Tobold's Blog
Thursday, August 16, 2007
 
Coming late to the party

Several people commented on my recent Everquest 2 posts that yes, the game had improved since release, but starting it now wasn't so enjoyable because there were so few people playing in the low- and mid-level zones. Meanwhile my wife reached level 30 with her umpteenth alt in World of Warcraft, and is complaining that there are no mid-level items or potions to be found in the auction house. I begin to see a pattern here.

People sometimes say that MMORPGs are static. You slay the dragon, rescue the princess, and ten minutes later the dragon respawned and some other player has to rescue the same damn princess all over again. Patches and expansion sets fix bugs and add new content, but very rarely change the old content. My very first WoW character was a dwarven priest, in the September 2004 stress-test beta. His first quest was about killing some wolves, which gained him some gloves (if I remember correctly) as reward. If some new player started WoW today and made a dwarf, his first quest would be exactly the same, giving exactly the same reward. Content is more or less static.

But what changes is the player population. As I reported back then I also made a human character on the first day of the beta, and had problems doing a quest to kill kobold workers for the simple reason that every kobold worker spawn point was camped by half a dozen other players. Create a human level 1 character today, and you might find yourself all alone in that newbie zone, with plenty of kobold workers to chose from. On day 1 of a server everybody is level 1. After nearly 3 years of WoW, most players are at the level cap, and the new players and alts are stretched thinly over the other now 69 levels. Every expansion raising the level cap will stretch the lower levels even thinner. And of course it can make old content obsolete. Scholomance is still there, unchanged, but as there are much better alternatives now for getting level 60 loot than a Scholomance group, the place is deserted.

Thus although the content is static, the dynamic changes in the population change the player experience of a game. Playing your first EQ2 or WoW character now is not the same as it was playing him nearly 3 years ago, even if you would visit only content that hasn't changed since then. Finding a group at lower levels has become much more difficult, and the economy of the auction house has fundamentally changed. Joining a guild of people who know each other for years isn't the same as joining a freshly founded guild in which everybody is new to the game. That affects some people more than others. If you are a lone wolf by nature and play those games like a single-player game anyway, you might actually be happy to have so much of the content for yourself nowadays. But if you are a more social gamer, and like to group, a 3-year old game might already be way past it's prime for you. And it affects some games more than others. A more solo-friendly game survives aging better than a game in which you need a group for everything.

The original Everquest is eight and a half years old now, and chances are that it will reach it's tenth birthday. World of Warcraft will certainly survive ten years too. Even the much smaller Lord of the Rings Online might well make it for ten years. But will any of these games survive 20 years? Only in a museum or on some nostalgians private server, I'd guess. Apart from technical problems, like how to run WoW on Windows 2024, or the development of computer graphics until then, there is simply no way to have a community survive that long. The model in which MMORPGs add new content in every patch and every expansion simply collapses under it's own weight. Can you imagine WoW with 200 levels and 15 continents? How are you going to have veterans and newbies form a coherent community in such a game?

What will happen with all of these games is that the inflow of new players will slow down from year to year. Some veterans will stay on for a long time, others will leave, with every new big game provoking some kind of exodus. The game company keeps running the game as a cash cow, because all of the development cost have long since been paid, and the running costs are low. Servers will be merged. At some point the addition of new content is slowing down, then halts completely. And then some day there will be an announcement that the game will be shut down. Meanwhile the book Lord of the Rings is over 50 years old, and the brand is still going strong. Some media have a longer lifespan than others.
Comments:
will any of these games survive 20 years? ... Apart from technical problems, like how to run WoW on Windows 2024

Surely the current version of Windows in 2024 will be Vista, no? Not that it doesn't stop the technical problem of how to run WoW on it. Maybe SP2 will help out by that point.
 
Didn't XP come out in 2001? After 6 years it is slowly but surely being phased out. Windows95 came 12 years ago, and is now unsupported. No Vista in 2024 methinks. :)

Which brings up one reason why computer games in general have such hard time to rise the the "art" status: it is so damn hard to find, play and reproduce old classics in comparison to other media.
 
Older servers have an older population; that is inevitable. If you want to play with people at lower levels, it's best to roll on a new server.
Will you be able to put up with all the beginners, though?
 
Older servers have an older population; that is inevitable. If you want to play with people at lower levels, it's best to roll on a new server.
Will you be able to put up with all the beginners, though?


