What Am I Doing Here?

Zubon talks about the double-edged blade that occurs when players can scale everything so that everything is end game content.  The opposite edge occurs because either developers or players feel that because so much happens on the journey to the level cap then basically there is less at the level cap.  My first thought, and the first commenter on Zubon’s post, was about Guild Wars 2.  I had just read an interview from an ArenaNet developer on some website, and the developer’s response to a question of end-game content in Guild Wars 2 was very on point:

We have a lot of cool content when you get to the end of the game. That’s one of the cool aspects of our events. You can play all of our content over and over again, and even when you get to level 80 you can go back to old places and finish out the areas and we’ll level you down to where they are to allow you to go back and play that stuff at the appropriate level. So you can always go back and play through content, it’s not just worthless content to you because you leveled past it. It’s almost like a temporary thing where the game sidekicks you down to the level range for the content.

It does sound great on paper. Yet, the opposite edge that Zubon describes feels real. So many MMO players eventually get to the point where they can return to older content. When I do it, I often wonder what I am doing there.

Internally there is always a struggle between the rose-smelling Explorer and the efficient Achiever.  Want to see what’s over that hill away from the quest hubs and quest bounties?  It’s going to take that much longer to kill your rats. Will it be worth it?

It’s easy to quantify “enjoyment” for an Achiever.  A play session can garner 60% more progress to the next level, 4 more gold, 13% more progress for a title, and 2% more drunk.  MMOs (and most games) are built on getting all the plethora of available achievements.  It can be something like getting to the next quest hub, or something super complex like getting the next item for a long quest chain for an epic level weapon.

It’s hard to quantify “enjoyment” for most Explorer activities.  Was it worth peeking over that hill?  How about spending the time necessary to go through the NPCs entire dialogue tree?  It’s all subjective.  The hill might lead to the edge of the zone instead of a beautiful vista.  The dialogue tree might have been written by an intern instead of the award-winning author whose name is on the box.  Those are the most obvious.  My wife has always liked looking at the red trees of Eregion in Lord of the Rings Online, and I’ve never liked the overgrown eyesores.

Going back to explore old content is an event where offerings are made wholly to the Explorer gods because it tanks any Achiever efficiency.  Sure, the reward for the content might be a small slice of gold and experience for that level, which is usually a pittance to what the player could be getting from doing “on-level” content.  That’s usually when I ask myself, “what am I doing here?”  This is the activity I want to do, but I am being punished for wanting to go back and do it simply because I am beyond  the activity in power level.  I usually then log off out of frustration instead of going back up to the content on my level.

I hope though that the Guild Wars 2 dynamic events will salve the efficiency burn because the Socializer branch can come in and ease my pain.  Not only can I go back to play with friends working on alts or lagging behind, but I can go back to play with random people.  Some of my best memories for MMOs occur when I am a participant in a mentoring session where some elite topdog is teaching us how to raid or where to go.  A long time ago some random helpful dwarf helped me run my single-digit level priest through the mid-level swamp to get, eventually, to Westfall.  He just saw me running, and ran beside me in escort until I got to  a safe place.

It’s going to be interesting to see if either to fill in hearts, help random people, or to simply explore, whether the majority of players will want to go to lower level areas while they are themselves lowered in level to play the content as intended.  Right now I can’t believe that as a level 70-80, that I wouldn’t want to return to the level ~50 Shatterer event, but it’s nearly impossible to see without full perspective.  A perspective that will have to wait until beta or release.

the sacrifice the island demands

29 thoughts on “What Am I Doing Here?”

  1. Explorer-based MMO. Oh how I wish I had one.

    I guess the question is how do you make it? How do you reward exploration?

    Give the world an experience bar. Give the zone, the area, the city an experience bar. And let it unlock places, items, new zones, new areas, abilities, events… Give the players riddles to solve that will unlock them. Let them create their own.

    Reward the explorer and the achiever at the same time.

