The 2% MMO

The one thing I hate in DIKU-style MMOs more than grinding, more than the level cap gear-reset, more than content gating is quite simply bonuses.  I hate bonuses because there is such a delicate balance between the growing player stats and mobs stats up the leveling food chain that the bonuses have to appear to be insignificant.

Take one of the best crafted jewelries in Lord of the Rings Online right now, the glowing aureate band.  It has a bunch of strong stat and morale bumps, along with a stepchild bonus to parry rating.  +124 parry rating is about the equivalent of 0.33% more parry chance.  That means that statistically speaking a player will parry 1 out of every 300 attacks made against him or her.  It seems petty.  Was adding the additional parry rating the item dev’s attempt at a joke?

I have to constantly remind myself that while the parry rating on that one ring is nearly meaningless, it will add up to the 9% parry chance I usually have.  This goes for everything though, and I find myself become a piecemeal character creator rather than looking at the whole.  When I compare new rings to the ones I currently wear it is done with a microscope instead of looking at the whole of my character.  This one has +84 parry rating with +88 morale, and this one has +124 parry rating with +184 morale.  I just have to force myself to ignore the fact that an extra 40 parry and an extra 100-or-so morale is a good thing even if overall it gives me a 0.1% greater chance to parry and the ability to take an extra 1/3 of a hit from a level 60 mob.

I have a feeling that World of Warcraft’s exponential power curve does not face this problem as greatly as Lord of the Rings Online’s logarithmic one.  But, this is still the heart of the DIKU: advance and win by any meager advantage possible.  If eating food before a fight gives you a 0.25% greater chance to crit, then eat the food.  That one in four hundred crit might have saved the day after all.


30 thoughts on “The 2% MMO”

  1. WoW’s power curve had been readjusted several times along the way. Vanilla had a huge jump between non-raiding and raiding content, but otherwise the curve was fairly flat. TBC had plenty of sidegrades and downgrades with it’s half-step tiers: Crafted gear could last all the way to Black Temple, upgrades from Kael’thas and Vashj could be superior to early items from Black Temple & Hyjal, and it became even more muddled with gems: That 1% upgrade might require regemming your entire gear set, otherwise the item would be a downgrade. Early Wrath content had the same problem, but I hear they’ve returned back to ridiculously large upgrades.

    1. WoW gearing has its own brand of insanity, tho. From hit rating and expertise (only good until a certain point, then worthless) to feral tanking (the current Best in Slot cloak, unless you’re one of those guilds that has cleared everything, comes from the first raid; other near-best pieces include things you can only get from PvP) to just plain old regular tanking (block value is useless anywhere except heroics, where it’s pretty much the best tank stat). Add to that the fact that the devs have basically said, “Yeah, we weren’t expecting to implement as many tiers of gear in this expansion, but we really liked the heroic dungeon stuff, so, yes, some of you will actually have to worry about capping out things like your crit rating in Icecrown.”

      They’ve sadi that next expansion they’re going to clamp down on stat inflation, which is worrisome, because they have a tendency to overshoot their goals in cases like that; not looking forward to tanking when the difference between my total avoidance and some random mage’s is about 20%.

  2. I’m not a fan of this either, but there are a few forces at work here.

    – As an alternative interpretation, yes, tiny incremental upgrades like these don’t leave a good taste in your mouth, but without them you’d be gimped and die much more easily. So in a way, they are “necessary”.

    – Tiny upgrades spread like this also serve to minimize upgrade and experimentation risk, because you know if you have to (or want to) replace one slot with something else to try different things out, you’re not destroying your whole character; just reducing its capabilities a tiny amount. So in that sense, they are good. If all upgrade slots improved your character crucially, that’s placing way too much value on not upsetting the status quo because you risk taking a major hit.

    – Unfortunately, in a weird way, we brought this upon ourselves just by human nature. If upgrades were larger, meatier and more crucial overall then it turns into a situation that the better they are, the more sought after they will be. It’s bad enough -now- with tiny upgrades that players commonly set into a handful of working configurations and that’s it; imagine if the upgrades were even more powerful and important.

    If you think of upgrades as skills, and how crucial some skills can be that entire ways of gameplay revolve around them, you see this problem clearly.

    – In an ideal world, with unicorns and free meals (♫ ♫ la la la ♫ ♫) players wouldn’t care about all this. In LOTRO’s case, for example, they wouldn’t take a peek at the numbers below the numbers. They’d just go by parry rating, or crit rating, or whatever rating. More is better. If new item gives more, equip. If not, don’t. Percentages, and calculating “this gives me one extra crit every 400 swings every February 29th” wouldn’t enter into the picture.

    But players are not like that, and most like to poke and find out how things work.

    One day someone is gonna make an MMO without numbers and we won’t know what to do with it. Picture cavemen poking at the first wheel. “So… Urko… what’s this thing do?”

