Gear sucks

Permanent gear is a massive design flaw in an MMO. Keep that in mind while reading.

Inquisition on Sunrest has been running tier one experts for a bit now, and our general core is geared-up enough to start hitting up tier twos. So far we have completed Darkening Deeps, and had a marathon attempt at Charmers Caldera that ended in multiple wipes on the final boss.

The difficulty jump from normal dungeons to T1 experts was noticeable, but in a good way. The runs were a solid challenge, and the twists on familiar bosses were interesting. Overall the instances on expert feel like the ‘real’ version, with the normal version being somewhat of an extended sneak peak.

The jump from T1 to T2 was actually greater than I had expected. Not only are the bosses more finely tuned, but the trash can and will cause wipes, and careful pulling becomes a must. If the normal versions are a sneak peak, and the T1 version is the real deal, then T2 is what many would call hard mode.

At least, all of the above applies when you are running the instances at or near the expected power level. As soon as your power starts to creep above expectations, the instances get, well, dumber. Instead of careful pulls you AoE stuff, and instead of carefully planning for a boss, you eat half their abilities and just brute-force them down.

On the one hand, that increased feeling of power is a nice reflection of your characters progression, and when you are running the same instance for the 10th time, the speed-run approach is kinda nice. However, if this is all you are doing, I can’t imagine it being very fun long-term, and I think this is the trap a lot of players fall into.

If the minimum requirement is X, many players won’t attempt the instance until they are at power point Y, skipping the whole ‘at level’ experience and going straight to speed-runs. It’s pretty crazy that certain games even encourage such behavior, but then again the cult of the shiny has a wide following.

Going back to the first line of the post, all of this stems from the general problem of power creep, which is inevitable when you have permanent gear and an end-game that revolves around getting more of said gear. The only ‘fix’ is to release content fast enough that most players don’t fall into the rut of speed runs for too long.

A shortcut is to release super-hard (or impossible) content to stall the players, and then slowly nerf it down to a reasonable level. The other option is to just produce more content, but that has well-known limitations. Neither solution actually fixes the root issue of players becoming too powerful and killing the difficulty of an encounter, but at least it distracts us long enough not to really care.

About SynCaine

Former hardcore raider turned casual gamer.
This entry was posted in Inquisition Clan, MMO design, Rant, Rift. Bookmark the permalink.

32 Responses to Gear sucks

  1. Gilded says:

    “Going back to the first line of the post, all of this stems from the general problem of power creep, which is inevitable when you have permanent gear and an end-game that revolves around getting more of said gear. The only ‘fix’ is to release content fast enough that most players don’t fall into the rut of speed runs for too long.”

    Or make it so that the power progression isn’t so extreme. I don’t think the problem has so much to do with permanent gear (that’s more of an economic thing, although it could let players force their way through difficult content).

    I think the power progression (in terms of stats and skill strength) could afford to be diminished a bit and horizontal progression expanded. Rewarding people according to difficulty (which exp already does to some extent) helps: if I’m a high level and I do easy content it shouldn’t really help me progress too much.

    • Dril says:

      I was going to say something similar to this.

      It’s not a fault of the gear system as whole, just how it’s tuned in games. As an example, WoW is shite at this because the power increases are massive an totally unnecessary. If Blizzard increased each tier by, say, 2-5 ilvls, then heroics wouldn’t become so easy so soon and everything would be fine.

      • Nils says:

        This is what I am saying for a long time by now. As a designer you cannot make every item feel like a real difference, anyway. Therefore, stop trying to make them ‘powerful enough’ on their own.

        If a Tx+1 player was 5% better at everything than a Tx player, nobody would complain. Well – they would complain during the transition, but not afterwards.

        Getting a better item is great, because it is better. Nobody checks the difference in numbers (well, 99% don’t). By how much an item is better is rated in comparison to other items, not on an absolute power scale.

        A more compressed character power progression would even solve a lot of problems in WoW. Imagine what it could do to a new game.

