Different Directions

Tobold ponders the directions of WoW and Rift. WoW, he says, is pushing raiding towards high selectivity based on gear and/or skill (I find the former more annoying in a game). Rift, he says, merrily invites everyone by having easier content and not limiting numbers. Players, he suggests, seem to be preferring the latter; I might append that vocal players of Rift seem to be expressing that preference, while subscriber numbers make it premature to ponder anything as a WoW-killer.

The day before, a LotRO developer diary lovingly described the design philosophy behind the new raid: higher difficulty, perfect execution, learning via wiping repeatedly. It explicitly contrasts skirmish Tier II (higher numbers) with the new raid Tier II (different abilities), although I might again append that I would be surprised if higher numbers (i.e. gear dependency) were not a factor.

My long-running game was City of Heroes, so I enter with an expectation that you can bring a full group of almost anything and beat almost anything. A few fights all but demand something from a small set of options, but those are notable because they are rare rather than the norm. Add to this the City of Heroes assumption that you will be able to play with your friends now rather than waiting two months for them to hit the level cap, and you have a very different philosophy than gear-gated tiers of raids.

I refer back to Tobold’s excellent discussion: does this encounter test the worst, best, or average player? The most restrictive content will test the worst player. Raids demanding synchronized dance and perfect execution wipe if you add one new or slightly undergeared guy. (See Spinks on the different effects of this philosophy in single- and multi-player games, or try a LotRO PUG Durchest raid in which one of your three tanks is not geared above the boss’s potential one-shot damage range.) Not restricting encounters by player count gives you a fourth option: testing the sum, so you can beat the Rift by bringing more people. Combining unrestricted attendance with testing the worst player would be apocalyptically horrible.

I cannot tell you what the mass market wants, because I am obviously an outlier, but I will favor a design that makes it easier to join with my friends, all of them, whatever level they are. Lowering the minimum difficulty threshold tends to do that.

: Zubon

11 thoughts on “Different Directions”

  1. fwiw, the dev/producer made the point in that diary that they want the raid to be based on skill rather than *luck*. So stats might still be a mitigating factor to your fun- we won’t know when we get there- but the RNG at least (e.g. the boss having an ability to 1-shot your proverbial pug’s tank within some margin of gear-error) should not be a problem.

    1. Oh yeah, what do you think about the two difficulty teirs for the new LotRO raid, with the higher difficulty also having a “challenge mode”? Granularity is good, right?

  2. If an encounter is made sufficiently easy/accessible that anyone can do it, the implication is that it’s catering to the lowest common denominator. This could mean that any encounter is really nothing more than a bunch of friends doing whatever they like, with the inevitable conclusion being the defeat of the boss, no matter how inefficiently/ineffectively they played. Lots of special effects being thrown around, but the result a foregone conclusion.

    That would (in my opinion) be taking it too far, as there is then no challenge. No challenge means it gets boring fast.

    It would seem the ideal solution would be auto-scaling encounters to match the size/levels of the participants, but with the difficulty tunable. The higher the difficulty, the greater the rewards (in terms of currency, XP and/or items). That way, you could have a romp with your friends for an easy kill with no danger of failing… but with no tangible rewards. Alternatively, for the serious who really want a challenge, they can make it hard, and get the appropriate rewards.

  3. Oh please, developer diaries always make everything sound so good… then you try to play whatever the new update is and the “new, improved” content is so not what the devs say it is.

    For example, when they say “hardcore players” it means those who have played more than 3 months, not the actual hardcore players who are in top 2% of the game.

    1. I think we have a recurring theme here that many of the advertisements for games are really bad. For example, we have Spinks’s link above, which is a reaction to the diary of “that doesn’t sound like much fun.” And that is the advertised version.

  4. “Combining unrestricted attendance with testing the worst player would be apocalyptically horrible”

    The old world dragons in WoW were great fun for the raiding community, including bringing world PvP and the occasional mutually agreed ceasefire + attempt trading. Doubt it would work in today’s WoW, but it’s been done.

  5. The question is, what is supposed to be fun about doing a boss/event?

    Is gear supposed to be part of the fun? If yes, then gear *also* has to be a big part of the gating system for bosses, because that’s the only way gear is a meaningful reward. (City of Heroes had a pretty short lifespan for me for this reason: once I had beaten Hamidon a few times, what was there to do? Costume contests in the starting zone?) The vast majority of people will always want to feel like their character

    Is it challenge? If yes, then for a game to have lasting value, it will have to have encounters that have difficulty beyond just the gear check, and that take time and attention to details to master.

