"Most games have learned that players respond better to incentives than penalties, even when they are mathematically equivalent. Instead of having a hunger debuff, food provides a buff, and all the content is balanced with the assumption that you are using food buffs."
When I began playing MMOs it was commonplace for the game to provide warnings along the lines of "you feel hungry", "you feel thirsty". I would respond immediately to those prompts for two reasons: firstly because I felt uncomfortable on behalf of my characters and secondly because I'd had my memory jogged to do something I knew I should be doing but had forgotten.
|What's a ravasect? You don't want to know.|
Mostly these felt convincing, especially against the background of a world in which magic was real. Finding yourself more substantial (extra hit points) or robust (faster endurance regen) or stronger (bonus to strength) after a good meal felt right. A lot of sympathetic and ritual magic went into in the design, too. Eating the flesh of your enemy would transfer to you some of his power or cunning. Natural magic added the properties of medicinal plants and so on.
At first these were indeed just bonuses. Nice to have but nothing to fret over if you skipped a
meal or several. Over time, however, and as is sadly the way of MMOs, power creep occurred. By the time we got to Luclin in December 2001 we had already reached the absurdity of The Misty Thicket Picnic, a halfling extravaganza so vast it must have taken two halflings to carry, but without which no raider could consider himself fully prepped.
As Zubon observes, this approach led game developers, quite logically, to assume that, since everyone would be using the best available food, drink and other buffs, content should be tuned to match the increased power levels that implied. I was aware of this while playing Everquest but I didn't feel the full impact until EQ2.
|I found several hundred of these on a vendor long ago. |
Still eating my way through them.
EQ2 was a horribly-designed game at the beginning. I could put up a blog post a day for a month about its faults and still have plenty left to say. No surprise, then, that the implementation of food and drink was terrible. At low levels, which we all were, money was tight. The food sold by NPC vendors was cheap but had no stats and minimal regenerative qualities. Crafted food had a few stats and much better regen but it was time-consuming and fiddly to make and crafters expected a substantial return for the effort.
Consequently an awful lot of people (or a lot of awful people) didn't bother with food and drink at all and many of those who did made do with the cheapest vendor junk they could find. Because the primary effect of eating and drinking was to allow you to recover hit points and mana, not having supplies didn't just mean a reduction in a group's overall efficiency due to some members not being as buffed as they could have been. It meant that after every fight the members of a group who had provided well for themselves had to stand around at full health and mana, drumming their fingers as they watched the progress bars of their less-organized or more tight-fisted colleagues refill at snail pace.
Every pick-up group would at some point degenerate into an argument between the willing and the unwilling eaters. At some point someone would become so frustrated they'd start handing out freebies but as we all know there's no such thing as a free lunch and the bill would end up being paid in resentment and acrimony.
|This was my big money-maker back in the day.|
No-one got one of these beauties for free!
Later, either in the Scott Hartsman revamp that saved the game or with the coming of Domino that saved crafting, food and drink got tuned up to be so obviously attractive that everyone wanted to use them. I was able to stop giving mine away and start selling them. For a while I actually had some money.
Fast forward almost a decade to Guild Wars 2 and what has been learned? Not much, it would seem. The profession of Chef in Tyria is a sprawling, chaotic confusing one that works differently to all the other tradeskills, flagged up even by the NPCs who offer training as harder than the others, and which, if pursued seriously, risks filling every available storage slot with half-finished dishes that could be made into something better later. Perhaps as a consequence, for a long time no-one seemed to pay all that much attention to food.
|Mousse, Mouse, easy mistake if you're a Charr|
shortage of those in an MMO) must have run some numbers and worked out that our characters are, after all, what they eat. Prices on certain foods skyrocketed and it became de rigeur to carry a stack of Spicy Marinated Mushrooms or similar at all times. Moreover, GW2 being the communitarian enterprise it is, public-spirited folk can plonk down a Feast for everyone to share, while in the more militaristic setting of WvW a gruff commander can bark "Food Check" before slamming down rations for his ill-prepared militia.
Zubon goes on to to discuss how all this relates to the traditional dichotomy between the casual and the hardcore but it occurred to me that perhaps the real dividing line isn't how many hours you play or how seriously you take your gaming (two of the more common definitions of "casual" and "hardcore" behavior) but between how organized or disorganized you are.
|Ascended Cookery? We don't even have Exotic yet.|
Perhaps the disorganized deserve to be penalized, but as one of them I am no doubt that the original methodology worked more strongly in my favor than the current one. Perhaps one day game developers will begin to learn some of the lessons that economists are just now beginning to assimilate, namely that there is no such thing as a rational consumer. If and when that ever happens we might once again see fewer carrot soufflés and more big sticks.