Monday, February 20, 2012


As long-time readers know, I am a proponent of experiments, of trying new ideas out and seeing what problems result, rather than trying to predict everything that will happen in advance. The best knowledge comes from previous experiments. We know unlimited PvP is not popular, because of the Felucca/Trammel split in Ultima Online.

There are lots of experiments I would like to see MMO companies try, even if most of us think they would end badly. Of course, it's hard for an MMO to wildly experiment when the cost of a failed experiment is the loss of many subscribers. I'm sure Blizzard has regrets about some of the experiments they carried out in Cataclysm.

One experiment I would like to see is the release of new content without increasing item level. A new raid tier is released, with new loot, new item sets, but the exact same item level as the previous tier.

Now, I think that we're all in agreement that this would go over like a lead balloon. But none of us are absolutely sure. It's possible that the audience would be fine with it, maybe for a little bit.

The thing is that if the audience is okay with new content at the same item level, that would help enormously with some problems in endgame. You wouldn't have this constant ramp up of power levels. You could introduce more tiers, or space out content in a cleaner fashion, without impacting the power level. You wouldn't need as many catch-up mechanisms.

Admittedly, it's unlikely that keeping the item level the same would be popular. But we don't know for certain.

Another experiment I'd like to see is not having raid content available on release. Open it up three months afterwards, and make sure that everyone knows this is the plan. I think there is a much greater pressure to blow through leveling content among veteran MMO players. Perhaps giving those players time to digest the leveling experience, to stop and smell the roses, would be beneficial in the long run.

What experiments would you like to see an MMO try?


  1. I would like to see the environment react more to players. Let's say a bunch of players quest to kill 15 coyotes, the more players kill coyotes, the more other animals spawn, then the quests shift to allow the coyotes populations to recover.

    I want surprised in a content patch. I would like to see something shocking and more permanent world shaking events. Like when they killed Morpheus in Matrix Online.

  2. Didn't the release the initial raid content for Cata a month or 2 after release? Most people weren't ready for the raids within a week or even 2 and the only ones it inconveniences are the very top level guilds, who probably completed as much as possible of the raids in the beta anyway.

  3. You can try the "no ilevel increase" experiment right now.

    Step 1: Raid places that have zero upgrades for you.
    Step 2: Repeat.
    Step 3: ???
    Step 4: Unsubscribe.

    I do not consider myself an "item whore" or "BiS-er" or whatever. However, what possible reason is there to run raid content more than once, other than gear? The fights themselves are not intrinsically fun, and failing through no fault of your own certainly is not fun either.

    Does the reward always have to be gear? No. Will I be interested in 14+ new pets/titles each tier? Probably not.

  4. I also think that "same ilvl" would be a non-start for a lot of people. Unless it was prettier gear, or the instance had achievements and cool mounts or distinctive vanity pets or something. (Heck people run ICC now just for the mounts. They're not exactly getting gear upgrades out of there.)

    But, given the amount of time and optimization and theorycrafting people go through for a 0.2% increase in DPS or HPS or effective health, I see no reason why there have to be such huge gulfs either.

    If each raid tier were say 5 ilvl above the previous it would seriously slow down the stat inflation vs the current 13. And people would certainly grumble. But there's this idea that each tier needs to be a set % more powerful than the previous, and I think that's the assumption that needs challenging.

    Of course I'm the same guy who doesn't understand why trash drop greens from a new expansion have to be better than the best piece of heroic loot from the hardest raid of the previous expansion.

  5. Considering people already complain about a dearth of content as is, I doubt pushing off raid content until 3 months after a release is a sound strategy.

    Ghostcrawler has already explained why there's an exponential rather than linear gain in stats between expansions. If it were linear from vanilla wow, each tier would only be an increase of like 10 STR for example. Now, you might think, sure, that's fine, but when level 60 gear has like 50 STR to start with, by the time you hit Tier 11, 10 STR is not nearly as big an upgrade comparatively when you're talking going from 150 to 160 STR vs the original 50 to 60 STR. And so to achieve the same feel for an upgrade you need to scale exponentially (ie: each tier is 10% more powerful than the last).

    That still leaves, however, the capability that previous expansion gear can be used for the current expansion. Blizzard has stated that this is undesirable, as they want players to feel rewarded for completing current content. So the only way to fix it such that cannot happen is exponential scaling, perhaps increasing the scale significantly from on expansion to the next to ensure that you need to be on the gear treadmill to complete current content.

    Now, whether you agree with that is another thing. I think you have a point in that the scale need not be quite as steep as it is, but it would be difficult to argue for a linear increase because the math just doesn't work out in favour of feeling more powerful. Getting higher tiers meaning upgrades mean less is not a good way for them to keep their customers on the gear treadmill

  6. I think this is an interesting idea. I've always likened weekly guid raiding to intramural sports. My brother In law plays softball three nights a week. My dad plays golf once a week. Really it's not all that different. But the reward structure is quite different. To think my father plays the same golf course every week (mostly) rarely buys new equipment (gear) and really only plays for the social aspect and the can he do better than last time aspect. Can this work in an MMO? is challenge mode a step toward that? (Would be nice to find a way to compete other than speed through instance.)

