Jul 07

A Conversation About MMOs

Qhue ambushed me this morning while I was having coffee.  A conversation about MMOs in general resulted that seemed interesting enough to post.

Just a collection of opinions.  Please don’t expect a story, plot, clean ending, or too many revelations.

[09:31] Qhue: Here’s a thought: Given that MMOs seem stuck in a bimodal arrangement (Leveling / Endgame) why not scramble that a bit and mix the Endgame and Leveling portions of the game?

[09:32] Gallenite: You mean by having traditional “endgame” stuff also occurring while in the general “levelling” phase?

[09:33] Qhue: Yes, or to steal some concepts from the new D&D:  Have endgame plateaus that both serve to slow things down but retain forward momentum.

[09:35] Qhue: Have a 1-20 experience which is largely a solo story-based introduction to the game and gaming concepts. At the end of which you have a portion of ‘endgame’ content.  Be that grouping dungeons that need to be progressed through or PVP activities etc which continue to grow the character but which put a stop to traditional levelling for a time

[09:35] Gallenite: Assuming that we’re talking about an MMO in the current Achiever model, the problem is that most people’s goal-orientation overrides most everything else, which makes sense.  Taken as a whole, they don’t enjoy expending undue effort on transitory (mid-level) rewards.

[09:36] Gallenite: Since the shiny you get at the “endgame” phase is going to be light years better than anything you get during the “levelling” phase, again on the whole, people view attempts to force them into expending said effort as impediments more than satisfying challenges, even if you give them great rewards for doing so.

[09:36] Qhue: Exactly.  Everyone wants to “rush to 60/70/80/255″ but then after they rush there and bypass content you busted yer balls making they get immediately bored because there is nothing to do.

[09:36] Gallenite: The corollary to that is: So why not make things that are just that good early on, so they’re useful later too?

[09:37] Qhue: Precisely.  Put in elements of the game that are distinct and shiny that need to be experienced at a certain point so that a blind rush is hollow compared to taking the scenic route.

[09:37] Gallenite: Aside from the inherent effort/reward imbalance, you get into (effectively) content-gated progression… which is a logistical nightmare in both implementation and maintenance.  Given that it’s a feature of arguable merit in the first place to a large chunk of the audience, it’s not the wisest investment of all that extra effort.

[09:37] Gallenite: If you’re going to spend 3-4x the effort on a given piece of content, in perpetuity, you need to make sure it’s something that’s going to give you a competitive advantage.

[09:37] Gallenite: Content-gated progression is very definitely Not That.

[09:38] Gallenite: Especially if you make it require….”Other People”

[09:39] Qhue: Right.  Even though a game is a MMO people really dont seem to want to be bothered with anyone else
[09:39] Gallenite: Kind of.  By doing that, you’re saying that base enjoyment of your product requires Other People.  Since we as developers cannot guarantee the presence of Other People at the time you’re looking to play, requiring their presence in order for an arbitrary customer to take part in the base experience turns out to be a very poor idea in practice.

[09:40] Gallenite: There are many reasons that people “don’t seem to want to be bothered” - Everything from the literal one you just described, to “not having a playstyle that is compatible with it.”

[09:40] In my time playing EQ2, for instance, since I was constantly being interrupted by RL, work, you name it.  I very seldom (until high level) went on any dungeon crawls.  Why? I didn’t want to be That Guy - The one who’s always afk, interrupting the flow, etc.  More of a point of common courtesy than anything else.

[09:41] As the audience widens to include more types of RL people (by definition, that means more people with that issue), you’re essentially telling them that they’re not welcome.

[09:41] Qhue: That same argument comes up with respect to all “endgame content.”  People get to the end and then are ticked if they need X more people to ‘raid’ or Y more people to make a PVP ‘team’ and really there is no getting around that except to say “GO PLAY ZELDA YOU ANTISOCIAL BASTARD”

[09:42] Gallenite: By then, however, they’ve enjoyed “Enough” of the game to where most feel that they’ve at least gotten their money’s worth out of the experience.

[09:42] Gallenite: They have the option to try new things, make alts, and so on - Which is a perfectly acceptable path.

[09:42] Gallenite: And yes, some will bitch about it.

[09:42] Gallenite: However, the bitching is largely irrelevant at that point, provided sufficient numbers of people are finding sufficient ways to remain engaged.

[09:42] Qhue: True

[09:43] Gallenite: Some problems are worth solving, others aren’t.  That one very definitely isn’t.

[09:43] Gallenite: That’s not to say you shouldn’t find more ways to keep people engaged at the high end.  You very much should.  It’s more that you can’t have a one-size-fits-all endgame, nor should you try to get to one.

[09:43] Gallenite: That doesn’t serve anyone well.

[09:44] Qhue: But consider this : If we think about the rewards of playing at max level as being directly scaled versions of the rewards at say half-max level then yeah it makes sense to rise to the top and then bitch.

[09:44] Gallenite: Of course.  I would say to that: If the rewards of playing at max level are directly scaled version of the rewards at half-max, you have a somewhat uninspired endgame design.”

[09:44] Qhue: But what if we’re not talking about the same thing?  What if instead of a linear rise of ‘level’ its more generic and less directly gated.

[09:45] Qhue: Well lets be honest here, every game published to date has had an uninspired endgame design by that measure

[09:45] Gallenite: I disagree, a lot, actually.  Subtle tweaks and introduction of new, more advanced mechanics is fairly standard.  I don’t think anyone is making games that are 100% “same stuff, bigger numbers.”  Some games do high end diversity better than others, of course, but it’s there in most games to at least some extent.

[09:45] Gallenite: I think the current set [of games] is much better than the previous set.

