Tobold's Blog
Monday, November 30, 2009
 
In favor of gradualism

To play a game like World of Warcraft a wide range of skills are used: tactical skills, skills of executing complicated maneuvers, and skills of knowledge of where to go and what to do. Now lets bundle all these skills up into one hypothetical skill score, and plot how much skill you need to advance vs. level. At level 1 you only have very few abilities, which limits tactical options, makes it easy to press the right button, and you can just follow the newbie zone quest lines and not worry where to go. From there the amount of skill needed goes up slowly. At level 79 you have a lot more possible buttons, spell rotations, and zones you could go to. But compared to the time it took you to get there, the amount of skill needed barely went up. You can still advance very well by soloing, and as long as you do, you can probably beat most encounters with one standard tactic. But as soon as you hit the level cap, the amount of skill needed to advance further goes up exponentially. Soloing only gets you so far, and slowly. To do groups you suddenly need a whole new set of skills. And if you want to raid, you need to know a lot of details on every boss fight.

Note that I could write the previous paragraph without saying anything highly contentious. While saying that something is "too easy" or "too hard" is subjectiv, and relative (too easy compared to what exactly?), the general shape of the skill curve vs. level is hard to dispute. But now I'll move from the objective observation to the highly subjective proposal for improvement by saying:

The shape of the skill vs. level curve is suboptimal. It should go up gradually with level instead of remaining flat for a long time and then shooting up in the end game.

My argument for this subjective proposal is based on the widely shared observation that new players reaching the level cap often lack the skills to properly perform there. Pickup groups, which were a positive feature of previous games, are now considered a bad thing, because of the risk of picking up a player who knows zilch about group play and causes repeated wipes, or lacks the basic social skills of working together with others. An extreme, but totally possible case is that of a warrior reaching level 80 soloing and never ever having used his taunt ability, nor knowing what a defense cap is.

What I think would be needed is that soloing should get relatively harder with level. And I don't mean "longer", having to kill more mobs to get up a level, I mean "harder" as in requiring more tactical skills, more skills of proper execution of maneuvers, more knowledge. If solo combat was a lot harder at the higher levels, two positive things would follow: People would learn how to play their class better, and they would automatically start looking for groups to make their life easier by cooperation. I'm not proposing "forced grouping", like in the original Everquest, but I think that the current state in which looking for a group below the level cap is basically a waste of time is not good game design. If you require cooperation in the endgame, you need to encourage people to cooperate earlier in their careers. That not only increases people's grouping skills, but also creates the social network of people making online friends through shared adventures.

Of course I don't think this sort of change could still be implemented into World of Warcraft. Patch 3.3 will introduce an improved LFG tool, and maybe Blizzard will one day improve the group xp bonus to make grouping while leveling more attractive. But I don't think they could completely rework the game to make soloing harder at higher levels. Nevertheless I do hope game designers do realize the inherent flaw of having a game that is easy to solo up to the level cap, and then suddenly requires a lot of cooperation and group skills. Maybe future games will make soloing require gradually more skill at higher levels, making both soloing more interesting, and grouping more popular.
Comments:
It is one option to make soloing "harder". Another would be rewarding group play on every level. I Remember in EQ the 6th group member was considered to be "free" xp-wise. Meaning you could kill the mobs faster than with 5 but gaining the same xp for each kill.
Also soloing was everything short of impossible for some classes after lvl 20. These classses were extremly improtant for grouping however. So you actually had to choose your playstyle with your class.
I liked trhat very much.
 
I guess the problem is - if people notice a game getting "harder" whilst they are basically doing the same thing they have been doing since level 1, they get frustrated and you risk that they stop playing.
 
How much of the suboptimal curve is intentional though?

There seems to be a substantial number of subscribers who are perfectly happy never doing a single group required event. The curve as it stands now allows such players to spend their time with a game they can enjoy.

On the other hand, how much of a true problem is the curve being suboptimal?

People who are truly interested in group content would, i suspect, be more motivated to learn about group dynamics and any learning issues associated with that should be relatively minor, i.e. not progress ending.

Finally theres most likely at least a third a group that is not interested in group content for the sake of being in a group, but rather they want some specific reward from it (gear, story, encounter experience, etc.), and they feel they must subjugate themselves to the experience to get what they want.

Obviously this is all from a WoW as-is perspective on skill, where arguable most of the "skill" is either memorization or some other such acquired knowledge with a healthy dose of teamwork. Thus learning the teamwork portion of the skill dichotomy is likely the most difficult and the most meaningful.

But is that good game design? Depending on whether you view mmos more as true multiplayer games or interactive chat rooms heavily influences what kind of response your inclined toward.

Unfortunately, as you so eloquently outlined it with your elephant metaphor, mmos are expensive to create. As such developers err on the safe side and take few risks. Resulting with a narrow market of redone ideas with rough suggestions of some new ideas.

