Tobold's Blog
Friday, September 11, 2009
Where do you want that database?

It is perfectly possible to play a MMORPG without looking up where to find what item or monster. But if you're just following a random path of quests and fights, chances are you'll end up with some of your gear being a lot weaker than the rest, because by pure chance you didn't find for example some new boots. So what many players do is to look up what gear to get, and where, in some database.

World of Warcraft, having so many players, has a lot of third party databases all over the internet. Places like Thottbot, WoWDB, WoWHead, or Allakhazam. Map sites like MapWoW, wikis like WoWWiki, crafting sites like Crafter's Tome, loot sites like WoW-Loot, the list goes on and on. Any data you could possibly imagine about WoW is available in a database somewhere. Only it's not always easy to find. And it's not always accurate, for example not having been updated after a patch. And of course you'll have to break immersion, and either alt-tab out of the game, or look at the database on a second computer.

So when I was playing Luminary for a while, I was pleasantly surprised to find that there was an official database, and it was integrated into the game. Need a new sword? The database shows you what ingredients the sword is crafted from, which mobs drop those ingredients, and where to find those mobs. Then I played Atlantica Online, and they had a similar system, but you needed to fight mobs to unlock their database entries on basic stats, location, and loot tables. And of course Warhammer Online has the Tome of Knowledge, which also has unlockable entries, although not really detailed enough to serve as a good database.

I like the idea of the database being *in* the game, not run by a third party on some website. Not only because an in-game database would always be accurate and up to date, and easier to access. But also because you could actually turn it into a gameplay element: Imagine an NPC in game, a sage, who for a small fee looks at your gear, identifies the weakest piece, and gives you advice on how to upgrade it. Basically you'd get a personalized quest sending you to some quest NPC, or dungeon, where you could get the gear you need. Which would be a lot more fun than getting yet another quest with a quest reward you can't possibly use.

What do you think? Should games have more ways to look up game data inside the game, or do you prefer to rely on outside sources?
A great idea with the sage! What really needs to be done, however, is to remove those databases from the internet.

As with unpredictable dungeons, the only way to go (in my opinion) is randomness. Means:

The bobs in the world should evolve in some (in the medium to long term) unpredidable manner. Thus all servers of the game need different databases and even a singlular server needed a regular update of the database.

For example some flower could bloom in area X for one week and the next week in area Y - randomly choosen. Some weeks it couldn't bloom at all.
The exact locations could be determined by an algorithm that applies a bit of randomness. This way things like the gather mod don't make any sense anymore.

Some mobs could change their locations from time to time or invade other mobs villages. Some goods could be produced by the mob X only if they feel like it, and if they don't, you need to turn to mob Y or just use ingame stock of other players.

Unpreditability is what is missing almost completely in nowadays MMORPGs. The integration of databases into the game - especially in an immersive way - is certainly better than having them offline. But the best way is to remove the predictability and use ingame-information only where it makes sense.
I like the database being ingame, although it should be integrated properly.
There should be a proper library where you can bring the info and get the info to your own book or something like that. not just a window where you can query all stuff like it always has been there.
Nowhere, if that was possible. I guess that's what Blizzard would prefer, too.

But as, if you send info to clients, it can always be datamined, it will be nigh impossible (even with Nils' suggestions) to prohibit those databases. Therefore: ingame is my preference.

It always strikes me how on the one hand there's all this magic evoked in the names of pieces of equipment, but on the other hand, we as players minmax the magic out of these pieces via comparing their stats in searchable databases.

On a related note, the otherworldly, magic style of fantasy mmorpgs is massively countered by player behaviour. If players destroy the flavour of the game themselves, why are they still attracted to it? Beats me.
I prefer to just explore and make notes on my own map, or fill out my own internal database. I don't like feeling that it's necessary to look things up.
While a personalized advisor functionality is good in theory, in practice some of the implementations are/were laughably inaccurate. I tried Azeroth Advisor back in TBC, and it suggested doing leveling instances for upgrades and getting faction rep.. while my character was in full Black Temple/Hyjal epics, was Exalted with the factions mentioned and had the specific recommended "upgrades" gathering dust in the bank. Even Rawr offered some really bad suggestions unless one cranked the throughness slider all the way to the right, exponentially increasing the processing time. And all of this was with a mage, where the the strength of a character could be represented with one unambiguous formula. It was worse with my hunter alt, where Azeroth Advisor recommended instances and that my hunter could not even enter.. like Maraudon at level 25. Even a random number generator could have made better recommendations. I shudder to think about the players who simply didn't know any better and were sent on wild goose chases...
Ingame database definitely in my opinion. The ones that don't want it can still disregard it.
But as, if you send info to clients, it can always be datamined, it will be nigh impossible (even with Nils' suggestions) to prohibit those databases. Therefore: ingame is my preference.