    1. On ‘crucial upgrades’, two words: radiance armour (and associated kettle of rather wormy fish).

      As far as a numberless MMO goes, it’s already been done…and then undone. City of Heroes shipped essentially numberless – powers were rated as doing ‘moderate’ or ‘light’ damage and having ‘short’ or ‘medium’ recharge times – and stayed that way until the game got less Cryptic (pardon the pun).

      Of course MMO players being what they are, people immediately started trying to reverse engineer the numbers (I have fond memories of the ‘Brawl Index’, which attempted to quantify the damage done by various powers by measuring them in multiples of one Brawl attack, which is the only power common to all characters in CoH).

  3. Tiny increments like that are meant to be looked at in an additive fashion. By themselves they are insignificant, but when added to other pieces with similar stats, the total becomes significant. It’s a method of creating a gear path for min-maxers, but also small enough to not steal too much from the item stat budget when viewed by a player who could care less about parry.

    A tank who looks for parry gear may add that to 5 more pieces with an equally small increase, but put those pieces together for a whopping 2% parry. Now add that additional 2% to the 9% your average character has, and it’s suddenly an 11% damage reduction. When being stomped by a raid boss, that can easily by the difference between looting and wiping.

  4. The overriding issue in a DIKU setup is once you upgrade, you never look back. Once you have the best ring in the game, you will never thing about that slot or any other ring until something better gets patched in. Knowing that you can ‘finish’ the ring slot of you just get that item, players will do silly things (raid) to pursue it.

    If you introduce item loss (either through dead or just normal wear (and this can happen in a pure PvE game, I’m not just talking about looting someone in PvP)), now getting that ring becomes an equation rather than an absolute. Is the effort worth the temporary upgrade? And once you have the ring, you have to pick when to use it. This not only keeps the ‘gear game’ continually interesting even without new items, but it also keep more content relevant. Just because you got a drop from the first raid does not mean you won’t be back to get a second or third copy to replace your first, and just because you have a better drop from the next raid does not mean you immediately trash all your previous rings.

    1. Which presents significant immersion problems. It is bad enough that I am raiding Sauron for the 3rd time this month to get a guildie his One Ring. If I am regularly going through One Rings…

      Isildur totally ninjaed that Ring from me.

      1. Easy fix: Don’t let players get the One Ring, or, you know, only allow one player to get it. The problem you present is only an issue if applied to the ‘oh but it’s so epic’ gear that a game like WoW or LotRO uses. Would you stop playing if instead of a raid boss giving out the One Ring, he dropped ‘a cool but slightly more generic ring’?

  5. Thanks you! This is something that’s irritated me for YEARS, but I wasn’t ever able to narrow it down and articulate it. :D

  6. Most new games are all about getting to high level then the “Real Game” starts.

    This alienates new players and makes leveling a chore. Gear you get while leveling should be used at the top of the game. Maybe make it level with you. The more you use it the more powerful it becomes.

    I personally do not like the end game of most PVE games and as soon as I reach top level I will quit or start an alt. I want advancement at the end of the game that does not require raiding.

  7. I would say that WoW is not immune to keeping gear fun and relevant – sorry for the external link, but this was the article that ‘flipped a switch’ / put a finger on what was killing WoW for me:

    Money quote:
    “This is the Kamehameha Fallacy. If you keep one-upping yourself, you will eventually run into a point where power means absolutely nothing. You will eventually make content that can’t be possibly any more epic than what you had before. You’re going to lose players because they’re going to start realizing that all their doing is increasing numbers in a database — nothing more”

  8. “Gear you get while leveling should be used at the top of the game. Maybe make it level with you. The more you use it the more powerful it becomes.”

    But that only makes sense in a fantasy context, where we’re used to items with mystical qualities and if we can get away with dragons that talk, trans-dimensional space goats and a functioning monarchy then we can get away with a sword that’s “alive” and gets more powerful the more you use it.

    In a SF setting, what are you going to do? You have your character start with your vanilla 9mm and tell him by the time he gets to high levels he’s gonna be bringing down tanks with it? Did he get -that- good with it? ‘mon now.

    Not everything makes sense everywhere.

    1. Well, it is all window-dressing so a game designer could invent anything he or she might imagine to explain the item getting more powerful.

      For a sci-fi/modern setting you simply “upgrade” your weapon with items like scopes, hair-triggers, extended clips, nuclear ammo, etc.

      And as a strong proponent of TF2 Engiedom, I have brought down a heavy or two in my time with lucky crits from my 9mm. Of course what bearing that has to this I have no idea.

  9. The alternative is low fantasy. It’s actually something I’ve been thinking about recently in game design terms.

    Basically you give everyone a sword. Plain metal sword.

    You then create conditions that allow one or perhaps a handful of people to have Excalibur and sit back and watch the fun.

    Basically it turns into a deeply political other-players-as-content type of game.

    My impression of Fallen Earth was that it’s somewhat close to this. Weapons are Pistol (of specific type) and Baseball bat not +5 Vorpal Pistol of -1.3% Glancings.

