Tobold's Blog
Monday, June 15, 2009
 
Retirement and Challenge

Spinks writes about the end game concepts of retirement and challenge:
This week I have committed a terrible crime which I usually try to avoid. I read something cool in a blog post and forgot to bookmark it. So if this came from you, let me know and I’ll add in the link.

In any case, I was reading this article and the writer compared the ideas of Retirement Gaming with Challenge Gaming. This is simple but brilliant. The Retirement Gamer thinks ‘I put some work into this game and got some reward. Now I want to enjoy it by having the game become easier.’ The Challenge Gamer thinks, ‘I put some work into this game and got some reward. Now I want more of a challenge!’

The best MMOs cater to both of these viewpoints.
I don't know whether Spinks got it from this comment or elsewhere, but the concept is interesting. I just don't think that games like World of Warcraft manage pleasing both sides very well. The problem with WoW is that at any given level of power, the content that gives you meaningful rewards is quite limited. So if you are wearing a complete set of Naxxramas-10 and -25 gear, Ulduar is basically the only place to go. Yes, you *can* do retirement gaming and farm Molten Core or some type of monsters in the open world. But the rewards you'd get are pretty much meaningless, and won't do anything for your character development.

I was thinking of that when I was playing Luminary. My character is level 54 now. And I recently spent a few hours farming level 6 mobs. Classic retirement gaming mode, I just one-shotted them. But in Luminary that action actually made sense, because every mob drops different resources. And if you need the things that level 6 mobs drop, and there aren't many for sale at the market, or they are overpriced, farming low level mobs is quite a reasonable thing to do. But I could equally well have choosen to switch to challenge gaming mode, and worked on quests and higher level monsters to increase my level. Having that choice, and either choice giving you reasonable rewards, is a good thing. It is just funny how a free 2D MMORPG manages it better than a billion dollar game.

The obvious advantage of having everything in the game drop something that can be useful at any level is that none of your content ever gets completely obsolete. World of Warcraft is a *huge* game, many times the size of Luminary. But at any given level in WoW, only very few zones make sense being in. And every expansion adding 10 more levels and another continent, makes the previous continent practically disappear. If Blizzard would add an auction house to Dalaran, and class trainers, there would be no reason to ever leave Northrend.
Comments:
Every game faces the same problem: whatever the most efficient way to advance your character is, that's what players will do. If grinding is 5% faster than questing, players will ignore the quests. It doesn't matter how awesome the quests are or how much more fun doing them is than grinding. Players will grind, they will say your game is all grinding, and they will blame you for it. You can't just create content, you have to "manage" your players into having fun with rewards. It is VERY hard to balance this with multiple types of content, because as soon as one type is even a small bit better, that's all anyone does.
 
But do we necessarily only play the game for charcter improvement? What of just "having fun" without any material reward? I wrote a rant about it today and got a delightful comment from someone who had fun with friends just playing around with slowfall and Thunderstorm.

With this approach the older zones could be more alive than they are today.

Sometimes I can't help thinking that the ratrace mentality with character improvement as the one and only incentive is a bit saddening.

We - the players - make WoW a lot smaller than it need to be.
 
A compromise is the best solution:

Make early-level monsters reappear later on, but in greater numbers and add in stronger high level monsters.
This creates the illusion of your character becoming stronger without removing the challenge.

If you combine it with a removal of the aburd gain in power with levels (or just remove them alltogether) you can create a game were low level monsters are not stupidly weak, like in WoW. This allows a gaming world that is continuously populated by players. Another weak point of WoW.

Just another idea is to increase the power of many enemies. E.G. You can only block one. This would require a limitation of AE effect, but might be worth it.
 
It's an interesting balance, isn't it? Between allowing/encouraging players to go back to easier zones and forcing them to do it to grind stuff they need.

WoW has a few rewards for backtracking. You can gather cloth. You can help friends with lowbie instances or RAF. You can do some sightseeing and pick up old achievements.

But you're right, it's not a huge progression thing. That's possibly wise to be honest, because otherwise you'd have high levels messing with low level zones constantly which could be a pain on a PvP server.

But I like the idea of having more reasons to go back.
 