  2. “Going back to explore old content is an event where offerings are made wholly to the Explorer gods because it tanks any Achiever efficiency.”

    I think of it the other way around. It’s more of an offering to bored achievers (or latecomers, after the xp curve has been shifted up a notch following an expansion or whatever). It’s like saying, “Don’t worry little achiever, it’s ok if you efficiently skipped most of the content on your frenzied rush to max level. It’s still there for you later.”

    A true explorer would check things at appropriate level. To reward an explorer, it would have to be much harder for people to go back later. They’d have to choose between efficient levelling or seeing all the content.

    1. “To reward an explorer, it would have to be much harder for people to go back later. They’d have to choose between efficient levelling or seeing all the content.”

      Isn’t that how it is now? Quests and mobs go grey and only the most ardent explorers and completionists are willing to to forego advancement to see it all.

      1. The line between exploration and achievement driven obsessive–compulsive disorder can be blurry. Right now we reduced the “Explorer” type to someone that leaves no stone unturned. Ideally with an associated achiever tab that tells him when he did his job 100/100. I have a different understanding of the “explorer” type and mentality.

        1. For me (with MMOs) it is found almost entirely in enjoying the journey given, immersion in the world provided. Enjoying the sights and learning the lore. The line is blurry because the journey is not infinite, so I go back and start the journey anew and see those things missed. Sharing with others what was found is another piece.

        2. I see Achievers as having power-oriented goals, and Explorers as having knowledge-oriented goals. Merely having goals (even checkboxes) does not make it an automatic Achiever task, IMHO.

          1. I consider myself primarily an explorer when I’m not doing PvP, and I really don’t care a flip for achievements. But for me when I’m exploring, I want the mobs to be same level as me, and offer a challenge, otherwise the sense of exploration is tainted by the fact that it’s so trivial.

            That is to say, exploration for me isn’t just a matter of uncovering map and seeing pretty vistas, it’s about going places that are dangerous, unknown, and mysterious. An integral part of that is the danger the mobs present – once that’s gone, trying to stomp through the hordes of impotent creatures in order to get to the top of that hill is just a chore.

            Anyway, that’s how I feel about it. Good topic as always, though. :)

    2. I had a similar thought. Achievers will gladly go back to grind old content for shinies. That’s efficient, since you already know how to do it! Explorers may want new things, not to try one more hill in a zone long since explored.

      1. I don’t know. Most MMOs I’ve played, the below-level content (“old content”) gives shinies that are worth less per period of time than on-level or level-capped content.

        1. I was assuming the scaling up, so that everything yielded cap-equivalent rewards. It is true that cap-only content usually has some exclusive rewards.

  3. This really made me wonder:

    1.) They seem to have so much endgame content that they could not give a *single* example?

    2.) I have yet to see a side-kicking system in any game that works and does not suck balls.

    3.) “Explorer” is to me something else than the “I must *ACHIEVE* / do everything” completionist attitude that I see displayed in your posting and machination’s comment. It is not about filling “hearts” or a “list”, to put it bluntly, are you sure you are Explorers or did you just do the Bartle Test that classifies 99% of the population as EASK, ESAK or EKAS?

    1. 1) Well my guess is that they will have “hard” “high-level” events on Orr or something that when complete open up dungeons. Since they don’t want to talk about their dungeons with a twist yet… shrug. There was one gamescom/PAX experience where the demo player talked about a dungeon below the mansion in Beetletun, which likely would be a low-level dungeon.

      2) Yeah. This worries me too. So many attributes progress. I think they’ve already mentioned that gear will not scale down, but will the armor attribute be capped? I mean if I am a level 80 with 2000 armor, and I join a level 20 event will my armor attribute scale down to lop off the top? I have a feeling that people going back to do lower-level content will not get much of a challenge.

      3) See my comment above re knowledge-oriented goals.

  4. Bartle’s lumped a number of subtypes into the Explorer category. The guy who pushes the limits of near-exploit because he can’t sleep until he works out (and maybe test via stopwatch) every single nuance of the game mechanics is an Explorer.

