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.