Until such a time as when you have two competing games of equal quality with significant difference, questions such as these will always be more in the realm of pure speculation.
 
Great post, and very true.

Actually, some games do use the structure you suggest. In Guild Wars and Wizard 101, for example, missions gradually get harder. Grouping becomes more attractive because the skill required to solo increases (although grouping isn't strictly required until the endgame).
 
The learning curve is steep at the end, but optimal for Blizzard. Think about it... many people never played mmo's before and start up playing WoW.

They expect to be able to solo everything based on single player experiences. SO you let them solo a lot of time. By the time they need to group to continue, they already have a huge investment of time in the game and a much larger incentive to not just quit as opposed to group.

Many people go to WoW to avoid social interaction. You may not agree, but otherwise they would be socialising irl, not in a game. WoW end-game is forced-socialisation, premised on the shared disincentive that players have stacked against quitting the game (namely, their leveling time investment).

EQ2 for example is closer to having an "optimal" learning curve, in that grouping is more profitable during leveling. But guess what, community is better, subscriber base is waaay smaller.
 
"It should go up gradually with level instead of remaining flat for a long time and then shooting up in the end game."

Problem is for many players this is not the case.

They get to 80 by spamming their main nuke then progress in raids and heroics by spamming their main nuke. If the game kills them it's sucky healers or lame tanks.

For many dps and healer classes the progression (based on meter rank) is not skill-based but gear-based. Some of these guys get to over 5k dps or whatever while still not noticing they are standing in a fire.

The end game is designed around this. Most raid bosses in normal mode can be farmed by guilds full of such players. They can't do hard modes but that must be because of someone else.
 
I could not disagree with you more.

Not about the sudden jolt where levelling lurches into end-game and the gameplay changes completely. That does happen and it is a bad thing. No, what I disagree on is the idea that difficulty should change at all.

Start as you mean to go on. Gameplay at level 1 should not be substantively different to gameplay at level 80. Don't start players off playing one game and then hope you can convince them later on they'll like another game better. If you start off letting them solo everything, then stick with that. If you want them to spend most of their time grouped, then get them doing it in the first hour and make it clear that's what they'll have to keep doing.

You can, of course, include multiple optional types of gameplay in the same virtual world. Just make it clear what's what. Solo content, group content, raid content. Separate gameplay in a common environment.

This crazy idea that players can be guided or manipulated into learning to like grouping when they have spent 50 levels soloing is arrogant and paternalistic. Players are customers, not participants in some kind of social experiment. Just have a clear idea who your customer is and serve him or her as well as you are able. And understand that you cannot please everyone all the time, or keep every customer forever.
 
The carrot or the stick?

Making the content harder is one option.

I prefer to just give bigger advantages to grouped players. Extra experience for example. And some better rewards for group quests.

But I actually like the solo leveling part. I don't see it as a boring thing. If I want to do something social I'll just join a raid or instance. If I just want to be left alone I'll go level.
 
Your proposal would remove half of the players from WoW.

The point of the current system is that EVERYONE can get to the level cap, and there he has lot of things to do without skills, like farming pets, achievements, holiday events and such nonsense.

Your proposal is worse than forced grouping. It's FORCED LEARNING! The easiest way to make half of the playerbase unsubscribe.
 
Outside the narrow world of goblinism, most sociological studies suggest that people actually enjoy learning. And frankly, the amount of learning to be done, if spread over 200+ hours of leveling, is unlikely to be too much for anyone.

I would say that your negative opinion about the intelligence of other players is influenced by the negative experience you had with what you call "morons & slackers". But I'm pretty sure that a large majority of the people you call morons aren't actually too stupid to learn. They just didn't learn, because the game didn't encourage it.

A similar case can be made about players soloing. Nearly everybody soloes when leveling, but I'm not sure that this reflects an innate preference of players for solo gameplay. They just, as usual, follow the incentives, and solo because it is more efficient.

If both learning and cooperating would be actively encouraged, a lot more players would do it. And the steep cliff in difficulty when reaching the endgame would disappear, and suddenly there would be a lot less "morons".
 
It's all well and good to 'encourage' grouping while at lower levels, but a big part of the problem right now is that it's harder to find players to group WITH while leveling. If you're part of a guild there's a good chance that group quests and dungeons on the way up will be completed by having a high level guildie run you through (even if there are other players at your level). If you're not in a guild, good luck finding a group of people at your level that can stay together long enough to even get IN the dungeon, let alone finish it.
 
The trending in the MMO genre, beyond just WoW, shows that players DO prefer soloing, and that perhaps the majority of gamers (not MMO players) DON'T want to learn.

