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Worst. Blog. Ever.

Where MMORPGs are deconstructed, analyzed, probed, ridiculed, and then reconstructed. If there's time.

Author: Sornin

You must be this buff to enter

Posted by Sornin Wednesday January 9 2008 at 1:32PM
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I am sure almost every kid, at some point in their lives, has heard these dreaded words: "You must be this tall to ride the ride."

So, there the kid is, one inch short of the 4'6" necessary to ride the roller coaster, cursing the fact that he is growing so slowly and bitter that he is going to spend the rest of the day on the damn wave swinger (some lame swing ride at a theme park I live near - don't ask).

The reason I mention this is that MMORPGs are really not all that different from carnival rides, except that their requirements for certain things are even more arbitrary. Barring children from rides they may be hurled from at 100+ feet makes a lot more sense than setting a precise level at which you are recognized as capable of riding a horse.

And so we come to the point of all of this, which is MMORPGs that block players from accessing features based on their level.

Now, bear in mind that I am talking about features, not content. A feature is something abstract, like player mounts, while content is something concrete, like how many mounts there are and what they look like. It is about an idea versus implementation.

At any rate, it makes sense, in a level-based MMORPG, to limit the content one can access based on one's level. That is the whole point of levels - to gauge what content you should be accessing. A new character should probably stay away from demonic gods in favour of something a little more mundane.

However, it does not make a lot of sense, from a player's perspective, to limit features based on one's level, especially features it makes no sense for.

When one buys an MMORPG, the box usually advertises things like:

  • Player housing - own and decorate your own home!
  • Player mounts - choose from horses, wolves, elephants, gnomes, etc.!
  • Guild keeps - dominate your own piece of the world!
  • Sieges - conquer your enemies and destroy their keeps!
  • Epic raids - slay mythical beasts and claim their ancient treasures!


And the list goes on, and on, and on.

So, you buy the MMORPG and fire it up (after installing patches for four hours) and start looking for these awesome features.

Player housing? Sorry, you need to be at least level 20 and lay down 10 gold pieces.

Player mounts? Sorry, you need to be at least level 40 and lay down 100 gold pieces.

Guild keeps? Sorry, you need to belong to an uber guild and come up with a jillion gold pieces.

Sieges? Sorry, you need to be at max level and belong to another uber guild who hates one with a keep.

Epic raids? Sorry, you need to be at max level and belong to a raiding guild.

So, what features do you get? Well, you can do menial quests (see my previous blog entry) to earn the experience to get you to the max level, which will take a few months, and you can gather resources and/or craft to try to make some money.

Suddenly, the feature-rich MMORPG has become rather lacklustre. You are now a delivery boy and a tradesman, a far cry from a hero who sits atop a mighty warhorse and slays dragons when not drinking the blood of his enemies.

MMORPG developers need to understand that the barrier of entry to the real game they create is not healthy. See, they do it for mostly one reason - to keep you chasing the carrot. If you want a mount but cannot get one, they figure you will pay them for a few months while you acquire the necessary levels and funds to get one. And, once you do that, you may want to raid, so you will pay them longer while you become "raid ready".

Now, I am all for having to work (in a gaming sense) for the best stuff in an MMORPG, as without work such things are meaningless. Anyone who has ever cheated in a game or played on an (ahem) illegal, modified server that gives out gear like candy can probably attest to the fact that without effort there is no sense of achievement.

But, there is still no reason players cannot have access to most game features very early, but in limited forms. Not only will this make them more excited and more willing to keep playing, it will better acclimate them for end-game content. We all know what happens when a player who has never raided reaches max level and starts to raid - they are a newbie all over again. This does not have to happen.

Let's look at mounts. Why can't a level 5 player quest a slow mount? It does not have to have much of a speed increase, or even one at all, but I bet that player would think it is awesome to get to ride a horse around, with the knowledge that the next one will be faster and look cooler. This is how features should be handed out - slowly, from the beginning, instead of all at once at the end. The carrot is still there, as the player knows his next mount will make him go 20% faster instead of 10% faster, and will have barding instead of nothing, but in the meantime he has something that is cool and thus is not left feeling like a total newbie who is being left out of the real game.

The same basic idea can work for all systems. With housing, let players own shacks that are no more than four walls, a roof, and a bed when they are newbies, but let them advance later to more majestic residences. I have to commend EverQuest II here, as players get an apartment from the beginning (I would prefer a freestanding house, but the point remains) and can upgrade it as they gather the means to do so.

