14/05/2012

Mounts And Pets - Why Less Can Be More

A few days ago Liore made a post about why she found that SWTOR wasn't compelling enough for her to keep paying a subscription for it, and one of her main reasons can basically be summed up as that there wasn't enough "fluff" in the game, in the sense that she felt that there weren't enough features to fiddle with that weren't directly related to character power progression in some way. One of the most common ways in which MMOs provide this is by allowing people to collect differently coloured mounts and a variety of companion pets.

She's probably on to something there as I know that there are a lot of people out there who do love these things... but it also inspired me finally to write a post that has been on my mind for a while now - about why I'm personally glad that The Old Republic currently doesn't have oodles of different mounts and pets.

I suppose that part of it is simply that I'm not someone who cares a lot about mounts and pets to begin with. But there's a difference between just not caring and actively enjoying their scarcity.

To be honest, initially I even thought that SWTOR didn't even have any companion pets at all, because I didn't see any of them around for a long time. I knew that some people had that collector's edition minimech, but based on how rarely I saw it even on people of whom I knew that they had one, I figured that it was just an on-use item with a short duration, not a proper pet.

And then... came Stevie.

One day I noticed that one of my guildies had a miniature sandcrawler following him around during pretty much every operation. When asked about this, he solemnly explained that the little guy's name was Stevie and that he was his pet. I found this incredibly amusing. Over time, Stevie actually became something of a team mascot, and we would joke about him finishing off the boss, or being afraid of jumping off ledges if his pathing was buggy.

Imagine my horror when I found out one day that Stevie had fallen out of favour and had been replaced by one of those newfangled orokeets. I actually made a point of buying a little sandcrawler of my own, just to summon him during operations every now and then and talk about how Stevie had run away from home due to neglect and I had adopted him. It's been fun.

I don't have any stories that are quite as good about truly special mounts, though seeing a Tirsa Elite drop still never fails to make people chuckle, considering how excited everyone got about it when we looted one for the first time... until we actually saw it in action and realised that it was basically the TOR equivalent of a Lada. Nowadays people pray that they'll lose the roll. (For anyone curious, it's too late for me; I already won one.)

What these stories have in common is that the pets and mounts featured in them only provide a fun memorable experience when there is a certain scarcity of them. A single non-combat pet is unlikely to become the talking point of the raid if everyone has one out every night. (In WoW I pretty much stopped perceiving them completely after a while, as most people would just parade around with whatever was the newest shop item or holiday reward, and it became about as interesting as following fashion trends - to me personally, not at all). The prospect of receiving a new mount isn't very exciting if you already have a hundred and fifty others.

Keep in mind that this is not necessarily an argument in favour of elitism - the Little SandCrawler can be bought from a vendor at the fleet in unlimited supplies and only costs a few thousand credits. However, there is no particular incentive for everyone to buy one, as the game currently doesn't reward you simply for owning things, nor did every single subscriber get one in the mail for free (/cough - tauntaun - /cough).

What is the point of having people "collect" hundreds of mounts and pets if you can only have one out at a time and continually cycling through them is tedious? It's like having a giant wardrobe full of clothes that you know you'll never wear. It reminds me unpleasantly of real life and how people are constantly encouraged to buy stuff that they are never going to use, just for the sake of being a consumer. And I get enough of that in real life; I don't want it to intrude into my online fantasy world.

So from my point of view, I say yes to having some more variety of pets and mounts, so that people can pick one that they like, but no to introducing more and more of them just to encourage people to hoard. Unless they go all-out in the other direction by making it so that having multiple pets or vehicles actually serves some kind of purpose (by adding combat functionality, making them usable by companions or whatever. Oh, and simply showing off does count as a purpose - but owning lots of stuff that people are never going to see isn't even showing off.)

6 comments :

  1. I like collecting speeders. I'd really enjoy some sort of 'garage' area in my hangar that has all my speeders so I can show them off. That'd be spiffy! But I'm with you ... the fluffy parts of the game are rather sparse and that's ok for me. For now. Once the game ages a bit, we'll need that silly, frilly stuff so we can show off how long we've been playing. All 'bout the e-peen, baby!