    So is the guy who seeks an immersive roleplaying experience as posited to him by the world environment (rather than other players, which would be a Social aspect), who views content as enjoyable experience rather than means to an end. But they’re different kinds of Explorers.

    More on topic: I can’t shake an uncomfortable feeling of unease since Zubon’s last post. Leveling DOWN to an appropriate challenge level often has connotations of losing power – how often do players like to do that? Level 50s who exemplar down in CoX often grumble about losing valuable powers, they mostly do it for task forces for shiny rewards, or because they’ve a friend they want to play with for a while.

    Leveling UP on the other hand is more epic, but it tends to make opponents rock ‘ard. How it’s been implemented in CoX isn’t too effective. A lvl 15 in DOs just doesn’t have as much oomph as a lvl 50 in IO sets, no matter what number you put next to the character level. From 35-50, then yes, more equivalency there.

    Presumably in Guild Wars 2, you would still have the same number of skills, escaping the CoX power loss trap. But the damage numbers and other stats like hitpoints would probably scale. If you’ve been hitting for 2000 damage at level 50, would you go back to play a lvl 15 event where you hit for 40 damage? It might take the same number of hits to kill the mob, but psychologically…

    The last danger point in level scaling is the trap Oblivion fell into. When all the monsters you encounter are the same difficulty, no matter how powerful you get, the pacing of progression falls flat, and people start asking what the point of leveling up was.

    1. “If you’ve been hitting for 2000 damage at level 50, would you go back to play a lvl 15 event where you hit for 40 damage? It might take the same number of hits to kill the mob, but psychologically…”

      Turn off the flashy numbers?

      Everybody has to make everything so difficult…

    2. Unfortunately they decided to keep the level based hamster wheel system in GW2, I will have to deal with it.

      I agree to what you wrote about CoX and Oblivion. I also experienced flawed side-kicking in STO. I hope GW2s sidekicking is significantly better.

      I liked GW for the non-existing endgame. ;) What “endgame” you did, there was a lot you could do, and it was up to you. Farming, Vanquishing, Achievement Hunt, PvP, another kind of PvP, playing another class.

      In WoW I did my daily quests and my weekly Kara and half-weekly Zul’Aman speed run / run, that was the end game. Maybe I should rather have rolled another char of the other faction probably.
      And this is also what made me stop playing after beating Naxxramas. Raid for gear, and gear up to raid did not do it for me as Endgame anymore -> back to GW1 and trying other MMOs.

      I hope we get to hear more about the “dungeons with a twist” that Ravious was talking about.
      I also heard odd and vague rumors about the War of the Worlds taking a slice from DAOC (3 Shards / Factions / WTF?!)

      I also heard concerns about events and public quests. How will they “reward” people? In STO I just lean back when I come late and just reap the reward for being there. I do not mind participating, but people will try to figure out the system / reward mechanic and you can bet they will try to exploit / play it to the max.

  5. For me, most MMOs end when I reach the level cap. Well, they don’t end for ME, but they do for that character. I generally have anything from 3 to 30 characters “in development” simultaneously in any given MMO and as soon as one hits the level cap they go into semi-retirement.

    The introduction of the “chronomage” system in EQ2, basically an NPC who, for a modest amount of game-gold and status points, will reduce your level by 5-level increments to any point you wish, has somewhat changed that. My max-levelled characters (of which EQ2 is unique in that I actually have several) now get played as much or more than my levelling-up ones.

    I have to say, however, that I don’t use this feature only to do content that I missed. After six years there really isn’t much of that. I use it to redoo content that I like. I look at it like re-reading a novel. Not everyone likes to re-read, but I do. If I like a novel I’ll expect to read it at least three times over a few years. Some novels I’ve read over a dozen times now. The same applies to MMO content that I enjoy.

