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In Response to: Content Locusts Killed my MMO

Posted by t0nyd Friday January 27 2012 at 8:47PM
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   I will quote and respond to keep this post coherent.

 Isabelle Parsley  "So SWTOR’s first month is out the door and, predictably, the doom and gloom merchants have come out of the woodwork as server populations have dropped across the board. They have a point, of course: in the last few years, many games have launched with a bang only to fizzle go free to play after a few months, and while a drop in numbers is to be expected after the free month runs out, there’s a difference between an expected drop and full-on freefall.

   I have my own theories about this, and one of them has to do with general game pacing and what I like to call content locusts. One of the major differences between games in the early MMO generation (EQ, UO, AC, etc.) and those we have today boils down to something fairly simple but with far-reaching effects: leveling speed."

  The paradoxical nature of this argument blows my mind. Content locusts as you call them, I would prefer to call them "MMO zombies", is a symptom of poor mmo design and not a product of the mmo culture. Personally and I would assume that I am not alone in this, if I am enjoying myself I simply do not notice how fast the leveling process is or is not. Aslong as I feel that I can make choices that dictate how my character evolves and plays, I wouldnt mind if leveling took a year or two. The problem is that developers, like BioWare, are creating mmo's as if they are constructing a single player game.

   When playing a single player rpg, we care not if one path is more powerful than the next. Players do not worry about leveling speed, perfect micromanaged builds, nor do we care about rushing to that last cut scene before the credits roll. What a single player rpg gives us is a story that we can hopefully mold to suit the character that we imagine. What SW:ToR gives us is the exact opposite. SW:ToR brings a story that is far more similar to an MMO in that it will have no ending and the player has no measureable effect on. So since we are left with no story goals what do we have left, content.

   Content and leveling speed is completely dependant on how the developer designs the game. If the designer designs the game in such a way as that you can level to cap in 1 month, then I take it that their intention is that we can do this. You can not blame the player for playing any game in  such a manner that is obviously designed into the game itself. The content discconnect occurs when leveling is slow and content is simply not provided at every level range, forcing players to grind in random non-instanced areas or forcing the player to repeat that one instance that is in their level range over and over until they pull their hair out.

   What developers commonly choose to do is to increase leveling speed to such a point that end-game is reached without even coming close to clearing all the content that is provided through all level ranges.  By designing a game based on a fast leveling rate this allows developers to spend less time creating lower level areas, making these lower level areas smaller with less of everything, allowing them to spend much more time on higher level content. These developers use the early areas as a means to funnel you to cap level, where they can begin designing massive ammounts of generic content.

   The problem with this method of design is that it leads to the feeling of an incongruent world to play in. The world or universe feels much more like a bunch of random instances thrown together and less like a role playing environment. Skyrim is a good example of an immersive world to roleplay in. SW:ToR feels much more like Guild Wars in that you jump around to a bunch of loosely fitted instances.

   In the end can you really blame content locusts? All a content locust really wants is to move on to new and unique experiences. The content locust does not want to stumble around the same instance for hours on end feeling as if they are accomplishing little all the while leveling at a snails pace. Now if you design an area thats for levels 1-10 that is on the scale of Skyrim, then create 20 or so instances for them to explore albeit in a group or solo, that content locust just might turn into the player that you want them to be. Sadly, developers do not make these MMO's. Developers are to busy working on that assembly line churning out the exact same thing they created 20 seconds ago, only this time its colored red and bears a slight resemblance to a movie I watched as a child, one with lightsabre's in it. writes:
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