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BadSpock's Logical Conclusions.

My random thoughts about MMORPGs. A bit of critique, suggestion, debate, and insanity. Enjoy.

Author: BadSpock

Linear Statistical Progression - An affliction that has ruined MMOs from the get-go

Posted by BadSpock Sunday March 20 2011 at 9:32AM
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Linear Statistical Progression.

 
LSP (linear statistical progression) is a disease that EQ infected the MMO genre with at a very young age, and it's still suffering from this affliction today.
 
Be it with a class or skill system, level based or not, every MMO has been heavily based on grinding through whatever content or lack of content exists in the game in order to get better stats so you can take on more "challenging" enemies.
 
It's a total joke though, as your relative strength to the enemies you leveled up to now defeat is exactly the same relative strength as the enemies you used to fight before you leveled up. You still "con" the same relative strength to new mobs after leveling up, there is no additional challenge.
 
Skills or levels/classes doesn't matter, it's all the same statistical linear progression in every MMO.
It's all about gear progression and level progression or raising your skills to max... there is nothing challenging or exciting about it anymore.
 
Once you master the very basic skills necessary to play a MMO effectively, like not being a keyboard turner, using quick-key bindings and/or macros, and basic environmental awareness (don't stand in fire, watch your ranges etc.) it's all the exact same formula over and over again. In every MMO, in every sub-genre.
 
The only games that ever try to do anything different fall into some of the other ridiculously stupid trappings of first generation MMOs like FFA PvP, player looting / griefing / ganking, but primarily it's the terrible and ever-present progression grinds in EVER SINGLE MMO.
 
As someone who has been playing for 12+ years, I'm quite sick of it.
 
Who decided and when that the term "RPG" meant "linear statistical progression"? I thought it meant "Role Playing Game" which to me implies story, characters, and exploration as well as adventure and danger.
 
Leave the instanced PvP to the FPS games and such.
 
Instancing in both PvE and PvP has ruined the MMO genre.
 
Why was instancing used? Because games became solely focused on the acquisition of gear and levels, and other players became an annoying obstacle to maximizing your profit / progression per play session.
 
Yes, it is true that Everquest ruined the MMO genre so early into its early life. WoW, despite being an overall good game I enjoyed for years really put the nail in the coffin in terms of fostering creativity, innovation, and truly MMO design philosophy.
 
Instancing became the norm because gear was so important players didn't want to compete over it, as it WAS unfair. So instancing gives everyone a gold star and a cookie.
 
Here's the truth - remove the complete and total dependency on gear and linear progression and you can start making games about community and cooperation again.
 
These artificial barriers actively divide a community, prevent people from playing together and cooperating, and create yet another system of "haves" and "have not’s" in a virtual community.
 
Once you can get rid of that, you can make games with competitive elements (like PvP) that can go back to the open world without all the stupid ganking and griefing.
 
You've all been duped by years of games like EQ and WoW into thinking that is all that is out there. Of course that will turn you off to open world PvP as it was completely awful in those games, just like it's completely awful in modern quote "sandboxes" which are all FFA and just as gear/grind heavy.
 
Even the "great sandbox" EvE is a total joke of a real sandbox MMO. That game is SO gear and grind dependent and uses heavy instancing too. Every single mission you run is an instance - every acceleration gate to a Room is a private instance. Coupled with the fact these missions are randomly generated, it's grind in the worst possible way.
 
Even modern FPS games suffer from the same affliction as your motivation to play is now coddled by rank progression systems and item / weapon unlocks.
 
Gaming, for the sake of gaming, for the sake of games that are intrinsically fun in and of their own right, has been nearly completely replaced by this achievement heavy, power gamer, min/max, loot piñata mentality that tells us if you aren't given some sort of reward every 5 minutes you're doing it wrong.
________________________________________________________________________________
 
Is there a better way?
 
Yes. It's already existed once before. Let's run down a feature list - tell me what you think.
 
1. Extremely minimal grind - hop in and adventure with your friends / do battle with your enemies quickly without days / weeks / months of grinding.
 
