Tobold's Blog
Tuesday, October 13, 2009
Does new content outdate too fast?

A reader wrote me with a question about World of Warcraft raid content:
It's hard for the casual player (or just me) to keep up with the new raids that have come out. The guild I was in never really finished Uldaar 10 let alone 25 then TOC came out. Now everyone wants to run that and not ULD. Then Onxyia re-release 10 - 25 has come out making ULD less appealing…and what was that other dungeon Naxx something? And looking at WoW Insider today I see they have a new raid coming out next patch.

All this said: is the release of new content great for everyone in the game or just the sub-set of users that clear it in 10 days? (I guess the root of this question is the same raider vs casual argument…)
Well, my first comment here must be how great it is if the casual player's problem nowadays is that he couldn't finish Ulduar. This is already a huge improvement over the situation in the previous expansion.

Having said that, there nevertheless remains a problem: The reason why my reader can't finish Ulduar isn't because it is too hard for him, but because he can't find a group to do it, because everybody else moved on to the newer raid dungeons. And that is something I can sympathize with, as I have a similar problem: I'd love to raid with alts, but can't, because nobody is doing Naxxramas any more. Even pickup raids go to Onyxia or ToC, and only invite people with [Epic] or similar achievements.

The simple truth is that organizing a raid, regardless of destination, is already pretty hardcore in itself. While some casual players, or alts, probably wouldn't have huge problems beating Naxxramas, they do have a problem getting a raid started in the first place. Which is why Blizzard is talking about (but hasn't finished developing yet) a system which would give rewards for organizing groups as part of the new looking-for-group system. I sure hope that extends to raids as well, not just 5-man groups. I am pretty sure that there are enough players around who still would like to do Naxxramas and Ulduar, it is just the organizational barrier to entry that is hard to pass.

I hope that the new LFG system has a high priority for Blizzard, because it tackles exactly the problem the reader mentioned: From day 1 of an expansion there is a "wave" moving through the content, with many players being interested in the same content at the same time. As long as you ride that wave and develop your character at exactly the speed of everyone else, things are fine. If you fall behind for any reason, you run into problems.

Part of that is psychological: Other players assume that if you aren't in full Ulduar gear by now, you are a moron and a slacker. If you say you want to go to Naxxramas now, people conclude that you don't know how to play Naxxramas, and aren't geared enough for it. Which for example for my warrior alt isn't true at all, I'm geared up well enough for entry level raiding, and I know Naxxramas inside out because I've been there with my priest main. The other part of the problem is incentives: Not only is running Naxxramas again rather boring for somebody who already spent months there, but it also gives only useless loot drops, and barely useful emblems. It is counterproductive that today running Naxxramas nets you less than doing a mix of heroics and daily quests.

As I said before, the situation for casual players has much improved since early Burning Crusade. Raids are more accessible now, and emblems added some incentive to redo older content. But we aren't quite there yet. And my reader is right to pose the question whether new content is only great for the subset of players that clears that content fast, even if that subset isn't quite as small any more. Would you agree that lets say Naxxramas is already outdated? And what do you think could be done to keep content alive for longer?
I do believe this problem is now more or less solved.
The thing is, there might be not enougth time for a casual players to assemble 3 or even more raid per week to kill 13 bosses in Ulduar, let alone Algalon. It takes up to 4-5 hours even without wipes for my guild, and we completed Glory of the Ulduar Raider as well as Tribute to Insanity. So if you failed to clear everything before reset, you must clear all instance from the beginning.
But now you can just continue your raid after reset, so you have infinite amount of time to try new bosses. It was not available in 3.1, and it is not needed in ToC, as it takes less than one hour to clear it, but I think it will be very popular future for casual guilds in Icecrone Citadel.
You can now play Ulduar. Even if you don't manage to finish it, you've seen some parts. I remember a time where you had to go MC > BWL > AQ > NAXX. Missing any of these steps and you didn't stand a chance in NAXX. 0% on my server got to finish naxx. And only a few guilds killed more then three bosses in there.