"With this approach the older zones could be more alive than they are today.

Sometimes I can't help thinking that the ratrace mentality with character improvement as the one and only incentive is a bit saddening.

We - the players - make WoW a lot smaller than it need to be."



That's just it, very few players go back and do things like that. How many players complained about having nothing to do before 3.1 came out, and how many of those players had actually passed the Sunwell or even Black Temple? There's no reason they couldn't do it now, but they won't. We can sit here and talk about it like a couple of old people complaining that these young punks don't appreciate anything, but a developer can't do that. A developer can't just yell at his player base that it's their own fault they aren't having fun, this is a very important part of the game design that most people don't think about. Even if you create fun content, if your rewards system doesn't direct players to experience it, that IS the failure of the developer.
 
This is such a good distinction, and one I've not seen encapsulated so clearly before. I am absolutely a Retirement gamer. I level up quite specifically so as to be able to kick back and take it easy. That really is why I put the hours in, and I take it as a personal insult if I am then required or expected to overcome any "challenge".

I also am one of the apparently rare breed that does, routinely and regularly, go back and spen lots of time with my high level character in older content that now poses no challenge. I do go back and do whole dungeons in which every mob gives no xp and drops nothing I want. And I enjoy it, a lot.

The best thing is that, once the mobs can't really hurt you, you cna take a good, long , close look at them, at where they live and at what they do there. And that's often much more interesting than killing them ever was.

Developers put a vast amount of detail into these worlds, but it's hard to appreciate any of it when some orc is trying to stove your skull in. Retirement's there not just for a well-earned rest, but for taking a good long look at everythign you went past in too much of a hurry the first time through.
 
This is such a good distinction, and one I've not seen encapsulated so clearly before. I am absolutely a Retirement gamer. I level up quite specifically so as to be able to kick back and take it easy. That really is why I put the hours in, and I take it as a personal insult if I am then required or expected to overcome any "challenge".

I also am one of the apparently rare breed that does, routinely and regularly, go back and spen lots of time with my high level character in older content that now poses no challenge. I do go back and do whole dungeons in which every mob gives no xp and drops nothing I want. And I enjoy it, a lot.

The best thing is that, once the mobs can't really hurt you, you cna take a good, long , close look at them, at where they live and at what they do there. And that's often much more interesting than killing them ever was.

Developers put a vast amount of detail into these worlds, but it's hard to appreciate any of it when some orc is trying to stove your skull in. Retirement's there not just for a well-earned rest, but for taking a good long look at everythign you went past in too much of a hurry the first time through.
 
The developers of WoW could do LOTS of things to give players reasons to maintain contact with lower level zones and instances.

Who says that new, higher level recipes cannot require materials from older zones/lower level content? What would be the problem with scaling higher level players attributes back upon zone-in to make the lower level dungeon/raid instances a challenge, especially if they are trying to earn an achievement? Why make anything a cake walk just because of level differences? I'm of the opinion that C'Thun and other raid bosses should maintain their Uberness factor/effect regardless of player level.

Players are so conditioned to look at "level" differences, that the prejudices associated with lower level content seems to scale with the actual level differences themselves. This is one aspect of WoW's effect on the MMO genre that I'm not especially pleased with, but it's perhaps the one aspect that's easiest to change.
 
I already answered this on Larisa's thread. Some people like me need a carrot. If they want me to do the old content, they'll have to add some rewards in the form of. Add some gear rewards for example.
 
I don't buy the "Luminary did it better than all those other games" thing... I mean, what were your choices? Farming some low-level item you needed (since it wasn't on the AH) or questing and leveling up. Once you hit the level cap, the second option goes away, and then you're in the same place as WoW - go back to older content or make do with whatever end-game content there is. The only difference seems to be that in WoW you can probably find whatever it is you're looking for on the AH so there's less of a need to go back and farm mobs in Elwynn Forest.
 
With inscription WoW for a limited time sort of had a system where you still needed lower lvl resources for endgame stuff, since a glyph might very well be the best choice for a lvl 80 and still be made from inks from herbs picked in a lvl 30 zone.

