DarkFall burnout: The players or the game?

While I’m still having a blast in DarkFall (our recent ‘pirate’ adventure on four rafts was hilarious), I’ve been reading some forum posts (I know…) about certain players feeling meh about the game now. According to the post, part of the blame is the lack of small scale PvP (10-20 man fights), the lack of importance with cities, and the boredom of skill/craft grinding.

Some of the issues are very DarkFall specific. If you are in Hyperion or the Goon buddies alliance, you are going to have a tough time finding targets simply because your side is allied with more or less everyone around you. The major advantage of being in a smaller, regional alliance is that once we ride out 5-10 minutes, everyone we find is fair game, and we don’t have to constantly check the 20+ long ally list. Our area sees plenty of enemy raiders, but since we are so focused on our little spot, we always have people who are able to quickly respond. It makes for a very fun, dynamic environment; one I’ll take any day over an alliance owning an entire island and having to travel 30+ minutes for the chance of fighting another player. It’s this factor above all else that may lead to the decline of the zerg alliances, as trading in PvP randomness for the safety of superior numbers might not be a deal most DarkFall players are willing to accept long-term.

The other DarkFall specific issue is the whole notion of ‘keeping up’ in terms of skills. It seems that certain people just can’t accept that others will have higher magic or weapon skills, and instead of playing the game, spend all their time grinding so they can finally get themselves ‘ready’. It’s a laughable notion really, when you consider that a day one player can just jump right in and contribute to a guild run, without the need to grind anything. The other issue is that once they are ‘ready’, burnout sets in because they just spent the last month playing long hours just to keep up. While certainly having higher skill or gear helps in DarkFall, it’s not the “I win” button it is in other games, and obsessing over grinding your skills to the point of burnout is a great way to make ANYTHING not fun, DarkFall included.

Other issues however are more related to the players gaming style rather than actual game mechanics. While in a themepark the game leads you from one ride to the next, always ensuring you are on the ‘correct’ path, a sandbox is what you make of it, and not everyone is able to create something fun or entertaining. And while it would be easy to call all those players unable to find the fun in a sandbox carebears or noobs, the truth is that not everyone is looking for the same things in a game, much less an MMO. For some, they just want to log in and follow the path, seeing the sights and sounds as an escape from whatever they were doing before logging in. They don’t want to ‘work’ at having fun; they want it readily accessible and on-demand. (And one could easy point out that the ‘accessible’ population is 11 million strong, while the ‘work’ crowd is a niche)

The problem is some players don’t accept that that is their playstyle, similar to how more people THINK they want PvP than actually do. The players THINK they want a dynamic, random, and uncertain world, yet don’t actually accept all aspects of that bargain. In exchange for thrilling, random PvP encounters like finding a raft and shooting the crew full of arrows before sailing away with it, you accept an hour+ trip searching for players and not finding much, or worse yet finding a group that wipes you. In exchange for items actually having some value, you accept that crafting those items is going to take some gathering, perhaps even more so than needed because of random gankers. It’s the acceptance that for every amazing day, you will likely have an equally disastrous one, where it seems that every PK is specifically aiming for you. It’s the exact reason EVE for many is more fun to read about than to actually play, as reading gets you right to the good stuff (even if its only from a 3rd party perspective), rather than logging in and having to ‘grind’ through all that down time to actually get yourself into one of the memorable encounters.

For me, it’s the understanding that a sandbox game is as much fun as you are willing to put into it, and for some they simply don’t want to invest that much in a game. And while I do occasionally enjoy an easy trip around the themepark, the knowledge that my game is ‘on rails’ is a more bothersome issue than getting ganked while harvesting or PvE’ing. It’s not a better or worse way to game, it just comes down to player preference, and luckily now the MMO genre is at least catering somewhat to both camps.

28 Responses to DarkFall burnout: The players or the game?

  1. spinks says:

    Very good post. I know the most exciting PvP I’ve had in games was in MMOs where you were just as likely to spend the whole evening sitting around waiting for things to happen. It was the uncertainty that made it so exciting.

    I wonder if people start to get bored partly because everything is so exciting right at the start with all the alliances and world politics being up in the air. Once things get more stable, it just tends to get less exciting?

  2. Hirvox says:

    Funnily enough, some of those same sentiments have been seen in EvE as well. When the Goons invaded Delve, BoB/Kenzoku welcomed the offensive because now they didn’t have to travel halfway across the galaxy to pick a fight. And like any good propaganda, that statement probably contained a seed of truth: BoB had undisputed control of Delve for a long time, making it boring to live there.