Unfortunately you are right.
But I wouldn't give up so easily. There have to be ways to prevent internet pages to list all the info you want in a totally unimmersive way.

However, if clients get datamined and players report via addon automatically to the web server, where they just found item X, you would probably need to switch locations every hour or so. Don't know if that is desireable. ..
But combined with a good (that is immersive) in-game feature that tells you where you will probably find the items. Maybe it isn't too bad.

To the question why players optimize the fun out of games:
That's human nature. We like challenges and by beating them(that includes circumventing them!) we consume the challenge until there is no challenge left.

It is 100% the responsibility of the game to apply rules that make use of human nature and don't despair in front of it.
The best game databases I know all have some kind of wiki element. Unfortunately such a database needs a critical mass of contributors before they become useful and outside of WoW most games can probably only support one. Therefore I think having an official supported wiki in game is a great idea.

However - it really should be included in the game from Launch! Both Guild Wars and Lotro tried to include such a feature some time after launch and in both cases the official wiki suffers from competition with established third party competition.
I'm a little undecided on this one... While right now, I would love to have an in-game DB with all that info in WoW, I'm pretty sure having it from the start would have seriously hurt how much I enjoyed the game when I was still "innocent" and just running around ineffectively.

I suppose some sort of unlocking feature would help with that, but how do you balance it? For me, just starting out in a game, I don't want something telling me what the "optimal" thing to do right now is, whereas at some later point you do. And having the option to disable it wouldn't really work - if the DB is there, then people will use it.
God... looks like its been ages since last time I played a MMO!!!

I find having a quest advisor a great idea, I dont play WOW at all so cannot say if is correctly implemented or not, but definitely is a good idea.

From my perspective, the lack of interaction through web has been a big mistake. If you allow to browse your in-game content through a web you have the control of what is shown and how.

Not only for quest, maps and resources... in-game mail system and chat with other players would be great (sorry again if already done... is possible now?)

Nils suggestions remind me SWG where the resources randomly spots the planet surface and mineral names were random from server to server to avoid been predectible...

But SOE didnt gave any database access and... well, we all know how the story finishes :(
I really miss Wowhead when playing other MMOs. No other game has quite so comprehensive a database + user comment pool. I love the idea of it being provided in-game, although it really changes the game design to have spoilers and research available so easy.

Eve Online has been publishing a database dump for years. Third party tools use it to all sorts of creative purpose: ship fitting simulators, crafting planning, etc. Here's an example object view, each of those boxes basically corresponds to a row in the DB dump. ("Rate of Fire", 15).
The reason we use quest databases and addons like Quest Helper or Carbonite is because in a game like WoW the quests are totally meaningless.

We all know that each quest is just 1 of 1,000 that we need to do in order to progress over the course of levels.

Why waste time exploring on our own to find quest objectives when we know we'll have to do it a thousand times over for all the other quests we have to do.

If WoW instead of having 1,000 quests to advance 10 levels had just 10 EPIC uber quests that spanned levels, the quest would feel more important. I'd read text, I'd try and solve things on my own, I'd CARE about it.

Now, as far as your post goes, for item databases and what not, I too agree that this should be provided in game :)
I would prefer it being in game.

Realistically my character has a lot of down time when not kicking ass, which characters do for a living. To consider that our characters wouldn't have a high degree of knowledge of their opponents and that they would remember lots of the details that are either abstracted out or unimportant to players most of the time.

I think an unlockable database is the way to go.

I also know in EVE I have spent plenty of time in the market studying the stats of ships and gear and skills in the game because I didn't have to go out to some 3rd party to get the information I wanted to browse.

Most PCs in these games would have a high level of expertise in monsters, their ranges, who appreciates their deaths, etc.

Since bosses are repeatedly killable there is no reason we wouldn't learn their tactics or what they usually had a gear (IE drops).

