Tobold's Blog
Wednesday, May 28, 2008
Exploits and bad balancing

Some people just played a lot. Others used known exploits. A third group of players used the badly balanced apprentice system of Age of Conan to powerlevel, with reports that going from level 40 to 50 as apprentice takes 2 hours. As a result there are already a lot of level 80 players in Age of Conan, one week after release, 10 days after the early access started. And a huge number of level 60+ players as well, who'll reach level 80 next week. And then what?

I think leveling in Age of Conan is too fast. And of course its not good if there are exploits in the game that let you level even faster. I do like the idea of having apprentice / mentor systems in a game, but they should be balanced in a way to be not useable for powerleveling, they should just be a means for friends of different levels to play together.

If you reached the level cap in AoC in a week, you'll be bored of the game very quickly. That can be dangerous on PvP servers, as bored level 80 players are likely to gank others for entertainment. Of course the idea of getting to the level cap fast is to do the PvP endgame content there, battlekeeps and all. But if the game is buggy and exploitable, and people can insta-kill and shoot through walls, how much fun is PvP going to be? And for how long? Age of Conan might enjoy good sales due to its excellently timed release date, but I can't help the feeling that this isn't going to last very long.
We'll see :)

I don't see much point in re-stating the very same fact that you don't think it'll be successful time after time tho :P
I think there are different types of players - the ones who need to rush to endlevel and then get bored soon and the ones who accept that MMOs will deliver more content over a while. LOTRO is healthy and a lot of fun, even though some people reached maxlevel within a week, too. I also agree that the gamers who are looking for an intense experience and who get bored soon will flood the forums with their whines and half-heartedly play AoC until WAR arrives.

My goodness, I don't want to be in Mythics shoes, the pressure for making WAR the greatest MMO of our time is simply unbelievable. But they have this funny designer with the ridiculous sunglasses to compensate for, so that's ok... ;)
If people have used exploits or the apprentice system provides too good experience boost then those are temporary issues that Funcom needs to fix and are not a general problem with the game itself.

And just because there are a number of players spending huge amounts of time playing the new and shiny toy and reaching the level cap in a short time does not mean that it is bad either - that happens to all these games.

But I don't know what it is like at higher levels.
Myself I am still at 19 with my highest character in AoC after playing a bit every now and then for a week :)
And what level is your Age of Conan character, Tobold?
This issue has been around since EQ., especially when bots were a more common form of cheating.

Some people play just to hack and cheat the system and think they are cleaver or better than everyone else because they can reach the cap first. The reality is they just don't have a normal set of morals, which is sad.
Amazingly, you and I see the same problem (people exploiting to get to the level cap quickly) and come to entirely opposite conclusions.

These people are just routing around a part of the game they don't want to play. They looked at leveling, and decided it wasn't for them - so they cheated to speed it up.

Your response to that is to... make leveling take longer? What does that solve? It will only increase the motivation to bypass it, and increase the "reward" for doing so.

When I see this, I come to the opposite conclusion. Instead of extending the part of the game that these people didn't enjoy (as you would suggest), how about cutting back on how long it takes, or making it optional?

You've mentioned that you think leveling in AoC is too fast before, and I really just couldn't disagree more. Forcing a leveling treadmill on people who don't want it is *not* content.
I don't really see how reaching the level cap quickly will just bore people, it means more will be able to start quickly with sieges, cities, etc., and issues with those can be sorted out faster.
I feel sorry for anyone that believes "leveling speed" is just a slight bump in the road for an MMORPG. The speed at which content can be consumed by players is a day one design decision, rooting its way among every system in a MMO.

These are not quick fixes, these are oversights on the part of Funcom. Any 'fix' they attempt to apply to them screws the people that didn't exploit and hurts the general population.
Another great post Tobold. This is of course is why I do NOT put stock into MMO's that do not have lengtyh development times and are released sloppily. Such as this game. NO game shoujld release with these issues, which is why Blizzard is best at what they do. I think WAR will be well prepared also. WTG Funcom
I picked up AoC last night. I hesitated on the purchase for a whole week. I played for about 3 hours last night and now have a level 10. In comparison to WoW, one night of play got me to about level 10 as well. If hitting the level cap is averaged at 250 hours then I'll be happy with me $50 spent. I'm not sure how long I was keep the subscription going though. Getting a priest of mitra to lvl 10 kind of made me want to roll or more DPS oriented class(is it just me or does heals suck in this game?) so looks like I already have alt syndrom.
If everybody reaches the level cap fairly quickly, that might solve the whole problem with ganking in the most efficient way possible: pretty much everyone is of the same level of power so ganking is far more risky for the ganker.

