Tobold's Blog
Monday, March 26, 2012
 
The theory of perfect speed of advancement

As predicted last week, the backlash is starting about ArenaNet selling time-saving convenience items in their item shop. Basically the criticism is based on the following theory:
There is something like a perfect speed of advancement in a MMORPG. A perfect speed with which to gain levels, or gear once the levels run out. The developers are fully knowledgeable about this perfect speed of advancement. And to get maximum money out of the players, they deliberately make the "free" advancement speed much slower than the known perfect speed, forcing the players to pay money for time-saving convenience items that will speed them up to just the perfect speed of advancement.
I believe this widely cited theory to be bullshit. There is no such thing as a perfect speed of advancement. A perfect speed of advancement is technically impossible in a MMORPG because you advance as a function of the number of hours you play, and there are enormous differences between hours played of different people. Furthermore of the various motivations to play MMORPGs, only some are affected by speed of advancement: Achievers mostly, killers only if the PvP is badly balanced and allows people who have progresses faster to gank those who progressed slower, explorers and socializers barely at all.

As there is no perfect speed of advancement, developers can't deliberately deviate from the perfect speed to make item shops more profitable. For example for me personally (and some other casual players I know) the leveling speed in World of Warcraft at the moment is too fast. Thus I would never buy a "double xp scroll" in WoW, even if it was on offer. But for other players advancement can never be fast enough, and they would be very much in the market for either double xp scrolls or pay-for-premade level-capped characters in WoW if they existed.

In fact Everquest, which is shrouded in the mist of nostalgia for many people, was a game of extremely slow advancement. 2000 hours to level cap, or two years for the average player playing 20 hours per week. And this slow leveling speed had some advantages: Leveling was a meaningful activity. Guilds formed to help each other to level, and guild activities were not just limited to the endgame at the level cap. That increased social cohesion. And a game with levels in which leveling up is actually a major event makes inherently more sense than a game with levels in which leveling is considered to be a waste of time.

Thus if slow leveling isn't necessarily bad, it is stupid to think that there is a deliberate strategy of making games bad by making them slow, only to then sell you the means to speed them up. Instead the items to speed the games up are NOT designed for the people who already play the game for an average or high number of hours per week. They are designed for the time-constrained who only get a few hours of play in every week, but still want to keep up with the Joneses, or their friends. If you use them to break all sorts of server-first records with the help of you fat wallet, you're cruising well past any notion of perfect speed of advancement.
Comments:
You are making a bad counter-argument.

A perfect speed of advancement is technically impossible in a MMORPG because you advance as a function of the number of hours you play, and there are enormous differences between hours played of different people.

Wrong. The speed of advancement in an MMO is based around the average XP gained from a given activity. If someone stops killing mobs and goes fishing for an hour, that does not impact the speed of advancement. Otherwise, you are suggesting that the leveling speed in WoW is not actually too fast, as it can be fixed by you going fishing.

While I would not use the term "perfect," there is in fact an ideal speed of advancement, and that is defined by the designers themselves. It is what they have balanced their game, stories, combat, quests, gear faucets, and everything else around. People say WoW leveling is too fast because they feel the difference; you out-level questing zones before finishing storylines, you are one-shotting all the mobs, etc.

Think about movies and television: they are designed around being played in 1.0x speed - if you play a sitcom at 1.5x or 0.5x speed, the designers cannot really be faulted for the lack of laughs. The fear with XP boosts is that ArenaNet (etc) has an incentive to make you want to buy their cash shop items, and one way to do that is dial the leveling speed down, from the ideal. Set it to 0.9x or 0.85x, just low enough to be subconsciously annoying, to encourage periodic XP boost sales.

Is that an irrational fear? Will the boosts simply be 1.5x or 2.0x? Maybe. The big downside to F2P is that the designer and player incentives no longer align. After all, they need people to use the cash shop, and everything they put in this would/should have been in the game had it been just a box sale.
 
I agree it's nonsense, especially if you're missing the point about an MMO and what it's concept is. not every game is WoW - but this is currently a big issue for some players to realize. not every MMO defines its 'advancement' or goals in the same way.

