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MMO rants

I like to blog about things that I've found bothersome in current MMOs. So expect a lot posts about things I dislike and about how I feel they should be changed.

Author: beregar

Wasteful Development

Posted by beregar Sunday July 7 2013 at 6:52AM
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Mark Kern made a point in his blog post I've been wondering about pretty much since I started playing MUDs and later MMOs. If you happen to be one of the few people who have actually read my previous blog entries you will notice I've written about this before but I think it's time to give a refresher on this.

The core of the argument is that current MMO develop is wasteful because regardless of how much people like to tout that "it's the journey that matters" the truth is that majority of the meaningful gameplay exists in endgame. Even if the journey itself may be enjoyable eventually lower level zones, resources, and rewards become meaningless simply because majority of the playerbase has reached maximum level.

I have accepted the fact that many people like the feeling of leveling as opposed to merely improving skills so what I suggest is to make enemies, resources and rewards tierless. This has following major benefits:

  • All zones are available for all levels
  • All enemies provide a challenge regardless of player level
  • All enemies (and zones) provide valid rewards regardless of player level
  • All resources are useful for all levels (if resource refining is implemented)
  • Doesn't invalidate player levels (or a skill-based system either for that matter)
  • Development time is not spent on a "throwaway" zones, resources and rewards
  • Zones won't die out as the game matures assuming all zones have appealing content
  • Updating older zones with new tech and mechanics becomes more feasible

About implementation

Some games fight this by implementing a sidekicking system which downlevels the players either to zone or party level but even in these games majority of the content for a max level player is in higher level zones. This is because the design principle for those games is still built around level-based zones. This is not a problem in a tiered system since the design principles are different.

Tiers in general allow mix of easier and harder content and rewards so there will be always challenging content for both solo and group players as well as rewards that are more prestigious than others. The best part is that tiers in no way invalidate player levels if that's the desired advancement method.

Enemies are split into tiers that tell the player their expected difficulty. These tiers can be as simple as solo, group, and raid/epic but nothing prevents more complex tiers as long as they are not too complex for players. This is improved if enemies are dynamic and "learn" new abilities when faced by increased threat level i.e. multiple players and/or higher level players.

Dynamic rewards means that when a higher level player loots an enemy they receive reward appropriate for their level. Some content such as gear enhancements, special currency or some materials may still be (player) level gated after all.

Resource refining will allow a system where higher level materials are refined from lower level ones instead of having separate level based resource nodes. This means that both lower and higher level players will use same basic resources because higher level materials rely on those resources. This does not prevent the game from having higher level nodes as long as all recipes primarily rely on base materials.

A few counteraguments and counters to counteraguments

"Players lose the feeling of increasing power because they can't rampage through easy enemies!"

True but I honestly never really feel the sense of power even if I can oneshot a level 1 spider or orc because I can't do the same to a level 60 spider or orc and the only difference is a recolored and slightly tweaked model. I guess swarm type enemies could satisfy the need for rampage but not the feeling of progression. I'd rather take more varied zones and enemies over this to be honest. This is really a matter of player preference.

"High level gear loses purpose because there's no high level gear!"

Not true. Tiered system in no way prevents development of more rare or epic gear which is statistically or visually different from regular gear. Those are acquired from higher tier enemies and encounters. This merely means developers don't need to spend resources on lower level gear as it does not exist. As an added bonus you will have more visual customization options available. In fact this system still requires GW2 style transmutation crystals if you want to have different skin for your epic item unless gear visual is separate from stats (i.e. gear is natively fully customizable).

"The system breaks apart when two enemies of different levels attack same foe!"

Tiered system works best if enemies are dynamic and dynamic enemies should basically factor multiple things when facing by increased threat level. The simplest method is summing up the number of foes and their levels and using it to calculate the threat level. As the threat level increases they gain more abilities to counter increased threat level. However the best method is to treat fights as dynamic encounters that scale with players (i.e. enemies call for assistance) instead of merely boosting the single foe. Maybe I should write a blog entry about dynamic encounters...