Tobold's Blog
Friday, January 22, 2010
 
Hard, seriously

If you have to give a talk in real life, it is often a good idea to start it with some humor before going on to the serious stuff. On the internet, starting a serious discussion with humor works less well. Some people never get past the "Huh? Is this for real?" stage, others want to contribute to the fun and answer the question humorously. So, while I want to express my thanks to those few who took up my Rise of the Leet King challenge, I'm afraid I have to pose the question again, seriously:

When you say World of Warcraft is too easy, how exactly should a good, hard game differ from that?

The problem here is that there isn't one single agreed upon definition of what "hard" is in the context of a MMORPG. Imagine a typical situation, a player in the mid-levels, on a quest to kill ten foozles. Making the game harder for him could mean one of many things:

Hard could simply mean long, that is we change the quest from kill ten foozles to kill a hundred foozles for the same xp and reward. That is extremely easy to implement, but will be the first thing players complain about. Every review would mention "the grind", and players would generally not be happy about this. Funnily enough it turns out that it is the more hardcore players who most detest slower leveling, due to their belief that "the game starts at the level cap", while the more casual players actually like leveling, and often make alts when reaching that cap.

Hard could also mean requiring knowledge that the player doesn't initially have. He'll be asked to kill ten foozles, but not where he can find those foozles, so he would have to search for them. The problem with this approach is that players tend to circumvent the problem by using third-party websites or addons to tell them where the foozles are, or how to solve the puzzles, or anything else requiring learning and knowledge. Note that learning is one of the principal reasons why the people who complain about a game being too easy are nearly always veterans of that game. Every MMORPG has some parts that need to be learned, like how to play some specific character class, and once you learned that, the game appears to be easier than before.

Hard furthermore could mean having a significant risk of failure. The player arrives at the foozle camp, and finds that due to their stats or their improved AI the foozles kill him if he isn't playing perfectly or isn't lucky. Unfortunately it turns out that players of MMORPGs are extremely risk averse. If doing a level-appropriate quest solo has a significant risk of failure and death, players will react by doing the quest in groups (which is good), but then complain about how this game has "forced grouping" (which is bad).

Hard could also mean that while the risk of failure isn't all that high, the consequences of failure could be harsh. Death could carry a penalty ranging from perma-death, to level loss, or item loss. The problem with that is the extreme attachment players have to their virtual avatars and goods. Any actual occurrence of perma-death makes a player consider quitting the game instead of starting over. And losses of xp, levels, or items are also viewed quite negatively, because of loss aversion. Instead of being a fantasy world full of adventure, a virtual world with harsh consequences of failure ends up with players being not adventurous at all, and avoiding the places with high risk, like dungeons.

Thus ultimately it turns out that my personal vision of a good, hard game would not be radically different from easy World of Warcraft, but rather tune each of these settings to somewhat harder. Leveling could be somewhat slower than World of Warcraft. Gameplay could require more tactical thinking and learning, preferably using random factors, so the learning experience can't be trivialized by using third-party sources. Risk of failure at the low levels could be similar to World of Warcraft's, but then slowly and gradually increase with level, so killing a level 80 mob at level 80 isn't as easy as killing a level 10 mob at level 10. And the death penalty could increase slightly from World of Warcraft, having some minor xp loss, and include item degradation (which has the added benefit of improving the player economy and crafting part of the game).

How about you? How would you design a MMORPG to be both good, and hard? How would you make your game attractive in spite of being hard, so as to not only attract a tiny number of potential customers?
Comments:
Time consuming, in arbitrarily expanding the amount of experiance needed to get from 45 to 46 does not make a game harder (in a good way). But time consuming in that a player must stop and think about how to approach a task at hand or be punished is a way to make it harder and still rewarding.

As for the punishment, item loss or permadeath, while making the game 'harder' are also not geared towards rewarding them for doing good, just punishing them for doing bad. But a punishment in that they did not get what they were after, and what they are after has actual meaning and not being able to try again for it very quickly is a way to increase difficulty. In this way you make it 'harder' for players to get what they want but you arn't punishing them for not getting it, you are just delaying the reward until they do it right.

"Gameplay could require more tactical thinking and learning..." This is what rewarding difficulty should really be. You do not simply walk into Mordor and one shot all the mobs, but you also do not walk into Morder and lose 50% of your xp in the first 5 minutes.
 
I think, when I wrote up my Leet King article, I thought of difficulty more as being a social function than anything else.

Basically, the difficulty is already placed into the game by virtue of tougher mobs that require grouping or serious leveling to kill, but the real difficulty comes in when the egos of different players competing against each other come into play.

Because of this, the actual game landscape changes according to the whims of the gamers and not necessarily the whims of the developers. :D

Anyway, since you emailed me as to how to use the HTML linky thing, let me try it here.

link
 
AION did quite achieve the "hard game" setting tbh... i just couldn't stand the pvp context (and the bots)

What strikes me is early wow did achieve a very good thing : being both easy and hard. It was up to you to easy solo or group for better challenges. Why would you have no choice?

Finally, death penalty in any form is the casual repellent. If you want huge success, it's not a good idea.
 
I have thought about the combat thing for a while - one thing to make things harder/more tactical would be to prevent players spamming spells (firebolt/shadowbolt, etc), ie prevent the same spell being used until 2 others have been.

Someone else will undoubtedly come up with a counter as to why this will never work, but I think that the death knight combat mechanics went some way to address this.

Too bad DKs are like a***holes; everyone has one!
 
I know I'll be chided for saying this, but Vanilla WoW had a steep learning curve and suitable difficulty factor.

The problems didnt come into play until people clammored for greater accesibility to end-game content.

I've brought this up in the past, and I have to use it again here: In my opinion, Dire Maul was probably the best designed set of instances that ever existed in the game. I say this because there was a very real chance of death/wipes due to the difficulty in managing aggro and crowd control. Players have become so used to the tank/spank mentality these days that I suspect that any challenge outside of a dps race would bring most players to their knees. The thing about Dire Maul was that the rewards were well suited for the difficulty of the instances, where the gear/drops were of superior value to items obtained elsewhere.

