Wednesday, May 20, 2020

I Weigh in on Coin Weight in Pantheon

A current trend in MMO blogging got fired up by Belghast stating something obvious about 'coin weight' in Pantheon. That something obvious is that it's bad and trying to replicate a bit of nostalgia that some people wished they had but actually don't.

Syp and Telwyn both weighed in as well.

'Coin weight', for the record, is an extension of inventory weight. Inventory weight is when your character can only carry a certain amount of 'stuff' before you get penalized with either slow or stopped walking speed, removal of fast travel features, or a combination of both.'Coin weight' means that the very currency you carry around contributes to that overall weight as well.

Nobody heard the announcement that coin weight was going to be a feature in Pantheon and jumped out of their seat fist pumping. Some are hopeful that it's a sign the developers take player immersion seriously.

I see people typing that it will add 'realism' to the game. A more articulate argument is that it adds a 'grounding effect' to the game that helps immerse you into the fantasy by still adhering to some realities of our world. 'Realism' doesn't make sense as an argument. Dealing with cumbersome monetary systems has been a problem for as long monetary systems have existed. We didn't invent banks because we just really enjoy terrible customer service. Human beings do what we can to not have to carry a bunch of shit around with us all the time. That's like 20% of human history. If your game includes coin weight, but no other system for trying to avoid it, then you are not being 'realistic'.

Some are arguing that coin weight has intrinsic value because it forces players to make decisions on what to carry with them. Decisions are of course what make video games fun, so more decisions equals more fun. And perhaps sometimes it is fun. Deciding what I'm going to bring with me on a small hike is fun in small doses. Researching and putting together a pack for a long camping trip is certainly fun for some people.

But does anyone get excited packing their bags for a work trip? Is it more likely we create lists and buy packing cubes to make the process as quick and painless as possible? The first time we have to making a decision on what to bring on a play session through Pantheon that mechanic might feel pretty good, for some people. 100 days into the game? Probably not. When it inevitably ends up eating an entire play session forcing you to run back and forth doing inventory management? When you log in after a short break and are forced to deal with your inventory for the first hour? When you have to stop your dungeon run for a minute because you can't remember which crafting mat was marginally more useful than the other one?

On day one, inventory management in Pantheon is going to range from neat to awful. On day 100 it's going to range from whatever to awful. At some point in the game's life, it's going to range from awful to awful and then the game developers are going to get rid of it. (Everquest says 'hi'.)

Coin weight doesn't exist because it's a killer feature for the players. It exists for the benefits of the developers.

Like all art, video games oscillate between creators who make something to please an audience and creators who make something to please themselves. Most work, particularly if it employs more than one creator and would like to make a bit of money, sits somewhere in between these two ideals.

A good arts scene would hopefully be robust enough to support creator-focused games and audience-focused games. And the video games industry is robust enough. But that's often cold comfort when you're staring at a gameplay 'feature' in the present that pretty clearly exists to make someone money, or to make their life easier, and that someone isn't you.

Coin weight exists to fulfill the whims of the creators. I'm not saying it's evil or stupid or greedy or misguided. It just is. And at some point it will not. The original creators will lose their enthusiasm or move on to other projects and will be replaced with someone else. And that someone else will likely not care for coin weight, because the number of people who think that it's a good idea is already low.

Pantheon will not escape the fact that other games have experimented with this feature and eventually discarded it. It will not escape the fact that most players will not want this versus those that do. Coin weight is not an effective game mechanic for creating interesting decisions, it's needlessly complicated compared to other inventory systems in a hobby where players overwhelmingly want their UI to be clear and simple, it's not effective for increasing immersion for very long among even the most hardcore players, and it's certainly not 'realistic'. It will eventually be removed or rendered a non-factor.

But it did create a bit of pre-launch buzz. Which was most likely it's true purpose.

1 comment:

  1. By far the best post I've read on this topic. You've eloquently articulated my own thoughts. I did ponder writing a post on it myself but honestly I couldn't be bothered so I just restricted myself to sniping in the comments of those who did.

    The salient points are that it's a very good idea for the Pantheon team to include coin weight at the beginning and to talk about it now because they have a demographic in mind that will respond positively to signals like this. As anyone who played the games that demographic reveres - EQ, Vanguard - for longer than just the first few months or years knows, the games on which Pantheon builds progressively removed these kinds of features over time in order to meet the needs of those players who actually stuck around.

    The correct answer to the question "Coin weight?" for Pantheon is therefore "Yes, now; no, later".

    It's not guaranteed, though. I was surprised to learn during the debate this has kicked up that Black Desert has coin weight. It's one of the most successful MMORPGs of recent years. It did make me wonder how many other MMORPGs do still use the concept. To be honest, I'm not sure I'd actually notice. It was never much of an issue to me in games that did use it - I think the supposed difficulty and frustration of coin weight, like most things in the genre, is somewhat overhyped. But then, I am quite literally someone for whom the though of sorting my inventory in a video game sparks joy.