[09:46] Gallenite: The changes don’t have to be earthshaking to have an effect when you have a person who’s already engaged heavily in a product and interested in delving into the nuances of their character.

[09:46] Gallenite: Subtle changes can be good enough.  Examples (using WoW since, well, everyone speaks it):

[09:46] Gallenite: - PvP gear, Resilience - Good/bad/whatever your opinion is - It’s different, its pursuit continues to engage a good number of  people, and has for quite some time

[09:46] Gallenite: - Alterac Valley - Competition PvE, a different way to play, available only higher-end (at the time)

[09:47] Gallenite: - Dungeon/Raid events - Many more of them are puzzles moreso than they are classic MMO-style “fights.” Netherspite is not a fight, it’s a puzzle.  Chess doesn’t need explanation.  Al’ar is a choreography minigame.  Vashj is an exercise in chaos management, via both serial and parallel minigames, Zul’jin is a series of minigames (one alters the parts of your class you “can” play, a couple add an environmental awareness requirement).  And so on.

[09:47] Gallenite: Things that fit the style of what I’d call a classic MMO “fight” are the ones that that get called “gear checks” these days.

[09:47] Qhue: It’s still dependent on the idea of rush to the top and then asymptotically struggle for shinies

[09:47] Gallenite: Sure, you’re still there to get shinies, no argument.  But, what you’re doing to get them has evolved in enough ways to where the pursuit continues to be interesting.

[09:47] Qhue: Actually competition PvE before the PVP arena was more active in the mid levels than it was at max level.. because it was a different sort of game then than at max

[09:48] Gallenite: Sure, I’m just citing “AV” as a specific example of a novel type of gameplay: Competition PvE in an enclosed container that is vaguely PvP shaped.

[09:48] Gallenite: Which lends itself well to the WoW PvE audience, much moreso than do the rest of the BGs - I’m actually surprised they haven’t expanded on it.  […as it fills a need that isn’t met by the others.]

[09:49] Gallenite: (Trivia: EQ:LDoN’s original spec had the idea of Competition PvE in its instances, via countermissions and delayed starts, exactly like a BG, but there was no way we could have done it justice in the time we had.)

[09:48] Qhue: The market is changing however and the population has matured… very noticeably over the last few months

[09:49] Qhue: To whit: WoW and its latest endgame content.  People look at it as another silly asymptote that is going to be blown away when the level cap is raised in a few months and they react by saying “No… you fooled me once and yer not doing it again” and they leave.

[09:50] Gallenite: I disagree with that.  If that actually were the case, no one would stick with any MMO beyond its first expansion.

[09:50] Gallenite: The only thing that actually occurs during that phase is some amount of handwringing, before people dive on in to see what the new areas have to offer.

[09:51] Gallenite: I think it can be overdone (e.g. EQ, EQ2’s former 6mo expansions), but I also think that Blizzard’s rate of doing it is far from overdone.

[09:51] Qhue: AOC has featured people who shot to 80 as fast as humanly possible and comlpetely and totally bypassed a good 50-70% of the work that Funcom did on the game restricting the experienced areas to a small selection of what they worked on.. and once they hit 80 they realized there was nothign to do and dropped the game… much faster now than any other game before

[09:51] Gallenite: That’s more of a comment on AoC than the market as a whole, though.

[09:52] Gallenite: All that says is: “You can’t go after a WoW audience without at least meeting the WoW level of endgame expectation,” which is nearly impossible for any new retail sub based MMO at this point.

[09:52] Gallenite: To which I say, “Well, duh.”

[09:52] Gallenite: Trying to do that is foolish in the extreme, unless you’re the rare company who can compete on ability to execute in online at quality, and have the financial muscle to match.  Right now, that company has not yet proven itself to exist.  It might, but it hasn’t happened yet.

[09:52] Qhue: I think people will come back for the next WoW expansion yes.  But I think with each one their desire to maintain playing once they ‘finish’ an expansion will dwindle.  It will become episodic gaming

[09:53] Gallenite: What you described is nothing more than “The MMO Lifecycle As We Know It Today.”

[09:53] Gallenite: That’s been the case since EQ.   Show me an expansion-supported MMO’s launch trajectory in terms of simultaneous usage and subscriptions, and I can tell you how its subscribers will trend month by month through infinity - And so can every exec at every MMO company.

[09:53] Qhue: The lifecycle seems to be accelerating though.  Initially people were very forgiving because they just wanted to be part of that alternate world.  With each generational iteration the tolerance for things seems to erode.

[09:54] Gallenite: Disagree - WoW has managed to extend that lifecycle significantly. (Assuming that you count WoW as part of the current “generation,” which I do.)

[09:54] Gallenite: Compared to the EQ generation.

[09:55] Qhue: WoW did a bunch of things differently, but it also was for many people their “EQ” and the first taste they had of such a thing.

[09:55] Gallenite: Yes - And I would bet that it’s retained larger numbers of its first-time users much longer than EQ did.

[09:56] Qhue: I dont think that can be seen as anything more than a one-time event.

[09:56] Gallenite: I don’t think you’re wrong - If by that you’re saying: They’ve taken this model as close to perfection as it can likely get.

[09:56] Gallenite: In which case, I totally agree.  They have.

[09:57] Gallenite: That’s one of the multitude of reasons that pursuing chunks of “People who have enjoyed WoW” as your audience is going to remain fairly futile, in the same model.

[09:57] Qhue: They also made “MMORPG” into a household name in a way that hadn’t been done before.

[09:57] Gallenite: Yep.

[09:57] Qhue: If you enjoy gaming at any level you know about WoW.