In my honest opinion I feel that the rewards should scale with difficulty. There should be dungeons where only the most skilled of groups should be able to complete the dungeon, and the rewards should be an Ilevel worthy of the effort needed to complete it. But how do you do this without upsetting the people who prefer badge gear and want trivially difficult dungeons becasue they only have an hour or two to play each day?

I feel we are way past fixing things in WoW, because WoW is now nothing more than an Epic Pinata, where players arent even required to use a blindflod, and the stick is enchanted with +12 to hit. I'd be willing to bet that the actual failure rate of non-heroic dungeon groups is less than 2%, and the failure of heroic groups is under 5% with more than one or two wipes, and yet are still successful.

To revert back to requiring crowd control and group cooperation dealing with tactical pulls and whatnot would more than likely make more players quit the game because it would then become "too hard" for a good number of players.

Blizzard might be able to pull off something like a return to CC and tactical dungeons in the next expansion, but now that players have become so used to the magical loot pinata, I just dont see how Blizzard would not wind up losing players as a result.
 
Imho making the levelgame much harder doesn't make any sense because classes are way to different. You recently leveled a Paladin and wrote about how easy it was. Try the same with a priest or a druid, its like a totally different game. My own lowlevel Paladin laughingly plows through groups of three mobs several levels higher than myself while for a priest on the same level even one of those would be a risky endeavor. World of Warcraft only managed to achieve something resembling balance in groupplay, which means to be able to tune content just right it needs to be 25 man content. The less people are in for the challenge, the more leeway you have to give them because the chance of them having a weak group composition rises and you don't want your players to come up with "optimal" group compositions who leave 70% of all specs out in the cold. That doesn't mean you can't make something harder though.
- Raidbosses can be designed without error margin. Learning to play is entirely possible in (properly tuned) 5-man-dungeons, so raids can be for pros without the need to design every raidinstance with a loot pinata first, then some increasingly difficult bosses, then a gear check or two and then one really serious boss finally. Examples for good bosses are nearly all Naxx40 bosses, Archimonde, Kael, Vashi..
- 5-mans can be designed to require at least one CC. You can make the difference between dungeon gear and raid gear small enough that you can't just zerg it at some point.
- Trashmobs can be designed to be special again. Remember AQ40? The Sphinx-like creature leeched mana from the whole raid and it was a DPS race to kill it before its mana was full because then it would proceed to blow the whole raid to smithereens. Farther into the instance you met mobs who looked totally alike, had the same name but had different abilities. You had to gauge their abilities and quickly react accordingly or you would die for sure. Todays trashmobs on the other side wear some weapon and hit your tank, ready to be pulled in large groups and AOEd down in an economically fashion. Boring?
 
I guess everyone has their own preference but mine is hard in terms of "knowledge" (need to work out certain strategies to kill mobs) and also hard as in "response time" (press the buttons at the right time). I accept that knowledge hard can always be by-passed by consulting guides - but I regard that as an advantage. I don't use guides by default but it means I never get truly stuck. I also absolutely expect that response time hard absolutely has to have a user selectable
difficulty level. User selectable difficulty in an mmo - why not?

Anyone who tries to make a game harder by increasing time sinks has lost my vote.

I am almost tempted to vote for hard as in "heavy death penalty" because EVE has taught me how much that increases ones emotional involvement in the game. Unfortunately heavy death penalty usually just turns into another time-sink so I am cautious about that one.
 
I would like a PvE game that rewards me for thinking, planning, and puzzle solving. And for using a wide variety of my class skills appropriately.

I rather enjoy soloing in LOTRO and running the solo instances there. It isn't so much that they are hard, as that I need to stop and think and plan what I'm going to do.
 
The problem here dear Tobold is that you limit the context of the problem by defining from the get go that:
- The game has a leveling system from 1 to X.
- Progression is indicated by what items you own.
All in all, you're trying to say: how to make WoW hard.

The answer to that is: you do not and cannot, because the game is not designed, as a whole, to be hard. There is nothing whatsoever in WoW that is "hard". The only possible difficulty is awareness, be it while soloing, doing dungeons or running raids. Personally I don't really mind though I find that the recent items evolution are pushing things a bit too far by allowing complete casuals to completely out gear even the hardest of heroics (and I'm one of these casuals).

Now, imagine a MMO where there is no leveling, no arms race (items are NOT what defines your characters) and no sentient NPC whatsoever in the world (by that I mean no quests, only monsters and animals). There is however mechanisms granting players near complete freedom regarding what they can do with the world resources as well as various "tech trees" of knowledge/craft that players, individually or as a whole (clans, guilds, nations), can discover and use.
There is no need to make such a game "hard" as players will, by themselves, set the difficulty of it (provided the game design is vast enough). Of course, such a game can only be a niche game because it would leave way too much freedom to players and let's be frank, a great majority of people have no idea what to do with that and are completely lost.

All in all, you want to make a game harder? Give players freedom and watch them run around like little girls :)
 
Gameplay could require more tactical thinking and learning

That's what I'd like to see. In many MMOs you quickly discover that the same sequence of skills works on pretty much every monster. After that, you're just going through the motions.

I think the real problem may be the risk-reward ratio. Many MMOs have harder content, but players often skip it because the reward isn't enough to make up for the risk of failure. Increasing rewards for, say, taking on quests above your level would give players an incentive to take on challenges without requiring them to.
 
I think the general oppinion of death conseqenses is that it should be as short litle as possible. Even a 10 second res run + drink/eat/buff to get back in shape is abit annoying to most people, but tollerable for sure. Permanent conseqenses and longer time would make the game a niche game imo. You need to sepparate the consept of hard and annoying. Hard would be to force the player to use the avatars abilities to 90% of the limit to succeed in killing a mob og hes own level.
 
Good wrap up of insights in that post!

