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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.