GW2 makes every impression to not focus on racing to max level or collecting gear; it aims to play cooperatively more than anything. there's the flat leveling curve and there are features like side-kicking. all that tells me is that I probably won't give a toss about 'speed of advancement' in terms of how fast I level - because there's content everywhere and max level is not when "the game finally starts". you can do almost everything much sooner. that's how I burn my "hours".

hence all the moaning about the shop items is nonsense too; once more. I've written my own, lengthy take on this today - I don't get the fuss. I can understand if someone fundamentally dislikes (or has his bias) RMT - but to take issue with the presented items in particular is missing the point. and knowing very little about 'exp boosts' and similar in FTP MMOs to be honest, they're not nearly as big a deal as some make them out to be.

there's an odd contradiction around too; often players using this argument are very endgame driven. so surely, speeding up leveling would be okay in their eyes?
 
Guild Wars has managed to remain popular and profitable for six or seven years without the cash shop causing a problem. I can't see why GW2 shouldn't manage the same.

Azuriel's points only really stand if you see playing an MMO as a linear process. Movies and sitcoms start at the beginning and move inexorably to the end. MMOs do nothing of the kind. You can choose to try to consume them that way but I would contend that they are not designed for that approach and don't bend well to it. That's why the "end game" concept just plain doesn't work in so many MMOs.

As for the concept of selling xp boosts, are there any MMOs left that *don't* do this? And does it make a difference whether the boosts come via a cash shop or as in-game gifts? In Everquest and Everquest2 I have more xp potions available to me for free as Veteran and Anniversary rewards than I could ever use. Every game has bonus xp weekends, weeks or even months.

I don't play WoW but in most MMOs I do play the issue of "leveling too fast" is not an issue for anyone who wants to see all or particular content at level. That's because most MMOs I play offer the option to reduce or switch off xp gain at will. Lots of people use this option. I've used it, many times.

When GW2 launches, selling xp boosts will be a non-issue. If the content is as interesting as we have been led to believe and are expecting then most people will not want to boost past it. If it's dull and uninvolving enough that that a lot of people do find themselves considering buying their way past it then the game is dead in the water anyway.
 
They are designed for the time-constrained who only get a few hours of play in every week, but still want to keep up with the Joneses, or their friends.

They are designed to encourage players to spend money for the option to skip the game.

Otherwise I agree with the post.
 
I have heard people say that gear and levels don't matter in GW2, so the ability to gain levels quickly and upgrade gear sooner will not have a negative impact on PvP.

If that is the case, why do such mechanics exist at all in GW2?

Similarly, why have these items in the Cash Shop and Collector's Edition, if not to feed players' desires for an advantage/prestige?
 
A rather popular game that uses progress speed to impact pvp is world of tanks. Having a premium account or spending gold for free experience literally gives you wins you otherwise normally wouldn't have got. They go out of their way to make stock tanks terrible against opponents they normally would be decent against if they had a fully researched tank.

For most gear dependant MMO what will determine how big of an effect a faster speed of an advancement would have depends heavily on how long it takes to reach a "power cap". For example if Rift added this with it's planar attunement you would gain a huge advantage in the upswing associated with increase stats before other people are likely to ever get there.
 
Minor nitpick: "Leveling was a meaningful activity". Bar filling is never meaningful, even if it can be satisfying.

Even if I've been beaten to it: the "speed of advancement" has nothing to do with time spent ingame, it's the time investment required to get "something new", be it access to new areas/dungeons, to new questlines or to new gear. In other words it's measured in the time you're willing to spend with the same activity before being bored.

BTW it's quite sad to see that with all their "innovation", ArenaNet still has not been able to get rid of levels.
 
Agree with that last comment by Helistar; we've seen how meaningful leveling was in Wow. Pity ArenaNet even kept this, when they've chosen different paths in so many other areas.
 
I don't think the uproar is about xp boosters. I think it's about the lottery boxes and keys and why a game that is going to be costing people $60 for the box feels the need to do such an in your face F2P monetisation strategy on top.
 
I find the argument kind of dumb, as it doesn't take things into context. Think of what Guild Wars 2 is about: it's a game where skill matters more than stats or gear. It's a game where there's a level cap to every single area. It's a game that lets you do everything endgame related from level 1 (or 2, if you level during the opening tutorial). So, exp boosting just lets you get to the next area faster, one that you have to be prepared for with the skill to back it up. The dungeons also have a specific level and will kick your ass regardless. The karma, crafting, and loot find items are similar: there's a stat cap on equipment, if PvP is anything to go by. Again, you can only attempt to muscle through so much, especially when equipment stats get shifted whenever a zone shifts your active level.

I can tell you the one thing that can screw things up: gold and gems. WvW siege weapons are gated by a money sink. Tactics and strategy will have to come into prominence quick.