It's a bit weird to see people complain that content comes too fast. With 2 raid days a week in a decent guild one should be able to clear all content. Anyone who raids more will run out of content to do. And anyone who raids less, are they really raiding?

As to what Blizzard can do about it? Force people to do the old content is the old way. You need to do instance A x times for resistance gear before you can progress instance B. That's an artificial way to force players to do the old content. But this means that casuals won't even see instance B. Letting people redo the old content with better rewards is something I like. Naxxramas too hard in the past? Give it another go.
Welcome to Theme Park MMO's.

Personally I see it as poor core design like mud's of old where static content gets outdated. The only answer is to keep creating newer content with slightly better rewards to keep players playing and paying.

Is the problem the content? Other than to experience it the first couple of times, the majority of players only raid for the rewards while attempting to path of least resistance towards that goal (picking the easiest available).

You'd need to really shake things up, such as trying new ways to break that cycle.

I actually think Blizzard has gotten on top of that issue about as much as possible given what they have to work with. Expanding the use of 'tokens' and revamping the old content has gone a long way. There's still a lot more that could be done, but it sounds like Cataclysm is about to do just that.

Still, perhaps for another topic if it hasn't been hashed out enough already - how much longer can this industry run under the weight of Theme Park MMO's like WoW before they need to take a serious attempt at some Sandbox MMO's giving players the tools to drive their own conflict, stories, and adventures?
Problem is that content are too easy. Easy content makes people go thru it too fast, makes them less likely to go back after a few weeks you gets too boored too fast.

Back in the vanilla-days we had Molten Core and we progressed slowly on my server, skill creep was slow and players quit a lot. Getting 1 piece of epic gear was great. Getting bosses down was a lovely feeling of accomplishment. Nihilum had cleared BWL before we got Ragnaros down, so for us "normal" raiders there was a long set road ahead of stuff to strive for.

And it's that strive that I miss now, the hardmode system took that away. The want to push for Anub'Arak hardmode kill is not that big as the push for killing Nefarian was. Sure I want it done, but I can't feel the same about it as if we haven't downed it 11 times on Normal mode already.

I will quit WoW after Arthas goes down in hardmode / expansion comes, whatever happens for us first. Right now I'm sticking around for other reasons like I don't want to abandon my guild right before the last raid instance is released.

Imagine if Ulduar normal mode was so hard that only 10 realms had 1 or 2 guilds that by this point had Yogg+4 down. People could progress thru Ulduar slowly being happy about getting a new epic or a new boss down and being comfortable having the whole Coliseum ahead to look forward to. It would also be ok if first boss in Coliseum was little easier than Yogg-Saron was so we could go se different instances for a bit variation.

I know those Nihilum/Ensidia guys would clear everything fast regardless of the difficulty of it but for us "normal" raiders the game lost something when it was toned down to be easy loot
The problem is two-sided: content being more accessible and yet rewarding better and better gear. What's content "consumption" actually? You being geared for the next tier. Offering so many item progression paths renders everything besides bleeding edge content futile for the core of the raiding audience, wich you need to fill up your raids. This is one of the main flaws i see in making content so much more accessible. When you made it easy, it will be old fast, wich is nice for someone like me, that doesn't need months and months of oldschool instance farming, but bad for everyone that takes a break from the game or keeps it slow and thus missing big parts of the content.

The only mechanism to counter that would be full scaling raids, wich aren't far off if you ask me. Right now Blizzard has everything already installed to almost make raid bosses soloable but dropping 1 gold as a reward for example. They scale core boss values (DPS/HP) already in ToC for two difficulty modes. The next logical step would be to auto-adjust those values when certain number of people enter the instance or certain number of wipes are recored, wich is already done in ToC Heroic. What's missing yet is a fully scalable reward system. What is Anub dropping when 8 player beat'em after 30 wipes? I guess many players rather see weaker loots and bosses than no bosses at all.

We joked about 5man raids many years ago but we're closer to something like this than we've been never before.

