Tobold's Blog
Sunday, January 13, 2008
 
Moroagh on game design

Moroagh has a very interesting, but long, series of posts on game design: A parable, and a discussion (part 1, with a postscript, and part II) on how game developers should learn from observed player behavior, instead of condemning it as cheating. As that text is very long, and game developers probably don't have the time to read all that, I thought I would make it a bit easier for them, by condensing the message into one single phrase:

If a large number of your players repeatedly do something that you don't want them to do, there is something wrong with your design, not with the players!

The specific problem of MMORPGs is that the developers designed something they considered to be "a challenge", but players often end up considering it as "a grind", and start looking for ways to avoid that "challenge". They buy gold to avoid the challenge / grind of farming 5,000 gold themselves, they look up quest solutions when the quest description simply wasn't clear and wandering all over the map to find the target didn't seem fun, they go afk in Alterac Valley because fighting over that battleground gets old quicker than you collect the honor you need. If the players can't find a way to avoid the challenge, they give up instead of working hard for the goal the developers want them to strive for, end huge raid dungeons end up being basically unused.

Fact is that the amount of dedication and perseverance players are willing to invest into a game varies over a wide range. One player gives up after the first wipe, another only reluctantly stops trying after the 20th wipe because it is 3 am in the morning, and vows to come back the next day. That is a design problem, because the guy giving up too fast might get frustrated and leave because he finds the game too hard, but if you made the encounter easy enough to beat on the first try, the most dedicated players might find it too easy and leave because they are bored. Moroagh makes a good point in saying that "making people spend more effort in an escapist world instead of going out and actually doing something useful for society" is not a good idea. Especially if that "more effort" consists of repeatedly doing something you already mastered, like farming one raid dungeon again and again to get the gear to be able to try the next level, or farming gold or reputation.

The current generation of game designers, WoW included, have a tendency to set the required effort level too high, presumably because they don't want to risk players "finishing" the game. A reader wrote me to point out that if the analyst claiming that World of Warcraft has a monthly churn rate of 4 to 5% is right, there are more people leaving WoW every month than visiting the Black Temple. Of course people leave WoW for all sorts of reasons, but running out of content or hitting an obstacle beyond which you feel you can't progress is certainly high up on the list of possible reasons. You can't help but ask how many people more would keep playing WoW, if this large amount of high quality raid content would be made accessible for them.

There are actually two solutions to the problem: Either lower the amount of effort required in general, or present the same content with variable degrees of difficulty. No, there is no good reason why a specific encounter, boss mob, or raid dungeon has to be exactly *this* hard for everybody. It's just a bloody game, for god's sake! Many people play it to relax after a day of productive work; designing in a way that the MMORPG takes away from productive time is asking for trouble. The more reasonable players will just refuse and leave, and the more irreasonable players will risk their job and family pursueing false achievements, until politicians come down like a ton of bricks on the genre to save them. In China they already did.
Comments:
Those were some good blog articles, thanks for the link to those.

Assuming you agree with Moroagh there is actually only one valid solution of the two you give - provide variable difficulty. At least if the other option risks that the content will be too easy for others.

Or to generalize it more - give multiple options. People are different.

The MMO game designers may have some great ideas on what they want to achieve and how to get there, with some assumptions about the target audience.
But they do not really get to pick their audience and the actual audience may (in part) disagree with them.
They are in a rather good position to leverage that feedback compared to many other areas, which may be a necessity if they want to keep the interest of large groups of people for a long time.
 
The article reminds me of the Decursive addon.

RMT is not a design flaw tho, it's people's greed that is the driving force. People that buy gold just don't want to lose out to others, they want to own what other players have.

In my opinion, people are taking WoW as a competition instead of as a game. They rush to win as if there is a deadline for it.

WoW should be treated like a game. For eg, if you want an epic flying mount but do not have enough gold, just save up slowly and eventually you can buy one. It's the journey not the destination that counts man.

