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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

Set Character Development Paths & Caps are **SO** 15 Minutes Ago

Posted by Meleagar Tuesday December 13 2011 at 12:10PM
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Casual players generally have time to invest in one character in one game. We don't really have the time to learn all of the mechanics and subtleties of one class/race/talent system, much less operate a stable of variant characters and learn different interfaces and systems in different games.  It is a big investment of available time for a casual player to learn to play a single kind of player in one game.

Also, the casual player isn't going to be able to participate in so-called end-game raids or be a significant part of any Uber-guild - that's just the nature of the the casual beast. In games where end-game character advancement is defined by the employment of hardcore grouping/raiding to acquire advanced gear, the casual player's character advancement generally just ends upon reaching the level cap.  From there on, it's usually just a matter of buying stuff from other players to improve your character, because you cannot even journey to the areas necessary for any high-level content.

Thus, the casual player is faced with a rather bleak choice (at least as far as current games are concerned); start a new character or just do the same things over and over to earn game money with your current one without any prospect for significant character advancement. 

The question is - why do developers do this? Why force level caps and talent/skill tree limitations on characters when there could as easily be limitless andvancement based on diminishing returns and a real-time curve that would prevent people from burning through advancement to become overpowered in terms of end-game content?  Developers could build in time constraints that would provide them with the time to generate suitable higher-end content if any significant number of players seriously push the power envelope. Besides, if after 10 years of character development one has a super-powerful character, so what? Isn't that a good reward for 10 years of player commitment?

For example, let's say that I decide to advance my character in fire spell potency. Why not make it so I can increase the damage of all my fire spells endlessly, if I choose to sacrifice all other areas of advancement?  If there is a system of diminishing returns and increased time investments, it could work and also provide incentive for long-term investment in the game regardless of how hardcore one is.  By slowly decreasing the increased potency (+5 damage per 1 hour invested, +5 per 5 hours invested, +5 per 10 hours, +4/12, +4/15, +3/15, +3/24, +2/24, +2/48, etc.) over time invested, one could eventually settle on a minimum of, say, +1 damage increase per 5 days training that a player can invest in at the expense of all other advancement ad infinitum.

This means that they could, even as casual players, carry on the advancement and customization of their character forever. Players could endlessly customize/advance their character.  They could focus on one or several traits/talents and increase them as they see fit over time.  Highly potent combinations could be penalty adjusted via a cross-training system that might increase the time-investment necessary (to, say, cross train in both fire spell potency and dual sword wielding, or Health (hit points) and Agility, or to decrease the rate of gain; other combinations might lend themselves to natural increases in trait or skill gain speed.

Although such training combinations can be adjusted for speed in advancement, there would still be no limit to what you can do. It would just take longer to increase some combinations than others.

Going down set, constrained paths with structured caps is just so ... 15 minutes ago, man.

Why Offline Advancement Is Inevitable

Posted by Meleagar Wednesday December 7 2011 at 11:16AM
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When the free-to-play model first started hitting the market, it caused an outcry of angry resistance from old-school MMOG "purists" that thought it signalled the death of the genre. Now, it is the monthly-fee model that is considered an oddity, with revenue models centering around real-money shops that sell various commodities that are not essential to play and advance in games.  With various AA and AAA games going F2P with cash shops and services, we can see that this is the new standard model.

The question is, why is this the new standard model? Is it just because it is cheaper? Why will people play FTP  models even if they intend on buying things from the cash shop - even if they spend more at cash shops than they would if they paid a subscription game where they have access to all in-game items and commodities? 

It seems to me the reason is that in a FTP model, they only pay for what they actually want and can use, and they do not pay for content they don't want, or will never see anyway. IOW, in F2PCS (free to play cash shop) games, you don't pay for any content you never see or use.

In traditional monthly-fee MMOGs, you pay X amount of money every month regardless of how much time you actually spend in the game. For casual players and solers, that money pays for a huge amount of content they will never see, and pays for a lot of time they will never spend in-game.  It's a no-brainer for such players to migrate to F2PCS games where they're not spending money for unused, unexperienced content, and when they do spend money, they get exactly what they pay for.

What's going to happen when (not if, but when) more MMOGs start offering offline advancement? For people that cannot devote large amounts of online time to advancing their character, but still want to be able to play and be part of an MMOG community with what time they do have available, it's again going to be a no-brainer to move to offline advancement models. It's inevitable that more games are going to offer it to time-starved MMOG enthusiasts, and it's inevitable that many players are going to migrate to a new system where the advancement of their character is not going to be limited to how much time they have to sit in front of their computers bashing keys repetitively.

Just as players want to get the best MMOG value for their dollar, and so move to FTPCS games, they also want to get the best MMOG value for their time.  They don't want to log in and be forced to do things they don't really want to do just to advance their character, just as they don't want to be forced to spend money subsidizing content they will never experience.  They also don't want to play MMOGs where their character advances only to level 15 in the course of a year while their friends and guildmates have already hit level 80.