Unlockable databases. Because knowing where the orcs in the Red Ridge Mountains are is far more important to Guthammer than it is to me.
The in-game info in Atlantica really was great, and gave you yet another reason to kill enough of mob X to get his info. Plus you had the info-sharing aspect that also helped community and guild utility, and kept things in-game a bit more active. For gear-based games, I think it's a great layer to add to motivate players without adding silly out-of-the-way challenges or annoyance. Nothing is more fun than completing a quest to kill 10 of something, killing 2 more to finish your info on them, and then going back a day later because you need the crafting drop from that mob, knowledge you have thanks to the database.
I like the idea! EQ2 did a kind of half-measure using the /browser command. It allows you to open up a web browser in game (EQ2's web browser) and surf the web if you need/want to without alt-tabbing out of the game. Still not as easy as having my Netbook going while I play though. But it's something.

All of the item information is available to players from day one.

The "database" of information is available via selecting info off of multiple interface options, the market, the items in a hold, other encountered ships, and from almost any selectable object.

Of course, since the database doesn't know what you want, the item information is almost useless unless you know what it is you are looking for and what you need to optimize your spaceship.

Take a look at the WoW Armory "find me an upgrade" option sometime. For 90% of the raiding population the items listed will not be upgrades. I fear there is a lot of work to be done, before the game sages are able to reflect individual needs as opposed to "higher itemlevel" gear.
"Places like Thottbot, WoWDB, WoWHead, or Allakhazam..."

Thottbot and WoWHead have been acquired by ZAM (Allakhazam), so it's an illusion that there are many choices.

I view the need for loot and quest databases as a failure of a game's implementation. Changing to dynamic intelligent loot tables would eliminate much of the need for drop rate databases.

When information is needed it should be available in-game, preferably from NPCs or other world-consistent ways. For example, it would be great to be able to speak to a weapon advisor NPC who could tell you where to get the best level-appropriate weapons from boss drops, quest rewards, or crafting. On a small scale WoW did something similar for rogues years ago where the trainer could advise where to go to level lockpicking.

Interesting that EVE publishes a database dump. Making the info widely available beats special deals with favored database sites or needing to reverse engineer it.
I wrote a post about the effects of information availability on games.

I think it's a great way to make a game more newbie friendly. I don't like having ALL of the game's information available to the player, though, because that ruins the joy of discovery to some extent. If a game's core gameplay isn't good, you also risk trivializing the game by telling players exactly what they have to do to make the game mindnumbingly easy.
Great idea. Problem: as long as it requires even an ounce of effort, or even a symbolic fee, external databases will be built and people will tab out to browse them. Players go to amazing lengths to avoid actively playing the game they pay for.
i don't like the general idea of it. part of wow is the exploration aspect. just like a map is covered until you walk through the area, gear is unknown until you find it. there should be a discovery process.

yeah, you can say, "only make it part of the database after its discovered", but no player is going to come even close to discovering all the gear listed on the online sites since that info is coming from thousands of players.

yes, you can access all this info online, but you can also look at a map online...and strats and everything else about the game before its even released.

there's certain things that should be left out of the game imo, and this is one of them.
Yes, absolutely. I'd include a quest index, as well. Think about it. Why would developers want quest to be hard to locate? That makes no sense, because developers are always falling behind on providing fresh content, so it benefits everyone if every quest is properly indexed, so no content is left unused.

= # # =
IMHO If you need to lookup information, other than UI help, outside the game then that's an automatic *FAIL*.

Obviously you can't actually eliminate the internet databases, unless you're willing to spend millions of dollars on lawsuits. The fact that they need to exist should be an indicator to any game designer that their game has a significant omission.

Any game designer that includes in their design meetings any words to the effect of:

"We don't need to provide that information in the game because the hard-core players will write it all up on the internet."

should be forced to solo level to 80 in WoW unarmed and naked. And then shot.
I really like your sage idea.

Just having wowhead in the game wouldn't help with the immersion-breaking. If anything it would make it worse. When I alt-tab I can change where I am whereas if I have what is clearly a database in the game, that's hard to separate.

While a database could exist in a format other than a sage telling you a specific piece, it would probably end up just taking the form of a hard to navigate set of menus which don't help with immersion anyway.
Definitely ingame. I am excited by the possibilities of the system they are planning for Alganon.

"Alganon plans to incorporate a grand library into the world. This will serve as a central on-line, in-game repository of all known items, spells, NPCs, and other content, updating in real time per server as it is discovered by players. Game mechanics are planned to encourage exploration of the world and accumulation of knowledge through tangible rewards. Also, the library is planned to highlight the accomplishments of all Families, and to periodically reward the most accomplished with a dynastic title, i.e. 'The FamilyName Dynasty' - reflecting the preeminence of that family." (wikipedia)

Of course, good implementation is the difficult part.