[09:58] Qhue: I think though that the model of levelling with an endgame is just fundamentally a flawed concept

[09:58] Gallenite: I gathered. :)

[09:59] Qhue: You’d probably be better off starting off with the Endgame and bypassing the idea of levelling entirely

[09:59] Gallenite: Empirically, I would say that a significant number of people would appear to disagree

[09:59] Gallenite: I don’t think you can short circuit the learning that occurs during that phase, nor undervalue the vital attachment-building that occurs: player-to-character, player-to-world, and player-to-community.

[10:00] Gallenite: Without those, skipping straight to the end game has no context and ends up meaningless.

[10:00] Gallenite: Well, “meaningless” inasmuch as meaning exists in the mind of the one doing the playing, which is the only place the word really has relevance.

[10:01] Qhue: How about this:  Instead of a linear increase to a particular endpoint and then an asymptotic mode of growth afterwards you quickly reach a certain base and then have LOTS of asymptotic growth?

[10:03] Gallenite: I’d say that’s more of a question of suitability to a particular audience than it is anything else.  To which audience does that kind of progression make sense/”feel right”?  What levels and types of increases are you talking about?  We already know, for instance, that “Just Making The Numbers Obscenely Huge” acts as more of a detriment than anything else.

[10:03] Qhue: The singular greatest idea that EQ had was the bloody AA [Alternate Advancement] system because it kept people actually online and doing stuff that they saw as meangful

[10:04] Gallenite: And I totally agree with that.  AAs were the best thing for EQ’s ability to retain.  Right up until content had to be created on the assumption that “everyone has everything,” in order to present any challenge, at which point the retention goals are placed directly at odds with the game’s ability to acquire new users.

[10:05] Gallenite: EQ2 did something similar, but tweaked it in a way that I liked: Over time, earlier Achievement points became far easier to get than later ones, so we could assume in a much less painful manner that you had “enough” of them to take part in the high end of the day.  EQ did the same to theirs as well.

[10:06] Gallenite: Similar to what we did each EQ2 expansion with lower-end experience tables (which even Blizzard adopted later on), to help people get to the place that we knew they wanted to be in the first place.  They just got a lot more coverage for it.

[10:06] Qhue: I like the idea of scalable content that takes into consideration the overall ability of the players and rewards them appropriately… but done in such a way that the reward is meaningful for everyone and not a token piece of crap for everyone except those at the pinnacle

[10:06] Qhue: WoW will be a test of that with the same raids for 10 and 25 man events

[10:07] Qhue: So you can beat Arthas in a 10 man group or a 25 man… but how do you make that effort meaningful for the two groups?

[10:07] Gallenite: Yep - The answer to that is, “You do twice the work in delivering that content.”

[10:08] Qhue: In AoC they thought they addressed these things by having an apprentice system whereby you could be levelled to match your buddies and enable you all to enjoy content… but in practice it was a disaster

[10:08] Gallenite: There’s no sane way that a machine can make appropriately challenging and rewarding content like that at two levels - Thye’re different enough to where you’d have to redo significant content by hand.  Which works for Blizzard, because if there’s one thing they can do amazingly well, it’s “create compelling content by hand.”

[10:09] Qhue: Well look at City of Heroes.  It’s an ancient game now but it did the autoscaling thing quite well.

[10:11] Qhue: Note that it also manages to reinvent itself continuously and yet has never had proper “endgame” content in the same vein as WoW or EQ

[10:12] Gallenite: Autoscaling 1-6 man, largely procedural content has almost nothing in common with “autoscaling the kind of 10 and 25 man content that Blizzard is known for.”

[10:12] Gallenite: “Just add more mobs” cuts it with single group stuff among a largely casual audience.

[10:13] Gallenite: “Just add more mobs” does not scale 10man - 25man among an inherently more discerning audience.

[10:13] Qhue: Funny, thats exactly what they’ve done heh

[10:13] Gallenite: Then they will end up with a disappointed audience. :)

[10:13] Qhue: Well they added more mobs and they raised the effective level of the critters

[10:14] Qhue: Just as they did in the Normal vs. Heroic dungeons

[10:15] Gallenite: And look how well those scale?  Even in the heroic dungeons, there’s a good number of them that just don’t make a lot of sense.

[10:15] Qhue: They don’t scale for shit.  Its obvious which dungeons were going to be 10 and are now upscaled to 25 and which were going to be 25 and have been downscaled to 10.

[10:16] Gallenite: It’s highly counterintuitive, for instance, that OHB [Old Hillsbrad] should be the hardest heroic.  Yet, it is.  Why?  It was just simple-scaled.  To make it work “right” it needed to be upscaled by hand and retested as if it were new content.  As it stands, it’s a black mark on the rest of the experience because the risk vs reward is so out of whack.

[10:16] If anyone proved it, Blizzard showed that we don’t need to have flawed content in our games just to make the good parts look even better.  (What I used to call the Bad Girlfriend theory of game design. :)

[10:16] Qhue: Most of the people playing WoW are playing it in the CoH style: levelling up alt number 15 with a few friends and maybe PVPing

[10:17] Gallenite: I would assume that Blizzard is smart enough to not release WotLK until both the 10 and 25 man versions meet a sufficient amount of “compelling,” even if that means redoing the perceptively-broken (e.g. Heroic OHB, Sethekk, et al) ones by hand.

[10:18] Gallenite: You’ll get some that just magically work, or can be tweaked easily to work, but most won’t.

[10:18] Gallenite: I doubt they’ll risk their audience on a gamble when they have the ability to take longer to do it right, which by all reports they still do under the new ownership structure.