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  2. Yikes! Well, a few things:

    1) What is the point of ANYTHING in an MMO? Fun! I have fun collecting pets. You don't. Both are valid, and fortunately there are a variety of games to suit us both.

    2) Everyone does in fact see my pets and mounts. I used a mod in WoW that randomly summoned a pet and mount every time, and I would enjoy seeing which were summoned. In SWTOR I would manually rotate through pets and mounts.

    3) The whole "collecting pets = conspicuous consumption" argument .. well, suffice to say I disagree. You've totally discounted the act of earning these pets and mounts and attributed everything to the act of ownership. I got a certain mount in WoW by grinding reputation for weeks, and it was super fun for me. I got a pet by doing a questline with guildies, or completing Children's Week three years in a row. Each of the items I collected comes with a story, much like Stevie in your post, and each one makes me smile.

    Also, as someone who plays MMOs in part because they're cheap and I'm broke, being accused of rampant consumerism is vastly amusing. XD

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    1. 1) You wrote about why you think SWTOR could do with more fluff. I wrote about why I enjoy it with less fluff. I don't think there's any disagreement on your point there. ;)

      2) Don't you think that's still pretty cumbersome though? It just strikes me as kind of sad to give people all these pets and then force them to have 99% of them "in the attic" at all times since you can only show off one at a time. I absolutely do see the appeal of collecting, but to me the most common companion pet systems strike me as not set up to really support it, instead only encouraging you to always get the newest shiny.

      3) Of course the experience matters, and I'm not opposed to adding new fun things to do! But then I would probably enjoy that experience even if it led to something other than a pet reward. Also, maybe WoW is setting a bad example there, but I found that most of the pets and mounts they added over time had little to do with interesting experiences and everything with grinding tokens or random drops. They had some very cool ones, like the Lashtail Hatchling, but it seemed to me that a lot of pet and mount additions basically came down to the developers saying "here, have more random stuff to buy".

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  3. Shintar said "it seemed to me that a lot of pet and mount additions basically came down to the developers saying "here, have more random stuff to buy"

    I can't agree more. I like the MMO concept, and within that, I count myself as an achiever, a collector of pets and mounts, and so on. I love collecting unusual and rare pets and mounts! But the best ones were the ones that had a story to them. I loved my ICC Drake, because it came with a group of 10 people who pulled together after guild fracture and earned it at the end of WotLK. I loved my Ulduar 10 mount because it was the first "raid reward" mount I earned. My venomsplash Raptor, that I earned over 20 days was great, so was the ZA Raptor I farmed every week for a year before it eventually dropped. My ToC Thunder Bluff Kodo was a prized acquisition to my stable, as I decided for RP reasons that I wanted my Tauren to ride nothing less. All my cool mounts had a story behind them. Same for the pets, the rocket jumping for the shale spider, grinding for grubbs, and so on. But latterly the pets and mounts turned into pure fluff with no gameplay. Just collect 500 holiday tokens for a horrible looking item.

    Just re-reading the OP really drives it home for me. When a minipet like Stevie, "The Little Sandcrawler That Could" has his own personality and story, it's great fluff that can appeal to anyone that likes stories and personality and ideally gameplay as well. When mounts and pets have no story behind them, they are only interesting to people who like fluff for its own sake, or like to see a counter ticking upwards. That's fine too, but surely the first model is the better one!

    This is also why I hate the Black Market Auction House with a vengeance. The ultimate pets and mounts, with the ultimately bad story, "I bought it with Gold".

    Sorry for the ranty post...... I think the short version was that IMHO SWTOR could use some extra fluff, and if they did it might appeal to me more, but it would have to be fluff with a story and fun gameplay behind it.

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    1. I have to admit I was thinking of you and your outrage about bird mounts when I wrote this. ;)

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  4. Outrage is an over-used word but considering I am still angry a couple of months later, it's probably about right!

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