Create raids that are not as hard nor complex as the 40-player monstrosities that one is smacked in the face with at max level, and place them in lower levels. Help players learn their role in raids and communication early. Do no weak dragons or demons exist? I am sure there is one gimped dragon the rest made fun of who can be the target of some mid-level adventurers.

In essence, stop coming up with amazing features but only letting some players taste them. When you go to the trouble of making something awesome you should want as many of your players as possible to get to see it, not only the buffest, or richest, or most skilled. These players should have the best of those features, but not sole ownership of them. The status quo is left intact, but more people are happy.

There is a reason players these days (I sound like an old man) rush to the max level, and that is because they are rushing to access all of the features. Sure, some of it is competition, but a lot of it is simply wanting to do all of the fun stuff one cannot do as a newbie.

So, game developers (I understand none are reading, humour me), stop blocking new players from having fun, please. Not only does it harm us, but it harms you, as players are more likely to enjoy themselves when they have cool things to do rather than cool things to read about doing in another fifty levels.

Arawon writes:

Good and valid points.

Wed Jan 09 2008 5:25PM Report
VirAnimus writes:

Depend on what games have good or bad viewed by players. =/

Wed Jan 09 2008 6:28PM Report
Dhaeman writes:

I agree. Just on another note...these are really more available to sandbox style games like Ultima Online and Eve Online. But a lot of people don't like these games. Which leads me to believe people want there to be a time barrier between install and accessing features. They want to feel like they accomplished something. Too bad those players don't realize they haven't really done anything...

...otherwise we might see games with features unlocked earlier on rather than after getting through the boring bits of the game.

Wed Jan 09 2008 7:26PM Report
Sornin writes:

"Just on another note...these are really more available to sandbox style games like Ultima Online and Eve Online. But a lot of people don't like these games. Which leads me to believe people want there to be a time barrier between install and accessing features. They want to feel like they accomplished something."

I definitely think that is a part of why linear MMORPGs have been more successful. I think players want direction and want there to be a beginning, middle, and end.

However, I still think a more gradual introduction to features can work in a linear MMORPG and reward players who continue to advance to the end. Besides, even in sandbox MMORPGs there is still a delay before you can access a lot of features, but instead of it being measured in levels it is usually measured in other ways, such as skills or time.

Anyway, thank you for the input, Dhaeman.

Wed Jan 09 2008 7:43PM Report
MMOPlaya writes:

Again, another great blog entry Sornin.

I agree with you on this as well.  I've written elsewhere that I too believe that levels shouldn't impede people from enjoying features.  I know I may begin to sound like a broken record here, but Vanguard has taken this into consideration as well, and have broken features into smaller bites much as you have suggested.  You can get your first horse at level 10 very cheap - now he's not a stallion by any means but he sure beats walking.  Heck if you follow a bit of the Diplomacy series at the beginning, you get a horse for free!  Every 10 levels basically you qualify for a faster steed, and of course the price goes up a tad after the level 20 horse.  But you can get one and ride around with your friends.  As you progress in level you will (eventually) be able to own a flying mount.

Basically, the only limitations you have in Vanguard for housing, is not level at all - you can own one at level 1 Adventuring I believe - you just need a little bit of cash to put down on the plot - the problem is - is finding the plot and knowing the right people to help ya build it.  This mostly comes to bare after you've networked and joined a guild.

But at the core of your argument you are absoluety correct - why limit your paying customers to features they may never see for months - the carrot was a great example.

Wed Jan 09 2008 8:43PM Report
Sornin writes:

Yes, MMOPlaya, I actually considered mentioning Vanguard as a game that did well on the mount concept, but I never played it and did not want to risk being wrong by basing my knowledge on hearsay. A lot of its concepts actually sound quite forward-thinking and what the genre needs.

It is a shame I never got into Vanguard, because I was anticipating it a lot. However, in the last six months or so of development I could tell it was in serious trouble, so I distanced myself from the disastrous launch. I have never even tried it to this day, though I have heard that it has improved greatly. Still, it is just going to be one of those things I never will try since Warhammer Online is going to have all my attention in another six months, unless it goes horribly wrong and ends up sucking.

Anyway, thanks for the input, as always.

Wed Jan 09 2008 9:58PM Report
t0nyd writes:

 I agree that most features should be available. I do not agree that features that would disrupt PvP should be available to all levels. Player controlled mounts as an example.

At level 40, the option of using a mount in WoW really changes PvP on a pretty big scale. Warriors for example, would have another tool that allows them to reach melee range a lot faster.

