Tobold's Blog
Friday, August 24, 2007
Persistency or Reset?

Unless you clinch a special pre-order deal for the last days of an open beta, playing a beta means playing a character that is bound to get deleted. Some games reset several times during the alpha / beta testing phases, but all games reset at least once before the release. When you create a beta character you know that he is doomed to get wiped. Which doesn't do much to diminish the fun of playing a beta. Because the interest is in the playing, and maybe in having some influence by reporting bugs and making suggestions, and not in building up a character to some level.

Playing on a fresh server, where everybody is level 1, is fun. Whenever World of Warcraft opens up a new server, there are people abandoning their old characters on older servers to start afresh. A new server gives you better opportunities to find low-level groups, and the economy isn't spoiled that much by mudflation yet. But the older a game gets, the fewer new server open up. WoW had new servers for the Burning Crusade, but I don't think they opened up many after that, because the player numbers have stopped growing in the US and Europe. Vanguard, only 7 months after release, is actually eliminating servers, merging 13 servers into 4. Many other games just reached a stable level, with no new servers in sight.

MMORPGs are persistent worlds. With storage being cheap nowadays, old characters aren't deleted. When I logged into EQ2 after nearly 3 years of absence, my characters from 2004 were still there. In World of Warcraft the first expansion, the Burning Crusade, caused a large number of players to resubscribe, confident that their old level 60 characters would be still there, ready to be leveled to 70. And me, and many others who left WoW since, will resubscribe again for the Wrath of the Lich King, and level up to 80 this time.

But persistency has it's price. Developers have to provide for characters that never die, but continue to want better and better stuff. Thus we get mudflation, with every expansion giving us new loot which makes the old loot obsolete. We also get an accumulation of characters at the level cap, while the low- and mid-level zones become increasingly empty. And that messes with the economy. Most lower level characters you see are twinked or are being powerleveled by friends to rush through the game and reach the end game.

In some special cases persistency turns out to be even more counterproductive. Several upcoming games, like Warhammer Online or Pirates of the Burning Sea, have some form of Realm vs. Realm PvP. And if one realm wins this war, then what do you do? You can't just let the servers be persistent, because the winning side controlling most of the territory isn't likely to be overthrown by itself. So these games introduced the concept of PvP resets. The players of the winning side get a medal or something, and then territorial control is reset to the initial situation, to allow the war to recommence, with the former losers getting a chance to win the next one. We'll see if that works (it might be that the same side wins over and over, due to some numerical or game inbalance), but the concept of sacrifying persistency for the greater good of the game is there. So what if we would extend that concept to levels?

Why not have a non-persistent server or even non-persistent MMORPG, which resets every couple of months? Once or twice a year all characters are wiped and everybody has to start over at level 1. You can have rewards for having reached the top in the previous round, like unlocking new character classes (like the Deathknight in WotLK). And you can also do major changes during the reset, like fixing balancing issues, or patching in major modifications to how some parts of the game work. A Tale in the Desert works like that, with every reset improving and enlarging the game.

The advantage of having resets instead of persistency is that you can have an actual end to your game, major events that change the world before the reset. Because persistent is often also stagnant, a reset allows you to break out of the rut. If done well, the players can have a major impact on the virtual world, making their actions really change something. And instead of every expansion adding new content to the end of the game, every reset can add more content to the whole level range. Older players will have new content to explore when leveling up again, while new players can mix with them more easily and play with them at the same level. Veteran players retain the advantage of superior knowledge, but there is no more mudflation, twinking, or powerleveling.

People get attached to their characters, but the price we have to pay for that are static worlds, and an ever-growing divide between new and old players. Having occasional resets allows the game to refresh itself, to rise like a phoenix from it's own ashes towards a new start. Maybe such renewal can bring real longevity to the games we play.
I think it would work for EQ1. Wipe every 90 days but give players the option to transfer.

I'd be all over that.

And WoW's decline into mudflation will be limited, since much of WoW's loot is level based and no drop.

