Freedom to screw up
We always seem to want more and better options for MMOs that we play. More skills or powers, more levels etc. Sometimes we complain about the somewhat rigid DIKU-like model many MMOs are in. But are people prepared to get what they want?
This September has been a bit extraordinary in that there has been multiple interesting MMO releases in the same month; Champions Online and Fallen Earth. Both games provide the option to develop your characters pretty much any way you want. No fixed classes/professions or skill sets – you can be whatever you want from what is offered.
But for choices to be meaningful there must be good and bad choices (given some context) – if every choice would lead to an equally good result, then why make the choices at all? And if the results are just spread between good and better, will that not just trivialise the context for that choice?
As an example, in Champions Online there is pretty much complete freedom to mix and match any powers available, as well as control the character attributes. No class or archtetype restrictions and no inherent capbilities. What you choose is what you get. So there has been occasions where people have made choices that gives them trouble in combat – more troble than others. This could be a bad choice of powers and characteristics for combat in the game.
This is as it should be – it must be possible to screw up. If there were no bad choices here then combat would be trivial for those that make the better choices – which in the end would bore most people. But it must also be possible to correct mistakes with a reasonable amount of effort. Experimentation should be encouraged.
However, this reasoning also only works well if you actually care about the result of a choice. But there may be cases where you just want something. Taking Champions as an example again, if you do not care about making a superhero that handles combat great and only want something that matches a concept – then the choices may be in the way. You just want something “good enough”. In that case the choice becomes an obstacle.
In time I think games with plenty of freedom of choice such as Champions Online and Fallen Earth will have various guides on fan sites, both for mix/max:ers and those that just want “good enough”. But now in the early days for both games, I think you probably need to have at least a reasonable amount interest in comtrolling the improvement of your character and experimenting with that.
Personally I am not a mix/max:er and concept is more important. But I do like to tinker and learn about improvement for my character, so choices still matter. And I love that I have enough freedom that my concepts do not have to fit in some predefined class/archetype structure. I have made good and bad choices, but I think at least I have learned from my mistakes and my understanding improves. That in itself makes the game experience quite rewarding.