Required effort is subjective, some people prefer challenging games while some consider challenges grinds. Take your time, enjoy the game.

PS: Please delete my comment in previous post, tobold. -_-
 
Thankfully, in the US the prevailing opinion is that it is not the role of government to decide what legal activities it's citizens engage in. It's what separates us from socialist and communist states.

Keep the government out of my house, thank you. Let them go play with the 1/3 of the money that I earn and social engineer elsewhere.

As for China, shouldn't they be trying to run over their citizens with tanks instead of legislating what happens in people's own time?
 
I agree with your comments that generally if players are not playing the way the developers envisioned the fault lies with the designer not the player, but I do feel that sometimes the designer has to 'trick' the player into playing the game in a more challenging way than they might otherwise, in order for the player to have a more enjoyable time.

If someone, on day 1 of WoW, had made an addon that allowed you to click a button and become level 60 with ok gear, how many people would use that addon? My feeling is that a reasonable percentage would. This does not mean that WoWs levelling game is not fun, indeed it is probably the best of any MMO I've played, it just means that sometimes players get confused between thier aims (reaching 60) and what actually makes the game fun (playing through content).

A similair issue has cropped up recently with the increasing use of threat meters. These allow the judging of aggro to be more or less nullified, measuring each players threat vs. the tank, and letting the player forget about managing their threat apart from glancing at the meter occasionaly. Does this mean that blizzard's threat mechanic was a mistake? that the game would have been better if all the mobs simply attacked the highest armor character automatically? I don't think so, I feel that threat managment in fights was one of the things that kept them dynamic and interesting, and without it instances (especially low level ones) would not be particularly fun. The reason that threat meters are popular is because players get confused between thier aims (shiny loot) and what makes playing fun (difficult fights, with shiny loot as a well earned reward)

I don't disagree with you that the current generation of game designers set the difficulty too high, and of course it is 'just a game', but I think it is important to remember that the fun is in the challenge, not the reward, and sometimes you have to coerce the players into having fun, and doing challenges they would skip if given the chance, in order for them to stay interested in your game.
 
WoW should be treated like a game. For eg, if you want an epic flying mount but do not have enough gold, just save up slowly and eventually you can buy one. It's the journey not the destination that counts man.

Except that the Destination is a cool looking mount, that also goes faster. Where as the journey is doing the same 5-10 quests over and over every day for about 2 months.

Blizzard has tons of artificial hindrances to slow down progression, making something hard is one of those. If everything was easy, everyone would finish it and quit the game. Its the same with getting gear. Think of this.

What is the difference in effort between doing an instance 10 times in 1 day. Or doing it once a day over 10 days. The end result is that your still running the content 10 times. But blizzard would much rather have you do the later because it keeps you playing and thus paying longer.

This can be seen in their raid and heroic dungeon lockout system. Their "cooldown" on transmutes like Primal Might which is used in almost every good crafting recipe or in the absurd amount of honor it takes to get some of the pvp items.
 
Hour of power for the win!

hour one = 200% exp
hour two = 100% exp
hour three = 50% exp
hour four = 25% exp
 
I do feel that sometimes the designer has to 'trick' the player into playing the game in a more challenging way than they might otherwise, in order for the player to have a more enjoyable time.

I totally agree! The game developers have to set up an incentive structure that rewards players for doing the fun stuff.

Hour of power for the win!

WoW has a less extreme but similar system in the form of rest xp. Problem is that in WoW, due to fast leveling and long delays between expansions, a great number of players spends most of their time at the level cap. Nobody gains xp on a raid, so how do you implement a power hour there?
 
The current generation of game designers, WoW included, have a tendency to set the required effort level too high, presumably because they don't want to risk players "finishing" the game. A reader wrote me to point out that if the analyst claiming that World of Warcraft has a monthly churn rate of 4 to 5% is right, there are more people leaving WoW every month than visiting the Black Temple. Of course people leave WoW for all sorts of reasons, but running out of content or hitting an obstacle beyond which you feel you can't progress is certainly high up on the list of possible reasons. You can't help but ask how many people more would keep playing WoW, if this large amount of high quality raid content would be made accessible for them.