  7. Except it's not new? It's still the same style- bring x players, tank takes lots of damage, needs heals, dps fights the boss while dodging some gimmick. It's only the gear that changes. Boss models and art and setting are meaningless to most players.

  8. I'm not sure I understand the logic behind a same-ilvl raid. The net result would be: people who have trouble with raid 1 have the same trouble with raid 2. People who cleared/farmed raid 1 will be able to clear/farm raid 2 from release day. What is this supposed to add to the game?
    Or you could nerf raid 1 over time, simulating the effect of better gear from raid 2, but then this is already what's going on....

  9. I think that no-ilvl increase in content works well enough in other settings. It works well in many console games. I never received a better weapon in 2 years of playing Halo 3 online. I didn't care. It works well in golf. My mother-in-law plays golf 2x per week on the same course in her late 60s and doesn't care. But in both examples, every game is different (and in the case of golf sociable). Every Halo 3 match has different dynamics, every golf game has different weather / opponents (golf is a nice example as on one level it is more PvE than PvP unless you play at high level).

    I think that a zero ilvl raid instance could work quite well, but it would need to be rewarding "in and of itself", which means dynamic and engaging variations in gameplay, be it procedurally generated content or whatever.

    Zero ilvl raid instance would not work for a strictly linear instance when the mechanical gameplay is quite simple and easily repeatable once learned. Then, the only reason to raid is loot progression, and perhaps fun in Vent, if you are lucky to raid with people who can generate 3 hours of stand-up comedy over the mic for you each night (I'm not).


  10. I'd love it if endgame PvP/raids weren't released right away. I do feel forced to rush through the leveling content, heroics, etc. :(

    The Trammel/Felucca split doesn't proves anything, though. Admittedly I wasn't connected to the community (didn't visit forums and such), but just because a company makes a decision it doesn't prove the majority of players approved of it. Bad decisions ultimately ran Ultima Online into the ground, after all.

    I wish there was still an MMORPG like UO; I hate how WoW has become a bunch of minigames for people who "have lives," whose "time is important." I'm not saying all the convenience changes were bad, but I no longer feel like I'm in a living world and that sucks.

  11. Wasn't this sort of attempted with the ilvl 353 gear from the Troll instances?

  12. If they released same-ilevel content repeatedly, it could go over better, because players would have different expectations. However I think this could create too much parallel content, risking watering it down.

  13. Of course it could theoretically work, Pen-and-Paper RPG's are a good example (they expand content horizontally instead of vertically ie more options added instead of newer options replacing the older options).

    And twinked-out toons being able to clear content above their level is actually a given, it's very odd from a pure game design point that say the top-Raiders shouldn't be able to do entry level end-game content of a new Expansion right of the bat (also from a world-building perspective but perhaps a bit too RP ;)

    However, it doesn't fit well with Blizzard's policy of planned obsolessence: every Expansion should make the previous one trivial and obsolete, so, to remain in the virtual rat-race, people will have to buy the new product.

    That's the only real reason why we see such things as Tier resets, iLevel explosions, and Expansions adding levelling content for those that don't like levelling, period (as well as no progression/roll-back Realms, as Thou Shalt Not Escape The Rat Race)

    And thus the local fishing village in a next Expansion doling out gear better than previous Expansion's Legendaries for being beset by pigs with more levels than Bosses a few tiers below.

  14. I don't know if I'd say raid fights aren't intrinsically fun--rather they aren't inherently rewarding. Hence, the gear and titles. Winning is intrinsically fun, which is why people run old raids even when there is nothing to gain from it. It's wiping and dying that suck all the fun out. There is a certain thrill to downing a raid boss quite apart from the loot.

    I would like to see a move away from the 'fun' model. If you think about old WoW, there were lots of things that weren't really all that fun. Leveling, especially past 45. Getting stomped by marauding elites in a leveling zone. Grinding reputation by actually doing something rather than as a passive side effect of running dungeons. Running around on foot prior to level 40.

    WoW today is more fun, but it has come at a price. It is less meaningful. As an analogy, climbing a mountain isn't fun in and of itself. But it is meaningful, which is why people do it. The really meaningful things that people do in their lives are those that are difficult, not very exciting at the time, and where there is a chance of failure. On the other hand, going on a weekend bender is a lot of fun, but isn't meaningful in the slightest.

    So, I would like to see an MMO-or any game really-focus more on being meaningful to its players rather than ephemerally 'fun'.

  15. @Hofflerand, the Felucca/Trammel split is important because Felucca and Trammel were identical except for the PvP ruleset. Trammel was consent-only PvP, while Felucca was the original anything-goes PvP.

    90% of the playerbase chose to stay on Trammel, which clearly demonstrates that the vast majority of the playerbase will not accept anything-goes PvP, especially player looting, if there is a choice.

    It was a clear experiment which showed definitive results in player behavior.

