Please exit to your left, the ride has now ended

So this post happened, along with 40+ comments. Give it all a read.

Easy multiple choice question time: When you run out of ‘stuff to do’ in a game, what do you normally do?

A: Keep playing/paying for the lulz

B: Stop playing/paying

The correct and only answer is B.

Now sometimes you quit even when you still have ‘stuff to do’, but that’s better than the game basically ending for you due to the content running out, right?

Raids you might never see, for most players, count as ‘stuff to do’ in MMOs where raiding is ‘the point’. WoW in its prime was very much a ‘raiding is the point’ game. Yes, it had a nice leveling curve and a pretty decent PvP game (especially in retrospect and seeing what we have now in themeparks), but let’s not kid ourselves, raiding was ‘the point’ in WoW vanilla/TBC (you know, those years when the game was still growing).

Now whether it was realistic for the average player to get deep into raiding or not (it was because in a 40 man raid, 10-15 people carried the rest), that content was still stuff to do, with unique bosses, unique loot, and unique locations they had not seen that were ‘important’ to see. That keeps people playing/paying. It’s also far less effective to expect the average player to grind away in a brutal ‘hard mode’ to see the same boss again just with a gimmicky twist. Challenging content is PART of raiding, yes, but it’s not THE only reason, and when that’s all there really is to your true ‘end game’, you are going to lose people (like, you know, the millions WoW has lost since the TBC days).

What’s funny about today’s themepark MMOs is that they took all of the established lessons from earlier games, forgot them, and are doing everything they possibly can to lose people after 1-3 months. As I said in the comments over at TAGN, unless you are in the charity MMO business, giving people a reason to keep playing/paying is a pretty solid strategy IMO.

I also think this topic confuses people a bit with some of its history. For instance, Nax40 in WoW was indeed poorly used content. It was AWESOME content, but it came out way too close to TBC ‘resetting’ the game, so outside of world/server first guilds, it wasn’t viable content for most people. Had it been released 6 months earlier, or TBC was delayed for 6 months, those Nax40 usage numbers would have greatly increased, and it would have accomplished what AQ40 and BWL did before it; kept people playing/paying.

To bring this topic into 2014, myself and 99.99% of all League of Legend players will never see/experience Challenger-level ‘content’ like tournaments, streams, and the balance/meta game that exists at that level. And it’s a level that Riot spends a serious amount of time, effort, and money on. So while it’s not exactly apples to apples, just like the pro level of LoL helps bring in new players and keep existing players interested/involved, those 5-10% raids do something similar for your MMO, especially now with Twitch being so popular. People can watch those at a higher level, and because they are watching a video game vs something like professional basketball (where no matter how hard you try, you just won’t grow tall enough to dunk the ball), they actually CAN work to get better and get closer to that level.

And closer, rather than actually reaching it, is really the key here. So long as you can improve, and so long as you still have a reason (content) to keep improving, you will keep playing/paying. That is the model right? At least at the major league level of the MMO genre?

(And just to clarify, the ‘more content’ doesn’t 100% have to be raiding. Raiding works however because the dev-time to player-consumption ratio is reasonably sustainable, unlike questing or new zones. Now maybe when someone finally figures it out and makes a PvE sandbox MMO :cough: we’ll have a different example of sustainable, worthwhile PvE content, but until that day raiding is it.)

#WoW #MMODesign #LoL

24 Responses to Please exit to your left, the ride has now ended

  1. John says:

    wow for me was create and experience all classes, because all classes was fun to play and the virtual world had a good replayability value. I was never the hardcore raider, I manages to do SSC and some boses of TK and thats all…

    But I have created alts, I ve seen the opposite faction, I did some pvp and that was enough to maintain my subscription. In the modern themeparks, the world is so linear that even the first character make you bored to death…

  2. sid6.7 says:

    I don’t think you can put the genie back in the bottle. The name of the game has been accessibility of content and I don’t think casuals will ever understand that not having that content easily accessible is a positive change.

    I do agree with your premise, but that’s ME and in this regard, I don’t think I’m the average guy. The casual gamer is NEVER going to be able to internalize what you wrote and agree with you — it’s just never going to happen.

    And if that doesn’t happen, then no “big budget” developer can ignore that 90% of his intended audience is telling them that they don’t want what you are describing.

    It’s like trying to clean up a 50,000 barrel oil spill with a hand towel. The only way such a game gets created today is through indie development. And unfortunately, I would be surprised if an indie developer could create the raid content at the pace needed to keep the hardcore raid crowd fulfilled.

