30 minutes to cap

Tobold’s post today does a nice job of summarizing what’s gone wrong with MMOs in the last few years in terms of design. The best example is this part:

If you consider a theoretical MMORPG with an infinite number of levels and free-for-all PvP, it is pretty obvious that the players spending the most time in the game would crush those spending the least amount of time.

The above is true, and it’s also terrible design. It’s why UO/AC worked as PvP games and had/have runs longer than almost any themepark. It’s why EVE continues to work, and it’s why Darkfall has its 3rd anniversary coming up. Those games combine the hook of character progression with the balance of player skill, and mix in a whole lot of social interaction to keep it all in check. The best PvPer might be a force 1v1, but they become a non-factor on the ‘grand scale’ of GvG warfare (unless, of course, they are in one of those guild, at which point they become a very powerful ‘boss’ figure).

The real evolution of MMO design is to not just balance between the octo-mom players and the hardcore, but to enable the two groups to complement each other. EVE gets this right in many ways, with the hardcore playing in 0.0 space, and the casuals benefiting from those actions in Empire (econ ramifications, being in the same world those major events happen, being able to jump into 0.0 when time permits, etc). In turn, 0.0 players benefit from all those miners and mission runners doing the ‘boring’ stuff in Empire that eventually makes its way out (and gets blown up, keeping the cycle going).

Poor design, such as creating raids that are initially too hard for most, and then nerfing them until they are faceroll easy, not only misses the entire point, but creates easy “us vs them” divides. This also leads to short-term content, rather than long-term solutions/hooks, and in a genre designed to be played for months (if not years), short-term content itself adds nothing in the long run. All of the end-game content from vanilla, TBC, and WotLK is now worthless in WoW, while (most) of the features added in each EVE expansion still matter today. The options in EVE expand, while those in games like WoW simply change (and if they change to something you don’t like, your only option is to leave, as I did pre-WotLK, and now even Tobold has done thanks to Cata). It’s not hard to understand why EVE retains its players for so long, while WoW is a revolving door.

And of course, if your game is designed around a revolving door, rather than retention, you have no motivation to create deeper gameplay. You have no reason to go as deep as EVE does with some of its mechanics, or to design combat systems that can’t be learned on youtube or reduced to a few scripts; your players leave long before they ever get to the mastery phase. And really, it’s not even their fault; it’s how so many of the post-WoW games are designed, and the results of such design decisions are on display for the world to see.

20 Responses to 30 minutes to cap

  1. bhagpuss says:

    Oddly, the reply I just this minute posted to your Hogger thread would probably have been more apposite here.

    The key to a real virtual world is to have everyone doing stuff together. It’s not just about being prudent with instances (which certainly do have their place). It’s about allowing low levels to observe and experience what’s in store for them by leveling up cheek-by-jowl with higher level characters.

    Let players of all levels interact. Let them help (and hinder) each other in the same gamespace. That’s how people meet each other in an organic, natural way and how relationships get started.

    Saving someone from a huge monster they couldn’t possibly handle themselves while you remember how someone saved you from that self-same creature weeks or months ago when you were about to die screaming is a very powerful stimulant to the imagination. It’s also a great ice-breaker, but t’s never going to happen if you leave that zone never to return as soon as you reach Level X.

    I think of all the Post-WoW innovations to MMO gameplay, the obsession with structuring the whole game around discreet zones confined to a strict level range is the one I dislike most.

  2. Nils says:

    I agree .. again. And stop being so defensive, Syncaine ;). Your PVE Sandbox concept is great (and not terribly original, but that supports the point that it’s great).

  3. Valkrysa says:

    “All of the end-game content from vanilla, TBC, and WotLK is now worthless in WoW, while (most) of the features added in each EVE expansion still matter today.”

    One of the first things I noticed Blizzard doing that was disappointing was creating expansions that would destroy old content. Sure I was excited to get to outland, but it also meant that great dungeons like BWL and AQ20 would be lost to all but 1% of players.

