Wearing your sunday dress on mondays.

As my head is still spinning in full PvP mode, I realized most games, and perhaps most MMO gamers, ignore a potentially very interesting gameplay mechanic, which I will refer to (very likely unoriginally) as the ‘Sunday dress’ mechanic.

In too many games, and this is not just limited to MMOs, you always use your best gear at all times. The only time you switch gear is when you find an upgrade, or in the rare situational encounter, like a resist based fight. This is why in many games there exist a ‘best’ item, be it weapon or armor, and you almost always have a clear upgrade path. Encounters are therefore balanced on the assumption that players have X amount of said gear, aka the gear check.

I don’t understand why more MMOs don’t shy away from this mechanic, as it seems to limit the game far more than it adds to it. For starters, always using the very best gear removes an element of tactics. In both UO and EVE (both games that do not use the ‘Sunday dress’ mechanic) a fight is often decided by what you bring to the fight, and not what you COULD bring. In UO most players held their best gear in a bank/house, only bringing it out for special use. In EVE players are taught only to fly what they can afford to lose, and generally save their fully kitted ships for safer activities like mission running. The major advantage to such a system is that while more powerful gear is added, it’s kept in check by the player community. Just because someone has an ultra powerful sword does not mean he will use it at all times, so their power increase from that sword dropping is not a permanent upgrade, but at the same time does give them more options and potential power.

The need to replace gear, and also to have multiple copies, greatly stimulates both the economy and the demand for crafting. It makes common items relevant, instead of being vendor trash, and ensures that a crafting pattern stays useful long after an upgrade exists. A craftable item is now judged on its difficulty to craft vs how powerful it is, rather than simply on its total power compared to raiding or pvp items.

The variable flux in power also helps new players get into the game quicker. Instead of having to ‘gear up’ to join older players, new players can use loaner gear until they are able to provide for themselves, as well as stick to safer situations so as not to risk that ‘better than you should be using’ gear. Encounters could also be balanced around this risk/reward structure. Say the game uses a limited durability system, where each death takes a few points of durability off your gear, and the points are permanent, once you hit zero, item gone. Now let’s say we have a boss fight that, on average, results in 2-3 deaths due to somewhat random factors, but also drops fairly powerful loot. If a group goes in fully kitted in top gear, they might ‘lose’ more in durability than they gain in new items, or they might not take a single death and come out with a huge win. But that group also has the option to go in with more standard gear, and while the fight will be harder, the risk is a bit lower, while the potential rewards stay high. This method also keeps all encounters relevant. Even if you already have the sword that drops of boss X, in this system having another copy is beneficial, so in theory good gear will never be sold to a vendor or sharded.

There are more positive aspects beyond the few listed above, but their must also be negatives. For one, I can somewhat understand why people would not want to lose gear due to durability hits on death (or some other method of gear loss), but if gear was more common in general, I would imagine it would not be that drastic of a loss. What do you all think, am I missing some major factor here? And why don’t we see more MMOs with such systems?

15 Responses to Wearing your sunday dress on mondays.

  1. sid67 says:

    I agree 100%. The gear problem is the single biggest reason why WoW is broken at the end game. Every single major complaint about WoW is related to this problem.

    Gear is simply too valuable, too important, and too powerful an impact on your skill level. This type of mechanic would make raids more accessible to casuals by allowing them to spend time preparing for it rather than just being locked out alltogether due to a gear check. And in WoW PvP, my biggest complaint is that gear is more important than skill. By the very nature of needing to replace gear, the gear gap is lowered.

    You asked yesterday what could be another approach to good PvP and you wrote my response before I could. :) While this system is something you already find in EVE, I do believe that this type of thing is required for balanced PvP in an MMORPG. You can’t really have an RPG without being able to aquire items and yet that is the mechanic that unbalances PvP. Gear that wears out is a simple and realistic fix that solves a lot of problems.

    I think this mechanic is less about consequences (which we talked about yesterday) and more about gear balance. The best balance can be achieved when stuff just wears out. I don’t think we need an extreme consequence (like corpse looting) to make that happen, just a durability hit that can’t be repaired.

  2. Maarkean says:

    That sounds a lot like the way SWG use to be. You used items and they wore out over time from death and use. Then you had to go get new ones. Or you had several sets and alternated. It kept the economy going and made people think about what they used. You’re really awesome gun would wear out and you’d have to buy or loot the parts to make another one.

    That was a great system back in the day. It wouldn’t work in SWG now nor would it work in WOW, or any game where loot is the dominate rule. When you have to work really hard to achieve something in a game the last thing you want is to not be able to use your reward for fear of losing it. In some cases you can’t even replace it because the item was a quest reward and you can not do the quest again. In that case you either make the item irreplaceable or an exception to decay and not as good as you can get elsewhere.

    As long as the best stuff is irreplaceable, or nearly irreplaceable due to the effort required, then people are not going to want to risk losing their items.

