Discovery is a central aspect to videogames. Many gamers, including myself, derive a large amount of value from having the freedom to try new things and figure out which we like best, as well as discovering how well what we like compares to mathematically optimal in practice. In the age of digital media, information about what is "best" or "most efficient" can be gleaned from content creators by anyone with patience and internet access. This led me to wonder if content creators are spoiling discovery for players, and if so, to what degree?
Reading official videogame forums is probably my guiltiest pleasure this side of watching pornography. There is almost nothing I like better than lurking in a General Discussion or Community Feedback forum of a game to mock and deride the people posting whine threads about the rate of relative power acquisition. I did this very thing for World of Warcraft for nearly 4 years.
I went so far as to create a feature on my podcast back then, called Threadjack. A threadjack would start when I would post in a particularly absurd whine thread that my show was taking over the thread, the titular threadjacking, and fans of the show would follow up my post with “Bweep bweep!” Is that childish? Probably.
It was fun, and really, is anything being lost when the 428,641st thread whoring out a gamers’ spouse and children as the reason they can’t theorycraft well is wrecked? I didn’t think so then, and I don’t think so now. If I had a podcast with an audience, I’d still be doing Threadjacks.
Since I stopped doing threadjacks, I hadn’t spent much time on any game’s official forums, until this week. This week, I went to the official forums for The Division to see what the reaction was to changes being made to the crafting system. I was not disappointed.
Before you wrinkle your nose at me, no, I am not going to post highlights of all the sniveling and crying in the forums over the crafting changes, mocking and deriding each of the quotes in my own, unique way. Nor is this going to be an indictment of all the Ubisoft fellatio after the devs let everyone know not to fear because once the new patch hits, yellow is the new green. Rather, something occurred to me as I was reading the threads that made me stop and think for a second.
In the middle of a whine thread about the crafting changes, the assertion was made that 90% of all crafted weapons were garbage. The assertion on its face is asinine—no game company has ever tuned their content so tightly that the only way players can complete content is by having Best in Slot (BiS) gear everywhere. Where, I wondered, is this assertion derived from?
The Road to Best in Slot
Obviously, mathematically optimal is the thing to strive for, especially in a loot based game like The Division, but there are a ton of intermediate steps between starting a new character in The Division, achieving level 30, and getting BiS gear. Most of those steps are variants of “good enough”: good enough to run hard modes solo efficiently, good enough to efficiently farm the Dark Zone, good enough to do challenger modes in pick up groups, good enough to run the incursion on hard mode, and so on up to full gear score 204 BiS level.
Corresponding to each level in the gearing process is an increase in how tightly tuned the content is: The Dark Zone is easier than hard modes is easier than challenger mode is easier than the incursion, and so on.
Okay, so back to the “90% of all Vectors are garbage” assertion and why it’s so short-sighted. Outside the incursion--much, much more on that in the days to come--the tightest content in terms of tuning is challenger difficulty missions. The challenger missions are not tuned very tightly at all, considering they can be run in PuGs in under 20 minutes, based on my experience in them thus far. Loose tuning on challenger missions means the range of gear that qualifies as “good enough” is pretty wide. For example, a Vector with a good damage roll and less than ideal talents is just as good as an MP5 with a bad damage roll and great talents, because either allows the player to complete content and potentially progress their character. Similar is true with the other gear slots.
Or put another way, I have 2 characters geared and talented completely differently, and both can run the current top end content without a problem in PuGs.
Add to this the concept of equivalence. Tell me, what is the difference between using a sniper rifle that can Head Shot Critical Strike (HS/CS) a mob for 225k damage and an assault rifle that fires 16 rounds per second with HS of 16k and HS/CS of 40k? If you said virtually none at approximately 30% CS chance, you would be right. Well there’s optimal range to consider, but there’s very little optimal range does to increase performance in practice.
Let’s add a layer. What’s the difference between a high Firearms stat, Assault Rifle/SMG character’s performance and a high Electronics stat, Assault Rifle/SMG based build, assuming both are geared and talented accordingly? My experience is there’s not much difference at all beyond burst potential in kill rate for the Electronics player due to bonuses to Sticky Bomb damage.
To Craft or Not To Craft
So if the amount of equivalent gear sets and character builds is so high, where does the “90% of Vectors are garbage” assertion come from? In my opinion, it comes from two places. First, Vectors can be crafted. Players have seen many more Vectors than they have dropped weapons like LVOA’s, for example. The data Ubisoft presented when they announced the changes in loot drops this week is unsettling—the majority of usable items should come from drops where crafting is used to supplement a player’s relative power increase, vice the current situation in The Division, where this was reversed. The announced changes to loot drops should go a long way toward fixing that trend.
The second place where this opinion comes from is a misguided belief that a player can only use whatever their favorite Twitch streamer, YouTube content creator, or Reddit or forum poster says is “the best.” I’ve lurked in several The Division streams since the game launched. The most common builds I have seen are the Marksman Rifle/Vector high Firearms build and the Cadeceus/Vector high Electronics “tech build.” The fact that so many streamers use Vectors sends a pretty clear message to a noob starting The Division that a good Vector is a requirement to be successful in current end game content. This is pretty clearly false, due to equivalence, but since very few visible players are using high end shotguns, for example, very few players in the player base at large have considered them as an alternative to SMGs for short range combat.
And that’s concerning to me. Part of the point of playing a game like The Division is experimenting with gear, skills, and talents and discovering what feels best for the individual player. I get the feeling some players are abandoning the process of experimentation and discovery in favor of mimicking whatever the “professional” game players are doing.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying, “End all content creation, so players can push a Git Gud boulder up a hill every time they try a new game.” Far from it, in fact. When I asked for hot takes about this on Twitter, the one that resonated most with me is the idea the individual has the ability to spoil, or not, discovery in games as much as he/she chooses to.
This seems like the best balance between enjoying the content created by content creators, and the joy that comes with new discovery while playing a game. Watching content about games one doesn’t mind losing the value in discovery, while refraining from watching content about games one wants to have a sense of discovery while playing. The next question is if that is even possible.
What say you, Raptors? Do you feel content created for games on services like Twitch and YouTube spoil discovery in the games you play?