riblets, in case you were wondering.

Anyways, the post really broke down how the author has been feeling lately. In short, full of boredom, hope, and disdain all at once. The author, Serielle, is suffering burn out in a big way. She says a couple of things that shed some light into her current state of affairs. Here’s one:

So, I started to run the repeatable quests in Lothlorien, since that’s the only way to get rep and the shiny gold leaves. Over, and over, and over, and over, and over… ad infinitum. I didn’t do it every time I logged in, and tried to intersperse other activities into the grindfest . . . It just wasn’t enough though.

This, I think, is a universal conditional that results from working at a game instead of playing it. Now, I believe her when she says that she’s not hardcore. As a matter of fact, her self-branding of casual-hardcore seems true to form and eerily reminiscent of my own play style. So, this isn’t an attack in any way.

The fact of the matter is that games like LotRO want you to work. That’s where they hide the barbs and hooks that define our passion. That may seem like a little much but is it not true that accomplishment is the result of effort? That more effort generally equals more accomplishment? So, logically, the more we invest, the more fulfilled we are (to a degree, of course). Yet, the downside to such design is that, inevitably, people will get worn out.

It’s a funny thing, even though LotRO is considered a casual game, it also has the most antiquated hardcore element much more than other “harder” games: grind. Grind is infused throughout the game in the form of deeds. Grinding for xp and grinding for traits are some of the core ways that you’ll advance your character. After that’s done, you grind for reputation, or crafting materials, or gear.

Grinding, in itself, isn’t much of an issue. It’s all about presentation. How you go about your grind, what and where you find your target, and how much carotene dangles in front of you all define the experience. If those three things are worthwhile and in-sync, grinding can actually be relatively stress free.

Yet, that’s not really how we have it. It causes me to wonder why grinding plays such a big role in the game? Was this the best way? I think it was the workable way. The way to slow people down and keep them playing for longer and, to make it worthwhile, they intertwined the grind with character advancement. Now, we have a system that’s more progressive (advancement/customization through effort) than most, yet harkening to the grand ol’ days of our grand pappy’s mammies.

You know, 2003?

In our oh-so-casual love affair with Middle-Earth, many of us grind away the hours, while the WoW’ers call us scrubs. Ironic isn’t it?

For all of pressure to work there is much play. More than that, you can tell that a lot of love went into the game. There are so many little details that get taken for granted but, through the eyes of the un-jaded, they are really quite wonderous.

For myself, I’m behind the game enough to have a long, long time before I’ll run out of things to do. I’m thankful for that. And, unlike many, I really don’t mind the grind. So, I wish the author the post. Give it some time. Relax and try out some warmer waters for while. From my own experience, I can say that you’ll probably never get that “feeling” back the way it once was. But you’ll find fun again, if you want it.

The Key to Our Community

Frodo: Hey guys, let's go to the Prancing Pony. I wanna get my AR-PEE on, lol. Sam: I dun know what you're talkin' about Mr. Frodo but we'll find your harpy, and this Lul fella too!

LotRO has one of the best gaming communities I’ve ever come across. Since I’ve started, I’ve encountered a lot of people and spent a good amount of time just chatting in OOC throughout the world. Contrary to what one would expect from prior-MMO experiences, I haven’t had one bad encounter yet. That’s right, even when I’m asking questions that grizzled vets would consider common knowledge, there’s been not one iota of n00b calling or being told to play another game.

What a relief. On other games (one in particular), it can be your first day in the game but you’re still going to get degraded for asking for advice. At one time, being a newbie (notice, not noob or n00b) simply meant you wanted to join the community. Nowadays, it’s a mark of shame to be hidden.

So, coming to LotRO and only receiving support and answers to those first questions was a very pleasant experience. As I continued to play, I found that even outside of regional chat, like on the forums or in /say, people were a lot more friendly. It’s actually one of the things that made me take the dive for a Lifetime Subscription.

It all begs the question though, why? What’s different about this batch of MMOers than that other batch? Are we so different?

In short, yes.

I think LotRO attracts a whole different kind of gamer and changes the rules of interaction. Let’s look at a couple of the reasons this may be the case.

First, and foremost, the IP is classic. And by that, I don’t mean it’s epic and well-known, though it may be, I refer to it in that sense because it comes from the collective literary group known as “the classics.” Let’s be honest, the younger crop of gamers (I’m amongst that group at a humble age 22) isn’t that interested in reading big novels. So, right off the bat, the people interested in the game will be coming in three groups: fans of the books, fans of the movies, and general mmo fans.

Fans of the books are likely older and/or of a more mature mindset than film and normal mmo fans. Inherently, this will mean that they’ll most likely have the rules of social etiquette a more in-hand. Likewise, as fans of the literature, they’re likely playing to be immersed in the world rather than the game and, in turn, are more open to RP within that context.

This leaves the other two groups. The fans of the movies probably find out pretty quick that the game isn’t as fast paced as the films or console games. These are the “visitors” that are likely to leave because of this. Those that remain do so for sheer enjoyment of the content. Following these folks are those that came because they enjoy the genre and possibly have friends playing. Their background is varied and hard to diagnose.

The last two groups are important. If we consider that most of the players took up the game for love of the IP and that most of those are familiar or well-read with the books, you have a majority of mature players seeking immersion. We know that people’s minds work with a pack mentality (hence the contagion of the yawn) and also that people want to fit in with the crowd. These three things combine to set an unspoken set of social rules that differ from other MMO communities.

In LotRO, being insulted through general chat is less likely to happen because the community is less tolerant of it. Whereas, in a game like WoW, the more open demographic allows for insults and more “problem” behavior. Frankly, most people there don’t seem to care. You can walk into Stormwind and see people spam just for the sake of seeing their words appear in a chat window. No real purpose, just because. The mature players are quiet and speak in short bursts outside of chat. They live with it because there’s no other way. That is the standard.

You’ll also see roleplayers ostracized. Because LotRO has taken the stance that all servers are unofficially RP (supportive of the IP and fans of the books), you suddenly have a much higher percentage of subscribers open to that style of play. On WoW and WAR, let’s say 95% of people don’t RP and 5% do. It’s therefore okay to “Ar-pee… wut?” them all day long because the population supports it. Well, suddenly that 5% jumps to 50% and the situation changes. Now, rather than speak out in detriment, most players that encounter it will either join in or keep silent. That is the case with LotRO and why we can function at a higher standard.

There are jerks in LotRO just like there are in any community. It’s the way the world works. Yet, we’ve established a nice little niche for ourselves. We’re a friendly and open community, even on the forums, where newcomers will visit first. Turbine caters to us as a real community and not a disjointed series of vocal minorities. Because of this, newcomers can check the game out and feel like they’re really joining something and not just playing a game. Community makes an MMO. Ours actively helps it, bringing in new players with open arms and offering them a pint of ale while they get acquainted.