Painting the house

There are some people who play the content they enjoy without thought of the rewards; they are mostly not MMO players. – Zubon

GW2 critical flaw stated well.

I think it’s also important to remind everyone that MMOs are typically poor at… well being decent at anything if you remove the social/massive aspect. Dungeons would be terrible single-player levels if placed into a game like Skyrim or The Witcher. Most MMO quests would be seen as trash filler in a proper RPG. In what other genre do you repeat content as tedious and simple as raiding? Better 5v5 PvP experience; themepark battlegrounds or LoL? Etc etc etc.

But the lackluster content CAN work in an MMO because with a few dozen/hundred/thousand people around you, DPS-rushing a big-bad feels epic rather than insultingly simple. Compare the experience of a dps player playing BWL’s Vael on a guild-first kill to the first time you defeat the final story boss in GW2. Both were/are essentially smashing one key over and over for a few minutes, but one was a major rush while the other might be the biggest joke in recent years.

If Riot added mining or herb gathering to LoL tomorrow, would anyone elect to wander around SR and just click nodes over playing a match, if all gathering did was level your champion to 18 only to be reset once you leave? Of course not. Yet some MMO players have spent hundreds if not THOUSANDS of hours watching EVE’s mining lasers hit rocks. Why? Because those rocks lead to something, and that something is deemed worth the grind. A thousand-man fleet does not grind SBU’s down because shooting a structure is fun and interesting gameplay, especially the hundredth such Op. But they show up because they want ownership of that space, and because maybe that day will be the day an epic super-cap battle breaks out. 99/100 times it won’t, but hey, 1/100 is more than zero. Zero is a cancelled sub.

The big picture matters. It always has in MMOs. And the better your big picture, the less the little stuff matters. Players in the thousands will literally watch paint dry if ultimately the house they are painting is grand. Don’t perfect the painting ‘mini-game’, make the house worth painting.

And it’s very important to remember that players lie about what they want, including to themselves. You say you want explorer content, yet your story always includes that awesome reward for exploring. You say you love crafting, but remove the profit or long-view, and you stop. You say you want accessible content, yet as soon as breeze through it, you ask what’s next or simply leave.

Smart devs ignore 99% of what players say they want, and instead give them what players have shown to actually want. MMO players will grind and grind and grind, so long as the carrot at the end of the infinitely long stick is deemed worthwhile. They’ll bitch on the forums and write angry blog posts about said grind, but they’ll do so while grinding. And more importantly, while continuing to pay to grind. In an industry where ‘keep people paying’ is the goal, that’s important, yet continually ignored in recent years. And we wonder why the AAA MMO space is in a funk.

MMOs are hard, yo.

Update: GW2 is adding Molten Core (fractals). Enjoy the fire resist (agony) grind. The MMO formula ‘fixed’ everyone!

31 Responses to Painting the house

  1. Tim Young says:

    “‘There are some people who play the content they enjoy without thought of the rewards; they are mostly not MMO players.’ – Zubon”

    This is an antiquated thought that we should try to move past. There’s absolutely no proof to back this statement.

    There are many types of MMO players. To argue this is to say that every COD player is in a fraternity. It’s unnecessary labeling and singling out of a particular fan base. It’s saying that someone else doesn’t understand the true meaning of the game/genre. That’s bollocks. We should be above this type of thing.

    GW2 is an MMO that caters to different MMO tropes than Darkfall, etc. It’s ok. There’s enough players to support it. Be happy that developers are making games.

    Attacking games and its fans because it doesn’t align with your likes is futile and somewhat juvenile.

    • SynCaine says:

      “There’s absolutely no proof to back this statement.”

      I guess if you ignore all the games that got it wrong happening to fail, and the games that got it right remaining successful, then yea, no proof.

      Or you could just look at GW2 itself, and the scramble that is happening so shortly after release. Anet themselves just told you they screwed up by not including progression and just expecting the content itself to be enough.

      “GW2 is an MMO that caters to different MMO tropes than Darkfall”

      Is it? Or is it a game that tried, and two months in is moving firmly in the direction of what actually works in this genre?