I think this depends a lot on how the game is designed. Like some people have mentioned, the exploration is fun and I have fond memories of running around with no idea where to go. However, I also have memories of running around with *no idea where to go* wondering how to finish a quest for hours on end.

If exploration and randomness are part of the game, then these databases could detract from the game, however they would also be harder to make if the randomness was implemented well. If, like WoW, randomness is hardly a factor, the databases can help make the game *more* fun by letting you spend more time doing what you enjoy - doing quests - and less time wandering around aimlessly (fun to some, not to others).

I would say the same thing about loot tables, strategy videos, and raiding. I think raiding is *more* fun with these things since it gives a focus to the team. I would think of it like playing a sport with a play book. Sure, you could play without any team strategy and figure it out as you go along, but you will always get beat by teams that have a practiced strategy coming into the game. I don't think this detracts from the fun at all.

I also like the tools being supported by 3rd parties, since the community will always have more resources and more inventiveness than the game company will ever be able to have. Even the addons that Blizzard has tried to incorporate are still better in their 3rd party form (Omen, Outfitter, Quest Helper to name a few).

Another reason I would be hesitant to incorporate all the database information into the game directly since it could take some of the "freshness" away from the game for new players and turn it into the assembly line quest chain that leveling alts via Quest Helper is. I say, let the players get there at their own pace. The system we have now lets people explore new content if they want, or they can download addons and use Thottbot if that is more fun for them too.

Again though, it really depends on where the challenge is in the game, and how much randomness plays into what makes the game "fun".
I really don't mind the 3rd party web sites. I like seeing people research the game, set up a site, then make money off it through advertising.

I'm not against an in game database but I would still probably use the 3rd party ones.
If it is in-game it needs to be in-flavor as well (pay the oracle to evaluate the gear). To trounce the 3rd party wikis it also has to be pretty accurate. While it can be _very_ accurate about the cold numbers, it is harder to predict emergent properties (get trinket X, weapon Y and enchant Z and some normally unremarkable stat proc combo is far more powerful then predicted).

So I can see the in-game oracle guy cutting deeply into the utility of going to wowhead and picking the right weapon, there is still some utility in places like wowhead pointing out that enchant X or Y really should have a level restriction, but doesn't, so you might want to grab it now...

Also an in game DB will wreck "find it" quests just as much as a 3rd party one, but 100% of folks will have access to the in game DB while some will never bother to visit a 3rd party one, or will view it as cheating and ignore it. (I look at them after I have taken a stab myself and before frustration mounts... "why isn't he here! does he patrol? did someone else just kill him?") To reduce this quests would have to avoid goals that the DB renders meaningless. Or maybe have a non-imersave "it's a spoiler, are you sure" button.

I also can't think of a good way for an in-game DB to remain immersive and tell you what classes found it easy/hard at a given level and what strat they used ("rogue solos this group quest, just sap X and then stab Y until he dies, loot and then sprint away...even if you die you are still ahead!").

So I guess part of the question is "how good does the in-game DB need to be". Is your goal to prevent 3rd party DBs from being used at all? (very high bar) To reduce the number of times folks need to break immersion? (lower bar) To make sure folks that won't use a 3rd party DB aren't too disadvantaged vs. those that do? (low or high bar depending on how much disadvantage you are willing to put up with).
I absolutely hate the idea of having databases where people can go and look things up. A quote from an earlier comment by user Robert:

"Why waste time exploring on our own to find quest objectives when we know we'll have to do it a thousand times over for all the other quests we have to do."

Which is the problem. That whole leveling experience is supposed to be the game, and the end game is supposed to just be the final level. In vanilla WoW, when you get that raid together and down Ragnaros, that was supposed to be it. You beat the end boss. A credits screen should have rolled and then a "Would you like to play again y/n?" should have appeared that choosing y would've taken you back to the character selection screen.

The problem is that there's not enough content at lower levels for more than say 3 play throughs on one faction. Players get attached to those characters that they spent so much time playing so they want to continue playing it since they know that re-rolling means they have to do the same thing over again. So Blizzard implements new tiers of raids, new expansions of leveling, and all the content once you get to 60 or 70 or 80 is for the end game person. It's repetitive and boring (So help me god if I have to do one more daily...) and is just there to suck out more time and money from your wallets. Then to make it worse, they boost XP gains for old quests, they grant heirlooms which give further bonuses to XP, they give mounts which let you ride faster between quests. All so you can skip over that annoying 1-79 bump to get you to the last level. Instead of putting in more interesting levels and content, they published the secret code that lets you skip to the end boss.

