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Better Uses of Gated Content

Posted by vajuras Saturday March 29 2008 at 12:28PM
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On one hand I adore "Gated" content or at least the idea of it. First let's cover what "Gated" content is. Quite simply friends its a 'flip switch". If you do not meet the prerequisites to enter the gate, you're locked out. Programmers we think of a gate as a Binary operator (0 or 1) which is the foundation of Computer Science.

In mmorpg space "gated content" appears in the form of Levels, Classes, keys needed to enter a Dungeon, Item restrictions tied to Levels and Classes, uber mobs that one shot lowbie players to keep them out of areas they dont belong, etc. The list is near infinite.

This brings me to the crux of this article, short though it may be. I dont think MMORPGs as a whole are really using the gates properly. Right now mainstream is really trying to simplify their games for their audiences. Thus, now a new buzz term is allowing a player to create a "blank slate". You get to sample powers a bit from each branch and then once you decide Developers flip the magic switch and you become a "Warrior", etc. Tabula Rasa players might recognize this as the branching specialization trees the game presented for instance. At each branch of development you made key choices which career path to follow and the game flipped the switches for you.

Take Guild Wars or Everquest 2. Ingame, NPC teachers teach ya about the different Classes and try to give you an idea of what choice would be best for you. GW went so far as to let you sample the Classes and then once you decided you become locked in to that choice or you could just choose to not pickup a Secondary altogether.

What I think would be optimal is not to force newbies to make any decisions at all. The gates can be opened naturally through gameplay. MMORPGs could try giving newbies a small set of powers from each discipline and then gradually observe the powers you enjoy using. As you progress through the game content, the game can slowly flip the gate switches.

If you got the concept you can stop reading right here. That's the concept. Havent seen it in either single player RPGs or MMORPG space full fledged. Everyone is so busy copying the shit out of each other original concepts usually just dont make it into mainstream products.


Okay the Breakdown:

Our hypothetical game has 5 Disciplines: Warrior, Fire, Water, Air, and Earth

At character creation you merely focus on designing your avatar and a Bio then bam you get dropped into the world with 2-3 powers from each discipline. The game observes how you use abilities and then slowly flips gate switches allowing you to dynamically build your own unique avatar. Perhaps a noob might become a combo of Warrior / Fire or a diverse mix of everything. The game could  silently adjust your avatar attributes to keep you naturally balanced mathematically (gamers can intervene of course and have a more direct hand in character development).

Anyway, since diminishing returns should of course be in play- you cant be uber in all disciplines. I'm not going to elaborate on diminishing retuns in this piece but to get an understanding of diminishing returns pull out your calculator and hit the Square Root button. The higher the number you put in, the less you get out. Diminishing returns.


Skill-Based mmorpgs --->

These titles are the closest to proper use of gated content however most still force newbies to make critical decisions at Character Creation. Crackdown xbox 360 was a great coop RPG that didnt force newbies to make critical decisions. I hope these devs bring this to All Points Bullentin as well (in which I think they confirmed they will) [download the free demo from Xbox Live] [Preview]

Anofalye writes:

Sebilis in EQ is an example of a successfull gate-concept.  I don't say it was designed better, I say that the players overcome it in order to make sure they can bring their friends there.


Humbly, I think there should be 1 sebilis for every 3 Velketor Labyrinth in your game.  It has to feel special, unique...and definitely avoidable.

Sat Mar 29 2008 12:41PM Report
Gishgeron writes:

Your take on the skill advancement system is very good, solid and interesting.  It does, however, ignore the sheer drive of players to unravel and document game elements.  It would take no time for there to be massive spreadsheets for everyone to see about how using certain spells affect build.  It boils down to the same element, players having a strong ideal of whats coming...and how to get it.

The only real difference is that the "gate" is unknown to players at first.  This creates the "gimp build" issue as early players will have to toy with the system before it is unmasked.  I love your ideal, though it probably needs more fleshing out to be a hit.  All in all, its better for players to visually SEE what skills are coming up and have numerical understand of how those skills play out in game.

I also do not like forcible gated content anyway.  IT breaks the playerbase into many small groups which cannot interact with each other.  Either because of levels, or just removes the ability for players to "Log in and play".  I am totally with you about HATING that aspect of MMO's.

Sat Mar 29 2008 1:53PM Report
vajuras writes:

Hey gish--

"It does, however, ignore the sheer drive of players to unravel and document game elements.  It would take no time for there to be massive spreadsheets for everyone to see about how using certain spells affect build.  "

That occurs in any system min/max isnt a problem if you balance all the skills to make them all viable and attractable for different reasons.

My stance though has always been let players min/max to their full potential. So I'm not suggesting hidng mathematical data or anything.

This sort of system is one of many ideas I have. I think best example is Crackdown xbox360 of this concept. I dont think you have any major problems at all really. And there is no gimp build in Crackdown really. Of course, they sort of "funneled" the activities heavily towards combat

I'm not against Gimp builds really. I'm all for letting players experiment and develop their own wacky builds. It can be challenging to pvpers to take a gimpster build and make it into a gem. I've enjoyed this aspect in a lot of mmorpgs. And when I put up films people were like

"omg that build owns!"

Next thing you know I helped startup a new Flavor-of-the-Month haha.

Sun Mar 30 2008 1:27PM Report
Gishgeron writes:

As usual, I pretty much agree with everything you are saying.  Theoretically, as long as every used skill serves a useful purpose...there can never be a gimp build, only less favored ones.  So, from a design angle, we see very eye to eye on that one.


Its a shame we don't have an army of programmers, artists, modelers, and such to help us actually achieve our pretty unique views.  All the same, if you happen to trip over a few on your way shoot me a line lol.  I'd kill for the ability to really do some ground work.  I'd learn to do some of the technical stuff myself...but I really don't know of any good starting places to work from.  Free ones...I should specify.  I'm pretty darn poor, so formal education and top notch starter stuff is out.


Sun Mar 30 2008 7:31PM Report writes:
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