      There are two types of MMO players; those that actually play MMOs, and those that play an MMO for a month alongside all their other single-player games. Guess which group you should cater to if you want to turn a profit?

    • Xyloxan says:

      “Attacking games and its fans because it doesn’t align with your likes is futile and somewhat juvenile.”

      Since when expressing your honest, thoughtful, and interesting opinion on your own blog have become “juvenile” (and “futile”) and exemplify “attacking”?

      Are you a GW2 developer, or something?

  2. Vagabond says:

    “You say you want explorer content, yet your story always includes that awesome reward for exploring.|”
    Hey, someone reads my blog! :D

    Btw, hack&slash games (Diablo and the like) are pretty repetitive, you grind for reward that helps you grind better… So there are some parallels in the single player game scene.

    • SynCaine says:

      And one only needs to look at D2 vs D3 to see what really matters to people.

      • Vagabond says:

        I only played D3 for about an hour, so I cannot make an educated guess. Could you please explain?

        • SynCaine says:

          Diablo is all about the item grind. Blizzard allowed you to skip the item grind in D3 thanks to the AH. Surprise, D3 does not have the long-term appeal that D2 had.

        • Matt says:

          That’s not it. You have always been able to trade and skip the item grind. D2 had quite the economy in its day.

        • SynCaine says:

          Skipping the item grind and economy don’t mix.

          Yes, D2 had trading, but not on the scale of the AH, and not with Blizzard manipulating the game to cater to said AH.

        • Matt says:

          It was on the scale of the AH though. You could literally get anything for trade in D2 if you had something worth trading. Many times you could just ask and get lower level items for free. There was absolutely no reason why you couldn’t just grind e.g. perfect gems out and never kill a single monster of consequence.

        • SynCaine says:

          Could, yes. Did the average D2 players jump into trade games and haggle items? I doubt it. I played D2 extensively with a small group and not once did any of us do that. I knew people who did, but they always seemed like the odd kids, not the norm.

          With the AH being built right into the game, even the most casual player will at least see it. And since the average player is dumb enough to pay money to ruin the game for themselves, you get D3.

  3. Shiolle says:

    “Don’t perfect the painting ‘mini-game’, make the house worth painting.”

    That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t improve that mini-game after they made the house worth painting. Even if it’s just a grind for the sake of it, it’s better to play a fun minigame than a boring one. If just the thought of that much painting makes players no longer want that house, you lose no matter how good your house was.

    Also, I’ve been reminded on many occasions that there are people who find fun or at least satisfying a lot of activities you or me do not.

    • SynCaine says:

      How to improve the mini game is a lot harder than it seems.

      For instance, most would agree that mining in EVE is boring, and they want it made ‘better’. But if mining in EVE was something more active, would it actually be better? Sounds like it would, but my guess is most would quickly tire of it, and stop.

      Sometimes something being simple and ‘boring’ is a plus, so long as the ‘why’ is good enough. Or to put it another way, are the simple activities actually broken, or working exactly as intended?

      • Spents says:

        Its funny because everytime I see an idea about making something as monotonous as mining more interesting, I think about EQ2′s crafting system and shudder. EQ2′s crafting system is a big mini-game and wow is that painful after about 5 minutes.

        Better, imo, to have a crafting system where you can click a button and walk away to grab a drink then to have to sit there watching little bars move while randomly clicking buttons.

    • kalex716 says:

      Can you give an example of a mini-game that is entirely resistant to redundancy? Sooner or later, days, weeks, months, mundane tasks will feel mundane.

      My opinion, is sooner or later any little task turns into a chore.

      I mean, even if mining in eve for example was randomized versions of a clever little brick breaker sim for every rock or something, i’d still get bored of it….

    • Shiolle says:

      Everything both of you say is true. People tend to pall on any activity that is repeated over and over again. It’s true that different activities have different pace and involvement. But I don’t think there is no room for improvement.