One thing I can definetely say is that WoW is unnecessarily easy right now.
The world doesnt' feel dangerous at all!

Blizzard simply overreacted; perhaps it is a test in a controlled environment.

The perfect balance can be defined, even though the definition may be impossible to follow:

1) A player should never die.
2) A player should always feel like he was just about to die, but didn't.

Right now WoW leans too much towards the point (1). And that's not just my opinion. The believers of (1) have good arguments, but the believers of (2) have good ones as well.
 
You are missing out rewards here, although you are a great fun of "players go for rewards".

One could easily create a game where there are safe monsters with little reward and risky monsters with the chance of item loss but great reward.
 
I believe "skill" is defined as situational awareness and using the tools you have.

An MMO that encourages and rewards this skill would be one where an encounter would be "random". In other words, raid x arrives at the camp of the Foozle boss and engages him. Now they know, from information previous raids have given that this Foozle boss has no pattern, no abilities used at x time for x amount of time. In fact this Foozle boss takes random actions against the raid from a wide variety of abilities. Not only that, this Foozle boss brings in random Foozles to help him at no set time in the conflict. This forces the raid to be AWARE of the Foozle camp and what actually happens rather than staring at health bars, spell rotations or DPS meters. The success of the raid encounter depends not on how well the 10 - 25 people are choreographed and have practiced their little dance, no, it depends on immediate communication and action. Of course the Foozle boss can give some warning or, if the raid fails to respond in time give a time frame for recovery.

Now this would be a hard encounter and one that has to be overcome with skill. It is actually easy to program this kind of AI for an NPC, no advanced AI needed.

In the rest of the MMO, give other foozles similar random abilities from a host of abilities to challenge the player. Instead of knowing: "hey, there is a redskinned foozle, I know it always uses a stun before it runs", have a player know: "hey there is a redskinned foozle, I know it comes from a tribe of volcano living foozles and they usually use a random selection of these 10 abilities." So now the player has some opportunity to be prepared but has to figure the rest out as it goes along.

This combines the "skills" of preparation (intel), situational awareness and tool use.
 
I would tune the leveling to be a bit harder, using the philosophy of single player RPG games.

You need to do level appropiate quests to advance, ex. everything goes gray quicker, and level appropiate quests would actually need some skill to be completed, ex. difficulty levels a la "diablo" or "dragon: age", you would need some tactical ability which would need to be tailored to the specific encounter (or more realistically there would be 5 or 6 very basic tactics for the masses and the extreme pros would keep inventing new ones - as it happens in RTSes like Starcraft)

Furthermore if you tune the difficulty and XP rewards just right, players will go after the appropiate difficulty quests because even with a couple of wipes it would be better XP/hour than doing "green" quests superfast.
 
Screw hard Tobold... Look, this isn't the 1980's anymore.. I love D&D just like many of you, but if I have to spend any significan't time figuring anything out anymore then I will skip it.

Hard should be the FPS shooters, and those games that we all know will drive us insaine learning. Not MMORG's. They are supposed to be more laid back and friendly.

Look, I am not a stupid person, and if you give me a challenge, I would be the first to step up. Some games are meant to be played by the masses not the 1% elite. You know what? I am okay with that. I don't care if I am in the tiny percent of people playing to be the best of the best of the best. I just want to enjoy myself and tell funny stories about how I wiped a raid etc..

All that stuff you guys know about Hit rating, and crit rating and spell power is all commendable, but it don't make the game fun.

I want fun.. PERIOD...
 
It's a stupid question.

Making something hard, means that it would appeal to only those interested in dealing with HARD. There is no way possible to make something hard that will appeal to the the masses.

Look at Farmville. I absolutely hate that my Facebook is constantly loaded with comments about this game. I will certianly NEVER play it, but there is some respect to be given to the designer of the game that has Gradmas, and people everywhere willing to mindlessly play this game.

D&D of the 70's and 80's is DEAD. Some of us can respect and admire what MMOG's are trying to do here, but the mountian we are trying to overcome is revenue. Once that is achieved, then we can worry about hard...

Game setting are nice, lockouts on certian dungeons help keep us in line, but when I log on, it is to play my game and enjoy it. I am not so conserned about the difficulty.

Difficulty should be a setting, not a requirement. If I want to play on "expert" then let me choose to do so. Otherwise, let me enjoy my time on line and don't tax me with a lot of Designer ego...

I don't care too much for that. I have my own ego to deal with, thank you very much.
 
Right now mmos are mass market products. Trying to appeal to as many people as possible means you will not make your game hard, that just doesnt make sense. Years ago, when mmos were still niche, you could get away with harsh gameplay and incomplete products: players were early adopters/fans/fanatics, willing to put up with a lot of inconvenience (bad service, wagonloads of bugs etc).

You can still find "hard" games though, but they will always be niche games. For example hex based war games, hyper realistic simulators etc.

I find WOW easy, especially PVE, due to its static nature and predictability. Because of that the most interesting gameplay in WOW for me is PVP (as flawed as it may be according to some). As for PVE: we probably need a significant leap in AI development in order to create a more challenging ("hard") game.
 
For me it was the Web what took out fun and challenge from a MMORPGs. Of course theoreticly you can restrain yourself from using these spoilers which reduce game to literal execution of written instructions where to go, what to hunt and what spec to train. But my, and i believe, competetive nature of most people restrict this option.

What i would do if i were a developer? I would try to undermine precision of online databases. Regulary reshufle quest building blocks between similar quests, disable players access to map coordinates system, replace exact stats on items with vague descriptions and hidden modifiers, maybe even replace characters stats with vague description of their curent level, replace pre-made items with random generated ones etc. In other words do everything to make game more mysterious and explorable.
 
Personally I don't think that people complaining about WoW being too easy, are complaining about the questing and leveling process. I think they are referring to raids and dungeons.

