Tobold's Blog
Wednesday, May 20, 2009
Accommodating less good players

Shamutanti wrote me with a link to a post of his on raiding difficulty, saying that "I’ve found myself becoming more and more accommodating towards those who really don’t know what they’re doing and I’m trying to help" and "Not everything needs to be hard and not everything needs to be complex.". And he asked me what my point of view is, because he thinks I have changed my point of view. I haven't, people just have problems understanding my point of view.

I'm on record as saying that A) Naxxramas being easy is perfect as a starting raid, and B) players dealing less than 2k dps should stay away from Malygos. And it is surprising how few people believe that both statements can be true at the same time. Far too many people think that either EVERYTHING has to be easy, or EVERYTHING has to be hard. Which, in fact, would be awfully bad game design. Because while everybody wants all the content to be tuned exactly to the difficulty level he personally prefers, the whole player base will span a wide range of different preferences. And the developers need to cover this wide range, and not just cater to the needs of one small sub-group.

I never said that World of Warcraft should not contain any hard content. I did say that WoW should not have ONLY hard content. A situation where nearly everybody can do Naxxramas, a somewhat smaller but still big subset of people can do Ulduar at normal, and a few bosses like Malygos and Algalon only beatable by the top raiders is great. Even if yes, that means that the top raiders are bored in Naxxramas, and the least good players will take months before even reaching Ulduar.

With not all raid content tuned to the same small subset of people, whichever group that would be, but spanning a wide range of difficulty levels, the main problem for Blizzard is creating enough of it to make everyone happy. Whether Ulduar is too easy or too hard is a straw man dispute. The real problem is that Ulduar is too *late*, it should have been released with Wrath of the Lich King, and patch 3.1 should already have added the next dungeon.

There is nothing inherently wrong with there being players who play less well, be that for reasons of not being skilled enough, not having spent enough time, or just not being interested enough. Just like you don't have to be Tiger Woods to play golf, you don't have to be Ensidia to play WoW. The whole stupid argument how easy or hard a raid dungeon should be is just a fight between various sub-groups for limited resources. Of course it would be better if everybody had a place to go, but with Blizzard only able to make a limited number of raid dungeon, everybody wants those few raid dungeons to be designed for him, and him only.

While having raid dungeons spanning a wide range of difficulty levels, accommodating the hunter who deals 1k dps as well as the one who deals 5k dps, is great, it still isn't perfect. It's only "as good as it gets" in the confines of World of Warcraft game design. A raid dungeon used to have only one fixed difficulty, either you could beat BWL or you couldn't. Today one raid dungeon already has two different difficulty settings, normal and hard. Some future MMORPG (and it might well be Blizzard's next one) will have an ingenious system in which the same place exists in infinite different difficulty levels. Just like a chess club, or a ladder system for some game manages to match players against opponents of the perfect difficulty for them, that future MMORPG will match any given raid group with a raid dungeon with the perfect difficulty for them, being both challenging and achievable. And then that stupid fight about raid difficulty will hopefully disappear.
Raid difficulty never bothered me - the time they required did. Can't comment on WoW but in EQ2 my raids always seemed to last ages and would require a good 4 hours of playtime investment. That's difficult for me to do. I'd love to do challenging raids that would be accessed and accomplished in shorter time periods. But then maybe it's just been my personal experiences?
Turbine are adding scalable dungeons to LotRO later in the year called Skirmishes.

We don't know at this stage how large they will scale to, but there's a good chance it will be to 12 players, and even a slim chance of it reaching 24. The reward structure will also scale.

I'm not expecting finely scripted raiding content though. More a variation in the quantity and type of trash and bosses in more straightforward situations.

A single player will probably expected to deal with 2 or 3 normal mobs at a time, with signature level bosses. A 12 man raid will likely be tackling master elites as trash with nemesis level bosses.

Will be interesting to see how successful it turns out to be.
Seems to me the main difficulty in accomodating less good players is getting the existing playerbase to accept them.

Theoretically you could encourage the less good players to group with each other, but people don't naturally want to pick their in game friends due to skill levels. Maybe they want to group with RL friends, or people on their timezone, or people who like the same sort of content, or ... whatever criteria is cool today.