      To some extent even periodical minor changes (without changing its defining characteristics) to an activity would go a long way towards refreshing it’s feel.

      I’m also fond of the idea of making additions to an activity instead of reworking it. As an example, one EVE mining improvement idea I like (although I’m not really qualified for meaningful suggestions on it as I haven’t spend a lot of time mining) is adding small pockets of more uncommon ore or special rare materials inside asteroids you can come upon. Probably it can involve asteroid scanner. It shouldn’t significantly add to income or miners start to blame luck being a deciding factor in their profession and feel forced to look for these rare pockets instead of doing normal mining. It shouldn’t be awfully common or it becomes a part in the routine. But even such a small ‘catch’ could break or lighten the routine temporarily.

      It’s not a big change of course, and won’t probably make you or me start mining, but I believe it can liven it up a bit overall.

    • Shiolle says:

      Also, although this is a rework of mining, if there are anything to learn from facebook games, that is the power of primitive actions that are as enticing to humans as they are to dogs or apes.

      I hate those games myself, and I feel guilty even proposing such a thing, but it’s may serve as an example.

      What if a mining laser doesn’t teleport ore into your cargohold, but instead gradually fractures the asteroid you mine. Each resulting shard may contain one element from this asteroid (typical to the belt). Shards are scanned automatically; no player action is required to do it (because there is no choice in it). A symbol of that element appears over the shard in space. Then the player needs to click those shards he wants to take to his cargo hold (in space, they should not be on the overview). Not lock and activate any modules on them – those are meaningless and excessive actions. Tractor beams (either separate modules or maybe some kind of them build into the mining laser itself) activate and bring the hold into the ship. Shards and their icons that a player haven’t clicked disappear before next cycle ends.

      This does not change the pace of the activity and make it a bit harder for bots since the positioning of the shards is random. It provides a minimal choice during the course of mining.

  4. Azuriel says:

    Dungeons would be terrible single-player levels if placed into a game like Skyrim or The Witcher. Most MMO quests would be seen as trash filler in a proper RPG.

    Actually, the vast majority of Skyrim/Witcher “dungeons” and quests are exactly like MMO dungeons and quests, which are like J-RPG dungeons and quests of the last 20+ years. I’m actually drawing a blank over here trying to remember the last RPG I played which didn’t feature corridors of trash or dozens of hours of random encounters. Fallout 3/NV (and maybe Skyrim) have a way of making it feel less formulaic than it is in truth, but… yeah. Basically the same thing.

    You can “get away with” these designs in single-player games because there is usually a (finite) story/simulation/novelty aspect that keeps things moving along nicely; the game generally ends before you start questioning things too closely. Plus, you can be OP in single-player games, so there are fewer balance concessions being made at the altar of everyone else’s fun.

    I do agree that ultimately MMOs are only worth playing (long-term) due to other people. But inbetween the long draughts of RPG releases? MMOs are certainly serviceable entertainment. Not ideal, but better than nothing.

  5. kalex716 says:

    Great post, and I’m really glad you shed light on user bias.

    Focus groups and shit are the bane of modern development because they have this illusion that the end user has the full capacity to tell you exactlly what he needs to be a customer. This is false. He has his own agenda, and it will destroy yours if you cater to it exclusively.

    You can’t always get what you want….. But you get what you need. Needs to be the mantra of MMO dev process.

  6. bhagpuss says:

    “There are some people who play the content they enjoy without thought of the rewards; they are mostly not MMO players”

    That confused the hell out of me when I read it at KTR. It describes me exactly but just about the only video games I play are MMOs and I have played them for thirteen years and tens of thousands of hours with enormous pleasure and satisfaction. Offline computer games, with a tiny handful of exceptions, I just can’t work up any interest in whatsoever.

    How come I don’t count as an MMO player?

  7. Mekhios says:

    I am still happily playing GW2 as is my guild. Most of us have passed the 400 hour /age mark. It’s a wonderful MMO you can simply jump in to and immediately have fun. I don’t have to worry about grind or gear. Sometimes we do 5-man’s, sometimes we do PvP, and sometimes we simply roam the world looking for dynamic fights and enjoying the scenery. I am not forced to do anything and GW2 provides a variety of activities.