    • Stabs says:

      For some reason they’ve always allowed designers to put whacking great gobs of stats on their items.

      For example if your base item does 150 damage and you let the guy bringing out a new dungeon put a 250 damage weapon in and this repeats a dozen times the stats overwhelm your core systems.

      And players WOULD run it for a 155 weapon.

      I guess it’s anxiety/fear of failure from the Live team – they won’t like my new dungeon if it doesn’t have good stuff in.

      The worst one for epic flying mounts. It jumped from 60 to 280 and at 280 is close to the limits of the system. Why on earth give the kids all the sweets on Christmas Eve?

    • SynCaine says:

      Good distraction, would buy, but not a fix to the overall problem unless you make everything a naked zone.

      Hmmm…

      • Wyrmrider says:

        That MUD’s “naked zone” reminded me of another type of mud where the server would reset every three days, wiping everyone’s gear.

        You’d then have to gear up from scratch during your next play session, which was relatively quick because of course dead mobs dropped the gear they had been using. Of course.

        It was a terrible system in some ways, but had really nice implications for PvP.

    • Deigh says:

      Naked zones could have been a great twist for CoT instances in WoW.

  2. Snafzg says:

    I think I read a post like this in 2004. Glad to see MMOs are coming along in terms of solving core issues. ;)

    • Dobson says:

      You understand that Rift is MMO 3.0, right? For Christ’s sake, have you seen all of the core issues that Trion has solved? What more do you want?

      • SynCaine says:

        Themepark 3.0, get it right.

        • SynCaine says:

          Ah ok, now I get it…

          “An evolution of WoW in much the same way that WoW was an evolution of EQ1”

          My bad, you are totally right. It’s not like in that very same post I said:

          “where what you are doing really does not leap out and shock you like early UO or the first week of something like Darkfall did”

          Naw naw, that post is totally me just saying MMO 3.0, not themepark 3.0.

          Again, I apologize. And thank you again for pointing this out. Very appreciated.

        • Dobson says:

          You’re quite testy when someone even remotely suggests that you might be an imbecile, huh?

          No, I totally apologize. Please return to the regularly scheduled self-deception of Rift being a totally 3.0 game, themepark or otherwise. It’s totally not the same as WoW, man. Totally.

        • Saucelah says:

          Hmm, suggesting he might be an imbecile by taking the title of a blog and then ignoring the explanation within the body, that doesn’t seem to remotely indicate that Syncaine is an imbecile.

          It does kind of suggest you are.

        • Dobson says:

          Since you seem to endorse selective quoting, Saucelah, maybe the following will persuade you to stop jerking SynCaine off:

          “Let’s call UO/EQ/AC the first generation of MMOs…”

          “The 2nd generation covers WoW in 2004 and other MMO games during that time.”

          “We are now in the 3rd generation of MMOs, the ‘post-WoW’ era. We have seen countless titles try to emulate WoW, others try the ‘something different’ route, and still some who wish to return to that first gen feel.”

          “So far (lvl 20), Rift feels very much like a 3.0 MMO.”

          You’ll notice (if you read the post) that SynCaine did not attempt to distinguish between themeparks and sandboxes when assigning generations. UO was 1.0 and there are 3.0 MMOs trying “something different.” Rift is a 3.0 MMO which happens to be a themepark.

          But hey, no worries! At least you guys have successfully (accidentally) distracted anyone reading these comments from my original remark. That’s totally what non-imbeciles do. Can I get a Hell Yeah?!

          Totally.

        • Saucelah says:

          Ok sure. It’s exactly the same as WoW. Except it isn’t.

          I understand not liking the game. I personally don’t play it. But it’s not the same as WoW. That’s just absurd.

          Arguing it’s not 3.0 is fine. I understand thinking that’s not true. I also understand why Syncaine thinks it’s true. Especially after 7 years of failed games.

          But considering he refers to WoW as MMO 2.0 while saying WoW brought nothing new to the table as well, I think you are missing the point and being a dick for the sake of being a dick.

