Friday, July 2, 2010


"This isn't designed for you"

That phrase is said a lot in the MMO world right now. It's an interesting thing to consider. We've reached a point in MMO design where accessibility, time, and performance are clashing in a completely new fashion. In most MMO models that feature a PvE endgame which revolves around raiding, you have the following model.
Originally, everything was a competition. The players separated themselves into the above tiers. The striation and social structure is set by many factors. Most of which are time, accessibility and accountability.

Yes, accountability. People had to be accountable for their actions originally in MMOs. The leveling curve was steep and starting over just really wasn't something you wanted to consider. You couldn't just pay and swap servers. You couldn't rename yourself. Nothing was instanced, so you interacted with people on a continuous basis. I am not advocating a non-instanced fully Surviving the Game style of game. I do miss this level of accountability though in some games.

Time was a huge obstacle. You had to be available at a moment's notice if you wanted to be bleeding edge. It was a commitment. There was no playing 30 minutes a day or just twice a week. You had to put in the time. Almost unhealthily so. If you couldn't commit like this, then you were in a different strata.

Accessibility was not a game model until recently. The model didn't support multiple people being at the top at a time. By definition if you were not at the top, you couldn't access everything. There was a lot of other content with different difficulties and different rewards available, but if one guild was on top besides the one you were in, you couldn't do it. Now, games over time have tried to fix this. Instances have become common place. This prevents that single guild on top model in theory.

However, people like to compete. People WANT to separate themselves from the crowd. They want to show they are better than other people. They can't help it. This begins the problems with some of the design shifts that have occurred recently. Instead of that clearly delineated strata you had, you end up with something like looks like this.
Which is pretty odd. This is just people who actually want to experience the raiding content. There is another tier of people that have no interest in raiding at all. Still. Look at that. You have three of the tiers of people that have completed the content. This is pretty cool. Everyone seeing what they have paid for is still a new concept. I don't think it's lost its luster quite yet. However, this does raise problems.

The game design created competition is gone. It's entirely gone. This means that people have to create their own forms of competition. Let me be honest with you here, people are jerks. Giant jerks. If left up to them, they will create competition and barriers to entry that make game defined ones look like nothing. People create arbitrary requirements and then immediately start with the following process:

1) Anything I can't complete is overtuned.
2) Anything I can complete that you can't complete is an amazing fight and perfectly balanced.
3) Anything that I completed before you, but you have completed used to be an accomplishment, but now it's nerfed and weak.
4) Anything you can complete but I can't complete is tuned for people who treat this game as a job and have no life. I'm too busy dating supermodels and being a millionaire to worry about what you think, you fat basement dweller.

People chafe under this non-existent yoke. People want to flaunt their skill, dedication, and elitism. So what happens? You create optionally harder content as a way for people to distinguish themselves. You create challenging situations that change the fights in some fashion, or fights that are only accessible once you have completed all the hardmodes. Once again, limiting your access. It's not a big deal, and the top 5% and the group slightly behind them will say that it's for them and not for you, and you get access to everything now anyway and to stop crying. That's where it starts, not for you.
So what happens? You have a gear differential. Now, I am only talking about the same type of raiding size here. Some games separate the sizes and that creates a player imposed barrier. Well, you raid differently than me, that means you are either a) not as good or b) have no life. This depends on what side you are on. Anyway, this gear differential creates issues. You now have people who have significantly better gear. So, the next dungeon is released. The people in hardmode gear now seethe and whine about being placed back in the normal track with the rest of the people. They blow through content and say it's so easy. They complain that the game is dumbed down. They say that anyone who can't annihilate it is bad. Of course, if you release the hardmodes at the same time, you get more of the above four points.

Then what do you do?

You release more at once. You let people work through what they can work through at some sort of pace. Pacing is very important in games, something that seems to be forgotten in a lot of MMOs. You support competitions in game. You reward the people who do things first or quickly with vanity items that then become unattainable later. This lets people show off their skill and dedication but in no way gives them any sort of game edge. Limited titles, limited mounts, all neat. However, when you remove something, you have to replace it with a lesser reward to still encourage people. Still, it's actually a neat method.

You bring back accountability. Make people care about how they treat people and how they are treated. Yes, name changes and server transfers make you money. Still, there has to be a balance between this and giving people carte blanc to be d-bags.

Support rankings and player competition through in-game mechanics. Make things more friendly and supported by the game. Once it's a game structure, it becomes less mean spirited and more accepted. There are many ways to do that, but that's almost another post entirely.

You limit out of game resources needed to perform. If knowledge is presented in an appropriate fashion in the game, it stops being a barrier to entry or performance. People can learn to excel at the game while playing the game. This is something completely not done currently.

I like that we are in an age of change and experimentation. I don't like the fact that the wrong lessons are seeming to be learned. Strides need to be made. Not striations.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting. And worrisome, given my job's demands. I'm glad you included suggestions on how you'd handle it. Releasing more at one time has generally not been an option, though, as companies need to release "as much as possible, as soon as possible," which means things get released as soon as they're done, not as soon as the thing after them is done.

    My agreement that games should teach you how to play them at the high end as well as the low is of course a matter of record.