MMORPGs Are Too Easy

Hexedian posted this in our forums and it is a good topic so I wanted to bring attention to it:

I’ve been thinking for while, and I’ve come to the conclusion that most MMORPGs that we see today are simply too easy. Not that the time to acquire power is too short, I don’t mind that either way, but understanding an MMORPG, and playing it to near perfection, requires next to no skills from the player.

Now, that may seem intuitive for the people who are used to being made fun of because they play a game that doesn’t require skills, but one has to understand that it doesn’t have to be that way. MMORPGs can be every bit as challenging as the next shooter or platformer, without necessarily asking the player to time rocket jumps to the perfection. Why, one of the best catalysts of skillful gaming, human opponents, is, by definition of massively multiplayer, already common in large quantities. The only thing required, then, for skills to play a more interesting part, is for players to be able to make a difference in the game that doesn’t come from having bigger numbers next to their name, or simply more zerglings to attack with.

So, I’m wondering (And obviously trying to start a conversation), has any fellow rat-slayer had any idea of how to make MMORPGs more interesting skill-wise?

While I agree that MMOs are pretty simple to play, at first, they do actually get complicated as you gain skills and levels. It’s part of the “easy to learn, difficult to master” theory. The fact is, to the veteran MMO player things are simplified, but to the new MMO player they are struggling just to get the movement figured out. I have always been of the belief that the technical nature of a massively multiplayer online game tends to put some restrictions and limitations on the ability to put a lot of skill requirements in that you might find in a FPS game. I do, however, think there is a lot of room to add more “skill” to today’s MMOs. What does everyone else think? Feel free to discuss here or in the forums.

– Ethic

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I own this little MMO gaming blog but I hardly ever write on it any more. I'm more of a bloglord or something. Thankfully I have several minions to keep things rolling along.

14 thoughts on “MMORPGs Are Too Easy”

  1. There are a ton of ways you can do this with individual encounters. One example of what might be a neat mechanic involving timing:

    Assume you have a musical system like LoTRO’s thing where you can play real music.

    You have boss encounter who’s the Lord of the four winds or something, and you have to break his musical wind chimes to approach him and battle him. His mighty arms strike at six bells in a timed succession. You have to play back his increasingly complex melody. You could either stand each player at a chime and ring it straight back at him (requiring excellent communication and group timing– very hard but doable with amateurs), or you can bring your own small instruments and have each player play back his music to him individually– one chance each, all must pass (focuses on individual skill but you must all be skilled players).

    Lag would be a large barrier, but many players are on broadband and you could be somewhat generous with the time lapses anyway (allow 2 delayed notes per attempt or something).

    A failure to do it correctly angers the wind lord and either damages all the players or shatters their instruments (maybe just weakens some durability– shattering would be annoying as hell).

    Succeed, and you earn the right to challenge the weakened wind lord in battle.

  2. Increasing the complexity of the game to keep my attention is why I tend to play more complex classes, such as Warlocks and Masterminds.

    As a warlock, I had a huge bag of situational spells, strategic curses, a pet to keep track of, and DoT-monitoring, as well as the ability to grab hate and be a temporary tank if a priest got itself in trouble. I had lots of things to keep track of (though it still became routinized, after a while).

    Likewise, as a mastermind, I took the whole Dark Miasma set, so not only was I keeping careful control of who my pets were attacking and at what range, but I was shaping the mob spread for AoE control, healing everyone, and maintaining it all on the razor’s edge of my endurance.

    This class (the mastermind) in particular is a good example of breaking the mold on roles. If you give someone capability to fulfill each role in some way as the situation needs, you’re giving them a far more interesting game, at least insofar as the current style allows.

  3. I gather that the OP does not mean adding coordination and timing – twitch – to the game. That will come as the technology improves for sure, but what could be done in the current framework?

    I think the comment about lots of people brings out one obvious and already present skill challenge: beating the economy. The principle of seeing opportunity and staying a step ahead of the masses seems promising, perhaps it could be applied more broadly? Often when there is a major patch in WoW, there is an opportunity to buy low and sell high as demands shift. This is largely an outside-of-game activity, reading message boards, patch notes and the like. But it doesn’t have to be. If an MMO world had some sort of actual consistent character and plot progression between patches, perhaps players could have incentive to actually care what is happening and leverage it to their advantage.

    Say the devs put indicators in quests, not obvious or easy to find, that the political landscape is about to shift. Further, the game system is such that benefiting from that shift is inherently competitive (supply/demand structure, power pyramids, competing factions). In the current static technology, those shifts could happen via patches. A player who pays attention and does the right things could see a big boost in power when the patch arrives, validating an entirely different dimension of skill.