Look at DDO for example; what is/was that games biggest criticism? Lack of solo play to the cap. That gets added after a few years, and with a drop down to F2P, all of a sudden DDO is surprising people, despite being basically the same game since 2003 with a 'solo' difficulty option added.

I agree with Gevlon, the best way for Blizzard to cut WoW down would be to make it somewhat more difficult (in WoW terms here) to reach the cap. If Cataclysm actually did this the name would be very fitting. Solo-heroes exist because candy rains down at all times in WoW regardless of what they actually do, or how well they do it, and if at any point they have to stop and put effort to actually get that candy (old raiding for instance), it all of a sudden becomes 'inaccessible' content. Make the actual game like this, and not just a small subsection of it, and all those millions of gamers will flock to the account page.
 
Coming at the question from the complete opposite end of the spectrum, why is it that all the endgame content that rewards anything worthwhile requires grouping anyways?

Better rewards should be about skill, not just throwing more people at the problem. Why shouldn't you get better loot for playing well, for soloing or duoing a difficult fight, rather than just having 4/9/24 other people you're willing to put up with for a couple of hours?

For all you "the M in MMO is multiplayer" people, I'm not suggesting the removal of group content. But make difficult and rewarding solo or small group content as well. The 5-man dungeon should reward better loot for completing it with 3 people. Or with no wipes. Or quickly. Or with lower-quality gear. WoW heroics completed in T9 gear should award less for being easier. Loot should be awarded on a sliding scale. Gevlon's low-level solo kill of Arugal should have awarded him level-appropriate epics, not the same stuff that 5 roflstompers get.

I want some proper challenge in my MMO, not just something I can't beat without 24 other people.
 
I don't really agree. I enjoy the current level of difficulty at 80(pre-grouping).

As a father who often has to play with a 3-5month old on his lap or a two year old the ease allows me to still play with friends(in that we are still playing the same game at the same time(not that we are grouped)).

I find game design that pushes you towards grouping very un-attractive. In the past games that have "suggested" I group I stop playing. I want to be able to solo 90% of the time with the level of difficulty of solitaire and group only when I feel like getting a sitter.

For me the MM part of MMORPG is seeing others playing around me and chatting with them on guild chat while bearforming my way across Azeroth. Being able to share the game experience without having to do it at the same time.
 
There are plenty of opportunities for everyone to learn group mechanics - the first dungeon is at level 16. The problem is that you can't make it a mandatory experience, if you do you'll end up like LOTRO with players quitting in disgust because they can't experience the content (I did for one).

Dungeons are very rewarding with good XP and great items for the level, so why aren't more players doing them? There's a reason MMOs who do not offer solo play always suffer.

So how do you actually plan to teach players the required skills Tobold? It's a very nice goal, but how would you actually implement it in an MMO? How do you teach aggro control, multi target tanking, healing throughput vs mana regen? And more importantly, how do you do that without forcing the player to group up?

And another question, why would you teach someone how to tank at level 20, when they have another 60 levels where they won't be using those tanking skills at all? Isn't it better to gradually introduce them via late level normal dungeons that are probably the most relevant (think Northrend ones, you can find a group fairly easy)?
 
@Gevlon: You're so pessimistic. Cheer up, goblin, it's the holidays.

This could be done in a way that isn't excessively punishing. There could be a very high XP quest which requires a group. There could be a very high XP boss, but who you must understand LoS to beat. These are optional, but the XP bonus would add incentive to learn.
 
Saga of Ryzom implemented such a system - and declared bankruptcy shortly thereafter as their player base moved away.

In theory, your post makes sense. In practice, it works out poorly as the player base in a fast leveling game like WoW is very quickly all at the level cap. Needing people willing to boost additional players hurts the subscription revenue model.

In a longer grind game like DAOC or Warhammer Online, there were implemented systems where people not at the cap could particpate as group/raid sizes were unlimited for the most part.

Needing 350 - 500 people for a raid with 4-5 pieces of loot comes with it's own problems however.
 
The thing is MMO is about money. You want people paying for it, keeping them subscribed.

And what do the players want? Just look around and listen a bit.
"Remove levelling", "let me start alts at max level", "make levelling easier, faster".

WoW endlessly caters to those people.
XP to level reduced, many times.
Many "elite mob areas" and "elite quest mobs" made standard mobs.
Many low level items buffed to make players more powerful.
Heirloom items, both very powerful and improving XP to level rate again.
RAF (refer a friend or something), basically "buy a second account and boost a lot of chars to 60 at blazing speed".

Players complain all the time "levelling is a chore". Why actually? "It's repetitive", so is grinding daily heroic at level cap, but you don't find it repetitive? "It takes too long", oh, and the endgame activities don't take time?

I believe those are all sad excuses. The truth is a level cap character is viewed as "powerful", "decked in epics", "owns". People want to skip levelling because they don't want to watch their character grow and improve. They want to be powerful as fast as possible.

