MMO Basics: Making the ‘work’ parts enjoyable.

Over the weekend in DarkFall I purchased a large amount of iron ingots and q1 hearts to finally get my bloodcrafting skill to 60+, which allows me to make bloodcrafted plate chests and helms. Now in addition to the skill requirements and the usual materials needed to craft a plate helm, you also need three hag heart and two beastman teeth. Farming up the hag hearts is rather painless, as they are easy mobs and there is a fast-spawning 5 spawn of them not too far from Bladethorpe.

Getting the beastman teeth is a little harder. While there is a great double-spawn of beastman just south of Jeradan (ally hamlet), they are far trickier to take down than the hags solo. The real issue is that with my current character in decent gear, I can soften them up with magic and then finish one off with melee, but this usually leaves me below 50% HP if things go well, and at times near 10% if they don’t. The beastmen are dangerous because not only do they hit rather hard in melee, but they also have access to some powerful magic that, if they decide to spam you with it, can spike the damage quickly.

Now it’s not that dying itself is catastrophic, as usually it just means another short trip from Jeradan back to a tombstone, but it does cut into farming efficiency, and of course there is always the chance that either someone catches you while farming, or just happens to come across your tombstone while you are running back.

So on Monday I went at that spot solo for a few hours and everything went well. I collected a decent amount of teeth, got some gold, got some skill-ups, all good. And that got me thinking about how I spend some of my time in-game; like what I do and why. Here is a quick breakdown of the gains from those hours of farming and what I really gained from doing it. I’m out there for the teeth, which I need to make the bloodcrafted helms, which give a nice 8-9hp boost over a normal plate helm. Now the helm starts with about 50 durability at my current level of wisdom and trueforge armor, which is not bad. The helms will soon be enchanted with a q3-4 feather enchantment that reduces encumbrance, and then (hopefully) used in PvE until they are at about 10 durability, at which point I will transition them into PvP bags. It’s highly probable that the PvP bag, with the helm included, will be lost in the first 2-3 PvP engagements it’s involved in. Odds are very high that the 8-9hp gained from the bloodcrafting will not be the difference between victory and defeat.

In other words, I was out happily farming mobs primarily for what will, at best, give me a slight edge in PvP at some point, while giving me a non-essential PvE boost before that. A ton of ‘work’ for a very minor gain: that’s basically the MMO formula in a nutshell.

Which gets me to my overall point for today (hey only five paragraphs in!), talking once again about SW:TOR and why all this talk about story and just fun gameplay is a bit off when talking about an MMO, because that’s just not how it works. MMOs work like what I wrote above, with you slowly working towards something rather than always being ‘in the moment’.

Another example: While I loved both Dragon Age and Fallout 3, and think both games are amazing, towards the end of both I was basically playing them just to see the endings and officially finish them. What was highly entertaining content and combat in the first 30-40 hours was now a barrier between me and the final conclusion to a story I wanted to wrap up. I was ‘burnt out’ on their versions of character progression, gear acquisition, and chasing the little side pieces of content they included. If I was not as odd about ‘finishing’ a game as I am, I most likely would have stepped away somewhere just after 40 hours, and this from two of the RPG genre’s best offerings. Needless to say I was never very temped by the DLC either title offers, and certainly not at the price-point they offer it at.

My point though is that always being in the moment and always being at the heart of the ‘fun’ content is just not sustainable for hundreds of hours. I fully believe any game designed to be played for hundreds if not thousands of hours needs a healthy amount of ‘work’ content included with the ‘fun’ content. It’s that ‘work’ content that highlights the ‘fun’ bits and makes actually accomplishing something feel actually rewarding rather than just being told, yet again, what an amazing hero you are by some AI script. Hearing it the first time, hey great, but after the 100th, most of us simply no longer place any value in that AI script cheering us on (and so we skip quest dialog).

One major key difference between a successful MMO and one that ultimately fails is not how ‘epic’ your highpoints are, or how great special feature X is, but how enjoyable the ‘work’ aspect of your game is. This is where Blizzard nailed it with WoW, because the most very basic aspect of the game, combat, is incredibly smooth, responsive, and just plain fun (until you start drooling on your keyboard and your drool hitting the keys is enough input to overcome the final boss of a dungeon, but I think I’ve covered that topic here a few times already). DarkFall also has great (best in class IMO) combat at it’s core, which is what makes killing the same mob for a few hours in one day, and dozens upon dozens yearly, enjoyable, while making the highlight moments (PvP) feel so rewarding.

