Progression, brass rings, and horizontality

Muckbeast recently reworked his original article on Quest-Based Advancement in MMOs, this time on Bright Hub, and I’ve been pondering the questions it raises since the first “edition.” I have a whole lot of opinions on advancement in MMOs in general and quest-heavy advancement in particular, but many of them are either shared by so many it’s almost pointless to express them, or too formless for proper articulation. Nonetheless, before the whole discussion slides back under the swampy murk of the Blog of Eternal Stench (hey, that’s not a bad name), I thought I’d have a stab at a little articulation.

One thing in particular that has bothered me for a long time is the current most common (in my experience, anyway) model of MMO content-progression: upward, ever upward. Given that this principle is embedded in the D&D-type pen-and-paper RPGs that form the basic inspiration for many MMOs — the primordial ooze, to tickle that metaphor a little more — it’s nt entirely surprising, but it isn’t necessarily the best thing for the long-term health of games. (For one thing, content-progression in PnP games tended to be a great deal slower, given the nature of offline gaming.)

brass_ring

I’m not entirely certain of this, but it seems to me that WoW formalised the next logical step in that design principle: “end-game content.” As many of you know, it’s a concept I dislike, for many reasons, one of them being that the brass-ring model ends up with slogans (and design to match) such as “The game begins at 60!” No, wait, it’s 70. I mean, 80. And there’s the rub. If the end-game is the primary thing a game’s design encourages players to strive for, then sooner or later you’re going to have to move that brass ring upward. And again, and again after that; and even some of the most dedicated WoW players are starting to opine that raising the level cap isn’t really much of an expansion, since all it offers is more of what went previously, just with bigger numbers. (You also run into issues like gear obsolescence which, in a game like WoW where obtaining gear is a primary reason for experiencing some of the content, then makes a whole bunch of content obsolete too.) This relates to quest-heavy advancement because that particular model is probably the most efficient way to ensure that players experience the content you’re creating, that they experience it in a certain way (that is then easier to control and plan for), and that they get the kinds of rewards you’d expect, which should encourage them to try the “central” content — which in WoW and other games is raiding, instance dungeons, and so on.

What I’m not saying is that this is a conspiracy, or even wilful laziness. Most of the time we design based on what we know, and it can take a while for some of the flaws of a given design to become apparent — one of those, to my mind, is that the upward-only progression model demands more and more upward content to keep your players happy, which means you’re so busy designing circuses that you forget about the uses of bread. In other words, horizontal progression. I’m quite sure Blizzard never intended to create a treadmill quite as intense as WoW’s is now — they just wanted to make a great game and, if possible, make pots of cash; and it was a great game, think of it what you will, though in my opinion it’s not aging as well as it might. Which is not, one should add, an issue WoW is alone in facing.

Most combat-based MMOs have a certain amount of horizontal progression: crafting (to some extent), reputation building, exploration (little xp-handouts for finding new places)… I’m sure there are many more possible ways of building horizontal content players would enjoy, but MMOs are like anything else and are created with finite resources, even WoW, and there’s only so much you can do with a given amount of money, time and manpower. Besides, it’s probably “easier” in many ways to keep designing upward-progression, because at least the rails are clear, for both designers and players.

Changing the way “progression” is defined and designed in MMOs is going to take time, if it can happen at all. Many MMO players are perfectly happy with the “brass ring” progression, with its associated quest-driven advancement — and if they’re not, it’s usually expressed only as a certain kind of unease (often called “burnout”) where what they’re doing isn’t quite as fulfiling as they expect, but they don’t really know what would be. We’ve become accustomed to a certain kind of playstyle and it’s very likely that if that brass ring stops being dangled, or isn’t quite as LOOK-AT-ME! shiny, we won’t feel as though we’re “achieving” anything.

There’s a lot of talk along the lines of “going back to basics” (or the “good old days”) and doing things like “making travel more meaningful,” but the problem with that is that there’s often no proposed alternative, just a string of grievances, and when there are alternatives they don’t always end up providing a better or more immersive playing experience. I don’t think the speed of travel, for instance, really has anything to do with a game’s basic enjoyment, but it does mesh with a whole load of other elements — finding groups, getting to “interesting” places, meeting up with friends, etc — that do have a great deal of impact on enjoyment. Teleporting isn’t a problem in itself, if it supports other elements of the game’s design; similarly, slow travel isn’t necessarily a problem either, if the game doesn’t require you to cross continents at a snail’s pace just so you can meet up with a friend when both of you only have a half hour to play. It’s about time games and players accept that the 8-hour marathon sessions aren’t the norm now, and probably never really were — we fit games into whatever time we can claw back from work, kids, grocery shopping and figuring out how the hell we’re going to pay the next utilities bill.