    Personally, I think that the core of the problem is lack of dynamics in the experience. Non-stop warfare or grinding is as bad as nothing happening, the game needs to provide both appropriately. From what I see, the solution to the problems needs to be two-pronged: Give the rushers a reason to take a breather, and give the coalitions a reason to shake things up. Boosting the importance of cities might accomplish the latter. If cities were more important, it might provide an incentive to either seize a city from your soon-to-be-former allies, or make it worthwhile to travel long distances to siege an enemy city.

  3. Bhagpuss says:

    Good post. In the first couple or three years I played MMOs, up ’til about 2002/3, I really thought I wanted “a dynamic, random, and uncertain world”. Gradually, though, I came to realise that what I really appreciate MMOs for is their very predictability, and that convenience of access tends to trump both “realism” and spontaneity, especially after a long day at work.

    I found my sweet spot by mostly playing “theme-park” games but ignoring all the signs on where to go and what height to use the ride. I played DAoC from launch and the most frustrating part (of a pretty frustrating game) was having four hours to play and spending two of them running around looking for someone (anyone) to fight. That, more than anything, put me off PvP. At least mobs stay put and wait for you to come kill ‘em.

    I love the idea of Darkfall and I have enjoyed reading stories from the fray; ditto EVE. I can’t imagine, though, putting in the countless hours of preparation needed to get those few minutes of exhillaration.

    It’s not somuch a short attention span or lack of commitment; it’s more that I’m 50 years old and very much aware that I don’t have forever. Time counts more as you get older, and as the MMO audience ages, the willingness to spend hour after hour on “prep time” is going to be harder and harder to summon up.

  4. Werit says:

    The numbers question really is a tough one. Greater numbers always leads to an advantage, so it will naturally happen…. kinda like real life.

    The game could put artificial size limitations on alliances, but that would likely be met with whines.

  5. Hirvox says:

    If there’s a size limitation on an alliance, all the players would do is to create two alliances.

    However, real life also shows how to reduce or even reverse the advantage from superior numbers. The simplest is chokepoints. Another is logistics, especially supplies. Moving a large amount of soldiers from point A to point B while maintaining their combat effectiveness is a complex task, even today.

  6. Chris F says:

    The game sounds like quite the experience from your writeups and I have enjoyed reading them. This post begs the question: Is there a hybrid style available? Theme Park center with a Sandbox outer? The way the game is sounds like a great system for those (like you) who understand the dynamics of the Sandbox style and fully accept the boons as well as the limitations.

    Do you have any thoughts to having the capability for a little theme park in the sandbox that wouldn’t interrupt or ruin the core gameplay? PVP Theme Park, of course, but perhaps a little more direction could enchance the gameplay for everyone?

  7. syncaine says:

    @Bhagpuss: I’m hoping it’s just playstyle preference and not age. While I’m not close to 50 (but closer to 50 then 0) I’ve always enjoyed the same style of gaming, even before mmos. Time will tell I guess, but I know a few older players who play both Eve and DF.

    @Chris F: while I don’t think a sandbox and a themepark mix, a game like WAR is a good example of a pvp themepark. Here is the problem though; a city in darkfall is far more important that a capital in WAR in terms of changing power, yet WAR players think a capital has too great am impact, and DF players want cities to mean more. See the issue? The two sides are just going for very different experiences, and trying to mix the two generally just upsets everyone (see WoW Pvp/PvE balance)

  8. Maedhros says:

    I’d like to comment here.

    I am playing like Syncaine here, in that I don’t grind, ever, since you can contribute at any level.

    I view myself as a footsoldier in our guild. I am comfortable with being one of the random archers in Minas Tirith and not necessarily Gandalf or Aragorn. My skills are not going up fast at all, which is fine because they do not need to.

    And someone said that the possiblility of something happening is good too. I am part of Hyperion, and we were going to take Homeless’ city because some guy was about to sell it to the Goons for real $ and we wanted to prevent this. I was in a group of about 20-30, hiding and ready to attack the city. We waited for about a half hour only to find out that the Goons backed out of the purchase at seeing our force and the traitor/seller agreed to give control of the city back to the Homeless.

    So, you might think I would have been pissed at wasting 1 hour+ of travel and sitting around but it was awesome. The politics of this game are amazing.

  9. Lucian says:

    I like the escape that comes with the sandbox style MMO, and while themeparks offer an escape, it’s not as intense as the immersion offered through sandbox style MMOs.

    I also think the “first-love” theory with MMOs holds true. It appears people always hold their first MMO in such high regard that they’re always wanting to re-live those years by finding other games like it.

    I started with Ultima Online back in 97′ and I’ve played 20+ MMO titles since then looking for the same experience, but luckily now, I have found it. Darkfall is the closest thing to UO that I’ve played since I left Britannia.

    I think some of the bored players are others looking to rekindle their first love, but if that cherry-poppin’ MMO wasn’t Ultima Online, or something similar, they are left with that yearning that manifest itself in the form of boredom.