So levelling is nerfed and end game is full of great gear handed out on a silver platter.

And the subscriptions keep rolling.
 
I actually enjoyed grouping in WoW, mostly in PuGs no less (mind you pre-burning crusade) and I did even more in Lotro, IF I could find a group for what I wanted to do.

But quite often, I just want to play for a short time, and then go do something else. Like sleep for instance, which I find to be less and less overrated as the age counter increases. And then, it turns out that many group things take quite a bit of time. A single quest? Aah 20 minutes and you're done. An early dungeon, like Wailing Caverns? Good luck even FINDING a group in that time.

Now I still want to level a character in AoC to the cap, my Priest of Mitra. And I will do so without grouping at all, I am actively avoiding any group quests. Why? Because I will not play past reaching the cap and I don't want to use my precious time trying to find groups. Being in a totally different timezone nowadays obviously doesn't help and I probably could only find groups in Weekends or very late at night anyway.

So any MMO that requires grouping, for me at least, is pretty much out of the question nowadays. If I can't play it as an RPG that has some random encounters with other people, I won't even bother any more. I know I'll just get frustrated...

On the other hand, I do agree that there should be some ramp-up in difficulty even playing solo. Which none of those games really had. I know that in all three, getting to the level cap has nada to do with skill, whatsoever. Getting there fast, maybe. But just getting there? That's a matter of time only.
 
I can understand if people insist on soloing, but I see no reason why soloing has to be so absolutely trivial even at higher levels as it is in World of Warcraft. What could possibly be bad about more tactical, more interesting solo combat at higher levels?
 
re Tobold's last comment

But that's coming from the viewpoint of someone who doesn't find the current solo content tactical or interesting. Where's the evidence for that being a generally held view? Why should jaded, long-time MMO players get their tired palates tickled at the expense of people playing for the first time?

You often point out that the current N-million WoW players aren't the same N-million WoW players of yesteryear. Why make things harder for the least-experienced players as they strugle to level up, just to make things more amusing for old-timers playing their umpteenth alt?

I go back to humming my old tune on this. It's all about difficulty settings. Whether you set it on the character, the instance, the server... give players direct control over levelling speed and challenge. This "one size fits all" approach leaves everyone chafing.

Imposing increased difficulty on everyone, though, is a fast way to lose money. You might not see any argument against what you see as "tactics" and "interest", but the people who interpret those "improvements" as "complication" and "difficulty" certainly will.
 
Tobold, more challenging content for solo players would be really awesome, but that is not what you are arguing for. In your own post you are calling for grouping skills - warriors using taunt etc. Again, how do you propose teaching what are essentially group dynamics - tanking, aggro, cc, healing - to a solo player?
 
One thing I would like to see to help ease the transition to grouping is solo instances where you have 2 NPCs on your side, and you can decide what roles they play. Are you a healer? Grab a tank bot and a DPS bot. Are you a tank? Get yourself a DPS bot and a heal bot.

The bots would not be as good as a human who isn't an idiot, but they would suffice, and you could play your class in a group role. And obviously you could bring your friend and one bot, or two friends and no bot. A competent human would be better than a bot, but people hate PUGs precisely because you cannot count on a stranger being competent.

(There is already a quest in Northrend which integrates this basic mechanic, you choose the druid form you want your "helper" to assist you in.)
 
Obviously WoW is designed to serve the casual player's experience, and in a very quick, accessible way. Part of what this means is that a player should be able to play for 30 minutes to an hour and log out with a sense of accomplishment.

I think we only see the spike in requisite skills at level cap in a couple of different activies, namely arenas and raids. It's no coincidence that these activities take place at the top of the level spectrum, either. They are meant to be engaged in by the most active players, and those players are all level 80. Perhaps there is room for a new raiding paradigm with LFG system similar to the upcoming cross-server dungeon system, but that is not in place as of yet. The 30 minute to an hour (or possibly two hours?) playstyle allows the player to do most, if not all, of the activities WoW offers while leveling up, and most of the activities WoW offers at the level cap.

As far as why WoW does not offer a gradient skill-buildup for raiding, I would guess that the numbers issue is a probable cause. It's rough to find a group for a low-level dungeon, let alone a raid. Maybe with the opening of the cross-server dungeon system, this will allow developers to consider making low-level raid dungeons. I know I would like to see maybe 2-3 single-boss raid encounters from levels 20-60. It would make leveling less tedious and would allow for the developing of skills needed at max level.
 
I find the solo instances in LOTRO to be quite fun. It's a shame Blizzard couldn't steal that idea :)
 
I generally agree with you, except that you need to take into account various classes and templates.

Not everybody is willing to have a double spec (I mean, I personnally do not mind, but I do not think Blizzard wants to force it onto players).