I'll admit, there's also the matter of guilds, which I haven't looked into. They level up based on either gold earned or karma earned. But again, guilds in Guild Wars are about the people they bring with the skills needed to succeed. Not about making numbers go up.
 
There is an ideal speed of advancement but, and this is a big BUT, that ideal speed is determined by the player and not the developer.

Different players choose to advance in different ways. Sure we have the two main groups of "the game starts at max level" and "the game ends at max level," both of which have radically different views of an ideal speed of advancement, but even within those groups there are different playstyles. Some people only want to quest, some PvP, some run dungeons, and many more prefer a combination of all three and varying degrees.

I personally quit WoW because the speed of advancement was too fast, it made leveling meaningless. And yes, for those of us who enjoy the journey more than the destination leveling is meaningful. If I could turn off xp from questing in SWTOR so that I could quest, explore, and run Warzones without severely out-leveling content, I would. But I'm in the minority.

Some people want to be able to skip content that they don't care about on their way to max some, myself included, feel forced to skip content we do want to see inorder not to trivialize "the meat" of the leveling experience. We all have different ideal speeds of advancement and I welcome any tools to help us customize that speed of advancement to our own personal ideals.
 
For players that feel they are leveling too fast and outleveling a zone WOW allows you the ability to turn off your xp gain. This may not be generally known but it solves the issues that people in these posts seem to be winjing about. If you want to stay and complete all quests, you can and then turn your XP gain back on and move on to the next zone.

I've rarely heard anyone complain about fast leveling in wow so this must be a very isolated problem. One with a simple solution.
Thanks
 
So Chris, you can come back to wow and level at your own speed by turning off your leveling gain!
 
Scugger, just walk to Orgrimmar back and forth every 30 min and pay 10G (which you need to farm if you're on a new server, let alone a new player) every time you want to re-switch the exp-lock. Oh - and have fun finding that char without asking for help or using some wiki.

But even if Blizzard put that disable-exp functionality inside the UI, this would still make the game worse. How can I be happy about a level up if, at the same time, I fine tune my exp-gain rate myself? .. Isn't tuning this rate something I pay the developer for?
 
I agree that there is no perfect leveling speed, but clearly the extremes are sub optimal. Therefore there is a "sweet spot" (haven't you used this term regarding leveling speed in the past)?

Surely sliding the bar to slower leveling speed would frustrate some, please some, and many wouldn't notice. Sliding the bar the other way would produce identical results.

The perfect speed is determined an individual player, but the designer is still aiming for a sweet spot to please as many players as possible.
 
Tobold Said: Thus if slow leveling isn't necessarily bad, it is stupid to think that there is a deliberate strategy of making games bad by making them slow, only to then sell you the means to speed them up. Instead the items to speed the games up are NOT designed for the people who already play the game for an average or high number of hours per week. They are designed for the time-constrained who only get a few hours of play in every week, but still want to keep up with the Joneses, or their friends.

Answer: Sometimes advance faster isn't depending on how much you play. For example in Lotro, to get crafting guild reputation, you create some emblems with cooldown..1 have 1 day cooldown and the large one have 3 days. when you turn them in, you get reputation. There is no other way to get reputation, only with these emblems. And Turbine sell an item that when you use it you get double rep for an amount of time..so here only with money you can advance faster, regardless how many hours you play. I can give you more examples if you like.

Second in my opinion there are 4 kind of players

A)A player that play lot of hours but also he is rich in real life and he wants to use his money to get things faster and easier.

B)A player that plays lot of hours but doesn't have the extra money to spend in the game and his economics are very tight

C)A Rich player but who doesn't play many hours because of reali life obligations

D)A player with tight economics that also don't have many hours to play.

It isn't black and white as you say it..in both scenarios, regardless of how many hours someone play the game, the rich guy will take advantage over the others
 
Can't edit my previous post, but need to add something..lot of people in the answers talk about xp and leveling..and then say GW2 has sidekicking, leveling doesn't matter, e.t.c.

