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Dude, play your own game.

Darniaq, whom I really should have added to my link list long ago, has a cry of pain up about developers not playing\’e2\’80\’a6 not only their own games, but any game.

Richard Bartle, in his book stated much the same thing, only in his own experience. Having spent most of his time working on MUDS, MMOs and their associated theory, he finds the joy of actually playing them to be jarred by a cognitive dissonance. It\’e2\’80\’99s too easy to take the game apart while playing it to enjoy it.

Meanwhile, I\’e2\’80\’99m not finding this to be true. I still enjoy MMOs. Heck, although I\’e2\’80\’99m taking a brief break from it right now (first for CoV, then to possibly get a WoW character to the point where my wife and I can be on the same continent), I\’e2\’80\’99ve played the one I work on since its beta. Even after working 8 hours or more that day on the game systems code, I\’e2\’80\’99m still as incompetent at playing it that night as anyone else!

I suspect the reason for this is illustrative. I play MMOs to be social, even in a solitary environment; although I prefer being in a guild and having witty banter (or the appearance thereof) scroll combat messages off screen, I can derive just as much enjoyment from throwing random interjections into general spam chat.

See, at their heart MMOs are really just large overgrown poker games. Sure, some people really know how to play poker and spend hours discussing arcane strategies on their blogs or whatever. But that\’e2\’80\’99s not why people play poker. People play poker because people enjoy social activities. And MMOs are currently the most social multiplayer games out there. It\’e2\’80\’99s what they do best.

The arcana that we get so worked up about? It\’e2\’80\’99s marginalia. We really do play these games to dance. Speaking as someone whose career now involves fixing the marginalia, actually following this line of logic to its conclusion is somewhat humbling. What I do isn\’e2\’80\’99t really that important, unless it somehow works to dissolve those social bonds. The first rule of MMO live teams should be that of medicine: First, do no harm.

And if you look at people who are furious at MMO Screwup X, I\’e2\’80\’99d wager a bet that it comes down to, when reduced to its components, \’e2\’80\’9cthe game is keeping me from being with my friends\’e2\’80\’9d. In most current combat-oriented games, this comes down to a reduction in effectiveness. I\’e2\’80\’99m less effective, so I\’e2\’80\’99m less likely to be asked along in raids, or I\’e2\’80\’99m an imposition on my friends when they do, or I\’e2\’80\’99m less likely to make new ones, or I contribute less to the group/tribe/whatever.

Ignore this lesson at your peril.