Even with progressively more challenging solo content, the base "curve" is therefore tied to the worst possible levelling templates/classes (think Resto Druid or whatever).

The same content with a full DPS/AoE template is never going to be challenging, no matter what your skill level...

The other option would maybe be to really "force" grouping during levelling phase for the current expansion (think 80 85 for Cataclysm) through total imbalance of XP/stuff levels... and then relieve that requirement progressively after most of the players have reached level cap to allow easier real solo levelling.

Brohuld
 
@Tobold
I think what we're getting at is this; something doesn't necessarily require more skill just because it requires more people. Me, and it sounds like alot of people here, would like gear/rewards to increase in quality as we get better, not because we can manage to herd some other people into a capable group.

I wouldn't mind solo play requiring more skill at max level. It's actually pretty trivial to kill mobs at lvl 80. Changing that though would change WoW in a very drastic way.

Look at your quests; kill 20 foozles and the boss foozle.(Not all cases, but you get the point). Those quests wouldn't work so well if each fight carried even a 5% chance of death.

Every single quest in WoW would have to be redone to fit with the new difficulty level. It's just not realistic to change WoW in such a drastic way, you would scare off a vast majority of your players. It would only be possible in a small, niche MMO that was created with that idea in mind.

Why can't there be solo or duo instances? I rarely have 4 true friends, let alone 9 or 24 that I really want to play with all online at the same time.
 
I have to agree with Ayr's comment. Increasing the difficulty of solo content and teaching players to use a greater number of skills in a game like WoW would be two different issues. Solo content is based around DPS skills. You can ramp up the requirement to use various survival abilities, and it would make the game more interesting. But that's doesn't correlate with how they are used in group content. Roles are so specialized that teaching group skills while soloing would require tripling content.

The best way to teach people to get them into groups. Blizzard has taken the approach opposite to your suggestion by making 5-player group content so easy that solo players can ramp up into groups without much difficulty. The real issue is that the leveling game/endgame split is deeply ingrained and can't be fixed so easily.
 
Actually, I thought that this was something that EQ1 did quite well. Certain classes could solo, but they were not the most wanted group members. Also, soloing got progressively harder as you leveled.

Everybody was fairly familiar with group mechanics by the time they were max level, no matter how dedicated a soloer they were.

I do think that WoW is trivially easy to solo all the way through.
 
the reason this hasn't been done well is simple... it's hard to develop difficult solo encounters.

how do you tune an encounter to make it difficult for every class? how can you make an encounter that is difficult to tanks, healers, ranged dps, and melee dps all the same?... you CAN'T!!!

it's impossible... the differences between classes makes it impossible to make things difficult for one class, without making it way too difficult or way too easy for another... so we end up with easy solo content because it's not feasible to have difficult solo content.

a dungeon that is easy to solo as a tank would likely be incredibly difficult for a healer... a difficult encounter for a melee dmg dealer would likely be incredibly easy for a ranged damage dealer, assuming they know how to kite... how do you make an interesting encounter that is equally difficult for ALL types? you can't! at least not as easily as you people seem to think.

it's much easier to tune a dungeon if you know you'll have 1 healer, 1 tank, and a few damage dealers... even though it's more players, it's still much easier to tune for.

now there are a few ways you could overcome this... by building dungeons specifically for each individual class... but this would be time consuming, use a lot of resources that could better be spent elsewhere, and require a lot of testing to get the difficulty just right.

and this is just talking about different classes... now add gear into the mix and it gets even more difficult to balance.

you'd think the more players involved, the more difficult it would be to balance an encounter... but you'd be wrong. solo content is the most difficult to balance, which is why it's never as challenging as people claim they would like it to be, it's simply not a good use of developer resources... balancing is hard enough as is without wasting valuable resources trying to make "difficult" solo content.

not to mention the fact that most people that want "difficult" solo content are probably noobs that got kicked out of groups for playing badly and are too incompetent to learn basic grouping techniques... how do you think those same players would fare in truly challenging solo content? they'd fail and then just continue to whine till the developer eroded away the challenge till a brain dead walrus could do it.

i agree with Tobold that the curve is not optimal, but making challenging solo content is NOT a good idea to fix it.

the best way is to simply encourage and reward grouping slightly more than soloing... all you have to do is give players a good reason to learn before they hit the lvl cap and everything will take care of itself... soloers will still solo, groupers will still group, and those in the middle will move more toward grouping and get involved in the community, make friends, and stick around the game a lot longer, and therefore help the developer's bottom line.

- Logan
 
What could possibly be bad about more tactical, more interesting solo combat at higher levels?