It might also open up far more of the game for exploration by everyone sooner thus allowing for more people to experience more of the content. While AoC seems firmly targeted towards the hardcore gamer young male demographic, having an easy-to-reach level cap might actually benefit the casuals?

I think you even made a post about it a while back: what happens in a game where everyone is on an even footing (commenters said play Counter-Strike :))? Here's your test.
To play off Jeremy t's comments:

I think it is very odd to try and skip the leveling process in an RPG. Massive, Single Player, or somewhere in between, an RPG is centered around the notion of leveling and character development. If people out there are skipping that part so that they can get to the part they like, then I don't think it is a fault of the game for being an RPG and not a FPS. If you don't want character development but do want action packed PvP, there are much better alternatives. Guild Wars is a notable example, as the leveling portion was intentionally made short to cater to just such an audience who wanted to have the taste of an RPG but for those who just didn’t want to spend too much time leveling.

I don't think blame should always be put on the design if players are exploiting and skipping content. I could buy socks and put them on my hands and then complain to the manufacturer that their socks make lousy gloves and demand that they include fingers and a thumb on them, but I would be understandably ignored for such a silly request.

I think it is perfectly fair, however, for folks like Tobold, who bought an RPG, to be disappointed at the relative shortness of the RPG/Leveling experience with this game. Just as someone who bought socks that wore out too quickly would have a far better claim to complain about the socks than the guy trying to use them for gloves.

I guess I am just tired of people always trying to justify poor behavior by the old "People wouldn't cheat if the system wasn't broken" mentality. The same excuse is used for drugs, RMT, theft, and even in some extreme cases, murder. Sometimes it is the people that are broken, and not the system.
I don't know...I like the idea of having a speed leveling option. Though it also seems to me that everyone should suffer through the long grind at least once in order to be a bit more fair.

I'm in favor of doing one long leveling grind in a game, then getting major boosts for alt characters. It seems like you'd be missing a lot by skipping over all of the content the first time.
I'm 100% percent in agreement with heartless on this one
Actually if it's mainly a pvp game, and you're supposed to spend all your time at the end game, then maybe fast leveling is better.

For instance in WoW people complain that they spend so much time leveling, which is one part of the game, then the game suddenly changes to be completely different, after the game trained you to play a certain way for many months the rules suddenly change. Some people like leveling, others like the end game, not many like both.

But in AoC, there's one game: the pvp endgame. If the leveling is short then it's more of an introduction to teach you the class. If the leveling is short then ganking isn't as big a deal, since you'll spend very little time doing it. Can you see everything while leveling? No but then that can be good for your alts, since there will be something to do.

Of course, there has to be something to do at 80. But surely I think balancing one game and providing content for it (the endgame) is easier than balancing two or more versions of the game that people are playing.

So maybe the problem isn't so much the short leveling time, but rather the problem is the short time is not even. If the only way to get to 80 is by exploiting or by having your friends mentor you, then that's not really good for balance, it should be even for everyone.
Didn't someone level 60-70 in 28 hours when the Burning Crusade expansion came out?
Doom, Doom, Dooooooooom I say.

In all seriousness I see a lot of parallels between Age of Conan and EVE Online. I think a lot of people were expecting Age of Conan to play more like World of Warcraft since it seems to be a level based game. However, in my experience I'm seeing levels only making a small difference in PvP. I've seen several gankers in their 50s brought down by small groups of players in their 20's. This would never happend with the damage mitigation bonuses in WoW.

I think as long as Age of Conan gets its Border Kingdoms working smoothly so that it sort of resembles EVE's 0.0 security space then it should be fine. The game seems better structured for PvP then most games out nowadays but of course it isn't going to be for everyone. In general players who avoid guild warfare and play on a PvE server are only going to be entertained in the short run I think.
I still think that Guild Wars handled that best,Yunkndatwunk.

The PvP portion has no leveling at all. In fact, it essentially IS two games. A story based RPG style, and a PvP centric one.

If that is all Funcom is trying to do, I'm not sure they needed to reinvent the wheel on that one.

If you want an RPG with player interaction (including PvP elements) it is perfectly possible to have them built in throughout the entire game.

It is probable that the very notion of "Endgame" itself is really sort of the issue. Most story based games don't try and come up with a way to keep you entertained after you finished the story (The leveling portion) but MMO's are very weird bird.
This post seems quite premature and decidedly one sided in my opinion...
As an example, I played LOTRO at early launch...which had a level cap of 15.
As soon as full launch took place, within 24 hours, someone had maxed..
As well, an exploit existed from day one with the Auction House (surprise)...
PoTBS the same thing...
Script kiddies will do everything in their power to game the game...

EVERY GAME has had issues, and to put AoC into a light, as this post has, to makes it look like AoC is a failure based on this ridiculous..

