Gameplay Content

Jeromai had a good comment that deserves a post in response. After listing all the stuff that City of Heroes has added in the past year, he asks: “Does ‘content’ just equal progress of story, or does it include all of the above?” I leaked terms. I started the post by discussing “gameplay,” then switched to calling it “content” at the end. It all goes back to sphexishness:

The actual content is what is new. “Kill ten rats” and “bring me ten rat tails” only add content to the extent that the quest text is novel. If you add an “orc shaman leader” that also has a freezing spell, that is new for the seconds that it takes me to work out “orc shaman + purple tint + second fireball with less damage and a slow effect.” City of Villains has endless newspaper missions, but really it is the same mission with a narrow range of variation.

The storyline is frequently the smallest addition because there is so little of it. A big update will have 10-15 minutes worth of reading, spread out across a number of quests and contacts. You read it once and you’re set. A new enemy group is added; most of them will have 2-3 powers, and the interesting ones will probably be using existing powers.

Take Issue 9’s Statesman Task Force. This is good stuff, and it probably took a long time to make. It is also 5-10 minutes of reading, 3-4 novel fights, and 2-3 hours of fighting the same Arachnos enemies that were already around. Take Issue 9’s revamped Hamidon fight. This is almost entirely new gameplay, with new things to learn and do. It is one of the purest gameplay additions City of Heroes has had. But that is one raid encounter.

I am not an especially visual person, so graphic upgrades don’t mean a lot to me. Issue 11 added dozens of new hairstyles and weapon appearances. You see them once, done. Issues 10 and 12 added new tilesets for missions. You learn the half-dozen new rooms and hallways, done.

A wolf is a rat with different numbers and graphics, maybe a different ability. The fundamental is the same. A goblin is a bipedal wolf, an orc shaman is a goblin with a fireball spell, and a dragon is a flying shaman. Almost everything in the game can be understood as fiddling with variables on a fairly simple template.

Most new content is a way of fiddling with the existing variables, possibly with new decorative touches. Hours of padding and repetition hide the fact that the “new” is only a few minutes long. Some of these are really great, but we are still killing ten rats. Really exciting new things go beyond the template.

: Zubon

8 thoughts on “Gameplay Content”

  1. Thanks for clarifying your terms with a new post.

    I agree, I think for some of us who have played an MMO for an extended period, we’re looking for new gameplay. Something that doesn’t end up devolving into a recognizable sphexish cycle that we’ve done before.

    Content’s a big word and can cover decorative aspects (flowery quest text or new costume looks/tilesets), with possibly some functional gameplay differences. (ie. spend a few minutes learning a new tileset – good places to pull to, snipe from, etc.)

    Some people who aren’t tired of the same old grind -are- really just looking for more content. They don’t mind if it’s a reskinned dragon, as long as it drops good loot (if they are achievement-oriented) or perhaps advances the story (if they are immersion-seekers.)

    Ultimately, it boils down to what each individual is looking for in a game.

    From a developer standpoint, it’s probably easier to cater to the same (but slightly different) content-seekers than the novel gameplay experience-hunters. And I guess it leaves the latter to jump ship from MMO to MMO, sampling all possible variations.

  2. Aye, content means different things to different people. To some, it’s new loot, to others, new graphics or scenery. I’d bet that to most of the people here, content is new behaviour: scripted encounters, original ability mechanics, or anything else that encourages/requires you to act differently than you have before.

  3. You guys are missing 1 aspect of the new content concept: self progression. the biggest reason most MMo players accept the fact that they are doing the same quest over and over again in different variations is that the yield is a new set of skills and thus a change in gameplay (for most classes in most MMo’s)

  4. But, personal opinion here, I think it’s only very rarely that new skills truly mean a “change in gameplay” proper. Most of the time it adds more granularity to the existing gameplay.

    For example, in WoW when the Rogue learns “Blind” it’s not that it turns her gameplay upside down and she’s forced to relearn her gameplay, this time around “Blind”. “Blind”, essentially, means another stun/mez/whatever you want to call it. It just adds another stun/mez to the Rogue’s arsenal and that’s it. The Rogue can keep an enemy out of the fight for six more seconds now. That’s about it. The gameplay remains essentially untouched.

    A “change in gameplay” proper is when we go ahead and radically change the dynamics and goals of your character, as well as changing your character’s interactions with the game world in a way that has little comparison with the old way of doing things. For example, brief as it might be, when you get on the Gryphon in WoW’s Hellfire Peninsula to go and bomb some demons, that’s a true “change of gameplay”. The Chess Event in Karazhan is borderline there too. Things like that.

    There are very few skills that can boast to “change gameplay” in any meaningful way. Stealth for Rogues is one. Every time a Druid gets a new shape, with the accompanying new skills, is another. Yes, you’re still beating on things no matter what, but at least the way you approach the beating is different.