  16. The Felucca/Trammel split showed that, given a choice, players will be lazy. That's not surprising and it didn't make the game better. Is WoW better now that max-level is sitting in cities and queuing for all the content?

    Again, I'm not saying all convenience updates (dungeon finder and such) are bad, that I want a purely sandbox game, but WoW has moved too far towards the theme park style. There needs to be more incentives to travel out into the world -- for example, flying mounts disabled in certain areas and better rewards for completing a dungeon without dungeon finder. Also, the rules on PvP servers should be harsher. Players who want world PvP -- which is about that constant sense of danger, not merely ganking low-levels who can't defend themselves -- should be allowed to have it.

  17. Reposting from my comment on the MMO melting pot which featured this post:

    People shouldn't make these kind of "why hasn't anyone done this???" posts becuase invairably someone has, and they just don't know about it.

    LOTRO had 4 years of effectively no end game gear progression including, somewhat unbelievably, an expansion and 5-level cap increase. Yep, from Mines of Moria to the end of the Mirkwood expansion, there was effectively no end game gear inflation in lotro. The dungeon "progression" through this time was as follows (line breaks indicate the following content was released in a different patch/expansion):

    (level 60)
    Moria dungeons x6
    Moria lair raid (Watcher)

    Moria lair raid (Turtle)

    Lothlorien dungeons x3
    Lothlorien 6-boss raid

    (level 65)
    Mirkwood dungeons x4
    Mirkwood 6-boss raid

    In Your Absence dungons x5
    In Your Absence 6-boss raid

    There was almost literally no gear progression over that content. Not only was it possible to wear the armour set you got from the initial moria instances/raid in that list in the T2 hard modes of the final raid in that list, for many classes it was optimal. There was very minimal, if any, progression of jewlery - most "upgrades" were actually sidegrades - and it was perfectly feasible to wear level 60 drops or even CRAFTED items in the final raid there. The only clear progression was for weapons which had a ~5% jump in power at each tier (somewhat bigger one with the level cap increase).

    I'm not going to go into whether this was necessarily good or bad (it was a bit of both), just pointing out that this "experiment" has been done.

  18. One experiment I would like to see is the release of new content without increasing item level. A new raid tier is released, with new loot, new item sets, but the exact same item level as the previous tier.

    This game is called FFXI, which for over half of it's lifespan had all new content balanced to be the "same" as stuff you got in the original launch, because they didn't want people to feel bad about replacing stuff. This had a TERRIBLE effect on the game, and twisted class and mechanic balance in weird ways because basically nothing could ever be better then that one sword that naturally hit multiple times.

  19. A variation on the idea would be if the loot had the same ilvl, but had some buff for that particular dungeon. For example, they could release a new dungeon filled with undead, and the dungeon could drop a bunch of gear that has extra damage against undead. You'd still want to get it, but mainly just while you are working on that chunk of content. When the next chunk of content comes out, you'd be onto something new.

  20. the way to make items horizontal and not vertical is to diminish their impact on stats and increase their impact on abilities.

    This is mostly how equipment works in ffxi and why people are still doing old endgame content in order to get their hands on equipment that has unique benefits and why people often have more than 1 set of gear for different circumstances. my dnc has evasion gear and haste gear.

    I'd like to see what happens when wow makes it possible for people to join multiple guilds. People could then maintain social and raid ties with different groups.

  21. @PB: could you tell us what you think was good and bad about the LOTRO (lack of) gear progression?

  22. We have sortof seen this. It is akin to the phenomenon of an undertuned boss. Examples include Naxxramus in WotLK which people cleared in T6 gear. What will happen then is that gear upgrades are irrelevant; then the only use is to clear the content once for the achievement (in-game or personal), and perhaps try the meta achievements.

    I've also seen it this patch 4.3 in WoW. Most of my characters had ilvl 378. Doing the new dungeons would also drop ilvl 378, so there wasn't much point. They were also worse, lacking e.g. a red gem. The only use was to boost 4 random people, or to get VP.

    Your experiment would not work for people who play content for just the gear upgrades. We will see how it turns out. Where? Challenge mode. That won't drop gear. But here, not everyone is forced to play this whereas we had to farm the troll HCs for VP.

    Also don't forget ilvl doesn't say everything. There is always this imba trinket or staff. Shard of Woe and Taragosca. Those are extreme cases, but there are others like the 2H str from Deathwing is ilvl 390 would be higher DPS increase than say 390 gloves or shoulders from Spine.

  23. The same or lower iLvl raid worked in WoW vanilla (Zul'Gurub, AQ20) and TBC (Zul'Aman). However, it was under multiple-tier models. I.e. there were people who were in these lower tiers.
    Now all players are in the last tier. If new same-iLvl raid has the same difficulty as current raid but raiders are already in the same iLvl-gear, it is obvious that the new raid will last not as long as current, despite development cost could be the same or even highr. If the new raid has the same iLvl loot but higher difficulty then very few people will use it - why face higher difficulty for the same reward?