In fact, SOE started implementing levels for items sometime after Kunark, but the goodies from the first two expansions made twinking quite fun. Even today, a low level monk with two fighting batons would be an absolute beast )

Well, could you get Bioshock to run on your system?
I started writing a comment here, but then it got huge as my brain got into gear, so I posted it over here instead :)
Players who are anything like me would use the reset as an opportunity to move on from the game with some feeling of accomplishment having made it through a full cycle.

I can't see see how it would be in the developers interest to give players an easy opportunity to leave a game but personally I would love it. I actually hate the way MMORPGs go on forever. I hate the inevitable shameful parting with unaccomplished goals.

Shameless self promoting plug to my own previous thoughts on this very subject here
I don't think persistent worlds are cause the games to become static so much as unchanging worlds.

The problem is that core MMORPG game design has not significantly changed since UO...

You level (character or skills), you change characteristics (attributes, skills, talents, etc.), you fight or explore for experience for the above, and you honor the holy trinity of MMORPG combat (defensive fighter, offensive figther and healer), and you upgrade your equipment.
Players who are anything like me would use the reset as an opportunity to move on from the game with some feeling of accomplishment having made it through a full cycle.

Put in titles, custom armour and the like in, and people will play to get them. Like I said in the link posted above, have a time-limited epic quest that servers/guilds/factions/whatever can race each other to. Have enough content that it can't realistically all be done in $reset_time (excepting the no-lifers, and encourage the real hardcore to play on a hardcore server, cf Tobold's monday post on difficulty level rulesets)

Looking at CoX's badge system, and knowing how competetive people can be, I'm sure there could be plenty of replayability if done right.
The server reset is what attracted me to give A Tale in the Desert (ATITD) a try. In ATITD, one of the main goals of the game is for the players on the server to reach a particular level of accomplishment and then use that to raise monuments. Also, all the content has to be unlocked by the players. If all the available monuments have been raised and all the content unlocked then the server is considered to have reached 'perfection' as a society and then the server resets shortly thereafter. On the other hand, if it looks like some of the monuments/content will take years to complete then the games only dev (The Pharoah) proclaims the server to have failed to reach perfection and then the server resets. To date there have been two server resets (every 1-2 years).

I like the server resets mostly because it is so different (fresh) from all the other MMORPG's out there. My only critism with the ATITD resets is that they take to long to arrive because the The Pharoah can't complete/implement new content as fast as it gets unlocked.

The biggest effect I see in ATITD of server resets is that players are much less selfish and more cooperative. If you've got a huge pile of resource X and you know that you will never be able to use it all before the server resets, you might as well share it with other players in order to help the server achieve perfection.
Players like me would hate it though. I've been playing MMOs since 99, and I've yet to reach max level in any of them. Finding my character(s) reset periodically would simply have me leaving the game completely in annoyance.
I think that the purge (reset) mechanic has been tried in the past to some extent (meridian 59 anyone?) with limited success - like others above say, it will boil down to subscription losses, so no MMO company will even consider it.

I personally feel the "rebirth" mechanic (ala Warcraft's hero class concept) is the true future of MMO's. You know that point where your toon is FINALLY powerful? FINALLY cool after months of getting to endgame, and then finally tiny endgame advancement increments (raid loot, long quest chain rewards, expert crafting, top pvp'er) - thats when you pop up a screen and offer them the ability to destroy 90% of what they've accomplished, and have them choose to start over with a unique character type that will begin the process anew.

Make no mistake, MMO's are the "carrot on a stick" concept. Without it, why would any sane person continue to play after they've "won"?
Shadowbane tried a server that reset every 3 months I think. It reset once but by time of second reset it was so unpopular that it closed down. They closed down servers and started new ones many times though. The new servers were often the most popular for the first few months.
Instead of server resets why not have ACTUAL sever changes? What if Scholomance, after being left idle by players who went to The Burning Crusade, became a force to be reckoned with? Sure, you can't go back to the old instance, but as Tobold said, if you didn't experience those areas in their day, you missed it forever.

