Tobold's Blog
Wednesday, January 30, 2008
WoW Lite

I leveled my mage up from 51 to 52 last night by soloing Jinth'Alor. On the one side that was fun, and only the Vile Priestess Hexx posed any problems (she has an instant spell that turns you into a frog, and just kept me permanently frogged while she killed me, I got her on the second try by using my water elemental). On the other side it was sad to see the closest thing World of Warcraft had to a non-instanced dungeon turned into a solo encounter. I barely ever got the opportunity to group in my whole mage career, and seen only very few dungeons. I think I only did one regular dungeon group with people around my level, the other runs were all "boosted" by higher levels. I recently even boosted some low level guild mates myself through RFC. My warrior recently helped a warlock get to the place in Scholomance where he needed to go for his warlock epic mount quest, and the warlock didn't even know where Scholomance was!

If you look through PC games sales charts, you'll find that World of Warcraft has been consistently been in the top 20 since end of 2004. Some financial analyst calculated WoW's churn rate to be 4% to 5% per month. That is nearly half a million new players in WoW every month, or over 200,000 in the US and Europe! And I can't help but feel that these new players are not playing the same World of Warcraft that we played back in 2004 / 2005. They are playing a massively singleplayer game, WoW Lite, which has them soloing all the up to at least 60, if not 70, before being able to find groups. And then of course the groups suck, because the warrior is fury spec and never bothered to even put taunt on his hotkey bar, and the priest is shadow and hasn't got a clue about effective healing. Not their fault, how are they supposed to suddenly know all about grouping if they never had the opportunity?

World of Warcraft as a singleplayer game isn't actually a bad game. But between servers that are sometimes down, lag, and monthly fees, players must ask themselves why they are playing a game online when there is so little interaction with other players. The multiplayer aspects of MMORPGs are generally more interesting, and more likely to keep players in the game. The attraction of WoW to new players is likely to diminish. When Wrath of the Lich King and Warhammer Online come out, presumably not far from each other, new players have the choice between one game where they will have to solo now to 80 before they can group, and another game where they can play with lots of players of their level. That won't be the only criterion of choice, but it sure can be an important one. Cooperative multiplayer games are more fun than singleplayer games, because they add all the social aspects of popular applications like chat or MySpace to the game. It is sad when new players of WoW miss out on all that.

So today Tobold's MMORPG blog is dedicated to ideas on how to make World of Warcraft more social, and by that more interesting, to new players. New players are important to a MMORPG, because it is them that need to replace all those veterans that burn out sooner or later. It is in the interest of everyone that new players to WoW not only have a good time, but also learn how to play in a group.
I think most, if not all MMO games has the same problem. It's almost always more enjoyable to play a MMO soon after release than for example a year after.

In fact I fired up Lotro recently because I've got a lifetime sub anyway, and I see the same problems there. Fortunately though they've added some solo quests so it's actually POSSIBLE to solo and not just grind mobs if you can't (or don't want to) get a group.
It sounds to me as though either your realm is just too old and top-heavy or you're trying to level in an endgame raiding guild. A decent guild with a broad range of levels shouldn't have this problem unless the realm is in a really unfortunate situation.

Still, the Jinth'Alor thing is a real shame (especially since it's boring as hell to solo) and it sucks to see so much old world content going to waste. Anarchy Online addressed this problem some time ago with level caps for instanced dungeons and the option to shut off xp gains. This would go beautifully with WoW's twinking culture, especially if the level 60 bracket were resurrected.

Add low level mats to high level questing recipes, and now you've got reasons to play some of those lowbie alts other than the long chore of making another 70. Newbies have more people to play with, guildmates don't have to level their alts alone. Is there a down side to this? I don't see one.
Because soloing is so effective way to enter an alt to the end game, there is no reason for the veterans to group with anyone anymore. This should be made the other way around: grouping should be more rewarding than soloing.

How to do that? I don't know. IMHO it was a very poor decision from Blizzard to nerf the elite quests. That was the only real way to get people to group voluntarily, especially when the quest in question was a bottleneck on progress. Now they are just a hindrance, a poor one as such even.

Blizz should get the social tools worked and some sort of Guild level system to enforce the newbie entry to the guilds.

The Old World raid instances are void of people already: will this happen to Outland's, too, when WotLK launches?

