Tobold's Blog
Wednesday, August 29, 2012
 
MMORPG longevity

Keen is pondering people reaching the Guild Wars 2 level cap before the game is even officially released. I can easily imagine the train of thought going on in some players:

  1. "I must rush to the level cap, because that is where the real game is."
  2. "Yay, I reached the level cap, now let's look at the endgame."
  3. "Hmmm, the endgame doesn't offer anything new."
  4. "Unsubscribe"

Much has been written about how MMORPGs before, up to and including World of Warcraft, tended to grow over time and peak many months or even years after release, while post-WoW games tend to peak at the end of the first month and are in serious decline 3 months later. I would bet that this trend correlates with the leveling speed of modern games.

Sure, you would get some people bitching and moaning if you released a MMORPG today which took 3 to 6 months to reach the level cap. But as usual what people complain about and what they act upon are two very different things: In a game with slow leveling they would complain and keep playing; in a game with fast leveling they would say, if asked, that this is what they wanted, but they'll unsubscribe after a month or three.

In short: I believe that making MMORPGs with fast leveling is a serious business error.

Comments:
Agreed ;)

 
The rush to level 80 in GW2 is arguably pointless. The game downscales your level to match the content being played. The only advantage a level 80 player has is the number of unlocked skills (though of all the skills unlocked only 5 can be chosen).

Then again, the player reach level 80 by doing crafting so the rest of the game is still available to him. This- according to Arenanet is the "endgame" you can still play all the content because no content in the game will be trivial.
Thus the business error seems less prominent in this case since reaching the level cap does not make the rest of the game obsolete as it would in most MMORPGs.

 
By your own argument, Everquest (etc) should have done better than WoW. Was WoW not easier to reach endgame than every other MMO on the market at the time?

Considering there has literally not been any "mega-hit" MMO since WoW, or before WoW for that matter, a more reasonable conclusion is that the serious business error being committed here is building MMOs with unreasonable minimum subscriber-based funding levels. And besides, the vast, vast majority of players never make it to endgame anyway, rendering this entire line of thought moot.
 
@Felsir, I think s/he only used crafting from level 60 with materials provided by other people in order to speed up the last levels.

@Azuriel, agreed. It might have not been the easiest one but certainly easier than average.

For me, I can say I'm in love with the "endgame starts early" idea GW2 tries to implement and keeping my fingers crossed they will succeed. I'm a fan of endgame-like activities and don't want to grind to be allowed to play after I spend whole day at work - on the other hand, I understand that some people like leveling and don't want to limit them either.
 
As far is I remember before WoW there was no real endgame at max level. You could participate in most (if not all) activities before reaching max level. Examples: Ultima Online well ... my first one... i cant remember there being an "endgame" because of the open skill system and as far as I remember you could do everything from the start (if you had the necesary skills/items/money). Anarchy Online did not offer anything special at max level too, i think. Ragnarok Online had WoE in which you could participate at any level you wanted although a certain level is definitely recommended to not be cannon fodder.
As such the whole stupid endgame idea was an invention from WoW which was copied from almost/every (not sure?) game after WoW and somehow seems to be a mandatory feature nowadays for whatever reason. I dont think there is any hardcore endgame in Guild Wars 2. Sure there is the Mystic Forge and the hunt for cooler looking items (that do not have better stats) but PvP and WvW can all be done from the start being automatically leveled to 80. So i hope there is something different with Guild Wars 2 where you don't get 2 different games, one endgame and one leveling game.

@topic
I think one reason these people rush to 80 is also the challenge. It needs a lot of planning and research to be the first one to reach level 80. After reading the interview of the first guy i don't think his idea was to reach level 80 to get fast to the endgame. He describes how he and some guild friends planned out and tested the leveling process during the beta weekends and in the end succeeded with their plan to level fastest. So i believe they just did it for the challenge to be the first and not for some stupid "reaching endgame fast" reason.
 
It's usually described as:
Week 1: Damn, I must grind harder to not fall behind
Week 2: Others are at the endboss, I must get a week off
Week 3: Almost there, just a bit harder guys, we'll have him
Week 4: YEAH!
Week 5: This game has no content. Unsubscribe.
 
Blimey! Nils is alive!

Leaving that aside...

You can't unsubscribe to a game with no subscription. You could stop playing.

I think you'll be more than happy with the leveling speed, Tobold. Compared to most modern MMOs it's pretty sedate.
 
You can't unsubscribe to a game with no subscription.

That is of course correct in terms of semantics. Nevertheless the monthly revenue of ArenaNet from GW2 will depend a lot on how long people keep playing, as those will be the customers buying stuff from their item shop.

I must say however that their business model nicely gets around the problem of negative publicity caused by having to report low or falling subscription numbers (see SWTOR or TSW). As technically there are no subscribers, they aren't required to list them in an earnings report. They can just say how many millions of revenue / profit they had in that quarter, and we'll be left wondering to how many players that corresponds.
 
Fast leveling isn't bad. Leveling in general is the problem.

Leveling mechanics force put inane playing issues onto a game that developers have to design around. Good design can mitigate the leveling issues but bad design will sink the game because it cannot circum-navigating the bad leveling feature.