Similarly, if we dial back on quest-heavy advancement (the benefits of which Mr Muckbeast has already gone into), we absolutely must provide some sort of alternative, though the range of options is wider than we tend to think. Raph Koster’s had a lot to say on the subject over the years, including the fact that just sitting and chatting is absolutely a valid way to spend time in games, provided those games work towards encouraging said activity. Or, in the case of quest-driven advancement, provided the game’s basic progression design doesn’t actively discourage said activity.

And that’s the main problem, in my view. Quests are absolutely wonderful things, when they’re not the ONLY thing, or when their presence doesn’t overwhelm other avenues of play and/or progression.

Sure, we can all choose to do different things in games, no matter how the game presents itself to us. I’m not disputing that, and I’d rather not end up debating that in the comments since it should be self-evident. Players certainly can make an effort to break free of playstyles that aren’t as fulfilling as they could be, though it’s not as easy to break habits as we tend to think, even playing habits. The fact is, however, that most players will play the game mostly as it was designed to be played — that’s just basic game and design theory coupled with human nature. We don’t try to play Scrabble on a Monopoly board, though the attempt might be fun once or twice. Design affects use.

{Inspector Columbo} And one more thing — it’s all very well to say it’s the journey that matters (and I agree, it really does matter), but a journey implies a destination. Which isn’t to say we should all be achievement-obsessed, God knows I’m not, but we cannot just ignore the fact that people like to arrive somewhere just as much as they enjoy getting there. Of course, the destination doesn’t have to be max level; one thing games could usefully learn (or relearn) how to do is to include meaningful side-destinations and sub-destinations — not just “Oh look, I hit x0 level, ding, yay, yawn.” A journey with no purpose doesn’t hold players long; it’s too Zen for most people, and I’m not sure my leisure time should be all about the pursuit of Zen in any case, much though I love its basic principles. Gaming should be about FUN, first and foremost; how games are designed, and how we condition ourselves to play them, are a large part of how we perceive fun or the lack of it.

As a last tangent: one of the other downsides of the enormous amount of quests required by a quest-heavy system (which, as Muckbeast points out, leads players to ignore the trees for the forest), especially one in an item-heavy system, is that players will end up cherry-picking quests based not on how good they are (which is hardly noticed these days anyway) but rather on whether the rewards are “worth it” — in other words, whether the quest provides an item the player might actually want. After all, there are a gajillion other quests out there to do, more than any single player could possibly need in order to reach max level, which — along with items — is the ultimate goal. I can see that leading to a quality-loss cycle where quest designers know nobody reads the damned things anyway, so they don’t craft them as lovingly as they used to and instead spend more time wondering what kind of reward-carrot they can slot into it to make players choose to accept it. That’s a shame.

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39 thoughts on “Progression, brass rings, and horizontality

  1. I do have to say, I think Blizzard took a step in the right direction with phasing. By use of phasing, they make adjustments to a given area based on something you’ve done.

    A couple of examples.

    There is an area in Dragonblight where the quests lead you up to preparing for attacking Gates of the Lich King’s stronghold. On completion, you see a cinematic (it’s on the web somewhere) showing that attack failing. Once you’re out of that cinematic, the area which previously held an outpost rallying troops now holds panicked troops running about screaming.

    In another area, Icecrown, there is a devious Death Knight that is working to take over an area within the Lich King’s territory. After completing several quests, you come back to find more allies in the area and the hostile area is now accessible as a base of operations for more quests, gear, merchants, etc.

    I think phasing could be a really good step towards horizontal advancement. Imagine no level to chase, instead you advance by learning things as a result of various actions you do while moving a storyline forward.

    That stable you worked in? Well, it really is burned down and gone for good. That tower you helped restore is now in the hands of the rightful owner.

    All these things can advance a character by story or content experience rather than level. There can be gear advancement as well, but not requiring as much emphasis because you’re not chasing inflated levels and the numbers that come with that sort of advancement.

    The downside would be – how linear does the experience become? They would have to combat that with having a lot of content. Does content become easier to create? Or more difficult?