I don't think tht adapting a game world to solo player needs is a bad thing. It just gives the player more freedom. Having tried the original EQ when it came out, I loved the experience of the first MMORPG, but absolutely loaths having to wait 30-60 mins before finding a group to start questing.
I've been playing WoW now for 9 months and started on a relatively young server (Ghostlands EU). I leveled my first character, a hunter, within a normal guild structure, soloing whenever I could to progress, and grouping for elite quests/instances for loot/or just for plain guild fun. As the guild and myself were getting our first level 70 characters, I created different alts to try what other classes I might enjoy playing. So currently, twice a week, I ALWAYS team up with a friend to level either a druid/priest combo or a paladin/warrior combo. Good thing about this is that we can run instances at any time, as we always provide the tank/healer pair that every group needs (and is most sought after), and dps classes can usually always be found just waiting for invites. We both enjoy grouping to level, as it makes life easier for both of us, with little to no downtime between mobs, and both groups are aprraoching level 50 rapidly. So I wouldn't say that Wow is only a nice solo player activity, it all depends on your personal play style... and your server's age, I'ld have to admit
The genre changed, get used to it. Many saw this coming even playing early beta, were even back then, soloing was the most effective way to level up. People always walk the path of least resistance. The genre itself is changing its audience. I was the most social EQ player, well everyone was actually. Now i even refuse to help anyone i don't know in WoW. I did it once, it was such a waste of my time, so i stoped. This is how the game changed a lot of players.

We rather look to meet strangers, but just as in real life, stick to the few people we know. You have hundreds of thousands of up to maybe 5 guys, that probably know each other beforehand in real life. I know many guilds/groups that only consist of people, that work together one half of the day in the office and kill orcs in the evening in those games. This is what MMOs are all about now, for very many players. It's rather meeting new guys, but spending more time with the ones you already know.

Oh and just choose a high poppulation server if you want to meet low level coplayers. There are still many servers with people playing sub 70 characters.
The genre itself is changing its audience.

Exactly: Player behavior depends on game design. But if it was able to change the audience into the soloing direction, it must also be possible to change it back into a more group oriented direction. When moving away from the bad "enforced grouping", the devs overshot their target and arrived at "enforced soloing". The optimum case lies somewhere in the middle, where soloing is possible, but grouping and working together is rewarded.

The genre changes all the time, albeit slowly. "Getting used to it" isn't a good solution for anything. If we can do anything to steer the genre in the right direction, we should do so. If only by expressing our ideas and preferences.
"We rather look to meet strangers, but just as in real life, stick to the few people we know"

I think this hits the nail on the head.

MMO's are no longer about building new social networks, they are about allowing you to maintain your existing ones. They are in a grey area between single-player and *massively* multiplayer.

There are about 4 people I play with consistently (wife, brother and 2 friends). Outside of those few, and enough warm bodies to fuel an AH - the server could be empty for all I care.

On a broader scale, look at how people regard a PUG - in WoW it is nearly universally reviled, yet PUGs *are* the building blocks of MMO societies. How else do you meet people? Yes, your guild, but how did you meet THEM?

Ahh, someone you know in RL invited you!

If you want to diagnose the social health of your MMO, look at how PUGs are doing. Look at how often people are *meeting* new people, as opposed to playing with people they know.

One step (not for WoW ofc, but for future MMOs) would be to remove the concept of guilds, or even better, let you be in multiple guilds at once. Let PUGs be THE social unit, and you ensure that the game is driving people outside their social comfort zone.
I always felt that the sidekick/mentor mechanic from City of Heroes was a good way to combat this problem. Obviously, the importance WoW places on gear, while CoH/CoV has none, would make it more of a challenge to implement for Blizzard.

Basically, a lower level person can become a "sidekick" or a higher level person can "mentor" themselves down to the level of the other player and all of their attributes scale to the target level. Higher level players lose any spells or abilities they earned between those levels, but for the most part it works in getting players of vast level differences to be able to play together in a situation that can benefit them both.

Honestly, who would prefer "running" someone else through a low level dungeon to playing content that is meant for their level? Whereas, if they could still play through an old world instance and earn xp or money that would scale with them when they return to their proper level, we might see some of the cobwebs get dusted off Dire Maul and Gnomeragan (okay, maybe not that one).

I am not saying the CoH/CoH system would translate seamlessly to WoW, by any means. But I think the concept is solid.
Want to make WoW more social and friendly to new players and veterans alike? It's really quite simple but flies in the face of everything Blizzard currently stands for.

Drop the "add ten levels to cap" expansion model. Drop the "add ten plus new 80-only dungeons" expansion model. Drop the "both sides can play all available classes" expansion model.

