Friday, January 22, 2010

Difficulty and WoW

Various people are once again discussing the difficulty (or lack thereof) of WoW. I don't really understand the fascination with this topic.

Here's a some cold, hard truths:

1. If an activity is hard, most people who attempt it will be never be successful.

2. Fifty percent of all people are below average.

So what does this mean? Let's say you made questing in an MMO to be of average difficulty, whatever that may be. Congratulations, you just eliminated half of your potential customer base! I'm sure your shareholders are thrilled with the purity of your Vision™.

The basic activity in your game must be fairly easy. Questing should be easy enough that 90% of all potential players can do it. (And judging by the fact that people seem to need addons like Questhelper, it isn't there yet.)

After that, you can scale difficulties upwards. 75% of players can do regular dungeons, 50% of players can do heroics, 30% of players can do normal raids, 10% of players can do hard modes, and 0.1% can do the single hardest fight in the game.

To my mind WoW has done a very good job of providing content of appropriate difficulty for everyone. There is something for people of every skill level including those people who are not that skilled. Providing basic gameplay that low-skilled players can do is just good business sense.

If you think WoW is too easy, maybe you should step up to the next level of challenge.


  1. I agree with your post, except for the QuestHelper bit. I use Tourguide because I'm an altoholic, but I'm lazy and want it to guide me through quickly on my alts.

  2. Video game elitists will be video game elitists. They'll always find some way to put others down for not matching their imaginary level of superiority. Make the game easy and they'll complain that it's too easy. Make the game hard and they'll never shut up about how other games are for carebears and noobs.

    As for quest addons, those are for people who are mindless and don't read quests. They're either going around their first time and didn't read what tend to be very clear directions of where to go or they're alts who never paid any attention the first time around and once again have no clue.

    They're the non-exploring type who would be better off being teleported to untextured, flat plains, where they can kill the 10 boars, which just look like boxes, the same as the raptors, and then be ported back.

  3. I, like you, am thinking tht Blizz has done a great job of making the game enjoyable for a lot of people.

    The only thing that would me join the rank of the complainers is that they probably are making the content available a bit too soon.

    I'm guildless because I can't devote more than 1 night a week to raidng and for people like me since the Halls of reflection nerf there's not even a single 5-man that i can group with some friends and be remotely proud to finish it without trouble.

    I get it, they added raid content so they can afford to keep this one hard and "nerf" the "newly old"
    but I'd be glad if they kept the latest 5-man little difficult for a little more for people like me who can't go to the latest 10-man and 25

    PS: On a technical sidenote, your statement 2 is wrong. Fifty percent of all people are below the median, not the average. But I agree that when making a point it sounds better when using average, because people don't get statistics anyway.

  4. And so much for me not proof reading what I write, sorry for all the missing words/verbs

  5. The only thing that annoys me about complaining about difficulty is when people start complaining that it's easy only after they've figured out how to beat it.

    When Ulduar came out, and even not counting some of the encounter adjustments, my guild was getting whupped and people were saying "This is the difficulty we were looking for". Fast forward a few weeks after we've learned and beaten all the encounters, and the same people were instead complaining that Ulduar was far too easy. The content hadn't really changed any, only our gear level and understanding of the fights.

    With regards to Quests and Questhelper, I don't think I would argue that they are too difficult for the majority of players to perform. People use Questhelper because they either don't understand what the quest is saying (which to be honest is true of a lot of old quests), or because they don't want to understand what the quest is saying, and would rather the game handhold them the entire way.

  6. My only suggestion would be to bring back attunements at level cap for endgame content and actually have a progression path to follow again.

    It would make raiding less trivial and personally it would feel like a real "achievement" to be able to build my set to be able to step into a raid. Building like in Vanilla wow where you had to hunt for certain pieces to build your class set in different instances i.e. dungeon sets.

    Maybe removing the emblem system would help. Also it would be nice if they could go back to the system where you had to complete a certain instance to unlock the next, a real path of progression.

    One could only hope, call me nostalgic. :)

  7. I agree wholeheartedly. Accessibility has defined the success of WoW, and every MMO developer that comes after will owe the scale of their success to Blizzard's efforts to grow the market by reaching out to more casual gamers.

    I would say, however, that I feel the difficulty levels of game activities are probably not so evenly distributed. In my opinion, 99% of players can do normal dungeons, 95% can do heroics, 30% can do normal raids, 3% can do hard modes, and 0.01% can do the hardest fight in the game (many servers don't have *any* Algalon kills).

    Obviously, defining the difficulty of categories of activities (heroic dungeons, normal raids, etc.) is a generalization, but if there is a problem with the difficulty in WoW, it is that we often see very large gaps in difficulty levels rather than a smoother gradient.

  8. I completely agree with you. I think this is really a main reason of why WoW is successful. Every level of gamer has something to achieve and go for. And if you achieve that, there is always something better.

    I really like their difficulty system!

    -Zach Sebag

  9. There are places for very hard games. Demon's Souls comes to mind. But it's not a game for everyone and WoW is very much a mass-market game that caters to a wide variety of people. Demon's Souls does not.

    I think WoW's difficulty is pretty well balanced. There have been some possible misfires. I think Ulduar was too hard and ToC too easy by comparision while still being on the normal raiding track, but generally the difficulty is just right.

  10. After thinking more about this post, I think there's more than just player skill and content difficulty at work here. Player skill level changes over time -- the more attempts you make at a particular encounter the better you get. Diminishing returns apply of course.

    The problem many casual players like me have is that it's hard to find a group that's at the same place on the learning curve as you are. For example, I have a decent gear score, but I've only tanked Halls of Reflection a handful of times. In order to really get better, I need to try different approaches until I work out the combination that fits my class, play style, and yes, skill level.

    The problem I have is that a week or so after new content comes out, the "above average" crowd has it all figured out and they expect everyone else to know the fights as well as they do.

    They forget that they are "above average" because they are: A) truly more skilled at the game, B) have put in the playing time to improve their skill by making multiple runs through the content, or C) both.

    I believe that the main reason that many average (and below) players don't get to the harder content is they can't make the time commitment to consistently participate in even a "casual" raiding guild. Once you're behind the learning curve, it's hard to "catch up" and get in the door with pick-up groups -- especially in critical roles like tank and healer.