    I’d be up for a MMO that worked in that way.

  2. I dunno, I think this little circle of bloggers has just become so jaded that they assume the worst from all players. For example, people only do raids to get better gear? Maybe some people, but a lot of people do them because they are fun to do. Sure, the possibility of a surprise-prize at the end is a nice bit of sugar-topping, but (at least when I was playing) folks would come along just because it was fun to fight through the awesome environments with friends, chatting and laughing our arses off over voice chat the whole time. People who had no use for the drops because they had better or whatever, would still come along for the fun.

    I never did the big raids, but I had a close friend who is a hard-core raider, and she wasn’t doing raids just for the shinys. She’d loved the feeling of being part of a group accomplishing a complex task. She has an ex-musician and said being in a good raid was like once again being part of an orchestra. Everyone had to do their part and it was really satisfying when it all worked.

    I did a lot of 5 & 10 main instances, and I’d go do them in a heartbeat, even after I had all the drops from one. It was a fun way to hang out with my friends at the time, and the rush that came during the difficult bits was really welcomed at a time when real life was feeling kind of drab. I use Drak in a lot of my examples, but the first time I was appointed as Drak Kiter I was kind of honored, scared to death and had a blast. Once I got good at kiting him, I was rather proud of that. Or the first time I moved through the “Leroy Jenkins” room… whoa! We’d all seen the video, knew what could happen. The phat loot was the farthest thing from our minds, we were just having FUN.

    And side quests? I think there are some pretty epic quest chains in WoW that act as side quests that people do just because they’re cool. Maybe I’m just naive, I dunno.

    I do think that raising the level has a lot to do with marketing. When a new expansion comes out, lots of folks who ‘retired’ with ‘capped’ characters will return to the game to get their family back up to cap again, for whatever reason.

    I do strongly feel there needs to be some kind of progression though. People are progression driven these days. We want more money, a better car, to be prettier, stronger, faster. More power. More friends. It’s just part of our culture to keep moving forward and never be content with what we have.

    I’m not sure that reflects well on us as a people, but I think the developers are just giving us what (most of us) we want.

    • Erm, it’s also possible I’m just snarky and taking things too literally… actually that’s even probable.

      I know we all love the games we play and just like talking about ways to make them better.

      I didn’t realize how much snark there as in my comment until I re-read it. I can’t edit it, so I’ll just beg forgiveness.

  3. Eh, I didn’t think I was being particularly jaded, quite the contrary (assuming you include this post in “little circle”). Not to start a big argument, but maybe you’re reading the fact that we like to discuss this stuff as jadedness that may not be there?

    I *like* pondering why I play what I do and how I play what I do, and what I don’t like so much about it or think could be improved. That doesn’t necessarily mean I’m angry, bored, or burnt out.

    Basically, the process itself interests me, though I’ll grant it’s not something that fascinates everyone else. ;)

    EDIT — I *could* edit yours but that’s censorship (one way or another) and I detest that, unless a comment is really hateful. Which yours wasn’t. I also know you have plenty of reasons to be snarkier than you intend — RL has a way of making us react sideways like that. No harm, no foul. Besides, I’ve seen you be MUCH! worse! :D

    • Heh, please check the reply to my comment, and compare time stamps. It took us both exactly the same amount of time to come to the same conclusion about my comment. Again, I apologize.

  4. On a completely different tack, the “Blog of Eternal Stench” occurred to many many people before it finally fired off in my brain. Bah. I coulda been a contender.

  5. I’m not sure that reputation is a horizontal form of progression – it gives rewards (whether story, loot, or access to more content) based on depth of investment.

    A good example of a horizontal progression is of course the concept of adding new skills instead of improving old ones – i.e. adding “verbs” to the player’s grammar of options.

    Another excellent form of horizontal progression is social networking, though this can also have vertical elements as one increases one’s influence over others. To the extent that games make socializing a central part of the game’s mechanics, success there becomes part of the reward structure, which leads to greater emphasis on player-created content.

    I think horizontal progression can be quite rewarding and can compete with vertical progression, but I also think that progression of some sort is fairly key to the RPG genre; without it, players don’t feel investment in their characters. That’s fine for completely skill-based games but not so great for genres that don’t rely on twitch skills.

    As for endgame in its current form, that’s clearly reliant on a vertical progression model. We had this back in oldschool EQ with Nagafen (et alia) raids, and this concept of raiding has become enshrined as a central part of endgame design.

