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Star Player

Musings and ramblings on MMO design philosophy and mechanics. Allstar - BOON Control - @AllstarMMO

Author: Allstar_MMO

/FLEX

Posted by Allstar_MMO Monday June 24 2013 at 6:36PM
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Blizzard has had a difficult time finding a happy balance for 10man and 25man raiding since making the decisive split between the two raid sizes in Wrath of the Lich King and has been trying to balance the disparity every since.

In Wrath, 25man raiders were rewarded with higher iLvL gear that 10man, with separate lockouts for both sizes many guilds ran a 25 group and two 10s, forcing players to raid two separate difficulties every week to optimise performance. This was normalised in Cataclysm, 10 and 25 shared a lockout and gave exactly the same loot and did nigh irreparable harm to the 25man raiding scene.

In Mists, Blizzard have attempted to reach a medium with Thunderforged gear having a higher drop-rate in 25man Throne of Thunder, effectively bringing the average iLvL of 25man raiders up and bringing the paradigm full circle.

Yet 10man remains vastly more popular, simply because it is logistically easier for guild to manage a raiding guild on this scale, but this brings about its own problem of player rotating and benching.

 

 

Being benched sucks. Any player that cares enough about raiding to progress past LFR and show up to every raid night prepared with flasks, pots, food, etc, cares too much to be told they aren't being invited to the party and take it on the chin.

But it is absolutely necessary to have a roster larger than the minimum in case some of your members can't make it one night and you need people to step in, leaving some players out of luck every week.

At least until now.

 

Recently Blizzard announced the implementation of Flexible Raiding (immediately coined as “Flex mode” by ..everyone) as an additional difficulty setting between LFR and Normal mode and designed to scale depending on how many players are present in the raid group with a new iLvL of rewards.

But ..does WoW really need another difficulty level in an already bloated raiding system?

It certainly seems to serve a purpose right now in terms of filling a void for social guilds that have too many people for a 10man raid and not enough for 25 but how many guilds are going to make the decision to take an extra two people and run flex every week in addition to their 10man progression runs? It could be argued that it is simply a choice, much like LFR is a choice for players involved in normal mode progression but it is still difficult to argue the element of choice to those that don't have it; the two or three raid-ready players sat outside a raid instance portal hoping to be invited every week.

 

 

It would be amazing if Blizzard failed to implement this in place of normal mode entirely in the next expansion, 10 and 25man normal modes would simply cease to be a meaningful distinction and it would be a healthy change that the game has needed for some time.

This would be a great change for guilds currently running a 10man team, once they can maintain the minimum requirement of 10 players on their roster they never have to bench a player again, everyone wins and the guild can continue to grow without members fearing for their raid spots although this will no doubt mean more specific performance management from raid/class leads which isn't necessarily a bad thing.

25man guilds would remain unaffected for the most part, some with larger rosters may lose a few players who will settle for slightly less than 25man for the sake of a raid spot but it is definitely expected that guilds will flourish in this environment as more players find spots in guilds for median sized flex raids.

 

It is difficult to ignore the feeling that Blizzard have chosen to implement flex at this point in an expansion's life cycle, the final raid tier, intentionally to test it much in the same way that LFR was implemented in Cataclysm during Dragon Soul.

Implementing LFR at that time gave Blizzard a snapshot of what LFR would become, allowing them to make necessary changes after seeing how it functioned in a live environment and the problems it had initially with loot rolls, players losing out on loot they needed to those that didn't (simply because they could) and  some guilds getting around the system of only looting a boss once per week via an expoilt.

 

 

I have no doubt that flex will have teething problems initially, it will absolutely be open to guilds “gaming” the system and figuring out the perfect number and combination of players to maximise efficiency but ultimately it is absolutely the right direction to take the game, not least to address the elephant in the room; shrinking realm populations.

Coupled with the newly announced Virtual Realms Blizzard are beginning to explore solutions for the inevitable decline in population whilst deftly avoiding the negative PR and logistical headaches associated with server merges. I don't want this to be a doom-herald post, but it is something that will need to be addressed in the future and the sooner that Blizzard make moves to explore the eventuality the better.

 

The only problem with having flex replace normal mode is how players would make the transition to heroic raiding, assuming that heroics will retain the 10/25 structure it could be a jarring experience to move to a more strictly regulated environment and the idea of being benched will be a huge deterrent for some.

Could Blizzard take a similar approach and add Flex to heroic modes?

Unlikely, but like so many changes Blizzard has made to the game in recent years I have learned to never say “never” but I expect that many players would feel that the experience would be cheapened by such a change, especially with regards to world firsts and other achievements.

 

Overall, this is a massive positive change for World of Warcraft at a time that the game desperately needs it and I firmly believe that it will not only be the defining feature of patch 5.4 but Mists of Pandaria's legacy for the next expansion.

Grindfest - Challenging pre-conceptions in Aion 4.0

Posted by Allstar_MMO Monday June 17 2013 at 5:30PM
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Grinding” has become something of a negative connotation in the MMORPG market, a stigma that Asian releases are almost habitually assigned with by European and American gamers.

Getting into this discussion is a minefield of misinterpretation and stereotypes (to ask why Koreans enjoy grinding, one might as well ask why white people play wow-clones, racist and completely ridiculous) yet the question presents itself, why do Asian MMORPGs so often fail to make an impact in the western market, and what is Aion doing in 4.0 to challenge the preconception?

