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The Casual Life by Wintyre Fraust

An older, casual player's perspective on MMOG's in general and GW2 in particular.

Author: Meleagar

Hardcore Players Ruin The Sense of Discovery & Exploration

Posted by Meleagar Sunday January 1 2012 at 6:57AM
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It's not their fault, really, it's just the nature of current MMOG bang-the-keyboard-to-advance design.

I was reading at Massively how in both EQII's new content release and in just-launched SWTOR, players had already avdanced new characters to the level limit - in SWTOR, before even the official release of the game.  You can't blame players for simply playing the way they want and taking what is available.  They want to be first, and will burn the candle at both ends doing nothing but advancing their characters to get to end content long before anyone else. In the case of SWTOR, that means before the general public even got their hands on the game. They entered the game at general release with other players already having been there, done that.

Hardcore players might say "Why do you care? Just play your game and leave us alone," but that's the thing - if community matters, then it matters that within a few days a handful of players and uberguilds have already basically done everything that can be done in the game, have "first" bragging rights, and are pressuring the new content developers for more linear content they can consume (in a few days after release). 

Don't act like it doesn't matter, or even shouldn't matter; if it didn't matter in some way they wouldn't do it, and then wouldn't expect others in the game to recognize their leet gear and achievements. That's part of the community - friendly competition and comparison, looking to see who has what, who has accomplished what.  It provides a sense of structure and evaluation.

There's something that is robbed from everyone else when they enter a new game, or a new shard, or fire up new content and someone else has already done everything and even have guides up to show others how to do it and are strutting along gathering places in all the available end-content gear.  What is robbed is the sense that you, as an average community member,  have the potential to discover something first, to explore something first, to acquire something first, or to craft or do something first.

The sense of this personal potential in the community of discovery and exploration of possibly being the first to do anything is stolen by hardcore players who have essentially discovered and done everything before the average player even gets their bearings in the game.  I can't imagine buying SWTOR off the shelf, firing it up and getting in-game and finding out that there were already guilds with maxed-out characters who had already been acquiring end-game content. That utterly destroys a whole enjoyable aspect of the game. It seems to me that the longer the community takes to explore, discover, acquire and craft content, and the broader the base of players that are involved in the discovery of the potentials of the game, the better.

Again, don't act like it doesn't - or even shouldn't - matter. Of course it matters, and of course it should matter.  It also completely skews how future content is organized, as if developers have an obligation to provide more linear content to those who consume it in one big gulp.  While the bulk of players are still wading through the mid-section of original content, who does it please to add deeper end-game content?  Thus, the average player gets the sense that the developers don't care about them, that their concern is all about the hardcore players.

Which is why some form of controlled, universal advancement system needs to be utilized - not in every game, but in some games, like EVE, and not for all content, but for a good portion of it, to simply prevent those with apparently endless time available from burning through all potential game content before average or casual players even have a chance to discover, get, or explore content first. Why? In order to preserve the sense of potential discovery, competition and exploration for the average masses, the casual players.

Imagine firing up a new game and, because of the way the advancement system is organized, you know that nobody can really advance any faster than you, regardless of how much you play online at the keyboard via a 24/7 advancement system that lets you set your character to perform tasks, or study, or practics while you are offline. While characters cannot advance faster than others, they can advance in wildly variant directions, in many, many lateral lines of character development. With sufficient breadth of advancment choices, the game keeps alive the hope to be the first and the sense of discovery and game exploration for all players.

Players coming in later, who are given an increased advancement speed to help them catch up, can have this hope and sense of discovery. At the very least they know they have a chance to find some avenue of development few have invested any advancment time in.  But, consider this: with a controlled advancement rate, content developers no longer need feel pressured by hardcore players to come up with new, deeper linear conent; they can develop lateral content - entirely new areas of character development & progression with many diverse, branching talent and skill trees that will afford even casual newcomers the capacity for "firsts".  If developers can control the rate of advancement, they can code in goals that they know even the most casual group of players can be "first" in attaining given they pursue that goal over the weeks or months necessary to acquire it. They know the boss mobs in certain dungeons will not be defeated for at least 6 months, or even a year, no matter how many hours an uberguild invests online, giving all guilds and groups or even individuals the opportunity to advance in particular ways to meet that particular challenge, or explore that particular content, or craft that particular item first.