  5. Of course, you also have to question whether players WANT a change in gameplay sometimes. Look back at the history of games and you find most of the popular games are very simple gameplay mechanics that we played for years despite this: The Pac Man family, the Mario/Donkey Kong Family, Any of the fighting games dating back even before my indoctrination to Yie Ar Kung Fu. I wasted hundreds of quarters proving to friends that you could completely beat Double Dragon using one maneuver and never losing a health point (elbow punch ftw!).

    Now go back and look at some of the biggest forum wars you’ll ever find and ask how many of them were actually a result of a change in gameplay. Even leaving out the historic “change in game entirely” like SWG, we have dozens of examples where a dev change (often called a nerf… or a reverse nerf… or nerf by proxy) fundamentally altered the gameplay in a way that required the player to rebuild the character to adapt to it- and the PLAYERS COMPLAINED. “All my work is for nothing.”

    We don’t want our old gameplay altered (well, I do). We don’t want to lose our fun little patterns that we’ve come to master. Heck, what do players do when faced with all sorts of customization options that *might* allow for alternative play experiences? We narrow it down to a handful of templates and criticize teammates that build in a way we don’t expect.

    So, we can look at alternate gameplay, right? Things like a fishing minigame, flying minigame, races…. those keep the old comfortable system in place, but put something different out there for people to try. These are safer, but not necessarily entirely satisfying.

    If I’m focusing on the reward- loot, leveling, whatever, then I’m comparing the new gameplay to the old: which gives me better reward per second? Once players figure out which is better, you hear complaints on the boards: “X is obsolete.” “I’m being forced to do Y to stay competetive.” Even if you try to balance things by giving different rewards to different activities, the relative value of those rewards to each other come into play.

    It’s quite a balancing act to get even something as simple as “a new mezz” in the game. Deliver something new and exciting, but leave everything the same.

  6. Good comments. I’ll agree that “dramatically change my game” is a rare request. I don’t know that even I share it. What many dislike about WoW is that the leveling game, the PvP game, and the endgame are almost completely different. I have heard WoW’s leveling game described as teaching you how to play your character, in preparation for the raids at the end. And then the raids violate the rules in a variety of ways, with untankable encounters, monsters with a DPS ceiling (at least one in EQ2, not sure about WoW), and otherwise punishing all the behavior it rewarded for 70 levels.

    Yes, Bliz, I am discounting the Achiever game entirely here, despite being an EASK. I probably used to be an AESK, but by now Fire Bolt VII is sphexish, not a great upgrade from Fire Bolt VI. Julian explains the point well.

    When I talked about explorers in chewing through content, this is what I meant. It takes months to develop content that can be experienced in hours. After that, you’re just wallowing in it.

    Reflecting back on that post, I can see the achiever having a similar but fundamentally different complaint. The guy who powerlevels to the new level cap in 28 hours really is playing the achiever game, and he is doing it beautifully. It also shows that there is just that little content for him, however much time was spent on it. Conveniently, there are still those raid treadmills to keep him achieving for months (of monthly fees).

  7. I agree with everything you said, Zub, but if you stick with a strict interpretation as you outlined it in this post, then The Dark Knight is going to suck at the theaters:

    Same content, different skins and a bit of twiddling with the numbers.

    Of course, I realize that this isn’t a good parallel…there’s a huge difference between different actors and different database entries, but the fact remains…if you dress it up enough, add a minimal amount of new twists and throw it out to an audience hungry for content…it’ll work.

    It’s often been said (and rightly so, in my opinion) that World of Warcraft didn’t invent a darn thing when it comes to MMORPGs, they just borrowed what they thought were the best elements of previous efforts and polished them up.

    But again, I’m wandering off-course. A new game launch isn’t the same as a content update…but the fact remains, there’s no difference at the database level between copying old content with a new set of graphics for a game launch and copying old content with a new set of graphics for a content update.

    I think it’s the burnout factor; after you’ve sat through The Dark Knight one hundred times, you’ll still go back and see it again if you’re a fan of the series and they add a few new scenes with the same actors…but you’re not going to sit through it another hundred times because of those scenes.

    Hnh. Reading back over that, it’s hard to believe that I started by saying I agree with you, Z…but I still do. :)

  8. So this is an argument over the definition of the word “Content” as pertains to MMO’s.

    So we could just say: “Content” is that which makes the MMO game a more satisfying experience.

    “Content” can take the form of story lore, gameplay changes, additional detail, new features, new areas and/or monsters, character options… many things.

    “Content” varies from person to person. If you enjoy playing dress-up with the virtual doll of your character, then new costumes will be “Content”. If you enjoy reading the story, then new story will be “Content”. If you enjoy killing raid bosses and getting rewarded for it, then new raid bosses and rewards will be “Content”.

    Generally good “Content” is a mixture of several elements so that it can appeal to several different player types. The key here is satisfaction. Game changes that only focus on one element tend to not satisfy anyone outside of their narrow focus. Game changes that tie together many small changes into a unified whole will be more satisfying because they appeal to a broader spectrum of player types.

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