Defining Skill in MMORPGs

Tobold, Spinks, etc. have been talking about skill recently, mostly in relation to WoW, and while I’m broadly in agreement with their arguments, it bothers me that we don’t have a clear definition of what does and doesn’t constitute ‘skill’ in MMORPGs. Again and again we encounter the same confusion and disagreements steming from a lack of shared definition.

In particular, I often see blog comments and forum posts where the writer conveniently minimises or ignores what I would consider to be a far larger factor contributing to ‘success’ in most MMORPGs than player skill, that factor being time invested.

So, what follows is my first attempt to define skill in MMORPGs. This is not meant to be definitive or exhaustive at this stage, and perhaps it will help stimulate a little discussion and debate.


Knowledge – Understanding of the game mechanics, of specific mobs and encounters, of yours and other classes’ abilities, etc.

Judgement – The correct application of knowledge. Problem solving and the ability to make the right decisions.

Observation – Being aware of one’s surroundings, spotting incoming patrols, noticing dangerous debuffs, potential spike-damage, etc. Basically, being able to notice important things in a timely fashion.

Control – The ability to quickly and effectively translate intent into action. Hand-eye co-ordination with the mouse, keyboard dexterity, etc.

Leadership – Organisation, delegation, absorbing of input, encouragement, diplomacy, etc.

Not skill:

Opportunity – Being able to play 40+ hours a week due to having no job, no social like, or neither.

Flexibility – The ability to stay up until 3am banging your  head against a difficult piece of content due to not having a job that requires a good night’s sleep.

Unscrupulousness – The inclination to make use of someone else’s detailed strategy in order to beat a raid boss. Also, exploiting.

High-boredom threshold – The ability to perform repetitive, mundane tasks indefinitely.

Superior gear – It makes the game easier, not more difficult.

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3 Responses to “Defining Skill in MMORPGs”

  1. Tobold Says:

    It’s not that nobody has tried to define skill, it’s just a problem of information on blogs being notoriously hard to find a few months later. My try of a definition of skill types is here:

    • unwize Says:

      Ah yes, I seem to recall reading your post first time around, and more than likely got some of my ideas from it. My memory for these sorts of things is unreliable at best!

      Reading back through my post, I think I was mainly using it as in excuse to rant about what skill isn’t, i.e. the ability to spend unrestricted amounts of time in-game, and a motivation to overcome sometimes considerable boredom and frustration for the sake of virtual achievement and status. To me, these seem to be the primary factors contributing to raiding performance in typical raiding end-games, with actual skill being secondary, providing it is above a certain threshold.

      This goes back to what you often say about different player groups arguing for their share of the developer pie. I’m not a particularly casual player, spending anywhere between 10-40 hours a week in LotRO depending on my current interest level, but I want new content to be accessible and challenging to even the most casual end-game player. I dislike artificial progression as a means to hard-gate content (gear in WoW, radiance in LotRO), because it creates an illusory increase in difficulty, but success is primarily dictated by time played. I realise this is just a method for maintaining subscriptions, but it’s still annoying when hardcore raiders arrogantly brandish their sense of entitlement.

      One of the worst things about having a life-time subscription to LotRO is that I have forfeited the right to withdraw it in protest :)

  2. Football Manager Live Portal | Editorials | The Future of FML – Looking for Positives Says:

    [...] a great little article on the internet by Unwize called Defining Skill in MMORPGs and it relates to the current situation very well (go and have a quick read, I’ll wait). In it he [...]

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