Better Running on a Treadmill

Zoso linked to a post from Raph about how some games are akin to a 'treadmill'. Rather than post a World of Warcraft-specific reply to his site, I decided to expand my opinion a little and present it here.

[Treadmills] do not present variegated challenges nor truly new ways to interact with the model. This is why players get so annoyed at ?¢‚Ǩ?ìFireball VI?¢‚Ǩ¬ù: that?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s not a new stick to poke the beehive with, it?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s just a bigger stick with exactly the same properties and responses. It doesn?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t keep the user learning. Where the learning stops, the fun does.

The learning in a game like World of Warcraft does not stop, and there is skill involved all the way from level 1 to 70, and in nearly every instanced dungeon up to that point. The problem is that the unskilled players do not realise that there are new skills to learn. They may well see 'Fireball VI' and think that it's just a bigger stick to poke the beehive, when what they should really be seeing is that they are no longer poking beehives.

It's difficult to die before 5th level in WoW, and it's relatively easy to chain-kill enemies with nary a rest for many levels after that. But there comes a point where you are more threatened, where you need to recover after fewer and fewer fights. It's not because you are getting weaker as a character, and it's not because the enemies are stronger as such, but because the enemies are more sophisticated.

The enemies that are encountered throughout the levelling process keep getting more sophisticated, acquiring different attacks and different defences, just as a player does, but at a diminished rate from players. Because WoW has treadmill-like traits, it certainly is possible to use your Fireball from level 1 to 70 and succeed, but you are guaranteed to die along the way. The skilled player will learn enemies' behaviours, see what tools they have available both to themselves and the enemy, and adapt to suit the fight. This allows them not only to succeed, but to be succeed more quickly and as a result be far more capable at surviving. The skilled player will likely die on occasion too, but under noticably different circumstances than the unskilled player.

It seems that the real problem here is that players encounter a 55th level orc mob and see the same enemy as the 10th level orc they encountered ages ago, and fight it the same way. The similarities are almost as superficial as a 10th level human warrior and a 55th level human warrior: they have similar apperances, but they will perform quite differently. Encounter an enemy in an instance and they will have even more abilities, and it becomes even more necessary to learn the differences between enemies in order to succeed.

There is a lot to learn in a game like World of Warcraft over that of character abilities. Those players with less skill or aptitude will not realise this, but the forgiving nature of the treadmill still allows them to continue playing. The skilful players learn with each new enemy, and continue to improve their character without having to learn new spells or abilities. Both types of players get to learn, but at different times, and the balance between skill and treadmill in the PvE world allows both types of player to continue in the game world.

2 Responses to “Better Running on a Treadmill”

  1. Zoso Says:

    While enemies do gain different abilities, I think you're overplaying the 10th level vs 55th level Orc. My basic rogue PvE attack patterns have barely changed since around level 24; cheap shot, slice n' dice, sinister strike until bored, eviscerate, repeat. If a mob's a spellcaster, maybe the odd kick and gouge in there, but I can't think of any world mob that's caused me to require a crazy and different approach. Knockback? Run back into melee combat. Stun? Wait until it's finished, then run back into melee combat. Snare? Wait until it's finished, optionally making a bit of a ranged attack now and again, then run back into melee combat.

    There's scope for learning and adaptation like working as an effective team with different classes, especially in instances, and PvP, but in terms of basic, solo, world levelling, once you've collected your main set of abilities, it's like Raph says: Sinister Strike II, Sinister Strike III, Sinister Strike IV...

  2. Elf Says:

    Okay, the 10th level vs. 55th level orc example is an exaggeration, but I consider my main point to stand.

    For a spell-casting mob, which spells do most damage, and which one should you interrupt? Does the mob heal, because that could be more important to prevent than a damaging spell. And a healer will be ever more likely to heal its allies the higher their level, when fighting multiple mobs, so it becomes more important to identify them and kill them first.

    If there is a knock-back effect, you could try to manoeuvre so that your back is against some scenery, thus negating the knock-back. For mobs that snare, it may be prudent to use an ability that reduces the mob's movement speed so that they don't get away so quickly and allowing more attacks. Stun attacks are just irritating, and will get a mention in a future 'pettty annoyances' post at some point.

    For other examples, it's possible to work out if a mob's spell or spell-like ability is close range and, when you see it being cast, you back back off enough to avoid the effects. Some mobs cast a cloud effect; instead of interrupting the spell it may be more efficient to let it take effect and then move out of the cloud, making the spell worthless.

    It's not about finding 'crazy' new approaches to fighting enemies, mostly because WoW really isn't a game of skill, outside of teamwork, and that's part of the point. WoW has a treadmill, and I won't deny that. It is perfectly possible to level without having to learn anything outside of upgraded abilities. My point is that there are opportunities to learn, but they can be easily overlooked because the game simply doesn't require them to be learnt.

    The game can be a richer experience if these opportunities are actively sought, because then the treadmill is lessened and you feel more like you are interacting with the world and not just pushing the same buttons.