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Player Versus Player: New Content vs New Systems

Columns By Christopher Coke on March 07, 2015

New Content vs New Systems

Patches are the way of life for MMO players. They come and they go, but until a developer lays out exactly what each patch means to them, there’s no way of telling what’s in store. Some games wait months, like World of Warcraft, before release, while others, like RIFT, come out so quick it makes you wonder what the rest of the industry is doing wrong. But patches are not created equal: bug fixes, quality of life improvements, new systems, raids, landmasses… the list goes on. So what’s better for a game: new content or new systems?

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Player Versus Player is your bi-weekly debate column where two MMO writers come together to debate the topics you care about. Your combatants:

Chris “The Achiever” Coke: Chris loves the thrill of the exploring new dungeons and regions. He’s a content guy, so bring on the new!

Ryan “The Theorycrafter” Getchell: Ryan knows what it means to dig deep and new systems are the richest gold a patch can deliver.

Chris: Hi Ryan! Today is an interesting topic because I don’t think either of us are going to argue that the other is bad but, rather, which is better. For my part, I’m a content guy. When a new patch comes, I am most interested in updates that let me experience the game in a new way. New systems can do that too, of course, but I think you’ll agree that it’s different. Once I’ve dedicated to a game, I want that content pipeline to keep coming with new zones to explore, raids to conquer, and battlegrounds to wage war in. For me, those are the “gotcha” features. I mean, is anyone going to come back to a game just to see shiny new inventory management? I don’t think so.

Ryan: This is an incredibly hard topic to discuss. I firmly believe that the word content emcompasses everything in a game, not just a specific area. However for the sake of the debate, if you break it down, the systems of the game is what truly makes the game better. Take The Elder Scrolls Online for example, Patch 1.6 just released and it introduced new features and mechanics to the game that have completely changed the game itself. No content, zone, quest, dungeon, could ever change the game the way a system can.

Chris: That’s true, but they serve different purposes. One reason I think content updates are more of appealing is because they’re pure fan service. By the time they roll out, the hook should already be set. Players should be in, having a relationship with the game. That new content is more of what they already love but improved. New systems respond to players’ demands in a different, riskier way -- and I welcome that -- but at the end of the day, I’ll take a new continent in RIFT over a “feature update” in Guild Wars 2 any day of the week.

Ryan: The issue with taking a new continent as you say, is it’s just a rehash of what is in the game just with a different flavour. This is something we’ve seen in the past with games copying other games. Except in this case it’s copying itself and putting different textures and story to it. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’d like to see a new continent put into any game, but if it was a choice between that a new system, I’d take the new system. Again, looking at ESO and patch 1.6, it introduced the first phase of the Justice System. This new feature has introduced an entirely new gameplay for players to do.

Chris: Rehash is kind of harsh, don’t you think? By that definition, most patches are just rehashes, plus 99.9% of DLC for non-MMO games. Think of it like “expansion”. Besides, content updates bring new players in after the launch sales gush has slowed to a trickle. I mean, think about it. What’s makes for a better sales pitch to a new player: a video showing the new ability to grow crops for your farm or the epic expanse of a new, untamed wilderness that hints at the mysteries waiting to be discovered? How about a wicked new story arc where you, and only you, can save the world? Based on marketing alone, content updates are an easy win.

Ryan: Using your analogy, what’s better: Going to explore a dungeon that has a different texture and layout as every other dungeon in the game, fighting creatures that do the same attacks and abilities that you’ve encountered numerous times before  or, the ability to take a selfie screenshot and tweet it on Twitter? (This was a WoW patch 6.1 implementation). On a more serious note, a completely new system, like the Justice system, having the ability to steal and kill NPC players offers so much more to the game and to the player.

Chris: While I love new systems, fresh content is the lifeblood of an MMO. It’s what keeps players sticking around, digging into those systems. In a very real way, it’s the purpose, the backdrop for theorycrafting and metagaming -- content is the context for making any system worth experiencing in an MMORPG. And let’s not forget, many new system also run the risk of fundamentally altering the game that everyone fell in love with, and not necessarily in a good way. MMOs are a balancing acting between dozens of moving parts. A new system means re-examining and re-balancing, and maybe breaking other systems players and developers never saw coming.

Ryan: I think the idea of “fresh content is the lifeblood of an MMO” is the problem we’re facing.

The MMO industry also thinks this way and it’s an old way but easy way to do updates to a game.

I think too many companies focus on trying to release their game feature complete and just add new zones and quests as updates.Companies that do focus on new systems and mechanics tend to get a lot of negativity thrown at it, most commonly being told that the new features should have been in the game at release. I would rather play a game that has little content and features but is constantly pushing out new systems at a respectable rate.

Chris: Fair enough, and I think we can both agree that systems and content are important for expanding a game in a meaningful. But overall, this seems like a “different stroke” kind of affair for what we’d like to see more often.

That’s all from us, folks! Let us know what you think in the comments below.

Christopher Coke / Chris has been a fan of MMOs since the mid-1990s when he cut his teeth on MUDs. These days he scours the internet for the latest and greatest multiplayer gaming experiences.