If a game is forced to have levels, considering that lots of people race through mmo leveling, the optimal solution is to have a most of the content at max level and a short leveling game that serves as a sample.

Theme park games can only have a finite level of content.
If leveling is slow, you need to fill it with content. People still race to end-game and find it empty and leave.
If leveling is slow and you save the content to end-game, people get bored and leave before they reach it.
Therefore if you have leveling, make it fast so it only uses a small part of your designer resources.
 
Leveling mechanics force put inane playing issues onto a game that developers have to design around."

Actually, levelling mechanics give developers a huge armoury of game design and content control options, which is why they are so popular.

That is why most games, and all MMOs, have an implicit or explicit levelling mechanic.
 
The fast leveling phenomena is more like an addiction than anything else. Grinding hard to get that buzz of getting to endgame "where the real game begins" becomes all encompassing, and once you come down from that high you look around and say, "that's it?"

 
Their big mistake was to have levels at all since it is a fals progression indicator in the end.
 
Leveling to max level is considerably slower then GW1 factions, GW1 nightfall and the expansion eye of the north (which boosts you to max level while playing in those areas).

To put things in perspective for you.
 
Agree.

Although perhaps the problem is needing to be max level to do end game content.

Like a surprising number of things, I think D3 has things I would want in my MMOs. The recent paragon seems like a nice blend.

E.g. an MMO mechanic:

It takes you 20-40 (I prefer 40) hours to max level. You can now wear any endgame items/gear; do any content.

Each paragon level you grind adds say 1% to your power. First level take 4 hours, 99th 80 hours. Or even level X takes X hours - so paragon 1 is 1 and max takes 99*100/2 hours.

So there is not a significant amount of leveling for people who don't like it. People who enjoy leveling, and skinner-box addicts, have a perfect excuse to go play. Compensating kids can ridicule their level 12 friends when they are 14; and yet being 2% better than the level 12 is not gamebreaking.

When a new expansion starts, max level people are same level whether p1 or p100.
 
I am curious, Tobold. Do you think the recent decline in player interest in the last 6 months is at least in part due to the ease of LFR, and how quickly players can be "done" with even the raiding end-game?
 
If anything LFR kept some people from unsubscribing, because it added something to do, content they couldn't do before. I don't think it leads to people thinking they are "done", as long as there are harder versions with better loot available.
 
I quite like how Guild Wars 2 has structured their levelling system. I have always been a fan of the sidekick system, where you downscale your level to match the content. For GW2, levelling is practically nothing more than an indicator of how much content is available to you. As you level, the amount of content available to you will always expand and never shrink from obsolescence. In addition, the inclusion of level-generic rewards for map completion (skill points and cash items) means that any content is rewarding for the majority of player types.

@Tobold: This is why I think your assessment is a little faulty. Certainly there are probably a couple hardcore rushers who only play for the raiding content and will get sent back to MoP (let's ignore the fact that they were going to go back anyways), but for the mainstream player, this system works loads upon loads better than WoW's.

WoW's content at the end is simply difficult content that ramps up harder and harder until you're squeezed out (which is why you quit in the first place). GW2 has some difficult content available for the hardcore, but the availability of non-dungeon content is incomparable.
 
Completely agree. I wish more games would implement EVE online type skill system .
 
I think this is actually catering to completionists and explorers. Regardless of whatever your level is, no matter which zone you adventure in, the drops you get scale up as you level up - even though you are temporarily levelled-down to play in that area.

Challenging fights will always be challenging. A veteran monster guarding a chest will always be either a tough fight or require some assistance.

And you will still be hunting through all these areas to fill out your achievements and gain exploration completion. That's probably the part which will mark the end, for me. Completion of the exploration and the various kill/grinding achievements.
 
This is something that Blizzard have handled quite differently in Mists of Pandaria. Sure, there are still 5 levels of regular questing or dungeon-bashing that "hardcore" players will rush through on day one. But there's a lot more at maximum level aside from the traditional endgame (i.e. raiding). "More" has 2 characteristics:

1. Emphasis on repeatable, but paced over time, activities at top level which are part-way between leveling and raiding: Scenarios are an obvious example. But there's also a tendency for daily quests to be sequences which tell a new story - akin to a full questline, but paced over time not level.

2. Content tiered in difficulty from the easily accessible to the well-hidden-OMG-harcore grinds: At the extreme activities that many players may never even notice, and even the most dedicated players will struggle to complete en mass.

So Blizzard gets round this fast-leveling problem not only by adding as much (possibly more) content at the top as in the middle, but also by tiering it such that players with a lot of time/commitment won't run out of things to do, while more relaxed players hopefully won't feel like the game has gone totally retro.