  4. Azuriel says:

    It’s why UO/AC worked as PvP games and had/have runs longer than almost any themepark. It’s why EVE continues to work, and it’s why Darkfall has its 3rd anniversary coming up.

    I’m sorry, is your metric for MMO success how long a marginal playerbase will play a tiny game? There were still “a lot” of people playing Star Wars Galaxies when the plug was finally pulled. If Blizzard up and abandoned WoW, never changing or adding anything to the game ever again, no doubt there would still be people playing it 10 years from now. Players sticking around in dead* game worlds says less about the game design, and more about the players.

    It’s fine to disagree with the design direction/decisions of outlandishly successful MMOs. But let’s not pretend that EVE gets anything “right” with its eye-popping 350k subscriptions. Or at least acknowledge that by all available evidence, what is “right” is only marginally successful in the marketplace. Which would seem to indicate that, in fact, it is wrong.

    *Dead in the way Latin is a dead language.

    • Vlonk says:

      The financial success of Eve Online hinges on CCP’s own inability to actually make the introduced mechanics work as intended.

      What Syncaine states about producing content that stays as another tool in the Sandbox holds true for Eve. It is a beautiful thing for a producer to work with since you can enlarge and grow your world into more and more detail over time and add diversity. Prime example here would be wormholes which offer exploration, goldrush-esque gameplay and the chaotic nature of wormhole openings creates tension even so its an automated random number generator at work.

      CCP is guilty for failing to diversify Eve by adding features which do not work as intended and letting them rot there without “iterating on them in future” as they always promise.

      Every Eve player can name you a couple of features that came short. The competitive PVP aspect always adapts to the shifting metagame of the new shiny flavour of the month. So the failed shipdesigns are simply left behind (I am looking at you Deimos and Bellicose)

      Every of the core game additions which are left behind is a massive wasted potential and the playerbase grows weary when the introduced features (faction warfare, Treaties between Corporations, better mechanics for conquering space in 0.0, Explotation of planetary ressources to name a few) fall short at launsh and rot in their current state for years on.

      The gameworld itself hurts under badly implemented systems because they cripple the playerbase who want to use this stuff.

      While Eve is burdened by these clunky mechanics Themeparks can phase out their design and balance mistakes in items and PvE content by throwing new stuff at the player. The need for perfection is therefore much smaller in every single detail.

      CCP is lacking a meaningful way to reliably improve their own product. A company that produces a low quality product falls behind their possible marketshare because customers like the polish.

      To see a gaming company that knows their shit about iterating on a product please turn your heads towards Wizards of the Coast and their finely tuned product “Magic:The Gathering”. It’s nothing short of insane how they iterate on their game within a static ruleset year after year without breaking the powerlevel problems all too much. 18 years, over 10.000 cards and the beat goes on…

      • SynCaine says:

        Static rulesset? Really.

        So I could take my second edition tourney deck and play today?

        MtG is a fun game, but lets not kid ourselves as to how often WotC changes up the rules, or simple re-releases the same card over and over again.

        In contrast, I could jump into my Rohk right now and continue playing EVE just like I left it, just now with more options.

        • Vlonk says:

          20 hitpoints, 7 hand cards,60cards per deck, maximum 4 identical cards (except basic lands), turn-order (beginning, first main phase, combatphase, etc…), the 5 color wheel and its corresponding strengths/weaknesses, types of things in play (creatures, lands, etc.), ways of getting stuff into the game (spell, instant, land, etc.) and so forth…

          Yepp, you could play your old carddeck and it would still be a legal magicdeck. If it is viable in every metagame I dunno, but i guess your old stasis deck might beat up the younglings without problems.

          Of course they reprint old stuff, but that IS the core of iterations isn’t it? Offering a exciting playground which is an alteration of the last one.

    • SynCaine says:

      WoW aside, what MMO that has been out for a reasonable amount of time looks at 350k and laughs? Rift’s 1m ‘customers’? LotRO 4m ‘characters’? Not to mention that EVE has those 350k on one server, effectively making it by far the largest MMO in terms of total number of people you could actually play with (which, you know, in the MMO genre I would consider just slightly important).