  10. [...] not offer the amount of variety they would like- Syncaine discusses some where’s and whyfores here, but he comes to the conclusion that games are what people make of them.  Darkfall’s lack of [...]

  11. Paragus says:

    A good write up, sounds like a recent vent conversation :)

    People running the big alliances that are bored will need to decide whether they want to sit and their city and be bored, or risk losing it and have fun. Is your city e-peen and forum ego more important that actually doing PvP?

    Hyperion and Awful company cities are not that far from each other. I find it amazing that neither has had the balls to lash out and try to destroy the other. Too many people are content to sit in their castle and post on the forums, instead of stepping up and making something happen.

  12. Tesh says:

    I think what Chris was getting at is a sort of theme park experience with wild space on the fringe, where players of all stripes can find their own niche, all under the same umbrella in the same world. It seems to me that such would be possible, but I’m not sure how much interaction in the interstitial areas would occur. Certainly something neutral like an Auction House would cater to both crowds, more or less, and provide a way to feel a part of the same world. Large scale political intrigue would also affect the theme park… at least if savvy devs were on the ball.

    You couldn’t let the hardcore fringe players wreak havok in the civilized space, so you’d need fences, but smart design could let all players feel a part of the same world.

  13. syncaine says:

    @Paragus: yea the fact that Hyperion has never tried to take AC city, which is so close to the Hyper border is very fishy.

    @Tesh: suggest an auction house on the DF forum and see what happens:) Until someone figures out a way to make a UO-trammies world work, I’m saying it’s impossible to cater to both. Look how long EVE has been trying to balance it without success.

  14. Chris F says:

    Tesh kind of read my mind =) WAR would be a much better game off the rails – at a certain point – the learning and fun curve of theme park is well done in T1.

    Perhaps a gradual mix to full blown anarchy in t4 – which would be much preferred (probably by all, at this point) than the current PQ/PVE fest of city capture. Darkfall will keep the super-ultra-hardcore, but I bet with more direction and “purpose” set for them with the open wild fringe at the endgame would result in the regular old ultra-hardcore (compared to the super type) a better experience.

    People still like to be spoonfed to a degree, and if a balance can be found of the wild and fun of current darkfall, with a couple dashes of spoonfeeding along the way, you could realistically have the result of a better all around game.

    Just design musing, of course. WAR went way too far on rails, sounds like DF is completely off, so where is the fun/happy balance?

  15. Anjin says:

    Excellent post, Syncaine. I believe you are right that gamers would be much happier if they had a realistic view of their own play style and what games are most compatiple with that. I imagine Darkfall will eventually provide incentives to prevent the world from falling into stasis.

  16. Tesh says:

    Well, going with the theme of the OP, I agree that there’s a fun/happy balance spectrum for different players. I’m not convinced that you have to segregate gamers, though, looking at it from a pure design perspective. That said, tt may well be that making a game on time and profitable means catering to a specific niche rather than trying to be all inclusive.

    It would be nice to catch a lot of people throughout the spectrum, and I don’t think it’s impossible from either a design or social standpoint… but it may well be more trouble than it’s worth to the beancounters.

  17. marty says:

    This sounds so much like EVE, but in a fantasy setting

  18. pitrelli says:

    Really good post, I do really want to give Darkfall a go however Im more of the themepark kind of player. I dont have to be the most ‘uber’ player ever but I do like to see progression in my toon, im not sure if darkfall would offer me that or indeed offer me the rewards for a couple of hours playtime that other games give me. I’ll perhaps give it a year or so and have a look to see how the game has progressed.

  19. Snafzg says:

    Maedhros from MUME?

  20. [...] Darkfall already? Syncaine has another interesting Darkfall post up on his blog discussing why he thinks some players have started experiencing burnout so soon after release. He feels some of the issues are a result of how the game world has been playing out, while others [...]

  21. [...] two biggest supporters, Keen and Syncaine, recently mused about how the impact PvP MMO, Darkfall, could be losing player interest even though [...]

  22. [...] at Hardcore Casual believes that this is why games like EVE and Darkfall can create some of the most entertaining stories.  I wholeheartedly agree.  My time in A Tale in the Desert was fraught with very persignifficult [...]

  23. [...] DarkFall burnout: The players or the game? While I’m still having a blast in DarkFall (our recent ‘pirate’ adventure on four rafts was hilarious), [...] [...]

  24. ixobelle says:

    And while it would be easy to call all those players unable to find the fun in a sandbox carebears or noobs, the truth is that not everyone is looking for the same things in a game, much less an MMO.</I.

    WHO ARE YOU AND WHAT HAVE YOU DONE TO SYNCAINE

  25. Doug says:

    The WoW tourists are laughing at you Syncaine.

  26. maljanus says:

    darkfall SUCKS biggest shit mmorpg ive ever done.

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