[10:18] Qhue: Oh they have pretty much forever.  Its a very rabid fanbase and even if people drop the game now they will run right back when it is released… meanwhile they have PVP to keep the hoi paloi occupado

[10:19] Qhue: Not to say you dont need end game because nearly all of those people dream about being on a team doing the high end stuff.  But I dont think the raiding stuff really is their bread and butter.  They know they want to make the elite stuff more accessible and hence are doing the 10-man bit… but how successful will that be?

[10:19] Gallenite: I don’t think it’s their bread and butter, but I think that continuing in that vein is required for that game to retain its current level of audience engagement.

[10:20] Gallenite: The last thing that Blizzard wants to do is create an opening for another game to take over - Even if it’s one they make themselves. There’s no guarantee that sufficient numbers of your own customers will cross over into “your” next new product.  They’ll cross over to someone’s, all right, and yours may well be it, but why gamble that if you don’t need to?

[10:21] Qhue: I really dont think Lich King will ship this year.

[10:21] Qhue: I do think that people have grown bored which is why AoC managed to sell 700k copies

[10:22] Gallenite: Some people have definitely grown bored - There’s no argument there.  But until there’s some compelling destination for them, boredom is (unfortunately) largely irrelevant.

[10:22] Qhue: Funcom could probably write a textbook now on how to take a good opportunity and completely ruin it

[10:23] Gallenite: Funcom is an interesting beast.  I’ve always really been pulling for them.  Loved AO.  Have friends who work there.  Played EQ with a handful of really stellar people from there too.  They’re really the kind of people that once you spend time with them, you just can’t help but hope that they do well.

[10:23] Gallenite: As a niche game AO was really enjoyable, warts and all, in a way that was different-enough from EQ to me.

[10:23] Qhue: They had a solid rendering engine and amazing artwork but that just wasnt enough.  The game system is just plain awful and awful in a way that almost defies logic.  Awful in a way that a freshman making a MUD would recognize as just not right.

[10:24] Gallenite: I didn’t make it that far - I made it as far as seeing my FPS go south of EQ2 territory, which was about 5 minutes in.  I just can’t play games that do that anymore.

[10:24] Gallenite: I think it’s silly to make anything that way.

[10:24] Qhue: Really you had low FPS?

[10:24] Qhue: Much much higher FPS for me in AOC than EQ2

[10:24] Gallenite: These days, there’s no reason for any MMO to deliver anything less than 30fps.

[10:25] Gallenite: Anything less than that, to me, just now plain feels wrong.

[10:25] Gallenite: And the game gets shut down.

[10:25] Gallenite: The Luclin days of the 10fps target spec in a crowded scene are very 10 years ago, and I’d like to keep them there. :)

[10:25] Qhue: I play AoC with everything set to max and never drop below 40 except in the presense of lots of fires and then its down to 30ish

[10:25] Gallenite: I know there are computers like that out there - However, my dual 7800 quad core box is not one of them.

[10:26] Gallenite: And if this computer can’t play a new game at a 20-30 fps floor, there is something wrong with either the client or (more likely) the weight of the assets.

[10:26] Qhue: EQ2 I could never get anywhere close to that on the same machine.  Had things set to Med and didnt get 30 fps

[10:27] Gallenite: I’m not saying that EQ2 is better than AoC in terms of framerate - I’m saying that for me personally, playing at low framerates is just not something that I perceive as “fun” anymore.

[10:27] Qhue: In AoC I could look out across a pristine scene and see tons of characters far away in little fights and spells going off and a large temple thing in the distance and it was just jaw dropping

[10:27] Qhue: I agree completely

[10:28] Qhue: and the mechanics are there for AoC as well…the base concepts are solid… but what they did in terms of game design using the tools they had are just criminally bad

[10:28] Gallenite: That I will have to take your word on — Like I said, I didn’t make it that far.

[10:29] Qhue: We’re talking abilities that dont do anything… at all… nada.  Classes that are so overpowered that people make gentleman’s agreements in PVP battles not to use them.  Tradeskills that dont function 4+ weeks after the launch of the game with no explanation. etc

[10:30] Qhue: Most of the problems are of the nature that you cant imagine it would take a day to fix much less a few months and yet…

[10:31] Qhue: and so people who I’ve seen commit to games and play them religiously are just dropping the title like mad because of lacking / buggy content and yet many of these people admittedly skipped most of the stuff that was done.

[10:37] Gallenite: I wish I could say that surprised me - But those are the challenges that anyone trying to make a AAA title in this space are going to come up against.  It’s just a matter of whether or not they have the time to get those problems ironed out before they open the doors.

[10:38] Qhue: Right because anyone who isnt Blizzard or someone with equally deep pockets just doesnt have that kind of time.  And a large scale public which is used to things being done at release isn’t at all forgiving of mistakes at launch

[10:38] Gallenite: Bingo.

[10:39] Gallenite: It’s a symptom of having to cram too much into The Box in order to meet the minimum audience expectation for what they would call a successful, large-scale MMO in that model.

[10:40] Gallenite: All those things in The Box (classes, races, features, etc) play off each other in ways you can’t possibly forsee.  The only way to deal with them is time.  More elements playing off of each other causes an exponential rise in the number of cross-impacting elements that you didn’t possibly forsee.

[10:41] Qhue: Here’s a question: Can you make a AAA title without a public and highly visible beta test that “spoils” the whole thing?

[10:41] Gallenite: I’d argue that “spoiling” is irrelevant these days.  In a world where the majority prefer their encounters to come documented with strats and loot lists, “spoiling” has proven to be beneficial when done correctly.  (wowhead, wowwiki, eq2i, QuestHelper, LightHeaded, et al — all of which go far beyond the spoilage of old.)  Those who like blazing the new ground themselves are by far the minority.