It's why I wish Blizzard would have taken a different approach to the game and instead of just making a set number of quests for each zone, they make a set number of quests per faction for each zone. The 1-60 (and then 61-70 and 71-80) experience is different for each race so that when you re-roll, you get something completely new. You can grind the rep with other cities by assisting other players with their quests and then doing the other city's quests if you really like.

That's all just some random musings on the quest structure which doesn't have much to do with the database issue. But it's very indicative of a problem which plagues MMOs. People don't view the leveling as a part of the game, but as a hurdle to jump over. "The end game is the real game." Which is why I like the idea of having random quests mixed in with the regular quest lines. I like the idea of having nodes spawn in random places (or appear to be random places at least) instead of just a specific pattern. It gives more variety to the game and completely defeats the need for a database.

To summarize all of this: tl;dr. Databases are bad because it means the game experience is not designed very well. The leveling experience, the exploration, the joys of discovery and escape into a fantasy world IS the game, and not a speed bump to be ramped over at 80 MPH while jumping over several buses. The solution is not to integrate the database into the game more, but to create more randomized content to eliminate the need for databases.

But that's just what I think about the whole thing. I'm hoping they do things right when they blow old world up in Cataclysm. They probably won't though, since the B team seems to be running things.
Glyph, I know what you're saying, but the sad fact is most people who play a lot of Warcraft don't see the levelling content as the fun part of the game. (Casual players do, I think, but they're not here talking on this blog :-). Seriously, who do you know reads the quests anymore? And Warcraft has the best writing of any MMO I've played, there are actual stories in there that we're all ignoring on our rush to level 80.

Eve Online again offers an interesting alternate view. The DB dump they publish doesn't really have any spoilers in it, because there's nothing really to spoil in Eve. The game isn't built around a series of quests you have to solve and once consumed seem pointless.

Newer MMOs like Warhammer and Champions Online have streamlined questing even more, helpfully highlighting on your map where to go to find the 10 rats to kill. In some sense it's a built-in database, and it makes the whole narrative experience that much worse. Now I don't even need to read that it's rats I have to kill; I just go to the glowy spot on the map and kill whatever is there and I'll probably complete the quest. As lame as that is, it's still fun.
a sage, who for a small fee looks at your gear, identifies the weakest piece, and gives you advice on how to upgrade it

I'm thinking I would alt tabto a third party site to not pay the small fee.
I really would prefer it in game in some playable fashion. I hate having to go to a website to look things up for the sole reason that Tobold mentioned, "It breaks my imersion." I've been playing WOW for a year now and it's my first MMO ever. I am not hardcore in any way when it comes to RPG's. When I first loaded into WOW I was hit in the face with this huge game with tons of depth and seemingly little direction. This opinion was validated by my first profession: leather working. It is so frustrating to get a pattern for an item and to not know where the hell the Mats I need come from. I ask other people,

Me: "Where do I get X?"
Other: "Oh you need a tailor for that."
Me: "How was I supposed to know that?"
Other: "I don't know."
Me: "And where do I find Y?"
Other: "Oh I don't know. Some drop from something, look it up."
Me: "Where?"
Other: "Online."
Me: :-/

I'd love it if when I moused over a material it at least game me some general information like: "the northern tip of continent B" or "by the sea on the west side of this continent," or "find a tailor." I want Blizzard to empower me as the player to go on an adventure to find my materials. Instead, I'm left struggling through my profession because I refuse to leave the game.
I want to second what Joe says. If crafting were quest based, a game could do without most quests. Want to improve your gloves? You'll need leather from the Beast of the Hills, thread spun by the fairies of Whispering Glade, and a gem from the gilding of the idol of Gkath N'loor. Each pops up as a quest that the crafter can share with a craftee.

The crafter, in turn, learns recipies by studying the items they find in the world... and can go to their trainer to get quests to go to those locations. They direct crafters to local merchants, then capital cities, then distant towns. As they grow more skilled, crafters eventually seek out items to study made by hermit smiths, demigods, and the forces of darkness.

With a setup like that, all the storyline quests would have to provide is consumables, basic crafting materials, and the cash you'd need to pay crafters to give you quests for customized, level-appropriate gear.
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