Reading MMORPG and gaming blogs I am of course aware that World of Warcraft released patch
5.4 this month, and there is a new zone called Timeless Isle where lots of epic loot can be
gained. After reading lots and lots of discussion about that loot pinata I realized I
wasn’t interested at all. It seems I have grown immune to the promise of extrinsic rewards
in MMORPGs and am only interested in intrinsic rewards now.
That is problematic insofar as MMORPGs have grown very bad at offering any intrinsic
rewards. Whatever sense of adventure and achievement there was a decade ago has died the
death of a thousand cuts, with too many games and expansion offering the same basic
gameplay experience over and over again. Especially if I try a new game these days I am
faced with a trivial and boring experience; the remote promise that there will be a better
experience one day in the end game isn’t really enough to motivate me to play through the
boring parts. And it isn’t just achievement that has been removed from the leveling game,
but also many exploration and social elements. It is very hard today to find a game in
which playing in a group is more efficient than playing solo during leveling, not to
mention the old “forced grouping” concept that is long dead. And exploration has been
replaced by guided tours; and if the game doesn’t guide you, then somebody on YouTube will.
Handing out extrinsic rewards can only fool the brain for so long. At first you think that
if the game rewards you with “an epic”, you must have achieved something. But sooner or
later you realized that the “achievement” you actually got rewarded for was simply playing
the game (or more importantly paying for it). That isn’t limited to MMORPGs, even Steam is
handing out achievements and trading cards for buying and playing games. But ultimately
just putting time in or money in is a rather hollow achievement.
With MMORPGs not delivering what I want, I’m playing other games these days that are better
at delivering intrinsic rewards. That can be challenge, for example Card Hunter is a very
challenging game. Or it can be exploration, with games that do a better job at telling a
story or letting you explore a world without endless repetition. And I also like games
which are about creation, e.g. building a city, which is an intrinsic reward that doesn’t
figure much in MMORPGs at all. No amount of easy epics can give as much satisfaction than
the intrinsic rewards of those other games.