[10:41] Qhue: Perhaps then the game is just too complex coming out of the box?  Reduce the number of initial factors?  Although those very same factors are seen as the value adding part of what your Box offers

[10:41] Qhue: Like AoC had player made cities as a Box thing and they are there but lord god its pointless

[10:42] Gallenite: This is one of the many reasons that the Big Box model is very much not compatible with online game development.   As games get more and more complex, it becomes more and more obvious.  I’d say that the model itself is what’s broken, and it’s what’s causing games to continue to go out broken.

[10:42] Qhue: Well the only negative thing about the spoiling in this case is that it just hastens the consumption of the base “levelling” content.  People rush to max level even faster and then have nothing to do.

[10:43] Gallenite: This is why making classes with divergent playstyle is so important - A lot of your retention comes in terms of replay value.

[10:44] Gallenite: That’s precisely why I always argued against the Archetype/Class/Subclass system in EQ2, even before I was in charge.  If I can’t play an Enchanter alt on day one, for instance, I’m never going to roll a second caster to find out if they’re any fun.

[10:45] Qhue: Yup it was a flawed concept for sure

[10:45] Qhue: Turned me off the whole thing

[10:45] Gallenite: And I was really sad to see that the content flaw of it got extended out through AoC — Same experience, single player, 1-20?

[10:46] Qhue: AoC did have people hit 80 and reroll new alts… but lord help them they took their level 5 alts, snuck off the newbie island using a bug and then got them apprenticed to level 79 to join AOE grinding groups….

[10:46] Gallenite: Whether through intentional planning or lucky intuition, WoW happened upon the correct happy medium - There’s multiple areas, some share, so when you replay, you can end up with 10-20 hours of purely 100% brand new game experience.  More if you try out the other alignment.  It was very smart.

[10:47] Qhue: Actually AoC 1-20 is lots of fun the first time around and if you pick a different archetype you actually get a different single-player part of the game 1-20 the second time around.  they had 4 different 1-20 storylines that interrelated

[10:47] Gallenite: Are you staring at the same geometry the whole time?

[10:47] Qhue: You are and thats a sucky part, but the 1-20 region has 5-6 different zones all of which are very different in geographical context

[10:47] * Gallenite nods

[10:48] Gallenite: But that still goes to my point - It’s great they did that with stories, but so much of the MMO experience is visual.  Replaying inside the same visuals simply doesn’t have the same effect on user engagement.

[10:48] Qhue: So the 1-20 game is actually like a fairly decent single player game and quite polished on its own

[10:49] Qhue: If they had 4 different starting areas and accompanying storylines then the replayability of 1-20 would be enhanced

[10:49] Gallenite: Yep, however, thanks to The Box, they didn’t have time to do any such thing - They couldn’t roll them out over time in a meaningful way if they chose, for instance. The demands of The Box required that all those races and classes be there on day one, so into the same newbie visuals bucket they go.

[10:49] Gallenite: “Flawed model driving broken games” rears its ugly head again.

[10:49] Qhue: They seem to have had the idea of having 20-40 be three seperate quest / dungeon / overland areas that you could interchange but ran out of steam.

[10:50] Qhue: I tried to do all of 20-40 in my “homeland” so I could go and do the other 2 with alts… but I just ran out of content before I got to the requisite level

[10:50] * Gallenite nods

[10:51] Qhue: Ended up doing every quest in the whole freaking game (especially the grey ones) just for exp / something to do because you got full exp credit even for grey quests

[10:51] Gallenite: Balancing consumption time of a given area of content is definitely one of the more time intensive efforts a team can take - And since it takes so long, it tends to not be able to get done correctly.

[10:51] Qhue: Most people just ignored quests even the first time around and just did AoE grinding in one spot from 20-80 or even from 5-80

[10:52] Qhue: I would have shot myself… I still did the AoE thing myself in those same groups just because I was bored to tears and out of content to do…but I hated it

[10:53] Qhue: They even fell back on the “daily quest” thing and created 4 little solo mini dungeons you can do each day that scale automatically to your level.  After the 15th time of doing the exact same little mini dungeon by yourself you want to just stop.

[10:55] Gallenite: Yep.  The tolerance for that kind of thing is likely pretty low, unless the rewards are on the high end of the scale for going through it.  (WoW example again: People grind heroics not because they love heroics, but because they love badges and how overpowering the rewards are for the time spent.)

[10:55] Qhue: The sad part is that when I was 40 I had people tell me “quick level up to 50 so we can do this dungeon!” and then when I got to 50 it was “level up to 60 so we can do this dungeon!” and in fact I never went to any of those places :(

[10:56] Gallenite: Yep.  That’s the unfortunate fate of the effort invested in developing mid-level dungeons.  They’re very transitory.

[10:56] Qhue: They did implement the shared dungeon concept ALA Guk that people have been claiming was a classic element that needed to be ressurected and just as in Vanguard it was a horrible unmitigated disaster

[10:57] Gallenite: Shared instances are for people who have a fondness for the past.  I enjoyed the hell out of them, but they’re just not viable content at this point.

[10:58] Qhue: I could see pseudo-shared instances.  An instance that is linked to a guildtag or is semi-private.  So you could have a few groups in the place and socializing but not truly public

[10:59] Gallenite: Yep - I could see that as having some good Fun potential.

[11:00] Qhue: That way you can have the fun social aspect and shared experience in a way that you dont get if yer not physically in the same place.   Hearing battles in shout or whatever… going to rescue friends etc.

[11:00] Gallenite: Yep.

[11:01] Gallenite: However, do it the wrong way, and it just becomes a new type of raiding.  ;)  It’d be a fine line to walk.

22 Comments so far »

  1.  