          Which kind of makes you an idiot. But go on. I’m sure you’re impressing yourself at least.

      • Snafzg says:

        I can’t tell if this is sarcasm or not… I feel like Shelly Cooper here. ;)

  3. John says:

    I would be totally on board with removing gear drops from instances and raids entirely. The reward for completing a raid need be nothing more than the knowledge that I completed it — though a title is always nice to have as proof.

    As far as the overpowering-an-instance problem goes, most derived statistics in a game (at any given point in time) are capped — effective block rate, effective hit rate, etc. And people pretty much accept that once they have reached the cap for , there is no point in adding additional .

    So, since people are used to the concept of caps, why not have specific caps for each derived stat for each instance and raid? That way, there would be no advantage to bringing that +1450AP sword to a raid if anything over +150AP would be effectively ignored.

    I guess this is similar to the naked-zone idea, but with different definitions of “naked” for each instance and raid.

    • Gilded says:

      Just doing content for the sake of doing it isn’t enough for most people. Progression is key and gear happens to be a major way of providing it.

      • Saucelah says:

        It doesn’t have to be. It rarely was a motivator for me in SWG except when I was hunting Krayt Dragons for a few friends that had successfully completed the Jedi grind.

        There are many forms of progression. In a game in which players can impact the game world, gear really doesn’t need to matter at all.

        • Gilded says:

          There can be many forms of progression, but building a character and progressing it is a core part of the rpg experience.

          You either make the character stronger (vertical progression) or expand your ability and diversity of ability (horizontal progression).

          If you aren’t doing either of those things with the characters then you’re missing a major aspect of character progression which is a major aspect of the experience and *does* matter.

        • Saucelah says:

          I wouldn’t disagree with that entirely. I can imagine games where progressing the character is nowhere near as interesting or rewarding as progressing a guild or faction, but even in that case there would be some progression.

          It just doesn’t have to involve gear.

      • John says:

        Don’t you see the contradiction here? If you’re only doing content for the sake of getting gear, and you’re only getting gear so you can do “harder” content (and get better gear), then why do you want “content” at all?

        I agree that a lot of current raid content in mmos just isn’t fun — but I don’t think it has to be that way. I think raids could be designed as fun challenging activities in and of themselves, and that if done correctly, people wouldn’t need any additional incentive to do them.

        Oh, and I’m not against progression at all. I agree that progression is important, I just think that one could work towards obtaining better (and non-permanent) equipment outside of raids, that one could choose the quality of equipment to match the raid (not risking expensive gear in raids where it wouldn’t help), and that weeding out people who don’t really enjoy raiding but who only want better equipment would make raids more fun overall to those remaining.

        • Gilded says:

          I’m picky in this regard so I’m a little to the extreme here (I wouldn’t play a game of cards *just for fun*), but there is not a contradiction to doing things to get better stuff that allows you to do harder things to get even better stuff etc (you answered your own question, the point is progression). One thing leads to another, a cycle of goals and rewards and new goals.

          MMOs aren’t at the point yet where the instances really merit going in *just for fun*. I understand the sentiment of doing content just for the joy of doing content, but for the progression minded (probably most of us since long-term progression is a major factor in the RPGs genre) we would need something more than that. If you take character progression out or if you diminish its place in the game, then I wouldn’t really consider the game an RPG at that point.

        • SynCaine says:

          Shades of gray.

          If you totally remove gear from instances/raids, I’d run them only until I was no longer having fun just seeing the content, and given themepark MMO combat, that would be somewhere around 2-3 complete runs, if that. Even at a semi-casual pace, there is no chance a dev can keep up and keep me interested with new content.

          If the runs were JUST for gear, I’d run them exactly until I have the item, and never run it again (helping guildmates aside).

          But that’s black/white. In most games the content is (hopefully) pretty decent, and the gear important, so you end up running something 5-10 times and still feeling good about it. My days of 20+ (or 100+ for MC…) runs in one instance are over, but I’m still good for 10 or so.