    To be honest, I ‘ve always re-played old content in MMOs, both multiple times on different characters and with high-levels who got no material reward for doing it but just wanted to see it again. The shift to allowing our characters to move backwards along their own timeline seems like a good fit for me.

  6. I was writing about what I think exploration in a MMO means, well to me at least. Just started into Moria in Lotro, and loving this complex 3D area. Sure there are deeds to discover various points of interest in the map, but it’s more the feeling of putting the various routes together in my mind, after having stood on a height and seen various levels in one glance or whizzing through a new area on a route and then working back area by area until the whole makes sense.

    The other aspect of exploration is finding out what everything does, or how a new system works, especially when like Lotro there’s not much complete information/guides about (crafting/solo instances anyone?). An achiever would have researched beforehand how best to get the rewards, an explorer would just jump in and work it out for themselves through trial and error.

    If as in most MMOs, the game gets more complex as a player levels, then a scaling system is not that important to a true explorer, I think it suits the achiever more. There’s nothing to stop a player from doing so for the fun and sociability, which I’m thinking should be the primary reason for implementing such a system.

  7. i’m really curious as to how the numbers will play out. if a level 73 goes back to a level 35 area, will he get bumped down to 35? 38? 40? will the xp rewards be static or percentage based? you wouldn’t want someone to hit the level cap by repeating the same level 50 event 500x, but otoh, if you’re de-leveled to the point of making the fight interesting, shouldn’t the reward be interesting, too?

    1. Even at max level, the rewards aren’t always ‘interesting’. Running WoW heroics for example; you don’t always (or even often) get a useful drop, and the two emblems towards the ninety-five you need per piece of equipment isn’t exactly earth-shattering.

      Not everything has to be about the shiny reward at the end, folks. The experience, the journey can be rewarding as well. Too many players and pundits focusing on the end rewards leads to too many developers responding to that focus, leading to too many games that feel shallow and uninspiring.

      1. The intrinsic motivation to do something for the sake of doing it is without doubt the best motivation ever.

        The sad thing is that – I am afraid I do not exaggerate – always succumbs sooner or later to profit oriented thinking.

        I think it is especially a drawback of the guaranteed success after collecting X tokens/badge systems that have been introduced to many MMOs.

    2. The reward is probably going to be karma, I suspect. Effectively a currency that you can use to buy cool things, and awarded more for social participation and helping each other, as opposed to “raaarrr, kill moar mobs to win the first prize.”

      And the cool stuff will probably be different kinds of nifty to different people, from karma vendors unlocked by different dynamic events – so if you’re in the right place, right time, you might get a golem suit of armor or something.

      Turning off numbers isn’t going to work for me. I’m one of those chronic need-as-much-info-displayed as possible people. I’ve been known to flip to and read my combat tab mid-combat-scroll out of morbid curiosity.

      I’ve survived 3 digit damage falling to 1-2 digit damage exemplaring down in City of Heroes, without too much ego-crushing, but GW2 seems to be taking a page from WoW’s insanely exponential damage scaling.

      (Of course the leaked charr video might be a cheating dev throwing out unrealistic damage, but I got the impression that 100-1000s of damage per hit was going to be quite normal for level 50ish. Did the PAX demo builds hint at any number scaling?)

  8. I prefer going back in the shape of an alt of another class. Revisiting content never really felt attractive to me, but the addition of an alt which forces you to think of new ways to play, different rewards to look for and so on keeps it fresh for me.

    I’m a sucker for really distinct and spread apart early game experiences, so I think WoW did that pretty well. As far as environments and early instancing (<20-25) the experiences were different, different environments, different quest lines, etc. I really enjoyed that and it made me want to play alts.

    In contrast to this there was LOTRO, in which the environments were drop dead gorgeous, but realistically there were only three of them (with the compounded problem of Ered Luin being Elves+Dwarves and Bree being Hobbits+Men). Still I came to enjoy it, but the funneling came way too early and way too strong – no matter what race you were and where you started, as you edged to 20 you were doing Great Barrows and you take it without complains, boy.