    The Hiram Key said

    July 7 2008 @ 5:31 pm

    I just got critted by a wall of text, and I am now oddly arroused.

  2.  

    funcro said

    July 7 2008 @ 6:58 pm

    This is a fascinating, excellent read. Thank you for posting it.

  3.  

    Shane said

    July 7 2008 @ 9:18 pm

    Very good post…. but I think you did yourself a disservice by not playing AoC, Scott. You would have seen how fundamentally flawed AoC really is, especially shipping with level 80 (rather than a 50 like EQ2 did), which only heightened the inability of people to play with their friends (the level range issue).

    AoC really is a lesson is what not to do, when making an MMO.

    I, personally think the days of basic levelling MMOs is over… WotLK will be an interesting experiment for all the WoW players.

  4.  

    Ada said

    July 8 2008 @ 5:58 am

    What a great read. It’s so encouraging to hear from a developer who seems to have an inkling (or more) of what the player base is feeling on a very broad scale - casual/hardcore/in medio. Now I’m more hopeful for innovation that works. Thanks!

  5.  

    A conversation about MMOs: Why the WoW leveling/raiding model works so well | Loot Whores - MMO & MMORPG News & Feeds said

    July 8 2008 @ 6:31 am

    […] have him explain exactly why today’s most popular MMOs are the way they are, you have to read this conversation about MMOs. Read | Permalink | Email […]

  6.  

    Askander said

    July 8 2008 @ 7:00 am

    Wow…an instance tied to a guild tag that had CoX’s scaleable technology behind it? I would pay thrice over for content like that!

  7.  

    Brad B said

    July 8 2008 @ 7:23 am

    Nice discussion, but I’d like to add a suggestion to a theoretical leveling model from back in the days of Muds.

    What haven’t modern MMOs used the Rebirth/Teir system, that is for the people who don’t know, you have a max level of say 255, once you reach 255, you can “rebirth” your character, go back to level 1, but gain the skills of two classes at the same time, but it takes more xp to do this. You can rebirth through all classes, so eventually you will reach 255 in every single class in the game, each of these getting progressively harder. Now the Tier system kicks in, and what this allows you to do is start all over, at level 1, with only one class, BUT, you get some massive ability bonus, each time you Tier that stacks, so you could tier multiple times.

    Now besides being a grinders nightmare (oh god, there is HOW many levels in this game), would this provide a solution so that leveling content actually has a use? Presumably, you wouldn’t be able to wear your high end content when you first rebirth or tier, but if you could get powerful beginning level equipment that will help future progression through the level progression, you’d value it significant more then you would now. You’d also see people at max level actively trying to plan out equipment bundles for their character when they go through each Rebirth. This coupled with leveled cap’d areas in MUDS, also tended to make significant use of Newbie transactions.. where a high level character would need such a such a item from this zone, could you get it for me?

  8.  

    Azzura said

    July 8 2008 @ 9:13 am

    I’d like to see an MMO with the old UO leveling model again - to see if people would except that concept. If you never played UO (Ultima Online) Looking back i’m not sure what kept me there for 3 years. There was no real quests, you didn’t level up from 1 to 40. You picked 7 or 8 or 9 SKILLS, and used them to level the skills themselves, and that is the direction your character took. So there were no classes, the skills you leveled made you a caster, or melee, or crafter. And - if you didnt want to make an alt - you could just slowly unlearn a skill and learn a new on in its place, but you only had a set amount of skill points to stick into 25 or so skills…thus you would want to try to get 90-100 points in a skill to be very good at it. Back then it was 700 points…so you could perfect 7 skills or perfect 5 and be so-so in 3 others.

  9.  

    Captain Angry said

    July 8 2008 @ 10:18 am

    I felt compelled to comment on one point that stood out to me. You discussed a game model where the leveling content is bypassed and players go straight to endgame, but criticized it for the lack of character (identity) and skill building that comes with the leveling process.

    Unfortunately the state of MMOs today is that people ARE skipping the skill building leveling content. I don’t mean in the form of RMT but simply from the ability to solo-rush to max level. People solo from 1 to max level and suddenly have the desire to try raiding. They’ve never grouped with anyone before so not only are they clueless how to play their character in a raid but they also lack the social graces to be a productive member of a group. Of course this is a bit of an hyperbole but what percentage of WoW guilds do you think actually stay together more than 90 days?

    One of the major differences between modern and classic MMOs is difficulty and solo-ability. MMOs used to be tough, and playing the lone wolf required a special brand of hardcore player. Now we have this term ‘casual player’ and every MMO you see coddles players to the point that theres no XP penalty, no corpse loss, spoiler sites aplenty, and solo grinding guides available for $12.99 on the web. There’s no need to treat other players with respect on your way up, because you don’t need their help to advance.

    You can treat people like dirt 1-70 and once you get to max level you’ll still have dozens of guilds on your server willing to accept you to boost their pool of raiders. If not, just pay the fine and transfer servers. Your infamy is internationally known? Pay the fine and change your name. Perfect anonymity. (And we all know the aaa-formula anonymity + audience = asshole )

    Too many assholes. Thats basically why I quit playing WoW and probably won’t play any more MMOs in the near future. Nevertheless, I don’t see a game bringing back the concept of a “hard” MMO any time soon, because it would be flushed down the tubes faster than you can say “naked corpse run.” I pondered long whether it was the MMOs that changed, or the players that changed and came to the conclusion that the MMO changed the players. I can’t blame blizz for it tho, we asked for it like children asking for candy, and now we are all spoiled.

  10.  

