The metrics made me do it!

One of the justifications from Trion concerning nerfing difficulty in Rift was to allow Dungeon Finder groups to complete them. That statement contains a lot of value when broken down, and directly relates back to the topic of accessibility and its effect on MMOs.

The obvious take-away from the above is that the average PUG group is worse than the average pre-made, and can’t complete the same content at the same rate. I think most everyone can agree on that, right? But what’s interesting is that Trion, and Blizzard, see this as a problem that needs to be fixed, and not only that, but a problem that MUST be fixed even at the expense of the pre-mades, among other things.

Now one of the great ‘hooks’ for any MMO is the social aspect; you log in to hang out with your guild, and you are willing to do content that might not be at the top of your list just to help out said guild. This, in essence, is why raiders run raids dozens if not hundreds of times. This, also, is why raid content is the gift that keeps on giving from a design perspective, and why it’s far cheaper to produce then solo content. Helping your guild progress by improving your character also gets people do to crazy stuff like grind out rep just to get that 1% upgrade, or collect a silly amount of mats to prepare for a raid. Notice that the last two examples are in fact solo content, but the motivator is social/guild-based. It’s also solo content that takes a lot of time without a ton of dev work (when compared to something like a long quest chain with extensive use of phasing or in-game movies).

The Dungeon Finder removes that social need. You can ‘solo’ group content now with other random people, never needing to really socialize, without building those bonds that will get you to run something even if you already have all the items/rep/whatever from it. The dungeon finder does a great job in turning group content into solo content, and not just from the “I need 4/9/19/24/39 others” aspect, but from the “why am I running this” one as well. It also does a great job of killing that secondary effect of improving your character just slightly for the guild, which in turn kills a ton of long-grind solo content for many. Pretty crazy huh?

But the damage a dungeon finder inflicts goes deeper than that. Without it, the only reliable way for a player to run group content was to join a guild. Sure, you could join PUG groups through chat channels, but that was not always reliable and somewhat of a hassle. Trion/Blizzard identified that hassle and solved it with the DF, which in that regard they succeeded. However, that hassle was an important tool used to drive people into guilds, to get them to actually be social and commit to something rather than remaining in their own little solo-hero bubble. Trion/Blizzard provided a tool to eliminate one of the major hooks that keeps people subbed. Oops.

“But SynCaine, lots of people were leaving the game rather than joining a guild, I saw it on the forums! That’s bad business! Money rules you drool trollolololl”

Oh, were they? Pre-dungeon finder how badly were WoW sub numbers struggling? Was Rift seeing a mass exodus pre-DF (I know, short timeframe, but still) How massive was the population explosion once it was added for WoW/Rift?

Oh. I see…

“Well, um… the world economy also crashed! Yea! People can’t afford high-priced luxury items like $15 a month entertainment that’s worth hundreds/thousands of hours.”

Excellent point. Silly me. Off to that $11 2 hour movie I go.

Going back to Azuriel’s PvAH post, deep in the comments section he asks if, had WotLK not happened and Blizzard had released another BC, would WoW have reached 16m subs. 16m sounds like a silly-high number, but if in 2004 someone had asked me if WoW would reach multi-million sub numbers, it would have sounded silly-high as well.

“But SynCaine, MMO burnout is natural, WoW is really old, it was bound to happen no matter what Blizzard did!”

I know, just like it’s bound to happen to EVE ‘soon’. Oh wait, EVE is older. Hmmm. Well whatever, everyone just mass-quit over that fluff item you can buy in-game or for a million dollars. Nevermind. EVE is dead, moving on.

The truth is we don’t know. But what we do know is WotLK and onward sub numbers struggled for a game that, until that point, continued to grow far beyond any reasonable expectations. If what Vanilla and BC did was so bad, and what WotLK/Cata did was so good, why are the numbers so backwards? Just doesn’t add up, does it? Even if you want to 100% dismiss that raiding and difficulty had anything to do with growth, clearly SOMETHING changed to cause the growth to stop and the decline to set it, and I’m just not buying that magically a lot of players all ‘burned out’ at the same time and, at the same magical time, the market hit it’s cap in total player interest. But if you believe in magic, good for you!

On to another thing Azuriel mentions in his comments section, that Blizzard’s Bashiok looked at metrics and to him they suggested that players wanted more accessible raid content, so they gave the players just that. As Nils was quick to point out, metrics are just numbers, and interpreting them correctly is not always easy.

That all players want to see the ultimate big bad sounds pretty damn obvious to me. Of course everyone wants to experience killing the Lich King, the dude is on the damn cover of the expansion!

The real question however is what happens if they can’t do it? Do they leave? History suggests they don’t. Most players did not kill Illidan in BC, or Onyxia in Vanilla, and again, the stats show players were coming, not leaving. Everyone with a pulse (basically) killed Arthus, yet I missed the “WoW has reached 13m subs” announcement, so what happened?