2. Wide open world - no instancing, no artificial barriers to playing with others like level specific zoning.
 
3. Fast travel options - once you've explored / traveled to an area once, able to quickly travel back and forth between areas of the game and special locations of your own choosing.
 
4. Completely optional PvP - fully separate PvE and PvP worlds you're able to travel between at will.
 
5. Dynamic world - monster invasions and both player and GM run events happening daily.
 
6. Meaningful open world PvP - battle other players in a multi-faction game of domination, fighting for control of the cities and towns of the world.
 
7. Player housing - build and customize your own private or shared house/fort/castle!
 
8. Zero limiting gear restrictions - build your character the way you want to play and look how you want to look! You aren't limited or pigeon-holed by stats!
 
9. Fully realized player bounty / PK system - Fight for Good or Evil, or solely for yourself, every action has consequence in a fully realized FFA PvP system with player bounties and morality alignment. Also completely 100% optional!
 
10. Limitless exploration and adventure - brave the terrifying depths of multi-level dungeons and lairs, massive open world full of peril and opportunity.
 
11. Expansive crafting system - nearly everything in game can be and is player made, from weapons and armors to house customizations and novelty items.
 
What do ya think?
You probably already know what game this is - a game that had its share of problems sure, but a game that evolved over time into something truly original.
 
Others have tried to replicate some of the wonderful designs of this game, but they have always missed the mark by not understanding how these systems interact in profound ways.
 
- You can't have an open world PvP system with FFA options in a game with a heavy skill/level grind and/or gear dependency. Also FFA or any PvP is not for everyone; you simply CANNOT put these people together and expect good results. FFA done wrong is a horrible game mechanic.
 
- You can't have a truly expansive crafting system with a focus on drops from PvE or PvP looting and any sort of gear dependency - with it, players with always min/max.
 
- You can't place artificial restrictions on cooperation and grouping with others in a game without instancing. Fostering community is about giving people reason to play together, not reasons to segregate and divide themselves.
 
And so forth.
 
Would a MMO with high quality production value and "modern" graphics and control/combat systems still work under this paradigm?
 
Would people be interested in game that didn't reward you with new pixels every 5 minutes?
 
The only people to blame for the current direction of the MMO genre are us, the players.
 
Yes, even me. We allowed ourselves to be taken down this path and made it popular and profitable to do things the same way over, and over, and over again.
 
Many here are looking for something more - something different and "new" but in reality, we need to take a step back and really analyze what our motivations for playing are and how best to feed those motivations without relying on gimmicks and addiction-fostering game mechanics.
 
We also need to take a serious look at what kinds of things create a sense of attachment that in itself fosters longevity and player retention.
_________________________________________________________________________________
 
 
To close, some are very happily enjoying the current crop of MMO offerings, and to you I say that that is excellent, I am glad you are playing something you enjoy. 
 
To me, I see so much potential in this genre of gaming that has yet to be realized. I think we're going in the wrong direction too. Sure, there are some games on the horizon I am interested in, games that look to be trying new things and innovating...
 
But generally speaking, I really do feel this genre could be so much more. So much of the MMO has been lost over the past decade and instead replaced by far too much RPG.
 
LSP has changed us. We are no longer explorers and adventurers, heroes and villians... we are merely consumers. Gobbling up the treats placed at arms length in front of us and begging for more instant gratification. 
MumboJumbo writes:

Good blog. "Better way" list almost exactly the what I'd come up with. Was hoping you had done some hard statistical analysis so I could relax with a martini while reading through you treatise (it's been a while since I did some stats!) but still a good read! ; )

Sun Mar 20 2011 9:53AM Report
BadSpock writes:

Well, unfortunately if you actually did "run the numbers" per say you'd likely find that the vast majority of MMO gamers are perfectly happy with the current crop of games and the direction the genre has gone and would be totally uninterested in anything similar to what I'd propose :)

Sun Mar 20 2011 9:57AM Report
Connen writes:

I don't have any names at the moment, but I'm pretty sure some mmo's have attempted some of what is posted on here and failed because of us lemmings, as you stated clearly in your rant. 

It's a shame really, as some of those games may have made it with more time and commitment from us players.

