Losing your mid-game

Apologies for the lack of content around here lately, I’m emulating the MMO genre…

I continue to play a bit of UO:F, and the server’s skill settings have once again confirmed something I’ve already had confirmed a million times before; increasing the pace of progression is bad. In UO:F most combat skills can be maxed in very short order, which in turn basically eliminates a major chunk of content and a phase of the game.

In the original, it was normal to start a character, spend some time fighting starter monsters (skeletons, zombies, animals, etc), train up a bit, and venture out into the mid-tier of ettins, orcs, and harpies. This phase generally lasted for a while, as maxing out a skill took time, and the longer you spent at popular farming spots, the higher your chances of a PK-based setback. On the other hand, the additional time also meant you got to know the other locals and potentially find a guild or group to play with. Your path to a great set of gear was also slower, and lower-tier magic items still held some value.

In UO:F, the mid-tier does not exist. In a single day you can go from skilling up on a skeleton to farming lichs. The ‘end-game’ consists of either spam-casting Energy Vortex to farm silly amount of gold, or taming/provoking dragons to do the farming for you. Dozens if not hundreds of locations that previously had mid-tier value are now useless as a result, and the social underpinnings of the mid-tier (both good and bad) are gone as well. Anything below the upper-tier magic items is ‘junk’.

UO:F still somewhat works because the game is not all character progression or loot-acquisition based, but that was a major piece. Building up a house or a clan village loses some of its value when you can get everything you could want in a week rather than months. In the past, those months always resulted in “other stuff” happening, and that in turn provided new content. Now, condensed into a week, you can easily just focus on your current task and complete it without interruption, which is not a good thing in the long-run (even though it feels rewarding short-term).

The above problem is very much an MMO-only issue, which is important to keep in mind. Skyrim allowing you to quickly progress through a single quest line is good, for instance, while having the same happen in an MMO would not be. And I’ve noticed that many players have troubling seeing this as well. At best, many only realize it AFTER they hit unsub.

About SynCaine

Former hardcore raider turned casual gamer.
This entry was posted in MMO design, Ultima Online. Bookmark the permalink.

15 Responses to Losing your mid-game

  1. The MMO mid-game is a misunderstood beast. At times it seems to be the doldrums, where the happy starting play ends and things start to get challenging… or at least not as easy… and yet it is still miles from the end game or whatever. How many mid-game zones do we recall with annoyance? Stranglethorn Vale anybody?

    While the mid-game has often failed players… STV deserves some of the bad rep it had… removing it or helping players speed by it isn’t failing players any less.

    • sid6.7 says:

      Fantastic point. When mid-game breaks down, expectations are destroyed and it opens a pandora’s box for the gamer. Is it the game that’s bad? Is the end-game still worth it? Should I quit or play it through to the end?

      Equally fascinating is that it’s easy to think of the mid-game as a grind and skip past great content. The irony is that “grind through” this mid-game content might simply be a race through the quality content in a quest for an end-game content that is even worse. If you did this with SWOTR, for example, you would have been even more disappointed upon reaching level 50.

  2. Agree. I do think combat skills should have raised more slowly. Even Magery is exceptionally fast to build. The few slow to raise combat-oriented skills, like taming and provocation, are black sheep.

  3. bhagpuss says:

    The speeding-up of improve-on-use skills is a trend I abhor but it started long, long ago. I can’t recall when it changed in Everquest but I’m pretty sure it was over a decade ago. Almost every MMO I have played that had IOU skills sped them up fairly soon after launch or in some cases during beta. In my opinion that was never an improvement.

    As for mid-level zones, that’s the meat of the game in many MMOs, certainly in all the MMOs I’ve really enjoyed. MMOs with what I felt were weak or tedious mid-level zones (DAOC and LotRO come immediately to mind) were MMOs in which I never got to see the high-level zones at all, because when I hit a run of tedium like that I find something more entertaining to do.

    MMOs with mid-level zones I enjoy, however, I stick with for years and replay countless times. As a rule I still like low-level zones best of all, though, by a good margin.

    • Xyloxan says:

      I agree that in many games those low-level zones are the best. They seem to be the most though out and polished. It’s likely that they represent the initial idea for the game while the subsequent higher-level zones often feel like add-ons or fillers. The Westfall story of Defias Brotherhood and their leader Edwin VanCleef in the vanilla WoW comes to mind as a good example.

  4. Beleg / Paxx says:

    I am also playing UO:F. I disagree with your assessment on two accounts:

    1) Mid-tier stuff is still alive and well. I meet people (blue and red) in graveyards, in orc forts, in above ground spawns, etc. every day.