Speed up things is not only leveling..it can be for example skills..we know that in GW2 using a weapon and hit with it x times we unlock the next skill...even with sidekicking the players with more skills in the bar still have advantage. Also there are traits in GW2 you can unlock that gives you more skills..there might be reputations and such. Those of you say gear doesn't matter I say wait first to see it..they just said that there isn't much difference to gear, not that you don't get advantage at all
 
Nils, I accept your comment on the basis that it was sarcasm or argument "ad absurdum".
Wow leveling has been "tuned" to please 95-99% of the players. For those small few that prefer to slow down their game play the designers provide the disable XP option. You have paid the designers for designing a game that satisfies 99.9% of the population in those two modes.
Your comments identify a new subset of players that are not happy with either leveling mode, are not willing to pay 10g to utilize the function, too lazy to take a flight path to org, cannot find an NPC and are unwilling to do a Wowhead search to find an NPC. Really.

If that person is disatisfied with the resulting WOW gameplay at that point they should feel free to go elsewhere to find that perfect leveling MMO. Good luck.
Really.
 
Giannis: "Speed up things is not only leveling..it can be for example skills..we know that in GW2 using a weapon and hit with it x times we unlock the next skill...even with sidekicking the players with more skills in the bar still have advantage. Also there are traits in GW2 you can unlock that gives you more skills..there might be reputations and such. Those of you say gear doesn't matter I say wait first to see it..they just said that there isn't much difference to gear, not that you don't get advantage at all"

Getting a few extra levels gets you a few extra trait points, so you may just be able to gain a Minor or Major trait you consider important to you. Gaining a level also gives you a skill point, although most skills cost 2 or more points to buy, so you'd be running around searching for skill vendors anyway.

On the other hand, you have a limited skill bar, and may have a build in mind. If you don't, it'll take time to experiment regardless.

And weapon skills are unlocked based off the number of enemies killed. That means no matter what, it's also in the realm of time spent.
 
Wow leveling has been "tuned" to please 95-99% of the players.

I would be sincerely surprised if even 50% of WoW players are happy with the current leveling speed. And yes, the unhappy ones include both those for who it is too fast, and those for who it is to slow. But reaching 95%-99% of players happy with any speed is simply impossible.
 
We are speculating as to how "happy" WOW users are with the leveling speed. None of us have any factual information as to what is the optimum leveling speed. I suggest that Blizzard has much better information than we do regarding what keeps their players "happy". Blizzard has set a leveling speed that satisfies their 10 million subscribers enough that they continue to plunk down $15 every month. I think that is the best measure of satisfaction.
 
Scugger, that argument is utterly fallacious: if it were true we would live in a perfect world as every company would be providing the optimum service for its customers in every way. Of course he real world does not resemble your fantasy world at all.

And as people have pointed out to you, the option to stop or start levelling (for a significant gold price at every switch) is nowhere near the level of control that would satisfy levelling players. It was introduced for the benefit of battleground twinks, and perhaps it is satuisfactory for them.

If there were a slider by which the player could slow levelling by a percentage, your argument would be valid.
 
Man, we live in a world of sugery drinks.

I thought the idea of leveling was to savour the fact that to a degree you didn't like not having complete power. You always want that bit more power.

If leveling is indeed about (ironically) enjoying the bitterness of partially not enjoying something, then people who only ever want to 100% enjoy what's happening can never like that stuff.
 
Gerry
First of all, businesses that do not provide what their customers are willing to pay for go out of business. We dont have to live in a "perfect world" to see that.

Blizzard provides a product that 10 million people are willing to pay for. If the success of the company was staked on providing a leveling speed slider they would develop it. WOW does not purport to be a "perfect" game for everyone.

The fact Blizzard does not indicates that this is no big deal and only rubs a very people the wrong way.

Using the same logic, I'd like Blizard to drop all the loot for everyone in a raid after downing every boss. It's an irritant that I have to down the boss dozens of times trying to get the loot I need. I'm a very casual player, only logging on once a month, so I would like a slider function to allow me to set how many pieces of the gear I need will drop from the boss. This way I only have to play once or twice a month to stay as geared as other people who play all day.

It's also too expensive for me to get the inferno rubies I need. Blizzard needs a slider system for Jewelcrafting where I can set the % gems will prospect from ore. That way I can get all the gems I need out of one or two stacks and not have to spend all that extra time mining to get ore.

By setting all of these leveling rates, drop rates and prospect rates and more, Blizzard is defining the amount of time players need to invest to get things done. If its too fast people level in a week down every boss with all BIS gear and are bored for the next 2 years. If too slow, people get frustrated and quit the game. My argument is that Blizzard has a great product that satisfies 10 million people just the way it is. If people quit because od one small aspect, you just cant please everyone. That's why not everyone drives a Toyota Camry even though the ones that do love em.
 
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