    Social engineering comes to mind too, but that’s another topic.

  4. Most of the difficulty in today’s games is in the form of paying attention: something happens–the mob loses interest in the tank, somebody takes an unexpected amount of damage that needs healing, there’s a spot on the floor that you really shouldn’t stand in–and you need to react within a certain amount of time or the fight ends in defeat.

    The shorter the amount of time and the more often those events occur, the more difficult the fight. Better gear/higher levels lets you last longer when heavily damaged (allowing slower reactions), or makes the events happen less often.

    I think what you want is to shift the difficulty up one level: that there are hard choices or choices requiring coordination at the “what do I do?” stage before it reaches “I know exactly what to do, can I do it in time?”

  5. You got it right on, Mike. What I want, essentially, is for MMORPGs to grow with some of us, and take their focus away from reflexes and instead use reasoning more often.

  6. It would be nice, wouldn’t it?

    Things that would help: making it so each character can do one (and only one) of several things at any given time. A lot of times, there’s really only one appropriate thing. There can be interesting choices at the tactical level–slow nuke or fast nuke? big heal or little heal?–but it rarely bubbles up to the strategic level. Which isn’t bad in itself. As Jezebeau points out, if you increase this tactical complexity enough, it can make for satisfying gameplay all on its own. (also that there are existing games which let characters take on different roles.)

    The timing problem is really the timing of information. The broad overview of each fight–the number of enemies and the capabilities of each–is completely known ahead of time. The things that change during the fight–big hits on the tank, random spawns and resistance changes–need to be reacted to in a matter of seconds, and so the richness of the response is necessarily limited. There’s no intermediate timeframe which would call for on-the-spot strategic thinking.

    There’s also the problem that in large groups strategy tends to fall on a small number of people and the bulk of the group just follows orders. Making the game into an RTS with unreliable pieces for one guy while everyone else just plays the same old game might or might not be an improvement.

  7. You know that one time, when you acidentally agro’d all those mobs, and blew all your cooldowns and potted and managed to beat them all?

    Well, you generally only fight them one at a time, when they aren’t a challenge. Thats why MMOs are too easy.

    I play a mage in WoW, and the more exciting fights recently have been against L70 elites that aren’t chillable. And the most recent one of those I accidentally pulled another L70 or L71 mob. Then agro’d another two in the same range before drinking and eating. In that fight I used every cooldown I had, bandaged, potted, everything.

    If regular fights at the level cap actually had an interesting amount of risk in them, even if only in a couple of zones, I think there’d be less complaining about lack of skill

  8. That’s an interesting point Bob, because MMOs encourage players to shun risk. The best way to level is to grind easy mobs. The best way to get gear is to run the same things over and over until you have them on farm status. Failure is to be avoided rather than challenged, because efficiency matters with all the time sinks. As is often commented, you want a challenging run the first time, maybe the second, but not the twenty-third.

    WoW was my first MMO, so I was really surprised to see everyone generally agree that minimizing risk is the best strategy. It’s like people who only want to play against people they know they can beat – is it even a game anymore at that point?

    I’m curious about how the new generation of “higher skill combat” games will do. If you leave in grinding but just make it harder, you might just piss people off. Can a game convince people that fewer hours of high-risk, interesting play are better than countless hours of numbing grind?

  9. etomai–

    The way to convince people that fewer hours of high-risk interesting play are better than countless hours of numbing grind:

    Reward failure with skill-ups and successes with profit.

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  11. Johnnyxel’s got it right. You get what you pay for in MMOs. If the smackdown wasn’t worth it on some level, then the teeming masses will just go grind “safe” mobs for not-so-much-fun but profit. If there is some element of advancement in “defeat”, peeps will take up the challenge.

    LotRO has a very quest heavy focus and guess what? People quest more and grind less. LotRO also has some currently pretty harsh death penalties in the form of repair costs, so guess what? Peeps get risk averse really quickly.

    Consequences for foolhardiness, yes. Challenge tax, no.

    I would glady exchange any of the mind numbing reputation grinds in WoW for one or a series of challenges that, if completed, would yield the faction reward. Make it hard, but make it worthwhile so I feel like I’ve accomplished more than simply staying in the saddle the longest.

  12. potshot hit the nail on the head with the last sentence. The single biggest failure in MMORPGs today is the #1 reward is gained from time invested instead of skill, ability, risk or daring. There are losers, yes losers, who have invested well over 10,000 hours on Everquest to build their level 80 2000aa characters. Kill mob_a, kill mob_a, kill mob_a x 1,000,0000 is how they got there. It’s basically a skinner box, “what is the point?” is all I keep thinking.

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