Tobold's Blog
Monday, October 08, 2012
How different do you want your expansion to be?

I've been reading about two MMORPG expansions today: One is Mists of Pandaria for World of Warcraft, the other is Darkfall: Unholy Wars. Mists of Pandaria sold 2.7 million copies outside China (still haven't seen the Chinese sales data), but received negative points in several reviews stating it was too much like World of Warcraft. I mean, seriously, apparently some reviewers would like an expansion of World of Warcraft to *NOT* play like World of Warcraft. Listening to that, Aventurine decided to make Darkfall: Unholy Wars basically a new game running on the old subscription. That includes wiping all characters. While I assume that Unholy Wars will share many of the traits of Darkfall Online, like free-for-all PvP and the ability to loot players, it is a very different model of an "expansion".

Now I am not saying that the World of Warcraft model of expansions is ideal. Basically a WoW expansion consists of 5 to 10 levels worth of new zones, which can be played through in anything from 4 hours to 4 weeks, and an endgame, which takes the rest of the two years to complete. Once the next expansion comes out, the 5 to 10 levels worth of zones from the previous expansion are still somewhat relevant, as you still need to go through them with any alts. Especially if the new expansion has new races or classes. But most of the endgame of the old expansion becomes irrelevant. During Cataclysm the Wrath of the Lich King final raid Icecrown turned into something like a rarely visited tourist attraction. Now that Mists of Pandaria is out, nobody is visiting the Firelands any more. The most lasting impact of Cataclysm is having redone old Azeroth, because most of the raid and heroic dungeons have become obsolete.

But still the World of Warcraft model of expansions, which WoW just inherited from previous games, and which many newer games use as well, has some basic advantages: You don't have to learn a new game, you don't have to start over from scratch, you can continue the character advancement of whatever your favorite avatar is. Some of the previous character advancement, like gear, becomes obsolete, but the core of your character remains. And most of the time the way you play him remains the same, even if talent trees get redesigned, or spells change. The character I am playing in Mists of Pandaria is nearly 8 years old and has thousands of hours of /played time.

Now Darkfall is a niche title with only a few thousand subscribers. But there is a risk that some of these subscribers have become very attached to their characters, and won't be happy with having their character wiped. Except for part of their social connections, they will lose everything. Sure, the "expansion" won't get criticized for being "more of the same", but at what price?

Which model of expanding a game do you prefer? Would you like your characters to be wiped and everybody to start over? Or would you like to continue playing more of a game which isn't too different from the previous incarnation, using the same characters?

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Expansions should be a new experience not the same old same old. One major complaint I had with MoP was: why doesn't this play like GW2?
Of course an "expansion" should be more of the same. If it isn't, it's not an "expansion".

Whether MMOs should have "expansions" at all is another question.

If I use the term "expansion" it also must include a financial transaction. Anything that I don't have to pay for is not an "expansion", it's a free update, Live Update, patch etc. An "expansion" comes in a box or at the very least a Digital Download that costs money.

Darkfall:UW is a reboot, which as nother thing altogether.

"One major complaint I had with MoP was: why doesn't this play like GW2?"

Why would you want it to play like GW2?

GW2 plays like GW2 already - for better and for worse...
You probably shouldn't use WoW in this scenario as there are too many exceptions with all of this. For example, what is the % of players "returning, "new" and "existing".

I'm pretty sure DF have a much smaller "existing" base of players and thus much higher need to attract players not currently playing. Having an "expansion" that is "more of the same" is most definitely not going to work for a small game like this imho.

I have almost never heard of an expansion suddenly making an MMO into a blockbuster...

You probably should compare it to an MMO like SWTOR (ignoring the F2P stuff). Lets say Bioware made an expansion right now that is "more of the same" , nothing special, not fixing any existing problems, just another zone and more levels and a story or two.

Further assume SWTOR is bleeding players, and their % "existing" players are much less than potential players that can "return". Do you think making an expansion is going to make a difference? I think not.

So, yes, who do you target? The dwindling "loyal" playerbase which is ultimately not enough to keep the game afloat? Or try and win back the "bulk" who has left or never came?

Wiping has a big positive effect: you don't need to help newbies to catch up as everyone is a newbie. Now the designers must tune down the content for veterans in order to make it accessible to new players. You can't reasonably expect for a new player to put in the same hours leveling between 30-40 as you did 6 years ago.
I would prefer an expansion to expand the game, not obsolete the existing content and replace it.
I am one of the long term players of Darkfall and I can say that I do not know anyone who is not for the wipe. Since Darkfall is essentially in "endgame" from the point of you joining the game, character progression is only important as a relative value to everyone else. Thus it will be a new beginning. And although the character will be lost, the social bonds, the reputation and the player skill will stay.

Everyone is enthusiastic about this as the game, while staying true to it's roots, is really "expanded" by tons of features and corrections of mechanics that got broken over time. It is much more than "add 5 levels and new gear grind". Truth is though that the original game had quite alot of stuff that needed fixing :)
I think it depends on the game and the story. Some titles such as LOTRO and WoW are pretty much set in their ways; blowing them up and starting over wouldn't make any real sense and would alienate a lot of people. After all, EQ did something similar by bringing out EQ2. Of course, they didn't go all the way and blow up EQ while bringing out EQ2, but still it's the closest thing out there, and it divided the playerbase. You could also make the argument that the people who stayed behind on EQ and didn't migrate to EQ2 wouldn't have migrated to EQ2 even if EQ had been blown up.

I think that blowing up a game and replacing it with a "new! shiny!" version might work for some cases, such as the console people who are used to playing a completely new game with each sequel, but I'm not sure how it'd play with the MMO crowd. I liken it to what happened to the D&D franchise when 4e came out: while a lot of people migrated to 4e, just as many if not more stuck with 3.5 and picked up Pathfinder when it came out. There will be a niche that the new iteration won't fill, and some company will come along and fill that void.

- If I'm (still) playing a game, changing it under my feet without asking is not a good idea. I mean, if I didn't like it I would not be playing, so better not to stray too far. After all, if I want to play a different game with the same group of friends I can do it myself, no help needed thank you.
- WoW expansions work exactly like a character wipe: the only thing which remains is the name/race/class + decorative items. Anything even remotely related to the character's effectiveness is obsoleted (= wiped).

It's a slow character wipe: I still had a trinket from SSC when I went into Naxx2.

Your point is like saying that living for seven years is equivalent to death because all the atoms in your body get replaced[which I doubt, actually, but let's assume it's true for argument's sake].

Actually I think Rift should allow players to reserve their current character names and maybe some decorative stuff for the new version. Like in childhood we named our new teddy bears after old ones before we found more sophisticated ways of dealing with the inevitable.
I think WoW could use a healthy dose of stealing one specific mechanic from GW2 - The "levelling down" system.

WoW absolutely does have the problem of having years and years of content that goes unused because it's a trivial challenge for the existing level-capped players.

But what if you scaled down in level appropriately, and got XP for everything you do?

Gamechanger ahoy.
There is the question as to whether you want to have interative or different game design.

But assuming you are going with different, why not just give it a new name?

Version 7 of X should be fairly evocative of version 6 or otherwise give it a new name and "from the makers of X"
Talent trees, some game mechanics and style of play required for dungeons changed in such a way when moving into Cataclysm that is was almost like a new game. So much so, that it was enough to just stop playing. The thought of learning a whole bunch of new dungeons had become more work than play/fun.
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