The offline advancement model is as inevitable as the FTP model, especially with the original MMOG base advancing in years and finding themselves with less and less time to devote to MMOGs.  With less time to spend online and less money in such an economy, the F2P Offline-Advancement model is coming. It's just a matter of what game properties realize it first. 

In 3-4 years, we'll be talking about online advancement only models the same way we now talk about monthly-fee models. You can rant and rave all you want, just as you did when the FTPCS models appeared, but it won't change the tide that is surely coming.

Balance = Stifled Character Creativity

Posted by Meleagar Monday December 5 2011 at 10:33AM
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There's just no way around it.: in order to balance classes, races, talents, gear and content, there must be a standard formula that governs how every one of these aspecst interact, and so every single meaningful part of the game must be reducible to a variable that can be inserted into the formula, and each variable must be limited to specified range. Balance means limitations.  It doesn't matter what you call the damage, the healing, the crowd control, the defense, the health, the dodge - it all fits within the variables.  Every new talent, piece of gear, skill, or level  bonus is - eventually - just a number for a variable that fits in the balance formula that must be capped at some point.

What would happen, I wonder, if there was no consideration whatsoever given to balance issues? I mean, besides a certain segment of the population screaming bloody murder because they got pwned by some guy with outrageous firepower, what if you could train your character on any path indefinitely?  Mix any combinations  of traits and skills .. indefinitely?

One might say that certain builds would be way overpowered .. but, so what? Way overpowered for what? Can't devs just keep adding insanely powerful challenges?  You can only advance a character so fast (especially in a 24/7 advancement system like EVE has), so you'll never be able to advance everything to crazy proportions (especially in a truly deep and broad game).  Every choice to advance one thing means not advancing others .. but why put limits on the things you advance with an arbitrary character leveling system?

It seems to me to be a much more inviting and long-term-friendly game if you know you can advance in any area as much as you want with zero cap limits. If you increase your blacksmithing skills to insane levels, you can make insanely good gear, and sell in the game for an insanely high price.  If you advance your fire magic skills at the cost of everything else, then you'll be incredibly powerful in that specific area. Overpowered with flame, sure, but not much use against magma men or against someone that stabs you from behind.

Instead of telling us the limitations and arrangements of stats and talents and skills in relationship to each other that we are allowed, let us build it on our own as we see fit and let us do so indefinitely.  Yes, that makes it less of a game and more of an unlimited character in a virtual world experience, but I imagine there's enough true sandbox types out there that would support such a gaming experience.

What's Wrong With Wanting a Solo-Centric MMORPG?

Posted by Meleagar Thursday December 1 2011 at 10:41AM
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The answer to your unspoken question is: what difference does it make if I want to solo in an MMORPG? If I and enough other  people want to do it, it's a game model that can succeed.  Telling me I should go play a non-online game is beside the point, and the point is "sell people what they want, whether it makes any sense to you or not". It doesn't have to make sense that lots of people want to solo in an MMO environment, it only has to be a profitable model.

Instead of solo content being the red-headed stepchild of MMO content, providing rewards that gouping and raiding enthusiasts will tolerate in their game without rage-quitting, why doesn't some enterprising development team turn the tables? Make solo content superior (or at least equal) to group and raiding  content.  After all, it's not like it takes a lot of skill to sit there in a 40-man raid and do what someone else tells you to do for a couple of hours. It's not like it takes more skill in a group where other, better players can make up for your deficiencies.

Here's the question that invariably comes up in this argument: given that you can gain equal or better rewards via solo play, what motivation will there be to group?  Note the assumption hidden in the question: that solo content will necessarily be easier than group or raid content.  AS IF  there aren't as many or more players that would be utterly incapable of getting their character trough properly tuned, difficult solo content, and would require group and raid managers to help get them through comparable group or raid content. How many people are carried through group or raid content by others who are just better players and/or managers, or just know stuff about the content that others have no clue about? 

In solo content you're on your own, and success or failure is all yours. Nobody to bail you out, nobody to tell you what to do, and falling asleep at the helm won't go unnoticed as you are still awarded your items if it is your turn to get them.  For the few that organize and direct such raids, it is an achievement; for the other 35 or so people, it's just doing what you're told passably well.  Big deal. 

Now, I'm not saying ALL MMOG's should offer superior (or at least equal) rewards for solo content, but I am saying that this group and raid-centric model doesn't need to persist in every stinking MMOG that comes out.  The idea that group content is "harder" and should offer better rewards is a self-fulfilling prophecy based on a myth. It's my contention that a large percentage of raids and groups are populated by players that couldn't handle well-tuned, difficult content on their own, and require better players, more informed players and managers to overcome their deficiencies and get them through such content.

I mean, what makes more sense - admiring gear and achievements worn or displayed by those that perhaps fell asleep during a 40-man raid, or were gained perhaps by 4 other players making up for his or her poor skill and ignorance of content mechanics, or worn by someone who you know had to get through certain content by themselves, with all necessary knowledge and skill?