    So…if you like themeparks, you should get used to accessible content and LFG finders that have more in common with Halo than an MMO. :)

    • SynCaine says:

      Two things here:

      One, if the accessible model worked, sure, time to get use to LFG and all that. But it doesn’t. Just like I’m still waiting for the first good F2P MMO (estimated arrival: never), when is the first successful ‘accessible’ MMO going to arrive? WoW doesn’t count because it had a 12m active player head start, and more so because since ‘accessibility’ became a direction, its been losing players.

      Two, it doesn’t really matter what players SAY they want. The average player is a dummy, just like the average person is in RL. The actions of said dummies say the approach works when done right, and the actions of the dummies have shown time and time again that the ‘accessible’ themepark holds them for 1-3 months and then flops/goes F2P. Classic case of when not to listen to people, but act based on what they actually do.

      • But WoW isn’t losing players because of the increased accessibility. It’s losing players because you can only start over so many times (which is happening with every addon) before getting bored with going through the same process again (level up – aquire blues – aquire heroic gear – aquire normal raid gear – aquire heroic raid gear). Cataclysm lost me after I did 5 or so dungeon runs at max level and couldn’t be bothered to do it again for another 100 times to get me raid ready… Not that I ever disliked raiding, it’s just that the futility of it all hit me very hard at that point.

        The accessibility is in fact slowing down the loss of players, because for new players its all still shiny and exciting, just the feeling we had back in whatever starting zone in classic wow. We can’t get that feeling back.

      • sid6.7 says:

        Two, it doesn’t really matter what players SAY they want.

        Oh but it does matter. Maybe not to you or I, but to the big budget developer and his focus groups? It matters A LOT.

        A big part of what UO, EQ and even vanilla WoW had going for it was ignorance. As MMOs have evolved, MMO players have more choices and think of themselves as more educated consumers.

        If they SAY they want LFG and they SAY they want accessible content, then it’s going to take a developer with bigger balls than planet Earth to ignore that and do what they KNOW will work.

        An indie dev has the freedom to take a chance, but not the budget to keep cranking out raid content as the game establishes a strong community.

        • supplantor says:

          Yes but how many times do you make a game the players SAY they want and have it fail before you realize what they SAY they want won’t make a successful MMO. That is point, how many times.

        • sid6.7 says:

          As Syn wrote in the title, “the ride has ended”. And IMO, the reason is because it’s like trying to clean up a 50,000 barrel oil spill with a hand towel. You can’t do it.

          No big budget MMO is going to get a ‘big budget’ unless he can convince his stakeholder that what is most definitely a minority opinion is actually the magic sauce to making a good MMO. No stakeholder has that balls that big, so they’ll always hedge the bet on the side of what casuals SAY they want.

          No indie developer (who has big balls) has a big enough budget to churn out content at the pace needed. If I was an indie developer and wanted this type of game, then the only model that I believe would work is one where I crowd-source my raid content. (i.e. by providing dungeon toolkits and custom dev tools). Outside of that, I don’t see how they can keep the community satisfied.

          So… if you like “hardcore raiding” then your options are pretty much what exist today.

        • Rammstein says:

          Your argument so far basically boils down to the assertion: “no one with money has big enough balls to take the risk to do what has worked before”, repeated a bunch of times. But we know that people wasted hundreds of millions of dollars doing something that hadn’t worked before, in the AAA MMO market, which is clearly a larger risk to an objective observer; so your assertion that the problem is lack of balls doesn’t seem very reasonable. I would suggest that the problem is not lack of balls, but some defect in human nature that leads to mob mentality having a “new is superior” bias. This doesn’t seem to be a very controversial stance, since this bias is easily observable in nearly all forms of human endeavor.

          Under this theory, we don’t even need to postulate someone being smart enough to overcome mob mentality, we just need to wait long enough for vanilla’s WoW’s design to seem new again, or “retro” as it is normally called. Once this design comes to fruition in a new ( “retro” ) form, if it is done well, we will be able to test the theory.

        • Rammstein says:

          p.s. I think my old position was wrong, since I can’t edit I’m now arguing against myself ~_~ : there’s a human bias when approaching a situation from a certain mindset to react with the “newer is always superior” mindset. Obviously there’s another way to approach the situation where human nature sticks to the tried and true, or we wouldn’t have so many sequels in movies/books/games/etc. What is hard to find is the appropriate middle ground between the two. What is funny in this case is that so many of the games that try to fix what isn’t broken, and end up wasting time and money on a dead end, (e.g. SWTOR) is that this fetish for newness takes place in a context of reusing an old setting (SWTOR still).