Sun Mar 20 2011 9:58AM Report
Jumdor writes:

I agree with a lot of what your suggesting here, but we have to consider the target audiences who grow up with this. Why children or those with child like minds are attracted to this kind of gaming is because it is simple.

I do however have a few thoughts.

1. Minimal grind - Why have grind at all? There are other ways to provide rewards without grind of any kind being a factor. I think defeating a giant monster or mob should be for your own satisfaction. With the right AI their challenge could be very thrilling.

3. Fast travel - I think the game Morrowind with it's mage warps had the best idea. Where you have a generally near location you run too and warp to another area. To me fast travel is like having a personal transporter on your belt. Might as well let you fly too. Why bother with mounts. I think fast travel can shorten the adventure, but that is just an opinion.

7. Housing - A good way to pull this off I think. Is to make player housing destroyable. Now on the same note I think they should easily be able to rebuild the exact same house some where else if they choose. So as not to discourage the one who built it. That way the raider or pillager who wrecked it got the satisfaction of doing his dirty deed. While the builder comes back and just thinks "aw crap, oh well gotta find some more wood." Also to make the rebuild much quicker and cheaper than the first time. Not to mention have all their stuff saved inside just as it was.

I do however feel that placing your blame on yourself as you and I are among a minority is not justified. Although I know it was probably more to block the gripeing that might come your way. Too many people who hang on every word of developers like nectar from a honey tree. Defending their game creator's lack of innovation.

They are not willing to ask questions like. Why does this game look the same as the last game or why was this aspect not improved? Now I understand that a certain amount of leeway needs to be given to developers cause they like us are imperfect. However I would be satisfied if we saw less carebear hands put to making a game and even removed some things like class build trees. Because using a combo of skills on some bar does not say this combat is awesome to me, but those play mechanics have their place as well.

I think many areas of gaming have great potential for improvement. The problem is finding a developer who is not afraid to take the risks involved. Along with a sponsor who is willing to risk his money, and that my friend is the true difficulty.

So long as people are willing to bow down to the gaming norm. We will see slow progress in such areas as innovative gaming.

All this is personal opinion and I in no way meant to get anyone's ire up. If they would be so easily offended I think they take themselves and their games way too seriously. =)

Sun Mar 20 2011 1:21PM Report
MMartian writes:

Sounds like a fan of Pre NGE SWG, It had all that you mention in what you expect in a MMORPG.

The problem is that it also had 80% of new subscribers leave the game within a few months of buying the game. There simply were not enough potential customers for MMORPGs to stay in business that long with that high of an attrition.

LSP is often used because it has been shown to keep people playing longer and given them a reason to return to games after leaving. Tuning a sizeable number of unsubscriptions from a permanent customer loss to a temporary break.

Companies that man MMORPGs are driven by making money since they operate as a business to make a profit. You can not condem them for operating as a business.

Sun Mar 20 2011 1:49PM Report
z80paranoia writes:

Excellent blog. I agree fully.

Sun Mar 20 2011 8:36PM Report
BadSpock writes:

I was a fan of Pre-CU SWG but I also quit playing long before the CU because of the horrible and ridiculous grind.

Again, SWG suffered from being a sandbox with a grind - with grind being the complete and total opposite experience you want to have with a "true" sandbox.

The reason I call for a "minimal grind" Jumdor is because players do expect SOME sort of progression in a RPG/ MMO.

Even me! The idea of growing stronger through trials and adventure to better one's self is at the very heart of the "Hero's Journey" story-telling device that has been pretty central to the RPG genre. 

My big beef is that currently this journey is always from start to "end-game" and then after that it's 100% about gear and stat progression. 

Allowing minimal grind, the journey becomes a life-long adventure rather then a race to the top. Developers need to find more ways to allow us to progress in meaningful ways other then just slowly increasing our stats or grinding reputations/factions.

I'm also a big, and I mean HUGE advocate for dynamic PvE content. I don't think any MMO truly has dynamic PvE content, thought GW2 and even EvE with Incursion come kind of close, it's simply not enough.

I could (and probably will) write another entire blog series focused soley on ways to do this.

Players like being the hero - being the center of attention and being "special" and unique - even thought it's totally 100% false in MMOs. 