All you have to do is look back to Vanilla WoW to answer your question. I remember all of the many hunters who QQ incessantly about the difficulty of obtaining their epic bow....Or the many priests who just simply gave up on getting their Anathema/Benediction Staff after about half a dozen attempts. Both of these encounters relied heavily upon class knowledge and the gradual attainment of skillsets that one would use to complete these encounters. One thing that I can say for certainty however, is that I wouldnt hesitate to group with a Hunter or Priest who I saw carrying their bow or staff, as it was a safe bet that they knew their classes well enough to handle themselves in just about any situation.

What we are seeing now, is the implementation of gameplay that is being built around the notion that there should no longer be a small percentage of highly skilled players that are able to stand around the IF bank post office and "rub their epics in peoples faces"(as one astute commentor recently argued) because they put forth extra effort and earned something that was very difficult to obtain.

Gradualism is a concept that needs to be included into the "core game" -from day one- if it is to succeed. WoW has shifted so much from its origins, in terms of how players are rewarded for their efforts, that we now have the dreaded "gear score" determining how successful a player is in the eyes of others.

It's no longer about skill.

Players are perfectly content walking around in the reward-induced haze of vanity items and welfare epics.

In the end - we wind up right back where we were 4 or so years ago as the debate of the Hardcore versus the Casual rages on whenever player skill or content difficulty are discussed.
 
I agree. It's hard to simply put into words but most MMO players are just bad compared to 10... or even 5 years ago.

However there seem to be more lazy or unskilled gamers than otherwise so games are starting to target them.

In all honesty I'm at the point with video games, and MMO's specifically, where you have no faith. The challenging gamestlye is gone. You can't have a game that doesn't punish the player for being bad (ie risk) and still have a challenge that feels rewarding.

It may be elitism but I want to know that the gear I got was earned through skill, not time put into farming tokens. It's not the fact that I want better gear than everyone else, I just want to know I really earned that gear.

I want all gear to more or less feel like the epics in EverQuest did. I know that impossible but those items really felt earned. EverQuest had ALOT of good things and alot of bad things.

The real beauty of it though is EverQuests skill curve while leveling DID go up at a steady curve from level 5 to max.
 
Has anyone else played Wizard 101? It's a very casual and newbie-friendly game--much more so than WoW. And it gradually increases the difficulty of encounters. Fighting in Dragonspyre is harder than fighting in Wizard City. Casual players seem happy with the gradually increasing difficulty as long as they never feel overwhelmed.

Interestingly, at one point the Wizard 101 devs introduced WoW-style encounters with extremely powerful bosses. And players hated them because they required a completely different style of play from what they'd learned.

In other words, casual players seem fine with gradually increasing difficulty. It's the sudden jumps (like WoW's jump from soloing to raiding) that are the problem.
 
Tobold: If you like this idea, feel free to "steal my idea" and post about it, because I won't have the time to analyse it further.

I have a solution to the lack of skill/ease of levelling issue that doesn't irrevocably alter the game balance, nor would it have a large effect on the speed of levelling

Introduce periodic challenges as a requirement to level. These challenges shouldn't be at EVERY level, but definitely at key levels (perhaps every 5?)

For instance, the way it would work is when you have enough XP to acquire 10th level, you do not actually OBTAIN level 10 until you complete a class specific challenge designed to test your abilities. E.g. For a hunter, a level 5 challenge could be "slay XX slow-moving beast with only your ranged weapon". A level 15 challenge would be "tame a pet".

As your level increases, the difficulty of these challenges could increase in tandem. Each challenge should have a "KEY" to success, starting with rudementary knowledge of a certain skill (e.g. a Heal) or class-specific strategy (like kiting/stealthing) and increasing to competence or mastery of the skill as your level gets closer to the cap. And each of these challenges could increasingly focus on group-relevant skills as you go up as well.

E.g. an escort request as a warrior that requires you to taunt off multiple mobs to succeed, or a mage quest with multiple mobs that requires you to use polymorph on one of them to have a chance.

For each of these, you simply don't level until you've completed the challenge.

What inspired me for this idea was the quest-chain for the epic hunter bow back in vanilla WOW. Naturally, level-requirement challenges do not necessarily need to be of an epic challenge level like the Rhok; What I'm talking about is challenges with a goal to educate, or ensure awareness or competence in a particular skillset essential to the class.

Now some will complain about the unfairness if someone "can't do it". If the difficulty was balanced correctly, I'd say it would be easy to do each after learning the "key" concept from your fellow players, or doing some research on "how-to" on the web, much like boss fights are studied now. I don't think research beforehand would be as prevalent as you think though, simply because the levelling process itself is so quick, that many would probably just try each out the first time around anyways.

Of course as an alternative, Blizzard being Blizzard -> they could simply make the challenge easier on each successive attempt until you succeed.

I think its a great idea, one that could be fleshed out. Have at'er folks - point out improvements and "gotchas" alike. (or simply move on to the next comment!)
 
