Gamers of the world unite. We have nothing to lose but the grind.
For those of us who enjoy video games, the fact that they’re so heavily merit-based is part of their appeal. You win because you played better that round. You beat the game because you figured out the puzzles, mechanics, etc. You succeed because you deserve it.
Life is messy and uncertain. Video games offer a counterweight of spectacular clarity. But with this comes an inherent danger.
Wrapped into that merit system is a seductive idea – that there should be something that sets you apart from everyone else who plays. Your achievements, clan, cosmetics, guild, whatever … should set you apart from a casual player as one of the game’s elite. Sometimes this is all in good fun and the game’s community accepts these minor divisions as part of its world.
Sometimes, however, it’s baked into the game design. And that’s when things get a little sketchy. Because there are situations when exclusivity and elitism are intentionally created by game designers and perpetuated by players who have been bamboozled into thinking they really are part of a game’s “elite.” What’s more, they think that’s a meaningful distinction.
Which brings us to the raid update for Division 2.
First, some cold, hard truth about raids. I’ve been doing raids since Everquest. If you think raids in games like Destiny are a pain in the ass, then look to their great-great grandfather. Old school raids needed upwards of 40 players of different classes, each fulfilling extremely specific and regimented roles for each segment of the raid. They were huge, they required extraordinary levels of organization and communication, and they took forever. Some were actually multi-day experiences.
Were they fun? As a social event, sometimes. As a gaming experience, almost never. After all, raids – no matter how you package them – are just quests writ large. Add mechanics. Add numerous hoops to jump through (“before you enter the room of the ice god, you must first find all 7 elemental keys” and so on). But in the end, it’s still a numbers game. In fact, the bigger the raid, the more likely it is that you’re going to be stuck in a preordained role carrying out repetitive tasks and pretending this is fun and not at all like some sort of psychology experiment better suited for monkeys.
The point of raids is not the gear or whatever shiny trinket you’ve been promised as a reward. The point of raids is to create a class system among players – the elites who can show off their raid completion and the regular folk who weren’t able to do the raid.
Because the real challenge of the raid isn’t the content, it’s the party. With a few exceptions of the proves-the-rule type, nothing on a raid is going to be so much harder than the rest of the game that a reasonably competent player can’t complete it given time to learn the necessary mechanics, map, and so on. What keeps people out of raids is the fact that you need to find the large party that can complete it with you.
And that’s why I’m so annoyed with the Division 2 raid.
No matter what they say, the designers behind Division 2 always had a choice. They could allow matchmaking for their new raid or they could add an extra barrier that makes it harder for the average player to participate. They chose the barrier.
That wording is intentional. It’s not, “they could have matchmaking or not.” In this situation, not adding matchmaking for raids (something that is possible elsewhere in the game) is the equivalent of declaring that you want it to be that much harder for the average player to do a raid.
It’s that simple. They don’t want everyone to be able to raid. They want it to be harder to get enough people in a party to do a raid, so they employed a design that made it harder.
Why? What do they get out of it? Exclusivity.
The intentional creation of an elite class in the game is done to burnish Division 2’s image among a certain kind of gamer. It makes it more attractive to the obsessives, makes it harder to break away to spend time on other games, and fuels the rush to obtain the l33t status that the raids convey. It’s not a coincidence that perpetuating illusions of status plays directly into the kind of live service game that peddles microtransactions that can help achieve (or at least mimic) that status.
Raids without matchmaking are especially effective in raising the game’s profile with streamers and YouTubers, who will rarely have the same difficulties in setting up a raid group and have a strong motivation for demonstrating they are among the elite who completed a raid.
And though it’s not the largest concern, creating a class division between gamers also causes a spike in asshole behavior. This is the kind of thing that leads to clans that put out rules about what kind of gear you need to join and people who quit your group when they find out you don’t play or spec in the “approved” manner.
The most annoying part is the response you get when you complain about the lack of matchmaking, which will inevitably be either, “You don’t even have 7 friends to play with?” or “If you don’t like it, you don’t have to play it.”
To address the latter, rather idiotic point first: I want to play it. That’s why I bought the goddamned game. That’s why I’m annoyed. I want to play the whole game, not be barred from part of it by an arbitrary design decision. If I bought a Snickers bar and was able to eat 90% of it, but the last bit was locked away unless I could prove I knew 7 other people who like Snickers, I wouldn’t go, “Oh, well, I guess I didn’t want the whole thing.” I’d be asking, “Why did you lock away a chunk of my candy bar, assholes?”
As for whether I know 7 people to play it … that’s not the point. I’m not playing “Julie, Your Cruise Director: The Video Game.” I don’t get out a game so that I can embark on the thrilling challenge of networking, scheduling, and bargaining with strangers to play part of the game. No one wants to spend 40 minutes trying to chat people into playing raid content with them.
And it shouldn’t be necessary. Ubisoft could have put the matchmaker into their raids. It’s already part of the game, for God’s sake. Choosing not to do so just shows their hand. They want it to be inaccessible. They want to create a gatekeeping device for their players. They want an “elite” division in their player base.
To me, this is the same as saying that you want to slowly poison your community. And that’s exactly what’s about to happen with Division 2.
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