Maybe I went too far with the last comparison. We are just talking about video games, and I shouldn't be bringing trained ninjas into a conversation like that. It's a bit extreme, even for me, so let's bring it down and talk for a moment.
Games, much like other forms of media, are to be enjoyed. You're spending good money (around 50 to 60 bucks at retail price) to be entertained by the work of artists, writers, programmers, producers, sound experts, voice actors, motion capture experts, and management types. You bought the game because you want to spend time with it and have some fun. In the case of MMOs, you bought the game to not only have fun by yourself, but also with some friends in tow.
When I stop and apply the concept of paying someone to power level you or buy you gold so you can skip content to more traditional forms of media, you get the jokes that I wrote above. It seems insane. Why would we spend more money to have less of an experience?
"Why would we spend more money to have less of an experience?"
Is anyone finding this as hilariously ironic as I am? Well, if you're reading this, you probably are.
One problem, two sources
First of all, let me make a plea to you, the fine readers of Massively -- play your games. It's tempting to get a free pass to cut to the end, but you're not doing yourself any favors. If you're playing a game to have fun, you'll have more fun if you win your own fights and achieve your own victories. You'll have stories to tell your friends and fun moments to look back on.
Yes, that's right, even in those horribly boring areas with those terrible quests, you might just have some unexpected fun. Because of the nature of an MMO, you might meet someone else who's as bored as you are. You might go questing with them during that boring part, and all of a sudden it's not so boring anymore. Hell, during that boring part, you might be so engaged with the game that even the "boring part" whizzes by you.
But if you "spend money to save time," you're also cheating yourself of the experience. You're cheating yourself out of that feeling of accomplishment. You're cheating yourself out of content you spent good money on. You're cheating yourself of perhaps meeting new people or finding those fun things on your own. Plus, I can tell you what's going to happen once you get that uber-level character back and you start playing it -- you'll feel hollow. You'll wonder why you spent so much money to get to the end. You won't say it aloud and you won't admit to it, but you'll feel it.
Second of all, let me make a plea to you, fine developers who read Massively. I know the reasons you simplify content. The reasons why you'd sometimes want to defer to a time/grind based objective instead of one rooted in questing and storyline. Sometimes you may not have the time to create all that content, other times it's about the money.
I'm not faulting this type of content entirely, but it is one of the reasons people want to skip levels in your game and blow through them. Developers, make the endgame experience start at level one. Don't withhold content just to keep a player playing until the end. Engage us continuously while simultaneously rewarding us with both items and information. Give us a reason to slow down and not spend money on frivolous services. Token grinds, meaningless kill 10 of X, hunting for rare item drop Y, and other quests are the ones that drive players away.
Use your game design to fight gold farming/power leveling in addition to the standard practices. Make it more worthwhile to play the game than to skip to the end.
This isn't a problem that's going to be solved overnight. This is a problem deeply rooted in our culture of player behavior and game design. But if we all take steps to correct it -- with players trying to play through content and developers committed to designing engaging material -- then we'll all be winners.
Except the gold farmers. Oh well.
Seraphina Brennan is the weekly writer of Anti-Aliased who isn't a big fan of gold farming, but is a huge fan of satire. When she's not writing here for Massively, she's rambling on her personal blog,The Experience Curve. If you want to message her, send her an e-mail at seraphina AT massively DOT com. You can also follow her on Twitter through Massively, or through her personal feed, @sera_brennan.