    Azzura said

    July 8 2008 @ 1:13 pm

    I agree with Captain on the easiness of games recently. I’ll go back to my Ultima Online reference above. Maybe that is why I stayed with UO so long. If you died…you became a ghost at your body. You could’t talk to anyone, all they would see is Ooooo OOoOoOoO! You had to find a spirit healer rezzer person that randomly walked around in the woods or find one of the virtue shrines. THEN, you had to go find your body which had everything you were carrying and all your armor and weapons, just sitting there. If you didnt make it back in time (Which you had a good amount of time to get back) it would decay and you lost it all, including the money you were carrying because back in the old days, there were weight limits. There was no carrying tons of gold and 800 ore and 5 sets of armor in your little backpack.
    Back to death! Ok so you are dead and you find your body, you take all the stuff out of it and get yourself re-equiped, but your sword is gone! That darn mob that killed you took it! Now you have to go hunt him down and get it back before someone else kills him and gets it as loot! Sometimes if you died in the pack of mobs, you would have to try to get to your body naked! Also back in the old days, you had to carry around reagents to cast spells, none of this mana regeneration…when you were out of regs, you couldnt cast! So you would have to run around the woods picking up materials to cast a spell or two - or make a stick to help kill those mobs around your body. You could of course run home and grab another set of armor!

    Now if a Player PVP killed you…he got everything you had on you..money, armor, weapons, bandaids, ore. At one point he could get the key to your house if you were silly enough to carry it, and if they knew where you lived, go and rob your house!

    When you went out mining, you had to have a pack horse to put a limited amount of ore which you had to then smelt at a forge, and then carry to your bank or house. All with a risk of a mob or someone killing your horse and you!

    I think risk really made it fun. And if you decided to become a PvP’r..you were labeled a murderer, and were not allowed into cities.

    I’m all for the tough MMO. Risk vs Reward. Not impossible, but challenging.

  11.  

    Chris Crowell said

    July 8 2008 @ 1:57 pm

    Interesting discussion. I would love to see a summary abstracting out the various topics you identified and your conclusions, as well as any identified problems that are in search of solutions.

    One line of thought you stimulated is that instances are made up of terrain visuals, terrain gameplay elements, inhabitant population, abilities and AI. These all add up to make the situation. It would seem that a clever MMO could create random elements within an instance by varying those. In Karazan, the Opera event has a few different ‘plays’ that could happen, it certainly adds spice to the evening not to know which one will be presented. Having a base of general predictable challenges with some randomness that has to be dealt with on the spot would go a long way to reducing the repetitiveness of instances.

  12.  

    Scott Hartsman said

    July 8 2008 @ 2:24 pm

    I’m more than a little shocked that this many people found this interesting. Glad you did. :) Apologies for not answering everything raised here, but this one just caught my eye.

    (If you do want something answered in particular, feel free to use the email address on the About page.)

    @Chris Crowell: “It would seem that a clever MMO could create random elements within an instance by varying those. In Karazan, the Opera event has a few different ‘plays’ that could happen, it certainly adds spice to the evening not to know which one will be presented. Having a base of general predictable challenges with some randomness that has to be dealt with on the spot would go a long way to reducing the repetitiveness of instances.”

    It does reduce the repetitiveness, but that does come at a couple costs. It’s just a matter of if a given team is willing to absorb those costs.

    1) Content development/testing/balancing time is increased.

    Environment art time stays largely static (to use Karazhan’s opera house stage as an example), character art requirement can be impacted (unless reusing 100% existing models), and event development, itemization, and testing/balancing increased by a linear factor of the number of events.

    Those are some of the lowest-cost enhancements to make - Not a terrible investment by any stretch, taken in a vacuum.

    2) However, one potential negative: Domain knowledge requirement of the players is increased significantly.

    If an area has 11 “events” (instead of static bosses) and all of them have three potential rolls, you’re essentially requiring the players know 33 distinct encounters, or at least make them able to adapt to 33 of them on the fly in order to progress. That might be a bit too much for some audiences to willingly bite off. It’s a judgment call for the developer in question.

    3) Fictionally, it works well in the Opera House in particular - A stage is the ideal place to have multiple “shows.” It fits perfectly. However, in many other places/games/genres it might not work quite as well, and piercing the veil regularly might not play well with certain audiences.

    In general, I think it’s pretty interesting concept when used sparingly, at least among today’s traditional MMO audiences.

    I don’t know that I’d be willing to bank on it having the draw power to be used as primary content for an entire game, though, unless it was an unusually hardcore audience in a game being made by a team that had an overabundance of events designers and testers.

  13.  

    soru said

    July 8 2008 @ 7:01 pm

    I would love a game that allowed and supported grouping and raiding before max-level. AoC is a particularly bad case of having fairly good, but completely pointless, mid-level dungeons: there are about 4 different mechanical reasons why people who want to do them can rarely or never find others in the same boat.

    I hate games that force or require grouping while levelling, like WoW does to some extent and LoTRO does a lot, where you have a long questline and you can’t continue it until you get a group.

    I’m not keen on those that discourage soling while max level, like how in WoW, having done a certain number of dungeons/raids, there is pretty much nothing meaningful or challenging you can do solo.

    I pay to play, I want to choose how I play.

    Maybe something as simple as making solo-level, group-level, pvp-level, and raid-level completely independent of each other. You can be a level 121 soloer, but if you have never grouped, then you are, in scaling terms, a level 1 when you run your first group mission.

    That way, choosing to play solo, or not, never deprives you of the ability to experience group, raid or pvp content.

    The trick, I suppose, is to have distinct solo/group/pvp/raid oriented stats, abilities and gear without it all seeming too artificial.

  14.  

    Destral said

    July 9 2008 @ 12:43 pm

    Very interesting read and discussion.

