How to make an inaccessible game
These comments from Anonymous perhaps need a bit of an explanation. Recently, Nick and Chad have convinced me to play League of Legends. I don't particularly like games where you have to babysit units (Warcraft 3 is shit, FYI) but I figured I liked Demigod and Monday-Night Combat (hyphen inserted for grammatical correctness) which are all broadly the same style of game. Given that League of Legends is free, it seemed like it was worth a try.
As I'm sure that in the future some Googlers will show up here, read this post and wonder why I hate the game they love so much, let me start by saying that I do not like games with significant amounts of micromanagement. I don't like there to be a lot of detail in my games; I don't like having to remember a hundred characters and each of their four abilities. I don't like having to remember the names of a hundred different items and what stats they affect and how much they cost. More to the point, I knew that I wouldn't like League of Legends going into it. So I made the call to not play the tutorial or read about the gameplay in favour of just playing it with Nick and Chad, who are good friends of mine, so that I wouldn't have to struggle through things I don't like before playing with my friends. Let's move on with the understanding that no, I didn't do the tutorial, and I'm approaching the game from the point of view of someone who cannot enjoy the gameplay without a few friends also suffering through it with me.
Defense of the Ancients is a genre of video game; League of Legends is a DOTA game. It combines some of the aspects of real-time strategy games, action games and role-playing games. Essentially, teams of five players fight each other in order to advance the front of a war between an unending supply of weak non-player characters on both sides. The players are mighty compared to the warring NPCs; their presence generally means the difference between which side wins and loses a particular battle. While this is going on, each character is gaining experience from the war, as well as money from the kills they rack up. There are also specific areas of the war zone where players can gain advantages that are outside of the normal battlegrounds. To put it shortly, there is a lot going on in this style of game at any given time, and the game's pace is very fast.
Given that so much is going on, players have had to invent a new language in order to communicate the world's state to each other efficiently. When a player takes a moment to type something to his teammates, he needs to be able to say it as fast as possible. This results in short messages that are completely unintelligible to people who don't speak the language.
That could have been avoided. If the game had a voice-chat capability built into it, players would be able to be more verbose when communicating. A new language would still be created (no game can completely avoid its own terminology) but it would be more verbose. Moreover, new players (who, if they are anything like me, are overwhelmed by the visual content in the game) would be able to pay more attention to the chatter between players. They would be able to ask the question, "What does X mean?" and the other players would be able to take the time to answer it in real English while playing without having to stop playing in order to type out an answer.
But it doesn't matter now. It's too late. When I played originally with Chad, she used the shorthand language even when speaking to me over Ventrilo. The gibberish has been around too long and it seems that nearly everyone who plays the game knows the language, so Chad doesn't seem to understand that I don't know what the fuck she's talking about. She might as well not be talking at all for all I understand. Eventually I managed to convince my friends to actually explain what they are saying in English and it's helped me to pick things up a lot.
I am the type of person who ignores details that I deem unimportant, such as the particular names of things. I don't care that my character's name is Grondak the Conqueror when I'm playing. I care that he can punch good. Players refer to each other by their character's names rather than the player's names. This is something that happened a lot in real-time strategy games. People would often refer to each other by colour instead of name. That worked in RTSes because it was obvious what colour you are. In League of Legends I don't necessarily know that I am playing Grondak the Conqueror or his friend Rycque the Dominator. Even if I feel like I have the time to pay attention to the chat (which I usually don't) I'm probably not going to know that when you say, "Hey Grondak!" you're talking about me. Until yesterday I didn't even know how to check what my own character's name was. You can say that I should have known that, but I'm saying it's a player habit that is inhibiting the communication of skills from experienced players to new ones.
The most important problem I have with the game is its core mechanic: the rich get richer and the poor die. The game has three different ways to improve your character: experience, money and killing special enemies. Players who are more skilled are able to gain more of these things and therefore this widens the gap between experienced players and new players even more. New players like me have a hard enough time to trying to figure out what their characters' powers do. Adding an item system (items which mean more to the gameplay than experience, by the way) to all of the other things that need to be remembered just makes things more complicated.
More to the point, experienced players can quickly buy up the items they need to be effectively invincible to new players who don't know how to accumulate money and experience as fast as they. From a few minutes into the game and on, new players are constantly losing. A few minutes after that, any hope they might be feeling about turning the tide of the battle has faded. Their souls crushed, they need only await their defeat, or let their teammates carry them to victory. Neither outcome is fun.
Lose because you're useless or win in spite of you being useless. That's how I feel when I play this game.
I'm certain the players who know what they're doing feel good about their characters becoming more powerful. That's not the point. People have fun when they feel like they have a chance to win; that even when they aren't the best they're at least contributing the their team. Every aspect of League of Legends' gameplay and community exists to squash those feelings. The gameplay is busy, piled up with mechanics that serve to confuse the new joiner; the communication system forces an inaccessible language to be created; the community doesn't have any sympathy for new players (as Anonymous so helpfully demonstrated with his comments).
League of Legends tries very hard to not be fun to new players. In that regard I think I would call it a huge success.