Right, let's get a couple of things out of the way: yes, I am a goon and I’m going to talk to you about third person view. No, I am not going to tell you that you access it by pressing Alt-F4, like all these people did. We’re done with that, we’ve run it into the ground.
Instead, let’s talk about the actual third person view that Russ Bullock announced in the No Guts No Galaxy podcast this week. It’s come as a bit of a surprise to the community, as PGI had always been very clear that they wanted to keep MWO a first person experience. Before we dive into pros and cons, I’d like to reproduce Russ’ words to provide some context here. Big thanks to Rayezilla for transcribing this from the podcast:
"For me, first person is the way Mechwarrior is meant to be played. I was actually really against 3rd person for a long time. I'm beginning to realize that was a mistake. Originally in closed beta, first person was for the really hardcore fans. The most complex thing for new player is the torso aspect, believe it or not. At E3 or some trade show, a totally new player steps up to the game and moves his mouse, seeing the screen movement he expects that he's moving that way like any other shooter. They don't realize why they are running in place. Of course, what they don't realize is that they're running into a building, and it's just that little aspect of torso which is the number one hardest thing for new users. The only way to truly show people what's happening in the game is 3rd person.
The tanker analogy helps a little bit, but you can tell people they're driving a tank all day long and it doesn't really sink in. Why is world of tanks so damn easy to play? It's ‘cause you're staring at your tank. You can see which way you're driving. The biggest concern I had with 3rd person was I didn't like the peeking around corner thing. But there' s no denying that if we want MWO to achieve the next level of players is that we need 3rd person.
First and foremost, we're totally caucusing what the hardcore player base wants. If you don't want to play 3rd person and you don't want to play 'against' people in third person, we're making that an option. Think of third person like a training camera. If for the first few hours, someone gets to view 3rd person camera angle that teaches them how the mech functions, and then a few hours into the game they pop into first person to experience the more advanced aspects of the game, the mercenary aspects, the CW aspects. Think, 'here's how we train people how to play the game.'"
In summary, PGI views this is a way to get new players to understand the movement mechanics a bit better, and no one has to play using third person or against those who are. Community Warfare will also require you to be in first person view, so at some point a new player needs to bite the bullet and get used to it.
On the positive side this is good news because PGI is considering the needs of new players and how to grow their customer base. Both will be critical to the survival of MWO as a game. I don’t have access to their player numbers, but I’m willing to bet they hit their peak when open beta launched and that almost every long standing Mechwarrior/Battletech fan is already playing. In order to keep this game growing PGI has two options: squeeze more money out of the current customer base or expand the customer base. That they’re looking to the latter is good news for those of us that have already thrown money at them. A third person camera will also be nice once we hit the point of being able to customize our paint jobs. After all, what’s the point in painting your Stalker hot pink with a vertical line down the front of the nose if you can’t look at it and snigger at your own childishness?
However, there are grounds for concern over the possibility of splitting the player base. Again, I don’t have my hands on player numbers, but I strongly doubt that MWO can support two segregated player groups at the moment. Furthermore, if their plan is to not let you use third person for Community Warfare, they could well wind up with a big chunk of casual players who never graduate to the cockpit view and play CW. That's a big problem, because CW is what will keep players in the game for over the long term and spending money long term. As fun as the random battles we have right now are, I don’t think they’re going to hold people’s interest forever. There’s a reason that games like Planetside and World of Tanks have a persistent overworld to fight over, after all.
From the way the MWO community has responded to this announcement that “Maybe possibly we could eventually do something that is like a third-person camera to help people learn to drive mechs”, you’d think that PGI had announced that in order to play you’d have to put your dangly parts into a meat grinder. Many appear to have missed that Russ talked about having the option to choose between two different views, not that everyone would have access to third-person camera in all modes, all the time. The overwhelming response from the people who post on the official MWO forums is that they don’t want the community fragmented, alongside the usual demands for founders pack refunds, a growing tradition when PGI suggests any change someone doesn’t like.
My own view is that what’s really needed here is an offline training mission or two for new players. In fact I’m just going to link directly to this post by my comrade in wings Amechwarrior and agree entirely with his first suggestion:
"Allow 3rd person within a single player tutorial mission
Let the 3rd person cam and the tutorial work together to get a new pilot used to moving while torso twisting. But at the end of the "Movement" mission, before they go on to firing they must navigate a simple maze by only 1st person while keeping their torsos aligned to a dummy target.
Let them practice all they want with 3rd/1st person mazes before the "gate" to the next tutorial level. But the end of the movement tutorial must have them moving in 1st person because allowing them to rely on 3rd person sets them up for failure in the real game that's 1st only. Further tutorial segments would not allow 3rd person."
Splitting the player base, even with the best of intentions, is a terrible idea. It can be done; Call of Duty does so with its map packs, and can survive by dint of having hundreds of thousands of people playing. But, let’s not delude ourselves here. Battletech is for now, and the immediate (and probably distant) future, a niche game compared to that ultra-slick product emitted from the Activision. Partitioning the playerbase is going to end badly. Showing, not telling, the players how to deal with the differences between this and the shooters they are used to via a decent tutorial mission is the way to go here. Locking them into a “third person camera ghetto”, does nothing to turn these players into paying customers - which ultimately has to be PGI's goal if this game is to continue.