    @ Pete: I think it’s hard to argue that loot isn’t central to the vast majority of raiding. Sure, it’s fun to defeat challenges, and I’ve done a fair amount thereof in my time in EQ, WoW, and LotRO. It’s also true that the overwhelming majority of raiders do care about the loot that they receive, to the point where the loot is the primary motivator in deciding whether to attend a given raid, most of the time. That’s why the concept of DKP (which I detest) was created and is still used in a lot of guilds.

    I raided a lot in LotRO, moreso than most other games I’ve played because I frankly enjoyed the raids there more. I took friends to the various 6-man locations time and again because I enjoyed the challenges and the opportunity for a shared experience overcoming said challenges… but I also did it to get loot for my friends, often explicitly picking which bosses to fight based on which items various people wanted.

    YMMV.

  6. @foolsage

    “I think it’s hard to argue that loot isn’t central to the vast majority of raiding. ”

    With respect, we really have no good data to draw on (and that applies to me as much as to you). It’s like the question of PvP. If you just listen to the buzz, PvP is something that every game needs to succeed. But if you look at the statistics, the PvP populations of most games are smaller than the PvE populations.

    For hardcore raiders, I agree with you, and hardcore raiders are the ones who make the most noise. They have the DKP system and all that. They’re only in it for the loot.

    But I don’t think either of us really have enough hard data to really know what people do things for.

    I’m standing by my anecdotal experiences that people do this stuff because they enjoy the process. All I can base my assumptions are is the behavior of myself and the people I’ve interacted with over the years. That’s the only data I have.

    The loot is just part of the destination, to relate things back to Ysh’s post. There needs to be a destination for the journey to be a journey and not an amble, but among my circle the satisfaction of “beating” the dungeon is what really drives people and is the true destination.

    To me, it is illogical to say that the loot, which you’d want to have so you could raid more, is the only reason to raid. That’s circular logic. If there wasn’t more to raiding than getting loot so you could raid, there’d be no point to raiding. (OK now I’ve made myself dizzy :) )

    So definitely, our mileages will vary depending on who we’ve been exposed to.

  7. @ foolsage – “I’m not sure that reputation is a horizontal form of progression – it gives rewards (whether story, loot, or access to more content) based on depth of investment.”

    I knew I should be clearer when I wrote that! Reputation as defined in WoW is certainly not particularly horizontal, since it’s really just another path to get more Stuff (TM) — I was actually thinking more about the discussion we had the other day regarding NPC-interactions.

    Reputation-related stuff in the sense that what you do with those activities might affect the rest of the game world. Vanguard’s diplomacy system was a start in that direction, though I think ultimately it (just like the crafting system, but don’t get me started) got subsumed under the general up-up-up directive. Still, the idea was that you could influence NPCs to generate specific buffs for people in certain areas, to unlock certain content, and so on.

    Also, “Access to more content” is only a limiting thing if said content is more of the same upward progression.

    As always, these things are so much easier to critique and discuss than they would be to actually implement. Mmm comfy armchair :D

    One of the downsides of that system (and so many others, because it’s hard to do any other relatively “fair” way) is that it requires a lot of repetitive activity. Even so, the basic concept (and its use of a card-game type match) was very good.

  8. Is it me thinking too literally again to suggest a very literal horizontal progression, where certain you’re locked out of certain areas until you meet some kind of requirements? Or is that just a sideways up? Or maybe depending on some metric, you could enter Area A but not Area B if the metric was high, but not Area B but Area A if the metric was low? We both Areas being “equal” then there’s no ‘up’ to be found there.

    One interesting micro-mechanic that might be worth mentioning is Spellborn’s PeP system. Your PeP can be anything from 0-5, as it goes higher you get some buffs/perks that make things easier. But, every time you die, it drops a level. And since it ‘caps’ at 5 it isn’t too much ‘up’ really.

    I just wonder if that’s an idea that could be more widely used… kind of an ebbing and flowing thing?

    And yeah, thinking out loud and spamming Ysh’s blog again. :)

  9. @ Pete I don’t think there’s any *wrong* way of thinking about it, especially if it helps us notice where we might be thinking “inside the box” too much.

    I’d be tempted to lump all “combat-content unlocking” activities as part of the vertical progression, but then it occurred to me that they don’t all have to be combat-based. You could, for instance, have to solve a bunch of puzzles, perform a bunch of mega-player (as in, LOTS of players take part) activities, or work through a bunch of mini-games in order to unlock whatever it is.