Also, as of today all the exploits have been patched, the apprentice system has been capped...I mean, talk about jumping the gun there.


As to leveling...for people who are EASK and like to enjoy their game (that would be...ME!) the level curve is perfect...
I am currently level...25. Yep...just 25.

Am I an inept player? No!
Am I purposely taking my time? No!

I am just doing quests like I would in any other game..except maybe I am...I don't know...reading the quests?
Looking around as I quest...?
Novel ideas....
I also gained my gather skills early enough that I can start this process while questing..

And I am having a blast.

But, I know for a fact...this is not WoW, and people who love WoW may not find the entertainment value of AoC in my opinion...and that is sad to me.

The Keen and Graev issue is a perfect example.
Players with MMO burnout, who try to blow through use to clicking Ok, Ok to get the quest and run for the goal...will not work anymore in todays MMO market...
They will boot up WAR expecting Nirvana, and will be where they are with AoC...feeling the same ole, same ole..

I think those disgruntled with these games need to step back, and take a break from MMO's. I did this after the LOTRO debacle (boring, repetitive gameplay) and then came back trying new things...and have been happy ever since..

Maybe you are in the same boat Tobold?
Anyone who thinks WAR is going to be the next great game just hasn't played the beta. :)

AoC is the best MMO we will see this year.
Agreed with anon above. It's weird to see such a disconnect between the NDA leaks for WAR and the current enthusiasm for the game on the MMO blogs. Frankly, I'm not sure what to make of it.
Like the famous UFO picture says, I WANT TO BELIEVE. People really want something like WAR to succeed, and Paul Barnett has done a great job selling it to the public, but the devil is in the details...and the beta just doesn't live up to the hype.
I have no hype for Warhammer. Besides the tidbits about RvR and how pallys arent clothie wimpy healers, the game will be something alternate Id play from AoC.

If there is any game im hyped for that would be Project Offset or Lineage 3. These are years away so cant get to hyped up now.

Age of Conan I think is tethering its ties to the original DaoC players and trying to amplify and enhance what already is required in a MMO to make it good. If I had to criticaly analyze, for example WoW I would give it props for the customizable UI and its ability to return on investment. Beyond that it is EQ2 with "warcraft" flavours, and it is made for the masses (which brings to the table many negative things, such as too much transparency, no connection to the storyline and the character but rather the progression and gearstats only.

Age of Conan deserves credit where its due, the quest lines are worth reading and how they pace the progression in the game keeps you with your friends vs against them (like in wow). The apprentice system was a great idea to take from City of Heroes and works great in AoC, the Instancing where otherwise would be lagfests is great, the mortal kombat fatalies!11, and here is the real diamond in the rough.. how players are surprised when they get a taste of AoC its worth playing/paying alongside your friends. This is refreshing for anyone who remembers Vanilla pre-BC WoW, it was the same way.

I address this issue in my latest post ( I do think Tobold's concern is premature. AoC isn't the first game to encounter these problems. Funcom has reacted very quickly by fixing exploits and dishing out bans when necessary. In any case, it is only the truly hardcore that took advantage. The vast majority of players still have plenty of leveling to do.
Bored Level 80 PvP players.

That is indeed dangerous (especially since the ganker's jail has yet to be implemented)
It doesn't sound like it would be any fun to level to 80 in a week...:(
I got used to the fact that Tobold is a bit biased onto the carebare side of MMO's but all articles were really well written and took a swing at things that were easy to miss.

This one is just a "I want to believe this game is not going to make it" post.

First of all who said CHARACTER DEVELOPEMENT = leveling? I always thought RPG stood for roleplaying meaning trying to fill out the shoes of someone you always wanted to be. The whole lvl up is just a side effect and a flaw at its very core and since nobody really tried to do anything else deveopers stick to it and base everything on it.

I think some people including Tobold try to find a capture of Indiana Jones type of adventure/journey in an MMO world, which while being a nice whish is impossible if the adventure wont be a part of the MMO experience but a single player game in a multiplayer enviroment.

and please dont tell me massive end game raiding is an adventure because its more like a group of athletes trying to beat the clock on the route they already know very well.

I think you missed the point here Tobold. The problem is NOT how fast you get to end game, (which is a lame term btw) but the real problem is THIS IS an END GAME for your archetype of a player.
I thin you guys are looking at the game from a different perspective. What I keep hearing is we have a game where it's easy to solo to the "real" game. that's what killed the wow social community. Early on when everyone was leveling and grouping was required for any real advancement was the best part of wow. When the game became a soloing all together thing it just began to fall apart socially. I don't want that kind of game. And I'm pretty sure you'll find most of us "care bear" types want the same thing. A social experience thats fun and has a great immersive world.
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