You should take player based skills into account. Aspect of the pack would be made near pointless. Also take the elitests into account. Elitests already twink out their lowbies now they will be approaching you in PvP or simply chasing you down at extreme speed.

You would also have to deal with the impact that this would have on battlegrounds. Imagine having an epic mount in 10-19 wsg. This in my opinion, would ruin the charm of that BG.

Blizzard already proved that they couldnt control enchanting. For some odd reason they allowed the elitests to twink their characters to the extreme, which in turn ruins aspects of PvP for noobs. Having mounts available at all levels would just add to punishment of being a noob.

To be honest, I believe WoW would be a much better game with out the mount feature. Skills such as aspect of the pack, the paladin run speed talents, and druid cat speed would be much more defining than they are now. Movement speed is a very important aspect of PvP.

   /End Rant

Wed Jan 09 2008 11:01PM Report
Sornin writes:

t0nyd, indeed, there would be many issues if my suggestions were implemented in existing games, such as World of Warcraft. You mentioned things like battlegrounds, which is a good example. However, I do not really recommend WoW be changed at all at this point - it is too late to redesign the way the game progresses. Your comment indicates precisely why that is.

If Blizzard were to shoehorn mounts in earlier, they would render certain abilities nearly useless, and upset class balance, which are definitely bad things.

MMORPGs have to be designed from the ground up to make features accessible from the beginning in a balanced way. Developers need to consider how each feature will interact with every other one, and proceed accordingly, something that can only really be done freely before release.

That is why my hopes rest on future MMORPGs such as Age of Conan and Warhammer Online. Even for these games it may be too late, though I do not yet know, having not played them. AoC seems screwed on the guild siege front, as everything I have read indicates that will be reserved for high-level players, especially ones in uber guilds. WAR excites me more because RvR is designed to be done from the very beginning, so at least every player has access to that feature right away. With RvR as a backdrop for the entire game, I am hoping every feature will integrate nicely and come up early.

But, as always, time will tell.

Thanks a lot for the input!

Wed Jan 09 2008 11:19PM Report
t0nyd writes:

In AoC, I hope they are allowing all levels to participate in PvP. It would also be nice if they allowed most if not all features for everyone regardless of level. I just hope they make most things easily obtainable and balanced so noobs have just as much a chance as elitests.

I think I am steering toward WAR also, due to it having RvR at all level ranges.

Wed Jan 09 2008 11:30PM Report
MMOPlaya writes: Sornin - I have a highly coveted free 10 day trial of Vanguard Buddy Key with your name on it - send me a PM on these boards if interested. Let me know. Thu Jan 10 2008 7:21AM Report
Jamkull writes:

I agree with you for the most part.  But personally I find Raids the worse blight on MMOs because it does requires way to many people and way to much time to complete.  Its the type of content developers make because they lack talent to make real content for a single group to complete that is just harder and more strategic.  And it was a really sad day to see WoW like that.  Which playing Guild Wars reminds me how great it is in that regard.

Thu Jan 10 2008 11:37AM Report
Sornin writes:

"But personally I find Raids the worse blight on MMOs because it does requires way to many people and way to much time to complete.  Its the type of content developers make because they lack talent to make real content for a single group to complete that is just harder and more strategic."

Well, I certainly would agree that developers must be careful when planning PvE content, but I do think raids have a place. However, they must be limited as it seems players as a whole do prefer content aimed at single groups.

I do not think raids should ever exceed 3-4 groups in size (18-24 players if groups consist of 6 players each), and many should just be two groups. Like I said, those 40-player raids are monstrosities that require far too much planning and dedication to be viable for most guilds, in my opinion. I do not even think the capable guilds enjoy them.

But, these raids do have a place. Leading a single group through a difficult dungeon is great, but does not compare to orchestrating a raid and having it work. The rush is just so much better due to the stakes being higher and the amount of teamwork it takes. Also, while I agree that single-group content can be made difficult, too, there are things you simply cannot do with a single group that you can with a raid. Having a few groups opens up strategies developers can force you to use, such as off-tank groups and other such specialist things.

I still think that single-group dungeons should account for probably 80% or so of high-end PvE content, with the other 20% being raid stuff. But that is just me, and everyone has their own idea of what is perfect. I am by no means a hardcore player or a hardcore raider, but I like to dip my toes once in a while.

Thanks for the input!

Thu Jan 10 2008 3:06PM Report writes:
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