      But please, list those outlandishly successful MMOs for me, and then tell me how their massive player base has benefited from such massive success as compared to EVE. I’m dying to know.

      • Azuriel says:

        Honestly, take your pick.

        As I said, feel free to criticize WoW et tal with their design decisions, and say that EVE is the better game (for you). But when you talk about EVE and Darkfall “getting it right,” just realize that statements like that seem to grate against reality. They are clearly getting something wrong, or what is “right” is not quite right for everyone.

        As far as the single-server thing… please. Are you suggesting EVE is a more social game? That it is easier to make friends? Of the 350k players, how many do you actually see/interact with directly in an average play session? It is definitely a unique mechanic in an MMO, but outside the principle of the thing, how much it actually adds to the experience is debatable.

        • SynCaine says:

          First chart proves my point. Second one clearly includes Asia, where ‘subs’ are counted differently (unless you believe Lineage 1 has millions of US/EU subs?). So what your links have now shown is that EVE is indeed one of the biggest sub MMOs out in the US/EU. Thank you.

          As for the 350k on one server, I keep forgetting that 1000v1000 battles happen all the time in other games, or that heists of EVE’s scale are pretty common all over the place, on all those other huge servers. Hell, remember all those awesome WoW PvP battles the size of some of DF’s battles? Yea, me too!

  5. Stabs says:

    I was going to say what Azuriel said. It’s a very dubious metric to say UO has better design because it’s lasted longer. It’s clearly been superceded.

    I think that this post mixes up success as a game with success as a pvp game which is a different concept. As a pvp game level-based games are inherently flawed. Losing to someone because he is ten levels higher is a dumb game mechanic.

    This has led games like WoW away from world pvp, which considerably diminished the fun of pvp in those games. Maybe if WoW had been skill-based we’d still be shooting it out in Stranglethorn Vale. Instead we have pvp as team sport, a 10-a-side match with fairness imposed. But of course even that works rather spottily as pre-mades steamroll pugs leading to players being very frustrated. That applies to both winners and losers, when I played Rift this spring premade players were whining about having no one decent to fight and pug players were whining about losing.

    I think it’s true though that casual players tend to prefer the safety net and certainty of pvp-as-sport. In Eve where losing matters you can spend an hour with nothing happening, hell you can spend evening after evening with no suitable target. Asymmetric pvp is more tense, more nail-biting and much more demanding of time. If you have to go have dinner you might be condemning your mates to death. Not everyone wants their video game to matter so much. (Imagine if you couldn’t step away from your TV program without negatively affecting several friends, would TV be better?).

    Ultimately it’s about diversity. I want there to be hardcore games for people like you and me, Syncaine, I also respect that most people won’t want to play them.

  6. Bronte says:

    Great post man, and I completely agree with the endgame design aspect of it. Eve Online continues to grow in popularity because of several reasons:

    1. Despite the myth of it being the toughest MMO to learn, you can actually pick up the game and start engaging in PvE or PvP (without getting yoru ass handed to you too much) right off the bat.
    2. Everything you do in Eve is for the long-term. There are no short-term gains, everything is geared toward making you a better (not necessarily stronger) player.
    3. Two players with 50 million experience points could be diametrically different in specializations, and those specializations don’t go away over time, nor do they get replaced.
    4. The “end-game” is player-defined, which is why every time something is added to the game, the game gets bigger, not smaller.

    MMOs like WoW constantly work toward creating new content, and then work on making that content obsolete, which is awful design. But we are all guilty of playing and perpetuating said design.

  7. Azuriel says:

    First chart proves my point. Second one clearly includes Asia, where ‘subs’ are counted differently (unless you believe Lineage 1 has millions of US/EU subs?). So what your links have now shown is that EVE is indeed one of the biggest sub MMOs out in the US/EU. Thank you.

    How many times are you going to move the goalposts? Is it about the maximum number of players entertained? Is it about the biggest revenue stream? Is it about what is Right And Proper MMO Design, numbers be damned? I mean, if you are going to arbitrarily limit things to US/EU servers after the fact, you still have a French MMO called Dofus spanking EVE to the tune of +200k subs and has been out almost as long.