Now, if, as I'm sure you eventually will, you think it through, you'll end up pondering why we have levels in the game at all. MoP's repeatable content can be rather similar to classic EQ-style grinding (albeit regulated and richer in story), while its difficulty-tiers are comparable to classic EQ-style levels (where many players never reached the top level, but that wasn't necessarily a problem, because there was plenty of game to be played in the middle). The main difference is that there is no numerical progression in MoP, one simply moves forwards at one's own pace, focusing on aspects of the game one (shock, horror) enjoys. Lack of numerical progression is in itself fascinating, since it is a mainstay of standard MMOG designs. Instead are subtle, consumerist indicators - the rare mount, the exclusive fishing chair, etc - which we already find motivating players in such visually social games - merely "being max level" hasn't conveyed status in a game like WoW for years.
 
(I should probably clarify that in "no numerical progression", I mean progression not being tracked in one unified number, which was the original role of levels. Obviously there are still numbers involved in determining specific progression of gear, reputation, and so on. The point was simply to characterise a difference from EQ-style levels.)
 
I have no idea whether I should envy or pity everyone who manages to hit level cap in a month or two. I've never had the sort of time to dedicate to a game like that, and if I did somehow dedicate all of my free time to a one-two month leveling spree I think I'd get really sick of that game after a while. I can't be the only person like this...right? Is there an unseen/unheard body of players out there who take 6 months to a year to hit level cap like me, and its just the seriously hardcore that pull it off in weeks?
 
@Tori Bergquist:

Probably. There were a few mods for WoW back in the day that had /who spamming in selected categories to build a complete faction population statistic.

In the first few months of BC or Wrath, the overwhelming majority of players were always sub-max level, when I ran the mod. The numbers never actually became a majority that I can remember looking at (stopped running it about a year into Wrath), so I'm guessing the only reason we hear about the uber-passionate hardcore in such disproportionate amounts is because they're so vocal and passionate and blog about it.
 
Leveling equals content and content equals money.

With SWTOR's reported 200m+ development budget (some quote a 300m figure), it is obvious that MMO content is extremely expensive.

With the current extremely labor-intensive development ecosystem, it is obvious that WoW cannot be dislodged from the market, even if we ignore all other considerations (network effects, brand recognition, etc) and focus solely on content.

There isn't any short term solution for game companies who seek to enter the mainstream MMO market (and remain there profitably).

The source of change could come from 3 unrelated directions:

1) platform change (proliferation of post-PC devices)
2) procedural content making the cut
3) user-created content curated in a meaninful manner

One or more of these could lead to a new successful mainstream MMO. Of course, it's Blizzard's game to lose. Their secret TITAN project was scheduled for 2013, yet there's no mention of it.
 
azuriel
"Was WoW not easier to reach endgame than every other MMO on the market at the time?"

It was easier solo. It was easy to reach max level in EQ *if* you could rely on consistently getting a good group quickly and easily as shown by the ultra fast levelling by raid guilds on new servers. It was the lack of the latter condition which made WoW faster but i don't remember it being as fast as more recent games although it's been a while so my memory may be wrong.


"Considering there has literally not been any "mega-hit" MMO since WoW, or before WoW for that matter, a more reasonable conclusion is that the serious business error being committed here is building MMOs with unreasonable minimum subscriber-based funding levels. And besides, the vast, vast majority of players never make it to endgame anyway, rendering this entire line of thought moot."

But that's the entire point. The vast majority of players never make it to endgame so what are they doing instead? Why is there so much focus on endgame when most potential players aren't interested?

@doblablo
"If a game is forced to have levels, considering that lots of people race through mmo leveling, the optimal solution is to have a most of the content at max level and a short leveling game that serves as a sample."

Lots of people race to max level but most don't *ever* get to max level. The optimal solution is to find out what those people are doing instead and add more of that. Instead most of the games since vanilla WoW have been moving ever closer to what you're suggesting and failing.

@Tori Bergquist
"Is there an unseen/unheard body of players out there who take 6 months to a year to hit level cap like me, and its just the seriously hardcore that pull it off in weeks?"

It's a majority although i'd give it roughly 2/3 vs 1/3 so games still need to cater to the fast leveller / endgame crowd as well.

Cam
"so I'm guessing the only reason we hear about the uber-passionate hardcore in such disproportionate amounts is because they're so vocal and passionate and blog about it."

Ultra-competitive endgame raiders and pvpers are ultra-competitive on forums too.

 
Rushing in a game w/o sub such as GW2 is stupid. In D3 some people rushed, but there was a point: the economy. In GW2 the economy sales are not directly tied to currency (of course they are still because people pay for virtual goods ie. gold buying).

This is in stark contrast with WoW. In WoW there is a point: end-game starts at max level, and also the more you play your sub the more it is worth your buck (same with other sub-based games). But with GW2 the leveling IS the content and there is no need to rush. The only reason I can come up with is the prestige of being first (a-la realm first achievements).

Back to my statement "rushing in a game w/o sub such as GW2 is stupid" I established one valid reason to rush: the prestige. OK, but that is claimed. Someone is already level 80.

If you pay "subscriptions" such as WoW, TSW, SWTOR, cable TV, internet access then these are worth more to use than playing GW2 which does not require subscription; only time.

What this means for GW2 players is that they can, and many do, completely casual play the game. Which blends in very nice with the casual friendly playstyle of the game such as the daily progress, the grouping in questing, the individual roll on resources.
 
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