I was intrigued by a comment Nils made here yesterday suggesting that by optimising I'm removing the fun from playing Diablo 3. (Not offended by the way Nils, I'm glad to have the discussion).
You see if I had picked any of a number of alternative ways of playing no one would have the temerity to suggest that my way isn't the One True Fun Way. If I roved the world looking for photogenic screenshot opportunities or concentrated on collecting minipets or made mosaic art by dropping items on the ground in tasteful arrangements I don't think anyone would come here and say "That's not fun."
So what is it about the optimisation process that draws this reaction?
I think there's a number of elements.
It's about maths. Lots of people really don't like maths. I do. When I'm bored with nothing to do I sometimes work out long division or squares or other mathematical puzzles in my head just to keep my mind busy. I appreciate this isn't usual. But it's clear from reading gaming theorycraft sites that many of us enjoy the maths of a game just for the sake of it. It's another aspect, enjoyable to some, that is actually a lost opportunity to those who never appreciate it. It's as if someone plays but never talks to another player or never takes a screenshot or never stops to appreciate how their character looks or never reads the lore. None of that is mandatory but none of those things are mutually exclusive and I would argue there's a richer experience if you appreciate all of them.
It's about immersion. When if an awesome legendary axe drops you find yourself thinking "shall I make an Axe Barb?" I can see it's disconcerting to see other players are looking at the drop thinking "woot! £3.50!" I think though there's a level beyond living off the land gameplay and that's the trading game. Let's suppose Player A finds an awesome Axe and makes an Axe Barb. Player B finds an awesome axe, knows that the market is over-pricing axes right now, sells the Axe on the gold market for 10,000 gold, turns the gold into £6, uses the £6 to buy an awesome mace and uses the mace to make a better Barb than player A. Who is having more fun? And I don't just mean because the character is more powerful but the process itself seems more fun to me. I do see that it's less immersive but I think in this case immersion is not the same as fun. Besides is twinking a hand-me-down to an alt really immersive? When did Conan's big brother ever turn up and hand him an uber sword that he had spare? Surely all trading is not immersive including trading to yourself via the shared bank.
And lastly and perhaps most importantly it's about competition. When some of us theorycraft it forces other players into one out of three positions all of which are detrimental to them if they don't like theorycrafting. 1) they can ignore the theorycrafters and the cookie cutters and just be less effective than us. That's probably going to be rather an unpleasant option in D3 because D3 will inherit a huge amount of its players from WoW and WoW players are very suspicious of people not pulling their weight. Anyone who seems underpowered is going to find people being rude to them in public groups. 2) They can follow the theorycraft but in the early stages of a game theorycraft to the non-mathematician is gruellingly horrible. When a game ages you get short pithy synopses that show you all the maths you need to know in a page. Early on however the theorycrafters aren't sure yet so you get 20 page discussions of the attack speed formulae. Generally people won't summarise anything until the facts are established by extensive time-consuming testing and peer review. 3) they can figure out the best way to play by themselves while ignoring other theorycrafters. There's a couple of problems with this. Peer review is immensely important. Theorycrafting is very time-consuming, I remember hitting a zombie outside Hell Rogue Camp 1000 times and writing down each result back when I was helping figure out D2. It took me about 6 hours to conduct and write up my experiment and it was for something rather obscure (I forget what). Even the best theorycrafter in the world doesn't solve every problem. Plus if you make a mistake it gets incorporated into your dataset and is very hard to find for yourself.
Few things we've seen in gaming before will be quite as competitive as D3 money-making. We're going head to head with sophisticated corporations and huge businesses - perhaps even the Russian mafia - that want to make fortunes doing this and what's more almost everyone will be doing it. I realise there are a few purists out there but most regular players if they get a Bow worth £25 and their character does not use bows will sell it. Some will even sell it if their character does use bows. So the supply of goods in general is close to infinite because players will find more decent loot than the AH system can possibly sell which will drive the price of a bow which is good but not the best down and down. So ambitious achiever players like me plotting to maximise income are taking money out of the pockets of other players.
And are we also taking fun away?
I think so. Clearly if a fairly casual inferno player finds a mid range legendary he's going to get a lot less for it because of intense farming players. He's going to be less effective at selling it because of auction house manipulators. And it's going to be less exciting to say "Wow, omg, I found a Windforce!" if people like me are finding 10 Windforces a day and they're worth 30p.
But I'm not optimising the fun out of gaming. I'm optimising the fun into my gaming and out of yours. That's competition, baby.