    Maybe it’s part of our combat-centric MMO conditioning to think that “content” is almost always some kind of adversarial winner/loser encounter. As many other games are proving (Puzzle Pirates etc etc) it’s not the only way of doing things.

    Even as I write this, the idea of trying to design an MMO that would have upward AND sideways AND combat AND other forms of interaction… it’s daunting to *me* and I have no idea what I’m talking about in terms of actually trying to do it. ;)

  10. I just want to chime in and echo Pete’s comment that many raiders didn’t raid solely for the chances of obtaining a shiny. I had a guild that I loved playing with, and I would have raided with them often even if they told me I wasn’t allowed loot. Okay, I probably wouldn’t do it multiple nights a week like I did when hoping for loot, but I think I would still enjoy raiding once a week or so.

    The satisfaction of downing a boss for the first time, of completing an entire instance in record time, and the companionship of a group of friendly and funny players were the epic loots for me. I know that I’ll always remember certain people from the guild. I’ve already forgotten most of the equipment I looted.

  11. @ Pete: You’re right, objective data don’t exist to support either position here vis. raiding for loot or pleasure, and our views are certainly subject to salience effects.

    @ Ysharros: Interesting idea… I think it’s certainly possible to have reputation systems fulfill the horizontal progression goal above, but verticality tends to creep in. If e.g. my interactions with a given NPC lead that NPC to form a personal relationship with me (or replace NPC with faction in this equation), which unlocks more potential content or story, there’s a large horizontal component but also a potential vertical component in that I still need to increase a reputation or faction rating to achieve those horizontal goals.

    I think access to content can be horizontal – it doesn’t need to be more difficult or rewarding content, after all, just different in an interesting way or otherwise compelling. Say for instance that all newbies tend to adventure in the Village of Noobton, and so there’s often a fair amount of competition for resources. Unlocking the ability to adventure in the neighboring Village of Noobville is a horizontal reward, assuming the content there is just as rewarding as Noobton’s; the advantage in this example lies in the lessened competition.

    Another way to achieve this goal is to allow players access to more content to use in modifying their surroundings; this can be horizontal or vertical progress. If e.g. players can plant crops, and corn and squash are equally valuable as crops, then gaining the ability to plant squash where before you could only plant corn is a horizontal step. If you later learn to plant zucchini, which is +10 to all stats, that’s vertical progress. A similar example can be created for decorations, where a greater wealth of decorating options (for one’s home, for the village one explores in, etc) is innately desirable, but if the decorations are purely cosmetic, it’s only horizontal progress.

  12. @ Jen & Pete — that’s good to know, re: raids. Makes me wonder though… what if instances were designed SPECIFICALLY for the experience? As in, experiencing it, not the xp.

    I know they are to a certain extent already, but they’re also designed to provide a particular set of challenges for a particular mix of people and/or classes and/or gear, etc.

    What if they also had puzzles or cutscenes or funny stuff? Yes, I’m being very vague because I’m not very clear on it myself. It sort of fits with OCIPI!’s idea that instances could be smaller, more casual, less “epic” in scale. Again… not entirely hum-drum, just scaled down somewhat. In theory that might free up time to design a whole slew of instance-lets rather than 2-3 mondo instances, which could also be fun.

    Eh, I’m just waffling because (as usual) I don’t want to work. :P

    • That’s basically what LotRO did with their epic story; there were numerous instances that required groups, and the point of completing them was largely to experience the storyline. It worked pretty well by and large, though the epic story did succumb to “tedious repetitive travel = challenge” a lot in some places. Many of the instances were quite fun though.

    • Games designed specifically for the experience, say a level-less game that’s very horizontal, may well be a good direction to explore. Given the human packrat gene, though, we’ll probably always need some verticality, at least to keep some people playing.

  13. I’m trying to think of some examples of ‘sideways’ advancement in WoW (the primary MMORPG I’ve played):

    Crafting

    Ysh mentioned this and I think a big reason this appealed to me in it’s simple form is that it’s not just whack a mole and level. You can help other people with providing them things they need (although some perverse players seemed to think it was unfair to get supplies from others for free, you should either create them yourself just buy them off the AH). My crafting decision was also basically a RP decision – what kind of ‘hobby’ is appropriate for my toon. So here we have the opportunity for community building, roleplaying, and sideways advancement all in one!

