Wednesday, September 21, 2011

A Transient Group Leveling Game

I was thinking about making it hard to respec, and that led me to thinking about how "group-centric" specs get the shaft because they find it so hard to solo. I love having my Ret off-spec easily available so that I can do dailies. Then I thought that, if you couldn't solo, group-centric specs would actually be fine during the leveling game.

But a lot of the older games required a group, and they were outperformed by WoW. A great deal of WoW's success is attributed to the fact that WoW allowed people to solo up to the level cap. But then I remembered a comment by Christopher a few days ago which phrased this common wisdom in a subtly different manner:

WoW really broke new ground by bringing transient players into a style of game that had always been built around extended players, and doing so massively increased their subscriber numbers.
Transient/extended is not the same thing as solo/group. The concepts overlap a fair deal, but there are differences. And maybe those differences are exploitable.

What would a game where you leveled in transient groups look like?

It could look like leveling through the Dungeon Finder or by running PvP battlegrounds. That's certainly one option.

But could you adapt questing in an open world to a transient group style?  Thinking about this, here's what I came up with.

1. Imagine you had to be in a group whenever you ventured outside a city. The game would automatically place you in an existing group or form one for you. You could still have a "find another group" option while in a group though. You would probably need an option to teleport to the group's location to make life easier for joining mid-quest.

2. World content would be tuned for 3 players, with groups of up to 5 being allowed to give flexibility when forming groups.

3. Quests would be tied to the group, not the individual. When your group is formed, it is given a quest. When your group completes that quest, the group is given a new quest. The quests could be semi-random, in that they don't necessarily form a story-chain the way quests in WoW do. When you leave your group, you lose access to the quest you are currently working on.

Do you think such a game would be viable? It's entirely transient, with people being added to and leaving groups as necessary. You could still play with an extended group if you prefer. But it's definitely a group-centric game where you can't solo. Playing a tank or a healer would be much more viable as you always have the group those roles need to thrive.

I'm not sure if this style of play would be viable. But I think it would be an interesting experiment.

16 comments:

Ephemeron said...

What would a game where you leveled in transient groups look like?

I believe it would look not entirely unlike Diablo II. Join a group of total strangers, do a few quick "baalruns", "tristruns" or "cowlevels", and then part ways, each several levels richer.

Rodos said...

Often when I choose to do dailies or level an alt rather than run a random dungeon it's because I want to be able to get up from the computer at a moment's notice. Given WoW's trivial death penalty, I can get up, even in the middle of a fight, help my wife with something, and come back to the game 5 minutes or 5 hours later without worry. I'd feel bad about bailing on a group in the middle of a quest, even a group of randoms.

Unless you're completely asocial, I think forming any kind of group immediately pushes you up several notches on the transient-extended scale. The barrier to forced group play is more than just setting up the group, it's also forced sociability. I think NPC mercenaries are a better way to allow leveling in "group spec", while leaving the level of social involvement to the player's discretion.

Talarian said...

Rift kind of hit on this with the open groups and some Rift content requiring multiple people. The problem was, however, that everyone levelled past the not-max level zones and now they're ghost zones, leaving just a small number of people in the lower to middle zones, making that "group" content inaccessible.

Azuriel said...

Imagine you had to be in a group whenever you ventured outside a city.

Was this meant to be ironic?

I ask because at that point, the game may as well not have an "outside the city" since it does not exist without groups. Ergo, you have created a lobby-based game with a city-sized lobby. And not an MMO by any practical definition.

Kring said...

Allience side, no one liked Arathi Highlands back in vanilla. And Arathi Highlands was the one zone which was designed for a group of 3 people instead of mainly solo quests.

But that might have all be different if there were no collection quests...

Imakulata said...

@Rodos, I think that's why the grouping would be mandatory. There is a difference in perception of a group you formed and a group you were simply put in without being asked for your opinion.

Kevin said...

You couldn't pay me to play a game like this.

Redbeard said...

It sounds interesting, but one nice part about solo play is that you can stop, park your toon, and go take care of whatever (like, say, a crying baby) without much of an issue. Obviously, that doesn't work so well for PvP servers, but on PvE servers it works great. Requiring travel/questing outside of cities to have groups would cause issues, because you'd be tethering yourself to the group.

Yes, I know that when you enter an instance or BG you're doing the same thing, but requiring almost all questing to be the same method severely limits solo play.

Instead of all travel/questing requiring groups, how about half of the major quests requiring groups? Kind of what you get in the Ghostlands or Bloodmyst with the grouping quests (or the Icecrown quests), but more of them and tuned for three people?

Pallais said...