Developer created story lines will always be non-unique. The only way to truly give players the story they want while also making their journey unique and truly never ending (all developer story is finite) is through the use of truly dynamic content. 

GM events used to be the way developers would offer truly dynamic events that were unique. Now though, MMOs are simply too big to have GM events across hundreds of servers for millions of players. 

MMartian, you are right that LSP and "the grind" are ways to hook players and keep subscriptions running. You know what another way is? Incredible game play and intrinsic replay value. 

I honestly believe that the "new way forward" is going to be a subscription free model, one that offers more of a DLC type of content expansion for continued revenue stream.

Customization is essential for a MMO, the fact that an "appearance tab" kind of system is not standard in ALL MMO's is actually kind of suprising. It really should be.

Combine a massive increase is customization with DLC type content expansions on a regular basis as well as pay service customization options and I believe you could effectively run a massive AAA MMO without a subscription fee and sustain impressive profitability.

Of course this would also require you to not nickle and dime your customers with game play tweaks and performance enhancements via a cash shop.

Mon Mar 21 2011 7:47AM Report
biorealms writes:

I agree with you fully.

Tue Mar 22 2011 11:30AM Report
kjempff writes:

I understand and agree with most you wrote. But LSP is a mechanic used in all roleplaying game from pen n paper to the newest computer game - I dont recall seeing any real working solution to that yet. There will always be mechanics in a game (obviously), the trick is to hide this so much that the player can roleplay - The bad example of this is WoW (today), like someone said it so spot on "its all about numbers".

 

Besides LSP, almost all the things you want were the basics of eq (as it were designed from the beginning), so using eq as an example is somewhat off. It is true that eq moved down the degrading path, and even pretty early on (after a few expansions), but it was designed with roleplaying and player interactions in mind. Today (with the 16 expansions) the eq game must be a slap in the face of the original designers.

 

What is also spot on, is the pvp thing. PvP supports dividing people rather than joining them, and to me is as far as you can get from a roleplaying. All these new games designed by focus groups, think they give players what they want, and the result is free pvp worlds and instant gratification and so on.. and granted some players want that, these are just not roleplayers.

So as I agree with your feature list mostly, the LSP thing is hardly anything that will go away, it just needs to be hidden better. I would welcome a system that werent based on LSP, but all attempts I have seen have failed so far.

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Thu Mar 24 2011 9:03AM Report
kalistrike writes:

small note to add...those missions in EVE aren't actually instanced. its not all that complex to enter another player's mish and wreck havoc if you so choose.

as to pvp...hate to say it but ALOT of people enjoy open world pvp or instanced pvp. the main issue as i see it is players who aren't into pvp joining into listed and known pvp games then crying nerf the second they get rocked. sadly thats no fault to the game company that said player decided to jump into a open pvp game and basicly says the player should have chose a better game suited to them or a pve server if availible.

alot of your points i do agree with but on pvp i do find that to be a very very overly common mistake made by alot of people. hell even my own guildmates.

Thu Mar 24 2011 4:00PM Report
kalistrike writes:

"What is also spot on, is the pvp thing. PvP supports dividing people rather than joining them"

Thats kind of a false statement. if that was true then all guilds would fail. most pvp supported games have much more aggressively tight guilds who are much more driven to work together then any pve guild i've yet seen.

Thu Mar 24 2011 4:06PM Report
BadSpock writes:

Kali, perhaps you missed my praise of meaningful, open world PvP?

I do think instanced PvP divides people. I think truly open world, faction based (or optional guild v guild) is quite adept at bringing people together.

On thing that really brings people together and intices them to work together is a shared, common enemy.

I think FFA PvP does divide people in that even if perfectly implemented, it creates a mindset of mistrust and suspicion. 

However we have not ever seen FFA PvP perfectly implemented, in all the implementations I have seen over the past decade+ the morality/alignment/punishment systems are completely unbalanced and actually favor the "dark side" path - the easy way out i.e. steal/kill/take what you need.

Playing the "good guy" is so much more difficult of a choice in FFA PvP, in a game with LSP were you are trying to min/max your progression, it's generally easiest to form tight, self-contained groups and actively combat the rest of the community, which I do believe is destructive to over-all community strength.