    What about friend experience? If you have gear/challenge checks, then that does exclude you from playing with your friends. But it also brings people closer together when they have to work together to achieve those goals. If Rift’s public quests make it so that rifts are just taken down randomly by random public assemblings, then that removes the need to actually work with your friends/guildmates. So there are plusses and minuses on either side for interactivity.

    I think the best game is one that balances all 3 of those areas. You should have to better your character, better your self, and work well with your group to move on in end game. If you slacken one or more of those three requirements, then things become rote. That might mean that you can’t play with everyone right away, but if it is a really good game, everyone will get there eventually. Only flavor of the month games need some kind of system like sidekicking, where max levels can play with level 1s.

  6. Great OP Zubon, this really gave me a lot to ponder.

    As to the continuing discussion in the comments, I think this really points to a major problem with the conceptual space that MMOs exist in. I.e. they’ve painted themselves into a corner and have no good choices left.

    Maybe it’s just my own bitterness towards the genre, but I think MMO designers need to do some serious soul searching. They’re stuck trying to wrestle with all the baggage they’re lugging around, rather than actually engaging with and designing a more elegant game – or just one that feels fresh rather than tired and old.

    The game should just be fun because it’s fun to play even for a few minutes; challenge should be challenging (and fun, and rewarding) because it’s a challenge and you want to be challenged (or not), and persistent progression should be about making something unique and personalized, not getting the same items everyone else has with the biggest numbers. Until MMO designers strip their games back to the basics, and really rethink how these various aspects interact, I don’t see a way forward for them.

    Again, that might just be me. But it seems like these games could be so much simpler. I mean, yeah, let people get stronger over time, but make it clear that it’s only linked to time “put in” (a’la EvE ideally, or perhaps like CoD’s ranks) and has nothing to do with what raids you’ve done. Make super challenging hard modes for people who want that challenge – but make it about the challenge and the satisfaction that comes from beating it, not about getting better loot. Maybe that’s just me, lots of people seem to enjoy the old model…

    On top of all that, it’s doubly hard for developers to find a way out, due to how rigid the players are in their conditioning and expectations, not to mention how uninterested the industry is in real innovation or risk. I think what we’ll need is some brave indie studio to make the MMO equivalent of Minecraft, to force people to reassess their assumptions about online worlds. Until then, I’m afraid the genre is doomed to a cycle of further insularity, with boom-bust games that fizzle after a few months.

    1. The problem with not having loot rewards for completing encounters is that once they’re beaten by a group, there’s no point in doing it again. The current system requires raid groups to redo the same content week after week, to eventually gear out the group, thus allowing them to progress to the hard modes.

      I’ve considered the satisfaction of beating the encounter being its own (and only) reward. If user-created content ever became commonplace in MMOs, beating the encounter would probably be all you get, as gear rewards would be begging the system to be gamed. But would it be enough? Gear progression replaces level progression as a way of improving your character. When that runs out… what then?

      1. I admit I don’t have the answers here. But as a start, I’d point to games like Call of Duty, where progression is split up into two separate tracks: Your “skill” which determines who you play with and your bragging rights, and your “rank” which controls unlocks, “progression”, and is essentially just a matter of time played (EvE is a good example of an RPG that uses this model). I choose CoD specifically because it has been proven to be popular, and is capable of handling both the “skill-driven” achievement that hardcore players want, as well as the casual-favored time-driven model.

        As far as how to make content last longer – a very real problem – when you’re not required to grind it for gear? Let’s look at solutions from other games:

        We could offer “medals” or other special completion bonuses for beating dungeons within a certain time (see Super Meat Boy and many other platformers), or based on taking a less than X amount of damage as a party, or for killing bosses especially quickly or in special ways (not using fire magic, not using potions or consumables, etc.) Make them easy to finish for casual players, but very hard to master, so people want to keep running them in order to learn and improve their “score” in that dungeon. Make leader boards to track the people with the best “scores”.

        Getting A+ in a dungeon could unlock you some special trophy, title, or aesthetic piece of loot. And we’re not just talking the “hard mode” model WoW used where you just make numbers bigger – put multiple alternate objectives in. The new 3D Mario games are excellent at doing this sort of thing.

        Of course, this also works better if your game is more than a spreadsheet combat simulator. Give us a real movement engine with physics, real puzzles, and real gameplay options other than fighting everything, and suddenly you have a lot of obvious challenges you can add into these dungeons to make them more interesting. In short, make the damn game a real RPG, and you solve many of your problems.

        Again, the other answer is just that I’m no longer in the target market of MMORPGs, and there are millions of people who just want WoW.2. :)

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