To me this goes back to my original point about accessibility; players think they want it, but the devs have to be smart in how they give it. The DF is, in many ways, a knee-jerk reaction to players wanting to see content without ‘committing’ to a game and forming those social ties that, ultimately, will keep them subbed long past the point of having enough content to justify the sub if they were only looking at things from a solo perspective.

Trion’s 1.3 update is another example of this: they made it easier to acquire certain gear that, prior to 1.3, was only available from expert/raid rifts. They solved the problem of players not having access to that gear by, in a roundabout way, killing the need to run expert/raid rifts. Anyone care to guess how that change is going to play out long-term for retention and overall total content? Again, knee-jerk and short-sighted. Oh, but I’m sure the metrics suggested that not enough players had ‘access’ to that gear, and that players wanted that gear ‘real bad’.

Those damn meddling metrics! (Yes that’s a Scooby Doo reference to end a blog post. You’re welcome).

13 Responses to The metrics made me do it!

  1. Straw Fellow says:

    I like the interpretation here. A lot of players complain that devs listen to mass outcry without thinking, yet few can actually point out when it becomes true.

    Blizzard very much so forgot (or ignored) the social aspect of their game and what made it so popular. You know, I think the best thing they could have done with the dungeon finder is restrict it to the server you were on. Queue times would be slower, yes, but it would have been a fantastic upgrade from spamming trade chat for a PuG. But c’est la vie.

  2. Dril says:

    Agreed.

    I’ve been against the dungeon finder since it launched in WoW, and we’re only now seeing the consequences. I’m actually wondering if WoW would still be in decline if everything was exactly the same, only without the dungeon finder. It’s an interesting (and very viable) idea that the dungeon finder effectively eliminates the prospect of making new friends.

    It’s sad, though, that devs feel they have to pander to the whims of people who only have one hour/30 minutes but still want to see all the content. I can’t think of any other medium that tries to appeal to 2 different timeframes at the same time: you don’t go see a film and complain about films taking more than an hour and storm out of the cinema in protest after 10 minutes. You go watch a TV series.

    Why it should be different in MMOs is beyond me. If you’ve got 30 minutes, don’t want to talk to people and don’t want to have to join a group through any process other than a one-button click, go play a lobby-based shooter. Or, at the very least, go do some solo stuff (although the lack of meaningful solo content in a post-Wrath world is staggering. I really need a blog so that I could do a follow-up on that :P) but don’t bitch and whine that you can’t do what you want right now because the game makes you play for that wee bit longer to accomplish things.

  3. D says:

    IMO this whole see the content accessibility crap could be solved by removing the player limit on dungeons and just letting players zerg wild. All the crappy players in Darkfall zerg, I see no reason why that would change with the shitty WoW players.

    Then achievements could be used as a metric to show who completes the content at the level they are supposed to/below it. And some items like legendary items would only drop at or below certain amounts of players.

    Of course the same problem may arise that players would just zerg and then quit. Sometimes you just can’t win with humanity.

  4. Rast says:

    My only experience with the dungeon finder was in Catalcysm, since I was unsubbed for the latter half of Wrath of the Lich King and never experienced it there.

    From that standpoint – going from when it didn’t exist to when it was already well-established, I can say without a shadow of doubt that the Dungeon Finder is at the core of what ails WoW with this expansion.

    First – it shrinks the community because you don’t meet anyone in pugs anymore. Your community used to be your server. Now it’s your guild. If you’re guildless, your options are either join a huge spam-recruiting guild that exists purely for the perks and isn’t any better than being unguilded, or go through a very arduous recruitment process trying to get into the decent guilds you used to find and make connections with while pugging.

    Second – It was the final nail in the coffin of the 5-man dungeon experience as anything but a gear grind of the purest order. A long, long time ago dungeons used to be content in their own right, not merely an obstacle to be overcome as quickly as possible in order to get your daily valor points/badges/whatever. Today’s dungeons are built around the assumption they’ll be experienced as a 5-person daily group quest with pugged RDF group mates, which is why they’re all long hallways with a few bosses and minimal trash along the way. The old-school dungeon crawl has gone the way of the dodo in WoW and its clones, and it didn’t have to be this way.

    Third – RDF groups are just horrible. There’s no accountability whatsoever. Intentionally pulling a bunch of mobs then dropping group so your group wipes is a common method of ragequitting. Votekicking is so restricted it actually protects godawful players (which I can deal with, so long as I don’t end up in a group with 3 DPS drooling all over myself and my healer) and griefers (the real problem). Almost every group in current-tier heroics has at least one person who will whine, cry, curse, and/or grief constantly until their votekick timer is finally up or they leave on their own (the last being uncommon unless you’re wiping a lot). This is the reason I quit the last time – I came to the conclusion I was paying $15 a month to play a game either solo or with people I had come to despise. The solution was obvious, since I really have no interest in going back to raiding since I work/study 12 hours a day when school is in session and a 20 hour a week raiding commitment on a fixed schedule is just totally out of the question.