    @Brad B - Remortation could work to add replay value, but you have the same problems as with AA’s. When your next expansion comes out, do you assumed people have been remortating? If so, how much? If you don’t, does that make your early expansion content obsolete?

    The canned UO sequel (UXO, iirc?) had an interesting take on remortation, where you selected one of your characters to be your avatar, and your alts were her disciples, with some amount of positive feedback flowing both ways between them. Your avatar could do stuff for your disciples, and levelling your disciples strengthened your avatar in means I’m not privy to. It all seemed pretty interesting. Plus, you could have interactions between player avatars and other player’s disciples. Perhaps some form of Mage-Custos mechanic as seen in the P&P Ars Magica game.

    On the subject of competitve PvE in an enclosed environment, there are many, many ways it can be done which would be immersive and internally coherent.

    And on the Opera event, Blizz could have implemented something similar in the final encounter of the Arcatraz too.

  15.  

    Scott Hartsman said

    July 9 2008 @ 12:48 pm

    @Destral: “And on the Opera event, Blizz could have implemented something similar in the final encounter of the Arcatraz too.”

    Exactly - Thanks! That’s a great example of a context that makes intuitive sense, thereby adding to the fictional consistency instead of distracting from it.

    Mechanics for mechanics’ sake don’t tend to play well (here: content randomization), but set it in the idea of “releasing prisoners,” and it could actually improve the experience on multiple levels.

    Good on ya.

  16.  

    Dane said

    July 9 2008 @ 4:15 pm

    I wanted to comment on Brad’s comment earlier:

    Brad B.
    “What haven’t modern MMOs used the Rebirth/Teir system, that is for the people who don’t know, you have a max level of say 255, once you reach 255, you can “rebirth” your character, go back to level 1, but gain the skills of two classes at the same time, but it takes more xp to do this. ”

    I think that you have a great idea with the two classes, but I would actually like to see that implimented in the D&D method. An example would be, you are a lvl 20 warrior about to ding over to lvl 11. When you get that level you get to choose to either put that level into being a higher level warrior, or say being a mage class. You are then a level 20 warrior level 1 mage. This was done (albeit not too well imo) by Guild Wars. You would have all the spells and abilities of a person of both classes and would then have a hell of a fun time trying to figure out the best balence of what spells and skills to use depending on solo, grouping, raiding, etc. With a max level of 80, you would then actually have a max level of 160 effectively.

    Imagine haveing two classes in one character. You could be either the healer or the main DPS in a group depending on what was needed without having to level an alt that does not progress your main characters stats, gear, etc…

    Just a thought!

  17.  

    Dane said

    July 9 2008 @ 4:16 pm

    Should have read the post again to check for typo’s.

    An example would be, you are a lvl 20 warrior about to ding over to lvl *21*.

  18.  

    Stefan said

    July 10 2008 @ 6:51 am

    To Dane:

    I must say your wanting of multiple classes per character brings back the fond memories I have of FFXI. I think that FFXI had my favorite class (called Jobs in the game) system of any mmo I’ve played. It was simple but wonderful. In FFXI, your character could be any class, no alts needed to try out a healer or tank if you rolled a mage at the start. You simply went to your house and changed your job. Now you had to level up your different jobs all from level one if you wanted to play a new one, but it still gave the player as many options as possible. FFXI also used a sub job system that allowed you to use two jobs at once, your main job would be say level 30 and then your sub would be half of your main job’s level, so it would be 15. So you would gain all the abilities of a 30 warrior and 15 monk (or whatever combo of classes you wanted). Now your sub job had to be leveled also, so if your subbing a lvl 1 monk to a lvl 30 warrior; the monk’s lvl stays at 1 it doesn’t get jumped to 15. This lead to all sorts of interesting combos.Now this gave way to a lot of level grinding, but theres no real difference between that and rolling an alt; except that this was progression one on character instead of a horde of different characters. Now this system is slightly different from the one you described, with having two classes fully leveled on one character at one time. The ability to have two classes fully unlocked on one character at the same time would seem like a bit too powerful. It would be very difficult to balance a game where any single person could have level 80 abilities from two separate classes at any given time. If the game employed a similar system to guild wars, where you were restricted to only having 8 or so spells/abilities usable then a system like that could have a better balance. But I’d still be cautious of class system like that.

    I am all for more mmos using a sub class system, or even complete and utter thievery of FFXI’s class system. I feel that the more options you give a player, without them having to leave something behind in one way or another is always a good move. This is not to say that choices shouldn’t matter in a game, but I do feel that in terms of classes, crafting, and harvesting, give the player as many options as possible. Cause you know what, those that want to have different class, crafting profession, or harvesting skill are going to get it one way or another. Be it rolling an alt or reseting their crafting/harvesting choices. You might as well just cut out the middleman and just give the player all those options at the start.

  19.  

    Scott Hartsman - Off the Record » Massive Babble said

    July 10 2008 @ 8:10 am

    […] « A Conversation About MMOs Jul […]

  20.  

    West Karana » Totally not competing with WoW, except we totally are. said

    July 10 2008 @ 10:11 am

    […] over, and they have added lots of things to their game to explicitly make it similar to WoW, like a solo-focused leveling path followed by a level-cap instance and raiding game. Even EQ2 gave that a go with their latest expansion. AoC is essentially the same. WAR will be […]

  21.  

    Bookmarks about Fps said

    January 1 2009 @ 5:00 pm

    […] - bookmarked by 2 members originally found by mwesch on 2008-12-06 A Conversation About MMOs http://www.hartsman.com/2008/07/07/a-conversation-about-mmos/ - bookmarked by 6 members originally […]

  22.  

    thirteenmoons said

    June 17 2010 @ 8:41 pm

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