I’ve not heard much about how refined the combat is in SW:TOR, or how much focus has been spent on getting that aspect down to a razor-sharp point before fleshing everything else out. I mean I still (I’m weird) remember pre-release WoW interviews from Blizzard talking about spending a huge amount of time working on tiny little ‘feel’ details with the combat, making sure the hotbar responds exactly how you would expect, that the amount of input from moving forward ‘feels’ right with that happens on the screen; tiny stuff like that.

I again come to the conclusion that SW:TOR is going to end up playing, and ‘feeling’ a whole lot more like Dragon Age of Fallout 3 than WoW/DF, which will ultimately make it a great $60 purchase, but not something I’ll be playing after the first month or so. Like I’ve said before, that makes for a great game, but a terrible MMO. Now excuse me, I’ve got a .01% damage increase to chase after.

About SynCaine

Former hardcore raider turned casual gamer.
This entry was posted in Combat Systems, Darkfall Online, Fallout 3, MMO design, SW:TOR, World of Warcraft. Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to MMO Basics: Making the ‘work’ parts enjoyable.

  1. sid67 says:

    Interesting. The short paraphrased version being that you need valleys in order to notice the peaks.

    Of course, as you point out, you can’t have valleys that are TOO low. Otherwise, it’s just too boring and uninteresting.

    So the right mix is to have some valleys that are high enough to keep you entertained but not so high that they distract you from the experience of the peaks.

    *mind boggles*

    The logical solution would be to raise the bar on everything. More entertaining valleys, yet bigger Peaks.

    And yet.. I don’t think that really works either. I had some really epic and memorable moments in games 10 years ago that I would find boring by today’s standard.

    Why? Because my memory is comparing events to the way things were but if I played it today, I would be comparing it to my most recent experiences.

    In a way, I think that’s what we have seen as people progressed from EQ to WoW.

    So I think this brings us to where we are at today. Devs have to keep raising the bar and making the overall experience for everything better.

    The “work” moments need to improve. The “epic” moments need to improve. Constantly.

    If I’m being critical of WoW, I would say that the mistake they are making is to improve the “work” part by removing it as much as possible.

    That seems a bit short-sighted as eventually you eliminate all work. And if you try to bring back work, people will revolt.

    • SynCaine says:

      Exactly. If you design ALL of your content to be a peak, the players will simply pick out the highest peaks, consider everything else a valley, and try to play like they normally do. Plus the amount of effort required to design a peak is usually much higher than it is to design a valley (assuming you already have the basics completed). No matter how much EA spends to design peaks for SW:TOR, it will simply never be enough to support an MMO.

  2. Jordan says:

    While i completely agree with the “lot of work for small incremental gains” theory…and think it is essential for me to really get into a mmorpg for many reasons (peaks and valleys, feeling epic when succeeding on something you put a lot of work into etc.) – we are in the minority i’m afraid.

    These days, most people want to completely eradicate anything remotely related to the dreaded “w”-word (work) and make the game all about “fun”. Everything has to be fun, from logging in, to travel, to crafting, hell…even dying has to be fun. A common refrain i hear is, “I have to work at work, i sure as hell don’t want to work in my games! i want my games to be all fun all the time!!” These people aren’t the type i guess that feels more rewarded for success the more effort you put into something…that almost seems a foreign concept these days.

    I know i sound like an old fogy, but the younger generation (and most gamers unfortunately) wants the candy to rain down constantly with no more effort involved to get the candy than what it takes to bend over and pick it up, then take the nearby candy cloud insta-port gate to the next candy cloud, rinse, repeat.

    it’s depressing.

    • sid67 says:

      I think Syncaine’s point and mine above is that these mundane task SHOULD be fun. They just shouldn’t be designed as the PEAK or most fun content.

      • Jordan says:

        In that respect, playing a mmorpg to me is “fun” no matter what i’m doing. When i was camping the GL for my fbss for a week straight…i was still having fun even though it is something i wanted to accomplish and move on. If i’m grinding mobs in Darkfall, i’m still having fun…that sure beats the hell out of tracking shelf prices on different categories of cheese at 100 customers across the US which is something i’d be doing at my job.

        So…i get what you are saying. I guess i just took for granted that doing pretty much anything in a mmorpg is fun at some level even though it may not be as fun as slaying the boss mob and getting the epic loots. Hell, even dying in EQ to a massive raid wipe was fun to me although many times I hated it at some level due to the time commitment, because it kept that fear in me going which was crucial to my overall enjoyment of the game.

