Friday, November 26, 2010

Third Party Software and MMOs

There’s an interesting discussion going on in our raid syndicate at the moment. It concerns the use of an external program called Guild Connect. This is a package that from how I understand it, allows one person to be the admin and they have timers for spells etc that are then shared with the whole raid (if they are logged into Guild Connect). These can be used to call jousts, or really any instruction you wish without the raid leader having to worry about it. The call out is in a digital voice and is easy to understand. Basically it takes away some of the worry for the raid and the raid leader and allows for an accurate verbal notification system. That’s its purpose.

The discussion that has arisen is the one of gameplay and what people want out of the game. We recently had some discussions kind of touched on what sort of raid force we are, and quite simply, we are not hardcore, we’re just a group of friends raiding together to experience the content. Not to say we aren’t progressing, we are and quite nicely too. But the use of this new software has raised some of the old questions that raised their heads when Advanced Combat Tracker and parses first came out.

To raid hardcore, you either need a mega dedicated and extremely proficient raid force, or the help of systems like ACT and Guild Connect, or both. It basically can help transfer fights in to what I refer to as ‘hand holding’ encounters. Where you are simply following a prescribed script given to you by a third party system that assesses when you should joust, what detrimental are coming, when to stop attacking and so on. All the things that a raid leader usually does and also expects the raid members to pay attention to.

This has stimulated a couple of opposing opinions. On one side there is the idea that such technology and its use in the game turns it from a game where human interaction and the overcoming of adversity to progress as a team is paramount alongside enjoyment, to a program that really is no longer a game anymore, simply a physical reaction to digital instructions. Or put simply, it holds your hand through the content and lets you decipher the encounters secrets automatically, thereby removing the enjoyment and challenge aspect. Effectively turning it from a casual bunch of friends enjoying content together to a different game of hotbar whacka mole.

I can see both sides of the argument, and I’ll state from the off that if I absolutely had to choose, I would choose not to use the technology. The level of satisfaction is higher when achieving stuff with friends, doing it the ‘hard way’ or so to speak. You get to sit back when an encounter is finally beaten and enjoy the fact that you achieved something using your skill and understanding, not simply by following instructions.

However, to think that assumes that using such software completely removes all human interaction. It of course does not. I can still choose to ignore the instructions if, owing to other information I am aware of I know it is not relevant. I still have the choice to follow the instructions or not. For example, we tried this system out last night. On one of the encounters at one point you cannot attack the mob at all or he reflects the damage back on the raid. At the same time there are a lot of heroic adds that spawn and unless you kill them quick they get tougher and tougher until you wipe. I was tanking the adds. Being a Bruiser I do quite a bit of AoE damage, some of which is automatic when a normal hit connects, it stimulates AoE damage also. At one stage Guild Connect had told us to stop attacking him, BUT there were still adds around the named. I knew if we did not target and kill them fast they would get stronger until we could not cope, another set of adds would spawn and the adds we didn’t kill before would wipe us. By the same token, I knew if I headed in to attack the adds, there was a chance my auto AoE would hit the mob when I wasn’t supposed to and reflect that damage back on the raid. I quickly ignored the instruction from Guild Connect and ran in to grab the adds. Yes my AoE did hit the mob, so why did I do it? Why did I ignore the instructions of a machine and risk wiping the raid? Well, the reason is because of that, reason. I am a human with the ability to reason. I had assessed how many healers we had, watched the health bars in that split second checked there were no spikes to the raids health and surmised the danger of the adds becoming stronger (it happens quite quickly, you have to be fast at getting the adds down), was greater and less manageable for the raid force than the fact some spike damage may need to be healed from my accidental AoE on the named as I was grabbing the adds. I refuse to be dictated to by technology. I will use it, but with my reasoning abilities intact. I will never be the person who drives in to a lake just because my Sat Nav told me to.

And that’s the point. I will not shy away from using such technology to assist, only when required and even then with my ability to reason surpassing it. But that’s it, I will only allow it to assist what I am already doing. Using the previous example, the point when you are not allowed to attack is communicated to the raid by red text appearing on your screen telling you that the mob is putting up a barrier. Even though the Guild Connect system was telling me to ‘stop’, I was watching the screen and would have stopped anyway when I saw the red text. Yes it worked admirably in its function there but to be honest, I was aware I didn’t really need it for that as I was watching for the red text warnings. But, I am very willing to accede that there are times when such a system would be invaluable to me as an offtank. Take the first named fight in Underfoot depths. The adds in that fight seem to constantly memwipe and as a tank I am constantly running around trying to grab aggro back off the squishies. In a situation like that I am honest enough to admit, my focus gets diverted to monitoring my snap aggro tools, my aggro meter and simple things like moving around to the right spots to grab aggro constantly. In a situation like that if red writing appeared on my screen, I may well miss it.

The argument is much bigger than this though. It nudges in to the realms of suspense of belief, the reason why a lot of people play this game to escape from the responsibilities of real life, the horrendous things we see on the news, the problems we have in our own lives and the stresses that come with those. The game offers relief from all that, a safe place to ‘play’ with your friends and make new acquaintances and the use of such software as Guild Connect could detract from this. Imagine you are a systems analyst in real life. You spend all day working at your workstation reacting to analytical data tools, then you go home to relax, hop on EQ2, load up Guild Connect, and do it all over again but this time with pretty pictures on the screen alongside the data. Of course, you may find some saying guild connect is going to far, as they then switch to ACT to analyse their data, seemingly accepting one set of software but not the other.

I guess at the end of the day, use of such software to assist you through the game is a personal choice. All I would suggest is to remind yourself what it is you want from the game before using it or indeed ACT or special UI mods, or whatever. Think about what you want and what the use of these software packages would mean to you. Would it mean becoming more hardcore when you like casual? If it is going to detract from what you want from the game, don’t do it. If like me you can find a happy middle ground, then do that, but most importantly, remember it is a game, and the main reason for playing it is enjoyment and the fact you as an individual get something from it that is good for you personally.

Be well.


  1. I can't really comment from the point of view of an experienced raider, but personally I've always steered clear of these kind of mods. They smack of cheating to me, and I have a problem with them destorying the spirit or soul of a game. Just my opinion though, and I'm sure they are useful.

  2. I agree mate. I feel there is a personal line you draw as to what you will accept. For me, if the system does something I cant do myself, I won't use it. Take the parsers for example. I 'could' go through my logs and indulge in a bit of hardcore maths, but I just don't have the time, so I will use it. As for the Guild Connect, it's OK and as I said there are times when it would be useful, but I probably won't be using it as it just does what I am doing anyhow, but making it easier.

  3. After doing the fights enough , I find that I have an eternal timer for the AOEs. So my raidforce doesn't call jousts or anything. We try to keep any chat clear. The biggest use we get is calling curses because EQ2 likes for those red messages across your screen to lag.

  4. I guess that happens when you raid somewhere enough. I must admit I wasn't aware that the red messages lagged..interesting and explains a few things mate! Thanks for stopping by for a read ;)