Fun Builds: Not that fun in end-game content

A guildmate who shall remain nameless (Obmar) recently discovered that he had not upgraded his dps-based skills in Rift since, oh, level 5. In essence, he was gimping his damage output by a solid 50% or more. This was noticeable when he was part of our groups for tier 2 instance runs, but we always assumed it was simply because he is terribad at Rift (dps is hard, yo). Turns out, with level 50 skills, he does deal damage! And to think we were about to gkick him…

This somewhat relates to a post Tobold has up today, about feeling the need to min/max even in a single player game. I’ve had similar feelings while playing The Witcher again in preparation for part two, though for me min/maxing has always been something I enjoy to an extent. Pretty early on I just decided to ‘wing it’ with The Witcher, knowing the game ultimately is not that hard when played on normal. I suppose the hard mode would require a more optimal build, and it’s nice that such an option exists.

I believe that option not existing in MMOs has more to do with the content than the players, though player mentality also plays into it. Hard mode in a themepark MMO is almost always the end-game, and since that’s where you are going to spend the majority of your time (assuming you don’t quit early), its only natural you are going to try and progress through it.

Those that love min/maxing end up in world/server-first guilds, and hey, good for them. That’s how they have their fun, and it’s good that some MMOs allow that. If you are in such a guild, it’s expected that you not only play well, but go into each encounter prepared. Failing to do so does detract from the fun of everyone else, and so using the ‘one true build’ is indeed required. Again, that’s how that group has its fun, and so long as MMO devs continue to create highly-tuned raid-level content, those groups are going to be around and entertained.

The min/max god-build problem arises when players who “just want to mess around and have fun” get involved in raid-level content. Generally, much like Hard mode in The Witcher, the content is not designed to cater to whatever build you think looks fun. If this happens in a single player game, you end up dying a lot and progressing slowly, or getting stuck. In a multiplayer game, your decision to run a ‘fun’ build costs 4/9/24 people to also fail. And unless you made it very clear at the beginning that you are running a sub-optimal build, I think it’s perfectly understandable for people to get upset.

The problem is a content issue because there usually is no outlet for those running ‘fun’ builds. Either they stop playing, or they move into min/max territory. The worse-case scenario is those who believe they play just to ‘have fun’, yet get very upset when you inform them that such an approach means they don’t get to equip the absolute best items. I don’t quite see why someone who is just here to have fun is getting so worked up over gear that is only needed to progress further into min/max content, but it’s usually those players who are the first to complain about being ‘excluded’ from content ‘they paid for’. I’m sure you have seen those posts on forums/blogs to know what I mean.

For everyone else however, it’s either you adjust your build or fail to progress and ultimately, run out of content early. That really is the major issue, and it again gets back to dev time and resources. In the themepark model, a highly-tuned raid is simply the best content to produce in terms of keeping the players busy and giving them something to continue their character progression. We all love unique quest lines with a great story, but we do it once and move on, and that kind of pace is simply not sustainable from a dev perspective.

If you are a not a min/maxer, you generally have two choices when the casual content ends; you either move on from the game, or you switch up and join the ‘elitists’ who raid. Moving on is easy if you don’t really love the game you are playing, but if you do, you are not ready to go and want to keep the good times going. The conflict arises when you keep trying to progress, but don’t adjust your playstyle, and auto-match yourself with other players (double points for doing it anonymously and cross-server).

I don’t see how, short of going more sandbox, devs truly solve the content issue, and I’m not holding my breath for the “just for fun” crowd changing either.

About SynCaine

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

16 Responses to Fun Builds: Not that fun in end-game content

  1. Gilded says:

    “I don’t see how, short of going more sandbox, devs truly solve the content issue, and I’m not holding my breath for the “just for fun” crowd changing either.”

    I don’t think the issue is designing content for weaker players who choose not to optimize. I think the issue is designing progression that works for a variety of approaches. There should be potential for multiple “optimized” builds, and the system should be set up so that experimentation leads to some of the best results (and not the other way around).

  2. Tipa says:

    Back in EARLY EQ, say, up through Luclin, the devs didn’t design in a “one correct way” to defeat a boss. They just gave it powers and a rudimentary AI and just waited to see how people would solve the problem. Without a intended method to beat the boss, every guild was forced to innovate and that ended up with some decidedly unusual ways to tackle boss encounters. That left a lot of room for unusual character builds, especially when choosing AAs on which to focus.

    Now that all mobs are scripted, in EQ and elsewhere, and no boss goes live without a “one correct way” to beat it, the characters must do their best to fit themselves into the script via the builds and focuses the devs intended.

    EQ stumbled sometimes by putting out frankly broken encounters because the method they desired players to use wasn’t the one players hit upon, but by allowing for innovation, they inspired it.

    Relic of the past. Since 2004, MMO companies have come to understand that players hate thinking up strategies.

    • Stabs says:

      Tipa, I don’t believe that the one correct way is designed in.

      Sites like Tankspot offer an opinion on how a boss may be beaten and generally people prefer to take that rather than experiment.

      It’s play sacrificed on the altar of efficiency if you like but the software supports both approaches. Players choose to be efficient.

      And not everyone does. There are quite a few guilds who raid sight unseen as well as the world first guilds who have to raid sight unseen because they’re doing bosses no one has made a video for.

      There’s a huge variety of possible things to try which is why you end up with those world first guys accusing each other of exploiting all the time. They are always thinking outside the box.