  3. sid67 says:

    Maarkean: It would work, you just need to make the gear more accessible. A system that easily destoys gear requires that gear also be fairly easily attained. The players who can attain the gear more quickly and regularly will still be better equipped overall, but even a casual player could “save” or “bank” items for when they wanted to do something special to them. Maybe thats a rated PvP match, maybe it’s a high level Raid.

    You would also find that for “farm” type content that people wouldn’t want to use their best gear. This means that it would introduce a bit more challenge to encounters that would otherwise be on EZ mode.

    Although, I agree that you can’t retrofit this type of change into an existing game unless you were particularly innovative about how you snuck it into the game. It’s a pretty monumental change and it would hardly be fair to the guy with the T6 set who just found out it’s only going to last him another 5-6 raids.

  4. Shalkis says:

    One of my favourite games, Way of the Samurai, had an interesting durability system. If you fought furiously and/or sloppily, your sword would heat up rapidly. If you stressed it enough, it would break. However, you could repair fractured swords to a degree, and leave valuable swords behind for safekeeping. If you died, you lost everything (the game would be auto-saved at death).

    Since the only way of getting better swords was to defeat the swords’ owners, you ended up playing a balancing act. A good sword would significantly improve your chances, but also increase the risk. To manage that risk, you could adjust your playstyle. This created a hybrid system that was both gear- and skill-based. You could offset one with the other (to a degree), but improving both in balance yielded the best benefits.

  5. Graktar says:

    I don’t know about destroying items, though I’m not averse to the idea if you can choose to devote a lot of resources to maintaining a favored item or two. I’d just like to see more diversity in the properties and usefulness of gear, such that there may be a ‘best’ piece of gear for a certain situation, but there is no ‘best’ piece of gear for EVERY situation. In WoW, you have best weapons for all situations — whichever weapon has the highest dps for your class/build is the best. There is no other real metric for the usefulness of a weapon than dps. Why aren’t there weapons that do more than dps? Weapons that do bonus damage to certain enemies, weapons that buff the group, debuff the enemy in a significant manner, weapons that do little to no damage but generate massive amounts of threat, weapons that deal illusory damage with high dps but heals back over time, etc. WoW has some of these things, but so watered down that dps is always king in the end.

    I’d like to see gear reflect a playstyle, rather than simply being ‘the best’. I’d like to see a warrior tank in a full suit of reactively enchanted armor — less mitigation than the heaviest plate available, but every time they get hit a special effect is likely to trigger. I’d like to see a rogue dps’ing with a fire blade that has lower dps but is mitigated by resistance rather than armor. I’d like to see a priest’s robes siphon mana from every spell cast against him and that paladin’s mace double the effects of spell pushback.

    The linear gear upgrades in WoW need to end. Just creating higher and higher ilevel items with the exact same stats in larger amounts is BORING as well as unbalancing. Make the gear more diverse, more interesting. Don’t just make it better, and constantly raise the bar for the ‘best’ items in the game that makes everything else seem like junk.

  6. Yeebo says:

    I think the reason you don’t see more MMOs with such systems is that players in general want to keep the stuff they work to get. Many players percieve permanent item wear or negative sum PvP as the MMO designers “taking away” something that they earned.

    However I have to agree with the pluses that you mention. I also agree with Sid, the way to make a system like this palatable to and average consumer is simply to make items less valuable. Either make them easier to obtain (so that even a casual player has one or two pretty dresses available), or simply make the maximum bonuses you can get from items relatively subtle (the sunday dress is hard to get and looks cooler, but really doesn’t help out all that much more then a plain cotton dress).

    As far as retrofitting it into an existing game, I think the only time you could reasonably sneak it in would be with and expansion and level cap raise. Have gear over a certain level have permanent decay “due to the raw magical energy they contain” or something like that.

    Even there, I think you would run into problems doing a 180 on a community used to a permanent gear system. Of course if that meant high end gear also became available to a much larger portion of your player base than the 10% in big raiding guilds, the overall community might swallow it (bells and ribbons and pretty dresses for everyone!).

  7. Shalkis says:

    One more thing: Changing swords also changed your fighting style. For example, some swords were used with the Iaidō fighting style, which focused on very powerful, one-hit-kill swings that started and ended with the sword sheathed. However, if you misjudged your opponent and he managed to block the swing, your sword could break from that single blow. Conversely, there were styles that used multiple, but less lethal swings.

  8. sid67 says:

    @Graktar: I don’t know. I think there is quite a bit of that happens already. For example, in WoW, what is better +100 AP or +20 hit? You need really need a spreadsheet to seriously calculate what is better under your specific conditions.

    Even people who say, “oh hit is always better” are mistaken when you have enough of the other stat. It would seem to me that more choices (unless the overall system was simple) would just lead to more theorycrafting. That’s great if you do a lot of outside research, but the average player doesn’t whip out Excel every time an item drops.

    The counter concept works well, but again you need to have the equipment easily attainable. This exists (to some degree) within WoW in “resistance” gear and anyone who remembers how costly it was to get a tank ready for Molten Core knows that system is flawed.

  9. Jezebeau says:

    I don’t see this system working well with a raiding game. It requires one to maintain farming of the tier below them during progression, for fear of being knocked back down there when their gear starts to fail. The loot system would also have to change: “Sorry Sirfred, I know Cowman already has that piece, but it’s going to break in half an hour.”.