    GW was a mixed bag for me for many reasons. First and foremost, because I came late to it and I had different starting experiences in the shape of Prophecies, Factions and Nightfall. I think if I was an early player and had to start with Prophecies and suck on that tangerine for a long time until Factions came out, I would've dropped it and probably not tried it again. The rest of the game was quite excellent despite its rails, though, and the alt class paths kept it fresh.

    And of course, as we talked about it a while back, I could never really connect in any meaningful way to early game experiences like Fallen Earth's, which I thought was bland and similar from the first minute and never really got much better.

    tl;dr: I like variety. Yes, I realize it takes gobs of content, but that's why I can say it; because I'm the one playing the game, not the one making it :)

    1. Oh, and just to add for completion’s sake: DDO.

      Same starting experience for everyone. Same quests. Same pretty much everything, but the class depth kept it interesting.

      I like to get my variety from the environments or the classes, generally. When it’s one or the other, it’s good. When it’s both? I’m gonna go out of my way to give you my money. When it’s none? Pass. Next. Won’t touch it.

  9. You have the MMO player (Achiever) Then you have the RPG player (Explorer), like the battle of the Hardcore vs. Casual and the PvPer vs The PvEer there is the MMO Player vs. the RPG Player and like the Hardcore and PvPer the RPG player is losing. Their aren’t enough of them to make loud enough cries to be paid attention to. They don’t have the majority which means they are not the highest profit group.
    Anything that get introduced to a game gets the overwhelming cry of, “Why would I do this? What do I get? Fun?… by fun you mean loot or some status to show off right? … What the experience? Eff you!”
    While the tiny voice of the explorer is happy just to be able to experience it and feel the joy of diving into the fantasy world brought to them.

    This could be a nice way for the Explorer to explore, even if they decided to keep up with their guild or the crowd and max out, they can go back and explore the things they raced pass and still have a nice feeling of working your way through it. The Achiever can rush to max level then go back and complete a bunch of tasks they ditched at low levels just to maybe achieve some titles that were not worth the effort to them before.

  10. I’ve noticed a lot of focus on the Explorer vs. Achiever types, which is a bit of a false dichotomy. In fact the four types have been succeeded by eight subtypes, and players generally tend to drift from one type to another, often on predictable paths. (yes, I know you’re a unique snowflake; but really, you’re not)

    Many of the uses of the Bartle types seem to use them incorrectly; they’re more than just what type of player one is, and rarely is any player just one type. It’s the interactions between players of various types that make virtual worlds what they are, not how each type of player solos his own game.

    For homework: Read the words of the good Doctor himself…


  11. You know this whole discussion is under the assumption that it’s a focused gaming mechanic that creates this line of thinking “What am I doing here?”. Had it occurred to anyone that no matter how the game is designed, people are going to feel differently about certain aspects of the game at different times.

    We can get a room full of achievers, and not everyone is going have the same ideas about achievements. There might be generalizations agreed upon, but each person is going have their own thing about it.

    I guess what I’m trying to say is this article is more about personal approach than anything that is implemented by developers. I think we are over-analyzing things to point where people assume that there can be quantifiable label. Some things are just not meant to be intellectually organized, no matter how evident they are.

    1. Very good point, and one I wholly agree with. My pain-level for certain things is pretty low, where some people are overjoyed at the same things that cause me pain. Some Explorers need no goals or checkboxes. According to Bartle, some Explorers explore things like game mechanics and rules.

      1. Which really says a lot about you as player than games you play. I think people just have tendency to categorize players by the games themselves. When that happens, everyone assumes these games need a specific mechanic. Then it snowballs into whether the game is flawed or not because of the way a specific mechanic is implemented.

        I’ll give you example, GW1 is heavily instanced, there are many who see this as flaw and many who have exact same preferred play style and don’t see instancing as flaw. They’ve simply adapted to the game as opposed to declaring the game unfit.

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