  3. Paragus says:

    If you need me to come down a few vent channels and straighten this fellow out let me know. I once made a guy in our guild cry during Molten Core after analyzing every item of gear he was wearing in front of around 40-60 people. He was never seen or heard from again, and despite his friends showing up to a real life gathering we had, the dope was MIA. Apparently I said he was wearing “dick chugging gear”….go figure..

  4. Rast says:

    I think with Rift the devs just need to spend more time balancing the various builds so that ‘fun’ builds are effective. One of my biggest gripes about the game at level 50 is for every role a class is capable of, there’s exactly one ‘right’ build (or a few very close variations thereof) and lots of ‘wrong’ builds that have flavor but simply can’t compete on the numbers, which is all that matters to everyone else.

    It just seems like a waste to have so many souls
    & even entire playstyles left by the wayside because they’re simply noncompetitive. It goes against what the soul system is (supposed to be) all about. I know Trion plans on shoring up 51-point builds, which will go a long way toward alleviating this, but I’m still taking a wait-and-see approach.

    • Stabs says:

      We have a dpser in Rift who is best by a mile. He doesn’t use the cookie cutter build given on the forums. All the other Warriors are asking him for his build and copying it.

  5. Dave says:

    The ‘play for fun’ players are often the same players complaining about ‘the community’ and ‘elites’ being selfish, yet it is those very players that refuse to do what is necessary (for whatever reason) to progress with other players. You can’t have it both ways, you either go down your own path and accept the consequences or do what is necessary to continue with group play; some idealist approach where the devs keeps everyone happy all of the time is just not going to happen.

  6. Straw Fellow says:

    “and lots of ‘wrong’ builds that have flavor but simply can’t compete on the numbers”

    And here is the major issue for the fun builds: They simply are not as efficient.

    A simple (dull) solution would be to make the base specialization play the same and put out the same numbers, but allow for abilities and skills to be picked to sub-spec into different things.

    That would make things boring, however. But it generally shows what I’m trying to convey: The difficulty in making fun builds useful. It basically amounts to either making the optimization provide very little benefit, or making the content so trivial that optimization isn’t needed. City of Heroes takes the second approach, allowing for a huge amount of builds where almost anything is useful, because the content is relatively simple and (on a full team) the numbers don’t matter.

    • Saucelah says:

      These are not the only ways to do it just because they are the only ways it has been done.

  7. bhagpuss says:

    You’re missing out the real play-for-fun people. There are a lot of them. I’ve been in guilds with plenty and had my friends lists filled with them in several MMOs.

    They play the same MMO for months or years without getting even one character to max level. They don’t read websites about the game, they aren’t even registered on the game’s official forums. They don’t just ignore the current best builds, they’ve never heard of them. You’d have to explain what a build is before they’d even be able to tell you what theirs was.

    They wear whatever gear they get, they do content they can do with what they wear and they’re happy with that. They really do play to have fun.

    Occasionally one of them will fall in with a bad crowd and start to pay attention to things like you’re discussing here. Then exactly what you posit does happen – either they become “proper” players and disappear into the “real” game or they become very frustrated and leave.

    But most of them never get that far. They just go on pottering along in parts of the gameworld you probably forgot even existed, or provide the extras in your crowd scenes as you pass by in triumph.

    • SynCaine says:

      Oh I’m not missing them at all. I know they exist, and I have a great deal of respect for them. But they are not the ones I’m talking about, and they are not the ones complaining to devs and leading to game-altering changes.

      • Pai says:

        I think what is happening, is that people are calling themselves ‘play for fun’ types when in reality they are just entitled manbabies. They want the entire game, every bit, to cater to their playstyle — and scream and kick when they find a part of the game they cannot participate or win in because of either their lack of care or lack of skill. They’re the cause of the dumbing down of playstyle challenge/risk of all kinds.

        True ‘play for fun’ people mind their own business and have fun doing things that the top tier players generally find silly or pointless. I personally started out hardcore, and have mellowed out over the years to more of a ‘play for fun’ type. Realizing that, I simply stopped getting involved in content that required more work and research/math than I felt like putting into it. It wasn’t hard. And I wouldn’t dream of demanding that other people have to give up that kind of fun just because -I’m- getting lazier in my old age. =P

    • Saucelah says:

      This was me in CoX to a T. I’ve even gone back a number of times and still only have one character at max level and done very little endgame content. I got a real kick out of creating a concept for a character and leveling him or her to about 30 before I’d get interested in a new character idea.

      When I have gone back, it’s made me useful in groups — I don’t care who I’m leveling, so I’ll switch to whatever the group needs. But even though I did make an effort to add high-end enhancements to my 50, I didn’t do it with any particular build in mind and didn’t really have a plan or a strategy as to what I was doing with him.

      I last popped in right before GR, but I haven’t been back to try it. Might have to do that now. I know there are probably other games where this could happen, but CoX is the game where I had the easiest time finding friendly, rational people that didn’t care how I put together my character. I even intentionally gimped my main a few times, just for the heck of it. Luckily, they hand out respecs like pedos hand out candy.

      Coincidentally, it’s also the only MMO where my main was DPS. Maybe that’s why I had more fun — less responsibility. But my main alt, if I can say such a thing, was my standard healer.

    • Rast says:

      I’m not one to tell other people how to play, but having to choose between a build I have fun with (and makes logical sense within the game mechanics) and a build that gets the job done is just poor design, IMO.

      I’d rather have a system like WoW went to with their new talent trees, where it’s impossible to screw it up and any build you decide you like will work (to within a reasonable percentage of the theoretical optimal build) than a system that teases you with builds that look fun and play just fine, their only fault is they can’t push the same (or even comparable) DPS/TPS/HPS numbers as the gold-standard cookie-cutter build.

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