I've said this many times, that dungeons and raids have not become easier, in fact they are much more complex than they have ever been. It is just much easier to command 25/10 people around than 40. On top of that, raiders have gotten way better at raiding. So more and more complex fights are needed in order to give a new challenge. Unfortunately this have been met with a more extensive use of third party guides. Such as tankspots video-guides.
Back then, most guilds would to a much greater extend develop their own strategy, rather than execute a video-guides strategy.
I am sure there would be many ways to counter this. I know it is an unpopular fight, because it was hard and demanded people who where not used to think, to actually think for themselves. I am of course talking about the "faction Champions" fight.
Having a fight with random elements or unexplainable mechanics would increase the hardness of the fight, and challenge players creativity.

Adding limited attempts on the fights in ICC surely did not help at all with combatting the use of youtube strats.
 
I didn't got to the previous post in time so thanks for this one.

In the context of World of Warcraft i think the answer is easy: make it harder by going back to pre-TBC minus stupid attunements.

I think that at least some content (that should be more or less optional) in leveling should be only done by a group. This is a MMO after all and being able to solo from 1 to 80 is not detrimental of having some quests only doable by strong groups. Also the group dynamic should change a bit. Aggro should be harder to manage but on the other hand the difficulty of the encounters should scale according to the size of the dungeon. Harder fights yes but not if it takes 20-30 minutes to recover from a wipe.

Also there should always be meaningful decisions about your character. Decisions that although not irreversible should not be made futile by dual speccing or free respecs. Also the progressive simplification of stats is quite a turnoff. I'm not saying that stats should be obscure and that you have to spend hours with a chronometer checking the values, but at least make it a complex enough to make the player at least plan his gear without limiting himself to choose from 5 stats.

Keep the 10/25 raids and remove all attunements for it but at the very least make hard versions of both with better rewards and different abilities on the bosses. Some of those rewards might be pure vanity but more like the Scarab Mount. Like that the hardcore will still have the "i'm a snob and better than you lalala" and the casuals will reply "7 hours a day for a mount? no life fat stupid little man" and everybody will be happy.
 
logistics determines "hardness". i.e How much thought you have to put in about what you're planning to do.
 
"Hard" is a really annoying term in the context of MMOs. As you point out, there's no real consensus on what it means.

If you compare the term to other entertainment media, "Hard" has a fairly consistent meaning. It usually means "Difficult to understand". It implies that the work is not suitable for a mass audience and will probably only be of interest to academics and students.

I don't think many MMOs want to make MMOS that are that type of "Hard".

Personally I am not interested in "hard" MMO gaming. I am, however, interested in both "Complex" and "Slow" MMO gaming. And again, I think these are terms that mitigate against mass-market success.

If a movie was describes as "a hard, slow, complex watch" in reviews, people would stay away in droves. Art cinemas exist, in part, to show films like that and it generally takes a medium-sized city to support even one Art cinema with seating for a hundred or so people.

A "Hard" or "Slow" or "Complex" MMO is going to be counting its subscribers in tens of thousands, not hundreds of thousands (EVE might be the excepttion, but as I've not played it I can't comment on its actual "Hardness". I have played another allegedly "Hard" game, though, Fallen Earth, which is actually one of the easiest MMOs I've ever played...). When it takes 3 to 5 years and tens of millions of dollars to develop a top-flight MMO, whoever is putting upthe money is not going to be content with a market of a few tens of thousands.

What we need isn't "Hard" MMOs per se; it's MMOs with variable difficulty settings, set by the user. Then everyone can get somewhere closer to their own personal sweet spot.
 
Single player games make it easy in this regard. I played Call of Duty 2 two weeks ago and had the option to simply choose how hard i want it to be. I played it on "hard" and it was quite a bit harder then I remember playing the first game on "normal".

The benefit is of course that the player can choose. Want to blast through it? Or are you hardcore gamer who wants to have a real challenge.

It's a bit harder to pull of in an mmorpg. But Blizzard has done a nice job with the two (or four if you count 10/25 men) difficulties for raids and heroics. It could be pushed through for daily quests. Do the quest on normal or hard. For the hard part you may need multiple players. And adjust the rewards accordingly.

Ideally you're giving the player the option to choose his own difficulty. But to make a harder difficulty appealing in an mmorpg you have to adjust the rewards.
 
Good post and its something which has me dipping in and out of Warcraft on a regular basis.

I do love the game but recently i have felt it becoming stale and just about everything has been made trivial (even endgame to an extent because of easy epics and indeed the announcement of Cataclysm).

Blizzards problem is they want everyone to feel 'Heroic' and with this comes the trade off of destroying mobs far too easily.

The question on how to 'fix' it is one I cant answer but its why I am looking forward to the Cataclysm expansion.
 
I think that those people playing MMORPGs want long term goals, and satisfaction when they achieve those goals.

So long as people are progessing in the game, they will be happy.

At present Blizzard are engaged in removing long term goals from Warcraft (levelling, professions, acquisition of gear, raiding progression etc). The effect of this is that people are finding they have nothing to do except repeat old content with alts.

Our Warcraft guild has been around in one form or another for nearly five years. In the last six months we have lost five officers (including three former GMs) who have been with us since the start and have simply left the game. I myself am playing other games than Warcraft for the first time since May 2005. My anecdotal evidence (which may be worthless) is that long-time players are walking away from the game this expansion.

The reasons for that are not easy to find, but I would simply say that if something is easy to obtain it has no value. Since end game = raiding for most people, I would venture that raiding is too accessible too quickly. I would reintroduce epic attunement quests. I would reintroduce rep requirements for instances. I would require you to have completed one instance before starting the next. I would also make heroic instances drop emblems of heroism. All of that could be achieved without turning the game into EQ2 or Darkfall.
 
Oh, and just to say what I would like for a modern, thinking-person's MMO:

Levels 1 - 50 of Vanguard now the bugs have nearly all been squashed would cover it.

Allods is close, too.

Basically, make the fights slower, make levelling slower, make transport slower, use fewer instances.