RMT is not a design flaw tho, it's people's greed that is the driving force. People that buy gold just don't want to lose out to others, they want to own what other players have.


Well I've said for a long time now it amazes me that as big a cash cow as wow is that they don't hire a seperate team of developers who's sole job is to constantly tweak and mess with the old content. If the quests were constantly changing or world encounters happened regularly I think that would eradicate most of that feeling of Grinding. If not it would at least distract you from it.

And while RMT may not be a design flaw it is a shining beacon that illuminates the design flaw. Most people buy money to bypass boring content. It's as simple as that. I've never bought money but as a fairly well off Technical Analyst I can understand why someone who was frustrated they didn't have the time to keep up would be willing to spend thier money to keep up. And that greed you complain about was set up and is fed by the game design of WOW.

There is nothing in the game that rewards non Greedy behavior. NOTHING> The game is all about your toon getting it's gear and status symbols so you can be better than everyone else. So I would say that those greedy people you complain about got the designers message better than you did. This game is about nothing more than getting your loot. (unfortunately)
 
I'd like to point out that it's not just that there are more people leaving each month than visiting Black Temple.

It's more people leaving each month than have ever seen Black Temple. This raid dungeon has been out for 7 months, and yet only 5% of all guilds ranked on Wowjutsu (EU + NA) have even killed a single boss in there.

The biggest issue they have is that they have to balance PvE content in such a way that people will not run straight through it and get bored immediately. They are experimenting with time-released content, such as daily quests to steadily unlock content in the next raid instance.

--Rawr
 
but all the content they release is static and unchanging rawr. They don't even try to have a big rotation of 30 or so things that randomly happening. I'm not a dev but is the cost benefit ratio so bad that they can't have a dev team shaking up the old content on a bi-monthly or monthly basis?

I think the key to them reinvigorating the playerbase will be retouching the old content. I just hope they don't wait too long. I miss the old times when people wondered all over the world looking for stuff they might have missed. Back then the game felt wide open. But the maze walls are layed out for us now in the name of efficiency and it really detracts from the game.

I want to roll into westfall and see the horde war camp. Or the barrens and see the army of the King of stormwind who has returned and is preparing to do something.

oh well probably never going to see anythign that much fun in WOW.
 
DDO has selectable difficulty levels for each instanced "dungeon". They have gone so far as to offer solo versions of several of them. My impression is that this system of selectable difficulty has worked pretty well.

Higher difficulty levels offer higher level chests (loot), and unlock additional reputation. So there is a precedent out there from Turbine of variable difficulty instancing. We all know that Blizzard is perfectly capable of incorporating these kind of design elements, and polishing them up until they shine.

Too bad DDO launched with so little content and failed to hold its orginal player base. I actually prefer its more active combat mechanic. It is a pretty decently developed game at this point - though it will never have the open world feel of the traditional MMO experience.
 
"players need to be tricked into ... the fun stuff"

The big problem I have is who is the game developer to decide what "fun" is if the players have a different idea? I mean there is encouraging and rewarding players for certain behaviors (such as Scouting rewards scouts for learning and helping)


I thought of this when reading about how Blizzard changed it so hunters can't tame the ghost wolf. Players were having fun in a way Blizzard didn't anticipate, then they took that away, saying "we want hunters to have live pets not ghosts, it doesn't fit with our idea of hunters"

So what I have to say to that is who gives a damn what Blizzard thinks hunters should be like. If it doesn't affect game play, let players have fun how they want. They have ghost sabres and truly undead pets already, so all their reasons are invalid. It's just "we didn't think of this players are not having fun the way we want". I don't have a high level hunter, but even I am flabbergasted at this decision.
 
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