    I guess there are thousands of us “unique snowflakes” hey Syncaine.

    • SynCaine says:

      Considering the direction Anet is taking GW2 in, I don’t think there are enough of you snowflakes to matter :)

    • Dril says:

      “I am still happily playing GW2 as is my guild. Most of us have passed the 400 hour /age mark.”

      Judging by that statement, you don’t “jump in…and immediately have fun” all that often. Hell, I’m playing the damn game (not just trolling people who say it’s a good game) and if you can’t even convince me, a player, that it’s enjoyable then you’re sure as hell not going to convince anyone who doesn’t have the game.

      Lemme tell you, filling up orange, yellow or green bars, the latter with the added “bonus” of the worst writing I’ve ever seen in a Western MMO gets disgustingly tedious if you try and do it with momentum.

      • Mekhios says:

        “Hell, I’m playing the damn game”

        You are? That is surprising. You were making a big song and dance in previous posts about hating it even though you had not played it. I hope your LoL skills don’t become rusty from playing a “lesser” MMO.

        • Dril says:

          LoL isn’t an MMO, but good try. GW2 is still a terrible game compared to the vision you (and ANet) wanted people to buy into, but it’s decently entertaining until Season 3 starts (i.e. today).

          Besides, you can’t circle strafe in LoL, and that seems to be the key to beating pretty much every melee mob (and most melee/caster players) in the game.

          Gotta fill them different bars, yo. Dynamism away!

        • kalex716 says:

          I actually think an MMO could appropriate some of LOL’s ideals into its own progression model.

          Imagine for a moment if you will, your typical maxed out raid character has his gear and build set in stone, but these would essentially weight out like how a max level summoner has his runes and spec as well.

          You enter a particular raid dungeon, and as your raid party progresses through it, it has to essentially “build” out its character more through various options at particular stages of the raid in the way that a LoL champion has to buy gear from levels 1-18 and those gear options have inflections based on their talents pre-selected, their runes pre-selected, and the composition of the enemies they face and circumstances that arise.

          What if raiders were asked to make all kinds of dynamic choices in order to beat the raid. These choices are throw away once the raid is over, but if the raid was build with enough dynamic content and stuff, how you build your dude out in one raid, might be slightly different than how you build it out next week when your timer re-sets because you randomly drew different dynamics than last week.

          We are not talking about a “4th pillar” change here, but it would be at least a bullet on the back of a box if you were to appropriate something like this towards raids IMO.

  8. ausj3w3l says:

    I really dislike the talk of dichotomies as it just very rarely happens that way, most times for people just about everything it is a continuity.

    I agree that the grind is a part of mmo’s and a part people will tend to enjoy when there is a shiny thing but everyone differs in how much grind they enjoy. And I don’t think tiered progression is the be all and end of of mmo development and the sacred path to mmo success, It is definitely a part of the puzzle but not the only piece.

    ps.. I also find the Arenanet backflip rather amusing

  9. jaggins says:

    The Arena net promise/manifesto to avoid gear grind was very appealing. I was surprised to see them corrupt their stated vision so soon. I think you may be on to something regarding your theory that they disappointed their Korean owners. Alienating the core GW crowd who loved the flat progression mechanic will be an interesting experiment! I feel like the Jesus game just turned out to be a cardboard cutout on the back of a snake oil salesman’s van…

  10. How long ’til you can buy Fractals on the Black Lion gem store?

  11. coppertopper says:

    I was hoping for a Darkness Falls style dungeon that had higher level mobs the lower down you went until you hit end bosses…but this fractal dungeon thing sounds like it could be fun for some dedicated 5 mans. Good stuff! And introducing gradual tiers of gear between exotic and legendaries is also a needed addition, along with all the free content being added just 2 months after release. Looks like Anet is in it for the long haul, just like they supported GW1. Future looks bright for this game : )

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