Don't throw the baby out with the bathwater. There have been many, many improvements in the last 5 years. Just excercise some restraint with the labor-saving devices and treat players as intelligent, thoughtful, literate adults, even if they aren't.
 
Lots of good comments here.

I think that those who want harder games ultimately crave for having the same feeling of accomplishment for success in mmos as the success they had in hard single player games.

Because single player games are similar with mmo PVE but with multiple players.

I believe multi-player PVE is tedious. its all about striking that fine balance between the expectations of different people.

As in single-player, some people play the game at the easiest difficulty, some play it at the hardest, others start at easy and then replay the game at hard, some like to min-max, others dont.

In a nutshell, for financing purpose the game has to appeal to a great majority, therefore it has to either have easy and hard enjoyable modes (hardmodes anyone?). In conclusion PVE cannot be too hard or it will lose players and cannot be too easy either or it will also lose players.

I believe that a discussion more proper to give us the answer to the question you are posing, tobold, is about what are people usually expecting when playing an MMO in terms of rewards and satisfaction (per time invested ofc).

What is exactly that we like when playing a MMO? (as opposed to a single-player game, which would be simple to tune in terms of difficulty)

p.s. if you like to play a game and want it to be hard, there is always an option, difficult in any game: PVP
 
Are we making WoW harder, or talking about a harder MMO in general? Because if it's the latter, my answer would be EVE/DF. If we are talking about making WoW harder without reducing it to a 20k sub game and still trying to retain what makes WoW WoW, that is an interesting question.
 
Would also, in addtion to earlier comments, like to note that I am not under any illusions that WoW overall is easier.

In fact as an endgame raider I recognize that it is indeed more difficult than it was five years ago tactically. It's like a guild mate said yesterday, "If the mechanics of Blackwing Lair were used today, instances would be finished the second they came out." The mechanics were always extremely basic and have been developed further over the years, the game used to provide difficulty through monster stats and gear checks, now it does it solely on ability to execute the strategy.
 
I actually think the normal and heroic raid difficulties are very well tuned overall. Normal raid difficulty can be handled by most casual guilds while heroic difficulty takes a lot of time and talent to master.

The bigger problem in WoW is one of content generation. There isn't enough to _do_ anymore. In Vanilla you had the four 40-man raid chain, two 20-man raids, 10-man instances, 5-man instances, world bosses etc. While some of that content rewarded better stuff than others, you'd still see 40-man guilds going back to old content to gear new people, get trinkets or class items, etc. I know not all of this came out at once, but the point is there was more to do overall.

Nowadays, there is only 1 new raid instance per patch/tier. Your best option is to play the _same_ bosses at either the 25-man or the 10-man level. While there are important play differences between 25 vs. 10 or hard vs. normal, the content stays constant and grows tedious over time. Ulduar was probably the best tuned raid this expansion, and it's interesting how utterly ignored it becomes beyond pushing over XT for the weekly at this point.

WoW has a fairly well-balanced difficulty curve, there just isn't enough to _do_
 
Humm, sounds awfully like what you want in a harder game risks being called an FFXI clone instead of a WoW clone...

But hey, I play EVE so who am I to throw stones...
 
I think hard, means more challenging -- not a new time sink -- but something that raises the level of skill required.

As TAGN famously posted, WoW is not like Tetris. It doesn't get harder the longer you play. It's just as challenging to kill a level 1 mob at level 1 as it is to kill a level 80 mob at level 80.

That is to say, not challenging at all. The issue is that Blizzard has opted for accessibility over challenge because not everyone share the same level of skill.

They want the one-handed guy with three fingers to be just as successful as the 17-yr old gamer geek.
 
I think WoW dug themselves into a corner on this one.

WoW has been changed to make it more accessible to the casual gamers. Now WoW is the standard by which all MMOs are compared, like it or not.

If anything takes longer to level it's grindy and if the penalties for being bad at the game are more severe or the encounters to hard it's to hard core.

Consumers will only accept WoW and detest any WoW clones. What do you do when nothing else is good enough and everyone complains about what you already have?

I have always loved your ideas on random abilities for monsters Tobold. Hell EQ had random death touch abilities on raid bosses. It's these kinds of things that no matter how much you plan things change.
 
i think that when players say they wish wow was "harder", they are referring to the raiding (and to a smaller percentage, heroics) aspect of wow more than anything. in your post, you only offer ways to make questing harder which, in my opinion, isn't much of a concern for the average wow player. the game begins at 80, and at that point, how you go about killing 10 foozles is irrelevant to most players. i enjoy wow and i am a current subscriber and i wish very much that raiding was more challenging.
 
@Edwin

So then you've beaten all the raids on Hardmode?

I think that's the point Tobold is trying to make. It is a very small fraction of the WoW playerbase who has actually beaten the challenging raids WoW has created.

So when the "masses" claim to want a more challenging game one has to assume they don't mean raid content, because they haven't yet conquered the hard raid content.
 
i think that when players say they wish wow was "harder", they are referring to the raiding (and to a smaller percentage, heroics) aspect of wow more than anything. in your post, you only offer ways to make questing harder which, in my opinion, isn't much of a concern for the average wow player. the game begins at 80, and at that point, how you go about killing 10 foozles is irrelevant to most players. i enjoy wow and i am a current subscriber and i wish very much that raiding was more challenging.

So you already killed the Lich King? Grats! Yeah, Icecrown raiding in heroic mode was way too easy, I hear ya. :)

Sarcasm aside, I listed the general principles of how a game could be harder, and they don't change if you apply them to a different example. You could make a raid:

- Longer (e.g. with more trash)
- Requiring more knowledge
- Have a higher risk of failure
- Punish you more if you fail (which Icecrown incidentally does, because you only have limited attempts)

And then of course if you say "i wish very much that raiding was more challenging", then I must ask why aren't you making raiding more challenging for yourself, e.g. by joining one of the Undergeared guilds raiding only in blue gear? I think the answer is that actually you don't want raiding to be more challenging for YOURSELF. You want raiding to be easy enough for yourself to be able to do it, but hard enough to keep others out. And that is a very different problem, and an impossible one.
 