I don't think being in a group is harder than soloing, just different. The only way more difficult/tactical soloing can teach grouping skills is to design them so the mechanic of the fight requires the character to act as though there are in a group. For example, if a warrior is soloing, there is absolute no requirement to taunt.

My suggestion would be to have an instanced quests at 80 that is designed to teach and test your grouping skills. This would involve for example, a newly minted level 80 tank going with 4 other npcs into an instance to to various encounters that are designed to require you to line of sight pull, taunt off a healer, pick up multiple adds, keep aggro on multiple mobs at once, pop cooldowns like shield wall at appropriate stages of a fight and achieve a certain level of threat per second.

You can even give an achievment so everyone can see that you know the basics of how to tank. The encounter could scale with gear so it is a skill test and can't be out geared or it can be difficult enough to be a gear check as well. A gear check type scenario would lend itself to being the attunement quest for the entry level raid (although this type of quest would not have much teaching purpose because you would need to know how to tank to get the gear in order to complete the quest). It would, however, set an official minimum bar for raid readiness.

I'm not sure how you can do this for healers (cause I don't play one and they all have different strengths and weaknesses). The DPS one would be fairly simple - do a minimum amount of DPS and don't pull aggro.
 
I think it's working as intended. Given that it takes, what, 8 days played time(?) to hit 80 for an average person, consider how this effects a new player. For many casual gamers who pick up the game for the first time, they've probably never played any game for 200 hours before. So just getting through content in that time is fine, and the normal/heroic (and 5/10/25 person) division between content at 80 already nicely ramps up the difficulty level. Not to mention additional achievements.

I remember well when there was around a hundred people milling outside deadmines on a new server in 2005, and of my first instance run in there. While levelling my first character I did almost every instance multiple times. But times have changed, and so has the game's focus - we're not intended to spend so much time at the low levels any more. There is so much content at high levels, and so much development having been invested in it, and the time taken to level has been reduced so much, that no one wants to be sub-80 any more.

Which is fine really, because from another perspective, the 1-79 game is just the tutorial. At 80, you have your full gamut of spells and abilities and you're ready to play the full game. Sure there's still a bit to learn, but if you knew everything already, where would the fun be in that?
 
What you want is more of "encouraged grouping", a system where you can probably play solo, but doing so takes longer and is less profitable than to group. Right now, the rewards that come from grouping that are not at endgame/some group quest are insignificant.

In Runes of Magic, it's even worse. Daily quests run the entire game, and they usually require looting a specific item from a specific mob. If you can kill and loot them faster than your "fellow" player, why wouldn't you? By partying, you're just making it slower for both of you.

And in general, it's not the number of buttons that need to change. It's more of the synergy between a group of players. I would love to see a game where it introduces a system where a certain tactic, maneuver or skill can only be pulled off when in a party. They have systems where one character uses a combo system, why can't they expand it for the whole party?
 
Hey Tobold!

Thanks for bringing to my attention the Darkfall Community thing where a blogger could get 20% of sales for an ad.

I always wanted to try Darkfall - and thanks to your pointer to Syncanie I went to his blog, I kind of liked the content on his blog and proceeded to buy Darkfall through him.

actually I would buy stuff through you as well - of course only stuff that I would buy anyhow - I think it is a great way to reward bloggers
 
you're looking at it backwards. People don't play WoW for the leveling, solo or in groups. They play for the end-game. It's a 5-year old game now, everyone knows what they're getting into when they start.
 
i love how people are mentioning the hunter epic bow quest... that was possibly the most fun and interesting thing i've ever done in an MMO... and i wish blizz would have done more of it... but like i said earlier... with the amount of time and resources they probably spent on that quest line (for a small minority of a single class), they could have done a whole lot of other things that would have benefited many more players.

i love that they did it, and it was great for those that got to experience it... but realistically, you can't expect a developer to do too much of that kind of thing.
 
One of the biggest problems is that you can't even easily challenge yourself while leveling very much without going straight for very hard challenges (trying to solo instances while you can still get xp for the mobs), or taking much longer to level. Killing higher level mobs gives more xp, but they also take longer to kill, so it's about even...

until you get to mobs 3-4 levels higher, where you get xp *much* slower because you can't get enough hit to hit them consistently until you are at the level cap (or pve twink yourself at 60/70). And the problem? Non-elite mobs that are 2 levels higher are still incredibly easy to kill even with craptastic gear, and complete facerolls with BoA or a few good blue pieces.

Plus, if you go places where all the mobs are 3-4 levels higher, you usually can't get all the quests, so there is more back and forth, all of it takes much longer. And the extra XP you get is nowhere near enough to make up for it. So in terms of speedy leveling, you get penalized severely by looking for challenge.

Also, particularly for casters, the hit table is so steep, that it becomes impossible to form a reasonable strategy to beat mobs more than 6-7 levels ahead of you, you simply miss *far* too often.