This did not last very long within WoW however, as they then implemented an ink trader in Dalaran, making it so that you can always farm Northrend herbs instead of going back to the lvl 30 zone.
 
I have a static group which plays LOTRO twice a week. Yesterday a member couldn't make it so the rest of us were looking for something to do in game which wouldn't make us accomplish common quests or level up.

So we decided to go have a peak in the Elf starting zone to see if the Deeds (achievements) were worth it. To our surprise even if we out leveled the content we were completing the Deeds and receiving the appropriate Virtues. We already had some of them, but it made them stronger.

It was nice to oneshot monsters, grind Deeds rapidly and taste new (but obsolete) quests all the while getting a nice reward.

Much more interesting backtracking than other recent games I played, especially WoW and WAR.
 
I'm not really sure it's as easy as people suggest. There are 5 basic difficulty levels:

1) Impossible - doing Ulduar in quest greens. Not happening.
2) Barely Possible - min/max with buffs/flasks and still take a bunch of wipes to get it. Progression raiding.
3) Tough - needs full focus, might kill you sometimes. Have to try, but can definitely do it. Yellow/Orange quests in WoW.
4) Easy - Minimal risk of failure, but still requires proper effort. Farm Kills.
5) LOLable - Almost no risk of failure, can faceroll safely. An 80 soloing Hellfire Ramparts.

The problem with "Retirement Rewards" is that the line between those 5 levels is very thin. The "Barely Possible" boss we downed for the first time becomes "Easy" within 3-4 weeks. Tough quests become Easy with only a few levels. It's hard enough to balance something as "Barely Possible" without tipping too far one way or the other.

If you're getting rewards weekly in Naxx, then every week Naxx should be getting easier, going from "Tough" to "Easy" as you fill out your T7. That system already exists, where something of the same challenge level gets relative easier as you "gear up". That Naxx gear also makes your Heroics easier, and it makes any solo questing or dailies you're doing easier as well.

The rewards have to start out as "Impossible" or nearly so, because if T7 makes them Easy, T8 or T9 makes them LOLable, and meaningful rewards from "LOLable" monsters or repeatable quests is the worst kind of grind.
 
To make WoW more interesting I started this experiment last week:
I created a new Dwarven hunter and he has to live by these rules:
1.) Read all quest text completely.
2.) He can not buy any armor or weapons at the AH.
3.) He is not allowed to have any higher level characters run him through a dungeon to get unearned rewards.
4.) He can take as long to level up as it takes. It's the journey that's important.

So far it's been pretty fun. What was once a boring delivery mission is now very satisfying.
Need a cask of Evershine or ShimmerStout? I'm your dwarf!
I killed some nasty Trolls to get the shimmerweed myself, if you don't mind me saying so!
 
DerRaven, funny thing is, that's how the game once *had* to be played. It's hot many newbies *still* play. I, for one, love to stop to "smell the roses" and just wander around. If I wanted an endless number chase, I'd play Progress Quest.

I'll also second David's comments. The devs have done a LOT of worldcrafting on these games, and the rush to raid trivializes a lot of that work. As an artist in the game industry, I'd like to think that *some* people appreciate what I do.
 
Oh, and as to the original topic (sorry for the couple post), I'm of a mind that all content should be available to all players. Also, I believe that people aren't just retirees or challenge junkies, but some combination of the two, and rapidly move around on the axis between them. That's why I firmly believe in scaling dungeons (even to allow solo players to see everything), complete with scaling rewards. Give the best stuff to those who do rise to the challenge, certainly, but let everyone *play* the game at a level they feel comfortable with.
 
I have another comment on WoW's portrayal of Retirement vs. Challenge. At the beginning of each new patch or expansion, there is a big dose of Challenge in the form of a raid instance that is somewhere between Very Tough and Impossible. Then over the next few months, as people learn the strategies and get better gear, Retirement philosophy kicks in, and people begin feeling like they earned the right to blow through the raid and farm the bosses. This lasts until the next patch, when the cycle starts over again.

Skilled Challenge-oriented players can stay near their end of the curve by doing hard modes. Less-skilled Retirement-oriented players can continue to do heroics and intro raids until the harder raids are nerfed, or until the next expansion is released with 10 more levels.