I think the answer is that actually you don't want raiding to be more challenging for YOURSELF. You want raiding to be easy enough for yourself to be able to do it, but hard enough to keep others out.

i'm not sure how you came to that conclusion based on what i wrote, but whatever.
 
The benefit is of course that the player can choose. Want to blast through it? Or are you hardcore gamer who wants to have a real challenge.


What I often wonder is why there aren't different servers. Some servers could be 'hard', others could be 'easy' ...
 
- Aion is not "hard", it's time consuming. Time cannot, ever, makes things harder.
- Likewise, "death penalties" do not make things harder, they simply make failure a complete pain and THAT is what frustrates people.
- WoW dungeons cannot be hard other than constant gear checks (which does not make things harder) because, as shown in this very discussion, some people play half looking at the TV, others play completely aware of the game, others don't even care what's happening.
- I like some bosses because they are awareness tests, such as Ick and Krick. You see within the first minutes who is actually playing and who doesn't actually have a clue. They are not "hard" by any means mainly because the requirements to get in there are just way too high and therefore you only end up with people completely over-geared.

All that said however, WoW has, no contest, the best encounters and team gameplay (second to DAoC on that part) you can find anywhere in the current MMO market. Sure, taste comes into play for some people, but Blizzard stays king on this for me (since BC), even if it's becoming too easy (they need to slow down on that gear escalation, it's insane now).

Now..if only they fixed mobs movement.. :)
 
The whole issue being raised here can be summed up by Tobold's remark: "You want raiding to be easy enough for yourself to be able to do it, but hard enough to keep others out. And that is a very different problem, and an impossible one."

It's a poignant observation. The elitists aren't as elite anymore. In vanilla WoW you had guys in full T2 running around absolutely decimating the folks who didn't have time for 40 man raids. The difference was HUGE and most of the playerbase couldn't contend. Now, the gear disparity between casual and hardcore is much smaller. Achievers don't want to be recognized as marginally better, they want nerds everywhere to stand in awe of their amazing gear.
 
Here, I think, is the train of logic in the responses to Edwin's post up above.

First, we assume that the hard mode raids are in fact actually quite difficult; they're not Sunwell-level hard, but they are definitely challenging in appropriate level gear.

Then, most raiders who do hard modes would not say that "raiding is too easy" considering that they are currently being challenged by hard modes.

Therefore, most people who do complain about "raiding being too easy" are the same people who don't try the hard modes.

Therefore, since hard modes are optional and generally accessible, the people who complain about "raiding being too easy" are the same people who don't try to actually make the raiding harder for themselves.

Finally, we conclude that the people who complain that "raiding is too easy" are not complaining about the ease of raiding as it applies to them, so they must be complaining about the ease of raiding as it applies to others. Therefore we reach Tobold's conclusion: I think the answer is that actually you don't want raiding to be more challenging for YOURSELF. You want raiding to be easy enough for yourself to be able to do it, but hard enough to keep others out.

Of course, there are exceptions, but generally I think that when people are annoyed at people who say "raiding is too easy," this is the logic that they follow in their heads. In the cases of people who state that "raiding is too easy" without offering any sort of problem-identification or solution, I tend to feel this is true.
 
The whole issue being raised here can be summed up by Tobold's remark: "You want raiding to be easy enough for yourself to be able to do it, but hard enough to keep others out. And that is a very different problem, and an impossible one."

That doesn't hit the nail. People like to achieve goals that seem hard.

However, it is very hard for a designer to make a game look very hard to one individual without that individual also becoming frustrated.

The easiest way to make things seem hard is to make them look hard for some and not so hard for others. This basically happens automatically, because of the different skills of different people and, more important, community building.

This is how it was in vanilla WoW: Most people didn't raid. Managing a 40 man raid was hard and a lot of work and even the raid-instances weren't totally easy back then, because everybody had limited WoW-raid experience.

Thus, the people who successfully raided had reason to believe that it wasn't easy - and still they managed to do it. They felt that it was fun.

If you earn 150.000€ the year by sitting on a chair and trading with other peoples' money that may be quite easy. But most people didn't manage to get into your position - that's why it is fun.

The point is not that you want to be the elite. The point is that you being the elite and others not is a good reason to assume that you manage to do something challenging.

--
Now, if everybody is able to raid, this reason to assume that raiding is hard is eliminated. Doing the exactly same raid-dungeon a second time on hard mode seems like an artificial challenge and therefore attracts only very limited numbers of people.


What I am saying here is:
People who are the elite (in WOW and generally in life) can still be and often are quite nice. They wish everybody were part of the elite.

Often they don't understand what's actually so hard about it. That's because often it just isn't hard, but simply luck.
The luck to know somebody who manages a raid, the luck to know somebody who knew somebody at this company.

Those people often truly wish that everybody could be as elite as them. What they don't understand is that this would drastically reduce their 'fun' - their happiness in life.

In real life that doesn't matter, but in WoW Blizzard is god and made it like that.

Once again: To do the exactly same raid dungeon a second time - this time much harder - is just not very attractive.

And, by the way: It is not immersive/credible at all.
 
@Nils. Three things I want to comment on.

The easiest way to make things seem hard is to make them look hard for some and not so hard for others. This basically happens automatically, because of the different skills of different people and, more important, community building.

I don't understand the reason for having things *look* difficult here. In vanilla WoW, there were people who must have tried to raid and couldn't do it, so naturally they thought raiding was hard. And, as you mentioned, even people who were raiding thought that raiding was hard due to limited player knowledge back then. So, whether they raided or not, people thought raiding was difficult back then because it actually was difficult back then, right? No need to make it *look* difficult.

If you earn 150.000€ the year by sitting on a chair and trading with other peoples' money that may be quite easy. But most people didn't manage to get into your position - that's why it is fun.