It's not in all games you have that luxury. In WoW they seem to add a new server now and then but many other games launch with a set number of servers, perhaps add a few shortly after that and then the servers stay the same number for several years until the population might not support that many servers.
 
Just to bring an example of a game that ages well, EVE Online has no issue with older/newer players. That's even more surprising considering the game and all 180,000ish players play on one 'server'. The fact that its skill based, and any item can be lost, keeps the barrier of entry somewhat lower than in most games.

But any game that has a static level system will suffer the above problem. Hence why 85% of EQ1 zones are now barren.
 
The model in which MMORPGs add new content in every patch and every expansion simply collapses under it's own weight. Can you imagine WoW with 200 levels and 15 continents? How are you going to have veterans and newbies form a coherent community in such a game?


And what's frustrating is that Blizzard seems oblivious to this problem. WoW is EQ all over again. The initial improvements are simply not enough to do anything but slow down the inevitable mudflation.
 
well the problem is on an aging game a new server inevitibly ends up low population and you still have grouping issues.

Fact is any game begins to suck more and more for new players with every expansion. If they like to group and be part of the social structure.

This can even be a problem for people that quit and come back 6 months later.

The only thing I think you missed tobold is that while being solo friendly may extend the life of the game if implemented as the most efficient way to level to end game it begins to kill the game in other ways because of the influx of newbies at level cap who don't know how to play in groups. You can see this in wow where on many servers getting a pug together is a long painful process
 
While playing a lowbie Dwarf Alt I ran him through the Northshire Abbey area to get SW Rep, and it wasn't deserted, but there weren't a lot of people running around. I stood in the middle of one Kobold camp and within seconds had one-shotted all the Kobolds I needed and was heading back for the follow on quest.

Westfall was also not deserted but there weren't a terrible lot of people running around either, likewise Redridge and Duskwood. Although oddly enough I saw Stitches spawn three times in the last two days so there are people out there doing the quests, just not a lot of them, and most are probably soloing as much as possible and getting high level Guildies to run them through Instances whenever necessary.
 
I think this is less of a problem than some might think. My brother came into the game quite late, and only recently got his first level 50 character. Sure, it's a little more difficult to find dungeon groups for stuff past Maraudon, but that doesn't really bother him. He just enjoys doing the quests and leveling up.

Leveling an alt is completely different from leveling a new character, which I think is why our perspective might be a little skewed. With the changes Blizz plans on making to speed up the 1-60 leveling process, I think it's a pretty good solution to both issues. Makes leveling a new character not as painful, and allows new players to more quickly get to the expansion content.
 
Just to bring an example of a game that ages well, EVE Online has no issue with older/newer players.

I must say it is pretty much the same for City of Heroes/Villains as well - generally grouping works fine at any level and you will find a mixture of veterans and new players playing together.

It is easier to group with each other regardless of level and there is no "end game" like there is in WoW, plus the game encourages creating alts - so that is what people do.
 
well speeding up leveling without giving them incentives to group just intensifies the current problem of lousy players who never learned how to group.

I know those of us that like to level more in groups than solo seem to be the minority but leveling that way teaches players all the things they need to know before they get to endgame.
 
"well speeding up leveling without giving them incentives to group just intensifies the current problem of lousy players who never learned how to group."

Well, you have to remember that as these games get older, there's no one for newbies to group with *anyway*.

You learn how to group when you hit the level at which grouping becomes common. That level used to be 15-20, now it's 65-70. Older players need to learn to adapt to that fact.
 
Well, one thing they could do to make less of a gap between the old players and the new ones is to make leveling from, say, 1-60, twice as fast as it is right now. Just double the experience gain from any source for anyone under 60. That would also encourage old players to roll more alts, since lvling up the second time will be much faster.

Also, I would point out that in WoW, there still is a thriving community at the lower levels: twinks. If they didn't have to worry about leveling, they'd be there to group with the new players sometimes, but either way, they at least still provide a market for those low level trade goods.
 
neef you may be right that older players need to adapt. But the fact is they won't untill they have too. They'll just lock out those lousy players and stay in thier guilds and never pug or group with the 2nd rate newbies. Just intensifying the problem that exists.

The devs have to come up with some way to make grouping an effort that is rewarded. Right now Until you start raiding there is absolutely no reward for grouping. I'll paraphrase what I've had many other players say. "its just more efficient to solo to 70"

Thats a problem.
 
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