Now about Luminary: the only differences are that WoW's crafting ingredients are more clustered in level, and on most servers the economy is bigger. If your level-80 decided to switch professions on a low-population server, you might find yourself in low-level zones one-shot farming mobs.
 
Retirement is an interesting term. What do people go into retirement from? Work.

I think the problem is that Retirement Gamers are burned out by game's time investment needed as well as endgame difficulty. While how hard a MMO is varies by people, I don't think anyone can argue how much work they are when a person focuses on specific goals. What MMO devs should do is not wimp everything down but instead create specific endgame instances designed to tailor to instant action and fun.

You don't want something where you have to plan and follow a faq or raid leader's strategy or wipe and lose a lot of time and wealth. You want something with no penalties and 600 weaker mobs trying to Braveheart you.

It has to be separate though, like an alternate endgame track.
 
One of the things I liked about the original EQ is that even if a place didn't offer gear upgrades, at least you could get exp for AA points.

In WoW, you cap,and gear is all there is. And for many of us, gear isn't enough.
 
This is actually quite an interesting concept. It reminds me of Diablo 2. Higher level characters would often blitz through lower level stuff, for various reasons, e.g.

- Farming for particular types of charms (higher level monsters had too much stuff that could spawn on charms... the more mid-range monsters could give you +1 to a skill tree with the greatest probability)
- Farming for PK / low-level duelling gear (i.e. 'twinking' your character)
- Leveling your mercenary
- Leveling / rushing your friends

All these things (drop rates, XP) were better in groups, which encouraged the high level player to do it in a game full with lowbies. This is obviously a really nice community building thing.

Additionally, it also means that a lower level character can actually find something that a higher level wants, meaning that you're not as poor after leveling up as you'd be in some other games.

As far as the items go, it was possible not to do these low-level activities and just trade for the stuff yourself... sometimes the item you desired was fairly rare, but in a game with an actual auction house (and hopefully buy orders) I imagine that wouldn't be a problem.

So, yes, I agree.

@ Larisa: I also most definitely agree with you that the game shouldn't be played just for character improvement, it should be fun in and of itself (in fact, I think this should be the main focus by far).

However, we're talking about a special sub-branch of gameplay here - one with minimal challenge. Most people don't find this sort of thing very fun for long, so it seems useful to motivate them to do it via the good ol' "have some shinies" system.
 
Now about Luminary: the only differences are that WoW's crafting ingredients are more clustered in level, and on most servers the economy is bigger. If your level-80 decided to switch professions on a low-population server, you might find yourself in low-level zones one-shot farming mobs

You forgot one major difference: In WoW the only possible reason for a level 80 character to want to farm low-level resources is if he skills up a new craft. There is no way to use lets say copper in level 80 smithing. That is not the case in Luminary, where low-level ingredients are still used to craft high-level gear.
 
Some interesting comments from David there. When I solo'd a bunch of low-level instances for achievements, I hadn't done them for literally years, in some cases. I expected to be bored. But actually I really enjoyed being able to take a fresh look at them, with no real risk of death and more importantly, without "slowing down" four groupmates that just wanted to clear the place and get the loots.
 
Tobold: Forcing players to kill lower level mobs to get materials to create higher-level stuff then inherently forces the "challenge" players to do exactly opposite from what they want.

As it is, people already don't like going back through the 1-80 grind to create another alt. What makes you think encouraging experiencing easier content would be a good thing?

As always, the fun idea is the one that should be the correct thing to do. But encouraging people to go back through content everyone's already experienced at least once hardly seems like the fun thing to do.
 
Forcing players to kill lower level mobs to get materials to create higher-level stuff then inherently forces the "challenge" players to do exactly opposite from what they want.

Nobody is forced to do anything. You have the *option* to farm it yourself, or you buy the materials via the market from other players. That is the beauty of a real player-run economy, everybody can do what he likes most, and pay somebody else to do the stuff he doesn't like.
 
I just don't buy that people *want* go back and do trivial things that they've done a million times before. Not, at least, in the numbers which would warrant such subsidizing from the developers.
 
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