Tobold's Blog
Monday, May 18, 2009
Missing the boat

In the open Sunday thread David asked what MMO to get back to, after having made a pause of 1.5 years. Well, if you still know where your friends are playing, go and play whatever they do. Otherwise going back to an old game has a lot of issues, and you might be better off with something relatively new, like Runes of Magic or Free Realms, which have the added advantage of being free.

I was watching a funny video with Paul Barnett and Jeff Hickman, in which they are advertising their new Land of the Dead added content. And they actually say that this might be a good point to get back into the game. I disagree. Land of the Dead for me has the same problem as the Mines of Moria expansionfor LotRO: I never got high enough in the game. If I went back, I still couldn't visit the new content, because the new content is high level, and I'm low level.

And that is actually a serious design problem. Most expansions and content patches add content to the end game, because that is where your existing players are usually hanging out and starting to get bored, so you want to hold onto them. But that means that all this new content isn't attractive at all to people who never got that far, or to people who are completely new to the game. If you start World of Warcraft for the first time today, the Wrath of the Lich King expansion is doing nothing for you. Just the opposite, by drawing the majority of the population into the high-level content, the expansions make the low level content deserted, and less fun. You simply can't find a regular group for the Deadmines nowadays. That also explains why many people are in such a rush to get into a new game on release day. If you wait too long, you miss the boat, and end up playing solo all the time.

Better design could be possible. For example cross-server dungeons in World of Warcraft would solve the problem of there not being enough players around at lower levels. Or guild structures with a mentor / apprentice system, where high-level players and guilds get rewarded for helping lower level players. And then there could be vertical expansions, adding content for all levels, or creating new races and classes you'd start at level 1. I believe there could be a lot of other ideas to prevent games from becoming less interesting for newcomers. We just need to break out of the same old, same old linear progression design mold.
about lotro and its expansion, its now easier to level up and there 2 new class to play. the zones 1-50 still highly populated unlike WOW's 1-60.

off course this just my subjective opinion , i think LOTRO's PVE leveling is way better than WOW's PVE leveling and WAR's PVP is way better than WOW's. WOW undeniable strength is the End-Game Raid.
If I remeber correctly I think FFXI did a lot of right things with their expansions and having the content spread out evenly across the levels, but then again the entire games almost forced you to have one job or another at all the lvl benchmarks.
Mines of Moria may not have added much content in the 1-50 range, but the preceding book updates since launch did so. 3 new zones worth of content fleshing out the journey from 30-50, not to mention mountains of extra features and fluff. Oh, they also added 2 new classes, which is a significant foot in the door for new players.

Finally, the have started revisiting many of the early zones in order to flesh them out and make them more enjoyable for new players. Last update was Ered Luin, coming soon will be Breeland.
First off, I think I read somewhere that the Land of the dead content starts at around L28. If that is true then it's rather mid level content and not high level. ;)

Also, at least for the moment, it's not too late or missing the boat with WAR. The lower tiers still have a lot of people playing it. At least in RvR where I spend 99% of my time. Of course it depends on what server you are on.

WAR does have a few other problems though. The most serious one is that server stability and lag is horrible during the big battles, especially during fortress or city sieges. Often it is of the "press a button and 3-5 seconds later it fires, if you still are in range"- kind.

Another problem, at least in my opinion is that there is MUCH TOO MUCH crowd control happening in RvR, especially in tier 4. Disabled seems to be the default state in range of enemies. Apart from that you can in between the disabled states also be silenced, rooted, disarmed, punted across the map and probably one or two other states that I forgot to mention. Fortunately in the lower tiers this kind of CC is relatively rare (apart from knockback in tier 3).

Those two problems are probably why the lower tiers are still so very populated. The lower tiers are simply at the moment much more fun than tier 4 for RvR. The biggest problem with that though is that leveling out of tier 1 & 2 is much too fast. :)
This is something that EVE does really well. The newbie systems are still full of life and even today you feel part of the game from the moment you create a character. I can't put my finger on any one reason why this is so, I think its a combination of things.

-The single shard design means that everyone starting a new character or an alt starts in the same few places so there will always be someone of your ow level around.

- The main trading hubs like Jita and Rens are relatively close to newbie starting areas so there is always plenty of passing traffic

- There is no linear path through EVE so players don't automatically move on to different regions just because they level up. Experienced players are more likely to move to low security space for the higher rewards but there will often come back to high security zones for trading or to buy skill books.

- And of course the harshness of EVE's pvp system creates an added incentive for those of nervous disposition to hang around the relative safety of the newbie zones.
I got somewhat back into Guild Wars. But it is no hot and intense affair as it was years ago.
Cross server instances is actually a nice idea. Already hard enough to find a pug for the end game instances...

Having some new levelling content for WoW would be great too. Having to do the exact same places another time isn't much fun. It made the added content at Onyxia place a lot of fun. But it's not enough If I could level a new char from 0 - 60 in new zones, I'd go and roll another character and play again.

It did a a few bits for the low levels. Dieing your hair, lower level needed for a mount, inscription. But nothing useful.
The reason Age of Conan is rocking right now.
When they add new content they attempt to fill out various levels..the 30's 40's and 50's all have had new content..
The next patch fills out the 70's, but as always, each content patch adds something for end game.

Why don't other developers do the same?

Too bad Funcom sucks at so many other things, but luckily AoC is awesome and so is the content now.
I've argued this for a while now. Vertical content naturally segments the population and makes late adoption a hassle. It's just one more problem with the DIKU DNA.

It's also something that we're not likely to get away from soon, as the Achiever mindset is still dominant. That steady drip of increasing rewards that feeds the current mainstream MMO player doesn't translate well to a "virtual world" design, but fits the "guided theme park" quite well.

As noted, EVE is nicely different, as is GW. Perhaps BlizzardMMO 2.0 will be more of a sustainable design, but I think it's too late for WoW.
My favorite part of Guild Wars is they also give you a reason to "Try again"
Play the new expansion, try new characters, see how they mesh...
If MMO's would instead give you a set # of levels, and content, and then develop for a 6 month window of content and storyline, the genre could feel less stale.
Right now, no tools exists to make this genres development any quicker this causes problems when re-using assets, what not. The curve to develop those assets is too long.

Who knows...maybe someday this will change.
I pretty much agree with most of this.

Tangentially - "You simply can't find a regular group for the Deadmines nowadays." That seems to depend on the server. I just started a warrior (and am tanking which has helped no doubt) on a different server and have in the last few days run DM, Blackfathom Deeps, and Stockades with proper level-appropriate groups. Good players too for the most part. On my other servers though the only low-level dungeon I've ever run has been Scarlet Monastery.
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