Fri Mar 25 2011 7:55AM Report
mrcalhou writes:

I disagree with a few things. I'll start for saying that I'm not completely for FFA-PvP, but I don't want them to have separate servers for it. I'd rather them have separate areas. Where PvP is optional in one area, but open in another area with resources being limited to certain spots to encourage players to play everywhere.

I also disagree with fast travel. I like the idea of playing in an emergent-gameplay MMO with having to transport goods and actually trade instead of having a single-world economy which would be what would happen if there was fast travel. Instead of fast travel, I'd rather a game company make traveling fun with random events and such to keep players occupied or something to that effect.

I also disagree with lack of item progression. I would rather a game that has many different items and equipment that were all useful in their own way. Yeah, you might have something that does a ton of damage, but it has drawbacks like lowering your defense and has a low refire-rate/swing-speed.

Fri Mar 25 2011 10:29PM Report
Reiden writes:

Excellent Blog.  It is for these reasons that UO shall never die while WoW and games that follow in WoW's low standards and lack of creativity will fall.

For those of you stuck on Fast Travel, it used to mean so much more than clicking on your map and being wisked away.  You had to have someone capable of marking a rune at the desired location, and then you had to have someone capable of casting the appropriate spell to open a portal to that location using the rune previously marked.  

Current fast travel is lazy, does not support player interaction or a sense of community, and I won't even talk about how little it contributes to a player run economy.  But rest assured, fast travel of the past, did support player interaction and a sense of community, and did contribute to a player run economy.

Sat Mar 26 2011 8:10PM Report
Jumdor writes:

@heerobya - First don't feel pressured to read this as it is all light hearted. I'm just throwing stuff out there. Take what you want from it if you do, and don't sweat the rest.

 I understood what you meant by minimal grind, but what I meant was there are ways to get progression without feeling as if something is a grind. "A grind is when you feel you have to kill so and so odd many things or monsters to gain experience." Least that is what I have always thought of it as. I do agree with much of what you said, but I feel there is not as much of a need for "kill so many things to get stronger" if that is partly what you meant.

Accomplishment can be found in many different ways. Not just the idea of I am the ultimate bad ass of chopping up wolf cubs cause some farmer wants to get his grub on. I feel if they would take some concepts off of other games and implement them in a positive way. People could feel just as much good about their character as they do by killing 4,000 things to get that next level of awesome. I know in a sense you and I are speaking the same lingo here.

I was mostly just throwing out ideas for the fun of conversation. I feel like for instance GTA San Andreas where you can weight lift to make your character more physically powerful in melee. Say your character can help merchants around the village. Do tasks like thatching someone's roof, digging a well, on and on to help a kingdom prosper and grow can be a great form of accomplishment and break up the common grind. Even the idea of making them mini games or for those who don't like mini games actually watching your character do the task.

Instead of them being quests they can be choices to improve relations or build character or both. Then say when the big time for open war starts where you need to defend your castle or whatever you have built a relationship with those people and more of them will rally behind you to fight in defense of their place in the world. There again these are only concepts and many of them probably hard to implement.

I think a main thing to make something feel linear is to make the player feel as if they have no choice but to accomplish the said quest to get any further in the game (which annoys me). While Non would be to offer them ideas and say well you want to do some stuff so here is a huge world of options.

Also ideas like building a house at random and giving it to someone. Morale boost which acts like XP and next time you go to lift stones for the new castle wall going up you get a strength bonus in the sense of increasing your physical damage output against enemies. Why? Because your character is happier with himself about his actions and the choices you are making.

Positive actions and positive bonuses and advantages. On the other side of that coin same goes for evil. If you choose said dark side. Kick around your henchman and you can get morale. Blah blah blah on and on I could go, but I won't.

Anyway I do enjoy reading your stuff, and I hope to continue to do so in the future. =D

Also @Reiden I enjoyed reading your opinion on fast travel, and I agree. The only down side to that can be if it is hard to find a person willing to do it for you. Which I know is where the economy comes in with paying for services rendered, but even then I have seen people who even asked nicely with money be turned away by multiple people. =)

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