Obviously they still struggle to find the perfect solution to structure raid content, with Icecrown yet again introducing a new way to choose easy/hard modes. True seamless difficulty scaling at some point will be inevitable.
Make gear drop in progression as raids are released. In other words don't release regular ToC that can be farmed for 4 hours and then walk out with a toon geared enough for Uld10.

Don't release emblem gear that can be bought by farming heroics. Keep the appropriate emblem gear with an appropriate emblem from the appropriate raid.

Force gear progression even for alts and the casuals. But how to solve the pug issue?

When you release a new raid, nerf the old one and let the bosses drop more items per kill. Gear people up faster, and keep them from having to spend months in there like one does the first time around.
The problem here seems that there really isn't any point to running older raids like Naxx. You can get equivalent or better gear from farming heroics these days and skipping Naxx & going straight into Ulduar or ToC isn't really that hard. To be fair, ToC & Onyxia's lair are about as easy as raids get on normal mode.

As far as guilds moving beyond older content without actually completing it, I wish I knew the solution there. It would be nice if there was more incentive for sequential progression, perhaps the Guild achievements in Cataclysm will help achieve that.
I agree that older content gets ignored way too much. They really need to make it attractive to people to keep going back to.

But they are releasing new achievements or dailies/weeklies where you have to go back into those old raids and do them again. So maybe we might see some action again for players who are new or new to a server.
Old content use is a fundamental problem with the theme-park design pattern. You can't solve it, you can only give people incentives to make it less of a problem.
Add Naxx and Ulduar to the list of dead content. It's too bad Blizzard chooses a very linear and vertical progression of gear rather than something more horizontal and complimentary. This would allow content to be interwoven in story lines as well. Why not have a component of an item drop in different raids, allowing you to assemble the piece after completing them all? Taht way all raids could be of comparable item level yet still have an incentive for well-geared players.
It just occurred to me that I should organize a Naxx raid, specifying that you not have the [Epic] achievement and preferably have never been there, but would like to give it a try, in a casual non-judgemental environment.

Bet I'd get more than a few people who'd be interested.
How fast content is outdated is related to how easy it is. The more widely available content is the easier it is, means more players above that are finishing the content to the point their is no desire to farm it.

In TBC a true top end guild might spend 1/3 of its time learning, 1/3 of their time farming and 1/3 sitting around waiting for new content, now with classic that learning period has been condensed , the farming period has been condensed with much less need to farm glaives or trinkets or weapons as their are now multiple options and the gearing has been simplified.
I Blizzards it trying to addressed with the upcomming weekly raid quest that rewards 10 frost emblems(or whatever the new emblem type is) similar to daily heroics. This provides incentive for players past a gear ilevel to go back and have it worth their while, increasing foot traffic to the "dead raids" for players trying to get through it for the first time.
Ulduar was just tuned too hard on normal mode. Less than half the 25 man raiding guilds in the progress tracking sites have cleared the place on 25 man normal, never mind doing the hard modes. And now the increase in the completion percentages have slowed to a crawl.

If GC didn't want anyone to not see their story (as embodied in the raid instance) because of content being too difficult, they've clearly failed.
I think WoW need the Burning Crusade System back, where old content is made easier over time and when new - and at first uber hard - content is released.

Also I dont think that content out-dates based solely on the difficulty of the new content, but on the quality of and ease of access to new loot.

Dont forget: loot is one of the main motivations for raiding.

Nobody needs to do Ulduar because you spend more time on harder bosses to get worse loot than in Trial of the Crusader.

Same with Naxxramas versus Heroic 5 mans.

The only problem with the system from BC was the instant obsoleteness of old loot and therefor content with the release of WoTLK - which was also due to easier accessable and better loot from quests or normal instances, leading to many people having never seen Sunwell or rven Black Temple.
Dynamic Loot, all dungeons difficulty scaled based on the level of the characters playing it, all loot scaled based on the difficulty played.

I used to play Wow, 120 days of classic wow before BC came out.

It took effort back then, 130 epics farmed, only to find out all my items are worthless...they should be upgraded, so you can wear them as a sense of achievement.

In other words, if you have Tier 3 and Tier 8, the stats should be the same both sets, I liked my Wildheart :)
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