Do they honestly think continually increasing the level cap is a sustainable expansion model? What happens by expansion 4 where the level cap becomes 100!? It's a huge barrier to entry for anyone new or anyone old wishing to make an alt, regardless of how much you boost the XP gained. No wonder they're delaying WotLK... They probably realize that everyone isn't quite ready yet for another 10-level grind and it will lose more players than it will gain.

Here are my suggestions in simple bullet form:

>> Keep the cap at 70
>> Focus on NEW CLASSES
>> Keep some of those classes faction-specific
>> Repopulate the pre-TBC zones with a few new dungeons and add heroic modes to the originals with better loot

When your game becomes a grind you lose the social element because people are only looking out for #1. A nasty grind also makes people less inclined to create alts, and when you have so few classes (available to BOTH factions), the desire declines even quicker.

I could go on for ages about how I think Blizzard devs are going to eventually suffocate the life out of their own game, but you've already stopped reading by now, so why bother. And to be honest, the more people they beat away from their game with a blunt copy of their latest expansion, the happier I'll be when those disenfranchised players move into other games, like WAR for example.
More games have moved to the "solo" centric, it may be difficult to pull it back. Unless Blizzard makes major changes, the game will grow completely stale.
The outlook for future games looks brighter...with AoC and grouping will be a need again in these games..
I think AoC has it more spot on though with a single player option (solo to level 20...duh, most everyone already does this...) with branching storylines, and more of a single player game feel to start...get used to the mechanics...then move into the real world..
WAR may be TOO group centric. I will have to wait and see, as the data seems to keep changing...and that just is not a good sign..
The truth is that Blizzard simply needs to boost the experience reward for grouping more then its been done in the past. The design philosophy in WoW has always been one of just grouping for elite quests and dungeon runs.

Now that dungeons don't really have good loot and most elite quests have been remove there is no reason to group. Making it so you actually got more experience per kill while in a group would go a long way to fixing this issue and increasing social connections.

Desired Group Bonus:
1 Player: 1 Mob gives 100xp
2 Players: 1 Mob gives 110xp
3 Players: 1 Mob gives 120xp
4 Players: 1 Mob gives 130xp
Full Group: 1 Mob gives 150xp

The current group bonus is less then 100% for each player in it since developers assume that the more people in a group the faster you can kill a mob and the less risk. However, coordinating a group often eats into the time gained by quickly killing a mob.
The truth is that Blizzard simply needs to boost the experience reward for grouping more then its been done in the past. The design philosophy in WoW has always been one of just grouping for elite quests and dungeon runs.


I'm in a unusual position because 2 months into bc I burned out hard. I gave my account to my nephew and didn't play for 9 months. Now I'm back playing much more casually. I've tried several servers. new, old, low pop, high pop. It doesn't matter they all suck. On my current High pop server there are always people leveling but 70 percent of them are alts that are soloing. I make tons of money on the AH and every now and then get a group, but most people only group for certain places. Like Wailing Caverns because they get the blue staff or sword quest reward. If there isn't a gauranteed reward that is considered worthy of the time spent most people just solo.

For those saying its an MMO problem. yes but it can be done better. People do things because they get rewards. If the rewards aren't good enough to encourage group play then the Dev's have failed and need to revisit thier solution.
Assuming you want to make grouping more attractive than soloing, you need to:

1) Create an experience multiplier based on the number of people in the group. If you simply give a bonus for BEING in a group, people will pair up and be done with it. If you only give bonuses for 5-man groups, 4 people in an area won't bother grouping. There needs to be a sliding scale.

2) Make the bonus significant enough to offset lost quest experience. If you've ever grouped outdoors, you know that it's rare for 5 people to have the same quests in their log. At the same time, it's a huge timesink to catch everyone up to the same set of quests (think Defias Brotherhood line). Therefore, a full group has a higher ratio of grind to quest than a soloer does. Grouping has to be better than solong AND grinding in a group must be as good as questing.

Once you put these two things in place, 5-man groups grinding mobs becomes the absolute most efficient way of leveling in WoW. Solo leveling is already fast, an optimized 5-man scheme might be so fast that there's no point questing for gear (you outgrow it too fast). Once there is no point questing for gear, WoW becomes a *pure* grindfest. You log on, LFG in an area with high mob-density, and start killing.

Is that the direction WoW should take, a group grindfest?
or only add the group bonus to instances pre 61. Then to get that uber efficient leveling you have to run the instances and learn how to manage aggro and play with other characters.
Put a level cap on instances so power leveling isn't possible.

Create servers for specific level ranges, with one free transfer to your home server once you hit 60th.
1. Re-design the classes.