I can think of three potential reasons why someone would find this fun, and they have analogies to raiding.

The first is that they're not raising money for the sake of money itself, but to support something else, like say their family or college tuition fees or whatever. This is similar to people who enjoy raiding with friends because, well, they're raiding with friends; the loot that drops or the progress made is incidental.

The second is that they enjoy making money that way because it challenges them, which is akin to someone who likes to raid because raiding itself is challenging to them.

The third is someone who likes to feel superior to other people because they are making more money with less physical work. These are the people for whom raiding in and of itself isn't the fun part, but because they get loot other people can't and because they get to claim they have beaten certain bosses.

I think most people would have a combination of these three reasons in greater or lesser degrees.

Once again: To do the exactly same raid dungeon a second time - this time much harder - is just not very attractive.

I can understand people not liking the way Blizzard has implemented hard modes, but "hard modes aren't immersive or interesting" is a completely different complaint from "raiding is too easy."

If you don't do the hard modes for whatever reason and then complain that "raiding is too easy" then effectively you are complaining that something is too easy without having made the effort to adjust its difficulty yourself. It's like complaining that a single-player game is too easy when you have set the difficulty level to Easy, and when questioned why you don't set a higher difficulty, state that "beating the same game on a higher difficulty isn't interesting" or whatever variation you want for not doing hard modes.

(Of course, if you are a person who does hard modes and still thinks raiding is too easy, then you are either a masochist or a far better player than most people or both.)
 
@Mingdi:

All I try to do is to make people understand, why some players think the way they think.

1) Nobody likes a challenge for the challenge alone. Nobody! If anybody did like it, he were an abomination of evolution.
People just like to solve seemingly challenging tasks.

2)Assuming somebody liked challenges and just the fact that they are challenging: Why doesn't he try to solve some of the modern mathematical problems or count to 1mio or make a needle stand on its head for 1 hour?
Challenges are always tied to something else. For example, comparison with other people or fulfillment of an old dream.

3) It is impossible to make a difference between circumventing and beating a challenge, because every way you beat a challenge actually is a way of circumventing it.

4) Due to (1) and (2) the challenge itself matters. Not just the fact that it is challenging.

5) Beating the same dungeon just at a much higher difficulty is really hard to like. It's like earning the same money you earn right now, but at job you are untrained for. Have fun!

6) The fact that the items are better means almost nothing. Nobody despises purple pixels more than hardcore raider. Nobody experience as well as they do that the pixels change every few months.


I do think Blizzard got a good balance right now between casuals and hardcore, but I wish they added servers with varying difficulty. This way you might be able to forget that you are trying it the hard (=stupid) way. Today WoW remembers you about that every single time you enter the hard mode.
 
@Nils

All of that basically says that you don't like the way Blizzard has implemented hard modes and that's perfectly fine with me. I have absolutely no problem with that opinion.

What I was saying was that if someone says "raiding is too easy" without trying the hard modes, then the logical conclusion is that the person in question doesn't actually want to make raiding more difficult for them personally, because that's what the hard modes are for: to make your raiding harder.

(Wanting the hard modes to be much more interesting than doing the same dungeon on a higher difficulty means, unfortunately, that you are pretty much out of luck, since then the Blizzard developers would be designing unique content for a much smaller group of people than they are now, and they decided that it wasn't efficient financially back when WotLK was being developed.)
 
A more general comment.

All these very subjective topics are why I love reading analytical reports.

You come to terms and better understanding, while not necessarily answering the question.

Tobold is right. When someone says I think "this" is too hard. You can be assured that there's, In WoW's case, millions of others who have a very different perspective. Because hard to me is taking one hour to kill a boss, or to Joe Shmoe it is taking 15 minutes to walk to the next city. And there's millions of other outcomes, that do indeed happen.

You can know that this is all true because of how many people there are, and the possibilities based on how they feel about any of the many aspects of the game. If the possiblity exists, and there's already 12 million people playing, than it's very highly probably that those 12 million people could come up with at least a few million different opinions on "difficulty of WoW"
 
What I was saying was that if someone says "raiding is too easy" without trying the hard modes, then the logical conclusion is that the person in question doesn't actually want to make raiding more difficult for them personally, because that's what the hard modes are for: to make your raiding harder.

Yes, that's true, but it doesn't mean what you think it means :)

You're right: If somebody complains that WoW should be harder he is not really interested in it being harder for himself. He just remembers that it all somehow felt better while raiding was harder.

Most of those people don't understand their emotions. They think that it is really about the challenge. But it is not.

Next to reproduction (and all those things like love etc.), what humans really like is to succeed at a seemingly challenging task.

There are two ways to create this situation:
1) Make the task real hard.
2) Make it not so hard, but create the illusion that it is hard.

(1) is really bad for games.
(2) is really good for games.

One way to achieve (2) is to make people need other people: Raidleaders.

These Raidleaders have an enormously challenging and time demanding task, but you only need very few (and you get only very few and even fewer good ones).

The Raidleaders enable other people to take part in raiding. That's not very hard with a good Raidleader, but since there are only very few, only few people are part of a raid and much much less part of a good raid.

Thus, they are victim of the illusion that raiding must be hard (otherwise most people raided), and they still succeed at raiding. Thus, situation (2) applies.

----

I do not argue that this situation is good for all gamers. Obviously it is not good for the people who do not raid.

All I say is that the reason why some people claim that they want a challenging game is not that they seek the challenge and it also is not that they want to be better than other people.

They actually don't know what they want. All they know is that the game felt better when it was harder!!

What they really want (although they don't know) is to succeed at a seemingly challenging task and Blizzard is not able to deliver that right now.

.. Except for the hard modes, which feel very cheated and are actually often too hard, because you you need a very good raid leader(ship) for them.


----
Aside from that:
Why I, personally, mean when I say that WoW is too easy is that the leveling game is to easy. It feels too easy and accomplishing hard tasks, like killing of a high-level mob or exploring a cave are not rewarded at all. Actually they are punished.