It's great that the person who wrote to you likes to spend time teaching newbies but what if you can't find a teacher?
I never said that World of Warcraft should not contain any hard content. I did say that WoW should not have ONLY hard content. A situation where nearly everybody can do Naxxramas, a somewhat smaller but still big subset of people can do Ulduar at normal, and a few bosses like Malygos and Algalon only beatable by the top raiders is great.
So only the top raiders killing Arthas would be okay? How would that be different from the TBC era where a tiny fraction of the raiding population defeated Kil'jaeden? When Icecrown Citadel is released would the less good players accommodate the better players? Pardon me for being a cynic, but considering the wail and gnashing of teeth due to "easymode" Naxx, I doubt that will happen.
There are more here than meets the eye. Blizzard could easily create content for everyone by starting "easy", "moderate", "hard", "HC" servers where the content is exactly the same except for some damage modifiers. "moderate" is the current, on easy everyone has damage and healing increased by 30%, on hard decreased by 20%, on HC decreased by 40%.

Do you have an idea why they not implement this obvious solution what is common on all single player games?
WoW raiding is a joke

I said it on my blog but its funny you bring this up today.

WoW raiders are hand held babies that have mods do all their work.
Hudson, what is it you old School EQ or FFXI, or whatever players find so easy about WoW raiding? I'm genuinely curious here, never having played anything other than WoW, MMO wise. Now I'm not talking Naxx in particular, which I find to be easy enough, as befits an entry level raid. I'm talking about WoW raiding in general. What made Black Temple and Sunwell less hardcore than their counterparts in EQ or FFXI?

The examples I've read about why these games have more hardcore raiding never focus on actual mechanics of the bossfights. It alwasy seem to be a question of a larger amount of arbitrary timesinks to actually get to the damned fight to begin with. Players have to farm mats or rare mobs for a few months to actually be able to try the bosses at all. But then the complexity of the fights in themselves never is dscribed. Where the fights really harder than they are in WoW raiding in general?

As for mods, are their existence a sign that WoW players are less hardcore, or is it a sign that the WoW encounters are more technical and complex, leading to the need for such mods in the first place?

Now I don't know the answer to this, of course, seeing as I've only played WoW. But as I wrote, it would be inteeresting to actually have some old school MMOer elaborate on what makes WoW raiding so casual, besides having to kill some rare mob that spawns once every third solstice to be able to summon the boss in the first place.
Scaleabale dungeons, Novice/Normal/Expert level servers, even a difficulty slider per encounter...
so many ways to fit the experience to the competence, commitment or ambition of the player and yet so few MMOs use them.

I think it's because online game companies prefer to encourage the psychological factors that generate compulsive behavior in their customers, in order to maximize retention. Unlike an offline game producer, who wants you to complete Game A, be satisfied with the experience and therefore purchase said producer's next game, the online game producer wants you to keep playing the same game indefinitely. Therefore the players are encouraged to feel that they are making progress, but not to feel satisfied.

I think it's a flawed model, and that players given greater control over what they can achieve will actually become more loyal and play longer, but so far there don't seem to be many MMO designers willing to find out for sure.

The Turbine Skirmishes, if they are done well, might get me back to LotRO, though.
@ Gevlon:
Couple possible answers for you. First, I totally agree that separate difficulty levels, created solely through simple multiplication problems, would be easy to make. However I feel that they would be less interesting than the current Hard Mode model, which includes more dynamic fight effects like dealing with more drakes, changing the IC kill order, etc. It's all about dynamism - right now my guild doesn't have to worry about accidentally shattering XT's heart because our DPS is too low. But this will transform from something we have to avoid to something we need to reach for as we gear up and change modes, and I think that's interesting.

Secondly (and I think more importantly), choosing your difficulty at character creation (via server selection) is a pretty bad idea. No one knows how good of a raider they're going to be when they start. What if you guess wrong? What if you improve? What if your Easy guild beats Arthas and wants to move up? How badly will Blizz mis-guess difficulty selection, resulting now in server population density troubles?
Isn't it strange game design, actually, when a large percentage of your subscribers will probably never access a large part of the content (until it's obsolete)?
The first time I went into BWL and AQ, was when people started pugging them for achievements. Before TBC, it was simply impossible for me to go there. Same story for The Eye, BT, Hyjal and Sunwell (which I haven't seen yet at all).
I think the main problem is mandatory character progression. The required time investment to get there is too much for me.
The next MMO I'll play, if ever, won't require a more powerful character to play dungeon x in hard mode, but a smarter than average group of players who have the skills for it.
I think you are missing the other major component--- pride.

