So if you know anything at all about MMOs then you need to have a look at this video and then go and read Ted Castronova’s latest on Terra Nova (yes it still exists…). I am not seeing what he is seeing at all.
Here is a shot form the hip. I see a model here for collapsing the player / avatar distinction completely by making it so that the player can always work to improve her toon in a kind of bureaucratic mess that is so complex no one will ever even know when or if they are at the top of their game. This has already been happening in expansions of WoW as new layers of experience points are draped on but even still you can sort of still know a top player by the tales of where she has been and what she has done (and the visible traces of that she leaves in the display of her gear).
When the levels stop or at least when leveling stops mattering that’s when the tales begin and the avatar develops a character that is a hybrid of player and machine (or database depending on your point of view). If players are incentivized to continue working for pennies whenever they want then when will they ever find something else to do with what they have made. That is what an avatar is… it is, arguably, an art work… something you laboured to create… not a tool but the product of the use of a tool. But doesn’t the labour have to stop sometime for the sum to finally be greater than its parts and the creation to stand apart from the labour that made it?
Another way to look at this is that the prospect of threshold based leveling with no conceivable end (because you can basically just keep adding the skills of other classes in an incomprehensible set of combinations ) means the “in principle” end of avatar retirement and death (as in the player stops playing or caring about playing the toon) and the end of death means the end of nostalgia… and through the unique twists and turns that only a blog post can take, the end of nostalgia means the end of any affective relationship between player and avatar and isn’t this sort of at the core of what an MMO is? Isn’t it Kelly?
Paradigms of instrumentalism make sense in MMOs because they are about social coordination problems… Like Ted says we need ways of being able to do things together without feeling like we are getting the short end of the stick all the time. But its the times (that occur so often in MMOs) that you sit there wondering what the hell to do that give up some of the most memorable play experiences. You are not playing for some system defined reason… nope… you are playing for some wonky idiosyncratic reason you can’t even articulate. Good game design to me is how to get the player in that state without them getting bored or angry and doing something else. I think that’s what game balance is? How do you get the player to the point in a game whether they are thinking and doing more than what the game demands?
How the “keep your eye on the ball” approach to character leveling is going to help with that in FFXIV I have no idea. If the game demands more then players will wonder less… FFXIV should produce an amazing ratrace of ubertoons spaced out over enough time for Square to turn their profit but I predict waves of alienation and anomie from the top ranks within a year (or two).