    Reputation:

    In WoW this was primarily a grind, though it does tie in well with crafting rewards to help others.

    Acheivements:

    Do it for the ‘flag’ not for anything else. Even though there is a ‘Pokemon’ collect-them-all mentality that seemed to come with achievements, the nice thing is that it does give you a reward that doesn’t advance your character in any way that helps you fight bigger ‘foozles’. There were things I did just for fun that later became an achievement. I’m sure there are people who just do them to check off the boxes and don’t read any of the quest lines or think at all about what they’ve done, but at least it does give an opportunity to reward playing the game a different way than just ‘Bigger and Better.’

  14. My thoughts exploded into disarray as I started to write this, and i’m out of time so you’ll be left with a brief on-topic thought then the much huger tangent below :/

    —————————TANGENT—————————-

    Ysharros: “I know [instances] are [designed SPECIFICALLY for the experience] to a certain extent already, but they’re also designed to provide a particular set of challenges for a particular mix of people and/or classes and/or gear, etc.”

    I recently asked one of my friends what would keep him running the Deadmines instance in WoW (to this day it remains one of his favorites) and his reply was simple- that it would have to be different every time he played it.

    I see this as being as simple as picking up a new sudoku. I enjoy sudokus but why would I want to keep working the same one over and over- eventually i’ll memorize all the spaces and it will degenerate into filling out the numbers from memory. I ask you to consider this a parallel to running instances and raids. My best experiences in MMOs IN GENERAL (this is rare if not impossible to find in an MMO) are when we’re all “green.” No one knows the fights we’re going to be in, how many mobs there will be, what the mobs will do, if we’ll have time to rest, etc. Basically no one knows what to expect and it’s fun to figure things out (trial and error ftw!).

    I can’t find much enjoyment in end-game raiding/instances because I’m told what to do. I fulfill my role and I click the RIGHT buttons, and we do the boss the RIGHT way. There is no experimentation, no surprises, often times no room for error (tank/healer dies = wipe usually (although in LotRO I have found that this is not always the case (woohoo! Captain class!)) and it’s not a dynamic battle, and therefore holds far less excitement than it could.

    ——————ON-TOPIC————————–

    I guess I can reel it all back in to say that if an instance was, say, even just modular in design that could alleviate some of the repetition involved, and let instances have more horizontal use instead of as caves with mobs and gear. Gotta run- sorry I couldn’t cap it all off nicer :/

  15. @JotS — that’s an interesting analogy with sudoku, or indeed puzzle games in general. Doing them is fun, but doing the same one over and over rapidly loses its charm. That period is longer with MMO instances (mostly), but the basic principle is the same: human beings are smart enough to want variety once they’ve just about memorised something new. Even if it’s not a huge change — some variety > none, and is often enough to keep us quite happily entertained.

  16. I’ve often wondered if instead of [Item of Hoopy Froodness] being the reward for quest #28521, that each quest could earn you points/tokens/brass rings that then allow you to get the item you actually want instead of the one you settle for because it’s the best of a bad lot or you can sell it for the most cash. Would that encourage people to follow quests storylines because of the story and not the reward?

    • If players could turn in the tokens for better items, then no, I don’t think it would encourage players to pay more attention to quest storylines. It will only cause players to blaze through quests even faster in an attempt to collect as many tokens as possible to get the items they want.

    • I’d go for Hoopy Froodness, anyway. But Jen makes a fair point (that probably wouldn’t have occurred to my thick self).

      Nonetheless, token systems in general may not be such a bad idea, though the mechanism and whatnot might need a bit of tweaking. Not necessarily as a replacement for ALL loot…

      It was eventually implemented in Vanguard (after I left, bastards!) as a way of obtaining the rarer crafting recipes… Because the way THAT originally worked was that you’d craft your ass off all. bloody. day. long (oh yes, a grind it was) and open all your goody bags and get Sweet-FA, whereas Lucky-Bastard Tom next to you got 3 copies of the same one. There were *way* too many people getting unlucky… and a large part of the problem was that despite initial claims that those recipes were “entirely optional,” in practice they weren’t since no adventurer would buy SlightlyCrapItem001 when they could get RatherNiceItem002 from Lucky-Bastard Tom.

      Oops, rambling again. Anyway, they put in a token system I think, where you would collect varying qualities thereof and be able to trade them in for… er, recipe stuff.