I'd probably never play a game like that. While WoW is highly social, large parts of it aren't mandatorily social. Raiding, five-mans, even guilds allow you to socialize, but leveling/questing lets you work on things by yourself when you want in the manner you want.

How much more frustrating would the leveling process be if you had to wait on someone who went afk unannounced during a quest chain? Remember how frustrating the Icecrown group quests were? Not just because of the phasing, but simply trying to find folk that were on the same stage of the quest chain.

Bronte said...

It is an interesting concept, but from a purely coding point of view, it would be a nightmare.

There is also the additional problem of: "if you join mid-quest, does the group go back to the first objective?" perhaps the group takes a penalty, and you get credit for the other objectives in the group, and the next objective is made a little tougher.

For example, if you joined two people who had just killed 3 rats, and the next objective was kill the rat king. You would get credit for killing the 3 rats, but you would now need to kill the rat queen along with the rat king.

Make sense.

Anyway, I don't think this will ever happen. MMOs, largely, have become solo affairs, and I doubt any studio will have the vision to do something this radical or novel.

stubborn said...

Both Rift and DDO use some of this concept. Rift's been pretty much covered, but in DDO, the entire leveling game is pretty much in instanced dungeons, which get pretty much impossible to solo after level five (or 8 if you're a ridiculously good Monk).

It was a really fun game, even under the sub model, which is when I played it. The flaw my friends and I found was the difficulty of "end game" raiding at the time, where you had 1 shot every 3 days to kill a raid boss; if you failed, you had to do a series of dungeons to get back to it after waiting three days. Not worth it, so we dropped.

The "outside" wasn't inaccessible to solo players, but it was just very tough. You don't have to push a rule saying "you must be in a group," but you can set various XP rewarding, nonlinear goals (i.e. quests) and automatically put people in groups based on proximity, level, and role need. The difficulty would dictate people's adventuring.

I liked DDO, but the first raid was just too unforgiving. I never had a problem getting a group or playing with strangers, but that's a very personal playstyle; I know others who would hate to have to play with strangers all the time, as some of the other comments indicate. WoW was successful because some parts of the gaming community want to be left alone, and WoW allows for that. In another game, they may not feel as comfortable.

Then again, they don't have to play, either; WoW works for them.

Klef said...

The forced group thing tends to go in the niche direction, in my opinion. Look how FFXI lost the battle to WoW in subs numbers. It was sucessful, but not a blockbuster.
FFXIV random quests were very annoying (the game was broken, you couldnt do a lot of quests, etc), no sense of progressing or being part of the world. Maybe some of us still play Fantasy MMOs to be a hero =D
I have to say tho, FFXI had good subs numbers for a lot of years, certainly shows that people love group-centered games. Just not being LFG for 3 hours... Damn Thief class..

Rohan said...

There is also the additional problem of: "if you join mid-quest, does the group go back to the first objective?"

I was actually thinking it doesn't matter. The quest is tied to the group, not the people who are in the group. So if someone new joins, she joins the group at the current stage and works with them through to to the end.

It may not be strictly fair, but it's close enough and a lot simpler than any of the other alternatives.

Rohan said...

Remember how frustrating the Icecrown group quests were? Not just because of the phasing, but simply trying to find folk that were on the same stage of the quest chain.

Yes, but that's the entire point behind tying the quest to the *group* not the individual. When you join a group, you are always part of that group's quest.

You don't need to find people with the same quest state as you, because the individual has no quest state.

This idea requires looking at quests in slightly different manner. Rather than a linear story-chain, they are more like assignments given to you in any order. No strict pre-reqs.

Rohan said...

I ask because at that point, the game may as well not have an "outside the city" since it does not exist without groups. Ergo, you have created a lobby-based game with a city-sized lobby. And not an MMO by any practical definition.

Well, I was thinking more that the outside the city exists, but it's all elite mobs, and the game starts prompting you to join a group. "You are not in a team, would you like to find one?" And if you hit yes, the game automatically puts you in a group.

That sort of thing, not a specific lobby/instance game.

Green Armadillo said...

I think you've identified the correct first step, which is that there cannot be an option to solo.

I think you also need to go with something lobby-based, rather than a fixed server model, so that there can be tons of copies of the level 30 zones at launch and only one copy as the population moves on and there are no longer enough mid-level players to support that many zones.

After that, you may have to pitch the holy trinity, because it turns out that 90% of your players only want to DPS and therefore can't play the game at all for lack of tanks/heals or soloing. The biggest reason why I never got into non-solo MMO's was that I was not prepared to spend entire evenings failing to find a group.

At this point, you've got something structurally similar to Call of Duty, Guild Wars, TF2, the whole MOBA genre, etc. So yes, it is definitely viable if the gameplay can back it up.