    2) Your opinion of mid-tier seems to be the stuff I can do with a moderately skilled character, whereas my opinion of mid-tier is the stuff I can do solo. Upper-tier stuff is the stuff I need friends to do.

    Also, I have decided that skill-based games (UO, DF, etc.) need to concentration on making the skill-up journey short and fun. If you make it long and necessary, you create a macro-driven rush-to-the-top, where “vets” “pwn” “noobs” with their uber characters. If you make it long but mostly unnecessary, you turn off a lot of people who don’t like macro’ing or feel inadequate with low skills (EVE is guilty), though this is better than the first option. However, if you make it a short, fun journey to “max skills” (whatever that means) and concentrate on having a lot of fun content to do with your character, people will stick around and populate your virtual world. IMHO.

  5. den says:

    A different perspective and my (very personal) two cents about MMO midgame.

    The first time through, every part of a game is as important for the enjoyment of the journey towards the end goal. You marvel at the scenery and try to take in as much of the backstory and lore as possible as you progress up the levels.

    But after that, it’s all about the endgame. Being forced to go through all lowbie quests and levelling zones again is just work that has to be done before you can start playing the game with a new character.

    That’s one reason my gaming group stayed longer and enjoyed DAoC much more than than for example WoW. In DAoC, when you wanted to try a different group setup you could just powerlevel a new character to maxlevel and have him geared and ready for RvR in 24 hours played. Where as in WoW when we talked about Arena setups we wanted to try that included other that the classes we already had at hand no one really felt it was wort it to put in those long days of playtime getting to maxlevel and good enough gear standard to be viable.

    “-If you want instant action go play Counter-Strike”. I realize that I, my friends and the group of people we have gathered around us through quite a few years and MMOs now are a quite niched bunch, and maybe not a target group to build your market strategies around. But MMO gamers we are and we will probably keep looking for our perfect game for quite some time to come still.

    Now, I don’t know if it would be a good idea to implement for the masses, it might even totally ruin a game. But something I have often wished for is the option that when you have gone through the levelling process once, be able to create new characters already at maxlevel.

    If you wanted to go through the whole game again, maybe see different zones or quest lines, fine the option would still be there. But if all I want is a new character of a different class or race to enjoy the endgame through, don’t make me have to play parts of the game I’m not interested in. Maybe that would be a solution to keep everyone happy and still not have to increase the exp-rate or skill settings so much that you kill all the content you spent money on developing in the first place? Everything of course said from the perspective of a level based design and not EvE style character development without a final state.

    • SynCaine says:

      Right, your applying the ideas in this post to WoW, which does not really work. DAoC is a good example because DAoC was mostly about RvR, and that was an at-cap activity. UO has at-cap content, but I wouldn’t say its the focus like DAoC.

      • den says:

        I was more thinking in a view of MMOs in general and I do think you make a very good point about game companies killing a once enjoyable piece of their own game when upping the progression pace. But why is it being done over and over again then?

        I have too little knowledge about UO to say anything in specific about that so lets just be not game-specific here. In a mature game, with several expansions and much added content since release it would be a herculean task to go through it all at the same pace as in the original version if that was what would be needed to reach endgame state.

        So if one would want to keep the mid-game parts of a game still populated and not give 10x the experience or skill-up-speed the whole way, I think some other shortcuts must be offered. Especially when most players creating new characters are re-rolling or returning players.. Some method of choice if one wants to play this specific part of the game or skip through it to the next part/episode/zone.

        I think this would go for any game that has a defined end game, whether that end game state would be the focus of not.

        • SynCaine says:

          “so lets just be not game-specific here”

          That’s the problem. You have to be. You can’t use a WoW-like example to fix an EVE problem, can you?

          UO is a different beast from a themepark. It’s ‘endgame’ is nothing like WoW’s endgame. You don’t reroll one 7x GM character to try another at 7x GM, like you might in WoW. Just doesn’t work that way, much like you don’t biomass an EVE pilot because you want to stop flying Amarr and give Caldari a shot.

  6. den says:

    I never intended for my personal little wish of a skip-to-endgame button to be a solution for your UO problem either. Of course it would be ridiculous outside of the linear level progression game context in which it was presented.

    However the issue of emptying all mid-level parts of a game exist very much in that type of game as well and one could wish game makers came up with a prettier solution that just the simple 10x exp/skill gain speed with every new expansion.

  7. sid6.7 says:

    You still been playing the DF Unholy Beta?

  8. Kender of Pacific says:

    As a former UO burglar, I’m curious if RMT is currently supported by the ToS/EULA? I fondly recall ‘acquiring’ a plethora of artifacts via stealth and/or social engineering. I’d love to find an MMO which supports both the style of play and RMT to make my dastardly hobby possible. Suggestions?

Comments are closed.