          I would postulate that SWTOR would have been more successful if they’d attempted to mix the new and the old by trying to recreate the vanilla wow experience (the old), with a few minor updates that don’t change the essence but add balance, in a new setting that’s actually a reused setting (SW universe).

          So, why doesn’t this seem to happen, why does every new MMO try to reinvent the wheel using a different shape? I still don’t think it’s lack of balls, but I think my earlier answer of a systemic bias in human nature is overbroad. I think it’s a much more limited problem: you hire game designers to make your MMORPG, they have to justify their existence or they would only be needed for a few weeks after which the graphical/technical people could finish the game without them. copying vanilla WoW with a few minor tweaks doesn’t justify hiring a team of game designers for years, so no game designer will ever stick to that plan. As the saying goes:

          “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.”
          ― Upton Sinclair, I, Candidate for Governor: And How I Got Licked

          Even if you hired people specifically to do the menial game design and to stick to the overall plan of an older game, if they can convince you to change your mind and try innovations, they’ve effectively just convinced you to give them a fat promotion.

          So, when we look at a novelist who can basically rewrite the same book 30 different times to get a bunch of identical best-sellers, the reason he can successfully do that is that he is just one person, so he doesn’t have to deal with the self-interest of the ‘plot designer’ that he’s hired, working against the overall interest of the novelist. He is tightly vertically integrated, to put it into macroeconomic terms. Movies do nearly as well at creating identical sequels, because their creative process is still tightly held. My observation is that AAA MMORPGs have a much more distributed creative process, and this leads to a lack of focus and an organizational tendency towards unnecessary and excessive change. When we look at large-scale efforts that avoid this problem, we tend to see efforts where destructive change is able to be quickly tested and eliminated: e.g. modern car engineering, where changes with a negative impact can be quickly and quantitatively tested.

  3. EVE is the outlier in your initial choices for me, yet again. I am pretty quick to cancel any subscription I am not playing… except EVE, because of the whole skill training thing. Even though I am not doing anything today, I could very well be enabling the my ability to do something down the road. Just keep training, just keep training.

    • SynCaine says:

      But you are training due to wanting to be better for future content. In a sandbox, especially one as player-driven as EVE, its not as ‘easy’ to identify as the next raid, but the principle is still the same; you aren’t ‘done’ with the game’s content, so you keep playing/paying.

  4. bhagpuss says:

    You’ll be telling me there’s no point to twiddling my thumbs next.

  5. Rieth Mhide says:

    silly comment from Turbine
    I know I’ve defended them here before, but they are showing increasingly poor form lately

    in my own experience, when I first hit lvl70 in wow ( when that was the cap) I inspected a Horde player in the capital of Outlands ( forgot the city)
    he was decked head to toe in purple raidgear, I was so impressed I /bow-ed him as we couldn’t chat
    …AND I spent the next year or two getting into raiding myself

    that one toon inspired me to become one of the “4%”
    funny enough when I became one of the best (geared, anyways:D) resto shammies on the server during WoTLK I lost interest and unsubbed

    however I prolly would’ve insubbed much earlier

    that 4% might actually be 4% but there influence on the rest of the playerbase is not to be underestimated imho

    btw, nice to have u back, Syncaine:)

    • SynCaine says:

      During our raiding prime (MC-Naxx40) we had an inside joke about ignoring ‘bluebie’ people in Ogrimmar whispering me about items and where I got them.

      That’s also how we got a ton of our future guild members; people who got interested in raiding because they saw us geared out in town or during PvP (we would dominate AV anytime we got a guild group in, partly thanks to our coordination, but the gear advantage helped too).

      I was also ‘kind of a big deal’ in AV on our server, since anytime I was in it I’d herd the monkeys using chat to actually coordinate (using the special NPC troops as part of a massive push = win, every time). This was during a time when AV often ended up in a multi-hour stall-fest. That again helped with recruitment.

      Our roster was always 60 strong, and we never had to spam recruit or anything like that. Funny how basically none of the above is possible now in the game due to ‘accessibility’.

      • Rieth Mhide says:

        “Funny how basically none of the above is possible now in the game due to ‘accessibility’.”

        yea that’s it bang on, the game needed those relatively few players to inspire all the rest to try harder

      • Rammstein says:

        “Funny how basically none of the above is possible now in the game due to ‘accessibility’.”

        If you replace the propaganda term “accessibility” with another term that more accurately reflects the motivation for the changes, then it’s not all that funny.