In addition it is not immersive that I can kill monsters that are 5x the size of me with 3 hits (or less if they crit, which they do more often than not!!.

Accomplishing a lot of of very easy tasks is grinding and while that is fun for some people for a while, there's nothing that compares to succeeding at seemingly difficult tasks.
 
I am ( or was ) the person you describe in this post. I was a fully geared Sunwell resto/balance druid.
I powered through WoTLK leveling and became the first 80 druid on the server.

After my guild roflstopmed T7, and 3 drake sarth, many of us quit, fearing that the game would only become more casual.

Further complaints come when one takes into consideration Blizzard's nerfing habits. It's hard for a month then it becomes too easy and everyone and their uncle can do it and get the same reward.
 
Quoted From Muton

"Now, imagine a MMO where there is no leveling, no arms race (items are NOT what defines your characters) and no sentient NPC whatsoever in the world (by that I mean no quests, only monsters and animals). There is however mechanisms granting players near complete freedom regarding what they can do with the world resources as well as various "tech trees" of knowledge/craft that players, individually or as a whole (clans, guilds, nations), can discover and use.
There is no need to make such a game "hard" as players will, by themselves, set the difficulty of it (provided the game design is vast enough). Of course, such a game can only be a niche game because it would leave way too much freedom to players and let's be frank, a great majority of people have no idea what to do with that and are completely lost."

Is it just me or did you describe Eve Online?

Either way, agreed in your overall point.
 
You’re asking the multi-billion dollar question for MMO building. How can you provide the illusion of achievement, or sufficiently distract player from the need for and satisfaction derived from achievement?

Most players don’t consider organization to be a skill that should be measured in an MMO, so minimize its impact to the extent possible without substantially compromising guild stability.
Smaller groups eliminates organization as a barrier.
Creating mechanisms like dungeon finder that allow PUG’s to organize serves a similar function.

Cater to a multiple definition of hard/achievement.
Don’t build the game to cater only to one group’s definition of hard. Consider allowing multiple types of expertise to access similar rewards. In other words, design your game to validate any reasonable definition of hard.

Avoid excessive segregation of access by gear. Epic items don’t have to be amazingly better than lower level items, strong segregation of content access by gear is unnecessary.
Providing a modest bonus is sufficient if FFXI is any indication. If they are graphically distinct that is another benefit.

Have more “save” points

Human like AI’s may allow a higher level of satisfaction and engagement at a lower difficulty level.
It may be more satisfying to beat a human like AI than a script, even if the difficulty levels are similar. I believe the degree of engagement people get during a conflict is in part determined by the degree to which they can get into their opponent's heads (thinking and feeling like their opponent). This psychological dimension adds to the feeling of pressure and struggle and gives the opponent's blunders and brilliance more emotional and intellectual impact. For this reason, I would be interested in a more human intelligence, one that has more human like characteristics. In comparison, both idiot automata and godly automata are basically puzzles. Once solved, interest in them is diminished.

Make other kinds of play attractive to the casual audience (distractions away from PvE achievement)
Don’t sacrifice your PvP game to the hardcore. PvP often seems to be the bone tossed to the hardcore in many game settings. It shouldn’t be. It is an entirely valid form of play that can offer an escape from strongly achievement oriented play. PvP needs to be fun, accessible, and attractive to the casual player.
 
I'd just have a little individual slider that controls difficulty of play and rewards (gold dropped, item chance, etc). If it's easy for you, turn the slider up until it isn't.

I've played some little single player games where you had to do math questions while dodging bullets...that should make clear what I mean by difficulty.
 
Don’t sacrifice your PvP game to the hardcore. PvP often seems to be the bone tossed to the hardcore in many game settings. It shouldn’t be.

One idea here:
Right now arena players are confronted with enemies that are as good as they are. Thus they lose 50% of the time.

Add a difficulty slider:
Allow players to chose to be confronted with weaker enemies and get less points for it. Also allow players to only be confronted with harder enemies and boost the points they get for that.
 
Nils,

And in adition, make sure that fighting a harder monster, which gives you 50% more XP/gold doesn't take 50% more time than beating the weaker monster. Because in the bigger picture they end up the freaking same except you've taken more damage from the tougher monster.
 
I know I'm 50 comments late, but I just got my work-blogroll on:

I think the following ideas you propose "Leveling could be somewhat slower than World of Warcraft. Gameplay could require more tactical thinking and learning, preferably using random factors, so the learning experience can't be trivialized by using third-party sources"

Sounds an awful lot like vanilla wow or maybe even TBC wow to me. When groups, or individuals, were forced to strategize on even basic tasks. This is much different from today's cleave content.

Also, there was a time before questhelper, hell, even before wowhead and thottbot, that people relied on personal experience or word of mouth for assistance.

Once again, Tobold is the voice of reason, centerism, common-sense, understanding the gray-area. These slight suggestions are really all people want, because they are ENOUGH to appease those demanding them and not TOO MUCH to keep casuals away.
 
I think WoW is easy because unless you play competitive arena or are in a serious raiding guild, then your outcomes in WoW (e.g. gold, gear) is based on time spent on it rather than skill.
Think the bots gliding around the WoW continents and the bot leechers or space bar leechers in BGs. Think th epeople grinding dailies and reputation.
I play spades and hearts and the WoW equivalent with card games is me playing rated games against the computer or someone randomly clicking cards. There is no challenge, and my rating is proportional to time spent playing rather than skill level.
 
I have played Aion and it was not hard, but it was frustrating. My partner quit because he didn't want to learn/practice the flying/gliding mechanism. That and there was no end game content other than world PVP and the gold sellers were out of control. So I quit Aion along with him and returned to WoW.

I am grinding the quests achievement to complete quests in 2 original contingents and that is the stage of Aion. Aion is WoW before it gave into people's whinges and became easy mode. Try doing the old quests and imagine if you were at that level, without the mount and you will see it's as frustrating and laborious as Aion.
 
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