Friday, June 12, 2009
Joel feels he missed something, and didn't understand my remark in the class vs. skill post that outlined the importance of PLAYER skill (not avatar skill) in most non-MMORPGs. Gevlon hates social players. And Green Armadillo reports on Blizzard making transport easier in WoW, with easier teleports to Outlands, and mounts starting from level 20. What has all this to do with each other?
If you have a thick skin and can withstand Gevlon's sociopathic ranting, most of his analysis is correct and shows where the problem is. Blizzard is nerfing WoW, because easier is more popular. Quote: "I feel hate now. Not towards Blizzard, they did the goblin thing, defending their $15. If I were a Blizzard executive, I would do the same. I had warned the raiders in 2 weeks advance so they could focus on FL+4, to have it before the nerf. But I'd nerf it too. I hate the socials now, who are paying for this nerf." Of course the hate part is irrational. If you don't blame Blizzard for making WoW skill-free, because that is where the market is, you can't possibly blame the market. Blaming the market never works, as every economist should know.
But he is right that there are apparently more people wanting World of Warcraft to be even easier than it already is, so every nerf results in 10 skill-free players subscribing and staying, for every 1 player who is leaving because the game is now too easy for them. As I said in my Sims post, auto-questing isn't far ahead. In fact the WoW-clone Runes of Magic already has auto-running back to the quest NPC. The easier transport is just part of that. You'll now be able to buy a flying mount at level 60, thus you can do all of Outlands flying. On the one side there is a certain logic to that, because previously once you hit level 70 and could buy your flying mount, you immediately moved to Northrend, where it didn't work any more. On the other side the quests in Outlands were designed with ground transport in mind, and a flying mount at 60 makes many of them much easier.
And yes, while I defended Blizzard for making the STARTING raid dungeon easier, and still think that this is a good idea, I never wanted them to nerf hard mode for the more advanced raid dungeons. And I repeatedly said so, but nobody listened, because everybody makes the same mistake as Gevlon: They all think that 100% of the game should be designed to be exactly at the difficulty level they enjoy most. So the hardcore want everything hard, and the skill-less want everything skill-free, while the casual raiders want everything at medium difficulty. Not only is it obviously impossible to please everyone, it also is rather bad game design.
What happened to the idea of the game getting more complicated the higher you level up? Somehow it got lost in the process. Any player who is able to do the very first quest to kill 6 wolves is nowadays also able to do any level 80 daily quest. And if you ask a developer to design something hard, the only idea he can come up with is making it faster and more twitchy. A "hard boss fight" is one where you constantly have to be moving in unison with your raid, a giant game of Simon says on high-speed.
I blame the combat system. At level 80 you have more possible buttons than at level 1, but they don't do anything different. The little added complexity more buttons bring (small heal fast for little mana or large heal slow for lots?) is concentrated in the first 30 levels. From there on you just get the same abilities over and over, in different colors and textures. Ultimately it doesn't matter at all whether you hit a monster that has 100 health for 10 damage, or whether you hit a monster that has 10,000 health for 1,000 damage. Forcing a large group of players to run around to avoid fire or all press a button at the same time increases the chance that the group fails, but doesn't make the game much more complex for the individual player. Its simple math, if you have a 90% success chance, but all 25 players in a raid need to succeed, your overall chance of success goes down to 7%. Wow, a hard boss, you fail to beat him 93% of the time. Still doesn't change the fact that every single player just has to perform a trivially simple action with 90% success chance, it just changes who to shout at after the wipe.
Might as well play Luminary, where combat only uses one button. I recently fought a monster there at my level, and got killed in a moment of distraction, not drinking my healing potion fast enough. And noticed that in the presumably much more complex WoW my chance as a warrior to die when fighting a single monster of my level just because I didn't watch the screen for 5 seconds was much lower, near zero, even at the level cap.
What I would like to see in a MMORPG is combat being easy at the start, but getting more complex when leveling up. Not simply by adding more buttons that do the same thing, but by adding more interactivity and decision-making. Not simply twitchy "hit that button in the next 0.1 seconds or die", but more like tactical combat games, where you get a bit more time to think about what to do, but have to take an non-obvious decision.
But just like Gevlon I realize that I'm a niche gamer in wanting tactical challenge, and the more mainstream a game is, the less likely it is to cater to my needs. World of Warcraft will get easier with every patch, with every expansion adding 10 more levels, and a new level cap which takes even less skill to reach than the previous one. Star Wars The Old Republic will copy that model and garnish it with great storytelling, but still getting you all the way to the top without having to think much. I blame neither those who prefer twitching to thinking, nor those who prefer not having to do anything at all to get their virtual rewards, nor the game companies that are willing to sell you those feelings of "achievement" for nothing much. Hate is not a solution. The only reasonable thing to do is to look for niche games catering to my niche gamer needs, and supporting those games with my money, so they don't die out. Thus my opposition to flat fees, which end up favoring the bigger, mainstream games to the detriment of the niche games. If you don't like Disney movies, neither blaming Disney nor blaming those who make Disney movies a multi-million dollar business is going to get you anywhere. Targeted spending on indie movies you like will, because it allows the producers to make the next movie. Games are just the same.