  10. Thought experiment: What if equipment focused on stepped rather than incremental bonuses? Your ring gives you 1 rank in parry, your helmet gives you 2 ranks. When you equip a total 5 ranks in parry, you get a +10% bonus, but 0-4 ranks give you nothing. Each players’ bonuses would be more distinct, and individual equipment choices might be more significant.

  11. Anyone remember the days of Ultima Online when you were glad just to have enough clothing to cover your naked avatar, let alone that it may be armor, let alone that it may have magical bonuses!

  12. Mmm, sprinkles. That one extra half a sprinkle sure does make that cupcake worth it.

  13. I’d like to see a game with more numbers. Take stats into a whole new realm. Item stats would be basic: How heavy is it? How much protection does it give you from various sources (Slashing, piercing, crushing, heat, cold, acid, etc)? How well is it made? What condition is it currently in?. No item levels or required skill levels to use them, that all comes down to your character stats and your surroundings. How good are you with that type of sword? How strong are you? Can you swing it two handed or one handed? How much room do you currently have to maneuver? etc etc

    I want a spreadsheet and flow chart to be necessary for even the most basic of tasks. Want to kill that pig with a sword? Let’s calculate chance to hit: (sword quality/skill with sword of said quality)+pig knowledge+(((dexterity/strength)*coordination)*character fatigue)+environmental conditions (IE weather, terrain, position relative to said pig) etc etc

    Success! You’ve hit the pig! Now lets calculate damage…

    Want to run way over there? Well it’s 3 miles over wet, rocky terrain and you’re carrying 150lbs of random stuff. You recently ate a full meal, don’t drink nearly enough water and smoking all that pipe weed means your vV02max is going to be pretty low…it will take you ~45 minutes assuming you don’t fall on your face. Good luck!

    Stat bonuses won’t matter nearly as much, if at all, when your relative position to the pig on the “battlefield” means more than how much +agi you get from wearing earrings.

  14. I’ve noticed something over the progression of computer RPG games that just doesn’t seem to happen anymore. Statistic decreases. Everything is a plus nowadays, but are there hidden negatives? I highly doubt any MMO implements that since many are trying to reach broad[er] audiences.

    In the first Diablo, there were explicitly stated effects on items, whichever way they swung. Diablo 2 made gear all but positive, hiding only the penalty to traveling speed due to weight (though you could find out about it on their website.) World of Warcraft has no such reductions, except perhaps for some joke items.

    I honestly think it would be better if items were about singular trade-offs rather than between a hierarchy of equipment. There seems to be no reason for developers to pursue that line of thought, because following it has no obvious way of creating incentive to play.

    1. Fallen Earth does have at least one negative to armour. A majority of the first few “tiers” have a negative to coordination. Your coordination stat helps determine how effective the armor you’re wearing actually is. -coo = -melee defense.

      Typically the armor with larger -coo gives higher bonuses to resists (which seem to make more of a difference, as armor comes secondary to the dodge skill). It’s up to the player to decide how to balance out your gear. Resists vs straight melee defense. If resists, which do you want to focus on, etc etc.

      Also, all rifles give -60 melee defense. This isn’t a huge problem as most things are dead before they get into melee range but in terms of pvp riflemen can be sitting ducks up close.

  15. Actually, I still miss Diablo 2’s gear. MMO’s usually find themselves with gear where you’re looking at simple stat upgrades. Oh, look! A chest with 25 more spell power than mine and a few more points of Int, Stam, etc. etc. I’ll take it!

    Diablo 2 had that, but they also had things like… here’s a piece of gear that gives you some Barbarian talents. Or some Sorceress talents, etc. etc. Want a Necromancer spamming fireballs? You can! Want to stack up lightning resist reduction then go to town with chance-to-proc lightning gear? Or fire gear? Or any other element? Go for it!

    It presented quite a few options and allowed those classes to have a multitude of gear and play-style choices.

  16. I would kill for an MMO that improved your CHARACTER, not the gear. I loved the character creation in Daggerfall, and someday when an MMO comes out that makes and levels characters the same way, I’m THERE.

    Pick three primary skills three major skills and six minor skills from a total list.

    Spread 50 points among your attributes (strength, agility, stamina, intelligence, etc)

    Take advantages (like immunities to a debuff type, expertise in a type of weapon, or fast healing) and disadvantages (like critical weaknesses to certain damage types, lack of spellcasting ability or inability to wear certain armor materials) for more or less difficulty (xp needed) to level.

    When you level, you get bumps in your skills depending on how often you use them, more HP/MP and points to spend on your attributes.

    Which means your character can do whatever you want it to (no more “you rolled a main healing class, you must heal!” it becomes “you actually rolled a character with the intention of healing, since you took lots of the completely optional healing spells, so go ahead and do the job you clearly want!”) and levels based on what you want to improve. You buy spells from spellcasting guilds. You practice fighting skills at fighting guilds.

    Then yeah, give people swords made of metal, armor made of leather, and stop with the gear creeping. Wear the armor you found or made yourself the entire game, if you want to. Because your character will actually progress as your character, not like Priest #59990, wearing the same tier 70 armor as every other priest, with the same spells and the same talent/trait setup.

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