          Now my expectation is that with 10 runs or so, Trion can keep up and release content fast enough to always give me something to do. We will see.

        • John says:

          All good points. Heck, I’ve been known to be a progression junkie from time to time — I played many many solo rpg games on the pc in the 90s to the point where every stat had been completely maxed.

          I guess I now dream of getting past progression-for-the-sake-of-progression and seeing mmos that are actually fun-for-the-sake-of-fun.

          For instance, I play the piano. By myself, the same old stuff over and over (though occasionally something new). And its fun. Its relaxing, there are no shinies, there’s no progression (other than the initial effort to learn/compose something new), and yet its still just inherently fun.

          Perhaps its unrealistic to imagine that doing a raid dance could ever be as fun as playing a piece on the piano … but I guess the idea appeals to me nonetheless.

  4. Angry Gamer says:

    Syn quote:
    “A shortcut is to release super-hard (or impossible) content to stall the players, and then slowly nerf it down to a reasonable level. The other option is to just produce more content, but that has well-known limitations.”

    So… I have been saying for awhile that hard content is nothing more than stall tactic to lengthen expansion progress. And I have called out Wow-cata as doing this deliberately.

    But, I did not really think that this assertion was mainstream since there were so many “lol Cata not hard noob” forum posters. Have I missed something and the “hard cata is just a stall tactic” meme has taken hold?

    If so… what does this do to the argument that hard = fun.

    If Bizzard making cata hard was NEVER about player fun or player challenge but rather a cold calculated “not enough content steak to chew — make it tough as leather so it’ll last”.

    Then why all the theatrics about Blizzard and Ghostcrawler defending “challenge” in the forums?
    [the A team never let the B team in on the secret?]
    [Ghostcrawler is a true believer in game decisions being pure and devoid of monetary considerations?]
    [Case of developers not being able to admit the truth? aka Lum the Mad option]

    I constantly wanted to call BS on Blizz and their self-righteous challenge = fun crap.

    It was ALWAYS all about the dollars not the player.

  5. Stabs says:

    It’s true what you say, Syncaine and it’s particularly aggravating at times for those of us who do it at appropriate difficulty then outgear it that we’re expected to boost people who would otherwise have to think what they’re doing through it on easymode.

  6. SM says:

    This is why I am in no hurry to hit level cap in Rift. They are following the same old model of item-levels and soon-to-be-coming gear resets on new content releases. It’s a pointless grind fraught with the same old compaints we’ve seen with Blizzard.

  7. Bhagpuss says:

    I love gear in MMOs and I absolutely want it to be “permanent”.

    On the other hand, I can’t stand all the stat numbers. Who cares, really? Like I want to spend hours, days, weeks of my time moving from +25 Dex to + 27 Dex to +30 Dex or whatever. It’s tedious, unimaginative, uncreative, uninteresting and shows the attritional influence of the kind of peopel who find spreadsheets intrinsically satisfying.

    I like gear the does stuff. I’m not interested in working towards a 1.4% increase in my Attack Power or a 0.5% increase in my crit chance. Keep all that stuff in the background where I don’t have to think about it. What I will work towards are items that let me do stuff I can’t do without it.

    Procs. Worn effects. Auras. Right-clickables. Bane weapons. Illusions. Faction modifiers. There must dozens, scores, hundreds of ways to add value to items without just bumping up the stats.

    In fact, why not go the whole hog and put the stat-increasing gubbins onto the spell/skill sets and take some of the active efects off the spells/skills and put them on items instead? Want your big AE heal spell? Go kill something that knows how to do that, rip its head off, make a hat out of and wear it and you too can heal five people at once!

    More imagination, less spreadsheets.

    • Gilded says:

      I completely agree.

      I do feel that stats can still be present to some extent in gear, keeping in mind the people who *do* enjoy the spreadsheet aspect. If there is skill-based gameplay present and if the power progression isn’t too extreme, then I think it all could work out well.

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