      The new CoX Mission Architect system also uses some kind of token reward (instead of money), and you can spend those on… I’m not sure. Tipa knows. ;)

    • Such a token system is already being used in LotRO (e.g. the PvP loot tokens, Rift tokens). It’s treated more or less like any other loot system as far as I can see, and doesn’t change the way players approach the content.

  17. @Ysharros “Even as I write this, the idea of trying to design an MMO that would have upward AND sideways AND combat AND other forms of interaction… it’s daunting to *me* and I have no idea what I’m talking about in terms of actually trying to do it.”

    Basic design is done, I got past that step a year ago. As to what it takes to get it done, simple enough, people, paychecks, equipment. The biggest limits are centered around ROI, 12 million won’t create a polished bugless or super content rich experience but will pay itself back in a year at 70-100k players paying roughly 15$/mo. 20 million is probably the sweet spot, but if you want to pay it back in a year you’re betting on a user base of over 100K. 200k can pay for a 30 mil pot, 300k for a 60 mil pot, of course each of these come with increasing amounts of overhead as well. Personally I prefer 20 mil, flexible, expandable, and judging from recent numbers not as big a gamble as it used to be. Problem is, making a team big enough to do everything, yet small enough to make your budget last five years.

  18. Anticipation. That’s what is lost today. People get used to patterns. People know that computer programs output patterns. From the most popular FPS to our beloved MMOs…it’s all about patterns. Or…it’s static. There is nothing to anticipate. After a while, we know what is going to happen. A game system or computer can only give us so much. We like the spontaneity that the human element can give us.

  19. Pingback: I Love Blocky Terrain, Simple Spell Animations, and Cube-Headed Character Models « Holocron in a Hobbit Hole

  20. Wolfshead had the very same ideas we shared at Muckbeast’s page even earlier, it seems.

    I think the problem is rather to end the example set by WoW. It makes $$$, and I am sceptical if a more open-worlded design philosophy would make more $$$, so why should developers abandon the guided bus tour concept… :(

  21. @ Longasc – heya :) I still think on balance WoW has done more good for the industry than bad, but it can be tough to point it out these days, or to find it in the face of the all-crushing juggernaut it’s become.

    (As for previous mentions of ideas — absolutely. I make *no* claim to originality. Half my posts at least are inspired by conversations had elsewhere!)

  22. I will start my usual rant: It cannot be the future of the MMO to play up to level 60,70,80 +10 per expansion in a single-player way and then to raid for loot and/or challenge!

    I will now probably upset all people who love raiding for the undeniable social bonding experience, but raiding has become quite easy nowadays and is more of a weekly loot acquisition run.

    Heck, I got bored from speed running Karazhan long before the rest of my guild.

    We need a WORLD for our MMO. Living, breathing, fun. Not quest and progressdriven almost singleplayer game content and no endgame content, which seems to be to 90% identical to Raiding.

    Is there nothing else to do in WoW besides going to the arena OR raiding?

    On the other hand, Pete S has a point: I am a “veteran” and formerly really avid MMO gamer. It has indeed become a jaded pleasure for me.

  23. P.S.: I wonder about Guild Wars 2, announced for 2010/11. We hear hardly any news about it, but they have very high ambitions.

  24. I totally agree with jedi’s comment about the figuring out how to handle a situation is a massive part of what makes RPG’s fun in general. Memorising a routine that is the same each time, or only has a couple of well known variations, is quite lame.

    The reason I mentioned Guild Wars Ysh is that it is very easy to reach cap. It took a few weeks of modestly casual play time at release (Prophecies), but with Factions and Nightfall and Eye of the North (expansions) you hit level cap much faster.

    Then, the progression is entirely horizontal. You acquire new skills which are *different*, not more powerful. You might have a particular build idea that you want to work towards, so you’ll spend some of your acquired skill points on obtaining those skills. That build, on average, won’t be *better* than other builds… but you might have more fun with it. That to me is the key to advancement in MMO’s – don’t give people power, give them options.

    The “end-game” content, after you’ve finally unlocked all those horizontal options? Mostly fluff. You can easily have a character with max power and items in Guild Wars (in PvP, you can roll a max level one straight away any time you like), but the best looking items take some grind to get to. So, you can grind if you think it’s worth it for the looks, but under no circumstances do you have to grind for more power.

    This is the single biggest reason why, when I tried WoW after playing Guild Wars for a few months, I couldn’t stomach it at all (after getting past the weee fast early levels).

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