Change healing for Paladins and Druids to make them effectively "individual" healers so they can solo well but give Priests lower mana group heals for group healing. Ditto for Warriors with tanking and armour ratings. Make Paladins in theory the same as Druids - they can tank and heal, just not as good as a Warrior or a Priest in a group.

2. Introduce better guild structuring. Guild ranks, guild points to earn, guild quests. Introduce mentoring pyramid system that gives a purpose to helping people in your guild increase in level with guild/xp/quest points going up the pyramid. Reset points every time anyone leaves a guild.

3. As others have said, re-design the Azeroth dungeons and zones so that higher level players have a reason to re-visit them again.

4. Add storyline content so that new players have new quests to do on rotation, similar to normal and heroic dungeons for level 70s.
There's still lots of lower-level shenanigans/world PVP/good lowbie items on the AH/etc. on the TBC servers. I rerolled there a couple weeks ago and have had a pretty solid time up through level 30. I'm not sure what can be done about the ghost towns at low levels on more established servers, except that Blizzard should always have a PVE (not just PVP!) recommended server available to funnel newbies to a single location.

Like a bunch of other people have posted, I would love to see group xp bonuses bumped up to the point that it's as efficient, heck maybe even slightly more efficient, to group than solo (with the bonuses taking into account the increased kill speed and increased quest completion speed of course.) Ideally you'd have the *option* to adjust non-elite HP/damage upwards so that you can actually use your skills, in exchange for increased exp. One of my biggest complaints, especially pre-2.3, was that if I got a good duo/trio going for an evening I'd generally pay for it with a couple hours of questless grinding later.
One other thing I would love is adding a functionality that would let multi-guild alliances set up LFG channels easily (yeah, you can manually type whatever channel you want, but it's not exactly ideal.) I'd PUG every instance 3-4 times on the way up even though it's slower if I could filter out most of the kids, idiots, ninjas etc. Join the general LFG tool on WoW and it's typically 1-2 dps that are about 3 levels too low for the instance.
One problem, I believe, is the short time most quests take. There may be tons of people running around doing quests but due to the volume of quests available chances are they're working on different ones than me. Even if I happen upon someone doing the same quest and group up with them chances are we only share a small subset of common quests. Quest chains make this even more of a problem as most of the time two given people will be on different parts of the chain.

So here's my suggestions for quest design:

* Reduce the number of quest chains.
* Make quests take much longer (but reward more with XP) and reduce the number of quests. Fewer quests means the chance that any two people will find themselves doing the same quest much greater.
* Having fewer quests means you could make each one more detailed. For example maybe quests could have optional parts that can only be completed with a group for extra rewards.
* Make a looking for group tool that doesn't suck!
Christ (sorry)! I feel so different in here.

I'm a newcomer, my first toon just dinged lv51, the only person I know in the server (except my brother) is lv70 and in a high end guild and I hate the idea of guild-hopping. Thus I looked up the guild I'm in and so far I have learned that they are nice people, but all have played almost from the beginning. So they are levelling alts: some have dinged 70 with even two toons at the time I made it to 50!

The server is populated alright, but PUG's are pretty darn hard to find and when they are formed, there is always some alt-levellers who a)mock you for not playing up to their standards, b)leave the group when they have achieved their goal (ninjas), c)drop the group if it wipes (even if it was their AFK that caused it) and so on.

I played some months in US server, where my online friends had a guild. My timezone was 10 hours off from their, but still I was able to group better to that low population server than in the prime time in here. How the heck is that possible?

To push the point: not all are playing with friends or socializing with their co-workers. Some have just dropped in to see what this game is about and it surely isn't delivering the 'social playground' promised.

It is playing alone in the crowd.


PS. The guild I'm in is very helpfull and we with low level toons get boost whenever we need. But I don't want boosts, I want to learn to play the class! For that I need challenges and some 'expert opinion' to work with, right?
I thought it was a big mistake to nerf the group quests. It's not like they're REQUIRED to level up your character. If you hate grouping so much, don't do them, but for the rest of us they were a great way to get introduced to group play dynamics, and just more fun.

I don't like the direction things are going. PuGs are becoming an endangered species. Personally I love playing a PuG. Yes, once in a while it's a bad experience, but much more often than that it's a fun time meeting new people and seeing how they play. I learned so many cool strategies playing in various PuGs as I leveled up.

Really, I think they had it almost perfect before. Take the example of Jinth'alor. It hosted several group quests. The rewards were better than stuff you could get from solo questing. Thus, people got into groups and ran Jinth'alor! And it was good.

I say bring back the group quest, and make it more compelling to run pre-70 dungeons, whether that's by buffing the experience earned, or the associated quests, or whatever
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