 

Principaly, we must examine the culture in which the games are not only played, but developed.

In the Asian market, time is everything. In a culture where many gamers are on limited timecards and often playing in internet cafés, players will approach the games in a very direct manner, one which will give maximum return for time invested.

 

 

 

Asian players are also far more used to the idea of investing in cash-shop items and boosters, a trend that is only just starting to make headway in the west, to maximise efficiency.

However, this doesn't mean that Asian gamers prefer the play style, many don't enjoy it any more than the western MMORPG audience, they are simply victims of the culture in which their games are developed.

The Asian MMORPG scene is slowly changing, compare the likes of FFXI and Ragnarok Online to more recent Asian MMOs like Aion and ArcheAge (or even between RO and RO: II), these games still undergo a level of “westernisation” before release in the US and Europe but the differences are becoming fewer with every new release. Over the past few years there has been a noticeable trend toward more “western” tropes with increased rewards from questing, story driven elements and more solo-play options in response to the changing attitudes of player-base and international demands.

 

All but gone though, is the mid-game level grind. Blizzard's success with World of Warcraft can largely be attributed to how they have exploited a faily smple fact: Player retention at max level is far higher than the mid-range, getting players there is the key to keeping them paying their subscribtion fee.

Even in vanilla, where the levelling was much less forgiving than by today's standards, it was much faster to get to max level than other western MMORPGs of the time and years ahead of the Asian market.

This is, of course, a very jaded (not to mention cynical) view of MMO design that could easily be romanticised as the evolution of the genre.

 

 

 

Yet, the “grind” is still apparent in Asian MMOs, but is it any different in the western scene?

Certainly it appears to be different, a western MMO developer would never make you kill 5000 mobs to gain an armour piece at max level ..would they?

It can be argued that the grind approach is no less devilish than the slot-machine of boss loot , it's definitely more transparent and it is unfair to suggest that it is an objectively worse method for being so.

The biggest problem that grinding has to overcome is that of the health concerns if the ability to farm for a prolonged period of time is not only unrestricted, but rewarding. In Korea, this is usually handled by the use of a Fatigue system that will eventually limit the loot and exp players gain after a certain amount.

ArenaNet attempted to implement a similar system in Guild Wars 2 to limit the ability players had to farm loot (either as a market restriction or a counter-botting measure) and it was poorly received, largely due to how quickly and harshly the restriction was triggered, leaving players unable to farm anything for more than a few minutes.

 

 

Typically, such fatigue systems have been removed entirely in the western release of Asian MMOs and this, coupled with monthy subscriptions instead of timecards, leaves players unlimited in their ability to grind for hours on end. This creates a unique problem, in a genre where worth is usually measurable by gear and time invested players willl do whatever it takes to get there and feel obliged to take the unhealthy route; grind obsessively.

 

Western MMOs have tended to take a different approach to Fatigue by limiting players absolutely with gating on the rewards they can earn per day and per week in the form of daily quests and weekly point caps, however this again creats a problem for players feeling forced to hit these caps every day and every week to remain competetive: missing a days worth of daily quests is impossible to recover, not hitting your weekly valor/conquest cap in WoW is unthinkable to most players.

 

So, then, all MMORPGs are grinds and both systems have their advantages so why can't we see more MMOs that give players the choice? Aion has done a decent job of this recently, allowing people to get gear with daily quests for Kahrun's gear or Crucible PVP gear or grind out the current Daevanion or Abyss sets in addition to the regular instance boss drops and crafted gear.

Aion's upcoming 4.0 expansion: Dark Betrayal is set to take this even further, with no less than ten (its actually far more if you consider the varied qualities attainable) end-game sets available from a variety of sources, player choice has never been better.

 

 

 

For the grinders, There is PVP armour in the form of Battlefield Armour available by completing daily quests and killing mobs in the new PVP area and similarly (in the absence of a Daevanion set) PVE 'Ancient' armour is aquired in much the same way.

 

The usual Abyss grade armour is present, complete with new rank-exclusive sets for Star Officers, Commanders and Govenors and a new way to pay more AP with less medals and vice versa.

 

Normal and PVP itemized Balic gear is avaialable from crafters, although to get the best possible stats from this gear you need to crit no less and three crafts, along with the usual obscene material costs, good luck!

 

With new instances, of course, comes new gear sets including Mythic quality armour for the first time!

 

“The Runadium” instance - 6man - Mythic quality

 

“Hyperion” gear from “Katalamize” instance - 12 man - Mythic quality

 

“Impenetrable Bastion” instance - 24man – Mythic/Eternal quality

 

“Steel Rose” instance – Solo – Fabled Quality

 

There is also "Hero Quest/Katalam" PVE Eternal quality gear available from group/alliance one-time quests which sounds too good to be true (which it almost certainly is) and "Lord Beritra" gear from world bosses

 

 

Aion has come a long way since release, with a vast wealth of content available to players of all types it is sometimes puzzling that the game hasn't enjoyed much greater success well into its 3rd year of release.

It seems that Aion, like many earstern MMORPGs is still struggling to shake of the Stigma of the past.

That was a world class pun and you all know it.

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