    • wormsby says:

      This is about as good an analysis I’ve seen of the problem. Community has all but disappeared, along with most incentives to act like a human being. Unless you’ve got old friends hanging around, your chances of making new ones sit somewhere between doodly and squat. And it’s just not cool enough of a world to make running around alone in a sea of faceless cretins at all worthwhile.

      Nice post.

    • wizardling says:

      You just expressed beautifully why I quit late-Wrath (I just stopped logging in, well before my sub was even up, and barely noticed when it did), and despite buying the Cataclysm Collector’s Edition and a 60 day timecard, I couldn’t stand to play the latest xpac past a couple days. WoW has become a linear solo game where community on a server is damn near non-existent, unless you’re exceptionally lucky with your guild, and all of my numerous characters feel homogenised to the point where nothing feels special anymore.

  5. Valkrysa says:

    Excellent analysis, agreed on all points. The point of an MMO is to engage in both a living, breathing world and to partake in social encounters in that world. What the dungeon finder does is undermine both of these goals, if the dungeon finder was changed to only include your own server than at least it would not undermine the second goal although it would still harm the first.

  6. Nils says:

    Even in that short amount of time that Rift didn’t have a LDF, I had a lot of contact with the server community.
    (I wonder how much better that would have been if every single player had had to go to the dungeon himself!)

    Since the LFD, well, dungeons feel just like in WoW. A bit more friendly, but ten times the wait times.

    If a company wants to offer content to people who are 30min online, why don’t they add some of this content? In classic WoW I could perfectly just farm for a while; wasn’t exactly fun, but I kept doing it. So it cannot have been that bad!

  7. Anonymous says:

    The causality runs in two opposite directions: LFD kills community, and community kills LFD (since if you have people to run with who you know, why use LFD?) For me, in Rift, I don’t use LFD. The wait is too long and the cohesiveness of the groups too weak.

  8. SM says:

    What devs don’t realize is that people want gear — the only real measure of progress in wow. Since raiding and heroics are the only option to get gear in wow-type games, players demand more “access” to them rather than challenge such mechanisms outright. They may not actually want to group per se, but do it as a means to an end. DF is proof of this: Instant-group-fast-run-get-tokens-done. Socializing? pfft!

    Socializing for many happens when the pace is slower and objectives less rigorous. Give people multiple ways to achieve rewards and watch the fun, socializing and retention go up.

  9. bhagpuss says:

    “That all players want to see the ultimate big bad sounds pretty damn obvious to me.”

    You only meet and interact with a particular subset of players. I have no special interest in seeing the”ultimate big bad” in any of the MMOs I play. Neither does Mrs Bhagpuss. Neither do/did most of the people in most of the guilds I am/have been in.

    Moreover, many of the people I’ve been guilded with not only had no particular interest in seeing the “ultimate big bad”, they had no idea that such a thing existed, let alone what it was called, where it might be found or what needed to be done to defeat it.

    In guilds I’ve been in over the years I’ve often had to explain, to players who’ve been playing for months or even years, not just where a given mid-level dungeon is, but what’s in it and why anyone might want to go there. I’ve played with people who were on almost every night for months and still never developed any desire or interest in content even a fraction above their current level; players whose main character might stay at the same level for weeks despite racking up dozens of hours played.

    Lots of people simply don’t care about “big bads”. You don’t hear their voices much because they also don’t talk in public channels or post on forums and blogs. They just amuse themselves doing the little stuff while chatting to their friends.

    Just thought I’d mention it. Not that it negates any of your general points, with which I largely agree.

  10. Cordell says:

    I’ve been posting about this problem on various forums for a good while, so I completely agree! Allow me to quote one of my shorter posts from another blog, dealing with this topic:

    “(Speaking of WoW)… a meaningful social environment keeps people playing more and for longer than any content update. However, over the years the social incentives (features which drive people to interact with eachother) have been systematically removed from just about every major part of the game:

    Removal of group quests, cross-realm pvp, cross-realm instancing, dungeon finder press-a-button instant grouping, phased quests (of which there’s even more in Cataclysm) separating you from other players, excessively informative map eliminating the need to ask others for directions – just to mention the most important ones.

    All of the above turns the entire game leading up to the endgame raiding into one big, parallel singleplayer grindfest. By RPG standards, WoW would make an extremely shallow and boring singleplayer game, yet it has nearly completed its metamorphosis into one – this will be its downfall.”

    To add a few more thoughts:

    Blizzard is acting like those bad parents who spoil their kids with every toy and candy they want, doing much more harm than good in the process. Throwing more candy (a.k.a. gear/dungeon content) at problems is all they know. CEO Mike Morhaime was recently interviewed about the declining sub numbers and he said “it’s just a natural cyclical thing after a big content update, WoW players are now so good, they consume content faster…” – so, the solution must be, according to Mr. Morhaime… you guessed it… more candy!! They’re completely in the dark.

    • wizardling says:

      The sad thing all too few companies stand up to their players when they ask for what they _think_ they want, but what in reality lessens their enjoyment, time after time, in game after game.

      The really sad thing is despite MMOs now having come of age and this problem having occurred several times, it’s still not being learned from.

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