Personally, I would like to see server changes instead of added content. It wouldn't offend anyone if you offered character transfers out of those servers into static ones. The opening of AQ would have been much more exciting if I knew there was achance we could lose, and Alliance and Horde alike could lose entire sections of a continent. Forever.
Dreamlords, a both web and client based RTS MMO has the reset mechanic in play. It is hard to work for dominance and feel like your work was worth anything if you know the game is going to research when you hit a certain milestone.

Imagine doing the Groundhog Day thing, but not with limitless possibilities (i.e. the constraints of a game in its essence). Oh yeah, and without any long term bearance on the future state of things. It would suck because, well, what's the point of doing anything if it is not going to have a lasting impact.

I am not sure if I had realized how bad the reset of the game was going to make me feel until it happened in DreamLords. I felt awful and never played another day of it. What had my obsessing over this game got me. Nothing except a registered account set up that I could use to do the same thing over again.
There's even more choices that resetting every a fixed amount of time. A designed could state that a character will be able to live for http://chana fixed amount of time (real time or in-game time).

In AITD (A Tale In The Desert) the life span isn't pre-determined as exact number of months or days. It's, as I know, based on players being able to reach some goals. Anyway is also a bit fixed and based on designer's will (actually I think is one man design..). Designer can pilot players achievements (at least the main global ones) so that time between resets can be shorten or stretched and be able to be ready for a new 'tale' just in time.

Having a "seasonal" MMOG has the advantage, as you pointed out, to start anew every once a while and permit everyone to get a fresh start. But there are also drawbacks:

- Knowing in advance when your character will die permanently can give a bad feeling especially if will happen withing a relatively short time frame
- Content have to be specially designed so that can be used withing the set time frame. For example in WoW is unimaginable to have a reset every 6 month as a lot of content wouldn't be seen by anyone except for really focused and addicted players.

An answer to at least one of this issues is to create content reachable to most players. But at same time create diversity so that a semi-casual player can get (for example) level cap and reach some of the content visible at level cap. Another player with more time could just use more content. Widen the possibilities and choices is better than narrowing them.

Another way to reset a server would be to reset players/accounts and not the server as a whole.

But this choice wouldn't answer every problem as doing so you introduce twinking and:
- If lifetime of a character is based on real time, you'll alienate casual gamers (problem that is seen even with seasonal server resets)
- If lifetime of a character is based on in game time, you'll alienate players that aren't achievers. In such a situation everyone will start thinking that time is very important, more than before. Nobody will sit down to just chat. For sure no one will go afk)

Changing topic a bit..
Another thing I've noticed that change between first months of a new game and when it get mature.. And also between a fresh server and an old server...
It's that players mentality change. Initially there's a lot more co-operation as the game is new (or server or both). Players tend to help more each other as everyone need help. And there's less that feeling to have to rush toward an end game. As if the only fun possible is at the end game (eg. level cap).

And as I'm already writing a lot... I'll just add a couple of things... :)

Casual gaming in an MMOG ends at level cap.
I consider myself a casual gamer even if I do play many hours a week. Usually I do play almost every evening. But at level cap the game change and you need an exponentially more time for a very little advancement. And I don't like to have to get into the same dungeon, doing always the same stuff for weeks or months just to advance a little and eventually being able to get into another dungeon (for other weeks and months).

and the last one about power levelling....
Isn't weird that some people pay others to play a game to not play while paying for it?
That is the consequence of players thinking that the game is at level cap and anything before is just a series of loops that designers placed forcing gamers to jump in like in a circus
In theory a game is a bucket full of "[Carrot on a Stick]" to push players to go onward. But the content should be fun from the beginning. There's already a big game that can be a nuisance to play but you play it anyway for the possibility of a reward in the future. It's called "Job in real life".
Diablo 2 had (has?) a quasi-reset system in the form of the Ladder resets.

Players were ranked on the ladder based on level, and only players newer than some date were displayed, so you didn't have players posted that were 2 years old and already level 99. I recall this being a bizarre happy-medium between a persistent world and a rebirth world. For those people crazy enough to care, they had to make a new character every few months to stay 'leet'. Particularly on the hardcore server, I seem to remember this was a real draw.
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