    I had to repeat content more than enough to get the permanent gear that I have. To not drive players away, acquiring the temporary gear would have to be a near certainty, but then skilled players would burn through all raiding content in a month or two.

  10. Garumoo says:

    @sid67 alternative stats towards the same end result (+AP or +hit, doesn’t matter it’s still +dps) is one thing, but alternative stats that provide situational benefits is where things get interesting. Along with the different resistance sets in WoW, there are a few “+buff vs demons” things floating about. I’d like to see more along those lines, and then entire zones/instances which depend on them, and have each of those alternatives be supported by different factions, even rivalrous factions (ie. like Aldor vs Scryer), and have each of these end-zones be of an effectively equal level to each other.

    This would simply be the end-zone equivalent to the design wherein the game has multiple starting zones, each offering a different flavour and experience.

    I find it odd that players complain about the tedium of the grind of levelling alts through the same mid zones to get to the end game .. but then don’t complain about being in the same end-zone as every other character they have. I like to think I would enjoy a game where (a) i have multiple start zones to choose from, (b) I have a choice of mid-zones to level through, and then (c) I have a choice of end-zones to excel in. Each character could have an entirely different journey.

  11. mbp says:

    Great post Syncaine. I have recently signed up for a 3 week EVE trial and one of the first things that struck me is that the newbie zones are still teeming with activity. This is very impressive for a five year old game. Its not just an influx of new players either. I think that the gear issue you describe is an important contributor. Even high level players have uses for low level stuff and there is still an active market for newbie gear. Players at all levels can feel like they are making a contribution to the game world.

  12. Tobold says:

    Where EVE fails in my opinion is that the basic activity required to get the resources to replace the destroyed ships, the asteroid mining, is too boring. And resource gathering in WoW isn’t any better, it would simply collapse if more resources were needed to replace broken gear. SWG worked well because their system of finding and harvesting resources was fun, and the amount of resources gathered wasn’t linear with the amount of time spent online.

    I’d love to play a game with gear that breaks and is constantly replaced, but you’d need to design the game from the ground up, and have more fun crafting in that game. And the system how to get loot from adventuring would have to be fundamentally changed as well. If it took you 10 raid runs until you finally got the item you wanted, you certainly don’t want it to break and have to do the same 10 runs again. A point / badge / token system might work better there.

  13. syncaine says:

    Mining is boring solo, yes. In a Corp mining trip, it’s not half bad, but that depends on how social your Corp is. Amazingly mining in EVE encourages players in a MMO to actually be social and talk to their friends beyond ‘dps target now’. I’m not sure I would want mining to be more interactive, as many times its simply enjoyable to have something slow paced, yet still productive to do.

    And most of the concerns with replacing gear are using the current item model that WoW/EQ use, where one item requires a lot of work. What if all NPCs could drop top level stuff, with the difficulty of the mob determining the percent chance that killing it would yield something good? So killing a common orc gives me a .01% chance of getting a top sword, while killing the final boss of some dungeon gives me say 20%. Same sword, just with success the dungeon has a better chance. And since all the items are somewhat common (as in, almost anyone could buy ONE copy of something top tier, but losing it would hurt), the focus would be on the overall buildup, and not one any one single item. The power difference between top tier stuff and the ‘average’ would be no were close to what it currently is in a game like WoW.

  14. Shalkis says:

    Tobold: There are other ways of making money in EvE. Mining is just one of the links in the supply chain. There’s refining, hauling, trading, manufacturing, research, inventing, pirating (and extortion), mission running, automated moon mining, banking, the stock market..

    I, for example, play a trader. I never mine anything myself. I buy commodities and sell them at a profit. Although my ROI isn’t 100% like it’s with mining, I can handle much larger volumes of goods than a single miner could provide at that point.

  15. sid67 says:

    And most of the concerns with replacing gear are using the current item model that WoW/EQ use, where one item requires a lot of work.

    Exactly. A system that requires replacing broken gear necessitates a system where gear is more easily attained. It would be ludicrous to expect someone to work that hard for a T6 set only to have each piece break before you could get the next piece in the set. The key to making a system like this work is to have a good crafting system and more gear drops. Syncaine touched upon one possibility for revising loot drops. Another would be to make bosses drop full sets (head, chest, legs, feet, hands) instead of just one or maybe two items.

    Raiders (and PvPers) should not assume that because the gear is more attainable that they won’t be better geared than someone who plays casually or that they will need to work less hard to stay competitive. Overall, they will be geared better for both top end content and when they “gear down” for content on farm. Consider how often “lesser” loot drops that gets sharded because no one needs it. That gear would instead get banked as your replacement kit or your farm kit. People who played the most would simply end up with high quality replacement loot in the bank ready to equip for the next raid.

    However, a casual would presumably need to run around in his common gear and start collecting a good set in the bank. He would then “put on his Sunday dress” when he wanted to Raid (or Rated PvP) with the big boys and be able to contribute (or compete).

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