    What my links have answered was your question about how many other MMOs – other than WoW – would “laugh” at 350k subs. Turns out, there is more than one.

    As for the 350k on one server, I keep forgetting that 1000v1000 battles happen all the time in other games, or that heists of EVE’s scale are pretty common all over the place, on all those other huge servers. Hell, remember all those awesome WoW PvP battles the size of some of DF’s battles? Yea, me too!

    And I keep forgetting how appealing 1000v1000 (aka The Blob) battles really are, or how compelling they are from a gameplay perspective. Oh, wait, no I don’t. You ask the average EVE player whether they’d prefer a 10v10 or 40v40 battle over a 100v100 or bigger, and I’d bet dollars to donuts that they would prefer the former. The latter sounds majestic, but when your individual contribution is so miniscule and death from focus-fire so arbitrary, you may as well not even be controlling anything – it is the same principle in every “big battle” MMO.

    Like I said, if EVE and Darkfall provide you a quality (niche) experience, then fantastic. I’m glad there are MMOs for every taste. But your arguments for why those two MMOs are Right and everything else is Wrong is beyond asinine by any objective measure. It’s like me saying Plato’s Philosopher-Kings are the only correct way of running a government.

    • SynCaine says:

      If you want to include Asia, add the dozen or so Pay-to-Win PvP MMOs that are exclusive to that region; they all have more ‘subs’ than the games listed. The reason Asia is normally excluded when talking sub numbers (aside from how subs are calculated in cost), is because it’s pretty clear they have a VERY different demand for games. They don’t touch stuff like LotRO/EQ2 with a ten foot pole, while still playing Lineage 1. Also check the price of Dofus vs EVE. EVE still wins. Sorry. Back to one company that would not trade for EVE.

      That you believe EVE/DF players want small controlled (instanced) battles over world stuff is… funny/sad. Why don’t you head over to the EVE/DF forums and toss out that suggestion, I’m sure you will get tons of support.

      • Azuriel says:

        Also check the price of Dofus vs EVE. EVE still wins. Sorry. Back to one company that would not trade for EVE.

        So the goalposts are revenue? Yes/no? Implied revenue? Because in any case, if your assertion is that EVE makes more money than any of those other games, it’s your burden to prove it. The closest I got before getting bored was this article from 2008 and another from 2009, neither of which even list EVE. Most were Asian MMOs, but again, feel free to toss some EVE revenue number links my way.

        • SynCaine says:

          The goalpost, all along, has been “which company would trade it’s MMO for EVE”. Blizzard would not. A bunch of companies in Asia would not. The rest would. You have now provided outside evidence for that with both sub number graphs and revenue articles, so thank you for confirming what was already pointed out.

  8. ledgerhs says:

    “If you consider a theoretical MMORPG with an infinite number of levels and free-for-all PvP, it is pretty obvious that the players spending the most time in the game would crush those spending the least amount of time.”

    There are countless ways to fix this, like exponentially scaling difficulty, permanent death, “rested” states, and the like.

    But I also see plenty of reasons not to.

  9. Azuriel says:

    The rest would.

    Again, you cannot make that claim without revenue/profit comparisons. You hand-waved Dofus away for example, based on subscription price alone. Nevermind how the difference could be made up in development time, server costs, cash shop, etc etc. So prove it, or admit you cannot.

    • SynCaine says:

      I addressed Dofus based on the info available. Maybe they have a magic money tree that helps them out, but based on # of subs (if we assume those charts are correct, but lets pretend) times sub price, EVE is making more money. Not rocket science. Who sells more fluff, who has better side deals, who spends more on advertising/etc, we don’t know. Just going off what we do know, or at least can reasonable suspect.

      Ultimately the point is; the EVE model works, as-good or better than other models (especially if we pretend WoW does not exist, being a massive outlier yet to be duplicated). Does that mean other models are total fail? Nope. The point was simply that if you do what CCP did you too might get 7+ years and 350k+ subs of success as well, without having to create a F2P solo online adventure.

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