        I guess that’s another thing that makes me different from the majority. Reading a lot of different forums for different games and websites over the years, so many people complaining about anything that is not “slaying the boss mob and getting epic loots”…people complain about travel, about death, about crafting, about anything they deem as a “time waster” where you aren’t getting a noticable gain on either your stats and/or your equip every time you log on. I just don’t understand that viewpoint and never will. Unfortunately, that majority that i don’t agree with is driving the direction of the genre in a place i don’t want it to go (ez-mode thinly disquised as “accessibility”).

  3. Max says:

    My point though is that always being in the moment and always being at the heart of the ‘fun’ content is just not sustainable for hundreds of hours. I fully believe any game designed to be played for hundreds if not thousands of hours needs a healthy amount of ‘work’ content included with the ‘fun’ content.

    I ‘d say that major part what really keeps players in MMO is mostly their addictive nature. Sense of constantly progressing . Logging in to get your daily quest done, next purple item, some achievement badge,etc.

    Gameplay itself is often not that great (though I d disagree with that – I think core WoW gameplay (e.g. combat) is still fun , its one of major reason wow is so successful)

    But over 10 years I probably logged more time in counter-strike than I ever logged into any mmo. Why? -core gameplay is just fun (and strangely there were no good substitutions all that time). of course I took breaks from it , switch from classic to steam, and lately switch to Battlefield series, but still I come back to same gameplay.How would you explain it if fun cant last over 40 hours?

    I do not see why MMO should have elements deliberately designed to be timesinks – it cant be ALL combat 24/7 , true, but it should provide variety of activities each of them being fun on its own merit, not because it might lead you sometime later to what is actually fun.

    Something you like might not what the other person likes – but it should have no activities which have no value whatsoever. For example darkfall (or lineages2) mob style grind have no fun in them -static mob spawns were never fun to begin with. Neither does EvE mining.

    WoW questing on the other hand is pretty fun (provided you doing it first time) – its exploratory in nature, you constantly see new scenery, new art style ,new stories, it never feels like grind on the first run (unless you completely hate rpg’s )

    Another example is long traveling times – you waste hours of your time waiting to arrive from point a to point b. Its fun maybe to do it first time if scenery is varied enough and you explorer by nature (I am), but its boring shortly after that.

    Some players do not mind player grinds (as evident with Korean MMOs) but majority of western audience are not happy with them, I never heard anyone enjoying them and one of WoW real main accomplishments was removing the grind out of leveling process.

    Some people think mmo have to be “work”, but imho its clear that they are minority.

    I am a gamer for long time and nowhere else but MMO genre I seen such inane design choices which deliberately make player do boring activity for longest amount of time.

  4. Mala says:

    I was just saying this on a forum I frequent, basically to summarize:

    I think Bioware severely underestimates that amount that people like the “metagame” of MMOs.

    • sid67 says:

      In the interest of fairness, no one has even beta’d this game yet. It’s all idle speculation based on some developers comments and theories about how they will implement a “story” into an MMO.

      I wouldn’t go so far as to say that we need to “trust” Bioware to make the right choices, but I’m willing to give them the benefit of the doubt until I start seeing something concrete.

      Remote possibility that it may be, perhaps they’ve figured out some fantastic new concept that will evolve the MMO genre.

      In other words, maybe the Horse will Sing…

      • SynCaine says:

        If nothing else, SW:TOR is making many of us ask some rather fundamental questions about MMOs and why we play them, and just what makes us log in day after day. That’s always good. And yes, perhaps Bioware HAS figured something out that WILL change how we play MMOs, its certainly possible. I just have my doubts.

  5. Bhagpuss says:

    I was thinking about this today in the light of all the information coming out about GW2 and SW:TOR. What occured to me is that there’s a very big difference between playing a game and playing.

    I’m not a gamer. Games generally bore me quite quickly. They are fun when you begin, but they go on too long and they tend to be claustrophobic in that once you’ve started you are pretty much locked in until someone wins. That’s why I like MMOs.

    MMOs aren’t games, or rather they aren’t JUST games. They are spaces in which we can play. Lots of people, most people probably, choose to use them to play games and sometimes the designers direct the players to do so. But in no MMO I’ve ever played do you HAVE to play a game.

    The elements SynCaine describes as “Work” are very close to what I’d call “play”. It’s more a matter of intent than execution that makes the difference. If you detach the end result, the items to make the armor, you are left with going out into the world and fighting creatures. If you make the fighting part sufficiently fun, there really doesn’t need to be any reward at all. Same with all the other aspects of MMOs.

    That’s the NextGen MMO I want to see. One where the stuff you do is so entertaining you just want to log in and do it, over and over again. Not to develop your character or get stuff, although those things are also fun and I want them too, but just because doing it feels good.

    I have hopes for GW2 in this direction, but not for SW:TOR.

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