        Actual motivation, which you helpfully provided = “we would dominate AV anytime we got a guild group in, partly thanks to our coordination, but the gear advantage helped too”

        Vanilla WoW was a system that provided real rewards; real rewards create a tiered system, not only of gear, but of players. Blizzard caved to complaints that this was unfair, and made the new separations in ilvl no longer so meaningful in the name of fairness; nerfing meaning has the unfortunate side effect of nerfing meaning. Nerfing meaning turns out to have bad effects in an MMORPG.

        Accessibility is not a reasonable explanation. It would be trivial to make old raid content accessible, but at a slow enough pace that it would keep current content viable for years. I.e., every 2 years do an expansion, but increase itemization slowly enough so that 3 or 4 tiers stay viable: i.e., blizz could have made BC gear from 5 mans obsolete MC and BWL gear, but not AQ40 and Naxx gear; and rebalanced AQ40 and Naxx for lvl 70 players when BC came out to keep the relevant-as well as rebalancing MC and BWL as easy/less easy 10 man raids for BC. When BT came out, at that point AQ40 could have been additionally nerfed, when Sunwell came out Naxx could have gotten the treatment, etc.. They chose to do a clean reset instead, and instead (years later) implement simultaneous accessibilility with easymodes. The former option provides exactly as much raid content for the LFR crowd, in the long-term, while maintaining meaning.

  6. Raids you might never see, for most players, count as ‘stuff to do’ in MMOs where raiding is ‘the point’.

    I disagree with this point. Raids that I don’t have a reasonable expectation of doing don’t count as content. And I don’t think I’m at all alone in that point. Morhaime’s comments at the quarterly report back in early Cataclysm demonstrate that: people were burning through the leveling content, then unsubbing, even though there was raid content they had not done.

    Players who aren’t total noobs have a good handle on when a raid isn’t going to be available for them, or would require them to take steps they don’t want to take. It’s not that these players are spoiled; rather, these players aren’t operating under the illusion that they are better than they actually are.

    • SynCaine says:

      Part of that difference is 10/25 raiding vs 40. In 40 man raiding, it was possible for a guild to have a bunch of ‘casual’ raiders and carry them through content. With a smaller roster and raids that punish “the weakest link” rather than depend on the top 5 or 10 players, you exclude those casuals.

      • sid6.7 says:

        It was true when I last played in 25 man raids; casuals can still get carried. You still need about 15 solid people and the remainder just need to click 1,2,3,1,1,2,3 in the rotation you taught them.

        • Rammstein says:

          “You still need about [X] solid people and the rest just need to …”

          This is actually precisely how balancing content works. For raid size Y, you need X solid people == simplest way to describe difficulty of content. No matter what Y is, the difficulty can be easily tuned up or down by adjusting various coefficients for dmg/timing/etc to come up with the desired X. The fact that (Y-X ) casuals can get carried in a given raid with a given difficulty setting says nothing about the raid size or about raiding in general; all it says is that that specific raid was tuned to a specific difficulty level.

          Syncaine’s observation is that this (Y-X) was, on the average, set lower in BC than it was in vanilla, which means less casuals can be carried; which was true between those 2 expansions, but is not true comparing vanilla raiding to MoP LFR difficulty, as 2-3 decent players can carry 20 badz currently in MoP LFR.

          This isn’t really that meaningful of a subthread, a proper Themepark MMO could easily offer all difficulty levels while still retaining meaningful progression between them. When a game offers all levels of difficulty, you don’t have to argue about difficulty; you just have to advance until you’ve reached a spot at which you must improve skill, not gear, before doing better.

  7. anom says:

    You forgot the part where 75% of MOBA players think they play at the pro level and have a toxic attitude toward everyone else even in unranked noob matches. LOL was by far the worst about this with dota2’s horrible community coming in a close second. Tbh I think I like smite way better then LoL. It still doesn’t have the strategy of dota tho. Denys and couriers just put dota above the other mobas. And its actually free unlike its competition

  8. spinks says:

    Part of the issue for WoW is that due to the long gaps between expansions, keen players have already done the majority of extra time consuming stuff that was originally built into the game (ie. levelling alts, do loads of PvP, etc). Then they tend to want to make things more and more accessible for each subsequent alt, which is the opposite of what you need to do to keep casual but keen players interested.

    So when the next expansion drops, there already isn’t so much left to do (yes you can do the same again but this time you only have to get an extra 5-10 levels on each alt, plus getting your alts raid ready is easier and LFG available etc.) Plus you know that any of the big grindy things will likely be reset next expansion so in the back of your mind you KNOW it isn’t worth it. I compare this with levelling some of the tradeskills originally via alts, you felt it would be an investment of effort that would pay off.

  9. Jenks says:

    Holy crap, this is the War and Peace of spam posts.

  10. SynCaine says:

    Deleted, but it was impressive.

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