If an instance is doable by any group, no matter how bad, because the game adjusts to make it so, nobody can really feel like they've accomplished something.

Without that feeling of accomplishment, I think a lot of people would have a hard time getting motivated to raid, because whether you like it or not, epeen does matter. A lot.
Well in a raid-based MMO of course how good a raider is defined 4% by your own qualities and 96% by other people's.

If they did have Easy mode servers, who would want to be the good player main tanking for 24 useless players? If they had super-hard mode how many medoicre players would jump over there in the hope of catching hold of the coattails of a team of great players?

Aside from that, another interesting aspect of this question has me deep in thought at the moment? How far should a raid guild accomodate less good players and how do you manage a transition between accepting any range of ability towards requiring a minimum quality that some of your current team don't currently meet? We want to raise the bar while keeping most (or even all) of our members so it's an exercise in motivation as much as anything.
"people just have problems understanding my point of view."

After having a read back through your posts actually I can see that I'm one of those. If only all similar posts could be slapped side by side eh!

I still think Hudson is heading towards the wrong direction in this idea that raiding currently within the WoW scene is a joke - because, like it or not (and I'm one who is personally against hard modes because I still have an ego about them) more people are raiding and playing, more guilds are actually getting into content and it's possible to find groups wanting to take you.

How many other games currently in the market can say that?

The problem is twofold; one, accommodating players into raiding, something which Blizzard is able to handle and two, like Spinks has noted, accommodating the 'lesser' players into the 'better' playerbase which is unfortunately something Blizzard has limited control over, because it's the players who have the final say over what is negative and what isn't.

I only have one thing to say in response to Tobold's post:

@ David

"Unlike an offline game producer, who wants you to complete Game A, be satisfied with the experience and therefore purchase said producer's next game, the online game producer wants you to keep playing the same game indefinitely. Therefore the players are encouraged to feel that they are making progress, but not to feel satisfied.

This is such a simple observation, and yet it is a perfect description of the present model.

Well said!
Maybe this is why I have never raided though?
Difficulty, time constraints, not wanting to let people down..

So many things to think about.

I do plan to do some of my first raids EVER in AoC, but I am curious over why the raid issue is so touchy.

Maybe because I have never done them, I guess I do not see the concern.

Probably after doing them, I may have my answer, and if all the fuss and attitude is any may be my last raid as well.
This post contains the key insight that makes so many arguments about endgame design intolerable to me: that it's basically a problem of limited content with a massive, diverse playerbase that plays a ton of hours. And a playerbase that by and large refuses to understand, let alone accept, those limitations. The solutions have incrementally improved over time, but they're far from perfect. Certainly everyone can agree Ulduar shouldn't have taken almost 6 months after WOTLK to release after being "almost ready" at launch. Oh well, the 6 month patch cycle leaves me unsubscribed and pursuing other hobbies a large fraction of the time, which is probably healthy in the long run.

It sounds nice, but I doubt that infinite scalability can be implemented well. How do you itemize? How do you do server progression (which matters to the hardcore segment)? How do you scale - just more hp/dmg/adds? That's not very satisfying.

I will say that it seems like there's a vocal group (many bloggers among them) of skilled semi-casuals who have finished Ulduar and are staring at a big jump to hard modes. I wonder if that is one of the underlying dynamics leading to a lot of unsubscription recently (not talking about you Tobold). I can only assume the 3.2 raid will have more intermediate modes, or maybe even full normal/hard/nightmare settings. How far can you push that without fatally damaging immersion, however (or are we there already?)
That's not a very 'PC' title. I think you should change it to "Accommodating the skill-challenged".

Seriously though, I actually agree with most of what you said here. Shock horror.

"What made Black Temple and Sunwell less hardcore than their counterparts in EQ or FFXI?"

Raiding in MMO's (or pretty much any other activity) in general isn't very hard. Just compare the gameplay to good non-MMO games that you've played.
Make raid events that 95%-100% of your games existing raid guilds can beat and its by definition not hardcore. Build raid events that only 50% of your games raiding guilds can complete and you will most probally lose the vasy majority of the 50% of guilds that couldnt.

In other words the age of hardcore mmog raiding is dead because its is simply a stupid way to run a mmog. The future belongs to easy mode raid events that will be rationed out in small amounts in order to provide just enough new content to keep both the hardcore and non hardcore people playing.
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