All in all, the only real challenges in the leveling game are doing small group quests solo, and blizzard took a ton of those out of the game, or at least took the challenge out. They often still say they are group quests, but the mob is no longer elite or no longer has difficult adds and trivial for any class/player to solo with normal gear. And they did this at the same time they buffed most damage by 20-30% (patch 3.0).

So now, it's completely trivial to kill things 2-3 levels higher, and extraordinarily annoying to kill things 4-6 levels higher, and basically impossible to kill things 7+ levels higher.

I try to get my challenges by pulling whole rooms of same level mobs.
 
I won't theorize or give my opinion of what I think happened. Instead let me relate my initial impressions after initially playing Wow.

I was drawn into the world. I had created a human priest, went on my quests, got powers, was led by the quests to new areas which amazed and dazzled me.

This was during the initial launch and despite the horrendous lag, the mob stealing and crazy chats going all, I forgave it all and could not have been happier dinging a level. One week and several sleepless nights I was still engrossed.

My initial impressions after playing Warhammer. I was having fun initially. PvP and leveling up at the same time was fun. Zone Quests were initially fun. But I wasn't immersed in the world. It was more about finding new quests, and getting the next level.

1 week later and no more than 2-3 hours per session, I stopped playing Warhammer.

Read into it what you will, but bottomline, it just didn't hold my interest.
 
Perhaps, though it's a bit of a sublime understanding, blizzard has realised that anyone who would mostly solo to top level, doesn't give a crap about grouping. That person is going to get to top level, then cease playing. You can't push this player into something they aren't interested in.

I know atleast one former player was of this type, anyway.
 
I ran a dungeon with a max level (60 at the time) warrior tanking who didn't have defensive stance. I wondered why he took so much damage and generate so little threat. Apparently he didn't do the quest at lvl 20.

True Story.

On learning curve. There is some learning curve at max level usually. Most 5 man dungeons require tanking/healing but not heaps of decursing/dispelling.

The problem is that many people try to skip 5 mans and get straight into raids without having to master tanking/agro/CC/positioning/healing multiple targets. Then you get raids that require those things but movement gimmicks (like polarity) as well.
 
In classic wow, everybody knew that soloing was faster, but I was fascinated by the 5 mans and leveled entirely in instances. Tried to find groups at the right level ready to go in without previous knowledge for every instance. Finding a solid group in Ironforge, then travelling to Maraudon or dire maul took about an hour then...

There were practically no solo challenges (no epic quest implemented for the druid class then), so I still remember the rare challenging solo content of the time, like killing a mob in the Blackrock depths instance for a trinket (the idol of ferocity).

So yes, more challenging solo content please :-)
 
I agree with you about the learning curve, Tobold, but I think the best solution would be to offer separate areas for players to choose.

Blizzard already offers multiple zones for leveling up, so it would just be a matter of having two ways to do it.

For example in Cataclysm, they will likely have two 81-82 zones. One would be easily soloable, but not offer as much experience, meaning it would take longer to level.

The second zone would be more challenging and have a good share of 3-man group quests that offer more experience. Going through solo would be very challenging, but innovative players could do it. It would also offer an incentive for group play before the level cap rather than random group quests (which I believe are largely ignored anyway).

As I said, Blizzard already offers separate zones for the same level areas. This would just make the zones actually different, rather than changing the quests so you gather 8 acorns instead of 8 wolf tails.

Personally, I leveled as a restoration shaman in a duo because I knew I wanted to heal at level 80. I didn't want to get there and not be able to heal by reflex. Granted, it took longer to level, but it was worth it.

When I first picked up my dual-spec into elemental, I noticed the steep learning curve and can't imagine trying to do that with my healing spells. Getting yelled at for low dps is one thing, but watching people drop like flies in my first dungeon would have probably made me give it up.

If Blizzard doesn't want to offer more difficult leveling zones, they could at least create a better training area. The static training dummies don't do much to prepare raiders. Dps rarely get to stand around in a raid and tanks/healers get nothing from them.

timejumper
 
I think a better solution might be something similar to the coop game Left 4 Dead.

All content requires a 4 man group so the empty positions are filled in by AI when no human players are available. This allows people to "solo" the content just fine wile making grouping with real people very attractive due to the limitations of the ai (they're npc's after all).

Applied to wow this could mean allot easier instancing wile leveling since you could do it in any group combination of ai/people and get you ready for group play. Obviously Heroic and raid content wouldn't have the ai option available :p

As for people learning their role in groups... maybe a tutorial disguised as a dungeon unlocking quest chain would be a nice way to do it, there's little else you can do besides that.
 
WoW does offer training areas for dps and healers -- battlegrounds. Tanks, not so much, which may be part of the tank shortage in 5 man pugs.
 
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